|Schematic of what Steinway Mansion will look like once building project is complete|
Dear Madam Borough President,
The Steinways played a pivotal role in making New York as the center of arts and culture. In this spirit, the Friends of Steinway Mansion has proposed that the area around the piano factory and the mansion as a special business zone for the arts and artisans – a place for them to learn their craft and showcase their work.
As this article from a March 2014 edition of the New York Times examines, the arts community in our city is under increasing stress from harsh economics. Space is falling victim to rents. Collaboration is lost to commute times.
Entire segments of the art world in dance and theater are drifting away. Creative people still come here, but their goals of a life in the arts gets more elusive with each passing year.
What will happen to New York's role as a world leader in arts and as a tourist destination? What will happen if our city loses our arts community?
The Friends of Steinway Mansion calls for the Borough President to consider the Steinway Arts District and make the mansion a centerpiece of this dream. Those 11 ‘warehouses’? How about artist workspace?
Any other borough would jump at this opportunity. Why not Queens? Are you not a patron of the arts?
We would be happy to discuss this Madam Borough President. We are just a phone call away.
The Friends of Steinway Mansion
Letter to Melinda Katz (Written November 2015):
Dear Madam President,
I would like to make you aware of a disturbing decision made by the Landmarks Preservation Commission with regard to the status of Old St. James Episcopal Parish Hall, located at 86-02 Broadway in Elmhurst, one of the oldest and most historic buildings in Queens. Attached is the response from Mary Beth Betts, director of research at the LPC, to a request for evaluation submitted by State Senator Tony Avella at Newtown Historical Society’s request. In this letter, Ms. Betts cites the building’s alteration and “re-creation” in 2004 as the cause of rejection. This rationale is patently false and dishonest, as I will prove below.
Some background on the building: It was originally built in 1735 and was attended by some of the earliest families living in Newtown, such as the Moores and Seaburys. It was remodeled in 1883 and completely restored by the Landmarks Conservancy in 2004. A detailed history can be found on this website: tinyurl.com/oldstjames. A passage from this narrative:
In 1963, the Post Office wanted to buy Old St. James to tear it down for a new post office. The church rejected their offer. In a letter written that year, they cited the historic importance of the church. Today, the building is used as a community center, hosting meetings of groups such as the Boy Scouts, AA, veterans groups, and church services by smaller congregations.
In 2004, the church got a necessary restoration. The project, which cost $430,000, included a $150,000 loan from the Landmarks Conservancy. The building got a new rood, the cedar siding was restored, as were the wooden windows and the eaves and brackets. The 1883 decorative bracketing on the gables, which had been removed, was restored, as well, bringing the building back to its 1880s appearance. The project architect was Kaitsen Woo, and his general contractor was 53 Restorations, Inc. The Conservancy awarded the project with its Lucy G. Moses Preservation Award. Thanks to the stubbornness of St. James, and the desire by the Elmhurst community to preserve an important part of Queens history, this building is with us to enjoy today.
Once again – restored – not re-created, and almost entirely with taxpayer funds a mere 11 years ago. The minimum age for a building to qualify for designation is 30 years. Old St. James Parish Hall’s 1883 remodeling exceeds that by 153 years.
This rejection is a slap in the face to the NYS Historic Preservation Office, which not only has placed this property on the National Register of Historic Places, but reviewed, approved, and funded its $430K restoration, finding it met the Secretary of the Interior’s standards. Even if there is little 18th century fabric at the exterior, the 19th century fabric is nothing to sneeze at – especially since the asbestos shingle was removed and the trim restored (additionally, existing shingle siding, while not holding paint very well, IS the original 19th century shingle, and not a modern replacement).
And furthermore, even if this WAS a re-creation as claimed by Ms. Betts, there have been several other structures that were completely demolished and rebuilt yet still were designated NYC landmarks by the LPC – including the Theodore Roosevelt Birthplace and Fraunces Tavern in Manhattan. Neither of these contains its original fabric and neither was rebuilt in the exact same style.
With the emphasis lately on expanding tourism in the borough and in light of the 50th anniversary of the Landmarks Law, it would be a shame to lose this engaging piece of Queens history that is appreciated by natives, immigrants and tourists alike. The rejection of one of the most historic sites in our borough by the LPC is an arbitrary and capricious action that cannot be taken lightly and we ask for your intervention to help save it.
Newtown Historical Society
There doesn't seem to have been a response from Borough Hall to either of these letters. But there's a lot of this being spread around: