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Margot Gayle papers

 Collection 0376-MDHC

This collection documents the professional activities of preservationist and writer Margot Gayle from 1948 until her death in 2008. Gayle worked to preserve historic cast-iron structures, principally in New York City. She is best known for her leading role in establishing New York's SoHo Cast-Iron Historic District. Gayle founded and was active in numerous professional organizations, most notably the Friends of Cast Iron Architecture and the Victorian Society in America. Her publications include Cast-Iron Architecture in New York (1974) and Cast-Iron Architecture in America: the Significance of James Bogardus (1998), the latter co-authored with her daughter, Carol Gayle. Gayle's dedication to historic preservation was recognized with several prominent awards given during her lifetime, including the National Trust for Historic Preservation's Honor Award and the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation's Annual Lifetime Achievement Award.


  • 1948-2007
  • Majority of material found within 1970-1990

Use and Access to Collection

This collection is open for research.

Duplication and Copyright Information

Photocopies of original materials may be provided for a fee and at the discretion of the curator. Please see our Duplication of Materials policy for more information. Queries regarding publication rights and copyright status of materials within this collection should be directed to the appropriate curator.


38.50 Linear Feet

Scope and Content of Collection

The Margot Gayle papers document the professional activities of Gayle as a cast-iron preservationist and writer throughout the second half of the twentieth century. The collection includes materials dated from 1948 through 2007, with most between 1970 and 1990. The Gayle Papers include research notes, correspondence, flyers and brochures, minutes, writings and publications, architectural plans, postcards, photographs and slides, awards and certificates, personal records, and newspaper clippings. These materials offer insight into Gayle's research process and organizational leadership. They also offer a window into the world of New York preservation activism in its infancy, showing how individuals and organizations came together in common cause to preserve New York's architectural heritage.


Margot Gayle was a champion of cast-iron architecture. From the 1960s until her death in 2008, Gayle worked as a grassroots organizer, journalist, lecturer, writer, and neighborhood tour guide, all in the effort to raise awareness of preservation issues. She organized several prominent campaigns to save cast-iron structures, including buildings, statues, clocks, lampposts, and bridges. Most of her efforts were focused on New York City, where she lived, and many of its cast-iron structures survive today thanks to her activism.

Margot Gayle (nee McCoy) was born in Kansas City, Missouri, on May 14, 1908. The daughter of an automobile executive, Gayle moved frequently as a child. She earned a bachelor's degree from the University of Michigan and a master's degree in bacteriology from Emory University. She married William T. Gayle, an accountant, and moved with him and their two young daughters to New York City in the 1940s. Though her career as a preservationist began in her middle age, Gayle was politically active from a young age. While still in Atlanta in the 1930s, Gayle joined the League of Women Voters to work for repeal of the Georgia's poll tax. In 1957, she ran unsuccessfully for the New York City Council. She remained active in Democratic Party politics throughout her life. In her first decades in New York, Gayle worked as a writer for CBS radio, as a columnist for the Daily News, and as a public relations specialist for the New York City Planning Commission, where she gained contacts and political experience that would enable her later work as a preservation activist.

Gayle's first preservation project was the Jefferson Market Courthouse, a structure that was slated for destruction until she helped organize a successful effort to convert it into a library in the early 1960s. The group Gayle formed for this purpose allied with other organizations, including the Municipal Art Society, establishing a precedent for collaboration with like-minded individuals and groups. Gayle founded the Victorian Society in America in 1966, after attending a summer seminar led by Nikolaus Pevsner, the founder of the British-based Victorian Society.

In 1970, Gayle founded the Friends of Cast Iron Architecture (FCIA), a group devoted to the preservation of cast-iron architecture in the United States. She spearheaded the effort to save SoHo's cast iron structures, resulting in the creation of the Soho Cast Iron Historic District in 1973. The decision of the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission to designate SoHo a historic district was a direct product of FCIA activism. Through the FCIA, Gayle organized walking tours in cast-iron-rich New York neighborhoods, hosted an annual lecture on cast iron, distributed pamphlets and other educational material to its members, and offered awards to individuals and organizations in recognition of their devotion to the cause of cast-iron preservation.

Gayle's other prominent preservation activities--most of them in New York City-- include the efforts to save the Alice Austen House, the Old Sun Clock, St. Bartholomew's Church, and the Bogardus fire tower in Harlem. She participated in preservation activities across the United States, including the effort to preserve the city hall in Richmond, Virginia. She maintained close ties with the international preservation community and lent her support to preservation campaigns abroad, including the unsuccessful bid to save the cast-iron pavilions of the famous Les Halles market in Paris.

In addition to her activism, Gayle contributed to scholarship on the history of cast-iron architecture. Gayle's 1974 Cast-Iron Architecture in New York, which describes many of New York's iconic cast-iron structures, is considered by many architectural historians to be a seminal work. She broadened her geographical scope with Cast-Iron Architecture in America: the Significance of James Bogardus, published fourteen years later. She also published several articles and book reviews. In recognition of her contributions to historic preservation, she received numerous awards from a variety of organizations, including an Honor Award from the National Trust for Historic Preservation and the Lifetime Achievement Award from the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation.


The Margot Gayle Papers consist of seven series:

Series 1
General Research
Series 2
Series 3
New York City Hall
Series 4
New York City General
Series 5
Domestic and Foreign Sites
Series 6
Professional Activities
Series 7

Custodial History and Acquisition Information

The papers and personal library of Margot Gayle were donated to the University of Maryland Libraries on October 20, 2008 by Carol Gayle, Margot Gayle's daughter.

Related Material

The Papers of Margot Gayle at the New-York Historical Society include subject materials, published materials and visual materials.

The University of Maryland Libraries' Charles Bridgham Hosmer, Jr., Papers contain a transcript and tape of an interview with Gayle about her career as a preservationist.

Gayle donated her library to the University of Maryland Libraries along with her personal papers. Her books have been integrated into the National Trust for Historic Preservation Library book collection.

The Wilson Special Collections Library at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, holds a small collection of Victorian Society in America records.

Processing Information

This collection has been minimally processed. Aside from some rough groupings of similar material, the collection came to the Libraries in no particular order. The processing archivist loosely arranged files into separate series, however, there is overlap among the series. In most cases, materials have not been arranged chronologically or grouped by format.

Rubber bands and severely-rusted fasteners were removed and replaced with plastic clips. Many of the original folders were replaced with acid-free folders. Unlabeled folders were assigned labels. Within each folder, newspaper clippings were separated from other materials with acid-free paper. Likewise, photographs and slides were separated from non-photographic materials within each folder by acid-free paper or envelopes. Oversize items, including architectural drawings and maps, were removed from their original locations and placed in a separate box; separation sheets record the original locations of these items. The entire collection was re-boxed.

Guide to the Margot Gayle papers
Processed by Melissa Lindberg.
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Code for undetermined script
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English.

Library Details

Part of the Special Collections and University Archives

University of Maryland Libraries
Hornbake Library
4130 Campus Drive
College Park Maryland 20742