Brooklyn Boro

Simeon Bankoff, executive director of Historic Districts Council, steps down

Has long been an advocate for Brooklyn preservation

September 22, 2021 Brooklyn Eagle Staff
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Simeon Bankoff, longtime executive director of the Historic Districts Council, has stepped down from his post to pursue new opportunities, the well-known neighborhood preservation organization announced on Wednesday.

The final day at HDC for Bankoff, a lifelong resident of Brooklyn who now lives in Windsor Terrace, was Sept. 17.

“Over the past 20 years, I have striven to greatly expand the Historic Districts Council’s reach, mission, and resources to better serve its citywide mandate,” Bankoff commented. “I feel honored to have played an important role in helping create over 70 designated historic districts across all five boroughs, protect hundreds of individual historic buildings, strengthen the New York City Landmarks Law, and bring much needed resources to dozens of community organizations.”

Over the years, Bankoff was quoted dozens of times in the Eagle on Brooklyn-related issues.
When the historic Gage & Tollner restaurant on the Fulton Mall, which dates back to the 19th century, reopened in February, Bankoff said, “The return of Gage & Tollner is an occasion for joy. The broad interest and anticipation of this long-vanished restaurant’s return cannot be overstated.”

When the Landmarks Preservation Commission designated East Flatbush’s first historic district, the East 25th Street Historic District, last year, he said, “This well-deserved designation, located in a part of the city previously underserved by landmark protections, is entirely due to the remarkable organizing efforts and dedication of its residents and community leaders, and to the Landmarks Commission’s flexibility and adaptation in pursuing preservation during a pandemic.”

Also last year, when the convent building at the former Angel Guardian Home in Dyker Heights was not declared a landmark, although the main building was, Bankoff described the convent building as “architecturally meritorious, a well-designed, beautiful building.” Nonetheless, he said, “Landmarks is doing one of its patented ‘not-paying-attention-to-the-actual-merits-of-the-case.’”
And in 2019, Bankoff weighed in on Mayor Bill de Blasio’s extremely unpopular proposal to put a six-lane highway atop the Brooklyn Heights Promenade as a stopgap measure during BQE reconstruction.

Commenting on the fact that de Blasio had announced his unsuccessful bid for president by showing himself standing on the very same Promenade. Bankoff said, “Certainly says something that the mayor chose the view he proposed to demolish as a backdrop for his national debut, doesn’t it?”
Bankoff’s advocacy wasn’t limited to 19th or early 20th century buildings. He wrote an op-ed for the Eagle in which he argued against demolishing the 1950s-era bank building at 200 Montague St. in Brooklyn Heights. Acknowledging that modernism wasn’t as chic as Victorian or Art Deco architecture, he said that the building should be honored because it is “a visitor from another time and a traveler from an unrealized future.”

Discussing the transition at the Historic Districts Council, Alison Greenberg, board president, said, “We are deeply appreciative of Simeon’s two decades of passionate preservation advocacy, skillful coalition building and grassroots outreach. Working with a dedicated Board of Directors and Advisers, a top-notch staff, and partners across the field, Simeon has spent two decades building HDC into a preservation powerhouse.”

Hal Bromm, a board vice president, said, “Simeon came aboard over twenty years ago when I was president of HDC. Since then, our organization has been an aggressive advocate in many preservation battles. HDC has documented the important role historic preservation plays, boosting the quality of life of our citizens while fostering neighborhood pride and stability, refuting the oft repeated claims of real estate developers eager to erase our history.”

HDC’s board is committed to ensuring a smooth transition. The Board’s executive committee has selected Lorna Nowvé as HDC’s interim executive director. She will start on October 12th.

Lorna, who has been active with HDC and the Municipal Art Society and was formerly the associate director of the Bryant Park Restoration Corp., commented, “I am thrilled to be joining the HDC team at so crucial a time in the city’s history. Its neighborhoods hold the key to its revitalization and the many projects of the HDC play an important role in helping New Yorkers celebrate and protect all that we love about our city.”

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