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A History of the Municipal Art Society of New York

2005 A new partnership between the MAS Planning Center and New York City gives users of the city government’s website direct access to the interactive maps and data featured on the Planning Center’s CITI website. CITI (Community Information Technology Initiative) was launched to demonstrate the usefulness of publicly accessible geographic information systems (GIS), and to provide access to detailed property information including zoning, ownership, land use, and lot dimensions. Over time, city officials will add new data and functions to the widely used map portal. 2004 In 2001, the MAS partnered with the city to sponsor a design competition to transform 2,200 acres of Fresh Kills landfill into the largest park developed in New York in more than 100 years. The MAS hosts the first in a series of public discussions to get input from residents of all five boroughs on how Fresh Kills can become one of the most successful public spaces of the 21st century. 2003 The MAS negotiates with JetBlue Airways and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey to agree on a plan for Eero Saarinen’s TWA Terminal at JFK Airport that will largely save the internationally acclaimed landmark while allowing it to be adapted to the needs of a 21st-century airport. 2002 Following 9/11, the Municipal Art Society organizes two large-scale, very popular, projects: The Tribute in Light and Imagine New York. The Tribute in Light, shown every September 11, consists of two giant beams of light shining upward and is meant to honor all those who were lost on September 11, as well as those who worked so hard to get our city through its greatest trial. Imagine New York was a massive visioning project to gather the publics ideas about rebuilding and to ensure that those ideas would be heard by decision-makers. 1999 The Waterfront Project, a year long study coordinated by the MAS, culminates in the first Waterfront Community Conference, at which more than 400 representatives of government, civic, educational, and environmental groups, as well as members of the business, labor and media communities from around the region, participated.Following the conference, the MAS established the Metropolitan Waterfront Alliance as a network of interested organizations and individuals to collaborate on projects and campaigns and help educate the general public and public officials about the importance of waterfront issues. Mid-1990s The MAS Planning Center first became involved in the community-planning process in Greenpoint and Williamsburg in the mid-1990s. The Planning Center facilitated the hiring of the professional planner wjho crafted the the commnuity’s 197-a plans. And, as the plans wended their way through the lengthy approval process, the MAS continued to provide assistance and support. After its adoption, the MAs testified on behalf of the plans during the Greenpoint/Wiliamsburg rezoning process, from start to finish. The community called on the MAS again, at the end of 2004, to help determine the feasibility of its design and affordable housing recommendations. 1993 The MAS works with community groups to develop a comprehensive plan to preserve and revitalize one of the world’s prominent streets, the long stretch of Fifth Avenue between Harlem and Washington Square Park. 1992 The MAS campaigns for moderate density development with a major waterfront park at a large site on the Penn Yards along the Hudson River, on Manhattan’s West Side. The campaign results in a coalition consisting of the developer, the city and civic groups that fashions a revised proposal, called Riverside South. The successful initiative offers an exciting precedent for future collaborative planning. 1991 In a widely publicized action, the MAS successfully appeals a lower court decision that would allow St. Bartholomew’s Church on Park Avenue to demolish its historic community house and garden, replacing them with an office tower. The New York Court of Appeals ruling reinforces the power of the city’s Landmarks Law. 1989 The MAS Planning Center is established, offering assistance to groups seeking guidance on planning, land use, zoning, and housing and development issues. The Planning Center sponsors public forums, seminars and publications. 1987 The MAS forces the city and a developer to scale back a proposal for a massive tower at the southwest corner of Central Park, on the former site of the New York Coliseum. The MAS argues successfully in court that the project’s size violates zoning laws, casting an enormous shadow over the park during the day. Thousands of New Yorkers join in a “Stand against the Shadow” protest, raising black umbrellas to trace the shadow on the park that would result if the original plan were approved. Also in 1989, the MAS begins its popular Adopt-A-Monument effort to rescue public sculptures from neglect and deterioration, followed by the Adopt-A-Mural project in 1991. Private donors are found to finance restoration of more than three dozen monuments and murals in these continuing programs. 1985 When massive development threatens the Times Square district, the MAS campaigns successfully to landmark the area’s theaters, helping preserve the unique neighborhood character. 1980 The MAS founds the Urban Center in the landmark Villard Houses on Madison Avenue. New York’s first center for urban architecture, preservation and planning attracts nearly 50,000 people annually to exhibits, lectures, discussions and seminars. The Urban Center also contains The Reference Library and a comprehensive bookshop, Urban Center Books; it is also home to the Architectural League. 1978 In a decision that draws worldwide attention, the Supreme Court of the United States upholds the constitutionality of New York City’s Landmarks Law, overturning a lower court decision and in effect preserving Grand Central Terminal, one of New York’s great Beaux Arts structures. The MAS takes the lead in the case, organizing public rallies, launching a publicity campaign, and hiring a legal team to defend the Landmarks Law. 1973 The MAS helps win passage of an expansion of New York City’s Landmarks Law, which substantially enlarges the powers of the Landmarks Preservation Commission. 1965 The MAS and like-minded groups succeed in getting city to create the Landmarks Preservation Commission, but this victory comes too late to save many important buildings, including the Brokaw Mansion and Pennsylvania Station. Public outrage over their destruction convinces politicians that a landmarks commission is needed. 1961 The MAS organizes a successful public campaign to save Jefferson Market Courthouse in Greenwich Village. 1956 The MAS begins to sponsor architectural walking tours of New York City, an idea first suggested in an MAS publication in 1916. Also in 1956, the MAS lobbies successfully for passage by the New York State Legislature of the Bard Law, which for the first time allows cities to take aesthetics, history and cultural associations into account in zoning laws. It will provide the legal foundation for the New York City Landmarks Law enacted in 1965 and expanded in 1973. 1951 Dismayed by the disappearance of scores of notable Manhattan buildings, the MAS and the Society of Architectural Historians form the Preservation Committee to survey historic structures. The project eventually documents 300 buildings worthy of saving. Public exhibits draw attention to the need for their preservation. 1950 Congress approves restoration of historic Castle Clinton at Battery Park as a national monument, ending a decade of successful struggle by the MAS and allied groups to prevent destruction of the old fortification. 1939 With the clandestine help of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, the MAS defeats a plan for a bridge between Brooklyn and the Battery. 1938 After decades of advocacy by the MAS, a permanent City Planning Commission is established under the new City Charter. 1930s As major road projects are proposed during the Depression, the MAS defeats plans to route traffic through (rather than around) Washington Square Park and Inwood Hill in Manhattan, and Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx. 1922 Visual pollution caused by outdoor advertising signs prompts a major ongoing MAS campaign to restrict ads. This effort is only partially successful as city officials reject an MAS proposal to tax billboards by the square foot, but this idea is adopted by cities elsewhere in the country. 1920s Focusing on preserving the city’s magnificent parks, the MAS helps defeat proposals by Mayor John Hylan to build the IND subway inside Central Park. 1916 After a decade of struggle, political reformers supported by the MAS win approval of the landmark Zoning Resolution of 1916, the first ordinance in the nation to regulate both theheight of buildings and uses to which they could be put. The new code frees residential neighborhoods from the threat of invasion by factories, bans billboards in residential areas, stabilizes land prices, and provides the environment in which the great Art Deco skyscrapers of the 1920s are built. 1914 With Municipal Art Society support, Barry Faulkner begins a notable series of paintings based on Washington Irving’s “Knickerbocker’s History of New York,” created for Washington Irving High School in Manhattan. 1910 Under MAS auspices, artist Edward Deming completes a series of murals for Morris High School in the Bronx. 1908 As New York City’s population burgeons, the MAS advocates for construction of public housing, increased services for poor residents, the reestablishment of recreational piers, and more public bathhouses. 1907 The MAS presents the city with its first Roll of Honor, a series of memorial plaques honoring policemen who died in the line of duty. The New York Police Department takes over this tradition in the 1920s. 1902 New York’s first major tree-planting campaign, the “Block Beautiful” movement, begins as an MAS initiative. Only decades later will city government take responsibility for planting trees along city streets. 1901 Launching a long-running campaign for “Useful Art” in the city, the MAS produces designs for new street signs, which are adopted, water fountains and horse troughs. At a time when streets lack lane markings, the MAS convinces the city to create “Isles of Safety” for pedestrians at busy intersections. 1900s To help shape the physical structure of Greater New York, established in 1898, the Municipal Art Society agitates to create a permanent City Planning Commission, a goal finally realized in 1938. This is the heyday of the “City Beautiful” movement, which elicits a stream of ideas from the MAS for new bridge approaches, land reserves in the outer boroughs, parks and playgrounds in tenement neighborhoods, and even a plan for the subway system. 1898 The MAS commissions the Richard Morris Hunt Memorial to honor the distinguished Beaux Arts architect and first MAS president. Created by Daniel Chester French and Bruce Price, the memorial is installed in the wall of Central Park across Fifth Avenue from today’s Frick Museum. In a major victory for the MAS, the new City Charter creates the Art Commission, which includes members from several arts groups, including the MAS. The commission’s power grows after Seth Low is elected mayor in 1902 on a reform platform. Many of New York’s most splendid urban landmarks — the Whitehall Ferry Terminal, the Manhattan Bridge and the Pulitzer Fountain — are created under the watchful eyes of the Art Commission. 1894 As its first major project, the MAS commissions Edward Emerson Simmons to a cycle of murals — “Justice,” “The Fates” and “The Rights of Man” — to dignify the Criminal Courthouse on Centre Street in Manhattan. (A century later, the MAS will raise substantial funds to restore these murals.) 1893 Meeting in a West 57th Street studio, a group of New York artists, architects and interested laymen organize the Municipal Art Society to provide New York City parks and public buildings with the finest murals and sculptures, financed by Society dues. “To make us love our city,” they declare, “we must make our city lovely.”