History Detectives: Researching Your Building

This article was recently posted on the West Side Rag site, written by Marjorie Cohen who is a member of the Planning Committee of the Bloomingdale Neighborhood History Group. Marjorie also arranged a wonderful program for the BNHG on March 16, 2015, when we learned how to research the history of a building.

 

By Marjorie Cohen

Are you curious about the history of your building, your church, your synagogue, your kids’ school? Or maybe that interesting-­looking building down the block? When was it built, who lived there, who was the architect? And what did your block look like in the 20’s, the 30’s, even earlier? The Upper West Side is full of buildings with interesting stories to tell and now, with the emergence of so many high tech tools for historians, researching a building’s history is easier than ever before.

At a recent program put together by the Bloomingdale Neighborhood History Group the audience got a terrific short course in how to conduct building research. The program was arranged especially for the BNHG by the staff of the Neighborhood Preservation Center. a partnership of three organizations: the Historic Districts Council, a city­wide advocate for New York’s historic neighborhoods; the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation, a leader in the preservation and protection of the architectural heritage and cultural history of the Village; and the St. Mark’s Historic Landmark Fund, a group dedicated to the preservation of the St. Mark’s Church campus where the Center is located.

The evening’s featured speakers were Anthony W. Robins, well­ known NYC architectural historian who has written, taught, lectured and led walking tours on that subject for decades; and Susan De Vries, a New York city history consultant. Robins, the researcher for the current exhibit on NY Transportation Landmarks at the NY Transit Museum Annex at Grand Central Station, gave a thorough power point talk that highlighted links to dozens of specific research tools both on and off the internet and DeVries presented an interesting survey of the typology of west side buildings. Following the two talks, audience members were given the rare opportunity to consult one-­on-­one with volunteers­­­ Sana Afsar, Elizabeth Meshel, Katharine Fields and Hannah Gall­­ who helped them get started on their own research.

Audience members received a take­away compiled by the NPC, with links to online research sources for maps, building documentation, landmark designation reports; a bibliography; a description of the BNHG collection housed at the Bloomingdale Branch of the NYPL; and more. To download a copy of this informative document click to the West Side Rag site, then on the link to the document, positioned at this point in the essay. This link may not be posted for long.

And, now that you have all of this invaluable information at your fingertips, there are no more excuses for putting off the start of your building history search project. Happy hunting!

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About bloomingdale history

Group of neighbors interested in the history of the Bloomingdale area, approximately West 86th to West 110th Streets, Park to River.
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