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Ric Burns on Preservation

July 16, 2012

At a recent National Trust for Historic Preservation event celebrating the New York Partners in Preservation Program, documentary filmmaker Ric Burns spoke about the history of the preservation movement in New York City and the contribution that programs like Partners in Preservation make to sustain the unique quality of the city's character.

Instead of trying to paraphrase Ric, here is the transcript of his eloquent concluding remarks:

"What an inspiring and hopeful initiative this is – forward looking, proactive, conscious of history, community, diversity and impact.

The scope and diversity of the sites selected for help in preserving themselves is nothing short of exhilarating. Every borough in the city is represented.

…from Snug Harbor and the Alice Austen House in Staten Island…

…to the Botanical Gardens and Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx…

…from the Brown Memorial Baptist Church and Weeksville in Brooklyn…

…to Flushing Town Hall and the Queens County Farm Museum in Queens…

…from the Lower East Side, with the Henry Street Settlement and the Tenement Museum to the Apollo Theatre and the Caribbean Cultural Center and beyond…

Here – in the institutions supported and the gifts awarded – are a celebration of urban culture and rural history…a celebration of the many different peoples who have come to New York from around the world over the last four hundred years.

…a celebration of the city's vibrant seaport past, and its brief but crucial tenure as the capital of the nation…

…of religion and commerce, music and immigration, psychic resuscitation and spiritual repose…

…of learning, growing, building, singing, living and dying.

In short, the entire panoply and panorama of life that is New York.

What a difference fifty years makes, when Jane Jacobs and her ardent, passionate, devoted colleagues at the Action Group for Better Architecture in New York, declared their fierce determination to preserve New York's heritage in the aftermath of the destruction of Pennsylvania Station in 1962.

"Nobody seems to care about New York," she wrote, "except for those of us who live and work here. And, we, who do care," she continued, "believe the time has come to put a stop to the wanton destruction of our greatest buildings, to put a stop to wholesale vandalism. It may be too late to save Penn Station…but it is not too late to save New York."

Indeed it is not. Thanks so much to Partners in Preservation, American Express and the National Trust for Historic Preservation for this incredible commitment to our community."

For a complete list of the historic sites that were included in, and awarded grants through, the New York Partners in Preservation Program, visit

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P.S. Did you know that the original Pennsylvania Station in New York City, designed by McKim, Mead and White, was considered a masterpiece of the Beaux-Arts style? The furor over its demolition to make way for Madison Square Garden is widely seen as the catalyst for the modern historic preservation movement.


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