Our History: The Early Years

In 1983, Anthony C. Wood received a $5,000 grant for “Preserving Preservation’s Past,” a project to conduct interviews with preservation pioneers Geoffrey Platt, Harmon Goldstone, Ruth Wittenberg, Margot Gayle, and Brendan Gill.

Intended to be a six-month project, this initiative eventually inspired Wood to found the New York Preservation Archive Project; in the grant report is the first mention of an idea to create a preservation-related archive. This pilot project also led to additional oral history interviews and helped influence discussion for the 20th anniversary celebration of New York City’s Landmarks Law in 1985. In 1987, three of Wood’s interviews were published in Village Views: those of New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission Chairs Geoffrey Platt and Harmon Goldstone, and Commissioner Adolf Plazcek.

Over the subsequent years Wood published articles and gave lectures advocating for preserving the history of the preservation movement, continued to work to establish a preservation archive, and persisted in capturing oral histories with preservation leaders. In 1993, the J. M. Kaplan Fund awarded a grant to the Historic Districts Council to help officially launch the New York Preservation Archive Project.

In one of its first major collaborations, the Archive Project teamed up with the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation (GVSHP) in 1995 for a symposium entitled “The Greenwich Village Historic District: How It Came To Be, What It Has Become, and Where It is Going.” This symposium was part of the celebration of the 30th anniversary of the Landmarks Law, the 25th anniversary of the Greenwich Village Historic District, and the 15th anniversary of GVSHP. This symposium inspired an initiative to capture interviews with such Village preservation figures as Verna Small, Doris Diether, Margot Gayle, Edith Lyons, Claire Tankel, Anthony Dapolito, Norman Redlich, Harold Edelman, and Jane Jacobs.

To promote this inspirational work, in 1996 the Archive Project supported GVSHP with a small grant to help launch its own preservation archive and an official oral history program. Through celebratory launches, illustrated lectures seminars, and publications, the success of GVSHP’s work preserving the neighborhood’s preservation history was in turn used to inspire other small preservation-related organizations to do the same.