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Strand Bookstore Owner Says NYC's Efforts to Preserve Her Building Could Doom It

"I'm not asking for money or a tax rebate," says Nancy Bass Wyden. "Just leave me alone."

Flickr/Alan TurkusFlickr/Alan Turkus

The owner of the famous Strand Bookstore in Manhattan doesn't want the city's help preserving her building. She doesn't want tax breaks or government subsidies. She just wants to be left alone.

But the city may have other ideas. Nancy Bass Wyden was set to attend a public hearing today before NYC's Landmarks Preservation Committee (LPC). In September, the commission agreed to begin the process of designating the Strand and six other area buildings as historic landmarks. Later, the LPC's Research Department issued a designation report calling the Strand "a center of literary life in Lower Manhattan" and "an internationally recognized bookstore and destination," according to The New York Times. The building is also notable for its architectural style and for the fact that renowned architect William H. Birkmire helped design it, the report said.

So why doesn't Wyden want her building, which is worth roughly $31 million, to be designated a historic landmark? It's simple. The Times reports:

Like many building owners in New York, Ms. Wyden argues that the increased restrictions and regulations required of landmarked buildings can be cumbersome and drive up renovation and maintenance costs.

"By landmarking the Strand, you can also destroy a piece of New York history," she said. "We're operating on very thin margins here, and this would just cost us a lot more, with this landmarking, and be a lot more hassle."

Wyden has the support of multiple prominent writers. But some people say she has no reason to be worried. "No one is doing this to hurt the Strand, or add difficulties," Peg Green, president of the advocacy group New York Landmarks Conservancy, told the Times. "They're doing it to honor the building."

That doesn't quite tell the whole story. The effort to "preserve" the Strand and nearby buildings was sparked by the announcement last year that a 258,000-square-foot tech-focused building would replace an old P.C. Richard & Son in the area. Preservation groups were not happy, believing more development projects would soon follow. Led by the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation, activists asked the LPC to designate nearly 200 buildings as historic landmarks.

The LPC decided to move forward on just seven of those buildings. One of those was the Strand, despite the fact that Wyden does not plan on selling the building to a developer.

The LPC is considering designating one of the oldest and most famous traditional book stores in the world as a historic landmark around the same time that Amazon—which has come to dominate the book-selling industry—announced it was opening a new headquarters in Queens. As Reason's Eric Boehm noted earlier this month, Amazon is receiving $1.2 billion in refundable tax credits, as well as a cash grant of $325 million. In total, the state pledged more than $1.52 billion for 25,000 jobs.

Meanwhile Wyden, who employs 230 people at the Strand, doesn't want any help from the government. "I'm not asking for money or a tax rebate," she told the Times. "Just leave me alone."

Wyden is right to be wary of the city's efforts. While historic landmark designations supposedly help preserve old buildings, their main goal is often to stop the development of new buildings. That seems to be what's happening in this case. It's a relatively common phenomenon; Reason's Christian Britschgi has pointed out two egregious examples just this year.

A San Francisco man, for instance, wanted to develop his single-story laundromat into a 75-unit apartment building. But concerned neighbors pressured the city to make Robert Tillman's life difficult. Among other objections, the city's Planning Department said his property might be a "historic resource." It was a ridiculous claim, based on the fact that his property housed a local employment agency in the 1970s and that it used to feature a mural depicting the life of Latina women. Tillman had to pay $23,000 for a report that proved his property was not a historic resource, only for the city to ask him to perform another study, this one related to the effects of his proposed apartment building's shadow on a nearby school.

In Seattle, strip club magnate Roger Forbes wanted to redevelop a property he owns from a famed music venue called the Showbox to an apartment building. The city had already deemed the Showbox unworthy of historic protection numerous times in the past, but after supporters and local musicians complained over Forbes' plans, the city council passed emergency legislation to include the Showbox in a nearby historical district.

The Strand, meanwhile, isn't a historic landmark yet. However the Times notes that most buildings considered by the LPC are approved as landmarks. In the end, Wyden's protests might not end up mattering.

That's wrong, of course. The Strand doesn't belong to the city—its Wyden's property. And she clearly plans to take care of it so customers keep coming in. Hopefully, the city's efforts won't doom the family business.

Bonus link: In 1965, NYC Mayor Robert F. Wagner Jr. signed the Landmarks Preservation Law. Here's how that legislation bulldozed the future:

Photo Credit: Flickr/Alan Turkus

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  • Fist of Etiquette||

    It used to belong to the deed holder and the government. Now it's going to be a three-way split between the deed holder, the government and history. And they don't all get equal say.

  • Weigel's Cock Ring||

    I'm sorry to tell you, but you picked a really bad place to left alone as a business owner, honey.

  • Don't look at me!||

    It's for your own good. We know what's best. We have good intentions.

  • a ab abc abcd abcde abcdef ahf||

    It's got to be coincidence that "statist", "stasis", and "static" all share so many common letters, right?
    The defining hallmark of proggies everywhere is to freeze innovation, halt progress, and then whine that things aren't as good as they could be, so government must come to the rescue.

  • Cynical Asshole||

    The defining hallmark of proggies everywhere is to freeze innovation, halt progress...

    Kind of ironic that they call themselves Progressives, isn't it?

  • a ab abc abcd abcde abcdef ahf||

    It's always tickled my funny bone. And they like to scream that conservatives want to stop progress.

  • ||

    There's been an ... unusual ... compromise up where I live in the Northeast. The new "landmark" is signs. Old prominent signs/markers that people have become so familiar with, they can't visualize a world without them.

    The most well known is the Citgo sign by Fenway park.

    Lesser known is the Hilltop Steakhouse sign on route one. They've torn down the steakhouse and replaced it with a huge shopping plaza. But the big sign is still there...because nostalgia.

    Even weirder on the same stretch of road is the mini-golf Dinosaur. The mini-golf is gone. But the fucking Dinosaur is still there. The sense of nostalgia is so crazy, they even labeled a beer with the fucking Dinosaur. Seriously.

    And closer to me is the Yoken's sign on route one in NH. The restaurant burned to the ground. But the sign, with a whale, stood. They actually disassembled, restored, and reconstructed the sign in a new location, specifically to appease the whiners.

  • BestUsedCarSales||

    In Tucson there was a similar thing. A lot of the old Neon signs, classic 50s look type stuff, have been relocated to prevent their destruction. The buildings they were signs for are gone, but little odds and ends still exist.

    I don't really mind it so much, other than the fact that Sign Ordinances are the reason those cool signs have stopped being produced in the first place.

  • Sonoran Desert Rat||

    "In Tucson there was a similar thing"

    That little stretch of Drachman is pretty bizarre. Yet in the rest of Tucson, business's are incentivized to keep dilapidated signs on their property regardless of the state of disrepair. We also just had this place open up.

    http://www.ignitemuseum.com/

  • BestUsedCarSales||

    Huh, I was never aware of that place. How recently did it open? Maybe since I moved?

    Regardless, I believe Austin has a similar issue. Classic signs get grandfathered into the bullshit sign ordinances. But can't be modified or they lose their classic status. Repairs are modifications. Thus the signs slide into disrepair.

    I disagree with style ordinances anyway, but these definitely feel like a damned if your do damned if you don't situation.

  • Red Rocks White Privilege||

    There's a great little museum in Vegas that has a lot of the city's old neon signs. If you haven't seen it yet, you might want to check it out next time you're in town for drunken revelries.

  • I'm Not Sure||

    "A lot of the old Neon signs, classic 50s look type stuff, have been relocated to prevent their destruction."

    Relocate? In Boise, they make you build the building around the sign.

  • Quo Usque Tandem||

    Give a piece of shit 50 or so years and it becomes a landmark. I guess we have so little architectural history in this country [as compared to the Old World] that those with excessive sentiments just strive for it wherever they can find it.

  • Red Rocks White Privilege||

    What's scary is that the hideous aesthetics of 70s-era buildings that haven't been torn down yet are about to hit their fifty-year mark over the next decade. I can't imagine placing one of those wood-shingled horrors on a historic preservation list.

  • RevengencerAlf||

    I can deal with the dumb dinosaur and the others whose originators are long since dissolved, but the Citgo sign pisses me off to no end. A bunch of morons who raised money are literally paying for a socialist police state to get free advertising.

  • Cynical Asshole||

    There's been an ... unusual ... compromise up where I live in the Northeast. The new "landmark" is signs. Old prominent signs/markers that people have become so familiar with, they can't visualize a world without them.

    Maybe they've never heard of Google maps or Waze and they're completely reliant on these signs in order to navigate? That's the only excuse for that shit that makes any kind of sense whatsoever.

  • ||

    Growing up in the 70's and 80's, every few years we'd make the cross country trip to visit relatives in NH. Ate at Yoken's every time. By the time of the last trip I'd realized, the food was awful. We were more excited about the sign than the food. "Thar She Blows!"

  • Quo Usque Tandem||

    "No one is doing this to hurt the Strand, or add difficulties," Peg Green, president of the advocacy group New York Landmarks Conservancy, told the Times. "They're doing it to honor the building."

    Good intentions, road to perdition.

  • RevengencerAlf||

    "No one is doing this to hurt the Strand, or add difficulties," Peg Green, president of the advocacy group New York Landmarks Conservancy, told the Times.

    Translation: "You'll accept my help, even if it kills you, damnit."

    Honey, people die and states fall because idiots with good intentions aren't trying to hurt the people they ultimately wind up hurting.

  • Red Rocks White Privilege||

    The effort to "preserve" the Strand and nearby buildings was sparked by the announcement last year that a 258,000-square-foot tech-focused building would replace an old P.C. Richard & Son in the area. Preservation groups were not happy, believing more development projects would soon follow. Led by the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation, activists asked the LPC to designate nearly 200 buildings as historic landmarks.

    To be fair, the design of these older historic buildings make the newer buildings look childish by comparison. The solution is to construct new buildings in the Victorian-era styles and the Chicago school's City Beautiful neo-classical designs, not "modern" glass towers or "quirky" Liebskind-type visual abortions that look like a Transfomer converting into a gay disco.

  • Cynical Asshole||

    "No one is doing this to hurt the Strand, or add difficulties," Peg Green, president of the advocacy group New York Landmarks Conservancy, told the Times. "They're doing it to honor the building."

    "B-b-but... R INTENSHINZ R GUD!1!11!!!!!!"

    How exactly does one "honor" a fucking building? Fucking animists.

  • Quo Usque Tandem||

    The building is inanimate. They want to honor themselves for being such conscientious good citizens and fucking "stake holders" [someone with no financial investment or risk in your business, but want to tell you how to run it any way]

  • ||

    strip club magnate

    Why didn't my high school guidance counselor tell me this was an option?

  • Cynical Asshole||

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