Events & News

Landmarks45 Blog & Website

October 14, 2010 | Anthony C. Wood, Founder & Chair
Article from the Fall 2010 Newsletter

NYPAP’s website continues to evolve! Please bear with us as we update and transfer all of our preservation resources to our new website. And Anthony C. Wood’s Landmarks45 blog continues to celebrate the 45th anniversary of the New York City landmarks law with intriguing posts on the past 45 years of landmarking. Following here is an excerpt of a recent post that caused quite the stir:

“The recent controversy over 15 Penn Plaza, the Pelli Clarke Pelli planned addition to the NYC skyline, raises many interesting questions. One that has not been raised but should be of particular interest to us, is: “Why the preservation community was so silent for so long on an issue with such a clear impact on one of NYC’s most iconic buildings and on the city’s skyline?” It appears that it was only after the powerful (though sadly not powerful enough) owners of the Empire State Building reached out that the preservation community logged in. Correct me if I’m wrong on that. Why wasn’t this a bigger issue for preservationists? Did people decide to keep their “powder dry” knowing of the Mayor’s support for the project and the unlikelihood of having any impact on it? Or, was it that as a community we have been so locked into the limits of our existing set of preservation tools that a threat of this nature wasn’t even perceived as a preservation issue? At the moment it appears (and again jump in with a correction if you feel otherwise) that NYC does not have in place an effective mechanism to address the question of the preservation of iconic scenic views…Shouldn’t New York have a less unwieldy mechanism than a last-minute “Hail Mary” pass at the City Council to address an issue as important as the future of the city’s skyline? The New York Times in its editorial on the subject at least suggested some sort of “larger development plan for the entire area” was needed. Aren’t historic scenic views and the shape of the skyline issues of aesthetics that should fall under the purview of some appropriate city agency? To they currently have the status they need to given serious consideration?…Can the threat to the Empire State Building and the skyline lead to some new thinking about scenic views, the skyline, and a better way to manage changes to them? The owners of the Empire State Building proposed a 17 block “no go” zone around the building. Interestingly, in an early iteration, the draft of our landmarks law included a 400 foot protective zone around landmarks over which the Commission would have jurisdiction. Though understandably the efforts of the owners of the Empire State Building to preserve its iconic status may be seen as being self interested, the owners have done New York City the great favor of raising to public attention a much larger issue—the city’s apparent lack of an appropriate forum in which such important issues can be meaningfully addressed. Finding a better way to debate, manage, and regulate changes to NYC’s historic view sheds, scenic views, and aspects of the skyline remains on the “to do” list for the civic community. It should be high on the list of preservationists. Does some existing agency need to step up to the plate and exercise authority they already have? Is new authority needed? Have we lost the ability earlier generations of civic leaders had to dream of improving the city’s ability to shape its future? That ability led to the Landmarks Law and its strengthening.   Is it time to dream again? Can we still dream? Let’s hope so. If New York is going to have 15 Penn Plaza thrust into its skyline (which seems to be the case unless some unknown variable comes into play), it should at least go down in the history books as the building that led New York to invent a way to conserve its iconic scenic view sheds and world-famous skyline.”

Above: Rendering of 15 Penn Plaza; Courtesy of Vornado Realty Trust