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Christopher Gray

Christopher Gray

Christopher Gray founded the Office for Metropolitan History and wrote the Streetscapes column in the New York Times.

Organizations: Office for Metropolitan History
Above: Christopher Gray. Courtesy of the Office for Metropolitan History.

Christopher Gray was born in Kansas City, Missouri, on April 24, 1950. When he moved to New York City at the age of nine, his fascination with the creation of the landscape of New York City began.1 Gray received his bachelor’s degree in art history in 1975 from Columbia University. Shortly after he began his career as an architectural educator, researcher, and writer, he was a founder at and contributor to the Office for Metropolitan History, as well as a columnist for Avenue magazine, House & Gardens magazine, and the New York Times.2 He earned awards from Classical America, the American Institute of Architects, the New York Genealogical and Biographical Society, the Preservation League of New York State, the New York Landmarks Conservancy and the New York Society Library for his research and writing.3

Gray married preservation activist Erin Drake in 1980, with whom he two children.4 He passed away in New York City on March 10, 2017 at the age of 66.5 

Office of Metropolitan History

Through his research and writings on the history of architecture and buildings in New York City, Christopher Gray helped build a wider consciousness of the value of preservation. His Streetscapes column in the New York Times, which ran from 1987 to 2014, gained a wide following. In his column, Gray wrote about the character of quirkier but lower profile buildings in the city, rather than focusing only on high-profile ones.6 The tone for his column was set in his first article in April 1987. It was about a 122-year-old brownstone at 134 East 60th Street that a developer had hoped to demolish, but the tenant in the building declined the $650,000 offer to move out.7

Besides writing, Gray also contributed to historic preservation through the Office for Metropolitan History, which he founded in 1975. This organization provides research and documentation for New York City buildings. Sometimes, the office’s sole employee was Gray, but at times, he had help from Suzanne Braley, Sam Hightower, Melissa Braverman, and his wife.8 As of 2020, the Sam Hightower is the office’s director. The Office for Metropolitan History has a collection of historic photographs and original architectural, structural and mechanical drawings that it has collected and conserved. These records are available for research by engineers, architects, lawyers, and anyone else interested in the history of buildings in New York City.9 The Office for Metropolitan History was essential in locating records for nine buildings damaged by the collapse of the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, because these buildings were either in danger of falling or buildings in which people were trapped. They found original drawings for seven of the nine buildings within thirty-six hours of being called upon by the New York City Department of Design and Construction.20 The Office for Metropolitan History also digitized and created a searchable database of all the new building applications filed in New York City from 1900 to 1986. The New York Public Library Milstein Division currently holds a collection of building history reports from 1977 to 1994, created and donated by Christopher Gray and his colleagues at the Office for Metropolitan History.22

Christopher Gray and the Office for Metropolitan History were also responsible for writing reports about New York City buildings. Gray wrote a guide, entitled “A Guide to Researching the History of a New York City Building,” that outlined and explained the typical research techniques that should be applied to New York City buildings.12 This guide helps preservationists correctly and effectively research the history of buildings in New York City that they are seeking to preserve.

  • Office for Metropolitan History
  • Broadway Studio Building
  • 246 West 80th Street #8
  • New York, NY 10024
  • 212-799-0520
    • Manhattan building histories, 1977-1994
    • New York Public Library
    • Irma and Paul Milstein Division of United States History, Local History and Genealogy
    • Stephen A. Schwarzman Building
    • Fifth Avenue at 42nd Street, New York, NY 10018-2788
    • First Floor, Room 121
  1. David W. Dunlap, “Christopher Gray, Architecture Writer and Researcher, Dies at 66,” New York Times, 13 March 2017, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/03/13/nyregion/christopher-gray-architecture-writer-and-researcher-dies-at-66.html.
  2. Dunlap, “Christopher Gray, Architecture Writer and Researcher, Dies at 66.”
  3. Office of Metropolitan History website, accessed 10 October 2020, http://www.metrohistory.com/.
  4. Bill Eville, “Christopher Gray Built a Writer’s Life, Brick by Brick,” Vineyard Gazette, 27 April 2017, https://vineyardgazette.com/obituaries/2017/04/27/christopher-gray-built-writers-life-brick-brick.
  5. Dunlap, “Christopher Gray, Architecture Writer and Researcher, Dies at 66.”
  6. Dunlap, “Christopher Gray, Architecture Writer and Researcher, Dies at 66.”
  7. Christopher Gray, “Holding Out in a Once-Gracious 1865 Brownstone,” New York Times, 12 April 1987, https://www.nytimes.com/1987/04/12/realestate/streetscapes-134-east-60th-street-holding-out-in-a-once-gracious-1865-brownstone.html.
  8. Dunlap, “Christopher Gray, Architecture Writer and Researcher, Dies at 66.”
  9. Office for Metropolitan History, accessed 21 December 2020, https://www.metrohistory.com
  10. Office for Metropolitan History.”
  11. Diane Dias De Fazio, “Christopher Gray: an Appreciation,” 17 March, 2017, https://www.nypl.org/blog/2017/03/17/remembering-christopher-gray.
  12. Christopher Gray, “A Guide to Researching the History of a New York City Building,” 1995, accessed October 10, 2020, https://nysoclib.org/sites/default/files/pdf/Gray%20-%20Guide%20to%20Researching%20the%20History%20of%20a%20NYC%20Building.pdf