Speakers largely emphasized the role of Tammany in New York City’s social and political history. On June 25, 2013, the Landmarks Preservation Commission held a hearing on the potential designation of the former Tammany Hall, at 100 East 17th Street off of Union Square, as an individual City landmark. Landmarks calendared the building on May 14, 2013. The building was Tammany’s second headquarters, replacing a meeting hall on 14th Street. Built at the height of the political organization’s power in 1929, the neo-Georgian building’s design was inspired by Federal Hall in Manhattan and Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello in Virginia. After Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia came to power, Tammany’s fortunes ebbed, and it sold the building to the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union. In the 1980s the building was converted to an off-Broadway theater, and is currently home to the New York Film Academy. Margaret Cotter, speaking on behalf of the owners, Liberty Theaters Inc., testified that the owner would not oppose designation, and looked forward to working with Landmarks going forward.
Representatives of numerous elected officials spoke at the hearing in favor of designation, including Council Member Rosie Mendez, who said there was “a groundswell of community support” for landmarking. A representative of Assembly Member Richard N. Gottfried stated that Tammany played a major role in State and national politics, and that, for better or for worse, New York City’s history would be “markedly different” without Tammany Hall. A representative of Manhattan Borough President Scott M. Stringer testified in support of designation, but said Landmarks’ regulation must allow for future adaptive reuse of the building. A representative of State Senator Liz Krueger called the building “one of the City’s treasures.” A representative of Manhattan Community Board 5 said the board had voted unanimously in support of designation in 2009, and continued to favor landmarking.
Jack Taylor, speaking for the Union Square Community Coalition, presented a WPA photograph of throngs crowding Union Square in May Day in 1939, and noted that the building played a large role in the labor history of the City. Taylor said of Tammany that it was “the most storied, and corrupt, urban political machine in American history,” and stated that “we hope that the days are long gone when we deny our past, even if it represents unfortunate aspects of our political present.” James S. Kaplan, spoke on behalf of the National Democratic Club and the McManus Midtown Democratic Club, disputed the negative characterization of Tammany, arguing that the organization promoted progressive social welfare legislation, and served the interests of the urban immigrant poor. One area resident suggested that the building be converted to a political corruption history center.
Representatives of the Historic Districts Council, the New York Landmarks Conservancy, and the Gramercy Neighborhood Associates, also encouraged Landmarks to swiftly designate the structure.
On October 29, 2013, Landmarks voted unanimously to designate Tammany Hall an individual City landmark. Chair Tierney, who noted the appropriateness of the designation in proximity to Election Day, called the building “just remarkable” and that it “cries out for designation.” He said that while Tammany Hall “means a lot of things to a lot of people” it played an indisputably important role in the history of New York City and in national political history, and the building remained “an incredible presence in Union Square.” Commissioner Michael Goldblum found the building merited designation to join the 1984-designated Tweed Courthouse as an artifact of an era in City history. Commissioner Libby Ryan suggested that, with designation, the Commission could work with the owners to reduce the amount of signage and flagpoles currently installed on the building.
On January 30, 2013, the City Council Land Use Committee voted unanimously to designate Tammany Hall an individual City landmark. Council Member David Greenfield led the vote in his first committee meeting as Chair. The full Council is expected to vote in favor of designation at the next Stated meeting.
LPC: Tammany Hall, 100 East 17th Street, Manhattan (LP-2490) (June 25, 2013).
By: Jesse Denno (Jesse is a full-time staff writer at the Center for NYC Law)