This story in City Room infuriated me as nothing has in months.
So, apparently, there's this warehouse out in Williamsburg that's full of rare, one-of-a-kind artifacts from New York history. A chunk of a famous building here. A sign or piece of furniture from a vanished business there. A section of the facade of the old Helen Hayes Theatre. A block of Indiana limestone marked NYB, from the old New York Butchers on 11th Avenue.
From 1980 to 2000, the Architectural Salvage Warehouse "accepted the remains of demolished structures: shuttered theaters, once-bustling slaughterhouses, even old signs from the post office at Grand Central Terminal." This precious detritus was then put in the Brooklyn building. Where it sat. And sat.
And now the Landmarks Preservation Commission—that completely sensitive and wise body that decides which old buildings can stay and which will go—is going to auction it all off. Auction it ALL off. The whole of it. One lump package. To one person. One entity. ONE!
What the hell?
Why could the stuff not be auctioned off in pieces, or lots? That would afford people who don't have a lot of cash—but possess a lot of interest—the chance to claim some of these treasures. The kind of individual who would step forth to bid on a single item would most likely be an amateur historian or nostalgist (or blogger) who would nurse and lovingly preserve the artifact. Putting the entire warehouse-ful on the block means that only a super-rich party can buy it. And the chances of some millionaire really treasuring these things, or wishing to share them with the public, are next to nil. The bidder will flip the stuff, or sell it for scrap or hoard it in some vault.
Suzanne Wasserman, director of the Gotham Center for New York City History at the CUNY Graduate Center, hit the nail on the head when she said, "The city’s cultural legacy is in that warehouse. It seems a little insidious to be selling everything to the highest bidder."
One commenter on the City Room piece wrote, "LPC's logo should be a bulldozer, for not enough is preserved which impedes "progress" (i.e. luxury condos, preferably waterfront). How sad that all of this history is now only available to the highest bidder. Why not break up the lot & make it accessible to the public and museums or institutions dedicated to true historic preservation?"
The City obviously doesn't know what it has and doesn't care. John Weiss, deputy counsel for the commission, told the Times reporter, dimly, "Whoever buys the entire lot, you can always just buy it from them." Um, yeah, John. Thanks.
Then again, maybe the City knows exactly what its doing. Wrote another commenter: "Again some city hall weasels are looking to help some rich buddies get their hand on the deal of a lifetime. Sealed bids, little if any public announcement to the up coming sale." (Note when the salvage operation was scrapped: the year Bloomberg and his developer friends came into power.)
Sealed bids are due July 21. I don't think Weiss is going to let us know who makes the winning bid. Say Goodbye to history.