The Cloisters and Palisades
The Cloisters Museum and Gardens are situated high above the Hudson River in New York City's Fort Tryon Park, with 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, along with the funding needed to establish the Cloisters Museum and Gardens in 1925. 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. Plans are underway to construct a corporate headquarters and a residential complex on the New Jersey side of the Hudson River, modifying zoning legislation to accommodate towers that rise above the once protected tree line of the Palisades. Proponents of the project have sought to emphasize the economic and environmental benefits of the new development, especially job creation and energy efficiency. But there are significant social costs that have not been adequately considered in the debate. These zoning modifications will alter the landscape and viewshed of the Palisades and will potentially 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 has allowed the development to move forward. An appeal is underway, and it is hoped that inclusion on the Watch will raise awareness about the loss to future generations posed by this development and others that may follow.
Since the Watch
In June 2015, LG Electronics USA and a number of advocacy groups interested in LG’s new North American headquarters in Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, announced an agreement on a new building design. 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 the parties, calls for a five-story north wing just shy of 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 visual impacts, while retaining the scale of the complex as home for LG’s growing U.S. business.
WMF said in a statement, “World Monuments Fund celebrates the decision by LG Electronics USA to change the design of their headquarters in Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, which will preserve the landscape and cherished views of the Palisades for generations to come. WMF is honored to have played an important part in raising awareness of the issue by including the Palisades and the Cloisters on the 2014 Word Monuments Watch. We would like to congratulate all parties involved for reaching this agreement, especially Scenic Hudson, the New Jersey State Federation of Women’s Clubs, the Natural Resources Defense Council, New Jersey Conservation Foundation and New York-New Jersey Trail Conference.”
Following the announcement of the 2014 World Monuments Watch, WMF joined a coalition of advocacy groups led by the Natural Resources Defense Council to raise awareness of the threat to the Palisades. Meanwhile, the Borough of Englewood Cliffs appointed a new planner following 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 June 2014, the mayor of Englewood Cliffs called for a compromise to end the protracted controversy, while signaling his willingness to impose height limits on future development along the Palisades.