NY Treehouse Granted Landmark Status After Legal Fight

By Tanya Roth, Esq. on October 28, 2010 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

New York landmarks: rightfully famous, visited, beloved. However, there is one freshly minted "landmark" in NYC that may never challenge Lady Liberty or even the Naked Cowboy for iconic status, except in the hearts of three underage city dwellers. They are the 11, 13 and 16-year-old daughters of Melinda Hackett, and the landmark here is their backyard treehouse.

Yes, like many other aspects of big city living, the treehouse was the result of a daily fight, not just with the neighbors, but with the permitting office and the city's Landmarks Preservation Commission, among others, reports the Associated Press. Not only did Melinda Hackett have to build the treehouse with her bare hands (o.k. some carpenters built it and they used tools) but she had to fight tooth and nail to get to keep her daughters' "little treehouse that could." That part is actually true.

After commissioning and building the charming circular escape in her backyard in Greenwich Village, Hackett was first confronted by an unhappy neighbor who did not appreciate the little piece of whimsy which had sprouted from the London Plane tree in Hackett's yard. A complaint was made about the sudden appearance of a structure which was "nailed to a tree" and "looks unsafe." A further complaint to the city brought New York's Finest and the city firefighters to Hackett's front door. You'd think they would have something more pressing to do.

In any case, the tangled legal web Hackett found herself ensnared in included an appearance before the city's Environmental Control Board court, writes the AP, where the sitting judges were stumped by the proposed structure. In addition, there were three violation notices to settle from the Department of Buildings for erecting a structure in a protected district without a permit.

So were these unusual legal issues resolved via sound legal reasoning or the innovative implementation of the correct laws? Nope -- the Board just gave up and dismissed the case. Due to the house's historic location, it was granted its landmark status. In New York, landmarks are usually divided into four categories: individual, interior, scenic, and historic district. Maybe the best category for the troublesome treehouse is that of scenic landmark, which usually includes structures that are not buildings, such as bridges, piers, parks, cemeteries, sidewalks, clocks, and trees ... tree being the operative word here. One more argument for landmark status: it should also be noted that this is said to be the only private treehouse in Manhattan. No boys allowed.

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