THE CULTURE CLUB
When the Central Park Conservancy closed the historic Naumburg Bandshell in 1989 with intentions of tearing it down, it proved a lucky thing that Christopher W. London happened to be not only a Naumburg descendent but also an art and architectural historian.
London, who splits his time between his apartment on Central Park West and the family home in Westchester, grew up attending the Naumburg orchestral concerts every summer. So when the conservancy ruled to tear down the structure, which had been donated in 1923 by London’s great-grandfather, Elkan Naumburg, London was ready to fight back. His background (he has a bachelor’s degree in art history from Connecticut College, a master’s in art history from Williams College and a doctorate from Oxford University) made him “well prepared to speak [about preservation] at public meetings,” he said.
“I disagreed with their approach and I thought, if I disagreed, I had to do something about it. I guess that’s the kind of person I am,” he said.
When a full-scale public education campaign failed to persuade those in charge of park preservation that the bandshell, a half-dome neoclassical structure near West 72nd Street, was anything more than a blight, London refused to relent.
“I decided the only way was to sue because they were not interested in my efforts to dissuade them from knocking it down,” he said.
A legal battle began, with London raising $40,000 for the initial effort and relying on pro bono assistance from Lawyers for the Arts for the rest. The case dragged on through two appeals, but eventually London’s side won: the bandshell would stay.
Teri Slater, who has worked with London on historic preservation in New York, was impressed with his tenacity.
“It was a real fight,” she said. “If it hadn’t been for Christopher and his determination, there would be no Naumburg bandshell and the city would have thrown away one of its most valuable gifts.”
Though London is helpless to fight the dilapidated physical state of the bandshell—since the structure was a gift, it’s under the conservancy’s jurisdiction—he spends a big part of each winter writing grants and otherwise fundraising for Naumburg Orchestral Concerts, the nonprofit he presides over.
“I feel artistically we’re in a good place,” he said. “The concerts are solid and we have an audience who likes what we do.”
Today, London is researching his fourth book about British architecture in India, and serves on the boards of preservation groups. He is also working to restore the Naumburg concert series to four full orchestral concerts each summer and to build up the group’s endowment for the future.
Betty Cooper Wallerstein, another friend who is also involved in historic preservation, added, “I am a devoted fan of the Naumburg Bandshell and a fan of Christopher London.”
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