May 21, 2012

Historic Preservation in New York City: Concluding Thoughts on the Final Day of Voting in the Partners in Preservation Initiative

Over the past few weeks, I have visited and written about six of the sites selected in the Partners in Preservation initiative, a program of American Express in partnership with the National Trust for Historic Preservation to involve the public in the cause of historic preservation. As a blogging ambassador for the program, I have greatly enjoyed the opportunity to visit and write about six of the forty sites. Today is the last day to vote for your favorite in the competition, and the series concludes today with this review.

Though today is the last day to vote (click on the badge below), the program has undoubtedly heightened awareness about the vast historical treasures in New York City awaiting our discovery and involvement. The selected sites from all five boroughs have particularly struck home with me, challenging Walking Off the Big Apple to walk into new territory. My travels to the southern shores of Staten Island to the northern reaches of City Island off the Bronx, a distance of over 36 miles, have inspired me to expand coverage of under-appreciated areas of the city.

In terms of historic preservation, the city's greatest cultural assets require our collective attention and resources. Wonderful old buildings and historic sites do not take care of themselves. They require maintenance, funds, and people to keep them going. In short, they need your help, either through financial contributions, advocacy, or involvement as a volunteer.

The six sites I explored in depth on Walking Off the Big Apple have become close to my heart. Beyond learning fascinating histories, I have met many wonderful people along the way who care deeply about their sites. For today's last day of voting, I hope you will consider choosing one of these places. For tomorrow and the days that I follow, I want you to visit them.


Excerpts from the Partners in Preservation series on Walking Off the Big Apple:
Click on the links to read the full entry for each place.

• City Island Nautical Museum (Bronx) "An informed visit to City Island, one that fully explains the island’s history, should begin at City Island Nautical Museum. The museum is housed in a former school built by New York City in 1897-1898, a handsome Georgian Revival building at the top of a hill on Fordham Street. Now operated and maintained by a handful of passionate volunteers, collectively known as "the Barbaras," for all are named Barbara except for one Jane, the multifaceted rooms of this stately building illustrate the island's deep-rooted connection to the surrounding waters."

• Erasmus Hall Campus (Brooklyn) "The extraordinary focal point of the auditorium is the stained glass work, Life of Erasmus. The 41 panels illustrate episodes in the life of Desiderius Erasmus (1466?-1536), the Dutch theologian, priest, and writer for whom the school is named. The alumni association commissioned this work, crafted in 1910-12 by the Church Glass and Decorating Company. Erasmus is the seated figure in the middle, holding an open book on his lap. The panels together represent a life in learning."


• Second Stage at the Helen Hayes (Manhattan) "The exterior of the theater largely stays unchanged, yet what has gone on in this place over a hundred years has definitely changed with the times. Through its early years, the Little Theatre fulfilled its mission to produce exciting new dramas, with Ames sometimes leasing the theatre to other artistically compatible producers including John Golden and Oliver Morosco. In the early days, the theatre enjoyed many hits, including works by women playwrights. A Little Journey, a comedy written and directed by Rachel Crothers, was one of the highlights of the 1918-1919 season."

• Rossville A.M.E. Zion Church (Staten Island) "Many of the congregants of Rossville A.M.E. Zion Church near the far shores of Staten Island on Bloomingdale Road maintain deep and long family ties to this place, stretching back in time "six, seven, even eight generations," as Reverend Janet H. Jones, their pastor, explained as we walked down the aisles of the historic church. Returning for services on Sunday morning, the descendants reaffirm their ties to this once prosperous black community of Sandy Ground, founded by free African Americans in the 1820s and 1830s."

• Our Lady of Mount Carmel Shrine (Staten Island) "Vito Russo (1885-1954), an Italian immigrant, dreamed of such a structure even before arriving in the United States in 1903. After settling in Rosebank, he joined the Society of Mount Carmel, an organization founded that same year. A charismatic man, Russo became president of the society and was eventually elected president-for-life. In 1935, when Russo's youngest son died of pneumonia, it was said that Russo channeled the energy of his grief to realize his vision."


• Woodlawn Cemetery, Belmont Memorial Chapel (Bronx) "Among the couple's many fine houses is their final resting place in Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx. Oliver died on June 10, 1908 after a severe bout of appendicitis, and Alva commissioned the mausoleum as a lasting memorial for both of them. Constructed as a replica of the chapel of Saint-Hubert at Amboise in France's Loire Valley, and notably the burial place of Leonardo da Vinci, the chapel is remarkable in its detail. Like the French original, almost exactly so, the 1910 chapel is abundantly decorated with references to Saint Hubert, the patron saint of hunters."



View Partners in Preservation in a larger map
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Walking Off the Big Apple is serving as a blog ambassador for the Partners In Preservation initiative, a program of American Express in partnership with the National Trust for Historic Preservation. This post is the final part of a series providing special in-depth coverage of several of the 40 sites selected to receive funding.

(Voting is now closed.) LAST DAY TO VOTE! You are encouraged to participate by voting once a day through May 21, 2012 for your favorite on the list. The four projects receiving the most public votes will have their grant requests fully funded, and the rest will be distributed among the remaining sites. Click on the badge to the left to cast your vote.

Images by Walking Off the Big Apple.

Disclosure: I have partnered up with Partners in Preservation to help promote their initiative and to raise awareness of select historical sites in all the five boroughs. While I am being compensated for my time, all opinions expressed here are strictly my own.

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