The Cloisters and Palisades
2014 World Monuments Watch
The Cloisters Museum and Gardens are situated high above the Hudson River in New York City's Fort Tryon Park, which provides magnificent, unobstructed views of the Palisades, the river, the George Washington Bridge, and the park. The land was given by John D. Rockefeller Jr. to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1925, along with the funding needed to establish the Cloisters Museum and Gardens. With the gift, Mr. Rockefeller explicitly sought to preserve this significant cultural landscape and viewshed. Each year thousands of visitors, including over 10,000 schoolchildren, make the trek to northern Manhattan to experience the Cloisters and its rare panorama of the Hudson River and the Palisades greenway. The Cloisters Museum itself houses the Metropolitan Museum of Art's collection of European medieval art and incorporates monastic architectural elements in its design, including stone and stained-glass panels for the doors, and windows. Since its opening in 1938, a defining feature of visiting the Cloisters is an extraordinary vista across the Hudson River to the Palisades.
When the site was included on the 2014 World Monuments Watch, plans were underway to construct a corporate headquarters and a residential complex on the New Jersey side of the Hudson River. This would have entailed modifying zoning legislation to accommodate towers that would rise above the once-protected tree line of the Palisades. Proponents of the project sought to emphasize the economic and environmental benefits of the new development, especially job creation and energy efficiency. But there were significant social costs that had not been adequately considered in the debate. These zoning modifications would alter the landscape and viewshed of the Palisades and could set a precedent for more municipalities to build above the tree line. A coalition of community groups and conservation organizations concerned with the loss of this important natural and cultural resource filed suit to curb the proposed building height, but the court initially allowed the development to move forward. The site was included on the Watch as an appeal was underway in order to raise awareness about the loss to future generations posed by this development and others that might follow.
Since the Watch
In June 2015, LG Electronics and a number of advocacy groups including Scenic Hudson, the New Jersey State Federation of Women’s Clubs, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the New Jersey Conservation Foundation, and the New York-New Jersey Trail Conference announced an agreement on a new building design. The compromise came after a number of developments that followed the announcement of the 2014 Watch. In October 2013, the Borough of Englewood Cliffs appointed a new planner, as the result of litigation in which it was revealed that the planner who approved the ordinance allowing for construction of the new corporate campus had ties to LG Electronics. The U.S. National Park Service addressed two letters to the Borough of Englewood Cliffs in opposition to the project. In addition, the Palisades were listed as a National Treasure by the National Trust for Historic Preservation in May 2014. In June 2014 the mayor of Englewood Cliffs called for negotiation to end the protracted controversy. As part of the settlement, the conservation groups agreed to withdraw their pending legal appeal regarding zoning approvals in Englewood Cliffs and pledged to work with LG to secure necessary municipal approvals to move the project forward. The new building design, reflecting compromises by all parties, calls for a five-story north wing of less than 70 feet in height and a three-story south wing, protecting the scenic views of the Palisades. LG will implement landscape, lighting, and other design features to further reduce the visual impact, while retaining the scale of the complex so that it can provide a base for LG’s growing U.S. business.