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!

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