The reservoir's historic structures & ecosystems are an opportunity to create a unique environmental education center for our children & their future.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

A Case for Historic Landmark Status?

The Ridgewood Reservoir, by any standards, should be considered an historic landmark. Below is an article about the efforts to protect a similar area in the Bronx called the Jerome Park Reservoir. It was published in the "Norwood News" (Vol. 11, No. 18; Sept. 24 - Oct. 7, 1998). The organization that was eventually successful was the Jerome Park Conservancy:

Architect Unearths Rich Reservoir History
Makes Case for City Landmark Status
By Jordan Moss

While the raucous battle over the siting of a controversial filtration plant raged onin hearing rooms and outdoor rallies, Robert Kornfeld, Jr. quietly embarked on his own mission. But it was one with no less passion or purpose, and could turn out to be the magic bullet that finally forces the Jerome Park Reservoir from the city's list of potential plant sites.

After countless hours of burrowing in archives, retrieving forgotten maps and dusty documents, and slowing piecing together a fascinating historical puzzle, Kornfeld has emerged with a spellbinding history of the Jerome Park Reservoir, and the community that surrounds it. In the process, his report, commissioned by the Jerome Park Conservancy, a community organization that wishes to see a park created around the reservoir, makes a powerful case for landmark designation, a status that could hobble plans to build a filtration plant in the reservoir.

In the detailed narrative and accompanying photographs and maps, Kornfeld links the reservoir and all its components with the water system that feeds into it, a vast network of aqueduct conduits and architectural gems -- many of them landmarked -- that stretch from Westchester to the Bronx and Manhattan. The report lays out the circumstances by which in the 1870s a city that was already outgrowing its water supply -- which it had recently augmented with the High Bridge Tower and Reservoir, the Central Park Reservoir and a network of storage dams in Westchester and Putnam Counties -- planned the New Croton Aqueduct and an additional distributing reservoir at Jerome Park.

Kornfeld, an architect and acting chairman of the Bronx Landmarks Task Force, was not initially impressed with the history of the Jerome Park Reservoir and its environs until he took a bus tour in 1995 sponsored by the Jerome Park Conservancy.

"The world that I saw from the bus window looked like a forgotten Frederick Law Olmsted landscape, and I vowed to myself that I would discover what I was looking at, why it was there, and who designed it," Kornfeld writes in the report's introduction, referring to the landscape architect renowned for giving the city Central Park.

With the help of Daniel Donovan, coordinator of the Landmarks Task Force at the Bronx borough president's office, who rediscovered Olmsted's drawings, Kornfeld was able to prove that Olmsted's original street plan for the Kingsbridge Heights section of the Bronx, with its curved, sloped streets, was implemented largely as he designed it.

And while Kornfeld has yet to prove that Olmsted played a role in designing the reservoir itself, there are clues that point convincingly in that direction. The original plan for locating a reservoir in the area dates to 1875, the same time that Olmsted was hired to draft a street plan for what was then known as the 23rd and 24th wards. Also, Olmsted's partner, J.J.R. Croes, "was one of the leading water supply engineers," of that era, Kornfeld says. "There's no way it [planning for the reservoir] could have happened without their knowing about it."

While it was Olmsted's role that initially drew Kornfeld into the project, whatever the extent of his involvement, the rich history of the reservoir stands on its own and is worthy of landmarking, Kornfeld says.

"It's partly due to [Olmsted's] influence that [the reservoir] turned out as beautiful and special as it is [but] it's an important landmark of the Croton system without having anything to do with that."

What it has to do with, in Kornfeld's view, is the reservoir's central role in the Croton system, one that has not yet been rightfully recognized or validated by the city. According to Kornfeld, "The Jerome Park Reservoir is the only major component of the Croton Aqueduct system in New York City that the city has not landmarked (aside from the aqueduct conduits themselves)."

This despite the fact that the reservoir is comprised of stunning stone structures usually submerged under water. When the basin was emptied, Kornfeld meticulously photographed and documented what was uncovered.

Adding to their case, Kornfeld and Anne Marie Garti, the president of the Jerome Park Conservancy, place the Jerome Park Reservoir on equal footing with the Croton's two landmark masterpieces -- the High Bridge that stretches from the Bronx to Manhattan (it harbors a stretch of the Old Croton Aqueduct) and the New Croton Dam. They also point to the fact that the Central Park Reservoir became a landmark in 1993.

For Garti, Kornfeld and many other Jerome Park champions, the report is much more than just a valuable Bronx history lesson. It is a tool with which to push for landmark status and foil city environmental officials who have long had their sights set on the historic reservoir for the filtration plant the federal government is compelling them to build. In fact, in the 1980s, the DEP constructed a dividing wall in the reservoir for a filtration scheme that resulted in the destruction of an 1890s stone bridge. The aborted plan also called for the demolition of all the gate houses.

The report has been forwarded to the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission. According to Katie McNabb, a spokeswoman for the agency, the staff will review the report and do their own research, and they will then determine whether or not to send it on to the designation committee (five of the agency's volunteer commissioners sit on the committee on a rotating basis). The designation committee then decides whether forward it to the full commission.

Even it were to receive landmark status, victory for the reservoir activists is not assured. As McNabb states it, "We don't deal with use." In other words, the DEP could still put a plant in a landmarked reservoir as long as it went before Landmarks, a fellow city agency, for approval. Theoretically, it could modify its plans so that less harm would be done to historical elements of the reservoir. Also, as a city agency, Landmarks is not immune to the political winds that will begin blowing hard from City Hall if the DEP picks Jerome Park in December, its deadline for site selection. (Three other sites in Van Cortlandt Park and four more in Westchester are also under consideration.)

Still, the report is a pointed arrow in the anti-filtration quiver and Jerome Park advocates expect it to be only the beginning of a new preservation push.

"As a result of this report, more will be uncovered," Garti said. "People will come out of the woodwork."

As a former non-believer who converted to the Jerome Park cause, Kornfeld understands why others would "think that [the reservoir] is just a hole in the ground. That's why I felt a detailed report was necessary and to show the structures that are normally under water and that kind of thing. When you take the time to get to know it, you realize what a huge undertaking it was and what a remarkable structure it is."

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