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City Council approves creation of Richard Haas Mural Historic District

Post Date:02/23/2016 9:37 PM

YONKERS, NY - The City Council voted to approve the Richard Haas Mural Historic District in downtown Yonkers today, bringing to a close an eighteen month process. The District is comprised of three buildings and represents several periods and styles of art and architecture typical of past eras. 

"The preservation community in the city of Yonkers is very active and often takes a role in pointing out some of the treasures that we sometimes take for granted or maybe even didn't recognize," Council President Liam McLaughlin said. "They opened my eyes once before with the Phillipse Manor Hall Historic District, but in this case it wasn't necessary at all. I was on the City Council when we first authorized the money for the murals. At that time, some questioned the expenditures, and when it was done, people were quite frankly speechless. I'm very proud to have supported it then, and I am proud to support it now."

The Richard Haas Mural Historic District has special character and special historic value with the triptych of multi-story murals on the east side of two buildings and the north side of the last building that form a back drop to an open public plaza, pulling the viewer into a larger than life diorama.

The subject of the murals, a fanciful look at the earliest history of the area around the plaza and of the persons and events leading up to present day Yonkers, creates a special historic value by extolling the history of the City while highlighting the historic nature of the buildings upon which they were painted. Each mural, worked in the classic fresco style, brings its own contributing historic and architectural value to the new district.

Majority Leader John Larkin said, "I would like to thank the Landmarks Preservation Board, the applicants, Richard Haas as well as the entire preservation community for carrying this issue forward and negotiating in good faith throughout the process."

The motion carried by a vote of 5 to 2, to a roar of applause from those in attendance. The vote itself had been in question when earlier today, the building was condemned by the City Building Department in response to an engineering report ordered by the developer.

Many questioned why after months of delays, the developer waited to commission the report until the week before the City Council's vote. Others called for an independent assessment that was not based simply on visual inspection and used more sound engineering techniques.

"You should have had your report the week after the first Real Estate Committee meeting," Larkin said. "This should be preserved and saved for generations. A condemnation does not mean we tear it down, it means we repair and we fix what is wrong."

Larkin pointed to the successful redevelopment of the Boyce Thompson Center, which was at one point in a similar situation to the Haas murals and was ultimately saved from condemnation.

"In the City of Yonkers we are trying to promote the arts and it is doing amazing things particularly for the downtown. The loss of the mural would in fact be a tragedy," Council President McLaughlin added. "Like many of the other council members, I question the timing of the report. We had numerous meetings and we gave plenty of time. If the building was or is in such disrepair, certainly the developer, with all of their building acumen, would have recognized this issue and would have taken steps previously to shore this up."

The Landmarks Preservation Board, at its meeting on December 5, 2014 accepted the application and voted to approve it May 6, 2015 by a vote of 9-1-1. Because the City Council has approved the land marking application, under the Yonkers City Code, the murals and the underlying structures upon which they are painted cannot be demolished without approval of the Landmarks Preservation Board.

Haas, a world-renowned muralist, is a Yonkers resident.

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