On Thursday, December 15th, the New York City Historic Districts Council (HDC) and their community partners were joined by elected officials and concerned members of the public for a press conference at City Hall, condemning City agencies for approving a raft of demolitions of landmarked buildings across New York City.
From Harlem to Bed-Stuy, the Village to the Upper East Side, landmarked buildings (or buildings under consideration for landmarking) are being demolished on the City’s orders, and even through its errors, in spite of the legal protections the landmarks process is designed to provide.
“HDC is alarmed at the sharp increase in demolition of landmarks over the past 18 months, most recently with 186 Lenox Avenue, demolished by the Department of Buildings due to longtime neglect, and 14 Gay Street, demolished due to illegal work by the owner, which underminded the structure. HDC is developing additional ways to protect our neighborhoods from landmark destruction in partnership with everyone in attendance and demanding those in power, especially the Department of Buildings and Landmarks Preservation Commission to work harder and better to stop this from happening.” said HDC’s Executive Director Frampton Tolbert.
HDC’s policy recommendations include:
- Increased, more formal, and more transparent communication between agencies, especially the Department of Buildings and Landmarks Preservation Commission.
- More oversight on complex construction and renovation projects which could lead to undermining of landmarks, including neighboring construction.
- More public notice on possible demolitions and buildings at risk to give community members and elected officials more time to respond and help save landmarks.
In addition to HDC, advocates from Village Preservation, Save Harlem Now!, the Mount Morris Park Community Improvement Association, Justice for 441 Willoughby (Bedford-Stuyvesant), and Friends of the Upper East Side Historic Districts spoke out against the illegal demolitions and willful neglect impacting their neighborhoods and historic architecture.
James Singletary, Director of Save Harlem Now!, said, “We are concerned with the policy and practice of demolishing landmark buildings in Harlem. It is happening too fast and too frequently. We must take action now; otherwise, Harlem will be erased by the DOB wrecking ball! Save Harlem Now! and Harlem residents will not allow the erasure of Harlem’s rich built history and legacy.”
Erika Ewing, of Mount Morris Park Community Improvement Association added, “Those buildings in Harlem, on Lennox Avenue, matter. They matter because they tell me who I am and where I am every day. You take away the structure, you chop away at my psyche…at my soul…We have questions and we want answers, and we’re not going to stop until you understand that landmarks in Harlem will not be torn down.”
In a rebuke to the city by its own officials, City Councilmembers Chi Ossé (Bedford Stuyvesant), Erik Bottcher (Greenwich Village/Chelsea/Hell’s Kitchen), and Christopher Marte (Lower Manhattan), all gathered with advocates on the steps of City Hall.
You can view footage from the press conference here.
Photo: press conference at City Hall condemning demolition of landmarks provided.