Celebrating the 50th Anniversary of the Landmarks Law

Monday, June 8, 2015

By: The Preservation and Design Committee

Celebrating the 50th Anniversary of the Landmarks Law

This year marks the 50th Anniversary of the NYC Landmarks Law, which was signed by Mayor Robert Wagner on April 19, 1965. The NYC Landmarks50 Alliance was formed to celebrate this anniversary with programs and events throughout the city. The Murray Hill Neighborhood Association, a member of the Alliance, is participating with monthly walking tours, the spring Street Festival was themed “Celebrating Historic Murray Hill” and other events. Check the website for upcoming events at  www.murrayhillnyc.org. Also see the NYC Landmarks50 Alliance websitewww.nyclandmarks50.org for events all around NYC celebrating this anniversary.

The Landmarks Law came about after the demolition of the old Penn Station and other architecturally significant buildings in the 1960s. It is meant to protect historic landmarks and neighborhoods from hasty decisions to destroy or fundamentally alter their character. The law established a New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission to:

• Safeguard the city's historic, aesthetic, and cultural heritage

• Help stabilize and improve property values in historic districts

• Encourage civic pride in the beauty and accomplishments of the past

• Protect and enhance the city's attractions for tourists

• Strengthen the city's economy

• Inform the people of New York City about the value of landmarks for their education, pleasure, and welfare

The legal definition of a landmark stipulates that the building must be at least 30 years old, and have either historical or architectural merit, as determined by the Commission. The property owner may seek judicial review of the final designation decision. The owner of the designated landmark is legally required to maintain the building's exterior "in good repair," and to secure Commission approval before any exterior alterations are made.

At the time of its creation, this legislation was supported by The Municipal Art Society, the American Institute of Architects, the Fine Arts Federation, the Architectural League and the American Scenic and Historic Preservation Society. It was opposed by real estate developers: the Real Estate Board of New York, the Commerce and Industry Association of New York, Downtown Lower Manhattan Association and the Avenue of Americas Association ardently opposed the bill.

The 1973 amendments to New York City’s Landmarks Law established interior landmarks, scenic landmarks, instituted continuous hearings and designation, and otherwise transformed the workings of the Landmarks Preservation Commission. 

The Landmarks Law was challenged by Penn Central in the case Penn Central Transportation Co. v. New York City, 438 U.S. 104 (1978). Jackie Onassis defended Grand Central Terminal. 


This was the first historic preservation case to go all the way to the Supreme Court. It established that the city acted within its land-use regulatory rights by using its landmarks law to protect the property’s architectural integrity.  The Metropolitan Transit Authority assumed responsibility for the building's restoration.

(Left to right) Irma Worrell-Fisher (Trustee), Jackie Onassis, Steve Weingrad (MHNA President in 1978)

Many of our Murray Hill neighbors were active in the cause to preserve Grand Central as a landmark. They joined with 400 others to ride the "Landmark Express" to Washington, DC on April 16, 1978, where they showed their support before the Supreme Court.




Today, the Landmarks Preservation Commission is the largest municipal preservation agency in the nation. It is responsible for protecting New York City's architecturally, historically, and culturally significant buildings and sites by granting them landmark or historic district status, and regulating them once they're designated. The agency is comprised of a panel of 11 commissioners who are appointed by the Mayor and supported by a staff of approximately 67 preservationists, researchers, architects, historians, attorneys, archaeologists and administrative employees.

There are more than 31,000 landmark properties in New York City, most of which are located in 111 historic districts and 20 historic district extensions in all five boroughs. The total number of protected sites also includes 1,338 individual landmarks, 117 interior landmarks and 10 scenic landmarks.  

The Murray Hill Neighborhood Association is a member of the NYC Landmarks50 Alliance, the multi-year celebration of the 50th anniversary of New York City's Landmarks Law.




NY Preservation Archive Project
NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission website


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