Posts Tagged ‘historic preservation’

Monticello’s brush with ruin-by-litigation

Myron Magnet has a new article in City Journal on how George Washington’s country seat at Mount Vernon and Thomas Jefferson’s at Monticello were saved from war, insult, neglect, and legal hazard. From his discussion of Monticello:

What had happened to the house in the meantime was what happens to any property tied up in litigation: it fell once more into a Dickensian state of ruin. As the suits dragged on, Uriah Levy’s old overseer, Joel Wheeler, “took care” of Monticello and sometimes lived in it. While he grew increasingly blind, paint peeled, glass broke, shutters and gutters disappeared, grime deepened, and the roof and terraces rotted. Wheeler dug up the lawn for a vegetable garden on one side and a pigpen on the other. Cattle wintered in the cellars, and Wheeler winnowed grain on the parlor’s parquet floor. On his watch, judged Wheeler’s successor, Thomas Rhodes, Monticello “was wantonly desecrated.”

Whole thing here.

Annals of costly historic preservation

It’s nice to know that in Manhattan’s super-expensive West Village there’s a transplanted farmhouse with a doggy chute opening in the door and a connection to the late Margaret Wise Brown, author of children’s classic Goodnight Moon. It’s less nice to know that New York City preservation law parlays this cute historic footnote into the potential imposition (if development is blocked) of an opportunity cost that the property owner thinks might be as high as $20 million [Scouting New York]

Vancouver bans doorknobs

In the name of so-called universal design — a much-promoted theory that disabled-accessibility features should be designed into all structures, public or private, from the start — Vancouver is adopting building code changes that prohibit use of doorknobs in favor of levers and other mechanisms that are more easily used by the handicapped and elderly. While the ban will apply only to new construction, the city has already deferred to the new thinking by replacing the ornate doorknobs in its Art Deco-era City Hall. Building experts see doorknob bans in private housing construction as likely to spread in the years ahead. [Vancouver Sun] Perennial Overlawyered bete noire Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) has in recent Congresses introduced something called the Inclusive Home Design Act which would mandate some accessibility features in all federally assisted newly constructed housing units.

More: “Vancouver Banned Doorknobs. Good,” writes Colin Lecher at Popular Science. Because the less diversity and private choice and historical continuity, the better.

After landmarking inquiry, owner demolishes Wright interior

The former Mercedes showroom on Park Avenue in Manhattan was one of only three Frank Lloyd Wright projects built in New York City, along with the Guggenheim Museum and a Usonian house on Staten Island. “On March 22, the Landmarks Preservation Commission called the owners of 430 Park Ave. to tell them the city was considering designating the Wright showroom … as the city’s 115th interior landmark. … on March 28, the building’s owners, Midwood Investment & Management and Oestreicher Properties, reached out to another city agency, the Department of Buildings, requesting a demolition permit for the Wright showroom. The permit was approved the same day, sealing the showroom’s fate.” [Matt Chaban/Crain’s New York Business, New York Times, Metropolis] That’s only the latest in a series of incidents in which the prospect of city intervention under Gotham’s famously cumbersome preservation laws has precipitated teardown instead [New York] More thoughts: Scott Greenfield.

Time to fix copyright on sound recordings

Terry Teachout, WSJ (via About Last Night):

…In Europe, sound recordings enter the public domain 50 years after their initial release. Once that happens, anyone can reissue them, which makes it easy for Europeans to purchase classic records of the past. In America, by contrast, sound recordings are “protected” by a prohibitive snarl of federal and state legislation whose effect was summed up in a report issued in 2010 by the National Recording Preservation Board of the Library of Congress: “The effective term of copyright protection for even the oldest U.S. recordings, dating from the late 19th century, will not end until the year 2067 at the earliest.… Thus, a published U.S. sound recording created in 1890 will not enter the public domain until 177 years after its creation, constituting a term of rights protection 82 years longer than that of all other forms of audio visual works made for hire.”

Among countless other undesirable things, this means that American record companies that aren’t interested in reissuing old records can stop anyone else from doing so, and can also stop libraries from making those same records readily accessible to scholars who want to use them for noncommercial purposes. Even worse, it means that American libraries cannot legally copy records made before 1972 to digital formats for the purpose of preservation—not unless those records have already deteriorated to the point where they may soon become unplayable.

That’s crazy.

Baltimore considers banning Formstone

“Formstone is to Baltimore what Communism was to Czechoslovakia.” Although virtually no one installs the simulated-stone exterior cladding any more, and it doesn’t seem to raise any safety concern, Charm City authorities are still proposing to ban it, which has touched off a wave of protests and a Baltimore Sun editorial objecting to the ban. [Sun reporting, editorial]

Baleful brownstones: serial ADA complainant hits Upper West Side

New York Post:

Wheelchair-riding Linda Slone, 64, is suing 39 shops in her neighborhood for not being handicapped-accessible.

The legal crusade is netting her thousands, but Slone, who cannot walk because of polio, insists she is simply championing the rights of the disabled.

“If you think this is a money-making scheme, you’re dead wrong,” said Slone, a speech pathologist.

The Florida-based Weitz Law Firm, which represents Slone, “also represents Zoltan Hirsch, a Brooklyn double amputee who The Post revealed last year filed 147 suits citing the Americans with Disabilities Act.”

Scott Greenfield wonders what the brownstones of Columbus Avenue will look like by the time the shopowners and landlords somehow manage to completely ADA-proof them.

Historic preservation as tactical bludgeon

It’s not just New York:

In Georgetown, for instance, Eastbanc has proposed to replace the Canal Rd. Exxon with a five story condo building. From a true historic preservation perspective, there’s not much of a case against the project. It wouldn’t break up the rhythm of the block and the proposed style, while not particularly elegant, was at least not discordant.

But neighbors along Prospect Street would lose a part of their fabulous view across the Potomac. So they argued vociferously during the design review process that the project should be reduced to preserve their views. This had little to nothing to do with genuine historic preservation. … This pattern is repeated frequently in Georgetown and in other historic districts.

The local opponents have thus far blocked the project, which means the historic district is still adorned with the Key Bridge Exxon. One might ask the neighbors whether they feel a gas station enhances the neighborhood’s quaint Nineteenth Century ambiance, except that, taking a leaf from lower Manhattanites, they might say it does.

More: David Schleicher, Prawfs, on the municipal political economy of zoning.