Excerpt from the Introduction by Judith Gura and Kate Wood:
What constitutes an interior landmark? It is a space determined by the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) to have “special historical or aesthetic interest or value as part of the development, heritage or cultural characteristics of the city, state or nation.” It must be “customarily open or accessible to the public, or to which the public is customarily invited”; it may, therefore, not be a private residence or, for constitutional reasons, a place of worship. And, like all landmark buildings, it must be at least thirty years old. Unfortunately, many interiors are remodeled or destroyed before they are eligible for designation.
In the late 1970s, a survey identified more than 700 New York interiors as worthy of designation, yet as of this writing, some thirty-five years later, there are only 117 interior landmarks. This is a startling disparity in view of the fact that, although buildings are principal contributors to the urban fabric, they are where we spend most of our time.
New York’s public interiors are uniquely valuable.
Why, then, have so few been designated? Part of the problem lies with the complex nature of interiors themselves. Interiors are designed to be used, to meet the needs of a particular time, place, and purpose. People walk on their floors, sit in their seats, lean against their walls, touch the decorations, pull the handles. As daily wear and tear takes its toll, walls and ceilings must be periodically repainted, worn carpet and textiles replaced, broken or lost parts substituted, and furniture refinished, reupholstered or exchanged (though movable furnishings are not included in landmark designation). Interiors must keep pace with the evolving needs of those who use them.
If interiors are continually changing how then can they remain as they were first intended? That is the challenge faced by preservationists: to balance past and present by maintaining, repairing and restoring significant buildings and interiors without losing the integrity of the original designs.
A persistent blind spot for preservation is design of the recent past. Penn Station, Grand Central, Radio City, the Chrysler Building were all between forty and fifty years old when they became threatened. Today, the youngest landmark interior, the Ford Foundation Building, dates to 1967, although designs up to 1985 now qualify. Will the most recent eligible interiors survive on enough to be considered of landmark protection?
“Interior Landmarks: Treasures of New York” tells the stories of forty-seven interior landmarks, from the oldest to the youngest, their histories and designers, the challenges of saving them, the restorations or re-imaginings that preserved them or gave them new life, and the communities, preservationists, philanthropists, politicians, designers and artisans who made it all possible. They are from every borough, encompassing a variety of styles, and many different functions. Some were unanimously accepted as worthy of designation, others were hotly contested, sometimes in contentious legal battles. Some were proposed by building owners, some by grassroots neighborhood groups, some by business alliances, some by design enthusiasts, some by preservationists. Their beauty, as with all things, may be in the eye of the beholder, but their merit as documents of specific times and place is indisputable.