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Volume 79, Number 8 | July 29 - August 4, 2009
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933

Villager file photo

In June 2004, The Village Community School on W. 10th and Greenwich Sts. won a Village Award for its new wing designed by architect Leo Blackman, left, under the direction of Eve Kleger, V.C.S. head of school, middle. Anthony Zunino, then-outgoing president of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation, right, presented the award. Blackman was recently elected president of the Historic Districts Council.

East Villager will lead Historic Districts Council

By Albert Amateau

Leo J. Blackman, preservationist, architect and East Village resident, was recently elected president of the Historic Districts Council, the citywide advocacy organization for historic neighborhoods.

Blackman, who won a 2003 award for his design of the four-story addition to the landmarked 1885 Village Community School on W. 10th St., replaces Paul Graziano, a Queens preservation consultant, as H.D.C. president.

Blackman’s firm has specialized in projects within or adjacent to historic buildings and has designed library and classroom facilities and campus plans for several institutions.

“I’m amazed that a lot of architects and officials still don’t get preservation,” Blackman said last week. “I intend to get together with institutions like the American Institute of Architects and the School Construction Authority and get them to view preservation as part of their job and a challenge instead of seeing it as an obstacle to what they want to do.”

The current economic climate will present challenges and opportunities for preservationists generally and H.D.C. specifically, Blackman said.

“With development around the city slowing, it’s less likely that we’ll see inappropriate new projects popping up in historic neighborhoods,” he said. “But at the same time, H.D.C., like all nonprofit organizations, will have to do more with less because of reduced public and private funding.”

Blackman grew up in Rhode Island, went to Brown University and served as an intern at the Providence Preservation Society as a college student.

“I bought an old house in Providence and spent a lot of time restoring it,” he said. He pursued his degree in architecture at the Columbia Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation.

“Preservation students were more friendly than architects, so I spent a lot of time in the preservation department,” Blackman said.

He worked at three New York architecture firms — Kliment & Halsband; Stephen Potters, and Bond/Ryder/James — before starting his own firm in 1985. He focused on residential projects and also designed award-winning light fixtures and furniture and was recognized for urban-design competition entries. He won a first prize in a competition for reconfiguring the neighborhood south of Brooklyn Bridge conducted by Bridging the Gaps, an urban solutions organization.

From 1999 to 2001 he was a design partner at Buttrick White & Burtis, where he was in charge of producing a master plan for the Adelphi University Library. He also oversaw the renovation of an 1895 townhouse for Marymount Middle School and an urban campus plan for Marymount Manhattan College.

Blackman returned to private practice in 2001 and has been designing adaptive reuses and additions for academic clients and religious institutions. H.D.C and the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation jointly made the award for the Village Community School project.

“I’ve been a member of H.D.C. for several years, and after they gave me the award in 2003 they asked me to be on their board,” Blackman said. He hopes to visit historic districts in each of the five boroughs over the next two years.

The burden of being president of the citywide organization will be lightened somewhat because he lives on E. 12th St., one block from the H.D.C. office in the parish house of St. Mark’s Church-in-the-Bowery, Blackman said.

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