By Bill Parry
The future of the Pepsi Cola sign and seven other historic sites across the borough are suddenly in jeopardy now that the chairwoman of the Landmarks Preservation Commission is proposing to remove them from consideration for protection.
Meenakashi Srinivasan said the agency would vote Tuesday to decide if more than100 historic structure would be “decalendared,” removing them from the first step in the public review process. Her spokesman said the proposed action would clean up an administrative backlog and would not prevent the commission from reconsidering the buildings and sites for recalendaring in the future.
When the LPC “calendars” a structure or site, it means that it is awaiting an official landmark vote. Some have held the designation dating back to 1966.
Now the commission is proposing to remove the designation, leaving the sites vulnerable to redevelopment or demolition, critics charge. Internationally acclaimed New York City tour guide Justin Ferate put it more bluntly.
“To ‘decalendar’ these structures is just short, or not, of a cultural and civic crime,” he said.
According to the staff at Landmark West, a Manhattan-based preservation commission, the effect would be to wipe the slate clean on the proposed landmarks and historic districts that have been extensively researched, documented, and formally heard by the Landmarks Preservation Commission over the years.
The eight Queens sites are the iconic Pepsi Cola sign in Long Island City, an extension to the Douglaston Historic District, the Old Calvary Cemetery Gatehouse in Sunnyside, the Bowne Street Community Church in Flushing, the Spanish Towers and the Fairway Apartments in Jackson Heights, the First Reformed Church and Sunday School of College Point and the Ahles House in Bayside.
“This is terrible news,” Bayside Historical Society President Paul Di Benedetto said. “Why do you calendar something if it’s not worth saving?”
Four of the eight sites are in state Sen. Tony Avella’s district. He fired off a letter to Mayor de Blasio and the chairwoman of the LPC demanding a different tone.
“I find this action outrageous,” he wrote. “The act of calendaring offers properties some immediate protection. Removing them places these locations in immediate danger, with little or no time for the community to act.”
City Councilman Peter Koo (D-Flushing), chairman of the Subcommittee on Landmarks , is reminding skeptics that every item on the list is eligible for reconsideration.
“I have spoken with Chair Srinivasan to discuss this issue and have secured her complete assurance that the LPC will work closely with me, my committee, and all stakeholders on this matter in an effort to bring about change, transparency and balance that is needed in the landmarking process moving forward,” Koo said.
Bob Singleton, the executive director of the Greater Astoria Historical Society said, “Although our elected officials can force them to restore the public’s voice, we doubt that will happen. Look what the political process has done to far too many places already designated as lLandmarks. The Steinway Mansion is just the latest entry to this unfortunate list.”
The borough’s preservationists are alarmed.
“It’s a terrible precedent and a rash decision and none of us is thrilled in the preservationist community,” John Jay Professor Jeffrey Kroessler said. “To wipe clean all those years of work and start over is dismissive and uncomfortable to say the least.”
Kroessler and his wife, the architect Laura Heim, were central figures in the protracted campaign that designated Sunnyside Gardens a Historic District in 2007. “Real estate values have changed remarkably in the last 30 years.” he said. “There used to be empty spaces in the city and now that they are gone, they say landmarks are in the way of development, that preservationists stand in the way of affordable housing. It’s a change in the economic perspective of the city. Who would have ever thought 30 years ago that property in Bushwick would be valuable? There’s not a lot of happiness in the preservation community today, just dismay.”
Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at email@example.com or by phone at (718) 260–4538.