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On the 50-Year Legacy of the New York City Landmarks Law
Last April marked the fiftieth anniversary of the New York City Landmarks Law. On that day in 1965, Mayor Robert F. Wagner, Jr. signed a law that helped create the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC). Charged with protecting selected buildings, interiors, and historic districts, the LPC and its members determine whether a building or district contributes in a significant way to the history, culture, or beauty of New York City. Once a landmark or neighborhood has been designated, all changes that affect appearance must be approved by the LPC.
New York City’s commission is the largest of its kind in the United States. In the past half century, the LPC has protected over 1,300 individual buildings, 117 interiors, and 114 neighborhood historic districts that encompass over 33,000 buildings. While landmark designations are found in all five boroughs, the lion’s share is in Manhattan, comprising a startling 25% of all properties there. (By comparison, only 4.5% of properties in Brooklyn have been designated as historic, and in the other three boroughs, landmarks total less than 1% of the whole.) In response to complaints of Manhattan’s restrictive building regulations, Landmarks Law advocates are quick to point out that the borough’s built environment is historically significant both for the city and the entire country. Real estate editor Matt Chaban has called the Commission “the keeper of the soul of the city”