Split wood: Cemetery officials, activists differ on Green-Wood landmarking

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They don’t want to landmark the grave markers.

Honchos at Green-Wood Cemetery want the city to reject a proposal to landmark the historic burial ground, but preservationists say portions of the boneyard need city protection. The Landmarks Preservation Commission is considering designating the entirety of the city’s oldest graveyard, but cemetery leaders say the wholesale designation — proposed in 1981 but never acted upon — would be a waste of resources, because they do a good enough job keeping the house of dead looking lively.

“If it ain’t broke, why fix it?” said cemetery trustee Otis Pratt Pearsall, at an Oct. 8 hearing on a slate of long-languishing landmarks proposals.

And Pearsall isn’t one to have reservations about preservation — the Brooklyn Heights preservationist championed the 1965 Landmarks Law and the designation of the Heights as a historic district. One problem is that landmarked structures are subject to tight regulations on how property owners can alter the buildings, and since the vast majority of the monuments that make Green-Wood Cemetery so historic are technically owned by the graveyard’s current and their families, designating the whole grounds would place an undue burden on them.

“An argument could be made that the hundreds of thousands of plot holders at Green-Wood should be parties to this hearing,” cemetery president Richard Moylan wrote in a letter to the commission.

Moylan stressed that the cemetery cares about preservation, but should not be shackled with restrictive mandates in how it directs it’s limited resources.

“While Green-Wood has, in certain instances, stepped in to preserve historically significant memorials and works of art and continues to seek philanthropic support to do even more through our ‘Saved in Time’ preservation program, to be required to do so by the Commission is an entirely different matter,” Moylan said.

Green-Wood has already tangled with the commission earlier this year over its proposal to build a visitor center at the nearby land-marked Weir Greenhouse.

Others argued that the city does need to step in and protect key sites at the cemetery — such as the century-old chapel and the gate house on Ft. Hamilton Parkway.

“Designate a few strategic structures to encourage the cemetery to continue its long history of preservati­on,” said independent tour guide Harry Matthews.

Moylan has said he is open to that notion.

“We are working with the staff of the LPC to identify which architecturally significant Green-Wood-owned structures could be appropriately recognized consistent with our mission,” he said in a September press release.

But even staunch preservationists who want to see some parts of the grounds protected by the commission saw the proposal for the wholesale landmarking of the cemetery as overreach.

“When it comes to [designating] the monuments — it’s time to bury the idea,” said Kenneth Fisher.

Reach reporter Max Jaeger at or by calling (718) 260–8303. Follow him on Twitter @JustTheMax.
Updated 10:17 pm, July 9, 2018
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Reasonable discourse

Ernesto from Brooklyn heights says:
Oct. 16, 2015, 7:59 pm

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