Simeon Bankoff steps down as executive director of the Historic Districts Council

Into History

Simeon Bankoff steps down as executive director of the Historic Districts Council

Simeon Bankoff in 2011 protesting for the protection of 35 Cooper Square (Village Preservation (Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation)/Flickr/Accessed under the CC BY 2.0 license)

After two decades as executive director of the Historic Districts Council (HDC) in New York City, Simeon Bankoff has left the organization to pursue new opportunities. His last day was Friday.

The council’s board has named Lorna Nowve as the organization’s interim executive director, starting next month, and it plans to launch a nationwide search for a permanent executive director this fall.

A well-known preservation activist and lifelong resident of Brooklyn, Bankoff, 50, headed a non-profit organization that serves as an advocate for historic buildings, neighborhoods, and public spaces in all five boroughs of New York City.

As the public face of the council, which turned 50 in 2020, Bankoff was a familiar figure at meetings of the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission, supporting projects that help save historic places, such as the Lever House renovation, and challenging projects that he felt weren’t appropriate, such as the high-rise planned for the South Street Seaport area. He has been part of a group that is questioning plans for high-rise towers around Madison Square Garden and Penn Station.

Bankoff joined the Historic Districts Council as executive director in November 2000. During his tenure, he positioned the council at the forefront of numerous preservation campaigns, including efforts to save formerly industrial neighborhoods along Brooklyn’s waterfront, to protect historic buildings in lower Manhattan and to fight out-of-scale development around Central Park. He also helped the council promote legislation to help preserve unprotected buildings and produce educational programs about history and preservation in New York City.

Reached about his departure, Bankoff stopped short of saying what he plans to do in the future: “After almost 21 years as ED,” he said over email, “it was time for me to take a well-deserved break while I figure out the next challenge.”

In a statement released by the council, Bankoff said that he was proud of what he has accomplished.

“Over the past 20 years, I have striven to greatly expand the Historic Districts Council’s reach, mission, and resources to better serve its citywide mandate,” he said. “I feel honored to have played an important role in helping create over 70 designated historic districts across all five boroughs, protect hundreds of individual historic buildings, strengthen the New York City Landmarks Law, and bring much-needed resources to dozens of community organizations. The preservation of our city depends on active and engaged New Yorkers, and I am proud to have helped HDC build and strengthen that community.”

“We are deeply appreciative of Simeon’s two decades of passionate preservation advocacy, skillful coalition building, and grassroots outreach,” Greenberg said in a statement. “Working with a dedicated Board of Directors and Advisers, a top-notch staff, and partners across the field, Simeon has spent two decades building HDC into a preservation powerhouse. We look forward to finding a new leader for HDC who can build on this strong foundation and lead the organization into its next fifty years.”

Nowve, a native New Yorker who is well-known preservation circles, will take over as interim executive director on October 12, according to the council. Nowve grew up in the Bronx and now lives on the Upper West Side.

“I am thrilled to be joining the HDC team at so crucial a time in the city’s history,” she said in a statement. “Its neighborhoods hold the key to its revitalization and the many projects of the HDC play an important role in helping New Yorkers celebrate and protect all that we love about our city.”

Nowve’s association with the council began while it was under the auspices of the Municipal Art Society (MAS). Her work with MAS included the fight to save Grand Central and the establishment of the Upper East Side Historic District. As the associate director of the Bryant Park Restoration Corporation, she was part of the team that developed and won approval for the plan to revitalize the park. She is a member of the New York film and television community, producing films and documentaries and working on the production staff of numerous projects. Her career also includes leadership roles in the Asian American Film Lab, the Nantucket Film Festival, and the New York Preservation Archive Project’s Preservation Film Festival.

The transition comes a time when HDC board members are taking stock of what the council has achieved and what it still wants to do.

“Simeon came aboard over twenty years ago when I was President of HDC,” said Hal Bromm, a vice president of the board, in a statement. “Since then, our organization has been an aggressive advocate in many preservation battles. HDC has documented the important role historic preservation plays, boosting the quality of life of our citizens while fostering neighborhood pride and stability, refuting the oft[1]repeated claims of real estate developers eager to erase our history. Like many on our Board, I joined HDC after receiving the group’s important support in the effort to protect the mercantile buildings of the old Washington Market. Our success in designating Tribeca was really HDC’s success. As we move forward, HDC will continue to enrich our city by leading the effort to protect our cultural and historic resources for future generations.”

The preservation movement in New York City “has grown and changed profoundly in the fifty years since HDC was founded,” said Chris Cirillo, another vice president. “The organization has a critical role to play in advocating for policies that protect and celebrate our historic communities and the funding necessary to implement them. HDC has always supported grassroots preservationists and helped to develop the next generation of neighborhood leaders. We look forward to continuing this work under our interim executive director, and to finding a new permanent executive director who will expand HDC’s leadership in the field.”