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Council Committee Gives Fieldston Historic District OK

fieldston bronx house

After careful consideration, the beautiful residential community of Fieldston, in the Bronx, was designated New York’s newest historic district by the Landmarks Preservation Commission on January 10. The council’s Land Use Committee voted, 18-0, with one abstention, on April 11 to uphold the designation, with the full council scheduled to vote on April 26.

The MAS applauds the commission, both for looking outside Manhattan and for its extensive outreach and research, and the Land Use Committee, for supporting the preservation of New York City’s rich, varied architectural history.

At a hearing on March 28, Lisa Kersavage, the Kress/RFR Fellow for Historic Preservation at the MAS, gave testimony in favor of the designation before the City Council’s landmarks subcommittee.

“The record before the Commission was clear on the outstanding merits of the Fieldston Historic District and we agree with them that this district deserves the protection of the law,” she said. Download the full testimony here.

Fieldston encompasses a body of residential architecture of classical revival periods that is unrivaled nationally. The plot of land was purchased in 1829, then sold in part to the Manhattan Teachers College in 1909. The remaining land was developed as a private park devoted exclusively to country homes, with a layout formalized in 1914.

In 1928 a handbook was produced that listed approved architects for the private community. Standards were relaxed in the 1950s, so among the 257 buildings that make up this district — most of which have Medieval, English Tudor, Mediterranean, Dutch and Georgian Colonial styles — some are decidedly modern. The designs were seen as so skilled that many of the homes were published in leading architectural journals and magazines as a showcase for good design.

While many in the community support the designation, some have raised questions about how restrictive the Landmarks Preservation Commission will be. For 40 years, the commission regularly has reviewed and approved proposals for alterations, additions, and new buildings in the city’s 83 historic districts. They have proven themselves to being open and flexible to changes to designated buildings. Furthermore, applications for minor work go through an expedited staff review.

The commission, made up of experts in the field of architecture, architectural history, planning, real estate and preservation, is the city’s agency charged with determining what buildings and sites are so important that they deserve protection. This is not a decision the commissioners make lightly. The MAS also testified in favor of the designation at the City Planning Commission on February 22. Download that testimony here.