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Tuesday, May 1, 2012

MOVERS AND SHAKERS: Peg Breen, President of the New York Landmarks Conservancy Our Coverage Sponsored By Gabriel's Bar & Restaurant

Peg Breen

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11 West 60th Street


Peg Breen is President of the New York Landmarks Conservancy, a 39 year-old non-profit organization dedicated to preserving New York's architectural heritage. It is one of the oldest and largest preservation organizations in the country. The Conservancy has loaned and granted more than $36 million and provided thousands of hours of technical assistance to individual homeowners, cultural and non-profit institutions, businesses and landmark religious institutions. The Conservancy also advocates for preservation at the local, state and national levels of government.

After 9/11, Ms. Breen helped organize the Lower Manhattan Preservation Fund, which gave grants to owners of historic buildings damaged on that day. The Conservancy also served as a consulting party to redevelopment at Ground Zero. Ms. Breen helped lead successful efforts to preserve the “survivors staircase,” which will now be featured in the memorial museum.

The U.S. State Department sent Ms. Breen abroad as a representative of New York City for 
9/11 commemorations at U.S. Consulates. In 2002 she spoke in St. Petersburg, Russia. In 2003, she gave lectures in Vancouver and Victoria, British Columbia. 
Ms. Breen was also the keynote speaker at an international preservation conference in Havana, Cuba in April 2000 and led a workshop with Cuban preservationists on restoring religious properties.  
Ms. Breen co-sponsored preservation conferences in St. Petersburg Russia in March 2005 and June 2001. The U.S. Consulate in St. Petersburg invited her to speak in March 2011 at an international conference on “Preserving Cultural Heritage.”

She is on the Board of Save Ellis Island and the Governors Island Alliance. She is immediate past chair of Preservation Action, a national lobbying organization. She has served on Building Committees for The Museum of the City of New York and The Cooper Hewitt National Design Museum. She has also served on the Boards of the Museum of the City of New York and the State Theater at Lincoln Center.

Prior to joining the Conservancy, Ms. Breen held positions in government and communications. We are absolutely thrilled to present Peg Breen as our latest Mover and Shaker! Peachy Deegan interviewed Peg Breen for Whom You Know.

Peachy Deegan: We think preservation is essential in Manhattan, particularly because it is such an old community with so many new structures. When Peachy lived in New England it seemed like preservation was the understood norm whereas here it seems like a challenge. How do you rise to this challenge so beautifully? 
Peg Breen: New York City has always had some tension between growth and preservation. But I think more and more people understand that it is the unique layers of the City and the architecturally cohesive neighborhoods that have become historic districts that add to our quality of life.

Did you grow up in an area that is historical and how has history impacted your personal life? 
I grew up in a house in upstate New York that my great grandfather built after the Civil War. I grew up loving old buildings and a sense of history. I have kept so much from my childhood home that my great-grandparents would feel comfortable if they visited my apartment today.

What should everyone know about Landmarks that most do not know? 
That preservation enhances tourism, provides jobs, conserves energy and is an economic engine.

What is the definition of a Landmark in New York City? 
Any building more than 30 years old with historic, cultural or aesthetic significance.

What areas of Manhattan have the most Landmarks? 
Upper East Side and Upper West Side.

How many Landmarks are there in Manhattan and is there a map of them or a tour? Approximately 14,000. There are maps on the Landmark s Preservation Commisson’s website.

We have written on charities over 450 times but in only one case have we had a countdown for a gala dinner (yours last year). What goes into pulling off such a fantastic event and what do you credit your success to? 
 New York is full of dynamic people who qualify as “Living Landmarks” and it is the mix of people each year that keeps it interesting. Also, Liz Smith is a wonderful, witty and irreverent host.  [Liz Smith is a Mover and Shaker read her interview here]

What or who has had the most influence on your pursuit of excellence? 
I’ve been fortunate to have several. But Sister St. Jean, who taught me piano from kindergarten through 8th grade stands out.

What are you proudest of and why? 
The national and international attention we brought to the South Side of Ellis Island and the conditions survey of the former hospital complex there that has led to the buildings’ stabilization and now efforts to fully restore and reuse them. Ellis Island is the closest thing we have to a national shrine and it is important that the whole Island be restored and open to the public.

What would you like to do professionally that you have not yet had the opportunity to do? 

I love discussing preservation abroad and would love it if the State Department had regular, 
preservation-themed programs where I, and other American preservationists, could participate. Preservation is a wonderful, non-political topic that resonates with any culture. 

What honors and awards have you received in your profession? 
The Conservancy has received several, including from the AIA and State Historic Preservation Office.

What is your favorite place to be in Manhattan? 
The Metropolitan Museum of Art

What is your favorite shop in Manhattan? 
Jacques Torres Chocolates 

What is your favorite drink? 
Cranberry and Seltzer

What is the funniest thing that has ever happened to you at a cocktail party? 
Having a long and intense conversation with a person while realizing I had no idea who I was talking to. 

What is your favorite restaurant in Manhattan? 
Le Cirque

What is your favorite Manhattan book? 
Time and Again

Who would you like to be for a day and why? 
Emily Lou Harris. I really wanted to be a folksinger.

If you could have anything in Manhattan named after you what would it be and why? 
A bench in Riverside Park because I so enjoy the Park’s beauty.

What has been your best Manhattan athletic experience? 
Running in Riverside Park and NIA classes at the JCC.

What is your favorite thing to do in Manhattan that you can do nowhere else? 
Visit different neighborhoods and feel like you’ve been on a trip—be a tourist in your own town.

If you could have dinner with any person living or passed, who would it be and why? 
My father. He died when I was 10 and I would love to tell him about all my experiences. 

What has been your best Manhattan art or music experience? 
Visiting the Metropolitan Museum after 9/11 and finding comfort in the beauty that all the civilizations created.

What do you personally do or what have you done to give back to the world? 
My job and adopt stray cats. 

What do you think is most underrated and overrated here? 
What a draw our architecture is for tourism; it’s hard to overrate New York.

Other than Movers and Shakers of course, what is your favorite Whom You Know column and what do you like about it?
Cultured Peachy because there's so much happening in the arts that it is hard to keep up.

Have you drank The Peachy Deegan yet and if not, why not?  
I don’t drink alcohol.

What else should Whom You Know readers know about you? 
I think I’ve been too personal already!

How would you like to be contacted by Whom You Know readers?

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