On Tuesday, the New-York Historical Society scored a victory at the city's Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC), which unanimously approved a scaled-down plan to renovate the building's exterior. In spite of unrelenting criticism from local Community Board 7, the LPC panel affirmed the appropriateness of modifications such as:

- A recessed glass entrance vestibule with two new portals adapted from current windows at the Central Park West entrance.
- Wider main staircase and free-standing graphic kiosks (CPW).
- Enlarged windows and ADA-compliant entrance ramp at the West 77th St. entrance.


The New-York Historical Society has evolved into a much more progressive institution than the stuffy, exclusive architecture of its 1908 building would suggest. Created by York and Sawyer to exude neoclassical pomp, the building "was designed as a private club that did not intend to embrace the public," said the architect Paul Spencer Byard in a November 1st NY Times interview. Byard's firm of Platt Byard Dovell White has designed the renovation just approved.

According to the society's press statement, "These changes will enable an internal renovation designed to make the Historical Society into a modern and accessible community, education and cultural facility for children, scholars and the general public." Added Columbia University historian Kenneth T. Jackson, "The New-York Historical Society headquarters... was built to preserve the legacy of old, rich, white families." 07_04_NYHS_Rend-77st.jpg The entrance renovation--modest in scope as it is, compared with more dramatic plans rebuffed last week by the LPC--will present a more inviting and open public face.

Judging from yesterday's Times article and a meeting held on March 6, the community's concerns appear founded in another of the society's projects, a hypothetical 23-story residential tower that would have to earn separate approval in order to proceed. The notion that historic buildings have to be pickled in formaldehyde in order to foster long-term preservation has been spectacularly disproved in cities around the world. For example, the recent glass addition to the Morgan Library and Museum at Madison and 36th St. (infinitely more transformative than the subtle N-YHS plan) highlights the building's history while renewing its contemporary relevance.

More info:
Download the N-YHS's full Architecture Strategic Plan. Note that some of the renderings do not reflect the final round of compromises prior to this week's landmark hearing.
Landmark West: Save Our Skyline, a polemic against renovation.
City Realty: An account of the contentious March 6 community board meeting.

Photo of current entrance posted to Flickr by wallyg. Renderings of the approved Central Park West and West 77th St facade renovation courtesy Platt Byard Dovell White architects. The CPW image was printed as a Correction in today's NY Times.