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
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.