Six years ago today, on August 8, 2007, the Landmarks Preservation Commission wrote to GVSHP responding to our request to consider Webster Hall, the East Village social and assembly hall built in 1887 , for landmark designation. In their letter, the Commission informed us that in response to the information we submitted, the building was ‘calendared.’
Looking over the letter got us thinking – do those outside of the preservation community even know what ‘calendaring’ means? So, using Webster Hall as a case study, we thought we would take you through the ins and outs of the landmarking process in New York City. And for you history buffs, you can check out Webster Hall’s more radical role in the city’s labor history and as a center for entertainment in these past Off the Grid posts.
New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission
Or the LPC as it is sometimes called, is a New York City agency created in 1965 as part of the Landmarks Law to safeguard the city’s historic, aesthetic, and cultural heritage. The commission identifies individual buildings and sites and historic districts for designation and regulates changes to those properties. The commission is made up of eleven commissioners and approximately fifty full-time staff members. Check out this past Off the Grid post about what constitutes a landmark in New York City.
Request for Evaluation
Often, the LPC first considers a landmark district or individual building after receiving a request for evaluation, or RFE. GVSHP sent a request for evaluation for Webster Hall in the summer of 2007, which is available on the GVSHP website. An evaluation request can be submitted by anyone, but often comes from the community in which the potential landmark(s) is located. In the case of Webster Hall, there was a broad constituency for landmarking, and GVSHP’s was one of several RFE’s submitted. The evaluation request usually contains research about the architecture of the building, including building date, architect name, and significant architectural features, though it can contain as little as the address or name of the building, site, or neighborhood. Because historical significance is also an important part of landmarking, the RFE usually contains significant events related to the building or district as well. The LPC provides guidelines on their website to help the public recommend landmark status for a building or district.
The LPC makes official its intent to consider a building or district for landmark status by voting to add a public hearing date to its public meeting calendar (this does not mean that the date of the hearing has been set, but merely that the LPC has officially decided that it will hold one). At this point, permits from the Department of Buildings are supposed to be sent to the Landmarks Preservation Commission for review before they are approved. While the LPC does not yet at this point have the power to reject or modify such permits, they are supposed to be given 40 days before the Department of Buildings acts upon the permits. During that time, if the LPC believes the proposed work would harm the historic site, they can move ahead with designation, thus requiring the permit to go through the official landmarks approval process, meet with the owner to convince them to drop or alter the application, or simply let the permit be issued when or before the 40 day window expires.
Before a building such as Webster Hall can be calendared, the LPC must send a letter to the building owner(s) and inform them in advance that a vote to ‘calendar’ the building, site, or district will be held.
A public hearing must be held before the Commission can vote to designate a property. Sometimes the vote is held directly following the hearing, but this is rare, and typically only happens when there is an emergency requiring designation right away. More likely, a vote takes place months or even years after one, or in some cases more, public hearings. In some cases, a vote is never held, and the building remains calendared but never landmarked (read about buildings in the South Village which were left in this state of ‘landmarks limbo’ for decades).
In order for a designation to take place, there must be a ‘designation report.’ You can access the designation report for Webster Hall on the GVSHP website. Besides being a great resource on the history of a district or building, a designation report serves another very important purpose. Created based on the research conducted by the LPC to determine whether a building or district is deserving of landmark status, a designation report acts as the official record of the property’s architecture over time. The report assists the LPC in making decisions about changes to the building in future. To learn more about making changes to a landmarked property, check out this past Off the Grid post about landmark misconceptions.