June 23, 2009
by Norval White FAIA

Convention edition cover (left); notes on the second edition for the third.

Norval White

In the Fall of 1965, the AIANY Chapter, preparing for AIA’s 100th anniversary in 1967, called for proposals for a guidebook to NYC. Elliot Willensky, FAIA, and I were figuratively waiting at the doorstep, having talked of such a guide since we first met in the office of Lathrop Douglass in June 1955. We were commissioned to prepare a prototype sample that would serve to show advertisers how they could participate, front and center, at the convention. Chapter PR consultant Andrew Weil sold 80 ads that paid for out-of-pocket expenses, a secretary, photo processing, a graphic designer, mechanicals (pre-digital), and the printing of 10,000 copies given to every convention attendee. We were effectively, in the name of the Chapter, the publishers.

For that convention edition (and its duplicate trade edition, complete with ads that MacMillan found too expensive to remove) Elliot and I acted as authors of parts, editors of the whole. John Morris Dixon, FAIA, had a major role, covering much of Midtown Manhattan, Lincoln Square, and Grand Army Plaza/Prospect Park. Richard Dattner, FAIA, wrote Upper Manhattan; Roger Feinstein, Harlem and the Bronx; Mina Hamilton, Staten Island; Greenwich Village, Ann Douglas; Central Park, Henry Hope Reed and Sophia Duckworth. The balance was split between Elliot and me. But a horde of supporters in all editions added detail that none of us could have produced alone. Since 1966, when research on the first version of the Guide began, innumerable individuals have contributed information, ideas, comments, corrections, and considerable moral support.

Previous editions and reprintings have recognized their contributions in the acknowledgments. This fifth edition is a linear descendant of the original, self-published version feverishly prepared over a nine-month period for the 1967 AIA convention in NYC. Because its approach profoundly influenced subsequent updates of the Guide, it seems appropriate to credit once again those who helped the authors to set the first edition’s tone: writers John Morris Dixon, FAIA, Ann Douglass, Mina Hamilton, Roger Feinstein, Henry Hope Reed, Jr., Sophia Duckworth, and Richard Dattner, FAIA.

The second edition by MacMillan, and the third with Harcourt Brace were jointly rewritten and expanded by Elliot and myself, again with an expanded legion, upwards of 180 supporters, who contributed anything from a correction of punctuation to a suggestion for a new entry.
The 4th edition, with Crown, I did alone, as Elliot had tragically died at an early age in 1990. Elliot had been not only a friend and colleague for 45 years, but had served New York as a public servant — first as Deputy Administrator of Parks and Recreation under Mayor Lindsay; then, at the time of his death, both Borough Historian of Brooklyn and Vice Chairman of the Landmarks Preservation Commission.

The fifth edition by White & Willensky and Fran Leadon, AIA, will appear Spring/Summer 2010 with Oxford University Press.

Norval White, FAIA, is an architect, architectural historian and professor. He has designed buildings throughout the U.S., and, in addition to the AIA Guide to New York City, is the author of The Architecture Book and New York: A Physical History. He currently resides with his wife Camilla in Roques, France.

Elliot Willensky, FAIA, (1934-1990) was an architect and architectural historian. He served as vice chairman of the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission, and was the official Borough Historian of Brooklyn. He also wrote a popular history, When Brooklyn Was the World, 1920-1957.

Fran Leadon, AIA, is an architect and professor at the Bernard and Anne Spitzer School of Architecture at the City College of New York. He lives in Brooklyn.

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