Landmarks of New York City

If buildings reflect a city’s wealth and ambition, New York’s construction record shows solid and grand vision. What defines the city and all that it stands for? The Statue of Liberty was constructed between 1875 and 1886; spanning the East River, the Brooklyn Bridge was erected from 1867 to 1883 (and became an ideal setting for Woody Allen’s «Manhattan»); the Metropolitan Museum of Art, opened in 1880, has been in constant development ever since; St Patrick’s Cathedral is the largest Catholic cathedral in the United States; New York state’s oldest building is the Pieter Claesen Wyckoff House, a wooden construction from before 1641. «Landmarks of New York,» an exhibition currently on display at the Hellenic American Union in Athens, showcases 81 black-and-white photographs of well- and lesser-known buildings, all designated landmarks. Displayed in chronological order, the show demonstrates the sensational city’s development from farming community to high-energy metropolis. Complementing the Athens exhibition is a series of short documentaries from the archives of the Library of Congress and an educational program for children. «Every building has been constructed for some purpose – to house a business, a product, an idea, express one’s vanity, house one’s family,» said Barbaralee Diamonstein-Spielvogel, the curator of the exhibition, to Kathimerini English Edition.» «Every building does have a story – commercial or residential.» Diamonstein-Spielvogel is intrinsically linked to the city’s construction history. The longest-term commissioner to have served on the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission (from 1972 to 1987), after that (to 1995) she served as chair of the New York City Landmarks Preservation Foundation. She is also the author of 19 books, as well as a reporter and a producer. With the New York City Landmark Preservation Law, passed in 1965, as of September 27 of this year New York counts 1,110 individually designated landmarks and 110 designated interior landmarks in the city’s 84 historic districts – figures representing 2 percent of properties in all of the city’s five boroughs. Strict rules apply to buildings to qualify – to begin with, the construction under question must be at least 30 years old. There are landmark commissioners and – often heated – public hearings. While designated buildings receive no financial support from the state, there are increasing requests for some kind of tax benefits. At the Hellenic American Union, the photographs highlight architectural silhouettes as well as the whimsical atmosphere of New York and its merry insomnia. There’s life in the city: A building at 151 Avenue B where Charlie Parker took over the ground floor in 1950 for four years; the 19th (formerly the 25th) Precinct Police Station House, standing between Lexington Avenue and Third during 1886-87 and a rare example of the work of architect Nathaniel D. Bush; the elegance in the townhouse belonging to James Hampden and Cornelia Van Rensselaer Robb, designed by Stanford White; the public utility of the Croton Aqueduct, West 119th Street Gatehouse, an example of the first major municipal water system in the country; the legacy of great Americans: Scotland-born Andrew Carnegie, the self-made industrialist and philanthropist whose Carnegie Hall (constructed beginning in 1889) hosts the world’s top musicians, starting with Piotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, its first official guest in 1891; the luxury and high art of living at the Plaza Hotel, which was inspired by the French Renaissance chateau and erected in 1907. From the Empire State Building, which defined the city’s new heights as the tallest building in 1931 (it was overtaken by the World Trade Center’s North Tower in 1970, until 2001) and other jewels such as the art deco Chrysler Building (designed by William Van Alen) and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe’s Seagram Building (the only building designed in New York by the celebrated architect in collaboration with Philip Johnson), New York continues its pioneering journey. «I think it’s the golden age of New York right now. More internationally known architects are building there now than they ever have,» said Diamonstein-Spielvogel. Thanks to the prosperity of the last two decades, the dominance of the financial markets and the diversity of the population, New York she said, «is an international university on a daily basis.» In this vibrating financial and cultural capital, where the tragedy of 9/11 gave new impetus to the idea of community unity, the landmark factor has also played its own role in the transformation of neighborhoods. «We are each of us only temporary custodians of all we possess,» said Diamonstein-Spielvogel. «We have inherited the past and we hold it in trust for those who will come in the future. It is a public trust that we are honored to protect.» Hellenic American Union, 22 Massalias, Kolonaki, tel 210.368.0000. To November 3.