In this edition of Press Play, we invite you to become a tourist in your own town by discovering the New York Landmarks Conservancy, an organization dedicated to preserving and revitalizing New York’s architecturally significant buildings. We talked with their president, Peg Breen, and this is what she shared with us.
NYXT: Tell us about how you got involved with New York Landmarks Conservancy.
Peg Breen: After working in media and government, I enjoy advocating for preservation as important to the City’s economy, tourism and daily quality of life. And I enjoy constantly learning more about the City’s architecture, history and people.
NYXT: Which communities in NYC do you support? Who are the main groups you work with?
PB: Most of our work is within the five boroughs but our Sacred Sites Program offers financial and technical help to landmark religious institutions throughout New York State. We have emergency grants for nonprofits; low-interest loans for building owners within NYC; provide free technical advice to building owners and advocate for preservation at City Hall and in Albany and D.C. Our loans and grants come with assistance from our expert technical staff to ensure that projects are completed to landmark standards. Our work brings us into contact with homeowners, community groups, community boards, elected officials, developers; congregations of all denominations.
The New York Public Library is one of the biggest libraries in the world,
with its main branch located in Midtown Manhattan
NYXT: What is the organization’s contribution to education causes?
PB: We have had interns from Bronx International High School for the past six years. Students interested in architecture, engineering or the building arts are taken on field trips to projects we are working on and to the offices of architects, engineers and conservators. We also bring them to historic sites and iconic buildings.
NYXT: What changes would you like to see regarding landmarks conservancy in New York?
PB: Two years ago we commissioned the first-ever economic study of the benefits of preservation to NYC. We are updating that study now. Preservation often comes under attack falsely for “turning the City into a museum” or “coating the City in amber.” We know NYC will always grow and change. But we believe we need to maintain a balance of preservation and growth and protect the older buildings and neighborhoods that give New York its distinct character.
NYXT: Who are the main recognized professionals that have contributed to the organization?
PB: Our board has always consisted of devoted New Yorkers including architects, lawyers, writers, real estate professionals, businesspeople and people active in their respective communities.
NYXT: What are your proudest accomplishments with the organization?
PB: We have loaned and granted more than $52 million to a total of $1 billion of preservation projects across New York. After 9/11, we saved the Survivors Staircase, now in the 9/11 Museum, and convinced the MTA to incorporate the historic Corbin Building into the new Fulton Transit Center. In the early 90s, we inspected and helped stabilize the large hospital complex on the South Side of Ellis Island bringing worldwide publicity to the once “forgotten side of Ellis island. After Superstorm Sandy, our emergency grants helped a dozen non-profits recover. Our Sacred Sites program is the leader in assisting landmark religious properties and our annual Sacred Sites Open House Weekend draws some 10,000 people who learn about the architecture, history and community programs these institutions provide.
NYXT: Would you like to share anything additional?
PB: Working at the Conservancy is immensely “soul satisfying.” It allows you to make a real difference to people and to life in New York.
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