Downtown Mosque Poetry: “We Don’t Landmark the Sky, But I Wish We Could”


The city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission voted unanimously to deny granting “individual landmark status” to 45-47 Park Place today, removing one of the final roadblocks to the Cordoba Initiative’s plan to build a $100 million mosque and community center near Ground Zero.

The commissioners’ unanimous votes shouldn’t come as much of a surprise as all are appointees of Mayor Bloomberg. (He supports the construction of the mosque, and tends to appoint board members who will vote in a block granting his wishes.)

The 9:30 a.m. start time at Pace University guaranteed less opposition than has typically appeared at these public meetings, although Atlas Shrug’s Pam Geller was out in full force hawking her book, along with a handful of sign holders.

LPC Chairman Robert Tierney began the meeting stressing that the decision on whether or not to grant individual landmark status to 45-47 Park Place had to be based solely on criteria regarding that building only, and not on what the building could be used for. (The public completely ignored this directive at the last hearing.) The building was first considered for landmark status in 1989, and it’s taken over 20 years to bring it for a vote.

At the start of the meeting, 45-47 had a lot of opposition against making it a landmark (namely, a lack of support from the Mayor, the local City Council member, and the Community Board), but it had some architectural merit. The building is an example an Italian building style of the mid-19th century, and its cast-iron façade was made by the renowned foundry of Daniel Badger, a favorite of architecture geeks and the anti-mosque crowd alike.

But its actual architect is unknown, and before the vote was taken, it kept being referred to as a “good but not exceptional” example of its style by the commissioners. As Commissioner Frederick Bland pointed out, only 1,100 of the city’s one million buildings (about 0.1 percent) have individual landmark status.

Buildings can also be landmarked, regardless of their architectural quality, for their historical significance. In last month’s hearing at Hunter College, many people made the compelling case that 45-47 should receive landmark status not just for being another building near the site of the World Trade Center, but because the landing gear of United Flight 175 fell crashed on its roof. At that meeting, the crowd ate it up when a speaker claimed that landmark status was given to a building bombed by the Weather Underground (which my colleague Tom Robbins points out was already in a historic district), so a building damaged on 9/11 should be, too. (They were noticeably quieter when the speaker mentioned that the Stonewall Inn and a Margaret Sanger clinic received landmark status for their respective roles in gay and abortion rights history.)

At today’s meeting, only two of the commissioners mentioned the landing gear issue at all. Commissioner Christopher Moore talked passionately and emotionally about witnessing the explosion Flight 175 caused in the South Tower of the World Trade Center, and watching people leap to their deaths. Yet he conceded that though 45-47 is a part of Ground Zero, he also said that we don’t landmark the guardrail of a highway near a terrible fatality. “We don’t landmark the sky, but I wish we could,” he ended, before voting no.

Commissioner Stephen Byrns also seemed like he might vote for landmark status based on the landing gear, but in the end said the 9/11 debris field was “widespread,” that they couldn’t landmark the “hundreds of buildings” it would include, and 45-47 did not rise to the level of individual landmark status.

After all the commissioners spoke, a vote was taken, with all present voting to finally end the building’s 21 year flirtation with landmark status. Although there was one angry man calling out at the end, for once, the applause of supporters of the Cordoba House drowned out any boos from its opponents.