The New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission on Tuesday voted 8-0 to landmark the Strand Bookstore at 828 Broadway, citing the building’s architecture and the fact that the store has been there for more than 60 years. The move to landmark the building, according to the owner who spoke to the NY Post, was a quid pro quo to local residents who, in return, would let Mayor Bill de Blasio build the Union Square Tech Training Center, a project of some of his campaign donors.
Preservationists who oppose the planned 21-story tech hub, said RAL, the developer the mayor selected for the project, donated $10,000 to a de Blasio charity in 2015.
Fred Bass (1928 – 2018), the son of Benjamin Bass, a Lithuanian Jewish immigrant who founded The Strand in 1927, and Shirley (née Vogel), a Jewish-Polish immigrant who died when Fred was 6, started working at the bookstore when he was 13, when it was still on Fourth Avenue.
Nancy Bass Wyden, Fred’s daughter and wife of Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR), is the current owner of The Strand. Here’s what she wrote about her late father:
“He never had an office and loved when customers told him they enjoyed ‘getting lost in the stacks.’ He spent all of his time behind his buying desk, eager to see what treasures would come across it. He felt working with books was the best job in the world.”
But the landmark designation means that the Strand must seek city approval for its planned renovations, which includes which materials may or may not be used.
Bass Wyden complained that the landmarks commission now has “complete power and dominion over our building and our future plans.”
“The thing that started it was Mayor Bill de Blasio,” she told The Post. “We just don’t want any more expenses. We don’t need it. It’s a brutal retail environment, and now we’re under siege.”
The Strand’s heiress is the victim of political machination by the mayor, after he had announced the rezoning at 120 E. 14th Street for the tech training center project. Local activists, fearing an invasion of high rise towers of one of the last remaining charming areas in the city, demanded that before the center moves in, the city should designate the neighborhood a historic district. They were betrayed by the mayor and their City Councilwoman Carlina Rivera, who only picked seven buildings on Broadway for landmarking.
“We were symbolic trade-offs — an olive branch for his tech center,” said Bass-Wyden, who had warned in a hearing last year that being landmarked would “destroy” her store, while extolling it as a “center of literary life in lower Manhattan.”
“They (the landmarks commission) are all mayoral appointees. They pretend that this is a democratic process,” she complained.
Commissioner Adi Shamir-Baron, who advises foundations, community groups, and government agencies in strategic planning and design of redevelopment projects with a focus on land reclamation, historic conservation, ecology restoration and the re-purposing of urban infrastructure [says so on the web] condemned the businesswoman she was destroying, and her soon-to-be-reduced staff, saying, “I think their opposition is an expression of intellectual dishonesty and hypocrisy in this case and it is incredibly disappointing to see that in full view.”
Shamir-Baron is also an appointed commissioner of US National Commission for UNESCO.