Remembering Two Giants of Historic Preservation: Joan Kaplan Davidson and Beverly Moss Spatt

We recently lost two great giants of historic preservation, and two longtime friends of Village Preservation: Joan Kaplan Davidson and Beverly Moss Spatt.

A former president of the J.M. Kaplan Fund, chair of the New York State Council on the Arts, and commissioner of the New York State Department of Parks, Recreation, and Historic Preservation, Joan Davidson (1927–2023) had a lifelong commitment to preservation and a wide range of progressive causes, and put that passion into action. She was also a longtime member of the Village Preservation Board of Advisors. Her impact was felt throughout New York State and beyond, but locally she coordinated the founding of the Westbeth Artists Residence in the West Village, a trailblazing adaptive reuse of the abandoned Bell Telephone Labs that became the first federally subsidized affordable housing for artists in the United States. She remained dedicated to Westbeth’s mission and survival, helping to fund Village Preservation’s successful efforts have the complex landmarked and listed on the State and National Registers of Historic Places, establishment of our Westbeth oral history project, and our Westbeth Open House Loft Tour. She also supported the production of our book, Greenwich Village Stories.

Joan honored us by providing Village Preservation with a fascinating oral history, recounting her efforts in founding and coordinating the Westbeth project and in many other areas. She will be missed. 

Beverly Moss Spatt (1924–2023) was a leading figure in New York City planning and preservation for over 50 years. A founder of the first reform Democratic club in Brooklyn, she earned a “maverick” reputation during her time on the City Planning Commission from 1966–1970, and serving on the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) from 1974 to 1982, including as chair from 1974 to 1978 — the first woman to hold that position.

During her tenure leading the LPC, Beverly oversaw the designation of the city’s first “scenic” and interior landmarks, including Central Park and the interior of the main branch of the New York Public Library on 42nd Street, and led the agency through its incredibly important Supreme Court battle to prevent a tower from being built atop the landmarked Grand Central Station. Locally, Beverly led the LPC to landmark and protect the threatened Grace Church townhouses on Fourth Avenue, 203 Prince Street, and the East Village’s First Houses (the first public housing development in the city, and the first to be landmarked), and she oversaw the approval of the new structure replacing the house destroyed by the Weatherman bomb explosion on West 11th Street, now considered a classic of modern intervention within a historic district. Read more here and here.

Beverly remained active in preservation causes throughout her life, and was a longtime member and supporter of Village Preservation. Like Joan Kaplan Davidson, she generously contributed an oral history to our collection, in which she recounts the many preservation battles which she led. 

August 14, 2023