Landmark West honors five people who have had a dramatic impact on the neighborhood
A few years ago, Arlene Simon, the executive director and founder of Landmark West, received a phone call from a local resident explaining that he had never heard of any of the recipients of the Unsung Heroes awards. Simon was actually pleased at his inquiry because, she said, that was the point of the awards, now in their 16th year: to recognize locals who wouldn't ordinarily be recognized, for something as small (but not insignificant) as saving a brownhouse stoop or putting out a petition to save a playground, like 9-year-old winner Lucia Alexeyev, to more public roles like serving as a former director of Landmark West.
"I suggested to that gentleman that we were letting the secret out about these incredible people," said Arlene Simon, the current director of Landmark West. "We want to raise people's consciousness to see that you don't need to take over the world to make a difference, you can do small things that add up to be major in the long run."
This year's award recipients are Lucia Alexeyev, the 4th grade advocate who attempted to save her beloved "Playground 89" - the controversial park currently undergoing plans by the Parks Department to make it less dangerous; Cynthia Copeland, an education curator and president of the Institution for the Exploration of Seneca Village ? a project meant to explore and preserve the 19th-century village found in Central Park; Richard Emery, the co-founder of the West End Preservation Society; Michael Gotkin, a landscape architect and preservation advocate who led the charge against razing the ox mural outside the former Victor's Café, and Kate Wood, the former director of Landmark West.
Lucia Alexeyev, Playground Enthusiast
Lucia loves playing imagination games during recess at her school's unusual bowl-shaped cobblestone playground. So when she heard that the Department of Education might get rid of the bowl because of safety concerns, she decided to take action and send around a petition at her school, and she spoke several times in front of Community Board 7.
"I fell in love with Lucia when I sat behind her at the community board meetings," said Arlene Simon. "She's an amazing 9-year-old."
Lucia, who wants to be an animal biologist when she grows up, said that she got the idea for a petition when her mother started a petition for the adults in the community to save the playground. Lucia isn't too happy with the new playground design, which eliminates the bowl, and she looks forward to continuing to fight for her beloved play space.
"It's a beautiful playground and it's very special," said Lucia., "I also think it should stay exactly how it is because it's very green, and the cobblestones allows rainwater to fall through it and get to the trees."
Richard Emery- Co-founder of West End Preservation Society
The West End Preservation Society began out of Richard Emery's apartment complex in 2007, over a group of brownstones on West End and 95th Street that were going to be torn down and replaced with modern buildings. In the end only one of those buildings were lost.
"We had modest ambitions, we wanted to preserve the fronts of the buildings on west end," said Emery, the current president of the society. "That seemed to be the longest series of buildings that have the fewest post war structures. That seems worth preserving."
Emery is known as the face of this grassroots neighbor organization, and has appeared in front of the community board and the Landmarks Preservation Commission and has forged relationships with elected officials over the importance of saving West End Avenue. Since their first victory in 2007, WEPS has published a survey about the historic significance of buildings along the avenue, and West End Avenue from approximately 76th-78th Streets and 87th to 94th Streets have been designated as historic landmarked districts
"We've accomplished all of this in just six years, which shows how a really good idea can be adopted and pursued by a community," said Emery.
Kate Wood, former director of Landmark West!
Wood has been interested in preservation almost her whole life, from her interest in old houses when she was a teenager, to teaching preservation at Columbia University. And from 2001 to 2012 she led Landmark West as the executive director, a force for good in an era that she describes as being hostile toward preservation.
"You have to speak up," said Wood. "If there aren't watchdog people like Landmark West on the Upper West Side, New York City would be a very different place to live in."
Today Wood is a board member of Landmark West and takes more of a backseat role in the organization than during her years as executive director. Some of the organization's biggest accomplishments during her tenure include saving West Park Presbyterian Church in 2010 and designating the Riverside historic district.
"The unsung hero awards are Landmark West's way of pointing out the people who care about their community," said Wood. "The whole point is that unsung heroes don't rest on their laurels, and they work hard every day."
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