It looked like a landmark hearing, it smelled like landmark hearing, and for the first few minutes, it even sounded like a landmark hearing. But this discussion wasn't really about whether 45-47 Park Place should be a landmark, and, as expected, the hearing quickly degenerated into something much more familiar—an impassioned protest against the mosque and community center that would replace 45-47 if it's not declared a landmark. To set the tone, cries of "you're full of it," "liar," and "murderer" were thrown at Sharif El-Gamal, who owns the property and wants to build the mosque, when he stated, "I care a lot about our future as a city,"
Sure, Nathan Riddle of the consulting firm AKRF testified about the building's landmark candidacy, describing 45-47 Park Place, located two blocks from Ground Zero, as a "typical loft building built in the 1850s... not an exceptional or important example of the Italian Palazzo style." But the majority of those in attendance hadn't gathered at yesterday's Landmark Preservations Commission hearing to discuss the finer points of Corinthian columns, and it was obvious that the arguments for making the old Burlington Coat Factory building a landmark had little to do with architecture, aesthetics, or history.
Not to be outdone by that shouty community board meeting in May (and undeterred by the board's vote against landmark status for the building), mosque opponents came armed with their tried and true techniques. The combative interruption extended beyond El-Gamal to include Zaed Ramadan, a restaurateur, when he labeled the anger expressed at the hearing "Islamaphobic" and compared it to similar attacks on Sheepshead Bay.
On the other side, Gary Phaneuf shouted "Boo, you racist" at several of the anti-mosque protesters as they spoke. And Rafiq Kathwari, who described himself as a moderate Muslim, tried to speak but found his comments drowned out by booing. "I'm standing in a hall in which I feel ashamed to be an American," he said.
Then there was the hyperbolic metaphor: artist Barbara Paolucci thinks allowing the mosque to be built is like "handing someone a knife and saying slit my throat"; and Sam Nunberg, of the American Center for Law & Justice, compared it to "removing the sunken ship from Pearl Harbor to erect a memorial to the Japanese kamikazes killed in the attack". Joseph Reichling of Ridgewood, Queens, declared, "Our forefathers are turning in their graves. Have we forgotten what happened on 9/11? We must never forget 9/11." Putting the cherry on top, resident Sara Hartman said it was building "a monument to terrorism."
And finally, the political weight. Republican Gubernatorial candidate Rick Lazio, who has been an outspoken opponent of the mosque, chimed in to remind us that "this is the time when we need to ask the serious questions that will keep the people of downtown Manhattan feeling, and actually being, safe." He received a standing ovation.
There were some attempts to bring the
dialogue shouting match back to the situation at hand: the actual landmark candidacy of 45-47 Park Place. Many speakers cited the landing gear from United flight 175 hitting the building on 9/11 as a reason for its historical significance. One compared it to the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory and Stonewall Inn, which both achieved landmark status because of historical events that happened in them.
However, perhaps the most sincere testimony came from Roman Shusterman, better known as the guy who roams New York with a "Free Happy Endings" sign. He may have lost some listeners when he asked, "Wouldn't it be better if we gave each other happy endings instead of killing each other?" but still brought some much-needed rationality to the proceedings when he stated, "This meeting is making things worse...it's pitting people against each other."
The Commission is expected to vote later this summer.