What Happened With Galbraith House?

Galbraith House as of January 26, 2018. Photo by Tom Heuser.

When I saw the headlines last month that Galbraith House, a protected landmark would be demolished, my heart sank and I had to do a double take. How does a landmark get cleared for demolition? The whole point of the landmarks ordinance is to prevent demolition not to enable it. I read the articles and the comments, and asked around thinking I had missed something, but only found misconceptions, half-truths, and dead ends (quite literally in one case). So I went straight to the source. I scoured the Landmarks Preservation ordinance and the past 12 years of board meeting minutes, spoke extensively with city staff and other preservation advocates, and put all the pieces together. What I learned is a serious one-two punch to preservation that deserves our immediate attention. Now for those not familiar with the whole process, let’s start by taking a tour of the city’s landmarks ordinance. I will only cover the most salient points. Consider this a quick crash course. The Ordinance Landmarks designation is a four-step process and the city's website lists and summarizes each very clearly.

  1. Nomination

  2. Designation

  3. Negotiation for controls and incentives

  4. Designating ordinance

Note well: a building is effectively a city landmark and fully protected from nomination onward per the ordinance even though the process isn't complete (25.12.670).

However, that last part is crucial. Even though the building is a protected landmark with any proposed changes needing board approval during the process, negotiations can go one of many ways and this is where we start to get into trouble with Galbr