Your Building’s Biography
Every building has a history, but not every city has the wealth of historic resources to be found in New York. On-line digital resources are growing exponentially, expanding the possibilities for writing building histories. (I teach an annual seminar at the Municipal Art Society on how to conduct research on New York City buildings.)
A building history is really more of a building biography. Who had it built? Why? Who was the architect? What style did the architect use? What has been written about the building, the original client and the architect?
And then: who’s lived there over time? It’s amazing how much information can be found about residents of apartment buildings. Some have more famous residents than others, but there’s always something interesting to find.
A typical building history will lay out all the information, and reproduce interesting documents – deeds, newspaper clipping, building plans, quotations from periodicals and books about the building and/or the residents.
Your Building’s Biographer
I learned to research and write building histories back in the late 20th century at the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission, where I served as Deputy Director of Research and then Director of Survey. And I continue to write National Register nominations, which amount to the same thing. (You’ll find links to dozens of these on this page.)
For the past 30 years, I’ve taught a seminar on how to conduct such research for the Municipal Art Society – and by now close to 1000 people have taken the class. Several of them have since published their own building histories (click here to read an article about one of them that mentions the seminar).
More recently, I’ve published histories of major New York landmarks – notably Grand Central Terminal and the original World Trade Center. But I’ve also done privately commissioned histories of apartment buildings and town houses.
Clients have included large co-ops on Central Park South, Park Avenue, the Upper West Side and Washington Heights: town houses on the Upper East Side; and a venerable former hotel in Greenwich Village. Some biographies are brief, others are quite long; some have been published, some turned into web-sites, others remain private – depending on the needs and budget of the clients. Click on the links below for samples.
Biographies for Past Clients
A brief introductory history for a co-op’s web site, including a collection of its historic documents.
The co-op president posted the following on my LinkedIn page:
A 100-page history of a storied Greenwich Village landmark, commissioned by the co-op that now occupies the building.
Besides having the printed history, the co-op used it to create a web site about the building. And the co-op president posted the following on my LinkedIn page:
The history earned a laudatory article from New York Times columnist Christopher Gray. in which he wrote: