City officials on Tuesday voted unanimously to designate an Indigenous archaeological site on the South Shore of Staten Island and the Kimlau War Memorial in Chinatown in Manhattan as protected landmarks.
“We have been working very hard to ensure that we are telling the story of all New Yorkers and representing the city’s diversity,” said Sarah Carroll, the chair of the commission, adding that her agency would continue “drilling down into history in ways that haven’t been done in the past.”
More than five decades after the city began to assign landmark status to sites, only a small portion of its roughly 37,000 properties recognize the contributions of communities of color. More recently, preservationists have sought to highlight the achievements of African Americans with interactive maps exploring landmarks related to Black history and the Underground Railroad. In February, a rowhouse in Downtown Brooklyn also received landmark status for its connection to the abolitionist movement of the 1800s.
The agency worked with Native American groups to rename the archaeological site on Staten Island, located in Conference House Park in Tottenville, which anthropologists said contains the oldest signs of Indigenous life within the city limits, beginning about 8,000 years ago. The landmark covers nearly 20 acres of land and will be called Aakawaxung Munahanung (Island Protected from the Wind), believed to be the name for Staten Island in the Munsee language.
For some historians, the importance of this site has been overshadowed by nearby colonial landmarks. For example, Conference House Park also contains the home of Christopher Billopp, a British loyalist during the American Revolution who hosted a peace conference in 1776 between three Americans — Benjamin Franklin, John Adams and Edward Rutledge — and Adm. Richard Howe of Britain.
The recognition of Aakawaxung Munahanung was welcomed by Kelly Carroll, the director of advocacy and community outreach at the Historic Districts Council. “Structures associated with the colonial and white occupation of the site have long enjoyed the protections of landmark status,” she said at a public hearing in May. “Preserving the land that is the park and the treasures that lie beneath this hallowed ground is overdue.”
In Manhattan, the Kimlau War Memorial has long been the symbolic gateway of Chinatown, a granite ceremonial arch within a similarly named plaza, which is currently maintained by the city’s police department.
Designed by the architect Poy Gum Lee and dedicated in 1962, the memorial was sponsored by the American Legion to honor Chinese Americans who died while serving in World War II. Its name comes from the Second Lt. Benjamin Ralph Kimlau, a bomber pilot who died while attacking Japanese military installations in the South Pacific.
“Thousands of Chinese Americans bravely served this country in the U.S. Armed Forces,” said Dian Dong, a dance educator who is Kimlau’s niece, in a statement. “The Kimlau War Memorial Arch will continue as a source of pride for the Chinatown community.”