Few buildings can claim to serve as global metaphors, but New York’s Tammany Hall surely is one of them. Mention Tammany Hall to reasonably educated Americans—or even British journalists—and the image that comes to mind is not of an old colonial revival building just off Manhattan’s Union Square, but a certain method of ethically slippery, brass-knuckle politics far removed from the ideals of the nation’s founders.
That image, desperately in need of revision, might explain why Tammany Hall—the building, not the metaphor—is one of the city’s best-known landmarks that is not, in fact, a landmark, at least not in the formal sense. But a decades-long campaign to recognize the Tammany building’s history may be on the verge of victory. On June 25, the city Landmarks Preservation Commission heard from a handful of speakers united in support of designating Tammany Hall as a city landmark. The proposed designation has the backing of the local community board as well as other preservation organizations.
If the commission approves, Tammany Hall, the onetime home of the New York County Democratic Party, will achieve a level of respectability it was denied even in its prime, when political legends like Alfred E. Smith, Robert F. Wagner, and Herbert Lehman were members of the Tammany political organization. Many of those who support the landmark designation have cited the Tammany building’s impressive architecture as well as its role as the onetime home of the International Ladies Garment Workers Union, a historically significant trade union. They have tip-toed around Tammany Hall’s role in American political history, perhaps fearful of the organization’s much-chronicled scandals.