The Bowne House in Queens was constructed in 1661. LAURA MIRCIK-SELLERS
The Brooklyn Bridge. ROBERT LINTON
City Hall in Manhattan was designed by John McComb Jr. and Joseph Mangin in the early 19th century. It is the oldest city hall in the United States. BARBARA MENSCH
Barbaralee Diamonstein-Spielvogel JOYCE RAVID
They say there cannot be a future without a past.
Simply take a look around. Cities, town, villages and hamlets are changing without bounds. But judging from the thousands of designated landmarks across the country, there is an inherent responsibility to preserve what came before without jeopardizing what is to come, said Barbaralee Diamonstein-Spielvogel, curator of “The Landmarks of New York” exhibition to open on Sunday, June 24, at the Parrish Art Museum in Southampton.
“The reality is that the historic preservation movement in the United States is one of the most significant movements of the last 50 years,” she explained during a telephone interview last week. “But I don’t believe that any place should be confined to a specific moment in history. They are representative of our changing worlds.”
The exhibit features 90 photographs of New York City landmarks—from the Brooklyn Bridge and Central Park to City Hall and the Statue of Liberty—formerly commissioned for Ms. Diamonstein-Spielvogel’s book, “The Landmarks of New York: An Illustrated Record of the City’s Historic Buildings.”
One of the museum’s final two shows, “The Landmarks of New York” will open in conjunction with “Liminal Ground: Adam Bartos Long Island Photographs” and kick off with an opening reception and lecture, “The Future of the Past,” moderated by Ms. Diamonstein-Spielvogel, who will talk with architects Rafael Viñoly, Richard Meier and Annabelle Selldorf.
At press time, the panel was sold out.
“Progress and change and contemporary design are what we will focus on, in a historical context, but at the same time, citizens and architects and developers must be encouraged not to permit the best of the past to disappear,” said Ms. Diamonstein-Spielvogel, who is a chairperson of the Historic Landmarks Preservation Center and vice-chair of the New York State Council on the Arts. She holds the record as the longest-serving commissioner of the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission.
But in Mr. Viñoly’s eyes, the past is but a jumping off point, he explained in an email last week.
“The past is the substance we work with,” he wrote. “It is what we are forced to change, if you believe in this antiquated notion called progress, which I happen to hope is still the motiving, or the inevitable, force that moves society. I have always been inspired by New York as an idea, as an urban experiment more than by the individual contributors to it.”
That is where Mr. Viñoly and Ms. Diamonstein-Spielvogel differ. She sees the smaller parts that make up the whole, especially in New York City, which boasts 1,278 designated landmarks, she said.
Because old buildings are crucial to understanding today’s culture, she said, the Parrish exhibition is organized chronologically, as is her book. The history of New York City is told through its architecture, she said. And so, the photographs unfold the city’s last 350 years, she said.
Dating back to New York City’s humble beginnings is the landmarked, still-standing Bowne House in Queens. Of all the places in New York, this is the curator’s favorite, she said.
The home was built by Quaker John Bowne in 1661 during the rule of Peter Stuyvesant, the last Dutch director-general of the colony New Netherland, which was renamed New York. He called Quakerism an “abominable sect” and forbid its members from worshipping as they pleased. Bowne was defiant and continued to hold services at his home until he was arrested and banished to Holland.
Eventually, Stuyvesant’s order was overturned and Bowne returned to live in his house, which has many of its original furnishings today and is undergoing an extensive renovation, Ms. Diamonstein-Spielvogel said. It is expected to reopen next year, she said.
“I think every civilization is formed not only by its achievements but by what is inherited from the past,” she said, “because the old buildings are really a repository of a community’s values and there are really the cultural and communal DNA of any area.”
Following “The Future of the Past,” the Parrish will continue a lecture series through the summer before its big move in November. The lectures, in conjunction with the exhibit, include “Fear and Loathing: Can the U.S. and European Governments Fix the Global Economic Mess?” with Gillian Tett, managing editor of the Financial Times on July 5; “The High Line” with co-founders Robert Hammond and Joshua David on July 26; “Honoring the Past without Neglecting the Future” with Robert A.M. Stern on August 9; and “Untold Stories” with David Rockwell on August 23.
Always a crusader for preservation—especially in Southampton, where she lives part-time with her husband, Carl Spielvogel, former ambassador to the Slovak Republic under Bill Clinton—Ms. Diamonstein-Spielvogel is pushing for, what will soon be, the old Parrish Art Museum to live on.
“The Jobs Lane Parrish is an anchor and a magnet in the community, so it’s very important that the building be re-purposed in a significant way,” she said. “And I think Mayor Epley and his committees have some very ambitious and, I hope, exciting plans for it. The community deserves it, the building deserves it and that street needs it.”
The Parrish Art Museum’s final exhibitions, “The Landmarks of New York” and “Liminal Ground: Adam Bartos Long Island Photographs”
both open on Sunday, June 24, at the Southampton Village museum and run through September. They kick off with an opening reception on Saturday, June 23, at 7 p.m. at the museum. Admission is $15, or free for members. A lecture series, in conjunction with “The Landmarks of New York” exhibit, will continue through the summer. For more information, visit parrishart.org.
One fine body…