Recent Initiatives

Sacred Sites Turns 30 – Let’s All Celebrate

After 30 years and thousands of travel miles clocked, the Conservancy’s Sacred Sites program has given grants totaling $9.3 million to 750 congregations from East Hampton to Niagara Falls, funding 1,350 restoration projects. Our grants have had an outsized impact, helping historic religious properties complete restoration work totaling more than $600 million, regardless of denomination.

We’ve connected hundreds of congregations to just the right architect, conservator, contractor, or stained glass studio for their particular project.

In 30 years, we’ve sponsored 40 workshops, providing training to over 3,000 clergy and congregation leaders in proactive maintenance and repair of roofs and facades, energy conservation, generating rental income via shared and partial adaptive use, fundraising for capital projects, and long-term financial management.

Maintaining and restoring these facilities has enabled them to continue to serve their communities with day care, senior programming, food pantries and cultural programming. Within the last year alone, our grantees provided services to over 164,000 individuals.

Our program publication, Common Bond, with special anniversary issues in 2011 and (forthcoming in) 2016, provides practical information on consultant and contractor selection, the proper care and maintenance of slate, shingle, and copper roofs, gutters, masonry and stained glass, fire prevention, energy conservation, and fundraising, with articles highlighting congregational success stories and best practices. Our publications “Managing Repair & Restoration Projects, A Congregation’s How-To Guide,” and “Inspecting and Maintaining Religious Properties,” have guided hundreds of congregations through major repair projects.

We plan on celebrating throughout the year with a special anniversary issue of Common Bond, lectures, and special insider tours of sites participating in our annual Sacred Sites Open House this May 21st and 22nd. We hope you’ll join us!

Year In Review 2015: Celebrations and Challenges

The Conservancy and a host of other groups and institutions celebrated the 50th anniversary of the City’s Landmarks Law throughout 2015. Ironically, while there was wide recognition of the benefits the law has provided, there also were significant threats to preservation that will carry over into the New Year.

First the good news.

Barbaralee Diamonstein- Spielvogel put together a remarkable coalition in the Landmarks50 Alliance and sparked tours, lectures, exhibitions and other events celebrating the City’s Landmarks Law and the benefits of preservation to the City.
These included a Conservancy sponsored panel discussion on preservation and a special Conservancy Sacred Sites Open House Weekend, both in May, and a December dinner honoring former Board Member James Wolfensohn for his role in the Conservancy’s first preservation effort: reusing the former Custom House at Bowling Green, which is now the New York branch of the National Museum of the American Indian. Wolfensohn later spearheaded the restoration of Carnegie Hall.

The Museum of the City of New York opened a widely heralded exhibition on the creation and accomplishments of the Landmarks Law.

The Howard Hughes Corporation withdrew plans for a large tower that would have loomed over the South Street Seaport Historic District. They faced consistent opposition from local groups, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer and Councilmember Margaret Chin. A special Conservancy Task Force helped unite the opposition.

The Landmarks Commission will make decisions in 2016 on the 95 buildings and sites they initially sought to dump from the roster. The Conservancy, other groups, and Manhattan Borough President Brewer forced LPC to hold hearings on each of them. The Conservancy also testified on each one, supporting designation for the vast majority.

The Conservancy loaned and granted more than $1.9 million to restore landmark properties in 2015.

On the other hand:

The Mayor’s widely opposed upzoning proposals, which would permit taller buildings throughout the City, will be before the City Council in February. The Conservancy has consistently testified against the proposals and will actively explain our opposition to Councilmembers.

The Landmarks Commission reduced the boundaries of the final West End Avenue Historic District extension at the last moment, leaving a portion of upper Broadway ripe for development. The prior Commission, under Chair Robert Tierney, set the initial boundaries with approval of Commissioners still serving at LPC. The Conservancy testified against the exclusions and preservationists are concerned that this may be a precedent for future LPC deliberations on historic districts.

The City Council postponed action on a bill that would set time limits on LPC deliberations and prevent any building that LPC voted not to designate from being reconsidered for five years. The Conservancy responded to the bill’s sponsors, who asked for input. We did not oppose reasonable time limits but argued against the five year moratorium. The bill is expected to resurface after the Council deals with the upzoning proposals.

The rise of supertowers will continue despite widespread public concern over a lack of public input because the Mayor and City Planning Commission believe in increasing density. The Conservancy does not believe that density is an unalloyed good and that too much density creates its own problems.

The challenges continue in 2016 and the Conservancy will continue to work to make your voices heard.

Picasso Curtain

Settlement Reached: Picasso Curtain to Move to New-York Historical Society and Remain on Public View

During the weekend Picasso’s “Le Tricorne” was successfully removed from the Four Seasons restaurant. Bravo to Lead Technician Tom Zoufaly of Art Installation Design and his staff and the great team from Auer’s Rigging & Moving. They moved the largest Picasso artwork in the country in an intricate 12-hour operation. It’s the end of an era. The 20-foot high Curtain has been the centerpiece of the Four Seasons restaurant since 1959. But it is also the beginning of a new era for this important artwork.

The New York Times did a nice job documenting the entire nerve-racking process. Learn more about the removal and see the crew at work.

This morning, the 95-year-old Curtain is on its way to The Williamstown Art Conservation Center in Williamstown, MA. for some minor conservation and cleaning. It will then go to it’s new home at the New-York Historical Society where even more people will be able to enjoy “New York’s Picasso.”


Learn more about the Conservancy’s involvement with the Picasso curtain.

New York State Pavilion

Conservancy Joins Effort to Save New York State Pavilion in Queens

Queens Borough President Melinda Katz asked the Conservancy to join a newly created Task Force to preserve and reuse the New York State Pavilion in Flushing Meadows – Corona Park. This coalition will guide the restoration of the pavilion, originally part of the 1964/65 World Fair and a very visible symbol of Queens and New York City.

During the past year, leading up to 50th anniversary of the opening of the Fair, there has been a groundswell of support for preserving rather than demolishing the buildings. A local group called “People for the Pavilion” has helped gain popular support for saving and reusing these symbols of New York. They are also working with the Borough President to develop a sustainable reuse plan to transform the site into a vibrant cultural space and park attraction. The Conservancy has been advising the young principals of this group since mid-2013. Learn more.

Midtown East

Conservancy Calls for Preservation to be part of Midtown East Plan

The Conservancy is once again working to ensure that preservation is part of the plan to rezone Midtown East. The first proposals are focused on Vanderbilt Avenue, a five-block stretch across from Grand Central Terminal (GCT), that includes four buildings the Conservancy believes are landmark quality: the Yale Club, 52 Vanderbilt, the Roosevelt Hotel, and 51 East 42nd Street.

Warren and Wetmore, the architect of Grand Central, designed 51 East 42nd Street as part of Terminal City, a complex of buildings meant to complement GCT. Now that building is likely to be demolished and replaced by One Vanderbilt, a 1,300 foot-plus tower. In order to comply with the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC), the architects were required to present the plans for the building and whether it has a harmonious relationship with Grand Central. The Conservancy’s Public Policy Committee reviewed the proposal and found that the relationship was not harmonious. At a July 22 hearing, the LPC determined that it was.

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Post-Sandy Assistance

February 2013 – Since the storm in late 2012, the Conservancy has awarded approximately $120,000 in grants to non-profit and religious organizations to assist in repairs and restoration of their landmark buildings. Learn more about our Post-Sandy assistance.

January 2013 – The Conservancy and the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation co-sponsored a panel discussion titled “Superstorm Sandy: Preservation, Prevention and Progress” at the Salmagundi Club. Conservancy Technical Director Alex Herrera joined Robert Pirani of the Regional Plan Association and Michael Devonshire of Jan Hird Pokorny Architects on the panel. Robert Rogers of Rogers Marvel Architects moderated. The discussion began with an analysis of the sorts of damage done to different parts of the city with an emphasis on historic buildings. Alex Herrera detailed several of the Conservancy’s post-Sandy emergency grants to historic structures. Michael Devonshire went into great detail about one of our grantees, the Bowne and Company print shop that is part of the South Street Seaport Museum. Learn more.

Shahn Murals in Bronx Post Office to be Saved

December 2013 – The Landmarks Commission Votes to Protect Ben Shahn Murals

After a public campaign by artists, art historians, Bronx elected officials and the Conservancy, the Landmarks Preservation Commission designated the notable Ben Shahn murals in the main Bronx Post Office as interior landmarks on December 17.

On a related front, the Conservancy is on track to accept a preservation covenant from the United States Postal Service that would cover the landmark rooms and murals. The covenant would grant the Conservancy access to the space for periodic inspections. The covenant is intended to work hand in hand with the Landmarks designation and will further ensure the continued preservation of the artworks.

The 13 murals, painted in 1937 by noted American artist Ben Shahn and his wife Bernarda, are entitled “America at Work”. They were inspired by Walt Whitman’s poem “I See America Working” and depict the dignity of labor and American industry. Ben Shahn (1898-1969) was a prolific American artist known for his works of social realism. His murals adorn several government buildings in Washington DC including his most famous in the Federal Security Building. His artworks are in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art, the Phillips Collection in Washington DC, The Whitney Museum, and the Museum of the City of New York.

The USPS is looking to sell the Grand Concourse Post Office but as it has done at other locations, will retain ownership of the artwork. Learn more.

Controversial Library Sale May Spark More

December 2015 – The City Council voted to approve the controversial sale of the beautiful, mid-century Brooklyn Heights Public Library to a private developer on December 16. Councilmember Steve Levin, who represents the district where the Library is located, agreed to the sale.

The Library will be demolished and a thirty-six story condo will go up in its place. A shrunken version of the library will be housed in the ground floor and cellar spaces, along with the condo’s lobby, mechanical rooms and service dock. The Brooklyn Heights Branch was the second largest in the borough, after the main library on Grand Army Plaza.

Brooklyn Public Library Chief Executive Linda Johnson stated that this one-shot revenue raiser was a model for other New York City public libraries. Funding and maintaining neighborhood libraries was once a proud tradition of City Government. Now the sale of public assets is, according to Ms. Johnson, “the turning point for the library system” and a “pioneering effort” in the future of libraries.

The Conservancy has long advocated for the restoration of the City’s historic and well-loved branch libraries. The historic Pacific Street branch in Boerum Hill seems to be spared, at least for the moment. Neither the Pacific Branch nor the Brooklyn Heights Branch has landmark protection.

The private group “Citizens Defending Libraries” has called for an investigation of the details of the sale and how much of the proceeds will be used to assist other branches.

Click here to read a letter that the Conservancy sent to Councilman Levin prior to the vote and a public statement released by Citizens Defending Libraries.
Learn more.

Sacred Sites Program

Conservancy Awards $252,500 in 15 Sacred Sites Grants

October, 2015

On October 19th, the Conservancy’s Sacred Sites Committee met and pledged $252,500 in 15 grants to historic religious institutions throughout New York State, from Long Island to Buffalo. These included nine Sacred Sites grants totaling $57,500, five Sacred Sites Challenge grants totaling $170,000, and one Jewish Heritage Fund grant of $25,000. Altogether, these grants will help fund $3.1 million in restoration work on structural framing, roofs, facades, masonry and stained glass.

The Challenge Grants: New Life Fellowship Church, in Elmhurst, Queens, is a New York City landmark, and was originally constructed in 1923-24 as a sumptuous Renaissance Revival Elks Lodge clubhouse, with handsome parlors and dining rooms, a wood paneled basement bar, and an auditorium featuring exuberant Mayan-style decoration, which now serves as the worship space for this diverse, 800-member congregation, which hosts a daily food pantry, a dental and health clinic, as well as language classes and an after-school program. A $40,000 challenge grant will help match a $500,000 New York State restoration grant, and help fund a $1.3 million façade, window, and terrace restoration. The First Congregational Church of Riverhead, a 1902, wood frame church with Romanesque, Victorian Gothic, and Shingle Style influences, was awarded $50,000 to help repair severely cracked and failing timber roof trusses, a $425,000 project. Smithfield Presbyterian Church in rural Amenia, Dutchess County, a highly intact, temple-fronted church dating from 1847-1848, was pledged $25,000 towards the $235,000 restoration of its monumental Greek Revival portico. St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Cazenovia, twenty miles southeast of Syracuse, which dates from 1848 and is attributed to Richard Upjohn, was awarded $25,000 towards the $100,000 restoration of its cedar shingle roof. First Presbyterian Church of Buffalo, a handsome Richardsonian Romanesque church constructed in 1891, and prominently sited overlooking Symphony Circle, was pledged $30,000 towards the $440,000 restoration of its deteriorated, 168’ sandstone tower.

A Jewish Heritage Grant of $25,000 was pledged to the Manhattan Beach Jewish Center, in Brooklyn, a mid-century modern synagogue with a Guastavino tile sanctuary. The facility was badly damaged in Super-storm Sandy; the challenge grant will assist with repairs to façade masonry.

Among the nine Sacred Sites grants was $7,500 for another Romanesque Revival Buffalo Church, Delaware Avenue Baptist Church, to fund architectural services to guide replacement of its complicated, multi-sloped roofs. A third Buffalo church, Trinity Episcopal, was awarded $10,000 towards the phased replacement of its deteriorated protective glazing, altogether projected at $1.2 million, to preserve the church’s notable collection of stained glass by LaFarge and Tiffany, as well as other major American, British, and Bavarian studios. Additional Sacred Sites grants were pledged to Baptist Temple Church in Newburgh ($9,000 for repairs to deteriorated gable trim), and St. Nicholas Episcopal Church in New Hamburg, in Dutchess County ($9,000 for stained glass restoration). Two other churches were also awarded grants for stained glass repair, Fly Creek United Methodist Church in Otsego County ($4,500), and Glen Reformed Church in Fultonville, Montgomery County ($6,000). Other matching grants included $6,500 to Parksville United Methodist Church in Sullivan County, for roof replacement, $4,000 to West Charlton United Presbyterian Church, in Saratoga County, for bell tower repairs, and $1,000 to Cooperstown United Methodist Church in Cooperstown, for the design and implementation of improved site drainage.

Prospect Cemetery Revitalization Initiative


Completion of a 15 Year Endeavor

Since 1999, the Conservancy has been a partner in the Prospect Cemetery Revitalization Initiative, along with two other nonprofit organizations (Greater Jamaica Development Corporation and Prospect Cemetery Association) and the cemetery’s owner of record, the City of New York Department of Parks & Recreation. The three nonprofit organizations raised over $2.2 million in public and private funds in this time to secure the four acre site, which is a City-designated landmark and National Register-listed property; restore its 1857 Chapel of the Sisters which now serves as a venue for jazz concerts and other events; clear the grounds of years of vegetative growth and undesirable trees; plant the entire cemetery with slow-growing, no-mowing, low maintenance grass; and conserve the oldest and most important markers. After 15 years of extensive work, Prospect Cemetery now looks like a cemetery – much changed from even three years ago.

Prospect Cemetery in Jamaica, Queens, with its vacant Chapel of the Sisters, had been in need of attention for many decades, when three nonprofit organizations came together in 1999 to form the Prospect Cemetery Revitalization Initiative. The goals of the Revitalization Initiative included physically securing the site, restoring its Chapel, removing the overgrown vegetation, conserving the markers, re-landscaping the grounds, and instituting interpretive history and educational programs based upon the newly reclaimed Prospect Cemetery site.

The three organizations each brought their own assets to the endeavor:

The public partner for the Revitalization Initiative is the City of New York’s Department of Parks and Recreation, which owns Prospect Cemetery.

Prospect Cemetery is the oldest burial ground in Queens and one of the oldest in the five boroughs. Founded in 1668, its markers date from 1709 and comprise a collection of eighteenth, nineteenth, and twentieth century markers and monuments. Prospect Cemetery is the burial site for many Revolutionary War soldiers, as well as some of Queens’ most prominent families with names like Van Wyck, Sutphin and Brinkerhoff. The Cemetery, along with its beautiful chapel, is listed in the National Register of Historic Places and is a designated New York City landmark. PCA’s website cited above contains a good deal of genealogical and other historic information about the Cemetery.

By the turn of the 21st century, most of the four-acre cemetery’s descendants lived in other places, and the grounds had become wildly overgrown with many varieties of vines, invasive trees, and other vegetation; many of its markers had been damaged as a result of age and/or vandalism.

Since 1999, the sponsors have accomplished a great deal in various phases of the Revitalization Initiative:

Phase I: Security and Streetscape Improvements.

Completed in 2006, this phase involved securing the entire site with new fencing and street improvements (lighting and new sidewalks) to 159th Street, which runs along the front edge of the Cemetery. Other work prior to 2006 included a demonstration landscape project and the start of documentation for the markers in the Cemetery. Phase I funding totaled almost $400,000 in private and public sector grants.

Phase II: Restoration of the Chapel of the Sisters

In 1857, Nicholas Ludlum commissioned the building of the Chapel of the Sisters, a memorial to his three deceased daughters, at the eastern end of the graveyard. The Chapel is a symmetrical, one-story Romanesque Revival building, approximately 40 by 40 feet, and 25 feet high. At each of the northern and southern facades there was a large stained-glass rose window (only glass fragments remained in 1999; they were removed and stored then). In its square proportions and somber materials, the Chapel created an eloquent memorial to its namesakes and served as the main entrance and the focal point of Prospect Cemetery.

Completed in the summer of 2008 at a total cost of $790,000, the restoration of the Chapel of the Sisters included new heating, plumbing, and electrical systems, new wood windows and entry doors, new floors, and other work to enable the Chapel to be used for small concerts and meetings. The most spellbinding feature was the re-installation of the two rose windows – an assemblage of saved shards from the original windows and new matching glass. The firm of Cutsogeorge Tooman & Allen was the project architect, and Fame Construction was the general contractor, with The Gil Studio performing the stained-glass window work. The York College Jazz Program regularly uses the Chapel for performances, and other groups hold activities there as well.

Phase III: Vegetation Removal + New Landscaping + Initial Marker Conservation

This phase was completed in 2014 using grants of $500,000 from the New York State Environmental Protection Fund and $500,000 from the New York City Capital Budget via the office of former Queens Borough President Helen Marshall. The Historic Properties Fund provided a $250,000 revolving line of credit to GJDC to bridge the timing gap between payments to contractors (required first by the public grants) and then reimbursements from the public grants.

There were various consultants that participated in the work for Phase III: dlandstudio, a landscape design firm, and Cutsogeorge Tooman and Allen (CTA), the preservation architects who completed the Chapel restoration; Schnabel Conservation, a subconsultant to CTA; and Jablonski Building Conservation (JBC), which prepared a cultural landscape report and conserved the first priority markers.

Prospect Cemetery, Jamaica Queens – View from the Long Island Rail Road from New York Landmarks Conservancy on Vimeo.

Prospect, looking like a cemetery… after 15 years of investment and hard work.
The video was shot by Andrew Farren, a trustee of Prospect Cemetery Association and a descendent of family buried there.

Learn more about this revitalization project.

Landmarks Mobile App

Download Landmarks New York, Our New iPhone Mobile App – Find Landmarks in All Five Boros!

In celebration of the Conservancy’s 40th anniversary, it’s our great pleasure to announce the release of Landmarks: New York iPhone app, a collaboration with Spatiality apps. The Landmarks: New York mobile app allows you to enter your location or a specific address on a map to identify more than 1,400 landmarked buildings and sites throughout the five boroughs. Photos, facts and other interesting details are listed for each New York City landmark. In addition to the mapping feature, you also get a Google Maps street view option and a photo upload feature that allows you to instantly share your images to Facebook, Twitter or email. All this for just $1.99