October 26, 2021
Sarah Carroll, Chair
NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission
1 Centre Street, 9th Floor
New York, NY 10007
Re: Proposal for Historic District in the Area South of Union Square
Via email and mail
Dear Chair Carroll:
I am writing on behalf of the Lower East Side Preservation Initiative – LESPI – to strongly support the designation of a New York City historic district in the area south of Union Square, extending roughly from Third to Fifth Avenue, and East 14th Street to East 9th Street, as delineated by Village Preservation.
This area is rich in historic architecture and history, including civil rights, social justice, artistic, literary, publishing, and film history. Its architecture includes a wonderful assortment of early- to mid-19th-century row houses in Greek Revival, Italianate and neo-Grec styles; late-19th-century commercial buildings with cast iron facades as well as a wealth of other ornate historic materials; and grand and beautifully ornamented early 20th century apartment buildings and hotels. The entirety of this collection of historic structures provides the neighborhood with a strong and special sense of place.
Considered during the 1950s and 60s to be New York’s version of Paris’s Left Bank, East 10th Street and the vicinity south of Union Square was both home and hangout to numerous renowned writers, musicians, and artists, including Frank O’Hara, Willem and Elaine de Kooning, Robert Indiana, and Frank Stella, to name a few. Artists, galleries, and publishing houses gathered in this locale, creating a synergy of creative energy. Today we can experience almost the same urban fabric that these artists experienced and that propelled New York City to the forefront of the international art scene.
However, the area’s exceptional architecture and the markers of this important history are being lost due to lack of landmark protections. Recently the 165 year old former St. Denis Hotel at 11th Street and Broadway, where Lincoln stayed, Bell demonstrated the telephone, Twain wrote, and Duchamp created art, was demolished, as was the Grove Press building on University Place, where seminal literary works were published and battles against censorship waged. Also lost have been a 175 year old house on East 13th Street, a 100 year old garage on University Place, a 140 year old cast-iron building on Broadway, and five ca. 1890 Beaux Arts tenements on East 11th Street between 3rd and 4th Avenues.
The New York State Historic Preservation Office recently recognized this area as eligible for the State and National Registers of Historic Places. However, as you know, this designation does not confer protection against demolition and defacement. Therefore, we request that the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission designate this area as a historic district without delay.
We applaud that the LPC is currently prioritizing, in many cases, the designation of historic neighborhoods and individual buildings with exceptional cultural significance. However, we see no reason why the LPC should not prioritize for historic district designation Manhattan communities with highly important cultural histories, such as south of Union Square, the Lower East Side, and Chinatown, particularly because the development pressures threatening these areas are so intense.
Thank you for your consideration.
Richard D. Moses