Defending Historic Preservation in New York City

Harrison Street

Historic preservation as both a strategy and as a philosophy is under attack as never before.

Although community advocates have achieved some big successes in recent years by gaining long-sought landmark designations and thwarting (or at least modifying) destructive proposals to historic buildings, the Real Estate Board of New York (“REBNY”), the principal lobbyist for organized real estate, has been relentless in its campaign to undermine the Landmarks Law and all community preservation efforts.

Emboldened by years of record growth, REBNY is accusing preservation efforts of driving up housing costs, endangering affordable housing, stopping job creation and economic growth, protecting worthless buildings and penalizing home and business owners with costly fees and delays. REBNY even pursued a serious lobbying effort to transform and weaken the Landmarks Law through a series of bills which would transform how the Landmarks Preservation Commission designates and regulates historic properties. To hear them tell it, landmark designation transforms New York into a lifeless museum city with a “look but don’t touch” mentality.

The Historic Districts Council (“HDC”) feels that nothing could be further from the truth. Preservation practices empower communities, celebrate our history, drive economic growth and sustain development efforts. Preservation enhances our streetscapes, nurtures tourism, encourages investment and employs local labor. It is a popular, populist movement driven by regular New Yorkers who value their homes and their city.

HDC works with community groups throughout the five boroughs on efforts to save, preserve and enhance the special character of New York’s historic neighborhoods. We work with communities from areas as different as the Upper West Side and Bedford-Stuyvesant on the shared goal of empowering the community to have a voice in determining their own future. These two communities are ones whose efforts we honored at the Grassroots Preservation Awards and whose successes have been targeted as “over-reaching” by the real estate lobby.

The threat to preservation laws and historic buildings is still very real. HDC will continue counter arguing REBNY as long as they continue to release studies based on lies  and misconceptions. Through HDC’s mobilization and education we have been able to keep the preservation community strong, but we will never be as loud as REBNY. We need all the support of our neighborhood partners, history lovers, and lovers of New York.

Additional Resources:

Preservation and Job Creation




 HDC continues to vigilantly defend New York City’s Landmarks Law and promotes efforts to strengthen protections for historic buildings. This section will be updated regularly with current events regarding this issue.


24 Responses to “Defending Historic Preservation in New York City”
  1. Jean Standish says:

    The Landmarks Law not only empowers communities, celebrates our history, drives economic growth and sustains development efforts but preserves the diversity and small businesses in our neighborhoods. Out of context and out of scale development fractures and debilitates communities.

  2. We strongly support this NYC Landmarks Law.
    Preserving our historic buildings and neighborhoods makes economic sense.
    By slowing the ferocious pace of out-of-scale development, it helps
    to preserve the diverse residency and mixed use businesses that give
    our historic communities character and appeal for visitors.

  3. Judy Richheimer says:

    In the 1978 case of Penn Central Transportation Co. v. New York City, the United States Supreme Court ruled definitively that our cities have the right to preserve their historic structures. Period! And even the most vicious right wing activists know better than to challenge key and relatively recent Supreme Court rulings……………….oh, wait. Well, time to organize. (Reading that the Real Estate Board has claimed that landmarking “diminishes affordability ” — as though this group is dedicated to providing housing for the poor and middle class of this city — gave me a much needed laugh on an otherwise dismal and overcast day.)

  4. Another aspect of historic preservation is educational – looking and learning about buildings gives an appreciation of our heritage! Look up and learn!

  5. Elliott Hurwitt says:

    The only changes needed to NYC’s Landmark Laws are in the direction of strengthening them, streamlining the process to get buildings landmarked more quickly, and appropriating more money for the LPC’s staff. It’s remarkable how quick the real estate interests are to cry foul and complain of unfair treatment, given the degree to which the Mayor’s office favors development over neighborhood/community interests, how supine the Department of Buildings is, and, in general, how everything in NYC is already tipped in their favor. Their anxiety about being deprived of yet further opportunities to uglify this great City are understandable only if we assume that they are motivated solely by a ravenous appetite to make a quick killing. Next thing you know they’ll get all weepy about property rights, like those lunatics on the Supreme Court. Anything for a buck. Finally, their Web site’s silly selection of improper landmarking candidates reflects nothing more than a desire to discredit the LPC, which is already loath to landmark anything and highly selective in the process. So, developers, oh you who inflict upon us one soulless, underdisigned box after another — suddenly you guys care about architecture huh? Then how come you never hire any good architects? There are lots of them out there.

  6. R. L. Cohen, Ph.D. says:

    Landmarks Preservation is extraordinarily important in keeping in tact the architectural heritage and history of our city. Any effort to dismantle this law and all preservation efforts are a blow !

  7. nanette Norcia says:

    We will soon look like all the new and anonymous glass cities around the world.Visitors do not come to see big luxury glass condominiums.Througout our history there has always been a fight for the soul of the city against the
    raping money interests.Our working class has been driven to the outer boroughs, which is now where you find the interesting ethnic populations and all that they bring.We are becoming a homoginized non entity.
    I am truly sad about the loss of my beloved city.As a licensed tour guide I am very aware of our lost history.

  8. Betty Lynd says:

    Landmark laws need to be stronger not weaker. Preserve the beautiful historic architecture of our unique neighborhoods!

  9. Elizabeth says:

    More Jane Jacobs, less Marc Jacobs.

  10. Ron Schweiger says:

    For the past 30 years, I have conducted walking and bus tours around Brooklyn’s historic and landmarked communities. People from many other states and some from Europe have marveled at the diverse architectural styles of homes in Brooklyn. This is definitely a draw for thousands of tourists every year. Not to have these beautiful communities preserved will be an economic loss to the city as the tourists now have a large assortment of hotels and restaurants to stay in here in Brooklyn as an alternative to Manhattan. Of course they travel across the river to the “outer borough” of Manhattan to see the wonderful things there as well.

  11. Preservation of historic buildings and neighborhoods increases property values of those neighborhoods as well as the surrounding areas, provides long-terms jobs to skilled workers and supports industries that specialize in repair and maintenance of historic buildings, creates a special sense of place that is appreciated by locals and tourists alike, and preserves NYC’s important architectural and cultural history.

  12. Paul Palazzo says:

    The problem is that that we are fighting an ill-funded and ill-constructed agency known as the LPC. The axioms of Historic Preservation are valid and have a demonstrated economic and social value to my neighborhood. However the agency that is the steward of these ideals is non-transparent and ill functioning causing its own demise. Should we be surprised as this is the modus operandi of republican thinking, to make government so hated that the electorate call for its abolishment. In Fort Greene we have been trying to extend our HD to encompass structures that were left out of the original designation but resistance has been mounted by the Real Estate Board and the local neighborhood merchant association, FAB. Ironically the only reason for FAB’s existence is the HD. Without the HD, Fort Greene would be a devastated free-for-all or unregulated architectural capitalism.

  13. Howard Eisenberg says:

    Proposed stealth “landmark laws” would put hungry real estate developing wolves in charge of the sheepfold. All dressed up in their sheep’s clothing, they’d first fleece and then enthusiastically devour both our landmarks and the ingenious landmark system that has for so many years protected them.

  14. We need to strengthen our preservation laws so we make sure we protect our neighborhoods from what can sometimes be unbridled development. Historic preservation is a key component in maintaining a liveable city for all its residents. Let’s fight to regain our streets!

  15. Rebecca Daniels says:

    As Chair of the Brokers Partnership, which is a group of twelve brokers who currently work to support the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation, I can assure you that this group of seasoned brokers work very hard to create events that bring attention to the work of preservation and respect what history brings to create neighborhoods.

  16. Jobs in NYC says:

    Thank you for your hard work in preservation so that we can enjoy and draw important commerce, jobs and tourism to the beautiful buildings and neighborhoods.

  17. Not to mention, Preservation is the ultimate sustainable action within the built environment.

  18. Preservation and restoration contractor says:

    I believe the HDC is doing a wonderful job and support them. I have lived in NY all my life and although some change is good some really disturbs me. Knowing that my neighborhood theater built in the 30’s is going to be torn down to make an eight story apartment building. My kids will never know the good times and fun I have had there.

    BUT what really gets me upset is the CITY run agency that are the stewards of some of our most precious and historically valuable homes, structures and monuments. They allow bureaucracy and mismanagement to let these historic structures rot and fall apart or allow the low bidder to attempt the design and restoration/preservation of them.
    The HDC needs to investigate and go after them and hold them responsible. I have personally seen a project go out to bid three or four times over a 8 year period only to end up with historic windows degrade to a point where they were no longer able to be preserved.

    • Historic Districts Council says:

      Thank you for caring so much about NYCs history and what the build environment represents; and thank you for supporting HDC. We review every Certificate of Appropriateness and testify at every public hearing at the Landmarks Preservation Commission, and at City Council and the Design Commission as warranted. We do try to ensure that the city agencies are upholding their responsibilities as stewards of our historic structures. If you would like to read our testimony you can go to or contact and you can be added to the HDC@LPC email list.

      • Preservation and restoration contractor says:

        Thank you for the information and I just recently signed up for the mailing list . Thank you for letting me vent I’ve had that in me for a few years now.

  19. david says:

    The NYC LPC rules and regulations are applied mostly subjectively by folks who pay little or no taxes in NYC or staffers many of which don’t even live in the city.

    • Historic Districts Council says:

      Hello David,
      To my knowledge all of the LPC staff live in New York City as they are city employees and that is a requirement. I do not know of any commissioners who do not live in NYC. As they all (staff and commission) work in NYC, they pay NYC taxes.


Check out what others are saying...
  1. […] Articles this week in the New York Times, the real estate blog Curbed, and the New York City based blog Gothamist all pay tribute to the anniversary this week. What does this coverage tell us? Today, New Yorkers are still concerned with preserving our collective landmarks. Even with the passage of the Landmarks Law in 1965, landmarks and landmark districts do not come easily, as those familiar with the work of GVSHP know. Groups like the “Responsible Landmarks Coalition” will lead you to believe that the regulation that comes with the designation of individual landmarks and landmark districts cripples new development and construction job growth in New York City. But architects, preservationists, and contractors know better. […]

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