Trylon Theatre Denied Landmark Status

posted by btkrefft on March 31, 2006 at 5:03 am

FOREST HILLS, NY — The Landmarks Preservation Commission has decided that the 66 year-old Trylon Theatre does not meet its designation criteria, according to this story in today’s New York Daily News.

In a letter to City Councilwoman Melinda Katz, Chairman Robert Tierney said, “[The Trylon] will not be recommended to the full commission for further consideration as an individual landmark”. Since last summer, the former movie house has been in the process of being converted into the Education Center for Russian Jewry, serving the area’s Bukharian Jewish populace.

Michael Perlman, founder of the Committee to Save the Trylon Theatre, maintains that as one of the few remaining structures built in homage to the World’s Fair of 1939-40, the theater does have architectural and cultural significance. Perlman said of the commission, “They don’t give a damn about the opinions of the people who inhabit their communities. They are the ones who know their communities best.”

Katz said in an interview with the Daily News that she felt the theater had been modified too much from its original design, with the interior and marquee remodeled in 1984 and 1994. “I never thought that this was a building suitable for landmarking”. Katz said.
Perlman, meanwhile, insists he isn’t giving up: “This is only the beginning of the battle, my committe pledges to continue fighting for landmarking the Trylon.”

Theaters in this post

Comments (8)

Ed Solero
Ed Solero on March 31, 2006 at 6:06 am

That figures. Exactly what I’ve come to expect from our elected officials and their appointed stooges. And so another brick is mortared into my wall of civic cynicism.

Alto on March 31, 2006 at 8:10 am

This infuriates me. I was born and grew up in Elmhurst 1963-1969. My parents took me to the 1964 World’s Fair in a stroller. I have no recollection of it, but because key monuments were saved, a historical link has been preserved, and as an adult I can today appreciate local history that I missed as a child. We can largely thank “master builder” Robert Moses for this, when he had the fairgrounds donated as a park to the people of Queens.

The stainless steel Unisphere (the largest representation of planet Earth ever constructed) is recognized globally as a symbol of Queens and NYC. The NYS Pavilion remains (even though its distinctive observation towers stand abandoned) as does the New York Hall of Science building. Even the Port Authority Heliport & Exhibit was successfully converted into an operational catering hall (Terrace on the Park). Why couldn’t the same be done for this theater and its historic facade? Even though it was not an official component of the 1939 World’s Fair, it is about the only visual reminder that remains.

Mind you, the 1964 fair was not “officially sanctioned” by the Bureau of International Expositions (BIE), whereas the 1939 World’s Fair was. Interestingly, the Fair Theater on Astoria Boulevard was also named in honor of that event, although it contains no visual elements that would connect it. The only “on-site” structure remaining intact (that I know of) is the New York City Building, now home to the Queens Museum of Art.

What angers me most is that the current owners of the theater could care less about all of this, even though the education center they are building is part of the Queens community. Although the new immigrants it will serve have no historical ties with the borough, the building itself does! Why should someone have to be “forced” to preserve a building by “threatening “ to place landmark status on it in the first place?

How ironic that an icon of “the world of tomorrow” is being treated as “trash of the past.”

NativeForestHiller on April 1, 2006 at 8:31 pm

Stage I: Landmark-worthy Trylon Theater Gets Denied, & Swarmed with CM Katz & LPC Contradictions

FOREST HILLS, N.Y. (March 31, 2006) â€" According to the March 31, 2006 article in the N.Y. Daily News entitled, “Theater Landmark Bid Gets Thumbs Down,” Chairman Tierney faxed a letter to Councilwoman Melinda Katz stating that the Trylon Theater at 98-81 Queens Blvd, Forest Hills, N.Y. does not meet its criteria for landmarking, and “will not be recommended to the full commission for further consideration as an individual landmark.” Katz responded, “I never thought that this was a building suitable for landmarking. I guess I’m just happy that Tierney made a decision, and now we move on.”

The Committee To Save The Trylon Theater (local residents, preservation groups, historical societies, community & civic groups) has been trying to encourage the Landmarks Preservation Commission to landmark the Art Deco/Moderne 1939 World’s Fair-inspired Trylon Theater, with its rare attributes (Streamlined Art Moderne facade, elliptical marquee & glass block projection tower which illuminates Queens Blvd, & the mosaic tile/terrazzo floor which bears a 3D mirror image of the Trylon monument, complemented by a chevron pattern).

Landmarks Preservation Commission Chairman Tierney had intentions of granting a hearing for the Trylon Theater as early as 2003. However, Councilwoman Melinda Katz’s inactivity and initial opposition to its possible landmarking, prolonged Mr. Tierney’s decision, since the LPC usually does not act without sufficient political support. Upon a few phone conversations between Michael Perlman & the LPC, and according to the Forest Hills Ledger (Jan 26, 2006), when emphasizing the Trylon’s rare architectural, cultural, & historical attributes, Chairman Tierney states: “I agree that the Trylon qualifies under all conditions as a NYC landmark. I request a note from Councilwoman Katz’s office, indicating her consent of a hearing and that she supports my landmarking notions, since Katz opposed from the very beginning.”

CM Katz’s opposition is further documented as follows: The NY Times (9/18/05): CM Katz said, “I’m just not sure at this time if landmarking just the front of the building would be the best for the community. Being able to renovate the theater without restrictions, would save both time and money.” Queens Chronicle (8/18/05): John Jurayj, Historic Districts Council board member/Co-chair of Modern Architecture Working Group, said “The HDC & Modern Architecture has been asking for it to be landmarked for 2 years,” and accused Katz of not supporting landmarking. Mitchell Grubler, Exec. Dir. Of the Queens Historical Society, wrote a letter to the editor, stating he was “outraged that Katz let it be known to the LPC that she opposed landmark protection, and they have thus taken a hands-off stand.” Forest Hills Ledger (9/8/05): Katz questioned whether the theater in its current condition should be landmarked. “The outside would need so much work to make it look even half as nice as it did originally.” Forest Hills Ledger (10/27/05): An LPC official commented “Rarely do buildings get landmarked without first acquiring the approval of the City Council representative.” (9/8/05): A LPC spokeswoman said “A building rarely gets landmarked without the local councilmember’s blessing.”

However, according to the Feb 2, 2006 Queens Gazette article entitled, “Trylon Landmarking: Unnecessary Confusion?” Councilwoman Katz claims she values its historical significance and favors landmark status: “Councilwoman Katz made it abundantly clear that she is in favor of landmarking the Trylon, which is agreed by all parties concerned, would include the building facade, its crystal tower, the theater marquee, and retain the Trylon name.” CM Katz then states “The Committee To Save The Trylon’s members have great respect for the community. We want to work with them, to have a discussion with them, rather than have them in the community with a lot of tension between us. I believe they want to do the right thing. I don’t want to put the community at risk. There’s no need for that. In fact, I don’t know what we’ve both been fighting about. We both want the same thing.”

In conclusion, Michael Perlman states: “CM Katz never responded to a series of letters and phone calls from The Committee To Save The Trylon (her constituency) requesting a meeting since July 2005. A councilwoman charged with representing the people, once again leaves her constituency baffled. We are also dismayed that the LPC has chosen to disregard a highly significant landmark, confirming a consensus among preservationists that Queens continues to get the backdoor. Chairman Tierney also broke his promise to meet with us, and didn’t value a petition of 1,600 signers in addition to a letter campaign. We request a copy of the LPC’s minutes, to see how they determined it ineligible. According to architectural critics (i.e. Art Deco Society), the Trylon fulfills every definition of a landmark, and the failure to grant it a hearing at the very least, defies the architectural and historical provisions of the landmarks law established in 1965. CM Katz & the LPC are now in the spotlight as a result of their landmark-related contradictions, and their distrust as Queens preservationists heightens. CM Katz of Land Use & Chairman Tierney of the LPC has to realize that the people who inhabit their communities understand them best, and therefore, we assure that this is only the beginning of a worthwhile battle for the Trylon & other Queens landmarks!”


RobertR on April 2, 2006 at 8:10 am

All this in the name of “progress”. Not to sound negative but New York is becoming a cultural waste ground. Tear down and destroy the past so developers can make more money. I have lived in Forest Hills all my life and one by one all of the past is being erased. How long until the once grand Forest Hills Tennis Stadium is turned into condos? As far as the NYS Pavilion goes that’s another thing full of scandal and cover ups. The theatre has been pressuring the city to leave it abandoned so they can get emergency state funds to tear down the towers and tent of tomorrow, even though it was designed by Phillip Johnson. This despite an offer to turn it into space and flight museum. Don’t get me started on our former “puppet” Borough President Claire Schulman who used emergency funds that needed no approval to tear down the 1939 Aquacade Amphitheater, even though that building would have lasted another 500 years and had developers willing to sign to present concerts there like Jones Beach. Ms Schulman was pressured by contributors in Forest Hills and Kew Gardens who were afraid of the “element” a concert venue might draw. This is why sadly groups like the Landmarks Preservation Committee are a joke, what the hell do they protect? View link

TheaterBuff1 on April 2, 2006 at 6:44 pm

It truly isn’t fair that historic theaters such as this must be at the mercy of politicians as to whether they should receive landmark status or not. For this really is something that is above and beyond what elected officials should have the power to decide upon. And when they rule against historic buildings such as this there’s a very clearcut predjudice going on here obviously. I refer to it as an architectural genocide, which really is just a step away from going after people themselves in this regard when you seriously stop to think about it, given how historic buildings such as this do play a very important part in peoples' lives. For what does become of us once such buildings like this are gone?

Ed Solero
Ed Solero on April 3, 2006 at 7:24 am

The sad irony is that all this political involvement has only become a necessity since the formation of the LPC. Maybe I’m mistaken about this, as my comments are completely off the cuff and without any sort of fact-checking, but prior to the process of obtaining landmark designation, didn’t property owners simply purchase, demolish and construct buildings at will (save for the various departmental permits required to perform work) and without having to give a second thought to public debate?

And since the LPC has come along, things have not gotten much better – at least as far as Movie Theater preservation is concerned. The fact that the RKO Keith’s lobby was designated a landmark (never mind how politically corrupted that inadequate designation was), didn’t stop owner Tommy Huang from vandalizing the place and tying the site up in litigation for nearly 20 years. And due to gaping holes in the process, owners were allowed to legally hack away at the facade of theaters like the Rivoli and Sutton in Manhattan, in order to render those structures ineligible for landmark designation while the plans for their final demolition and site redevelopment were being drawn up. In the case of the Rivoli, the pediment was stripped under the guise of “public safety” with assurances to inquiring minds that there were no plans to demolish the once great show place. And at the Sutton, the ionic columns were quickly and quietly stripped away under a permit filed for “repairs”.

Ideally, there should be a city-wide survey of architecturally significant structures to create a database of sites that may at some point be worthy of consideration for landmark designation. That database should be cross-referenced by the Buildings Department so that permits are not issued for such “repairs” without a review by an LPC liason to determine if the structure’s architectural and/or cultural merits indicate the need for an accelerated review process. In the meanwhile, the owner should be notified that any purposefully destructive work designed to avoid LPC designation will result in fines and the obligation on the owner’s part to restore such elements should the LPC rule in favor of designation.

Or something like that. Of course, that’s probably not economically feasible, but I did say it would be “ideal”!

TheaterBuff1 on April 3, 2006 at 8:47 pm

Ed, I could not possibly be in more agreement with you in all these suggestions you’ve put across. And particularly in terms of what is needed for protecting historic movie theaters, which many higher ups still do not recognize as ranking high architecturally.

In looking back to the past and what theaters have been demolished so far, it’s hard to believe that the architectural beauty of many of them totally failed to be recognized, and simply because they held “movie theater” status, which many still place in the category of being as a “business type building” only, no more privileged than any other business building.

A lot of it I feel centers on the fact that movies themselves are regarded as being only a temporary art form, and thus the structures that showcase them must be temporary also. Such appears to have been the thinking up until now. And when we argue that classic movie theaters are “historic,” many wonder if they’re truly that or merely of sentimental or nostalgic value. For example, we can say the Ford Theater in Washington, D.C. is clearly historic because Lincoln was assassinated there. And the same of the movie theater up in Chicago where Dillenger was gunned down as he was coming out from. But with many theaters it is their architectural rather than historic value that is of greatest importance. Not to mention the important role they once played and still are capable of playing in our lives in many many instances, if only permitted to and not interfered with.

And the greatest interference comes, of course, when higher ups look upon movie theaters as being businesses only, even though as such they might be architectural marvels also. And it is hard to make the case that classic movie theaters are of great value right now when the movies they’re designed to present are dated, no longer existent in good print form, or it’s the case that Hollywood is not turning out the quality movies it once did.

But, the advance of digital technology holds the potential to revolutionize that to a great degree. For once a movie is in digital form it will always be fresh. But will it be in time to prevent the wrecking ball from knocking down the last still standing classic movie theater?

For it appears that for a building just to be architecturally valuable in and of itself is not enough. It has to have some functional role, whether it be that it is historic, or an alive and well venue for the arts, or what have you. For as the old architectural mantra goes, form follows function.

You must login before making a comment.

New Comment