May 3, 2023
Sarah Carroll, Chair
NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission
1 Centre Street, 9th Floor
New York, NY 10007
Dear Chair Carroll,
Lower East Side Preservation Initiative – LESPI – is writing on an urgent matter concerning the endangered status of two important East Village historic buildings at 78-80 St. Mark’s Place, which are scheduled to be auctioned May 9. Built in the 1840s, the buildings represent the evolution that took place on one of New York’s most iconic streets. Their physical characteristics – including a Greek Revival cornice and later Italianate cornice, intact original brickwork on the upper floors, and commercial ground stories – speak clearly of their cultural history. Constructed as single-family dwellings, they were part of the neighborhood when it housed the upper classes. But soon, they and their neighbors would be sub-divided to accommodate the influx of immigrants arriving throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries. Immigrants from many countries came to typify the Lower East Side, with St. Mark’s Place considered part of Kleindeutschland.
But it was in the 20th century that these two buildings became cultural touchstones in the fields of music, movies, and theater. Beginning with cabaret and then extending to jazz, the buildings saw the likes of such luminaries as Thelonious Monk and John Coltrane. They were eventually converted into an Off-Broadway theater, then a revival movie house, and then back to a theater. Most recently they housed the Museum of the American Gangster and the William Barnacle Tavern, harking back to when the buildings held a speakeasy, as well as the off-Broadway Theatre 80, a prominent local institution.
St. Mark’s Place, long considered the heart of the East Village, has seen its ups and downs. Its architectural fabric has been chipped away in some places, but remains remarkable in others – its grit and important history remain in such buildings as 78-80 St. Mark’s Place. The city cannot afford to lose any more of these rich links to the past of this highly significant neighborhood. We ask you to designate these buildings as landmarks as soon as possible in order to prevent their loss.
Richard D. Moses
Cc: Manhattan Borough President Mark Levine
NY City Councilmember Carlina Rivera
NY State Senator Brian Kavanagh
NY State Assemblymember Deborah Glick
Sandra Strother, Community Board 3, Manhattan