Passion Preserves NYC History

Event: Preserving New York — Then and Now Symposium
Location: Museum of the City of New York, 02.23.08
Speakers: Susan Henshaw Jones — President & Director, Museum of the City of New York; Lisa Ackerman — Executive Vice President & COO, World Monuments Fund; Anthony M. Tung — Urbanist & Author; Anthony C. Wood — Author; Tony Hiss — Visiting Scholar, Wagner School of Public Service, New York University
Panel 1: Where Did the ‘History’ Go in Historic Preservation?: Jane McNamara — Senior Program Officer, New York Council for the Humanities; Andrew Dolkart — James Fitch Associate Professor of Historic Preservation, Columbia University; Ned Kaufman — Visiting Associate Professor, NYC Program, Cornell University; Michael Miscione — Manhattan Borough Historian
Panel 2: The Media and Preservation: New Media, Old Roles?: Francis Morrone — Art & Architecture Critic, Columnist, The New York Sun; Alan G. Brake — Associate Editor, The Architect’s Newspaper; Jonathan Butler — Founder and Editor, Brownstoner.com; Suzanne Stephens — Deputy Editor, Architectural Record
Panel 3: Preservation and Progress: Mary Schmidt Campbell — Chair, NY State Council on the Arts (NYSCA); Anne van Ingen — Director, Architecture, Planning & Design, NYSCA; Kenneth T. Jackson — Jacques Barzun Professor in History and the Social Sciences, Columbia University; Robert A.M. Stern, FAIA — Principal, Robert A. M. Stern Architects; Amy Freitag — Deputy Commissioner for Capital Projects, NYC Department of Parks & Recreation; Melissa Baldock — Director of Preservation & Research, Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation; Randall Mason — Associate Professor, Graduate Program in Historic Preservation, University of Pennsylvania
Panel 4: The Preservation Civic Sector in Times of Change: Eric Allison — Co-Founder & Coordinator, Graduate Program in Historic Preservation, Pratt Institute; Andrew Berman — Executive Director, Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation; Frances Kunreuther — Director, Building Movement Project; Kevin Wolfe — Vice President, Douglaston Little Neck Historical Society
Organizers: The Museum of the City of New York; New York Preservation Archive Project

Tenement Museum

The Levine Apartment at the Tenement Museum.

Courtesy Tenement Museum

Author Anthony Wood opened this Preserving NY Symposium by quoting William Faulkner’s Requiem for a Nun: “The past is never dead. It is not even the past.” Conservation possesses complexity, ranging from protecting Modernism (spearheaded by the formation of the Landmarks Preservation Commission) to using blogs (such as brownstoner.com) to build coalitions to save at-risk buildings and neighborhoods.

Preservation has existed in NYC since the end of the 19th century. While the definition has changed throughout the years, the newest chapter of the “movement” takes in of a wider range of projects than ever before considering both history and architectural value, according to Andrew Dolkart, professor of historic preservation at Columbia University. The Tenement Museum, for example, would not have been considered worthy of preservation according to the original Commission’s parameters, as it tended to exclude the immigration story. Now, preservationists have a more collective perspective of history, inclusive of foreigners and their struggles.

Robert A.M. Stern, FAIA, illustrated how preservation can be used as a tool to alleviate blight. SoHo was a devastated area, for example, but now it is thriving because it has preserved the old brownstones and historic buildings while allowing new construction.

Kenneth T. Jackson, professor of history at Columbia University, was the symposium’s anti-preservationist, proclaiming that preservation is for “loser cities” and NYC is not a losing city. He believes it should continue to build leaving history for the books.

Overall, the common tone was fervor. Time and time again, the passion of a community or an individual has proven the value of a building or neighborhood in an ever-changing city.