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The Once and Future New York

Historic Preservation and the Modern City

2009
Author:

Randall Mason

The Once and Future New York

Uncovering the roots of America’s historic preservation movement

Rich with archival research, The Once and Future New York documents the emergence of historic preservation in New York at the turn of the twentieth century. Against the charge that preservationists were antiquarians concerned only with significant buildings, Mason instead asserts that many were social reformers interested in recovering the city’s history. Even more important, he demonstrates that historic preservation in this period was integral to modern urban development.

Recognizing that their city is a very special historic place, New Yorkers have long fought to keep their heritage intact and alive. In fact, as this eye-opening book points out, dedicated preservationists were leaving their mark on the nation’s largest city long before the wrecking-balls and bulldozers smashed into Penn Station. Chronicling the challenges that these visionaries confronted between 1890 and 1920, Randall Mason details their insistence that they were not enemies of ‘progress’—and their important role in shaping today’s dynamic preservation movement. It’s a story well worth hearing.

Richard Moe, President, National Trust for Historic Preservation

In the popular imagination, the controversial 1963 demolition of Pennsylvania Station gave birth to New York City’s historic preservation movement. As Randall Mason reveals, however, historic preservation has been a persistent force in the development of New York since the 1890s, when the city’s leading politicians, planners, and architects first recognized the need to preserve the rapidly evolving city’s past.

Rich with archival research, The Once and Future New York documents the emergence of historic preservation in New York at the turn of the twentieth century. Between 1890 and 1920, preservationists saved and restored buildings, parks, and monuments throughout the city’s five boroughs that represented continuity with the past. Mason argues these efforts created a “memory infrastructure” that established a framework for New York’s collective memory and fused celebrations of the city’s past with optimism about its future.

Focusing on three major projects—the restoration of City Hall Park, the ultimately failed attempt to save historic St. John’s Chapel, and the construction of the Bronx River Parkway— Mason challenges several myths about historic preservation. Against the charge that preservationists were antiquarians concerned only with architecturally significant buildings, Mason instead asserts that many were social reformers interested in recovering the city’s collective history. Even more important, he demonstrates that historic preservation in this period, rather than being fundamentally opposed to growth, was integral to modern urban development.

The Once and Future New York

Randall Mason is associate professor of city and regional planning in the Graduate Program in Historic Preservation at the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Design. He is coeditor of Giving Preservation a History.

The Once and Future New York

Recognizing that their city is a very special historic place, New Yorkers have long fought to keep their heritage intact and alive. In fact, as this eye-opening book points out, dedicated preservationists were leaving their mark on the nation’s largest city long before the wrecking-balls and bulldozers smashed into Penn Station. Chronicling the challenges that these visionaries confronted between 1890 and 1920, Randall Mason details their insistence that they were not enemies of ‘progress’—and their important role in shaping today’s dynamic preservation movement. It’s a story well worth hearing.

Richard Moe, President, National Trust for Historic Preservation

Mason’s expertise as a planner and his interest in the process that was followed (or not) in responding to the city’s growth in the era 1890-1920 is what makes The Once and Future New York more than just a sentimental look at the grievous historical losses of that time frame.

The Rochester Post-Bulletin

The Once and Future New York is not the encyclopedic compendium that could and should one day be written. Better, it is a brief, readable synthesis with a point of view about where the field came from and what it does. . . . The Once and Future New York is elegantly simple in the telling: three carefully chosen cases, weaving together discussions of an enormous body of preservation in New York City during this period.

Future Anterior

Winner of the Antoinette Forrester Downing award from the Society of Architectural Historians in 2011, Mason’s book describes many forceful New Yorkers who championed heritage- related activities as integral parts of urban development.

Buildings & Landscapes

The Once and Future New York

Contents

Introduction Preservation and Its History in New York

One Memory Sites: Buildings, Parks, Events
Portfolio: Frank Cousins’s Photographs for the Art Commission, 1913
Two The Preservation and Destruction of St. John’s Chapel
Three City Hall Park: Hearth of Official Civic Memory
Four Bronx River Parkway: Modern Highway, Environmental Improvement, Memory Infrastructure

Conclusion Looking Critically at Preservation’s Own Past

Acknowledgments
Notes
Bibliography

Index