Events & News

Preservation History in Quotes

May 22, 2016
Article from the Spring 2016 Newsletter

“A people indifferent to the landmarks and monuments of its past will not long retain its capacity to achieve an honored future.” – Justice Samuel Null, December 13, 1948

This powerful language comes from a New York State Supreme Court decision in a case brought by the American Scenic and Historic Preservation Society to stop the demolition of Castle Clinton in Manhattan’s Battery Park. The decision was later reversed on the grounds that an insufficient amount of the site remained to meet the definition of a “monument” or “work of art” as outlined in the City Charter regarding the powers of the New York City Art Commission, but it played an important role in the decade-long struggle to save the structure. At the time of the reversal of the decision, C. C. Burlingham, a defender of Castle Clinton and a great civic leader, commented that the reversal had not “ended the life of the fort” for it had “as many lives as a cat.” History has proven him correct. Despite many incarnations—including as a military headquarters, a theater, a beer garden, an immigration station, and an aquarium—and a fierce battle that involved leading local figures such as George McAneny, Albert S. Bard, Stanley Isaacs, and Eleanor and Franklin D. Roosevelt fighting to stop Robert Moses’s demolition plans, Castle Clinton survives today as a reminder of nearly 200 years of New York City history.

To read more about the legal suit and the battle to save Castle Clinton, turn to Charles B. Hosmer, Jr.’s Preservation Comes of Age, Volume Two: From Williamsburg to the National Trust, 1926-1949, Robert Caro’s The Power Broker, Anthony C. Wood’s Preserving New York: Winning the Right to Protect a City’s Landmarks, or view our Preservation Database entry on the topic here

Above: Richard J. Koke, curator of the New-York Historical Society from 1947-83, explores the partially-demolished Castle Clinton c. 1948; Courtesy of the National Park Service