Saint Paul’s School, a 130-year-old brick palace that looks like some sort of magical realm, seems engulfed by a dark spell, encroaching upon a tragic end to this affluent Long Island suburb.

Red brick, gargoyles and spires decorate the four-story building topped with a slate roof and lined with keystoned window surrounds. There was a time when thousands of students used this place, from the early 1880s until it closed in 1991. The park looked like the kind of place young Jane Eyre or Harry Potter might ram through, and those who visited from 1880 to 1991 did.

The village of Garden City, which bought Saint Paul’s School and its surrounding athletic fields in 1994, is looking into the removal of the structure. It has been proposed to demolish a portion of the stadium, and a vote on whether to pay for it will be scheduled in the coming months.

Despite the fact that the building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the proposal isn't a result of a lack of affection for the High Victorian Gothic architectural behemoth. During the holiday season, St. Paul’s is illuminated with spotlights, and an outsized Christmas wreath hangs on the entrance. Nobody in Garden City area seems to be sure what to do with it.
John Mauk, a trustee on the village council, said, “Pitfalls include this marvelous, unique building on Long Island, worth restoring, but residents cannot get together around a plan.”

It's hardly an unusual situation. In the suburbs, thousands of architecturally or historically significant buildings are under threat as well, including Woolworth's, steadily deteriorating, and a Bell Laboratories, built by Eero Saarinen. Jeffrey A. Kroessler, a longtime preservationist in New York City, argues that historic landmarks in New York City have much stronger protection than those in the suburbs. The villages are autonomous, autonomous in their own way, autonomous in determining their destiny; independent in deciding whether to preserve any one village – or no village will preserve any one village.

The fear of the associated property owner restrictions causes many towns to resist landmarking. It can be difficult for preservationists in suburbs known for new development to fight the perception that there is nothing historic or worthwhile to save. Now there are suburban communities that are more than 100 years old, and everyone seems to say, ‘Oh, there’s nothing special about them, since they’re in the suburbs,’ ” Mr. Kroessler explained.
Recessions have not helped. Richard Moe, president of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, said that historic buildings tend to fare better during lean times because fewer developers destroy them. In a recession, however, fewer dollars would be available to restore or maintain old structures, and thus there would be more “demolition by neglect” - a fate that seems to have followed Saint Paul’s School.

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