Dorothy Marie Miner — preservation lawyer, educator, and stalwart defender of New York City's historic places — died on October 21, 2008. As legal counsel to the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission from 1975 to 1994, Dorothy’s close attention to detail and process protected the Commission, and the historic places it designated, from numerous legal challenges. She played an instrumental role in the court proceedings that eventually led to the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1978 ruling upholding the constitutionality of New York City’s Landmarks Preservation Law, as applied to protect Grand Central Terminal. Later, she played a critical role in a precedent-setting 1990 federal appeals court ruling upholding the City’s preservation law against both takings and Free Exercise challenges brought by St. Bartholomew's Church. That decision remains to this day the leading precedent under the U.S. Constitution regarding the landmarking of historic religious properties. In other important cases, Dorothy helped to defend the City’s effort to protect significant interiors, including a number of Broadway theaters.
Dorothy Miner's successful work at the forefront of preservation law in New York helped to ensure that historic places throughout the country would be protected as a result of the application of local landmark laws similar to New York’s. Paul Edmondson, general counsel of the National Trust for Historic Preservation remembered her work. "Dorothy's fierce defense of New York City's landmarks preservation law had direct national impact. As long as New York's preservation law stood on firm legal ground, other cities and counties throughout the country had strong precedent to support the legitimacy of their own local historic preservation laws."
Always generous in sharing her time and expertise, Dorothy Miner worked closely with the law department at the National Trust for Historic Preservation for more than thirty years in responding to legal challenges to preservation laws around the country, particularly those raising complex constitutional claims. Elizabeth Merritt, deputy general counsel for the National Trust recalls, "Dorothy was a close advisor, and a valued colleague. She had an incredible mind, and an extraordinary ability to combine creative big-picture legal strategy with a memory like a steel trap for the smallest of details."
Dorothy Miner also gave generously of her time to mentor students and attorneys interested in pursuing careers in historic preservation law around the world. After leaving the commission in 1994, she was a beloved professor of preservation law at Columbia and Pace Universities, and performed international consulting work in preservation, primarily in Eastern Europe. "While Dorothy cared deeply for New York, her work transcended the city’s boundaries. She carried her preservation message across generations and across continents," observed Tom Mayes, deputy general counsel for the National Trust.
Dorothy Miner understood first-hand the concept that “places matter.” Residents and visitors to New York City — and throughout the nation — can thank Dorothy Marie Miner for her fierce legal protection of our beloved landmarks.
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