Events & News

Finding Joy -and More- In Our Preservation History Database

December 31, 2020

By Peter Sohmer, Reisinger Scholar

Historic Districts Council on its way to 50 years at its Annual Board Meeting, 2008 | Courtesy of Historic Districts Council

Where can one find detailed information on preservation battles that range from the successful, like the designation of Grand Central Terminal, to the failed, such as the long-gone House of Genius near Washington Square? Or on figures from preservationist Jack Taylor, who passed away in 2019, to such mythical preservationists as George McAneny and Albert S. Bard? The answer is the Archive Project’s Preservation History Database.

The Database is a unique encyclopedia for well-researched, quality information on people, places, organizations, and policies that have been influential in the story of historic preservation in New York City. First launched over a decade ago, the database now includes nearly 150 entries written by a wide range of individuals on a voluntary basis. This represents is an incomparable resource for students, scholars, and anyone interested in New York’s architectural history and preservation movement to find well- sourced information that might otherwise elude a scholarly eye.

As the 2020 Reisinger Scholar, my role has centered on growing the Database over the course of this most unusual year. The Archive Project’s wonderful volunteers have managed to deliver, and we have successfully published new entries on figures who worked across the spectrum of preservation in New York City, from Peter Stanford to Evelyn and Everett Ortner to Hattie Carthan. The Archive Project also unveiled an entry on the Historic Districts Council this year, the year of its 50th anniversary as an organization.

This year also marked the first Preservation History Database Competition, in which graduate students submitted entries that have long needed to be published. Congratulations to Katie Marie Foster of Columbia University for her winning entry on the late Joy “Mama Joy” Chatel of Brooklyn! Second place honors went to Rachel Ericksen of Columbia University for an entry on Selma Rattner, and third place went to Katie Uva of the City University of New York for an entry on Ruth McAneny Loud.

The Archive Project has also begun to collaborate with the talented graduate students at St. John’s University’s Public History program, who will be contributing a healthy batch of additional entries on preservation across the five boroughs to round out this year’s efforts. A desire to represent the full spectrum of historic preservation will be the hallmark of the Database as it moves forward, seeking to incorporate a wider view of preservation across New York City and its diverse communities.

A special thanks to Mr. Pat Reisinger for sponsoring the work of the Reisinger Scholar again this year.