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Guide to the Victorian Society of America, Metropolitan Chapter Records
1950s-2019 (bulk 1970-2015)
 MS 3205

New-York Historical Society
170 Central Park West
New York, NY 10024
(212) 873-3400


New-York Historical Society

Collection processed by Michelle D. Novak

This finding aid was produced using ArchivesSpace on September 30, 2022
Finding aid written in English using Describing Archives: A Content Standard

Biographical / Historical

The Victorian Society in America (VSA) is a membership society that, since 1966, has been committed to protecting, promoting, and preserving Victorian-era (1837-1901) and Edwardian-era (1901-circa 1914) arts, architecture, and culture in the United States. The VSA is a sister society of the Victorian Society in the U.K. and often collaborates on educational programming, most notably its Summer Schools, in conjunction with the U.K. organization. The VSA is headquartered in Philadelphia, PA, and is a registered nonprofit.

The VSA was founded in New York City by noted preservationists Margot Gayle, Brendan Gill, and Henry-Russell Hitchcock (who was also a founding member of the U.K. society), among others, and who were inspired to act by the demolition of New York's Pennsylvania Station [McKim, Mead, and White, extant 1910-1963]. Soon after its founding, the VSA based its headquarters in Philadelphia, PA.

In January 1970, sixty-nine members in the New York City metropolitan area petitioned the VSA for permission to organize a New York Chapter. Among the signers were professors and architectural historians: Marvin Schwartz, Adolph Placzek, George Collins, James Marston Fitch; writers: Louis Auchincloss, Clay Lancaster, Ada Louise Huxtable; architects: Giorgio Cavaglieri, Philip Johnson; and preservation activists: Mr. and Mrs. Everett Ortner and Margot Gayle. In March 1970, the Metropolitan Chapter (VSNY) began operating as a registered nonprofit Chapter of the VSA.

In the early years of the Chapter, membership and dues were paid to the VSA national organization with a portion returned to the Chapters for programming and operations. Formalization of the Chapter structure in the mid-1970s and the development and adoption of VSA Chapter-specific bylaws eventually allowed Chapters to directly receive membership dues. Members also eventually were allowed the option to join just the Chapter or Chapter and the national society—independent of each other—and Chapters could solicit funds for specific projects. (Currently, only VSNY Board Members are required to be a member of both organizations.) This change in funding structure appears to have energized the development of VSNY's membership, programming, and preservation advocacy and projects.

In 1976, the VSNY Board began recognizing excellence in publications, exhibitions, preservation advocacy, restoration, individual achievement, lifetime achievement and other categories by bestowing awards during its Annual Meeting (May). The number of award categories and awardees has grown significantly over the years. Around 1987/1988, the VSNY began awarding scholarships for individuals to attend the VSA Summer Schools in Newport, Rhode Island and, later, the Victorian Society (U.K.) Summer Schools in the United Kingdom and other destinations. The VSNY also produces public history programming, including the Hands on History series for students.

In 1983, the VSNY began publishing a semi-annual newsletter. Before founding its own newsletter, the VSNY communicated to members through the VSA's national publication, The Victorian, which is well-represented in the first half of this chronologically arranged archive.

Also in 1983, the VSNY was host to the VSA's national conference and Annual Meeting, and the Chapter organized events, tours, and social gatherings through New York City in addition to hosting the conference sessions.

The VSA was founded in preservation advocacy—and it continues to be active in preservation efforts across New York City and State. Past major education and preservation campaigns included the SoHo-Cast Iron Historic District (designated 1973) and the expansion of the SoHo Historic District (circa 2006, designated 2010); Pier A (designated 1977), the last surviving municipal pier; the New York County (Tweed) Courthouse 1861-1872 (designated 1984), the second oldest surviving city government building, and Tin Pan Alley (designated 2019), comprised of five adjoining buildings along West 28th Street in Manhattan and the birthplace of American popular music.

The Chapter was also instrumental in funding a major restoration of the Sherman Monument—a gilded-bronze equestrian statue of Sherman by Augustus Saint-Gaudens which sits atop a base designed by Charles McKim—located in Grand Army Plaza at 5th Avenue and 59th Street. In 1985/1986, the Society began a campaign to raise awareness and funds for its stabilization, preservation, and restoration and held a symposium on "The Heroic Age of American Sculpture."

VSNY members, advisors, and Board members regularly present testimony at New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) hearings in support of historic site designation and protection. Circa 2015, the VSA undertook a campaign to testify for sites threatened with de-calendaring due to LPC application backlog. Members of the board also routinely attend and speak at the City Planning Commission and the City Council on issues important to VSNY's purpose.

In 2003, the Margot Gayle Fund, which underwrites grants for historic preservation, was approved at the VSNY Annual Meeting. The first award funded professional research into the cast iron buildings of Manhattan's SoHo district. This research was the basis of the VSNY's 2006 report that was used to argue for the extension of the SoHo-Cast Iron Historic District. Activities included the publication of the report, testimony and letters of support, media outreach, community engagement, guided walking tours of the historic district, and publication of a new edition of "Cast Iron Architecture in New York City" by Margot Gayle and Edmund V. Gillion, Jr. [Friends of Cast Iron Architecture (FCIA), 1974, 1983; VSA Metropolitan Chapter on behalf of (FCIA), 2011].

VSNY produces a regularly scheduled slate of educational lectures and seminars on architecture, decorative arts, fine arts, landscape, literature, and cultural history pertaining to the Victorian and Edwardian eras. The society also organizes tours of special exhibitions; offers guided neighborhood walks; and arranges for visits to historical sites, gardens, and private homes. Tours cover sites in greater New York City area as well as nearby regions including the Hudson River Valley and Long Island, New York; Fairfield County, Connecticut; the Berkshire region in Massachusetts; Cape May, New Jersey; and other destinations.

The VSNY also sponsors events in collaboration with other organizations such as the Society of Architectural Historians, Friends of Cast Iron Architecture, Historic Districts Council, and Classical America, among other organizations.

The Society has published some compiled lists of Board members and events and tours found in this collection as well as more recent VSNY newsletters on its website, https://vicsocny.org.