Is Preservation Elitist?

As part of the Museum of the City of New Yorks Saving Place, 50 Years of New York City Landmarks exhibition and lecture series, a group of prominent historians, developers, planners, preservationists, and journalists gathered for a public symposium on June 20th to debate the politics of preservation law and its impact on the economic and cultural life of the city. The topic was Is Preservation Elitist?

On the panel were …

  • Paimaan Lodhi, land use and public policy expert and the vice president of Urban Planning for the Real Estate Board of New York
  • Tia Powell Harris, arts educator and the president and executive director of the Weeksville Heritage Center in Brooklyn
  • Nikolai Fedak, the founding editor of New York YIMBY, a pro-development website
  • Claudette Brady, community preservation organizer and co-founder of the Bedford Stuyvesant Society for Historic Preservation
  • Kerri Culhane, architectural historian and associate director of Two Bridges Neighborhood Council.

The discussion was moderated by Laurie Beckelman, the chair of the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission from 1990 to 1994.

The panel dug into these questions with frequent, spirited vocal disagreements and challenges:

  • What happens to affordability and supply of housing when we restrict certain types of development in one area but not in an adjacent area?
  • How do you preserve a neighborhood and a culture, not just a streetscape of facades?
  • Whose history are we preserving and memorializing when we create a historic district?

The preservation movement has long history, starting with frankly elitist and nativist motives in places like Monticello and the American Wing of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, evolving through a less overtly political “beautiful buildings” phase and in recent decades embracing a very wide range of social histories (preserving industrial sites, working class immigrant neighborhoods, etc.). Historic preservation, in my opinion and in the opinion of several of the panelists, is primarily a tool for recording and transmitting a story. Preservation is no more or less elitist than a hammer or a pen and paper; the patron who pays for the work may or may not be elitist. Answering the question of whether preservation is or is not elitist is really an inquiry of whose history is being preserved and retold. Kerri Culhane, Tia Powell Harris, Claudette Brady, and Laurie Beckelman discussed many examples of decidedly non-elitist preservation initiative such as Tin Pan Alley and the Bowery in Manhattan, Weeksville, Crown Heights, and Bedford Stuyvesant in Brooklyn, and Mott Haven in the Bronx.

The NYC Landmarks law has the happy (again, in my opinion) coincidental ancillary effect of slowing the pace of change in landmarked neighborhoods, preserving affordable housing, and keeping communities of people bedded down and connected in one place. The Landmarks law, and others like it around the country, however, has had perhaps-unanticipated effects such as gentrification and its counterweight to affordability as well as “Disney-ifiaction”. Cities are incredibly complicated organisms and our urban planning policies (the NYC Landmarks law included) have all sorts of unanticipated (and frankly unpredictable) effects.

The pro-development panelists seemed to put the burden of creating affordable housing on the preservation movement. Their simple argument is that landmarks law restrictions on development increase the upward pressure on prices by restricting supply. This argument is the central “elitism” criticism of preservation movements from developers. However, developers have a pretty lousy record of building affordable housing on a purely altruistic (and not publicly subsidized) basis. Preservation has a contribution to make to affordable housing and it may also work against affordable housing at times; that is not however, its raison d’être. Affordable housing, not unlike historic preservation, is likely a social good that is just not quantifiable with our currently crude tools for pricing non-material goods.

Preservation and the NYC Landmarks law are a check on unrestrained market capitalism. Preservation and the NYC Landmarks law are an assertion of a public demand for history and education and quality of life (and other qualities) that are not accurately valued by (and therefore not supplied by) an unfettered capitalist system. In the absence of a consensus on how to adequately price these things, the government makes laws to provide them, which by large margins the public supports. Perhaps one day we will find a way to put an accurate price on things like diversity and history (and for that matter: clean air, water, quiet, and darkness at night). At that point, I’m sure we will all be happy to observe the invisible hand most efficiently deal out goods and services. Until that point, I am glad we have the NYC Landmarks law and I was certainly glad to hear an overwhelming defense of it in the packed hall of the museum.

-David Calligeros

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Manufacturing in Brooklyn iGraphic

Community, Inspiration, Feedback, Talent and Access are just a few of the advantages that David Calligeros, Rick Mast, Diana Pincus and Charlie Herman called out about manufacturing in Brooklyn at the Make it Brooklyn Summit….

Manufacturing in Brooklyn iGraphic from the Make it in Brooklyn Summit

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Restoration of Historic 15 Washington Street Part II

In keeping with its beginnings, Remains Lighting continually takes on restoration and custom projects. The latest of these involves the restoration of several chandeliers and lighting fixtures for Rutgers University. Once home to an insurance company and passed onto Rutgers, an historic 1920s skyscraper in Newark, New Jersey is undergoing an extensive restoration. The history of the building and more details about the project can be read about in this earlier post.

Ranging from wall sconces to large scale chandeliers, the pieces suffered from the years the building sat empty, and each piece required a unique approach to its restoration. After an initial assessment, the fixtures moved through the factory according to their restoration needs. Each fixture was disassembled and thoroughly cleaned and assessed. The original patina was restored, and in the case of two large chandeliers, the metalwork was hand-polished to a mirror-like surface; over time the unlacquered brass will continue to age naturally.

Many of the fixtures had missing or severely damaged parts. In those cases, replacement parts were fabricated in the Remains Lighting factory to complete the fixtures and painstakingly finished and patinated to match the original parts. Finally, each fixture was assembled and wired by hand. As the entirety of the building restoration comes together, the fixtures will be installed in their original spots.

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Make it in Brooklyn Innovation Summit

Make it in Brooklyn hosted the first Innovation Summit in Brooklyn on June 25th. Panel members discussed the challenges and benefits of manufacturing in Brooklyn, including Remains Lighting founder, David Calligeros, who noted that “it’s not mass producing, it’s artisan, it’s small scale.” You can read more about the summit conversations in this article from Forbes writer Karsten Strauss.

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Restoration of Historic 15 Washington Street

Rutgers University has undertaken the renovation of the historic building at 15 Washington Street in Newark, New Jersey. Designed by the architecture firm, John H. & Wilson C. Ely in the neo-classical style in 1930, the building remains one of the tallest in Newark. The facade boasts classically-inspired columns and a roof-top cupola tops a brick and limestone tower.

15 Washington Street was originally home to the American Insurance Company’s headquarters. In 1963 the building became known as the Fireman’s Fund Building when the American Insurance Company was acquired by the Fireman’s Fund Insurance Company, which in turn donated the building to Rutgers University. Rutgers School of Law-Newark occupied the historic skyscraper until 1999, when the relocation of the school caused the building to sit empty for over a decade.

Now Rutgers has partnered with the New Brunswick Development Corporation to renovate the building for use as student residences and academic space. Renovations are being overseen by Newman Architects. The school hopes that the re-opening of the building will spur further development in the Newark neighborhood as nearly 400 students move into the building. The original 15-foot windows in the “counting hall,” a nod to the insurance company’s customers who paid their premiums in the great room, brass-lined mail chutes, marble walls, and original lighting fixtures will be all be restored.

Remains Lighting has taken on the restoration of several early twentieth century chandeliers and lighting fixtures throughout the building. The interior neglect has taken its toll: the fixtures are certainly in need of care and attention.

Photos courtesy of Newman Architects.

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Make it in Brooklyn Innovation Summit

What does it mean to Make it in Brooklyn? This summer, the first Make it in Brooklyn Innovation Summit will strive to answer that question. On June 25, the summit will bring together “Brooklyn’s leading innovators, makers, builders, and entrepreneurs to share in a conversation about what it means to make it in Brooklyn.”

Remains Lighting founder, David Calligeros, will join the discussion to talk about the challenges, and rewards, of maintaining and growing a sustainable, successful manufacturing business in Brooklyn. With a push in recent years to increase all aspects of industry in the borough, including manufacturing, technology, and the arts, the summit will offer a unique opportunity for business leaders across varied industries to come together and discuss what it means to be a part of this growing business community in the nation’s largest city.

Other panel topics will include the influence of the arts, restaurants, and real estate on neighborhoods and communities. The summit will bring together a wide range of companies like MakerBot, Brooklyn Brewery, the Brooklyn Academy of Music.

Interested in seeing the future of Brooklyn innovation? In the evening a pitch contest will be held for tech and maker companies to compete for seed funding to pursue their goals of making it in Brooklyn.

You can purchase summit tickets here. If you buy tickets before June 7, be sure to take advantage of early bird pricing by entering the code DOWNTOWNBROOKLYN.


Photo credit: downtownbrooklyn.com

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Gardening at the Remains Lighting Factory

Brooklyn, thought by many to be the epitome of an urban environment, is home to more greenery than one might expect. From small window boxes to entire vacant lots, Brooklyn’s population is devoted to creating greener, more colorful neighborhoods. The Remains Lighting factory is no exception.

As the weather began to warm, the employees at Remains Lighting started to plan this year’s garden. Of the three raised beds in the parking-lot-turned-garden, two contain maturing fruit trees and dense, sprawling ivy. The third – reserved for growing vegetables, herbs, and flowers – is where much of the efforts are focused.

Enterprising employees decided to eschew buying seedlings from a nursery, opting to start their plants directly from seeds early in the spring. Thanks to the large, sun-lit windows and a little attention, most of the seeds successfully sprouted and began to thrive.

This week the seedlings were planted outside, after the earth was tilled and a “soaker” hose was put down to ensure a constant, even supply of water. A large variety of vegetables and herbs were planted, including basil, peas, and cucumbers. As the weather continues to get warmer and the plants continue to grow, the team at Remains is looking forward to reaping the benefits of the garden.

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Introducing Commune for Remains Lighting

Remains Lighting is proud to announce our new collaboration with LA-based design firm, Commune. In February, several of the fixtures were prominently displayed in the Architectural Digest Greenroom at the 2015 Oscars, designed by Commune. You can read about and see pictures of the installation here.

Now Remains Lighting is happy to reveal the collection, Commune for Remains Lighting, in its entirety. Inspired by Viennese Secession, French 1950′s and Milanese modernist designs, the fixtures are meant to be versatile, touched, used, and passed onto future generations. The signature “Slash” pattern available on the Dome fixtures and sconces is a theme revisited by Commune, having appeared on previous tiles and textiles.

The line will be debuted at the Legends of La Cienega in Los Angeles, with a window display at the Remains Lighting Showroom, designed by Commune.

All of the fixtures are available in several finishes with Commune’s signature Slash pattern or with a solid brass shade. Click on any of the images below for more details.

 

 

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