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David F. M. Todd

David F. M. Todd

Also known as David Fenton Michie Todd

David F. M. Todd, an architect and a former chair of the New York Landmark Preservation Commission, helped to designate the Ladies’ Mile Historic District.

People: Joseph Kalikow, Ed Koch, Arlene Simon
Organizations: Coalition to Save City and Suburban, Friends of the Upper East Side, Municipal Art Society, New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission, New York Landmarks Conservancy
Places: City and Suburban York Avenue Estate, Ladies’ Mile Historic District, Riverside-West End Historic District, Union Square 
Above: The Flatiron Building and Ladies' Mile, c. 1903; Courtesy of Detroit Publishing Co.

David F. M. Todd was born on February 22, 1915 in Middleton, Ohio. He graduated from Dartmouth College in 1937 and subsequently earned his Bachelor of Architecture at the University of Michigan in 1940.1 Todd served in the armed services during World War II and later married Suzanne Williams in 1942.2 His son, Gregory F. W. Todd, is a lawyer for the Sullivan and Cromwell law firm.3

After the war, he joined the architecture firm Harrison, Ballard & Allen in 1946 and later became partner in 1957.4 Todd, along with Robert Cabrera, designed the Manhattan Plaza housing complex, located at 42nd and 43rd Streets between Ninth and Tenth Avenues in 1977. Todd reasoned that the placement of the these large 45-story red brick apartment buildings on the ends of the city block as opposed to the middle of the block provided “light and air” while emphasizing the small scale of the block.5

Some of his many clients included Lehman College in the Bronx, the State University of New York, Princeton University, the Collegiate School on the Upper West Side, in addition to vacation resorts in Puerto Rico and St. Martin.6

However, Todd’s true architectural interests were focused on public housing and theater. He served on the board for many housing and community organizations, and he strongly urged that more money be spent on improving conditions of subsidized housing.7 He was also involved in the design of the book The Fight for City and Suburban Homes: A Model for Successful Community Action. David F. M. Todd died on March 31, 2008. He was 93 years old.

New York Chapter of the American Institute of Architects
President, 1969-1970

Leake and Watts Children's Home
Chairman, 1984-1988

New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission
Chairman, 1989-1994

David Todd's involvement in the preservation movement began in the latter part of his life. While serving on the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission, Todd often placed a higher significance on the architectural quality of structures heard for landmark designation as opposed to cultural or historical significance. A New York Times obituary characterized him as having "the ability to distinguish landmarks from dross without abusing the city's architectural heritage or giving into obstructionism."8

He was appointed to the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission in 1984 and appointed Chairman of the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission by Mayor Edward I. Koch in 1989.9

He played an important role in the designation of the Ladies' Mile Historic District in Midtown Manhattan by prioritizing its designation once he became chairman. The district consists of the area between Madison Square and Union Square, and between Avenue of the Americas and Broadway.10 The Ladies' Mile Historic District was designated on May 2, 1989. This district is significant because it served as a burgeoning commercial area in the early 20th century.11 The designation of the Ladies' Mile Historic District protects the historic integrity of buildings while engendering commercial enterprise.

In addition, Todd helped establish the standards for window replacements on landmark-designated buildings while serving on the Landmarks Preservation Commission.12

Todd was also involved in the designation of the Riverside-West End Historic District in the Upper West Side of Manhattan. The district's boundaries are from 85th to 95th Streets on Riverside Drive and 87th to 94th Streets on West End Ave. The district contains 250 buildings that exhibit a mix of Beaux-Arts, Renaissance, Romanesque, and Gothic styles.13 The construction of the buildings took place in two periods: 1885-1917 and 1921-1939.14 The Riverside-West End Historic District was designated on April 24, 1990. According to Arlene Simon, president of Landmark West, the district "has its own sense of place, its own texture, its own strong identity."15

Furthermore, Todd was also responsible for the design of the book The Fight for City and Suburban Homes: A Model for Successful Community Action. This book focused on the 10-year-long battle to preserve the tenement housing complex located on the city block of York Ave between East 78th and East 79th  Streets.16 Real Estate developer Joseph Kalikow had threatened the historic fabric of the area by proposing to demolish the complex in order to build three 46-story luxury apartments, and displacing 1,336 families.17 Though the buildings were not exceptionally significant for their design, their socio-cultural importance resonated historically as one of the earliest models of low-income housing in New York City.18 The Coalition to Save City and Suburban Housing was formed to serve as an umbrella organization for 112 community groups including Friends of the Upper East Side, the Municipal Art Society, and The New York Landmarks Conservancy.19 Since Todd was a longtime supporter of public housing during his days as an architecture student, he realized the importance of not only preserving the complex but also the function of providing housing for low-income families. The complex was designated in 1990 while Todd was chair of the Landmarks Preservation Commission.

David W. Dunlap, “David Todd, Architect and Official, Dies at 93,” The New York Times, 2 April 2008.
Alan S. Oser, “Ladies Mile Kindles a Debate,” The New York Times, 23 November 1986.
David W. Dunlap, “Man in the News; New Chairman for Landmarks Panel; David Fenton Michie Todd,” The New York Times, 25 January 1989.
Leonard Buder, “Upper West Side Area Named Historic District,” The New York Times, 9 March 1990.
Ann Ashley Gilbert, The Fight for City and Suburban Homes: A Model for Successful Community Action (New York: Coalition to Save the City and Suburban Housing, Inc., 1998).
Shawn G. Kennedy, “Kalikow Complex Up for Landmarking,” The New York Times, 2 October 1988.
  19. Ibid.