The impending destruction of two 19th century buildings at 73 W. Main street have again brought the topic of historic preservation in Babylon Village to the fore. As with the David Smith house, despite letters and petitions and e-mails and appeals to Village Government, invaluable pieces of our community’s historic heritage are going to be knocked down and replaced with generic modern buildings.
A lot of Village residents are understandably upset about this, with many sharing fond memories of the buildings as you would for an old friend whose time is short. A woman shared her engagement photos which were taken at the South Side Signal building. Other people talked about how nice the Brosnahan Law Office used to look when decorated for Christmas.
So, what can we do? What steps could and should we take to preserve the historic character of Babylon Village?
Don’t Trust Developers
One thing that should be abundantly clear is that we can not rely on the assurances of developers that they will preserve the historic character of our Village. As we’ve seen, they don’t generally don’t feel obliged to adhere to their promises if that would not be in their best financial interest.
To be fair, developers are in the real estate game to make money. If something isn’t making them money, they’re not going to be interested in it. Once a developer gets hold of an historic property, the chances of that property being preserved for future generations goes way down.
Babylon Village Needs An Historic Building Code
A lot of communities around Long Island have historic codes. Smithtown has an Historical Advisory Board. Huntington has a Historic Preservation Commission. It seems ridiculous that a place with as much history as Babylon Village doesn’t any official protection or recognition for our unique historical assets.
What kind of code should there be? Which buildings should be covered and what protections should be in place? I don’t have any answers, but this is a conversation we need to have. While I might disagree with some of the things in Mayor Scordino’s response to this issue, one thing is true. Without a code or regulation protecting historic buildings, there’s not much the Village government can do when someone wants to tear down something they own, as long as all codes are legally followed.
The Mayor has expressed concerns about property rights, but at the very least we should consider a voluntary registry that owners could add their properties to if they want to preserve them for future generations. Such a registry could have saved the buildings at 73 W. Main street since Mr. Brosnahan had paid for the Signal building to be moved to its current location and so clearly was interested in its preservation.
Concerned Residents Must Be Proactive
One of the things that we should be taken away from the recent losses over historic preservation is that we can’t wait until the final hour to start trying to save an important building. By the time demolition permits are being applied for, it’s probably too late. By the time the bulldozers are getting ready to roll, the owner has probably allowed the property to fall into disrepair.
Village residents who want to preserve our history should be thinking now about which buildings and residences are worthy of concern and how we might protect them. Residents who own and live in a historic home and want it preserved should be thinking about how to go about doing that.
There are no good or easy answers, but it’s something that Babylon Village needs to think about and decide what course to take. Do we want to preserve the real history and the real buildings where that history took place, or do we want to make excuses about why it’s too difficult and let important parts of our past fall under the wrecking ball whenever there’s a few dollars to be made.