LESPI Newsletter Fall 2015
October’s “Before and Behind the Curtain”
New Yorkers have enjoyed theater from as early as around the end of the 17th century, however it wasn’t until the late 18th century that its first substantial house, the Park Theatre on Park Row near Ann Street, was launched. By the early 19th century grand structures such as The National, The Bowery Theatre, Chatham Garden, and The Thalia were being built, from around Nassau Street north along the Bowery and Broadway to about Houston Street, trying to lure audiences with the most majestic facades, lavish interiors, and opulent productions.
During this period, theaters tended to burn down almost as quickly as new theaters were being constructed, because the candles and oil lamps used to light the productions could easily light surrounding props or building construction. This in effect expedited the construction of yet newer and grander theaters.
By the late 19th century mainstream theater productions began moving north to Union Square, then Longacre (now Times) Square, as the Lower East Side increasing became home for new immigrants. Many of the older theaters, such as The Thalia, as well as new theaters began housing productions in the immigrants’ native languages, which became very popular: by the turn of the 20th century the “Yiddish Rialto” theaters along Second Avenue north of Houston Street were selling more tickets than the new theater district uptown.
In late October Lower East Side Preservation Initiative and Art Loisaida sponsored a beautifully illustrated lecture by Ralph Lewis of Peculiar Works Theater on “Before and Behind the Curtain: A History of 19th Century Theaters in the Lower East Side”. The audience was spellbound by Ralph’s extremely informative and lively presentation. After the lecture, local theater buffs and preservationists chatted enthusiastically at the wine and cheese reception.
If you missed this event, be sure to check our Facebook page or email us at info at LESPI-nyc.org to get on our mailing list for notifications of future events.
Who We Are
LESPI Board Profile:
Too often, the public thinks of volunteer preservation organizations as mysterious entities with lives of their own. But they’re actually conglomerations of individuals. For this reason, we want to introduce you to our Board of Directors. Each LESPI quarterly newsletter highlights one of our Board members. For our Fall 2015 newsletter, we are highlighting Marie Beirne, a member of our Board of Directors since 2010.
Marie’s parents were both Irish, her father an immigrant and her mother born in Manhattan, the offspring of an Irish immigrant family. Her immigrant family background and her personal experience as a New York City tenant are what influenced her to become a preservation activist. Marie met Richard Moses, President of LESPI when, as a Stuyvesant Town / Peter Cooper Village (ST/PCV) tenant, she was asked by Community Board 6 to participate in the committee involved in the effort to list Stuyvesant Town on the National Register of Historic Places (it has been determined to be eligible for listing) and as a NYC Landmark. Marie’s experience as a tenant leader and a veteran in landmark procedure made her a natural, leading to her joining LESPI and becoming a member of our Board of Directors.
Retired from a career as a Project Manager/Business Analyst in systems development for financial services corporate icons such as NASDAQ, MetLife, BNP Paribas, Marie was educated in Yorkville for grammar school, graduated from high school in Greenwich Village, and received a B.A. from the University of Hawaii.
Marie brings so much to our Board. She is a seasoned preservation advocate, and has co-produced the City & Suburban Homes oral history publication and a Stuyvesant Town film documentary production, both of which have been used as campaign tools to help landmark NYC historic sites. Marie is presently working on an oral history film documentary project for LESPI.
It is Marie’s passion for preservation that shines through in everything she does. In her own words, “the Manhattan tenant experience is like no other in America. Honoring our immigrant ancestors’ contribution to Manhattan, is an ongoing preservation effort to highlight our social, cultural, historic and architectural history.” Marie has made this her life work and we are so lucky to have her on LESPI’s Board.
Join LESPI for 2016!
Your $20 membership dues help us work to preserve the historic East Village / Lower East Side. Or donate more: all donations are tax deductible as allowed by law. See HERE to donate. Thank you!
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!
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Landmarking and Legislation Updates
Landmarks Commission Designation Public Hearings:
Responding to the concerns of LESPI and many other preservation and community organizations around the city, this fall the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) began holding public hearings for historic buildings that it had been previously considered for landmarking, but where it had never taken action. Jean Standish, a member of LESPI’s Board of Directors, presented LESPI’s testimony supporting Individual Landmark designation for two early 19th century Federal style buildings in the historic Lower East Side. Some testimony highlights:
38 Second Avenue:“In 1832, when this grand residential building was constructed, 138 Second Avenue was one of many such homes that once lined this part of Second Avenue. The building retains most of its Federal characteristics. The simple yet elegant design – including Flemish bond brickwork, and most notably its Gibbsian entrance surround – clearly shows the building’s origins in this early period of the East Village’s development.”
2 Oliver Street:“The building – occupied by, amongst others, James O’Donnell (born 1774), an Irish immigrant who became an accomplished New York architect; and Dr. Antonio Pisani (ca. 1873-1954), whose work greatly benefited New York’s Italian American community – reflects the importance of immigration to the city from its earliest days to the present… Although the Lower East Side is most commonly associated with the more ornate tenement construction that occurred during the late 19th and early 20th century, the early 19th century Federal houses show the more architecturally restrained beginnings of our common history as New Yorkers.”
LESPI’s testimony can be read in its entirety HERE. We applaud LPC’s effort addressing this “backlog” of designation hearings, which dates to the mid 1960s, and we anticipate that the Commission will vote on how to move forward with these proposed Individual Landmarks in early 2016.
ZQA City Rezoning Proposition:
The NYC Dept. of City Planning’s proposal introduced last spring to upzone the entire city in one swoop is still going through the public review process. LESPI strongly opposes this legislation, which will result in increased congestion, diminished light and air, and increased development pressure in historic neighborhoods such as the East Village / Lower East Side.
Significantly, the vast majority of community boards in all boroughs, including Community Board 3 of the East Village / Lower East Side, has opposed this plan. LESPI, along with many other preservation and community groups, has presented testimony to Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, Community Board 3 and the NYC Dept. of City Planning, stating that,
“Although [LESPI is] very supportive of income diversity and affordable housing for New Yorkers, we believe that this proposal’s broad brush approach to zoning disempowers communities, and relies on one-size-fits-all solutions which will necessarily show poor results.”
This proposal is currently scheduled to be considered by the Planning Commission and City Council. At this writing the mayor has indicated that he intends to bypass community board opposition and move forward with the plan regardless.
East Village: Lens on the Lower East Side
Wondering what to get friends and family for the holidays? Here are two great gift ideas that also help support LESPI’s work preserving the historic East Village / Lower East Side:
“East Village: Lens on the Lower East Side,” now in its third printing, is a wonderful compilation of contemporary photographs by photographers whose professional roots are in the East Village, and a rollicking, beautifully written history by author Marilyn Appleberg..
LESPI is a grass roots, all-volunteer 501(c)(3) 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.