Tuesday, September 29, 2015

When is a Landmark not a Landmark?

By all common definitions, St. Michael's Church Complex is a landmark- it is "a prominent or conspicuous object on land that serves as a guide...a distinguishing landscape feature marking a site or location".  With is 160' Tower, St. Michael's church has been a beacon to the community--in this built form--since 1891.  

The National Parks Service division of the United States Department of the Interior began designating landmarks in 1966 as part of the National Historic Preservation Act.  Their National Register is the federal list of sites deemed significant to "American history, architecture, archaeology, engineering, and culture".  The National Register listed St. Michael's Church, along with its Rectory and Parish House in 1996.  While this lengthy report allows the the owners to be eligible for federal grants investment tax credits to restore and rehabilitate their properties, it does not offer them legal protection from demolition or alteration by their owners.  

As defined by the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission, a landmark is a "building, property or object that has a special character or special historical or aesthetic interest or value as part of the development, heritage, or cultural characteristics of the city, state, or nation".  With the quality of the pedigree, architecture, art alone St. Michael's would be an obvious landmark.  Given its exemplar social history, one's argument is only further bolstered.  Yet, according to the 50-year old law that protects landmarks in NYC, this complex is still not yet a landmark.  This distinction has been debated at previous hearings in 1980 and 2008.  It will again be heard on November 12th.  This time, let's ensure St. Michael's is with us in perpetuity!

Friday, September 25, 2015

Urgency for St. Michael's

What seems to be the rush?  St. Michael's has been a proven civic neighbor for generations.  The current church is the Congregation's third house of worship in NYC and has been serving the city since it was first dedicated in 1891--nearly a century and a quarter ago--so why designate it?  Why now?

The St. Michael's Church, Parish House and Rectory work together to form a unique ecclesiastic campus.  What is more, is that although they accrued over time, they are all by the same architect, Robert Gibson.

The New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission has previously heard this site twice, once in 1980, and once in 2008, but the Commissioners have never taken an action.  As the LPC attempts to "clear the backlog" the public will once again have an opportunity to defend this landmark grouping as a legally recognized "Landmark" and allow it to enjoy all of the benefits that come with this protection.

While there will be a hearing for this site on November 12, 2015, this hearing is twice as important given current legislation proposed in City Council.  Should Intro. 775 pass, it will mean that should the LPC take "No Action"* when they vote on the complex in 2016, that there is not another opportunity to designate this complex until 2021; thus, the added urgency!

*A no-action letter is an administrative process that allows items to be taken off the calendar without prejudice, and with no judgment on the merits for designation. Such items could be brought forward at a later time for designation.