Fall 2013

Landmark Tifereth Israel Synagogue Building!

In 1966 - almost 50 years ago – the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission calendared the Tifereth Israel Town and Village Synagogue building for Individual Landmark designation, as one of its very early proposed designations (the LPC began its first public hearings for landmarking buildings in 1965).

Last October, amidst reports that the congregation may seek to substantially alter the building or

ca. 1916.
redevelop the site, LESPI along with other local neighborhood and preservation organizations advocated for the Commission to move on the building’s overdue landmark designation. LPC quickly scheduled a public hearing for the building, then postponed it until early 2014, with the final date still to be determined.

The building's history reflects demographic changes in the Lower East Side. In 1866 the congregation of the First German Baptist Church constructed the building at the outskirts of the LES’s Kleindeutschland neighborhood – Little Germany. In 1926 it became a Ukrainian Orthodox Church, and its steeples were replaced with onion domes. The Tifereth Israel Town and Village Synagogue arrived in 1962. The building’s bold and distinctive architecture, which remains remarkably intact from its original construction, proudly proclaims itself on the streetscape. It remains one of a diminishing collection of historic religious structures in the historic Lower East Side.

Please write to LPC Chair Robert Tierney to show your support for landmarking this important building as quickly as possible, at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it . Feel free to borrow from LESPI’s letter shown here, and cc us at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it . Thank you!

Tifereth Israel Synagogue building today.

Solving the Tenement Puzzle Lecture Dispels Myths

On September 25, Rob Hollander presented - to a full house - an illustrated lecture on NYC tenement architecture for LESPI at the Neighborhood Preservation Center. His lively talk included NYC’s 19th and early 20th century political, economic and social trends, immigration, real estate development, and culture. With the help of photographs, maps and other illustrations, Rob debunked many popular misconceptions about tenement architecture and life in the Lower East Side at that time.

Today, we have a seemingly relentless new construction boom in the LES. New Yorkers unhappy about this influx of massive new high-rises that dwarf and destroy the surrounding low scale, beautifully ornamented tenement buildings seek landmark protection for the area’s historic streetscapes. LESPI is at the forefront of this effort.

After the lecture the audience was treated to a wine and cheese social. Check LESPI's website and Facebook page for future sponsored lectures and events!

Rob Hollander, at the Neighborhood Preservation Center.

LESPI at 10th and Stuyvesant Streets Block Party

Sparkling jewelry, antique toys, rare books, colorful bric-a-brac, vintage clothes….in September LESPI attended the 10th and Stuyvesant Streets Block Party, our outreach table an island in a sea of collectibles, live music, and snacking treats.

Equipped with only LESPI literature, petitions, a slideshow, and friendly patter, LESPI members greeted passersby – young, old, long-time residents, students and tourists – who stopped by to say hello, learn about the historic East Village / Lower East Side, and sign on to our campaign to save the neighborhood’s historic streetscapes.

LESPI Advisers, Bruce Monroe, Eileen Kim and Murray Levi (standing) at last September's block party.

But perhaps the best advertisement for preservation was the block party itself, which buzzed with life within the backdrop of the beautiful St. Mark’s Historic District, demonstrating just how wonderfully our historic streets enrich our daily lives.

Be sure to visit us at our tabling sessions during the coming year - check Facebook for where we’ll be when. We thank the Neighborhood Preservation Center for their assistance, and the 10th and Stuyvesant Streets Block Association and Marilyn Appleberg, Association President and LESPI Adviser, for a great day of LESPI outreach, personal shopping, and fun.

Support LESPI!

Donate!

Please donate to LESPI to help us in our work to preserve the historic East Village / Lower East Side! To donate, see HERE.

Or you can write a check to "FCNY/LESPI" and mail it to LESPI, c/o Neighborhood Preservation Center, 232 East 11th Street, New York, NY 10003. All donations are tax deductible as allowed by law.

Volunteer!

We're looking for people to help with outreach, people with specialized skills and experience, monetary donations, and any other assistance that can help further our mission. We'd very much appreciate your help in our campaign to preserve the East Village / Lower East Side and hope to hear from you in the near future. Contact us at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

Stay in Touch!

Go to “Lower East Side Preservation Initiative” on Facebook and check out our site! If you click the “Like” button you’ll receive periodic preservation, history and architectural updates for the LES/EV. You’ll also be showing support for our cause!

Looking Up in the Lower East Side

By Klay-James Enos

Since September, I have been interning for LESPI as part of an effort to complete the mapping of the historic buildings in the area below Houston Street. I grew up in the East Village, so I have a close familiarity with the neighborhood, yet over the past few months the surroundings have transformed before my eyes. Previously, preoccupied by ground-level concerns, I rarely stopped to observe a tenement cornice or a window lintel. But working with LESPI has exposed me to the historic artistry, ornamentation, and architecture that had lain above my awareness.

My surveying usually began in the morning, when the light was best for photography, and the least number of people were on the street. Surprisingly, few asked why I was taking pictures of buildings. Maybe they assumed from my look that I was an art student. (My project? “Every Building on Stanton Street.”) In a month, I covered an area from Houston to Water Street, with a couple of excursions in the East Village. If you live in the area, it's possible you saw me, with my homemade shoulder-strapped clipboard, stepping perilously into the middle of the street to snap a picture of a building's facade.

Klay-James Enos (left) with LESPI board member Britton Baine.

In this area, the architectural styles change as suddenly as the faces of the community, from predominantly Latino to Hasidic Jewish at the turn of a corner. Some of my favorite buildings are those with human features: neoclassical figures, charming putti, and names like “Henrietta.” The more you look at this architecture, the more you notice it looking back at you.

Growing up in a period that coincides with the area's gentrification has been a lesson in diminished expectations, but it feels important again to be a part of a movement to safeguard the neighborhood's historic legacy. These buildings are the face of the Lower East Side and have made such a vibrant community possible. I would recommend that you too join LESPI's efforts—the historic districting of the area is a cause worth fighting for.

October Six to Celebrate Tour of the Lower East Side

In October, as part of the Historic Districts Council’s Six to Celebrate program, Eric Ferrara, Director of Lower East Side History Project and a Lower East Side Preservation Initiative Adviser, conducted a Lower East Side walking tour, which started on East Houston Street then wound its way south to Grand Street. Eric’s spellbinding tour included a wealth of information from his extensive research into local history, as well as special insights acquired from growing up on the LES in a family with long and extensive roots in the area.

Here are some of the places Eric brought us:

The Sunshine Theater on East Houston Street: the building traces its roots to a Dutch Reformed Protestant church and later German Evangelical church. However the theater, as it appears to us now, dates from the early 20th century when the area, dominated by Yiddish language theaters, was known as the “Jewish Rialto.”

Orchard Street: long one of the premier shopping destinations of the LES, Orchard Street still retains many longstanding clothing stores and some very interesting storefronts and architecture. And it’s still a great place to find a bargain.

Economy Candy on Rivington Street: founded in 1937, Economy Candy is “an old-fashioned, family-owned candy store that sells hundreds of kinds of chocolates, candies, nuts, dried fruits; including halvah, sugar free candy and of course all the old time candy you had when you were a kid.” The store is a bastion of delicious treats that’s a colorful aesthetic concoction as well.

Kossar’s Bialys on Grand Street and The Pickle Guys on Essex Street: the tour stopped for a taste of the neighborhood’s traditional LES Jewish foods at these great stores: we stocked up on half sours and various other pickle delights, then Eric treated us to fresh bialys – a real comfort food indulgence!

Eric Ferrara leads LES tour.

Throughout the tour Eric showed fascinating archival photos, pointed out architectural gems, and provided a cornucopia of historical information on such diverse topics as child labor, vaudeville, and local politics. Keep your eyes open for Eric’s Lower East Side History Project tours of the area. LESPI is part of HDC’s Six to Celebrate program for 2013, which has provided a strong and sustained boost to our efforts to preserve the historic East Village / Lower East Side.

Eric Ferrara during tour, using archival photos.

Photos by Bruce Monroe and Richard Moses, and courtesy nycago.org

About LESPI

LESPI is a grass roots, all-volunteer not-for-profit corporation in NY State formed in 2007 to urge the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission to designate as historic districts intact portions of the East Village / Lower East Side. Our strategy includes documenting and mapping the historic streetscapes, starting with the East Village and Lower East Side below Houston Street, and rallying community residents, city officials and the LPC to effect landmark designation. LESPI is a not-for-profit corporation in the State of New York. Our fiscal sponsor is Fund for the City of New York.

Contact us by email at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it , or use the form through our web site lespi-nyc.org, or by mail at LESPI, c/o Neighborhood Preservation Center, 232 East 11th Street, New York, NY 10003.

 
Summer 2013

Mary Help of Christians Demolished

EDITOR'S NOTE: Despite a strong and sustained effort from parishioners, preservationists, community activists and local residents, the beautiful Mary Help of Christians Church, rectory and school were demolished in August to make way for pricey residential development and big box retail. The church was built in 1917 for the East Village / Lower East Side’s Italian-American immigrant community, and over several generations faithfully served the neighborhood’s diverse Catholic population. No longer.

Demolition underway. Photo by Bobby Williams, EV GRIEVE

Although the last two years have seen great local preservation successes such as the landmark designation of the East Village / Lower East Side and East 10th Street Historic Districts, the former Van Tassell and Kearney Horse Auction Mart on E 13th Street, the Bialystoker Home on East Broadway, and the former Citizens Savings Bank on Canal Street, among others, there have also been some significant losses. Barbara Zay, a Preservation Associate at the Historic Districts Council, discusses how, after the Mary Help of Christians demolition, to move forward:

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In a neighborhood as culturally, architecturally and historically rich as the Lower East Side, it can be easy to take for granted the preservation of its built environment. Because if a building is old and beautiful, or if an important event took place there, or if it serves as an anchor for its community, someone somewhere must be doing something to safeguard it, right?

And with organizations like the Real Estate Board of New York spouting off numbers meant to convince New Yorkers that we’ve done enough to protect our architectural heritage, how is it possible that such illustrious Lower East Side buildings as 35 Cooper Square (a rare Federal building that was one of the Bowery’s oldest), 135 Bowery (another Federal gem that had even been given landmark status by the city), and most recently Mary Help of Christians (a grand façade and a hallowed ground), could each be lost to the wrecking ball? And how is it that such distinctive places as St. Mark’s Place and the tenement-lined streetscapes of Orchard Street have not yet been designated as historic districts?

Church facade, pre-demolition.

The answer to all of these questions is that historic preservation is, was, and will always be a community-driven endeavor that relies on active participation and vigilance from a broad range of local residents, business owners and advocates. Landmark or not, a significant site requires our eyes, ears and voices. The Historic Districts Council, New York’s citywide advocate for historic buildings, is proud to work with LESPI, one of its 2013 Six to Celebrate.

LESPI, in its role as watchdog, relies on everyone’s efforts, whether joining a rally, sending letters to politicians, testifying at the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission, or just engaging in the conversation. All of these things make a big impact.

If there are lessons to be learned from the demolition of Mary Help of Christians, they are that we must continue to fight for our built heritage and that we can never become complacent. Our historic buildings provide physical links to the past, contribute to the urban experience, and enhance our quality of life. Their loss chips away at neighborhood character and our own sense of place. After all, it is the broad network of diverse neighborhoods that make New York City wonderful as a whole.

6 to Celebrate East Village Walking Tour

If you attended the Historic Districts Council’s 6 to Celebrate walking tour last June (the East Village / Lower East Side / LESPI is one of HDC’s 6 for 2013), you were in for a delicious surprise - preservationist Elizabeth Finkelstein led a wonderful “off the beaten path” exploration which highlighted the neighborhood’s lesser-known history, architecture and preservation

Elizabeth Finkelstein leading East Village tour in June.

challenges. The tour’s revelations included these tasty tidbits:

- The former Wheatsworth Bakery at 444 East 10th Street, an Art Deco / Viennese Secessionist style bakery factory built in 1927-28, was known for its Wheatsworth crackers as well as for inventing the Milk-Bone dog biscuit in 1908.

- 143-145 Avenue D originally served as the Dry Dock Banking House. At first glance a typical late 19th c. vernacular building, the facade still shows traces of its original 1827 construction.

- The recently landmarked Van Tassell and Kearney Horse Auction Mart at 126-28 East 13th Street, built in 1903-04, catered to New York’s elite families, including the Vanderbilts. During World War II the building served as an assembly-line training center for women, and later housed the studio of renowned modern artist Frank Stella.

SAVE THE DATE!

Solving the Tenement Puzzle: Dispelling Myths and Misperceptions of an Architectural Vernacular

An illustrated lecture by Rob Hollander on NYC tenement architecture in the context of local political, economic and social history

September 25, 2013, 6:30PM at Neighborhood Preservation Center, 232 East 11th Street Suggested donation: $10

For more info or to reserve see HERE or email us at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

Six to Celebrate Tour of Lower East Side

Tour the historic Lower East Side with Lower East Side History Project Executive Director and author Eric Ferrara
Sunday, October 6 at 11:00AM
See HERE for more info

Bright Lights, Big City: Neon Signage in the Lower East Side

Seemingly every color of the rainbow, every script, letterform (font), and line drawing has found its way into neon signage at some point over its 100 year history. The first inklings of interest in gas illuminated lighting extend back at least to the 17th century. By the end of the 19th century the technology had developed to where gas tube lighting was starting to be used as rudimentary lighting in architectural settings.

By the 1920s neon signage technology had matured and the new aesthetic was all the rage. Its popularity is evident in old photographs of New York – think Times Square - and in Hollywood films of the period – think Busby Berkeley.

However interest in neon signage as a sophisticated advertising medium began to fade as early as the late 1930s. Its seemingly ubiquitous use and flashy aesthetics led to popular distaste. Soon it became associated with “seedy” urban neighborhoods and business establishments. By the 1950s and 60s neon’s supremacy as outdoor advertising was supplanted by other forms of signage. Only recently has popular interest in this medium reawakened.

New York’s East Village / Lower East Side has had its share of great neon signage. Many signs still exist, such as: Veniero’s Pasticceria on East 11th Street, Gringer & Sons on 1st Avenue, Block Drugs on 2nd Avenue, and Russ and Daughters on Houston Street. Some have been lost: Ratner’s on Delancy Street, Jade Mountain / Chow Mein on 3rd Avenue, and Second Avenue Deli on 2nd Avenue come to mind.

In June, LESPI with the Historic Districts Council sponsored Bright Lights, Big City: A History of Neon Signage in NYC’s Lower East Side, featuring author and historian Tom Rinaldi. Tom’s fascinating and strikingly illustrated lecture covered neon’s history,

Tom Rinaldi lectures on LES neon signage

technology, and aesthetic impact on NYC’s Lower East Side, based on his recently published book New York Neon. Afterward, everyone nibbled on delicious Italian cookies courtesy of Veniero’s Pasticceria, sipped wine, and traded notes on favorite neon signage.

At the Edge: East Village Art in the 1980s

Keith Haring. Jean-Michel Basquiat. Jill Moser. Gran Fury. David Wojnarowicz. For a relatively brief time these artists and others like them, whose artistic styles, techniques and personalities could vary widely, somehow forged a strong and vibrant East Village aesthetic whose influence remains with us today.

In July LESPI with Smart Clothes Gallery sponsored At the Edge: East Village Art in the 1980s at the wonderful Smart Clothes space on Stanton Street. The highlight: Sur Rodney Sur’s beautifully illustrated lecture on East Village art, artists, and culture during this period. As a mainstay of the East Village art world, including as co-director of the highly influential Gracie Mansion gallery from 1983-88, Sur Rodney discussed the many artists and their works from an academic perspective as well as from his own rich professional and personal experience.

Sur Rodney Sur’s talk drew from his rich professional and personal experience.

At the Edge refers to the East Village’s location at the edge of Manhattan, physically and economically (at that time), as well as the sense that during the 80s this community stood at the precipices of both local gentrification and the devastation of AIDS. But this all too brief East Village artistic movement left its mark: perhaps because of the pioneering work of these innovative souls, artists can now express with less reticence the diversity of viewpoints, cultures, and orientations that make our city great.

After the lecture, before heading out into the exceptionally hot summer night, LESPI members,

LESPI's Richard Moses, Smart Clothes Gallery's Paul Bridgewater, and Sur Rodney Sur

friends, artists, and art lovers perused Smart Clothes Gallery’s exhibit Thrills and mingled over wine, cheese and art-infused conversation. A beautiful evening!

Photos by Bruce Monroe, Richard Moses and Bobby Williams

About LESPI

LESPI is a grass roots, all-volunteer not-for-profit corporation in NY State formed in 2007 to urge the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission to designate as historic districts intact portions of the East Village / Lower East Side. Our strategy includes documenting and mapping the historic streetscapes, starting with the East Village and Lower East Side below Houston Street, and rallying community residents, city officials and the LPC to effect landmark designation. LESPI is a not-for-profit corporation in the State of New York. Our fiscal sponsor is Fund for the City of New York.

Contact us by email at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it , or use the form through our web site lespi-nyc.org, or by mail at LESPI, c/o Neighborhood Preservation Center, 232 East 11th Street, New York, NY 10003.

Support LESPI!

Donate!

Please donate to LESPI to help us in our work to preserve the historic East Village / Lower East Side! To donate, see HERE.

Or you can write a check to "FCNY/LESPI" and mail it to LESPI, c/o Neighborhood Preservation Center, 232 East 11th Street, New York, NY 10003. All donations are tax deductible as allowed by law.

Volunteer!

We're looking for people to help with outreach, people with specialized skills and experience, monetary donations, and any other assistance that can help further our mission. We'd very much appreciate your help in our campaign to preserve the East Village / Lower East Side and hope to hear from you in the near future. Contact us at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

Stay in Touch!

Go to “Lower East Side Preservation Initiative” on Facebook and check out our site! If you click the “Like” button you’ll receive periodic preservation, history and architectural updates for the LES/EV. You’ll also be showing support for our cause!

 
Spring 2013

It's a Celebration!

We really had something to celebrate: after much hard work - including petitioning, testifying at public hearings, letter writing, coalition building, and many other forms of outreach – we were thrilled when the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission stepped up and landmarked the phenomenal East 10th Street and East Village / Lower East Side Historic Districts last year.

So on May 9 nearly 100 people joined us for a party at the Bathhouse Studios at E 11th Street. There were a few brief congratulatory speeches – Richard Moses, president of LESPI, proclaimed that the districts were,

to his knowledge, “the first historic districts landmarked primarily for their tenement building architecture and role in immigration history.”

He thanked Councilmember Rosie Mendez for her critical support, our other local elected officials, Community Board 3 and especially the Landmarks Subcommittee, the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission, our sister preservation and community organizations, and everyone who worked so hard on these designations.

Mostly, however, the party’s focus was on chatting, eating, and drinking – it was widely agreed that the celebration was one of the most fun events we’ve held to date (which is saying something)!

The party was hosted and sponsored by Lower East Side Preservation Initiative (LESPI), co-hosted by Bathhouse Studios, cosponsored Historic Districts Council, Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation, and East Village Community Coalition, and supported by friends Bowery Alliance of Neighbors, Friends of the Lower East Side and Lower East Side History Project.

We heartily thank the Bathhouse Studios, especially Alyssa Adams, Historic District Council’s 6 to Celebrate Program, especially Barbara Zay, and Kehila Kedosha Janina on Broome St. for their ongoing support; and Carmel on 108th St in Forest Hills, El Camion Cantina on 1st Ave., Mastiha Shop on Orchard St., Metropolitan Citymarket on 2nd Ave., Souvlaki GR on Stanton St., and Veniero's Pasticceria on E 11th St, for their generosity and delicious food and refreshments!

LPC Landmarks Bialystoker!

On May 21 the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission voted to landmark the historic Bialystoker Home - a great victory for the preservation of the historic Lower East Side!

See the LPC's designation report for a fascinating history of this important LES building.

Support LESPI!

Donate!

Please donate to LESPI to help us in our work to preserve the historic East Village / Lower East Side! To donate, see HERE.

Or you can write a check to "FCNY/LESPI" and mail it to LESPI, c/o Neighborhood Preservation Center, 232 East 11th Street, New York, NY 10003. All donations are tax deductible as allowed by law.

Volunteer!

We're looking for people to help with outreach, people with specialized skills and experience, monetary donations, and any other assistance that can help further our mission. We'd very much appreciate your help in our campaign to preserve the East Village / Lower East Side and hope to hear from you in the near future. Contact us at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

Stay in Touch!

Go to “Lower East Side Preservation Initiative” on Facebook and check out our site! If you click the “Like” button you’ll receive periodic preservation, history and architectural updates for the LES/EV. You’ll also be showing support for our cause!

Mary Help of Christians Needs Our Help Now

Chanting “don’t tear it down!” a large group of neighborhood residents, parishioners, and preservationists rallied on May 16 to protest the planned demolition of Mary Help of Christians on E 12th St. The church complex, consisting of a beautiful, Italian classical style church dating from 1917 and a historic rectory and school building, played a central role in the life of the Lower East Side’s Italian American immigrant community over several generations. The church’s bold architecture continues to dominate the streetscape.

Citing the church as “one of the most historic buildings in one of the most historic neighborhoods in our city and country,” LESPI president Richard Moses emphasized that the site’s developer, Douglas Steiner, needs only “a little creativity” to find a way to preserve rather than demolish the church: the design for his new luxury apartment building could readily utilize the site’s existing large open space without requiring demolition. Adding another layer to an already complex and historically important site: the day before the rally we learned that, prior to the church’s construction, the land had served as a Catholic cemetery, and that thousands of people may still be buried there.

LESPI's Richard Moses addresses the Mary Help of Christians Rally

The rally, initiated and sponsored by LESPI with other neighborhood and preservation groups, received a lot of press coverage, including a spot on NBC’s 11:00PM news. But to date Mr. Steiner has declined to meet with us or, to our knowledge, even comment on the planned demolition. So we’re looking for the rally to galvanize further actions opposing the demolition, hopefully resulting in Mr. Steiner deciding to preserve rather than destroy the church.

Mary Help of Christians Church on E 12th Street

Lower East Side History Month

Earlier this month we attended the kickoff meeting for “Lower East Side History Month”, an annual celebration starting in May 2014 that will highlight the broad and rich history of the LES and explore how it can inform and inspire our present and future. The project welcomes diverse community-based groups and individuals to participate through a variety of public events, exhibits, tours, and learning opportunities. "It was like spontaneous combustion - all the many LES groups represented at the meeting were so eager, with splendid ideas on how to contribute toward making this event fabulous!" said Marie Beirne, LESPI Board member, who attended the kick-off. LESPI plans to participate fully during May 2014: we’ll post events on our website as we get closer to the date. If you’d like to get involved contact us at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

Photos by David Jarrett, Richard Moses and Barbara Zay

About LESPI

LESPI is a grass roots, all-volunteer not-for-profit corporation in NY State formed in 2007 to urge the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission to designate as historic districts intact portions of the East Village / Lower East Side. Our strategy includes documenting and mapping the historic streetscapes, starting with the East Village and Lower East Side below Houston Street, and rallying community residents, city officials and the LPC to effect landmark designation. LESPI is a not-for-profit corporation in the State of New York. Our fiscal sponsor is Fund for the City of New York.

Contact us by email at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it , or use the form through our web site lespi-nyc.org, or by mail at LESPI, c/o Neighborhood Preservation Center, 232 East 11th Street, New York, NY 10003.

 
Winter 2012-13

NY City Council Says Yes to East Village / Lower East Side Historic District!

NY City Council’s Landmarks Subcommittee’s Public Hearing January 29 on the East Village / Lower East Side Historic District, landmarked just last October, was critical: by law the Council has the right to uphold, reject, or decrease the size of an historic district designated by the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission. Public turnout for the Hearing was impressive, with approximately 20 people speaking in support of the district, and 3 against.

Here are some excerpts (in support, of course!):

"The scale, materials and ornament of [the district’s] historic buildings provide us today with a profoundly rich urban environment….Historic district designation is the only way to effectively ensure that what we cherish about our neighborhoods will survive in the years to come."
– LESPI testimony given by Richard Moses, President

Councilmember Rosie Mendez proclaims her support for the historic district

"What makes the East Village/Lower East Side Historic District so significant is the rich tapestried story that the buildings tell, longitudinally, from an immigrant-centric, labor and social activism perspective. …. The architecture, institutions and cultural realms that remain and will be preserved under this plan reflect the shared histories, substantial contributions and religious faiths of successive waves of German, Irish, Jewish, Italian, Polish, Ukrainian, Chinese and Latino residents."
- NY City Councilmember Rosie Mendez

Carolyn Ratcliffe, Marie Beirne, and Jean Standish of LESPI provide testimony

"…tens of millions [come] to our city annually to absorb our cultural, social and architectural history, as well as some making the pilgrimage to visit their roots where their ancestors landed in NYC.…they and their children’s children will return again and again to experience the joy of having walked in the steps of their ancestors."
– Marie Beirne, LESPI Board of Directors

"I believe the landmark designation plan as proposed will be an important step toward ensuring that the neighborhood I love can withstand the forces that would alter it so radically that it would no longer be a place I (and so many others) could call home."
– Jim Eigo, East Village Resident

Thankfully, and due to the strong support of Councilmember Rosie Mendez, LESPI and other local community and preservation groups, residents, and the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission, the Subcommittee voted 5-0 in support of the district with its boundaries intact.

Then, on February 6, the full City Council ratified the Subcommittee’s approval.

The East Village / Lower East Side Historic District designation is now finalized: a great reason for us all to celebrate!

LPC Hears Bialystoker!

The campaign to landmark the historic Bialystoker Home took a big step forward Tuesday morning, February 12, when the Landmarks Preservation Commission held a Public Hearing attended by more than 40 supporters of landmark designation. Close to 20 people spoke in favor. Significantly, Gary Ambrose, a member of the Bialystoker Board, stated that the Board was not opposed to designation. He was followed by Council Member Margaret Chin, other elected officials, experts on Jewish art and

Bialystoker Home on East Broadway. Photo: Edenpictures.

architecture, and local architects who all spoke in favor of landmarking. LESPI provided written testimony in support. Linda Jones, Joyce Mendelsohn (both members of LESPI’s Board of Advisors), and Mitchell Grubler, founding members of Friends of the Bialystoker Home, Carolyn Ratcliffe of Community Board 3 and LESPI, other neighborhood and preservation groups, and numerous local residents expressed their support.

The next step is for the Commission to schedule a vote on designation. We believe the prognosis is good – check our Facebook page for updates on this very important Lower East Side

Newsletter images by Richard Moses unless otherwise noted

Support LESPI!

Donate!

Please donate to LESPI to help us in our work to preserve the historic East Village / Lower East Side! To donate, see HERE.

Or you can write a check to "FCNY/LESPI" and mail it to LESPI, c/o Neighborhood Preservation Center, 232 East 11th Street, New York, NY 10003. All donations are tax deductible as allowed by law.

Volunteer!

We're looking for people to help with outreach, people with specialized skills and experience, monetary donations, and any other assistance that can help further our mission. We'd very much appreciate your help in our campaign to preserve the East Village / Lower East Side and hope to hear from you in the near future. Contact us at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

Stay in Touch!

Go to “Lower East Side Preservation Initiative” on Facebook and check out our site! If you click the “Like” button you’ll receive periodic preservation, history and architectural updates for the LES/EV. You’ll also be showing support for our cause!

LESPI's “Una Nuova Vita: Italian-American Immigration and Culture in NYC’s Lower East Side” Evening a Hit

They came mostly from southern Italy: the regions of Sicily, Campania, Abruzzo, and Calabria. They travelled in cramped steamships across a wide ocean to make a new life: una nuova vita. They arrived at Ellis Island and, if deemed healthy, continued to Manhattan and the mainland beyond to make their new homes. For centuries Italians have been moving to this country, but from the 1880s to the 1920s some 4 million Italian immigrants, the largest influx, arrived in New York by this arduous route.

The new immigrants typically moved into Manhattan’s Lower East Side, into a large community located around what later came to be called Little Italy. The area extended south to Canal Street, north into what is now called the East Village, and west into southern Greenwich Village. This broad swath, the largest Little Italy in the U.S., was actually several neighborhoods,

Mulberry Street ca. 1900. Photo: earlypics.com.

each with distinct customs, culture, and dialect based on the residents’ home region. Although the immigrants shared a pride in their native culture, they generally came from great economic and social hardship, and sought with much hard work to assimilate to their new country. Within a few generations, the immigrant families had mostly left Little Italy for East Harlem, the Bronx, Brooklyn, and then the suburbs. They found success in American society. The few blocks of Little Italy we see today are a small reminder of this thriving community of generations ago.

On Tuesday, February 5 LESPI sponsored: "Una Nuova Vita: Italian-American Immigration and Culture in New York City’s Lower East Side," at the Italian American Museum - a beautifully preserved historic Italian-American banking hall on Mulberry Street.

Dr. Joseph Scelsca speaking at Una Nuova Vita Event.

Museum President Dr. Joseph Scelsca gave a spirited and well-illustrated lecture on the history of Italian immigration. Afterward, audience members – almost 40 people attended - offered their own families’ stories, enjoyed delicious Italian cookies courtesy of Veniero's Pasticceria on East 11th Street and, of course, sipped

Enjoying the century-old Italian American banking hall, museum exhibits, and dolci Italiani (sweets) from Veniero's

vino. Stay tuned for future LESPI Lower East Side cultural events as our series progresses – contact us at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it if you’d like to be added to our email list. Molto buono (very good)!

LESPI Chosen for Historic District Council’s Six to Celebrate 2013!

LESPI / the historic East Village / Lower East Side was recently chosen as one of the Historic Districts Council’s Six to Celebrate neighborhoods for 2013. We’ve now started working with HDC to expand our outreach, refine our message, and improve our operations. HDC kicked off the this year’s program January 29 with a Six to Celebrate Launch Party

From left: HDC's Simeon Bankoff, LESPI's Richard Moses, NYC Councilmember Rosie Mendez, and LESPI's Philip Van Aver, Joyce Mendelsohn, Carolyn Ratcliffe, Jean Standish, and Marcia Ikonomopoulos. Photo courtesy HDC.

University Settlement on Eldridge Street, attended by representatives of this year’s Six, last year’s Six, HDC Board members, preservationists, and community members. We’re looking forward to a productive year working with this august and very in-the-know city-wide historic preservation organization!

Six to Celebrate 2013 Launch Party. Photo courtesy HDC.

About LESPI

LESPI is a grass roots, all-volunteer not-for-profit corporation in NY State formed in 2007 to urge the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission to designate as historic districts intact portions of the East Village / Lower East Side. Our strategy includes documenting and mapping the historic streetscapes, starting with the East Village and Lower East Side below Houston Street, and rallying community residents, city officials and the LPC to effect landmark designation. LESPI is a not-for-profit corporation in the State of New York. Our fiscal sponsor is Fund for the City of New York.

Contact us by email at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it , or use the form through our web site lespi-nyc.org, or by mail at LESPI, c/o Neighborhood Preservation Center, 232 East 11th Street, New York, NY 10003.

 
Fall 2012

Now Landmarked: the East Village / Lower East Side Historic District!

Its time had finally come: now the East Village – originally part of Manhattan’s Lower East Side – has sizable historic district landmark protection to help preserve its irreplaceable collection of historic rowhouses, ornate tenement buildings, stately religious sites, and proud commercial structures. When the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission, at its October 9 Public Meeting, voted resoundingly 6-1 to landmark the East Village / Lower East Side Historic District, LPC staff noted that most of the district’s

Landmarks Preservation Commission October 9 Public Meeting

streetscapes have not changed substantially in over 75 years. With all the demolitions and large-scale development going on in the East Village, if the district hadn’t been designated now it would have been too late.

All of the Commissioners who voted yes spoke enthusiastically for designation. They noted the architectural and historic importance of the district’s buildings and streetscapes, and its incredible cultural history as a home to immigrants over the last two centuries and to an artistic, music, literary and political life that has resounded around the country and world.

However, one surprising, actually disturbing note during the Public Meeting process was the exclusion – banishment, really – of six buildings along First Avenue. This had not been previously announced.

Final boundaries of East Village / LES Historic District

During the Meeting LPC staff noted that these buildings were left out of the proposed district because they had been too compromised by ornament removal and other insensitive alterations to the point where they lacked an architectural style. But upon closer look, it’s clear that this applied to only some of the buildings. About half clearly contribute to the district. And as importantly, these properties had formed a “bridge” between the west and east portions of the district. Now, with the properties removed, the district is actually composed of two smaller districts, with no connection between them. So a person exploring the east district could one day come across a wall of glass-front modern buildings along First Avenue and never have a clue that the other half of the district is across the street and just down the block. LESPI is following up on this issue to see what can be done.

In all, however, we’re very happy with the new East Village / LES Historic District, and thank the many residents who came out and spoke for the need to preserve what’s special about this very historic neighborhood; our colleagues from other community

and preservation groups that worked hard with us to get the district passed; the local elected officials, particularly NY City Councilmember Rosie Mendez, who actively supported the designation; and the LPC for moving very quickly from its June Public Hearing to landmark designation just four months later.

But this is no time to rest on one’s laurels. We need to keep moving as quickly as possible toward the landmarking of the historically intact areas of St. Mark’s Place, the blocks to the north, and around Tompkins Square Park, as well as the areas south of Houston Street. The wrecking ball is always fast at our heels – so there’s no time to lose!

LESPI Celebrates Our First 5 Years!

In case you haven’t heard, LESPI turned 5 this year! To celebrate we held a Birthday Bash for our friends and supporters at the Smart Clothes gallery at 154 Stanton Street. What a great time! Over the course of the evening a stream of people came by to express birthday wishes, have a bite of birthday cake and a

glass of wine, and admire the gallery’s phenomenal show “Crossing Houston.” Curated by Hall Bromm and Gracie Mansion, the show focused on artists working in the East Village during the 1980s – a period that LESPI sees as having critical importance in East Village cultural and artistic history.

We want to thank Paul Bridgewater and Justin Hysell for hosting the event at their gallery, Veniero's Pastry Shop on E 11th Street for contributing delicious

birthday cake, our business supporters Emigrant Savings Bank and Veselka on 2nd Avenue for their assistance, and LESPI’s many members and friends who keep our organization vital and moving ahead with due speed. We’re looking forward to our next five years of preservation activism!

Newsletter images by David Jarrett, Bruce Monroe, and Richard Moses

Support LESPI!

Donate!

Please donate to LESPI to help us in our work to preserve the historic East Village / Lower East Side! To donate, see HERE.

Or you can write a check to "FCNY/LESPI" and mail it to LESPI, c/o Neighborhood Preservation Center, 232 East 11th Street, New York, NY 10003. All donations are tax deductible as allowed by law.

Volunteer!

We're looking for people to help with outreach, people with specialized skills and experience, monetary donations, and any other assistance that can help further our mission. We'd very much appreciate your help in our campaign to preserve the East Village / Lower East Side and hope to hear from you in the near future. Contact us at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

Stay in Touch!

Go to “Lower East Side Preservation Initiative” on Facebook and check out our site! If you click the “Like” button you’ll receive periodic preservation, history and architectural updates for the LES/EV. You’ll also be showing support for our cause!

LESPI Looks South

Anyone who tells you that if you’ve seen one tenement building you’ve seen them all has probably never been to Manhattan’s Lower East Side, or at least been there and really looked at the architecture. During LESPI’s first preliminary survey below Houston Street we saw a sampling of almost every type of tenement building – Pre-Law, Old Law, and New Law, with facades ranging from simple to ornate to extravagant – on streets peppered with historic commercial buildings, Federal era rowhouses, and synagogues.

It seemed that we saw every style of cornice, window lintel, entry surround, and decorative embellishment, often competing with each other aesthetically from building to building. Britton Baine, who led the survey, Richard Moses, Marcia Ikonomopoulos, and Rob Hollander moved like a posse through the streets, noting levels of historic architectural integrity and photo documenting street views, facades and ornamentation. What we also saw during our survey was ongoing destruction of historic cornices and other irreplaceable architectural features, without regard to the effect on the community’s heritage - which reminded us that we must move extremely fast to create landmark districts below Houston Street before the buildings are stripped or demolished.

LESPI survey team members Rob Hollander, Marcia Ikonomopoulos and Britton Baine

At the end of our survey session, Marcia, Museum Director at the landmarked 1927 Kehila Kedosha Janina synagogue at 280 Broome Street, treated us to a private tour of the historic synagogue’s beautiful interior and the museum’s fascinating exhibit. We also were lucky enough to experience a delicious Greek lunch in the synagogue dining room.

If you’re interested in helping us survey the Lower East Side below Houston Street and have a background that involves preservation, architecture or history, please contact us at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it . Thank you!

A Brief History of LESPI

LESPI’s all about landmarking, so we were very happy this year to reach a landmark of our own - our 5th birthday. But as we celebrate our recent landmarking successes and look toward the future, people may want to know, how did LESPI begin?

In 2007, Richard Moses and Britton Baine, both preservation architects and professional colleagues, happened to attend a screening of Slumming It: Myth and Culture on the Bowery, Scott Elliott's historical documentary film about that famous street on Manhattan's Lower East Side. The film inspired them to want to help preserve the Lower East Side's rich history and architecture, especially in light of the real-estate development pressures on the neighborhood. Not wanting to stand by and watch as 150 years or more of history was lost piecemeal to the construction of generic high-rise condominium towers, they decided to form a group that would seek to protect what remained of the historic Lower East Side and East Village.

Richard and Britton along with other volunteers began holding brainstorming meetings to determine the best way forward. Within a few months, they were fortunate to be joined by Carolyn Ratcliffe, prominent in the East Village's artistic, cultural and political world, whose extensive experience with not-for-profit organizations provided a wealth of practical help and guidance. With the expertise provided by Carolyn, Philip Van Aver, an artist and local preservation activist, and a handful of other dedicated preservationist and community volunteers, the as-yet-unnamed group began to survey the East Village’s streetscapes and reach out to other local groups to coordinate efforts.

One of LESPI’s first decisions was to determine its boundaries of interest: the historic Lower East Side, which as defined by the Encyclopedia of New York extended from E 14th Street south to below Chinatown and from Broadway to the East River. Soon after, we agreed upon a name: Lower East Side Preservation Initiative, more conveniently known as LESPI. With the help of a grant from NY City Councilmember Rosie Mendez, we were able to secure the services of graphic designer Onno de Jong to create our web site - LESPI-nyc.org - and logo, solidifying our identity as an historic preservation organization.

In 2011 we incorporated as a not-for-profit corporation, and subsequently gathered an esteemed Board of Directors and Board of Advisors that adroitly steer our organization through the stiff headwinds of the city’s landmarking process (for a listing of Board members and bios, see http://www.lespi-nyc.org/presentation.html). We have three standing committees: Survey and Mapping, Outreach and Events, and Oral History.

From early on, LESPI worked simultaneously to educate the public about the importance of the Lower East Side to both local and national history, to identify and document what historic architecture was still extant throughout the neighborhood, and to advocate for the preservation of our community through landmarking.

With the assistance of many volunteers from a wide variety of backgrounds and strong alliances with other groups, we could count many tangible preservation successes. But a major turning point came in January 2011 when LESPI met with the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission senior staff to request that the LPC pursue, as quickly as possible, the creation of landmark districts in the East Village. In so many words, we were told “yes.”

Right away LESPI went to work, actively petitioning in the neighborhood to gather and show popular support (gathering over 1,000 signatures for landmark designation), meeting with elected officials and LPC to press our concerns, and strengthening our alliances with other groups to help move the landmarking process along. The result: two new historic districts in the East Village / Lower East Side encompassing some 350 buildings: the East 10th Street Historic District designated last January and the East Village / Lower East Side Historic District designated this month, an impressively quick response from the LPC.

LESPI petitioning at Tompkins Square 2011

We’re now expanding our efforts to south of Houston Street. We look forward to continuing our successful track record as we move to help preserve more of the historic Lower East Side. We hope you join us for our next 5 years!

About LESPI

LESPI is a grass roots, all-volunteer not-for-profit corporation in NY State formed in 2007 to urge the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission to designate as historic districts intact portions of the East Village / Lower East Side. Our strategy includes documenting and mapping the historic streetscapes, starting with the East Village, and rallying community residents, city officials and the LPC to effect landmark designation. LESPI is a not-for-profit corporation in the State of New York. Our fiscal sponsor is Fund for the City of New York.

Contact us by email at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it , or use the form through our web site lespi-nyc.org, or by mail at LESPI, c/o Neighborhood Preservation Center, 232 East 11th Street, New York, NY 10003.

 

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The Lower East Side Preservation Initiative is dedicated to preserving the historic streetscapes of the Lower East Side, including the East Village, Lower East Side below Houston Street, Bowery, Chinatown and Little Italy