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Beverly Moss Spatt: Champion of historic preservation, lifelong Brooklynite dies at 99

July 18, 2023 Raanan Geberer
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Beverly Moss Spatt, the historic preservation activist and former chair of the city Landmarks Preservation Commission who died at 99 on Friday, was a lifelong Brooklynite and was a champion of many Brooklyn historic sites.

She died at NYU-Langone Hospital-Brooklyn, according to The New York Times.

Spatt, who lived in Brooklyn Heights, chaired Landmarks in the 1970s, when few women had ascended to leadership roles. Although she was best known for her fight to save Grand Central Terminal, which many New Yorkers feared would go the way of the original Penn Station, under her leadership the LPC landmarked many Brooklyn institutions. 

Inside the old Gage & Tollner, founded in 1879. Photo: Courtesy of the Edward Dewey Estate

Among them were the famed Gage & Tollner restaurant on Fulton Street, in 1974-75, with both individual and interior landmark status (according to the Gage & Tollner website); Grand Army Plaza, also a national historic landmark; and Ocean Parkway (1975). Ocean Parkway’s landmark status was followed by its being restored and repaved.

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Although the Brooklyn Bridge had been landmarked in 1964, before Spatt’s tenure with the LPC, Spatt, along with fellow author Martin Schneider, praised the venerable structure in an article published in the Daily News nine years ago. 

“The full grandeur of the Brooklyn Bridge is experienced in many ways. Walking across its one-mile span attracts folks year-round from all over the world. From down below, visitors can thrill to its gigantic stone works and webs of steel while standing in the new Brooklyn Bridge Park,” read the article, which was aimed at preserving the view of the bridge.

In a lengthy interview published in the Greenwich Village-based Village Preservation website, Spatt talked about her early life and what led to her activism.

She was the daughter of attorney and later Surrogate Court Judge Maximilian Moss, who was born in Brooklyn, moved to Tennessee with his family, and then returned to New York to go to NYU law school. 

Judge Moss was also, at various times, the head of the NYC Board of Education and a founder of the Brooklyn Jewish Community Council, according to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency website. With such a background, Spatt grew up “talking civics at the breakfast table,” the Times said.

The Brooklyn Bridge. Photo by Paul Frangipane

Spatt, in the Village Preservation interview, said her father’s law office was on Montague Street, the Heights’ busiest thoroughfare. Describing Montague Street in those days, she said, “We had all sorts of people here. We had homeless, we had poor, we had rich, all the old, the old Brooklyn Heights people —white Anglo-Saxon Protestant. We had some Jews, we had some Blacks. We had rooming houses, we had artists.”

Although she spent her earliest years on Avenue M in Midwood, the family later moved to the Heights. She went to James Madison High School in Midwood, and in the interview said one of her most important early influences was English teacher Philip Rothman, who taught not only English but humanities and general philosophy.

She graduated from Madison in 1941, then from Pembroke College (then the women’s college of Brown University) in 1945. Eventually, she would get a PhD in urban planning from NYU in 1976.

She entered civic life as an active member of the League of Women Voters and the Women’s City Club, and also was the first co-chair of the West Brooklyn Independent Democrats. 

In 1965, Spatt was appointed by the City Planning Commission. In a New York Times article published that year, she was quoted as saying that “people like myself who have been active in city affairs at an unofficial level for years are generally regarded as civic do-gooders.” 

Finally, she was appointed to Landmarks in 1974. In the Village Preservation interview, she said she opened up the LPC, whose meetings had previously been closed, to the public. After leaving Landmarks in 1982, she continued to be involved in preservation efforts.

Spatt is survived by her three children, Robin, Jonathan and David, and three grandchildren, the Times reported. Her husband, Dr. Samuel Spatt, a physician, died in 2007.

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