Land Use

Landmarking Is Turning New York City Into a Life-Sized Historical Diorama

The city recently landmarked a giant Pepsi-Cola sign because of its "prominent siting."


New York City's Landmarks Preservation Act was intended to protect about three or four "historic districts"—Brooklyn Heights, Greenwich Village, etc.—preservationist James Van Derpool told the New York City Council in 1964. That's all "anyone had seriously considered."

The Landmarks Act  was passed the following year thanks in part to Van Derpool's testimony. A half-century later the city has protected 138 historic districts. Nearly a third of the structures in Manhattan have been landmarked. As I argued in a Reason TV video published last year, entire swaths of New York City may as well be encased in a life-sized historical diorama. Out-of-control landmarking is undermining the process of creative

Joe Mabel (creative commons)

destruction that made New York, well, New York.

This month, the Landmarks Commission designated a giant Pepsi-Cola sign on the Queens waterfront (which was in no danger of being torn down for what it's worth), and it voted to extend the Park Slope Historic District to include an additional 292 buildings.

What justifies these two designations? Landmarks Commission Chairwoman Meenakshi Srinivasan was left straining. She lauded the Pepsi sign for "its prominent siting" and "frequent appearances in pop culture." The Park Slope blocks are part of an area, Srinivasan explained, that "owes its cohesiveness to its tree-lined streets, predominant residential character, and its high level of architectural integrity."

If "prominent siting," "tree-lined streets," "residential character," and "architectural integrity" are grounds for landmarking, what's to stop the Commission from declaring every square inch of the Big Apple too precious to ever change?

Click below to watch "How New York City's Landmarks Preservation Act Bulldozed the Future:"

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124 responses to “Landmarking Is Turning New York City Into a Life-Sized Historical Diorama

  1. The entire idea of landmarking is just fucking stupid. I already know there will be a few cosmo fucks out there who will defend it some limited extent. This shit isn’t history. That really old, shitty building – it’s just an old, shitty building. It’s amazing how you can call yourself a progressive while a huge amount of your policy is focused on locking society into stasis.

    1. Wait, yokels are opposed to this?

      [furiously brainstorms to come up with a libertarian rationalization]

      I got nothing.

    2. It’s almost like progressives don’t like progress.

      1. Newspeak starts at its root.

    3. “That really old, shitty building – it’s just an old, shitty building.”

      ^ This. If you can’t get anyone to care enough about it to preserve it, it isn’t important. So many buildings sit and rot because they’ve been declared landmarks but are in every way completely useless.

      Best case study I can take from the top of my head:

      The Berkeley school district owns a 100-year-old building in the Berkeley hills that is a historic landmark. Not because of any actual history, mind you – just because it’s old. For California.

      The building sits about 3 feet off of the Hayward fault, which is highly active, and thus hasn’t been usable as a public school in many decades.

      It was built as a public school in the middle of a hard-to-get-to neighborhood, so it’s not useful for anything else, either.

      The district obviously cannot get rid of the building because who would buy it? They are also not allowed to sell at market rate (old anti-corruption provision), so even if someone *would* buy it, there’s hardly an incentive to sell it.

      So the district has to keep maintaining it, which they do poorly and reluctantly because the building is useless and generates no revenue. It is full of mold and dry rot, the roof leaks, and the windows don’t seal.

      But hey, it’s historic.

    4. Unfortunately this is the way of the world in big cities & even in smaller ones. Not necessarily landmarking in every case, but various forces that combine thru the power of the municipality to stifle redevelopment. People complain about Trump’s (all roads lead to Trump these days) taking advantage of political influence, public-private partnerships, & eminent domain, but in his business it’s what you have to do. Remember when libertarians got on the bandwagon to stop the use of eminent domain in New Rochelle to site an Ikea? Unfortunately when they succeeded, they found out that an alternate plan by Ikea to build in N.R. w/o eminent domain was forbidden too. Seems if you have a big real estate project that doesn’t get politics behind it (as via eminent domain), it’s not likely to be allowed, period.

      I bet that Pepsi sign was considered an eyesore by locals & not-so-locals until maybe shortly before its proposal as a landmark. In the cities when it comes to bldg., most things are either mandatory or forbidden.

    5. It’s amazing how you can call yourself a progressive while…

      You’d be amazed at how frequently people themselves something while actually standing for the opposite point of view. Some even do it deliberately.

      I think often, it’s an attempt at compensation, the reasoning going something like: “I’m afraid of progress, so I’m supporting progressivism”, “I commit lewd acts, so I support socially conservative parties”, etc.

    6. I think there is merit in preserving old buildings just because they are old, as long as there is some aesthetic aspect to them. To me it is interesting that this Pepsi sign is now considered sufficiently aesthetic that it is worthy of preservation. It’s interesting how nostalgia produces it’s own aesthetic and renders once ugly objects pleasing to the eye. A decade or two ago, the sign would have been regarded as an eyesore, but now it reminds people of the 70s and 80s. Reminds me of the big Coke sign that used to adorn Times Square.

  2. If “prominent siting,” “tree-lined streets,” “residential character,” and “architectural integrity” are grounds for landmarking, what’s to stop the Commission from declaring every square inch of the Big Apple too precious to ever change?

    Alllllllmost there. You’re right on the edge of understanding.

    DenverJ|4.30.16 @ 3:19PM|#

    It’s almost like progressives don’t like progress.

    This isn’t a progressive/conservative thing. Its an authoritarian/freedom thing. Both sides of the aisle love HPS for the *power* it gives them to control others, ‘for the greater good’.

    1. These are the same people who want “open spaces,” protest new Walmart stores, promote ordinances against Big Box stores, decry billboards, and sue when someone builds a house on the empty lot next door because they’ve lost “their” view. Force, force, and more force is all they care about, no matter which way they lean politically.

      1. “decry billboards”

        Until the billboards have been there awhile, at which point they become landmarks.

      2. These are the same people who want “open spaces,”

        I want open spaces. Granted, I buy what I want and don’t force anybody else to kowtow to my wants.

        1. Exactly.

          Of course, if you desire ‘open spaces’, I would suggest living somewhere other than a large city. There’s an entire country with open spaces out the wazoo. I guess I just hate the children.

  3. Another element, at least in California, is that there a lot of people who think that buildings get thrown in the trash when they get demolished.

    For example, there was a nice I Magnin department store in downtown Oakland back in the day that had this stunning malachite siding on it. When I Magnin when out of business and the plans came in to demo the building, there was an outcry and the citizens of Oakland demanded that it be declared a landmark and be preserved.

    Granted, the malachite siding was awesome (and I think is still there, but I haven’t been to that part of town in a while), but a lot people couched their argument as concern about the waste of the malachite – i.e. “it’s such a shame that all that material got mined and produced and now that beautiful stone is going to waste.”

    When actually, if you know anything about construction, that’s not what happens at all. Any building elements that are worth anything at all, *especially* something like large slabs of polished stone, are going to be *ever so carefully* removed and re-used in a different project.

    Progs just think they’re the first ones ever to think of “conservation,” as if it would never occur to greedy capitalists to not throw away things that have value.

    1. When I read about ancient history, when I hear about a building or monument or something being torn down, it’s usually to reuse the stone in another project. Even when it was a monument to a hated king or a deposed god being torn down, the stone gets reused in another project.

    2. Now that I think about it, there’s a good chance that malachite would be recycled into flooring for a home and the progs probably are actually upset about that.

  4. Landmarking?

    *goes to Urban Dictionary*

      1. We get a chance to make our own new word! Come on H’nRers…let’s do this!

        1. I was expecting Octonauts.

          /Makes more cheese toast for 4 year old.

          1. I was expecting Lego Elves.

            /gets more Cheerios for 8-year-old girl

            1. I was expecting Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood.

              /Wipes 1 year old’s ass

              1. I was expecting hockey

                /wife’s out of town

                1. I was expecting a big damn skillet full of liver and onions.

                  /everybody’s out of town so this is my damn house this weekend and I’ll make liver and onions no matter how disgusting everybody else thinks it is

                  //little murdered innocent baby cow liver, too

                  ///someday you too will be old and celebrate little victories like getting to eat liver and onions when you can

                  1. Will the odor dissipate sufficiently before the usual inhabitants return, do you think?

                    1. Not if I’ve done it right.

                    2. Not if I’ve done it right.


                      Although I do not intend to cook and eat liver and onions, Jerryskids, I am nonetheless interested in what you intend to prepare and have as your side foods.

                      If your main course is the landmark, what will be the surrounds?

                  2. dammit, now I want liver and onions.

                    I hate you.


              2. A small child almost kicked my ass because I sat too close to her Daniel Tiger doll. Daniel Tiger is not cool.

                1. Daniel Tiger is a whiny pussy, but kids seem to get very addicted to him.

                  My kid stands as close as he can to the TV when that asshole is on the screen.

                  1. He’s got nothing on Caillou.

                    1. ^this x1000

                  2. Daniel Tiger is extremely useful for toddler mind control. There’s an inane little song to get them to do almost anything you want.

                    1. Is Daniel Tiger a tiger? Is Dan worse than the Cheetos cheetah?

                    2. Worse than an entire neighborhood of cheetahs.

  5. If people working full time are still using food stamps they aren’t cheating taxpayers. Their employers are.

    1. I assume this is sarcasm, but I don’t know what it is responding to.

      1. The grocery and processed food industry are the real thieves. Food stamp leeches never get anywhere but Big Grocery stuffs their vaults with all those transfer payments.

      2. Just doing my part to stay off topic. Someone posted it on facebook via Occupy Democrats.

    2. That’s only true if you’re starting from the wonky premise that it’s an employer’s duty to provide their employees with everything they need. And that would lead you down all kinds of absurd pathways – it would mean that anyone who buys a product from another person (since an employer is just an entity that buys labor from an individual) should be forced to pay so much that the seller could live on the income from such transactions.

      Also, if welfare is just subsidizing employers who pay low wages, shouldn’t you be arguing for a $100 per hour minimum wage along with an elimination of ALL welfare programs?

      1. You know what they say about bringing logic to a feelz fight . . .

  6. A Pepsi billboard is a landmark?

    There’s certainly no accounting for taste.

    1. Where’s Swiss when we need him?

    2. His name is Pepe.

  7. So apparently Will Farrell turned down doing a Ronald Reagan Alzheimer’s comedy. Knowing Hollywood they will say that libertarianism is a symptom of dementia.

  8. So Pepsi just gets free advertising forever? But I thought the Proggies hated corporatism!

    1. Oh – were you thinking that Pepsi doesn’t have to pay to maintain that sign in perpetuity now?

      1. Maybe Coca Cola is in on the whole thing. How sneaky!

      2. You’re thinking Pepsi owns it? I figured it to have been leased, like most billboards.

        1. Wow.…..tatus.html says it’s been under consider’n since 1988, is owned by Pepsi, & is grandfathered vs. current zoning and eligible for landmark status as a faithful rebuild of an old-enough structure. More in the story about other sites under consider’n, including a plea by a pastor not to landmark his RC church.

          1. Stop the pressespackets!…..a-landmark clarifies something the Times story confused me about: Pepsi does not own the site, TF Cornerstone does.

  9. The entire concrete jungle where dreams are made of should be a landmark.

  10. OK, that’s fine, but you have to let me stick my graffiti art and chewed gum all over these so-called landmarks. Because art.

    1. I asked this in another thread, but it’s dead now.
      What part of CA are you in?

      1. Oh, that was to me? I think you may have me confused for another poster. I’m a new blabber.

        Sacramento, city of dreams.

        1. Are you Jerry Brown?

          Your secret is safe with me.

          1. I heard you libertarians like trains. :^)

            I’m Kevin Johnson, actually.

          2. I’ll take credit for this, though.

            You’re welcome, California.

  11. NYC gonna NYC.

    I mean, NYC is all about the romantic narrative, and not its reality, so this makes sense. I shrug.

    1. “NYC gonna NYC.”

      The Wrath of the 1976 Windshield Survey Continues
      “In 1976, the San Francisco Planning Department did what they called a windshield survey of roughly 20,000 buildings in the city. This name reflects the lack of formality and accuracy used in conducting the survey?one that was performed by two planners in the front seat of a car, with one of them driving and the other looking through the windshield and noting buildings of alleged architectural beauty.”

  12. I picked up a USDA Prime Tri Tip at Costco today.

    It’s fatty enough that I’m considering turning it into pastrami.

    You’ll hear about it 14 days from now.

    1. Playa,

      I am interested in what method you will be using, as I have thought about trying something similar.

      1. Dry cure. I’m a purist, so for pastrami, just do salt, black pepper, mustard powder, and coriander. A lot of recipes call for juniper berries, allspice, and the like, but I prefer to keep it simple.

        I mix those with the required amount of insecure #1, rub the Tri Tip, vacuum seal it, and let it cure in the fridge for a week. For a thinner piece of meat, you can go as low as 3 days on the curing time.

        After the cure, rinse it, put on more rub (without salt) and smoke it with cherry wood at very low temps for 3-6 hours. After that, seal it again, and put it in a water bath at 133 F for 16-24 hours. It’s ready to eat at this point, but I like to cool it way down before slicing because it’s easier to make thin cuts.

        1. Thank you.

          I have all the ingredients you mentioned, including the ones you eschew, yet I am unfamiliar with insecure #1. When I looked for it a moment ago I found several websites, including this one, and since the pastrami pictured made my mouth water I thought I’d share the image.

          I now have a “Playa Manhattan’s 4/2016 pastrami recipe” document saved, and would like to add the insecure #1 ingredient, if you do not mind sharing it.

          1. It was an auto-correctism for this, I assume.

            1. Thank you, HM,

              A non-Himalayan type of pink salt would seem to fit in nicely with these types of recipes, and unless Playa indicates otherwise I’ll add what you found to his (or her) recipe.

              1. Himalayan pink salt is NOT a curing salt.
                To make pastrami and corned beef, you need to cure with nitrites (which also naturally occur in celery powder).

                If you cold smoke uncured meat, you’re at serious risk of food borne illness.

            2. Yes. It’s like you’re living in my head.

            3. Aw, too bad. I was hoping “insecure #1” was urine from the incontinent.

              1. Nope. That’s how you make Lutefisk.

          2. My bad. Autocorrect. Instacure #1, also sometimes referred to as Prague Powder.

            Instacure #1 is salt and +/- 6.25% Sodium Nitrite by weight. It’s for meat that you’re planning on cooking (bacon, sausage, etc).

            Instacure #2 has both Nitrite and Nitrate in it, and it’s for meats that you’re going to age for extended periods of time and eat raw (think salami and prosciutto).

            Follow the directions on the meat cure EXACTLY. It’s usually 1 tsp per 5 lbs of meat. If you use too much, bad things happen. If you use too little, bad things happen.

            1. Dang close to excellent, if you were to inquire of me.

              Thank you again, Playa.

              As an aside, this past Thursday I pointed out a coincidence to a business partner (a coincidence we both witnessed) and this Friday he and his wife and I were talking about various points of interest, both business oriented and mundane. They were going shopping at Costco later. Earlier today (Saturday) I remembered that Costco sold (or used to sell when I was a member) a brand of pastrami which I found to be delicious. I then regretted not thinking of it at the time, as I would have asked them to pick up two packages for me should Costco still sell it (paying them in advance, of course).

              The point of this ramble is to point out a few interesting coincidences.

              1. Costco has an even better brand of Pastrami. StoneRidge Ranch. Not Kosher, though.

                That, plus a little honey mustard and pickles on rye. It’s very satisfying.

                1. “…plus a little honey mustard and pickles on rye. It’s very satisfying.”

                  I have very little doubt, Playa.

                  I also like this very different taste of mustard and I’ve recently found this brand of Kosher Dills, which are probably not the taste many of us are used to yet which I find quite satisfying – either with a sandwich or directly from the jar (I enjoyed the latter experience a few hours ago).

          3. My recipe is loosely based on this
            (the main differences being the cut of meat and the dry rub instead of the brine).

  13. I hope there is a live-tweeting of the White House correspondents dinner. What is everyone going to be wearing? I’m so excited!

    1. You fool, the question is ‘who is everyone going to be wearing?’

      1. Is the answer “Doctor”?

      2. “You fool, the question is ‘who is everyone going to be wearing?'”

        Is it bad that I imagined some sort of Aztec-style human sacrifice ritual?

        1. That’s so fashion-forward! Or just Buffalo Bill… Retro.

        2. “You fool, the question is ‘who is everyone going to be wearing?'”

          Is it bad that I imagined some sort of Aztec-style human sacrifice ritual?

          Perhaps it is an indication that your memory is good, in that you recall the cuts of their jibs.

        3. Ed Gein style in my head.

    2. What is everyone going to be wearing?

      As little as possible. I’ve been working on my sprinklers while the retarded neighbor kid leaned over the fence to yell at the water. It was a very strange experience.

  14. The fact that Pepsi is a $150bn company with a HQ in New York which often bitches about the way their products get harassed by NYC pols I’m sure has nothing to do with any of this.

    1. I’m sure it does have nothing to do with it. Pepsi doesn’t own the property, and so has everything to gain & nothing to lose by the landmarking.

  15. NYC is the center of the universe, or did you not know that?

    1. Let’s decree it a landmark in its entirety and embalm it. And presently ignore it.

      1. Turn it into a gigantic snow globe.

    2. Like Trantor. After the collapse of the empire.

  16. You know what i, well, hate? People who, well, throw the word “well” into every, well, sentence, to sound, well, thoughtful.

    It sounds like Ezra Klein, well, retardese.

    1. I start many sentences with ‘well.’ It has more of a mollifying effect, to me. I hate harsh confrontation. *shudder* Though, I can see the condescending connotation as well.

      Well! Oh well.

      But and like so, um, yeah. Colloquialisms. They were cute…until they became commonplace in professional writing. Now I think if you don’t write like Edmund Burke or Edward Gibbon, you can STFU. Amirite?

      1. “Now I think if you don’t write like Edmund Burke or Edward Gibbon, you can STFU. Amirite?”

        I vicariously concur with the sentiment given expression by these clauses, and it causes me pleasure.

        1. Omg dat wuz funneh dood. 🙂

      2. I try to aim for more of a Hemingway level of Laconic.

        I mean, well to be sure, there are some good reasons to toss in a bunch of conjunctions in sentences if they actually contribute to an argument or add nuance. But 99% of the time they contribute nothing, and can be cut with no problem. The only reason to keep them in there is if you’re paid by the word.

    2. I’ve been trying to rid myself of this habit.

  17. What justifies these two designations? Landmarks Commission Chairwoman Meenakshi Srinivasan was left straining. She lauded the Pepsi sign for “its prominent siting” and “frequent appearances in pop culture.” The Park Slope blocks are part of an area, Srinivasan explained, that “owes its cohesiveness to its tree-lined streets, predominant residential character, and its high level of architectural integrity.”

    I think I’ve spotted the problem right there. You’ve got a landmark commission, and what did you think they were going to do? Show restraint in saying what is or isn’t a landmark? Those people have to justify their phony baloney jobs somehow.

  18. I think a big part of the problem is that they have a Landmark Commission. If the regular City Council (or whatever the main lawmaking body is called in New York) had to choose every landmark themselves, there would be a lot fewer of them.

    I believe that specialized legislative bodies are one of the biggest problems with American governments over the past century. Zoning commissions, Alcohol Control boards, all the various licencing agencies– as well as the more numerous examples at the state and federal levels.

    When you have a lawmaking body– it doesn’t matter if they’re elected or appointed– they will keep enacting new laws to justify their existence, no matter how useless or counter-productive the laws may be. And the narrower their field of jurisdiction, the more laws they’ll crowd that field with.

    It’s really essential that we get rid of as many of these bodies as possible. Legislating must be restricted to a single body at each level of government. It can still have multiple houses– in fact, it’s better if it does– it’s just that any and all laws must be required to pass in each house when that happens.

    1. And while I was writing this, thrakkorzog said the same thing, but in fewer words.

      1. Ironic questions are really rhetorically economical. Especially considering my short attention span.

      2. I, for one, am very familiar to this type of occurrence.

      3. Great minds think a like. And that has happened to me plenty of times, although you have made a more forceful argument, I was mostly preaching to the choir.

    2. “And the narrower their field of jurisdiction, the more laws they’ll crowd that field with.”

      +1 BAAQMD

    3. I live on a small island ( less than 1000 residents). A friend of mine just got himself on the “development board” with the sole intention of opposing everything proposed.

      1. Mayne Island, BC?

    4. Exactly this.
      If you create an organization, and it’s not busy enough to occupy itself full time, it will invent reasons to occupy itself so it can stay in existence. It’s like some sort of horrible hive-mind survival instinct.

  19. 11 commission members and 50 full-time staff. And they’re so damn proud that they’ve been working through their backlog – some applications going back as far as 20 years that they haven’t gotten around to acting on.

    If every one of those commission members and staff don’t live in landmarked buildings or neighborhoods there’s some people in NYC that should have their ass kicked and made to file applications for landmark status for where those bastards live. If one of them was my neighbor I’d be filing several complaints a day every time they opened their door.

  20. This may sound crazy, but how about a Landmark Commission that BUYS the things they are trying to preserve?

    1. You’re right – that sounds crazy.

      1. I think Playa Manhattan is deranged. Next he’ll probably say that this Landmarks Commission need not involve the government at all but should run on voluntary donations!

        What a lunatic!

        1. It’s crazies all the way down.

      2. Especially since landmarking is a huge gift to owners who like to see the value of their property skyrocket.

        1. Rhywun|4.30.16 @ 8:17PM|#
          “Especially since landmarking is a huge gift to owners who like to see the value of their property skyrocket.”

          I’m guessing you own no property.
          No, it does not increase the value of your property, unless you think dealing with various bureaucracies adds to the value of anything at all.

          1. It probably does in NYC. Getting historic status in the middle of bumfuck nowhere is a kiss of death.

    2. I think that’s what happened with the Domino Sugar factory; sort of. It was half ‘landmarked’ while other parts were farmed out to developers after a city-sponsored effort turned into a predictable disaster. That was the last “bullshit landmark” issue i paid attention to.

    3. How about we have some private entity decide what things are landmarks and popularlize them.

  21. Detroit was just classic for this. The argument to NOT raze the old Tiger Stadium and the Hudson’s building went on for DECADES. No use for either, but God forbid you knock them down. It was just absurd to watch.

    They finally whacked the Hudson’s building about 30 years ago, and I forget when Tiger Stadium bit it.

    Just dumb.

    1. for whatever reason, it didn’t get beyond a couple of newspaper articles, but there was an attempt to ‘keep’ the old east portion of the Bay Bridge, for “ART” of course…
      It is slow in coming down (and well over budget also) since there are birds nesting on it and the demo crew has to leave those areas until the chicks fledge.

  22. I can see what your saying… Carrie `s st0rry is great, on monday I bought themselves a BMW 5-series from bringing in $7179 this – four weeks past and-a little over, ten k lass month . with-out a doubt this is the easiest work Ive ever done . I actually started six months/ago and pretty much immediately began to bring home at least $72, p/h . browse this site…OO3…


  23. As I argued in a Reason TV video published last year, entire swaths of New York City may as well be encased in a life-sized historical diorama

    Good! Let NYC declare itself irrelevant and let the rest of the country move on.

  24. It was the demolition of the above ground parts of Penn Station in 1963 that got the preservation movement going in NYC.

    However it is rarely mentioned that it was a combination of taxpayer money going to roads and airports which undercut the passenger rail business and a $ million a year tax bill on Penn Station that drove the Pennsylvania Railroad to demolish the building and replace it with Madison Square Gardens.

    Many buildings have been leveled because they are taxed at a high rate for “improvements” even if the building is losing money or out of business.

    Another reason why buildings are quickly demolished is to get rid of liability if someone is injured inside the building even if they broke into the building

    So the government has made keeping old buildings around to be costly, but then the preservationists blame the business, not the government tax and liability laws

  25. Hmmm.

    I remember the says when leftists loudly complained about the presence of advertising and billboards everywhere. But if a giant Pepsi sign is now a landmark worthy of preservation, does that mean we have reached some kind of social landmark ? If something other than ancient pre-modern architecture is worthy of preservation, does that mean that modern technology might someday be likewise embraced?

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