I am growing increasingly astonished at the breadth of reporting and sheer writing craft exhibited by New York Times reporter Robin Pogrebin in her series of pieces on the state of landmarking in New York City, specifically the work (or lack of, if you will) of the Landmarks Preservation Commission.
In Pogrebin’s first story, “An Opaque and Lengthy Road to Landmark Status,” the writer essentially dissects the Landmarks Preservation Commission’s work — or lack of work or efficiency, it would seem — and lays a fair amount of the blame at the shuffling feet of LPC chair Robert B. Tierney, who has been keeping his chair lukewarm, Pogrebin writes, for five years. The article further tries to get to the root of what seem like extreme lassitude and laissez-faire-ness on Tierney’s part, and how the cause of the preservation is being undermined in a widespread and thoroughly alarming way. In this first story (which I didn’t realize was going to be part of a series at the time), I was particularly gobsmacked by this:
He’s a guy who’s had no demonstrable interest in historic preservation, who has the most important preservation job in New York City,” said Anthony C. Wood, author of “Preserving New York: Winning the Right to Protect a City’s Landmarks” (Routledge, 2008), and a party to the suit.
In Pogrebin’s second story, “Preservationists See Bulldozers Charging Through a Loophole,” the story goes on — it’s all about how the sluggishness and ineffectualism of the LPC and Tierney act as permission slips for developers, who generally have the moral fiber of Gregory Rasputin, to demolish and cut corners and do all sorts of terrible things to our urban environment. Here is another particularly moving quote:
“In the middle of the night I’m out there at 2 in the morning, and they’re taking the cornices off,” said Gale Brewer, a city councilwoman who represents that part of the Upper West Side. “We’re calling the Buildings Department, we’re calling Landmarks. You get so beaten down by all of this. The developers know they can get away with that.”
Now comes Pogrebin’s latest piece: “Preserving the City: Church and State,” which deals with the LPC’s effect on the demolition (or preservation) of religious structures. (Interestingly, this is an area I’m not sure quite what I think yet: Does the cause of preservation supercede the right to religious freedom? I think it may not.) Here’s a great quote:
Among the religious buildings designated on his watch, Mr. Tierney noted, were the first Catholic churches to become landmarks in 28 years: St. Aloysius on West 132nd Street, known for its ornamental polychrome bands of brick and terra cotta, and the Church of All Saints on East 129th Street, an imposing Gothic Revival masterpiece with wheel clerestory windows. Both won landmark status last year.
But while preservationists applauded those designations, they said the commission bypassed even more important treasures like St. Thomas the Apostle Church in Harlem, completed in 1907 on West 118th Street near St. Nicholas Avenue. Known for its flamboyantly ornate neo-Gothic facade, fan-vaulted ceiling, spiky pinnacles and stained-glass windows, it was cited as one of the seven most important sites worth saving by the Preservation League of New York State.
During years of pressure from Harlem advocates, the commission has declined to hold a hearing on St. Thomas, saying the building had already been significantly altered and its congregation was largely inactive.
Some preservationists and architectural historians accuse the commission and the New York archdiocese of grudgingly going along with the designations of All Saints and St. Aloysius in exchange for the omission of St. Thomas.
“This was their bargain,” said Michael Henry Adams, the author of “Harlem: Lost and Found” (Monacelli Press, 2001), a history of the neighborhood’s architecture. “To me it’s like the decision of Solomon.”
Read all three articles and answer this question: Should Tierney resign?