Please read the current version of our report "Voluntary Destruction" on the history of preservation on the Lower West Side: https://cutt.ly/2k9vSDl
Twenty years since September 11, 2001 and over sixteen years after the appeal for a new historic district south of the World Trade Center site, the Washington Street Advocacy Group undertook a survey of the status of local historic preservation. The results, chronicled in a report called “Voluntary Destruction” published in 2019, are disturbing. Among the thirty-nine non-designated buildings that an emergency coalition of prominent preservation groups advanced for protection after a comprehensive survey in 2003, 35.9% have now been demolished. The NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission only designated 10% of the proposed structures, leaving the remaining twenty-one at risk -- with demolitions of both high- and low-rise buildings continuing apace and with little warning. In addition, a number of the still-standing structures have already been seriously and possibly irrevocably altered since 2001, including rare federal-style row houses from the early American republic and the Hamilton period.
Despite billions of dollars of government money spent toward some of history’s most expensive office buildings, shopping centers, and transportation links, nearly all funding to support historic preservation since September 11 has been private and inadequate. The result is that, through tax incentives and subsidized bonds, city, state, and national governments have facilitated the erasure of a section of New York City important to the collective history of post-Revolutionary New York, American immigration, and New York City finance. For the most part, the buildings that have replaced these proposed landmarks have been tourist hotels and condominiums that receive little architectural praise. There is also no prospect of any local, city, or state action that would restrain the seemingly inevitable demolition of all non-protected low-rise buildings in Lower Manhattan, the oldest and most historically rich section of New York City.
The Washington Street Advocacy Group has attempted to historicize demolition in the Lower West Side across time and advocate for an immediate preservation survey before nearly all is lost. The voluntary destruction of the physical heritage of Lower Manhattan should be seen as an effect of government policy since September 11, 2001. However, if we acknowledge the tragedy of the status quo and consider some reasonable recommendations, we can prevent some additional permanent loss of important heritage. The approaching twenty-year anniversary of September 11 offers a critical moment to take stock, and the Washington Street Advocacy Group seeks to encourage the Mayor’s Office to endorse this field survey initiative.