The effort to landmark historic Neir’s Tavern in Woodhaven is still moving along despite last year’s rejection by the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC).
Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley announced Sunday that she would meet personally with the LPC’s board of commissioners on Oct. 24 to further push the agency to reconsider the historic bar’s landmark status.
“I want to make sure this bar gets landmarked,” she said at a roundtable discussion joined by Richard Hourahan of the Queens Historical Society, Neir’s owner Loy Gordon, and Ed Wendell, president of the Woodhaven Residents’ Block Association.
Located at 78th Street and 88th Avenue, the pub was opened in 1829 and, according to Hourahan, is the oldest tavern in New York State to be continually operated in the same location. For many decades, the bar was located directly across the street from the Union Race Course, a racetrack that stood between Jamaica and Atlantic avenues west of 78th Street.
The LPC surprised many Woodhaven residents and Queens historians when they turned down Neir’s application to be a landmark, citing in a letter to owner Loy Gordon in June, 2015 that, “Neir’s Tavern does not rise to the level of significance to warrant interior landmarking.”
Crowley disagreed with that assessment.
“Neir’s is an huge piece of Woodhaven’s history,” she said, suggesting that the LPC overlooked, as she hinted they do often, Queens’ historical sites over Manhattan ones.
“When making landmarking decisions, [the LPC] looks more at architecture rather than history,” Hourahan noted.
The structure itself also created some controversy, Wendell explained, as some people believe the building that houses Neir’s was knocked down and rebuilt sometimes in the early 20th century. A photo of the tavern from around 1899 showed a completely different structure, one with a recessed second floor, than the current three-story structure today. Wendell offered some proof that showed that the building wasn’t rebuilt, rather an extension was put on top of the bar.
“It is still the same building that was here in the 19th century,” he said. “That’s historic.”
Hourahan said that a well-known architect came to Neir’s as part of a QHS program funded by a grant to explore the historical nature of the tavern. The architect noted the interior architecture is, indeed, historic.
“He was stunned when he saw some of the columns in the basement,” he said. “He knew right away they dated back to the 19th century.”
Gordon added that Neir’s interior, which the LPC specially noted in their rejection, was sought out by movie crews — two films, “Goodfellas” and “Tower Heist,” were shot there — and most recently as a photo shoot location for a piece that was featured in the Italian version of Vogue magazine.
“What we need to focus on is the local and national significant of Neir’s,” Gordon said.
Crowley rejected the notion that architecture needs to take precedence over a site’s historical nature. She specifically pointed to the recent landmarking of the PepsiCola sign in Long Island City as an example, which she supported.
“The PepsiCola sign was landmarked in part because of the significance it had in Long Island City’s history as an industrial neighborhood,” she said. “It’s not a building, but it is historical.”
Hourahan suggested the Neir’s seek recognition on the National Register of Historic Places, as well as landmarking. The former leads to some financial assistance from the federal government for upkeep and maintenance, which could entice the building’s owner, who had attempted to sell it several years ago for $1.5 million. Besides Neir’s, the building includes two apartments, two recording studios and a martial arts facility.
Gordon said ultimately he would like to own the building and then leave ownership in a trust to make sure Neir’s has a long history.
“Ultimately, we need to be in charge of our own destiny,” he said.
But in the short term, Crowley said, landmarking is a priority. She said she didn’t expect the process to be easy.
“It took us decades to get the Forest Park Carousel landmarked,” she said. “Hopefully this won’t take that long, but I expect it to be a fight.”