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Memo to Developers: Don’t Kill the Goose That Laid the Golden Egg

ACW St Barts
Sometimes you have to stand in the rain: That’s Anthony C. Wood at right at a vigil in January 1984 to save St. Bartholomew’s Church’s Community House, on Park Avenue at 50th Street. Despite being a designated landmark, it faced a real estate threat that led to a Supreme Court case upholding the Landmarks Law.

Call him the preservationist’s preservationist: Anthony C. Wood has not only built a distinguished career as an activist for historic preservation in New York City, but has also blazed a singular trail as a historian of the movement itself.

He’ll be looking back, and looking forward, at a GVSHP program on Thursday evening, February 19. It’s free and there’s still room available, so reserve your seat today at rsvp@gvshp.org. (At the Third Street Music School Settlement, 6:30-8 p.m. See all details here.)

To give a taste of his insights, Wood answered a few questions from Off the Grid. Be sure to join us for a whole lot more.

ACW Penn
Wood is at left in this photo from June 29, 1988, at a protest against proposed changes to the Landmarks Law, held at Penn Station. In the foreground are Alice Sachs and Ray Rubinow, both of whom protested against demolition of the original Penn Station in August of 1962.

What makes preservation meaningful to young people today?

In a world dominated by the virtual, the real and authentic are increasingly special and valued.  Preservation is about the real.  It is also about place and community—other values credited to today’s young adults.

What’s the one message you’d like to deliver to that part of the real estate business that resents and battles landmark protections?

Don’t kill the goose that laid the golden egg.  The preservation movement in New York City has preserved and increased real estate values—both in and out of historic districts—all across the city.  It has made neighborhoods more desirable and attracted development to areas adjacent to historic districts.  New buildings are now advertised as being instant “landmarks” because of the value society attributes to landmarks.  The preservation movement has been working on behalf of the real estate industry for years so give us a break!

You call the preservation community “dysfunctional.” Why?

The community has given itself a luxury it cannot afford—it has allowed old baggage, personality clashes, institutional egos, and turf battles to get in the way of the coordinated and unified effort needed to beat back the Real Estate Board of New York and advance the preservation agenda.

Name one lesson from the preservation movement’s history that would be useful today – if only we knew our own history.

Preservationists must play the “long game.”  It took over 40 years for Albert Bard’s vision that New York City should have the right to protect its landmarks to become a reality but he never gave up hope.  Transformative ideas take time, so the time to start advocating for them is now!


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