The Commission That Preserves New York City

By Samuel Phineas Upham

New York demolished Penn Station in 1965, and healing from that loss was a tremendous undertaking. Penn Station literally died so that other buildings might live, which is the mark of a changing city, but the loss was devastating. New Yorkers rallied Mayor Robert F. Wagner to sign a bill into law that would prevent such demolitions from occurring again.

That bill created New York’s Landmark Preservation Commission, which held its first public hearing in September of that year. The hearing was to determine the fate of Astor Library, located on Lafayette Street in Manhattan. That hearing designated a new public landmark in New York City, which was later converted into The Public Theater.

The goal of the commission is to help preserve the municipal identity of New York. One might think of it as preserving New York’s look, feel, attitude, culture, and structures. The commission works with developers, rather than opposing them, so most development in the city is done with preservation firmly in mind.

During the 80s, the headquarters were in the Old New York Post Building. By the time the commission relocated to its current locale on Centre St., it had a total of 856 buildings to be historic landmarks.

The commission was redesigned by Mayor Edward Koch, who saw a problem with how the committee declared buildings as landmarks. Times had also changed. During the 60s, New York was seeing rapid development and demolition was supposed to be a solution to the issue. Today, demolition is one of the last options exercised. Part of that philosophy has to do with the Landmark Preservation Commission’s work.

About the Author: Samuel Phineas Upham is an investor at a family office/ hedgefund, where he focuses on special situation illiquid investing. Before this position, Phin Upham was working at Morgan Stanley in the Media and Telecom group. You may contact Phin on his Samuel Phineas Upham website or LinkedIn.