NEWTOWN HISTORICAL SOCIETY WINS FIRST LANDMARK VICTORY
After a 2015 rejection, the Landmarks Preservation Commission reversed course and unanimously voted in favor of designating Old St. James Church, built in 1735, as an official NYC Landmark on Tuesday, September 19th.
This is truly great news, said Christina Wilkinson, president of the Newtown Historical Society. The church predates the Revolution and was one of the oldest buildings in the city left undesignated.
Newtown Historical Society submitted the RFP in 2015 through State Senator Tony Avella but he received the following rejection from Mary Beth Betts, the LPC's Director of Research at the time:
The agency has reviewed the property referenced above for consideration as a potential landmark. While the building was constructed in 1735-36, it was significantly remodeled in 1883 and was resided in the 20th century leaving little historic fabric on the exterior. The current appearance of the exterior of the building is a recreation of the 1883 remodeling, and only the heavy timber frame, rectangular massing and interior paneling and woodwork remain from the Colonial era. Due to these alterations the property will not be recommended to the full Commission for further consideration as an individual New York City Landmark.
State Assembly Member Jeff Aubry and NYC Landmarks Conservancy President Peg Breen followed up with letters correcting Ms. Betts' analysis. (Betts no longer works for the agency.)
In December 2016, Rev. Andrew Durbidge, real estate manager for the Episcopal Diocese of Long Island, and Rev. Paul Lai of St. James met with Newtown Historical Society and representatives of other preservation-minded organizations at the office of Senator Avella in Bayside. The church representatives dispelled rumors of a demolition and stated that they planned to preserve the church building and were looking at options for developing the former graveyard behind it, which the Queens Library had been renting for a book trailer during construction of the Elmhurst Library. We saw this as a positive sign.
St. James was calendared on June 27th and the official hearing was held on August 8th. The September 19th designation represents the first of what will hopefully be many landmark victories by the 10-year old Newtown Historical Society.
Thank you to everyone who helped us achieve this, especially the elected officials who changed their stances on preservation, as well as the steadfast support of preservationists such as Paul Graziano, Marialena Giampino, Christabel Gough, Juniper Park Civic Association, Queens Preservation Council, Sunnyside Gardens Preservation Alliance, Historic Districts Council, COMET, The NY Landmarks Conservancy, Bayside Historical Society, State Senator Tony Avella and everyone else who petitioned the LPC in favor of designation.