In Memoriam – Doris Diether
December 5, 2021
By Alison Greenberg
I, like the Archive Project team, was deeply saddened by the death of preservationist Doris Diether on September 16, 2021 at the age of 92. Before New York City’s Landmarks Law existed, Doris Diether was advancing its goals. She continued to do so throughout her long life in the civic arena.
Doris was born in Flushing, Queens, on January 10, 1929 and married Jack Diether, a music critic. She moved to Waverly Place in Greenwich Village and never left.
Doris was a dance critic and a member of Save the Village, a movement founded in 1959 in Greenwich Village. The grassroots group focused on implementing the Bard Act—the predicate to the New York City Landmarks Law—in order to pass the “Save the Village Zoning Amendment.” Save the Village mobilized thousands of residents through petitioning, and brought the proposed implementation of the Bard Act to the desk of Mayor Robert Wagner, helping to coax the Landmarks Law into fruition. How appropriate that Doris would spend the rest of her life advancing the text and spirit of the Landmarks Law as a member of the Landmarks & Aesthetics Committee of Community Board 2 (CB2).
Doris did not shy away from dramatic protest. Wearing business attire, Doris led a pig on a leash in front of Governor Nelson Rockefeller’s office as part of a 1960 Save the Village protest against the demolition of older Village buildings to pave the way for luxury apartments.
Doris joined her local community board in 1964 and was perhaps the longest-serving community board member in Manhattan, if not the City. Doris was never afraid of, and in fact relished, the sport of battling with developers who advanced applications that strayed from what was appropriate throughout the Village, SoHo, NoHo, Chinatown, Gansevoort Market, Little Italy, and Hudson Square. Whether or not she was invited, Doris made it a point to read the testimony for CB2 at the Landmarks Preservation Commission, in person.
When she started her civic career, Doris was the only woman in a zoning class. She eventually taught herself the subject and became a consultant to many community groups. As Sean Sweeney, her longtime cochair of the CB2 Landmarks & Aesthetics Committee, notes:
“Doris was what is called in constitutional law a strict constructionist. So she consistently rejected any modernizations to the Village’s 19th century buildings which were becoming common as wealthy arrivistes bought historic homes and attempted to remodel them with their own 21st-century sensibilities.”
Widowed in 1987, Doris made family through friendships and mentoring many in the preservation community. She consistently attended CB2 Landmarks & Aesthetics Committee meetings every other week, as well as the monthly full CB2 board meetings. During the holiday season, she proudly shared that she had a party each night, from the start of the month through New Year’s Day. She never complained of being tired.
Doris was proud to have received the Historic Districts Council’s Mickey Murphy Award for Lifetime Achievement and to have received official proclamations from (among others) former Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer and Borough President Gale Brewer. Doris inspired the Archive Project to discuss the need to document community board landmarking records with Municipal Archive officials. She will be missed.