2012-11-28 / Editorials

Saving Our Past, Preserving The Future

Novelist Michael Crichton once wrote, “If you don’t know history, then you don’t know anything. You are a leaf that doesn’t know it is part of a tree. ”

The push for historic preservation and awareness in New York City has witnessed unprecedented growth since 2000.

Each of the five boroughs, with Manhattan leading the pack, features its own specially designated locations that represent the legacy of their respective neighborhood.

These various structures, some former dwellings, places of worship and even offices of commerce and government not only teach us about our local history but also the important role the city has played in the development of America.

In Queens, many structures still stand after hundreds of years. The Bowne House in Flushing was the home of early Quakers John Bowne and his wife Hannah Feake. It was here that the Quaker movement met in secret from Dutch authorities. Under the orders of Director-General Petrus Stuyvesant, Bowne was banned from the colony as a result. Also it was here and in the adjacent Quaker Meeting House, that these early settlers drafted the Flushing Remonstrance, which openly protested Stuyvesant’s harsh laws that suppressed freedom of religion especially for Quakers and Jews.

This document would become the precursor to the U.S. Constitution.

Other locations include the Queens Historical Society at Kingsland Homestead which preserves a fine specimen of Queens’ agricultural past; Flushing Town Hall is a rare, remaining example of gothic revival architecture; and the Poppenhusen Institute in College Point which was home to the nation’s first kindergarten. The Unisphere in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, the centerpiece of the 1964-65 New York World’s Fair manufactured by U.S. Steel, has now become the icon representing Queens the way the Empire State Building is synonymous with Manhattan.

However, historic preservation should not deter from progress and growth. The NYC Landmarks Preservation Committee is very selective in its choices for what is deemed worthy of saving.

Many find fault with this, arguing that anything of historical merit must be saved no matter what.

But there is a fine line between preservation and progress.

There comes a time when all structures could arguably be deemed historic because of one function or another.

In a city as big as New York and a borough as forever changing as Queens, there must be an equal balance between the past and the impending future.

Examples of this can be found in the recent decision to save the Onderdonk Cemetery in Fresh Meadows, one of the oldest Dutch family cemeteries in the city still standing.

The cemetery is located in the middle of a residential section and covers enough property for a multiple family dwelling.

The Landmarks Preservation Committee recently voted to save the land that has remained undeveloped since the time the area was known as New Netherlands.

A future home was not built but the resting place of more than two dozen souls will never be dishonored.

In Long Island City, however, factories that once produced everything from rubber to automobile parts at the turn of the 20th century lay dormant and decaying.

Several of these titanic facilities were then converted into lofts, storage units and even demolished in order to make way for the creation of condominiums and hotels that will serve and stimulate the growing population of Queens.

Structures that were once built to bring economic growth to the area and have since fallen into disrepair must be sacrificed in order to promote greater commerce for future generations.

After all, these factories were originally themselves built on ancient homesteads and farms that at the time were deemed historic and in need of preservation by the generation that lived there more than a century ago.

As the years go by, we must have both preservation and progress and encourage in the future the delicate balance between both.

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