City Club of New York
Founded in 1892 as a good government organization, the City Club now focuses on land use and preservation projects.
The City Club of New York was founded in 1892 as a good government organization. In its current iteration, the group focuses on land use issues, including advocating for preservation within the city.
1905: The City Club successfully leads opposition to the IRT’s plans for an extension of the subway through Bronx Park.
1946: Allied with other organizations, the City Club opposes the demolition of Castle Clinton
2014: Files lawsuit challenging the construction of a shopping mall in Flushing Meadows Corona Park
The City Club of New York was founded in 1892 by Edmond Kelly, bringing together prominent New Yorkers of the civic gentry at the time who shared an interest in reforming local politics and reducing the influence of Tammany Hall, the city’s infamous political machine. It emphasized the need for transparency in the governance of New York City and the improvement of public services for residents. Over time, the City Club of New York became increasingly focused on preserving New York’s landmarks and helping the city keep its unique charm. In 2009, the City Club ceased activities, but was revived in 2013 under the leadership of Michael Gruen.1 Today, the City Club continues to work with the public to advocate for its mission of promoting “thoughtful urban land use policy that responds to the needs of all New Yorkers.”2
The City Club of New York has been a leader in historic preservation in Manhattan and the outer boroughs since its founding. It sought to improve the quality of life for all New Yorkers by advocating for the preservation of New York’s unique landmarks and rich history. One central aspect of the City Club’s mission has been the preservation of parkland dedicated to public enjoyment. In 1905, the City Club joined other civic organizations in opposition to the development plans of the Interborough Rapid Transit Company, which proposed a route that would run through land already dedicated to the Bronx Park, home of the Bronx Zoo and the New York Botanical Gardens. The inaugural protest meeting, held at the City Club’s headquarters at 55 West 44th Street, became the first of many.3
Much of the City Club’s historic preservation advocacy work during the early twentieth century was less politically contentious than Bronx Park. In 1912, the president of the City Club, Charles H. Strong, happened upon the neglected Rhode Island gravesite of the first mayor of New York City, Thomas Willet. Seeking to establish the City Club as steward of sites relating to local and state history, Strong and the members of the City Club raised funds to establish a monument in partnership with the Rhode Island Historical Society.4
During World War II, the City Club fought to preserve Castle Clinton at the southern tip of Manhattan. Castle Clinton, a remnant of the War of 1812 against Great Britain, serves as not only a piece of New York City’s history but also that of the nation’s. After it served as a fort, it played the role of an immigration center in the latter half of the nineteenth century, speaking to the remarkable diversity for which the city is known. The fort also held the city’s aquarium from 1896 to 1941 when pressure to tear the structure down increased. It now serves as a national historic site due to the efforts of the City Club which brought yet another preservation victory in 1946.5
During the 1960s, when publicly-funded urban renewal and redevelopment projects accounted for the loss of many aging structures, the City Club organized to protect the redevelopment of the old Washington Street Market site. The area included the popular Cast Iron Building, built in 1848, which was considered to be “an important symbol of the commercial development of New York.”6 Since preserving the historic site was infeasible, in 1962 the City Club favored the development of affordable housing on the available land over a proposed commercial development project, then worth about $150 million which, the City Club argued, should have been better researched.7
In 2014, the City Club filed a lawsuit against the City of New York for negotiating the transfer of more than 40 acres of land, already dedicated to the Flushing Meadows Corona Park, to developers to build a large shopping center. Filed with State Senator Tony Avella and other organizations to block the development of the land, worth around $1 billion, the lawsuit was finally won in 2017 when it reached New York State’s Court of Appeals.8 This project ultimately brought the City Club full circle back to its roots, established in 1905 with the protestation of the development of the Bronx Park. The City Club continues to be an active advocate on issues of land use and preservation in New York City.
- City Club of New York records, MS 116
- New-York Historical Society
- 170 Central Park West
- New York, NY 10024
- Tel: (212) 873-3400
- City Club of New York records, 1896-2005
- New York Public Library
- Manuscripts and Archives Division
- Stephen A. Schwarzman Building
- Fifth Avenue at 42nd Street, New York, NY 10018-2788
- Brooke Russell Astor Reading Room, Third Floor, Room 328
- “The City Club History,” City Club of New York, accessed 13 October 2020, https://cityclubny.org/history/
- “Mission + Leadership,” City Club of New York, accessed 13 October 2020, https://cityclubny.org/mission-leadership/
- “All Condemn Parsons’ Bronx Subway Plans,” New York Times, 11 January 1905.
- “City Club Honors Thomas Willett, First Mayor of New York City,” The New York Times, 19 October 1913.
- “The City Club History.”
- National Park Service, “Castle Clinton: History and Culture,” accessed 13 October, 2020, https://www.nps.gov/cacl/learn/historyculture/index.htm
- Seymour Jr., Whitney North, “Plea to Curb the Bulldozer,” The New York Times, 13 October 1963. https://www.nytimes.com/1963/10/13/archives/plea-to-curb-the-bulldozer-many-values-attach-to-a-citys-landmarks.html
- “City Club Protests Old Market Project,” New York Times, 4 February 1962. https://www.nytimes.com/1962/02/04/archives/city-club-protests-old-market-project.html
- “Court of Appeals Blocks Willets West Mega Mall,” New York State Senate. Accessed 13 October, 2020, https://www.nysenate.gov/newsroom/press-releases/tony-avella/court-appeals-blocks-willets-west-mega-mall