Notes from the Board
December 5, 2021
I come from a long line of rabble-rousers, so it took little convincing for my father to join in my earliest activist pursuits. Together, we marched against the Iraq war, petitioned against the clearcutting of a local forest, and dredged trash from the Farmington River’s swollen banks.
My father got the bug, in turn, from his parents. Ethel and Frank Untermyer raised their family in what now is a suburb— but was then a swamp hemmed in by active farmland. From their custom-built modernist home, Ethel drafted, typed, and mimeographed her 1958 ballot measure that created a countywide preservation and conservation agency. For his part, Frank preached the gospel of civil rights as a professor at an early integrated college and welcomed leaders like James Baldwin to the family home.
Frank’s father “roused rabble” too, although in his signature reserved fashion. Justice Irwin Untermyer molded the law from his perch on the Appellate Division bench in Manhattan and promoted beauty through his longtime service on the board of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Irwin’s father’s activism remains the stuff of legend. Papers dubbed Samuel Untermyer a “superlawyer,” as he hounded officials with plans for monopoly regulation, subway unification, and entry into World War II to fight his mustachioed nemesis, Adolf Hitler. Elements of Samuel’s verdant estate still enchant visitors to Untermyer Gardens in Yonkers and Untermyer Fountain in Central Park.
My entry into Gotham’s preservation community may have thus been inevitable, but I jumped in with gusto upon moving to Manhattan in 2008. Early projects were unsuccessful, but later initiatives bore fruit thanks to the guidance of Mosette Broderick, Carol Herselle Krinsky, and many, many others.
A productive decade followed. By 2015, Simeon Bankoff had asked me to join the Historic Districts Council as its Deputy Director. My activism professionalized somewhat as we took on destructive and unimaginative proposals of all types across all five boroughs.
But I reverted to those scrappy Untermyer roots after departing for law school. And today, I find myself on the board of the Archive Project, a venerable group charged with maintaining that most ephemeral of essences: the spirit of preservation in New York and its environs. Given the long line of rabble-rousers who precede me, I could not be prouder.
Adrian Untermyer is an attorney, urbanist, and historian who serves on the New York Preservation Archive Project’s Board of Directors. For further information or to get in touch, please visit www.adrianuntermyer.com