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Margot Gayle papers

Call Number

MS 241


1959-2005 (bulk 1975-1990), inclusive



10 Linear feet (23 boxes)

Language of Materials

The materials are in English.


Margot Gayle was an inveterate preservationist and journalist, active in many New York City endeavors to preserve historic areas and buildings. This collection contains her research materials, newspaper columns, photographs, and various publications related to her efforts as a preservationist.

Biographical Note

A longtime urban preservationist, civic activist, and author, Margot Gayle (née McCoy) was born in Kansas City, Missouri, on 14 May 1908. Moving frequently as a child as a result of her father's vicissitudes in the automobile business, Gayle attended the University of Michigan. Subsequently, she moved to Atlanta, began work as a social worker, and earned a master's degree in bacteriology from Emory University. Marrying accountant William T. Gayle, Margot contributed to the United States's World War II effort as a volunteer publicizing civil defense efforts. Next moving to New York City, Gayle inaugurated a variegated career that would include radio script writer, freelance magazine scribe, and public relations entrepreneur. Later she held public relations positions in city government; most important, she wrote a weekly architecture column in the Daily News for sixteen years. Producing two daughters, Carol Gayle and Gretchen Gayle Ellsworth, Gayle's marriage nonetheless ended in divorce in 1957, the same year she joined the Samuel J. Tilden Club, a Democratic Party reform group. The indefatigable Gayle also ran, albeit unsuccessfully, for City Council.

Notwithstanding her political activities, in 1957 Gayle spearheaded efforts to "save" the four stalled clocks adorning the Jefferson Market Courthouse, a brick and stone structure erected in the 1870s on 6th Avenue. Gayle's group succeeded by 1959 in convincing Mayor Robert Wagner to remove not only the clocks but perforce the building as well from the auctioneer's block. Moreover, Gayle's intrepid leadership netted a number of followers, including writers Jane Jacobs and Lewis Mumford and poet e.e. cummings. By 1961, the group succeeded in restarting the building's clocks; in 1967 the courthouse itself reopened as a public library. Her appetite whetted by the courthouse rescue, Gayle lobbied for a landmarks preservation law, which the city enacted in 1965. In 1966, impelled by the demolition of Pennsylvania Station, Gayle helped to establish the Victorian Society in America, a national non-profit organization committed to preserving the United States's nineteenth century heritage. Most important, she founded the Friends of Cast Iron Architecture in 1970, a group focused on the preservation of Victorian-era iron-fronted buildings. The group succeeded in opposing a proposed Lower Manhattan expressway in 1971 and in 1973 they won the establishment of the twenty-six block SoHo Cast Iron Historic District, which preserved buildings and artifacts and on the whole prevented SoHo from experiencing large-scale urban renewal. Gayle went on to fight to preserve cast-iron buildings around the country, as well as street clocks and lamp posts in New York City until her death in 2008 at the age of 100.


The collection is arranged within the following four series:

Series I. Daily News Columns and Related Materials

Series II. Subject Materials

Series III. Published Material

Series IV. Visual Material

Scope and Content Note

The Margot Gayle Papers 1959-2005 (bulk 1975-1990) pivots around the civic efforts of Margot Gayle, particularly her efforts to preserve various New York City historical buildings, neighborhoods, and other civic monuments. Materials range from Gayle's completed columns (1975-1991) for the Daily News to subject files focusing on New York City buildings, streets, and persons, to correspondence to published materials to newspaper clippings to photographs to personal financial accounting materials. However, most materials relate to her later career as a preservationist; few deal with her early attempts at preservation, e.g. with the Jefferson Market Courthouse, with her forays into New York City political life, or with her personal or professional endeavors prior to the 1970s. She saved numerous publications, meanwhile, that range from published books to neighborhood pamphlets to maps dating from the 1880s to the 2000s.

Access Restrictions

Open to qualified researchers. Materials are stored offsite and advance notice is required for use. For more information on making arrangements to consult the collection, please visit

Use Restrictions

Taking images of documents from the library collections for reference purposes by using hand-held cameras and in accordance with the library's photography guidelines is encouraged. As an alternative, patrons may request up to 20 images per day from staff.

Application to use images from this collection for publication should be made in writing to: Department of Rights and Reproductions, The New-York Historical Society, 170 Central Park West, New York, NY 10024-5194, Phone: (212) 873-3400 ext. 282.

Copyrights and other proprietary rights may subsist in individuals and entities other than the New-York Historical Society, in which case the patron is responsible for securing permission from those parties. For fuller information about rights and reproductions from N-YHS visit:

Preferred Citation

This collection should be cited as the Margot Gayle Papers, The New-York Historical Society.

Location of Materials

Materials are stored offsite and advance notice is required for use. For more information on making arrangements to consult the collection, please visit

Related Material at The New-York Historical Society

For more information on conservation activities in Manhattan, please see the Shirley Hayes Papers.

Collection processed by

Processed by Alex Poole with additions by Alison Barr

About this Guide

This finding aid was produced using ArchivesSpace on 2023-08-21 15:46:15 -0400.
Language: Description is in English.

Edition of this Guide

This version was derivedfrom gayle.xml


New-York Historical Society
New-York Historical Society
170 Central Park West
New York, NY 10024