(image adapted from cover art for The Battle for Gotham: New York in the Shadow of Robert Moses and Jane Jacobs)

Preservationist Roberta Brandes Gratz is Removed
from the Landmarks Preservation Commission

The New York Times City Room blog reported last night that Roberta Brandes Gratz was removed from the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission as of October 26, 2010.  Gratz - journalist, preservationist, and most recently author of The Battle for Gotham: New York in the Shadow of Robert Moses and Jane Jacobs - was
appointed to the Commission by Mayor Michael Bloomberg in 2003. 

The Mayor giveth, and the Mayor taketh away.

Gratz was often "a thorn in the side of the commission, freely speaking her mind, even if her views clashed with other commissioners, City Hall or the chairman, Robert B. Tierney," reports the TimesBloomberg deliberately failed to reappoint Gratz when her term expired, even as other commissioners had their terms renewed, leaving her to vulnerable to removal at any moment.

Gratz never let the threat of replacement stop her from voting her conscience.  She sought designation of landmarks and historic districts - even controversial ones - in all five boroughs.  She was one of only three commissioners to hold out against pressure to approve the St. Vincent's Hospital hardship application, which would have led to major redevelopment and loss of landmarks in heart of the Greenwich Village Historic District.  (The other two commissioners were Stephen Byrns and Margery Perlmutter - Byrns recently left the Commission as well, and Perlmutter is serving on an expired term.)  Gratz also pushed back overscaled additions to the Whitney Museum, Congregation Shearith Israel, and the New-York Historical Society

In 2005, she broke the Bloomberg-imposed code of silence obscuring the Landmarks Commission's political decision to deny a public hearing to Edward Durell Stone's 2 Columbus Circle when she wrote a letter published in the
Times revealing that "Neither I as an individual commissioner nor the current commission as a whole has rendered a 'professional judgment' on whether there should be a hearing or a designation."  

Roberta Brandes Gratz was a fighter - for landmarks, community, urban livability - long before she went on the Commission.  And she will no doubt continue to lead and inspire as she moves on to other roles.  But for 7 years as a landmarks commissioner, she challenged us all to demand more from New York's preservation process - more accountability, more action, and more preservation.

Those are mighty big shoes for Mayor Bloomberg to fill.  Is he up to the challenge?

(Unsurprisingly, this issue has sparked a lively discussion on the City Room blog - join in!)