Over the last decade, American cities with significant historic inventory have wisely taken steps to protect the architectural and cultural legacies they have been privileged to inherit. Chicago, Boston and nearby Yonkers, NY, for example, have all enacted laws requiring that a few key questions be answered before rubber stamping a Demolition Permit.
But sadly, the proverbial rubber stamp remains current practice in our city (sort of the Real Estate industry's version of "don't ask, don't tell") even though only 1% of its structures are currently landmarked (a status which does confer a review process prior to demolition), leaving the rest vulnerable to demolition with no questions asked (like, for instance, was it the nation's first Presidential abode?).
Now, given the fact that once NYC's historic neighborhoods and structures are gone, no amount of wand waving will ever be able to bring them back (ref. the old Penn Station), we really don't think it's much to ask that, before the NYC Department of Buildings gives a developer the green light to demolish a structure which is 50 years or older, the city first find out whether the structure happens to be historically significant.
If the goal is to manage sustainable development without destroying the incomparable character of NYC, its historic neighborhoods and its economy, this certainly seems a wise and reasonable approach. In fact, one might even call it a no-brainer.
And yet, here in our city, a municipality not exactly known for its political timidity, finding an advocate for a Demolition Review bill in the NYC Council is like trying to find a politician in West Virginia willing to advocate against the Coal Industry.
Now, we understand the politics that make NY City Council Members reluctant (read: allergic) to want to shepard a bill which seems to poke a finger in the eye of the very industry that has proven so generous to their re-election campaigns.
And, of course, now that Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau (who's got more game at 90 than most of us had at 29) has made the world aware that the NYC Department of Buildings (remember, the department charged with the duty to issue Demolition Permits?) has for years been operating as a front for the Luchese crime family, we are even more sensitive to the City Council's reluctance to wade too deep into these dark and chilly waters.
But taking a cue from the irrepressible Marx Brothers, wade they must: After moving on from their beloved childhood block in Carnegie Hill, the Marx Brothers lived for a time (before coming to their senses and returning to the greatest city in the world!) in the city of Chicago. And when that city decided the most politically palatable way to manage the energetic rash of demolitions there was to commission an inventory of its historic structures, the Marx Brothers suddenly reappeared - posthumously presiding over a rather public exegesis in managing development in the 21st century. You see, Chicago's inventory list of historic structures missed a very obvious cultural gem: the Marx Brothers house!
Well, those spunky Chicago denizens would be having none of that! And having learned from the experience that an inventory list was simply not practicable, they not only made sure the Marx Brothers house was individually protected, they also crafted and passed a Demolition Review law ensuring that such an embarrassing oversight would never happen again!
Last year, the 93rd Street Beautification Association submitted a draft of just such a Demolition Review bill to the NYC Council. That proposed NYC law is based upon the similar law enacted by the city of Boston. And while Boston may have an absolutely wretched baseball team, we must admit it does know a thing or two about history and its value.
So, now all we need is one (we'll take more!) brave soul in the NY City Council to step up to the plate on behalf of our city's historic neighborhoods, its architectural and cultural heritage, and the countless historic structures that remain vulnerable to summary demolition throughout all five boroughs.
We hope the NY City Council will do the right thing and push full steam ahead to finally pass a Demolition Review bill that will protect our city's future by protecting its history!
And in the meantime, please let the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission know that you want the city to protect historic Marx Brothers Place by just clicking on this link. Thanks!!!
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