Events & News

50 Years Since the Passage of the 1973 Amendments to New York City’s Landmarks Law!

November 30, 2023

By Katie Heiserman, Jeffe Fellow
From the 2023 Newsletter

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the 1973 amendments to New York City’s Landmarks Law. Among other notable changes, the amendments introduced interior and scenic landmarks as new designation categories and implemented structural changes that made the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) a full-time administrative body. 

Mayor Robert Wagner signed the 1965 Landmarks Law to protect historic buildings and districts from unchallenged developments that would destroy or fundamentally alter their character. At the time, the law did not provide provisions to protect public parks and other landscape features. The 1973 amendments allowed the designation of Central Park as a New York City scenic landmark in 1974. 

The 1965 law also left culturally- and architecturally-significant interiors vulnerable to demolition. In 1967, the auditorium of the Old Metropolitan Opera House, designed by Carrere & Hastings in 1903, was destroyed despite vehement preservation efforts. At the time of the 1973 amendments’ passage, there had been recent and ultimately unsuccessful proposals to demolish the interiors of Grand Central Terminal and the central staircase of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

In legal terms, the amendments established that interior and scenic sites could become designated landmarks if they were at least 30 years old and had “a special character or special historical or aesthetic interest or value as part of the development, heritage, or cultural characteristics of the City, state, or nation.” To become an interior landmark, spaces also had to be open and accessible to the public. Interior spaces specifically used for the purpose of religious worship, however, were excluded to avoid potential challenges related to the First Amendment of the United States Constitution. 

The 1973 amendments also significantly strengthened the Landmarks Preservation Commission, which had previously operated within a mandatory cycle of six-month “designating periods” followed by three-year hiatuses. The LPC pushed to regularize the hearing schedule, and 25 representatives of prestigious organizations and community groups spoke in favor of amending the 1965 legislation during a public hearing before the City Council’s Charter and Government Operations Committee. Only the New York Real Estate Board presented opposition, expressing that the legislation would restrict private ownership and prevent normal development in the city. The City Council subsequently passed the amendments 36 to 0 with one abstention in November 1973.