Five years after a court ruling saved the Naumburg Band Shell from demolition, a plan for its restoration has gained broad local support. But community boards around the park say the Parks Department has not responded to requests to repair the 75-year-old band shell, which presides over Bethesda Mall just south of the 72d Street transverse. In 1989 the department sought to demolish the band shell, which had become overrun with homeless people and drug dealers. Now the area is safer, frequented even in evening hours by tourists and in-line skaters.
From 1923, when it was donated to the park by the banker Elkan Naumburg, until the mid-1980's, the band shell was the site of free concerts. In 1989, the department and the Central Park Conservancy said the shell was a crumbling, architecturally outdated sore thumb and announced plans to demolish it in preparation for a renovation project that was to restore the mall area to its original 19th-century design. The $3 million project was completed in 1991.
Outraged preservationists waged a lengthy court battle, and the issue was decided in 1993 when the New York State Court of Appeals blocked the demolition of the limestone structure, upholding a lower court's decision that the band shell could not be destroyed because municipal law barred the destruction of a gift to the city.
Over the last few months, Community Boards 5, 6, 7 and 8 -- from the neighborhoods next to the park -- have voted to urge restoration. A great-grandson of Naumburg, Christopher London, said his family was prepared to help pay the estimated $500,000 to restore the space where Irving Berlin, Duke Ellington, John Philip Sousa and the Grateful Dead performed, where the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke and where John Lennon was eulogized.
''This is a structure that is associated with the music and social cultural history of the city,'' said Mr. London, an architectural historian who has homes in New York and London. ''My family and the public is committed to restoring the band shell,'' he said, adding that he had spoken with corporate sponsors, including Sony, about reviving the free outdoor concert series.
Parks Commissioner Henry J. Stern called restoration of the band shell ''a very worthy cause'' and said he would welcome any money the family could raise for the project.
On Tuesday, Board 7 voted unanimously to urge the department to restore the shell. ''I went to the three nonamplified classical concerts there this summer,'' said a board member, Elizabeth Starkey. ''The acoustics are fabulous.''
Restore the Shell, Neighbors Say
Librado Romero/New York Times
September 13, 1998
— Corey Kilgannon, The New York Times