Beverly Moss Spatt (1924-2023) was a leading figure in New York City planning and preservation for over fifty years. She served on the City Planning Commission from 1966-1970 and the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) from 1974-1982, where she was the first woman chair from 1974-1978. During her tenure leading the agency, so many important sites throughout the city and our neighborhoods were landmarked. Today we explore some of the important landmarking that occurred during that period. Read Part I of this mini-series here. Click here to read and listen to Spatt’s oral history.
Grand Central Terminal
In many ways, the “crown jewel” of New York City landmarking, Grand Central Terminal was originally landmarked in 1967 but the landmarking battle extended until 1978. Opened in 1913, by the late 1950s the station was in serious decline. Following the great cultural and architectural loss of Penn Station, the LPC landmarked Grand Central due to plans to build a giant tower atop the edifice. The railroad sued New York City over the designation. In January 1975, a New York Supreme Court judge invalidated the landmark designation, but that decision was overturned by an appeals court that December. In 1978, in a 6–3 decision, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled in favor of the city, holding that New York City’s Landmarks Preservation Act did not constitute a “taking” of Penn Central’s property under the Fifth Amendment, preventing Penn Central from constructing the proposed tower.
“It is the most important decision that the preservation movement has ever had,” Ms. Spatt said in 1978 when the New York Court of Appeals handed down their ruling. It saved not only Grand Central, she noted, but also the landmark commission itself and the principle of landmark laws: to protect historic and cultural treasures even when it meant economic hardship for an owner.
203 Prince Street
From 1974-1978 over 800 sites in New York City were landmarked by the LPC, but 203 Prince Street in the South Village is one of the very few sites landmarked from the mid-1970s through the early 1980s in any of Village Preservation’s neighborhoods from June 1973 to July 1982. (Village Preservation was founded in 1980 as the Greenwich Village Trust).
This three-story house with red Flemish bond brickwork and brownstone basement was built in 1833-34 in a transitional style between Federal and Greek Revival. In 2016, Village Preservation got the house double-landmarked as part of the 175 buildings designated as the Sullivan-Thompson Historic District.
A fascinating story, the Bogardus Building (built 1848-49) stood at the intersection of Washington and Murray Streets. As documented by the Historic Districts Council, in 1967, the area was surveyed by the LPC to determine potential landmarks before the demolition of blocks in what is now TriBeCa. The LPC recommended that the façade of the Bogardus Building, the city’s oldest cast-iron structure, be dismantled and salvaged for use on a new building at Borough of Manhattan Community College (which would occupy part of the urban renewal site). In 1971, the parts were cataloged and stored, but in 1974, some of them were famously stolen and sold to a Bronx junkyard.
On June 25th, 1974, Spatt reportedly ran into the press room at City Hall announcing, “Someone has stolen one of my buildings!”
The LPC then moved the remaining parts to a secret location in a city-owned building, but when architects went to retrieve them in 1977, they had again been stolen. This shocking sequence of events is an often-told story in New York City architecture and preservation lore. Despite the lack of a connection to the South Street Seaport, an homage to the Bogardus Building was designed by Beyer Blinder Belle as part of the historic reinterpretation and revitalization of the Seaport in the 1980s. The new Bogardus Building reinterprets the original façade with its curved corner, ground-level canopy, columns and cornice, but the ensemble was executed with a modern twist: its outer walls are made of aluminum rather than cast iron.