Events & News

Preservation History in Quotes

October 25, 2016 | by Anthony C. Wood, Founder & Chair
Article from the Fall 2016 Newsletter

“We have won an important legislative battle but it is not the end of the Landmark’s war by any means. Vigilance is the price of preservation.”

– Edward Finch, Municipal Art Society Counsel, June 1965

It might seem odd that this admonition: “Vigilance is the price of preservation” was delivered on the heels of what is arguably the greatest victory in the history of preservation in New York City: the signing of the Landmarks Law by Mayor Robert Wagner on April 19, 1965. That, however, was the point. Edward Finch, the counsel for the Municipal Art Society, wanted to make sure that members of the Municipal Art Society did not regard the passage of the law and the creation of the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission as the completion of their preservation agenda. Noting that the Society might choose to “rest on its oars” he wisely counseled that instead, it should be encouraged “to greater efforts.” He knew that in a very real sense the law codified the importance and need for citizen advocacy in the landmark process. Though written in 1965, Finch’s words are as relevant today as when he wrote them. Without constant vigilance the Landmarks Law itself could be lost, and without vigilance, the law’s ability to actually preserve New York City’s landmarks cannot be assured. The law is only as good as citizens demand it to be. Preservation requires vigilance. Is that too high a price to pay for safeguarding our architectural, historical, and cultural treasures? Fortunately, for generations, by their actions, preservationists have said “no.”

Above: Margot Gayle campaigning for the Jefferson Market Courthouse; Courtesy of H.J. Fields/The New York Public Library