News Update: Beth Hamedrash Hagadol Synagogue Fire
Back in May, Lower East Side area residents were shocked and dismayed by the news that Beth Hamedrash Hagadol Synagogue had fallen victim to arson. Thankfully, no one was hurt, but the landmarked structure is now almost in ruins.
Erected in 1850 as a Baptist Church, in 1885 the building came into the possession of the Beth Hamedrash Hagadol congregation, the oldest Orthodox Jewish Russian congregation in the United States, which had occupied several buildings in downtown Manhattan since its formation in 1852. From the late 19th century onward, the assembly grew in size, but the structure eventually fell into disrepair due to the congregation’s financial woes. By the 1960s the synagogue only narrowly avoided demolition due to the influence of Rabbi Ephraim Oshry, who guided the process that led to the Landmarks Preservation Commission designating the Synagogue an Individual Landmark in 1967.
Due to the fire as well as years of neglect, much of the synagogue has been determined to be structurally unsound. However, significant portions of the facade remain intact and restorable. The latest plan apparently calls for the building’s facade to be reconstructed, and completely new construction to take place behind it. Here we’re sure that the “devil is in the details.” We look forward to seeing how plans for the proposed restoration and new construction progress.
Happy 10th Anniversary, LESPI!
Thanks to everyone who helped us celebrate 10 years of fighting to preserve the historic architecture and streetscapes of the Lower East Side at Gnocco’s Restaurant in the East 10th Street Historic District in early October. Almost 60 people attended, including, notably, State Assemblymember Brian Kavanagh and Paul Leonard, Council Member Margaret Chin’s Chief of Staff. We all enjoyed the good company, and delicious Italian food and wine. Thank you to LESPI members and friends for all your hard work and continued support.
Let’s look back on highlights of what we’ve accomplished over the past 10 years:
– August 2007: LESPI is formed out of a group of local architects and preservationists.
– July 2008: LESPI formally organizes under the fiscal sponsorship of City Lore.
– August 2008: LESPI commences a survey of the East Village.
– October 2010: LESPI commences a petition drive for landmarking the East Village, resulting in 1,200 signatures in support.
– January 2011: LESPI holds first official event, “Let’s Save the East Village / Lower East Side” featuring New York City Council Member, Rosie Mendez. This launches a long string of LESPI lectures, walking tours, and other outreach events that continues to present day.
– January 2011: LESPI meets with NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) senior staff requesting designation of East Village historic areas.
– March 2011: LPC, in a follow-up meeting with LESPI, proposes the East Village / Lower East Side historic district and, following LESPI’s request, then adds the East 10th Street proposed district. LESPI teams up with GVSHP, EVCC, BAN and HDC to generate support for designation of the districts.
– September 2011: LESPI becomes a NY State not-for-profit corporation, forming Boards of Directors and Advisers.
– January 2012: LPC designates East 10th Street Historic District.
– September 2012: LESPI starts to survey the Lower East Side, focussing on the LES National Register district.
– October 2012: LPC designates East Village / Lower East Side Historic District.
– April 2014: LESPI teams up with Friends of the Lower East Side (FOTLES) to delineate the boundaries of a new Lower East Side NYC historic district centered on the Tenement Museum (see map below).
– July 2014: LESPI launches a petition drive for landmarking the Lower East Side, now with more than 1,500 signatures in support.
– October 2014: LESPI and FOTLES begin a series of several meetings with the LPC, NYC City Council Member Margaret Chin, and the Business Improvement District to advocate and plan for the new Lower East Side historic district.
– December 2014: LESPI obtains Internal Revenue Code 501(c)(3) not-for-profit status.
– May 2015: LESPI publishes “East Village: Lens on the Lower East Side,” our first in a series of photo essay books on the neighborhoods of the Lower East Side (the next book, on Chinatown, is due out shortly).
– November 2015: LESPI surveys Chinatown, identifies an historic district bordered by Canal, Baxter, and Worth Streets and the Bowery, and begins outreach to Council Member Chin and local residents and stakeholders.
– May 2017: LESPI sponsors, along with cosponsors GVSHP, EVCC, FOTLES, BAN and HDC, a Candidates Forum for City Council Districts 1 and 2, helping to keep Lower East Side historic preservation issues prominent on the candidates’ radar.
For 2018 we’ll continue to work with elected and city officials to pass the new Lower East Side historic district around Orchard Street below Delancey, create a new Chinatown historic district, and expand the existing East Village historic districts to include St. Mark’s Place and the blocks to the north, and Avenue B at Tompkins Square Park.
There’s still a lot more work to do. Unique architecture, historic streetscapes, a diverse population, and mom ‘n’ pop shops are a large part of what makes our neighborhood an integral key to New York City’s history and culture. We hope you’ll join our efforts to preserve the true spirit and character of the Lower East Side. Let’s continue the fight before this beloved community is destroyed or altered beyond recognition.
Walk With Us: Upcoming November Walking TourJoin LESPI, the Lower East Side Jewish Conservancy, and urban historian, Barry Feldman, Sunday, November 19 for a unique afternoon of exploring the Lower East Side below Delancey Street. The tour begins at Kehila Kedosha Janina Synagogue and Museum on Broome Street and ends at Bialystoker Synagogue on Willet Street near Grand. We’ll visit both the buildings’ interiors and exteriors. During our walk between synagogues, Barry will interpret the wonderful secular architectural ornamentation adorning the 19th-century Lower East Side tenements. You’ll learn how to identify elements of this ornamentation, and understand why it became popular and who fashioned it. It’s the perfect new skill you can impress friends and passersby with. Get your tickets here!
With summer here we’re all wearing short sleeves: LESPI t-shirts look great and show your support for East Village / Lower East Side preservation! Proceeds benefit LESPI’s work. Only $20 + S&H.; You can purchase t-shirts HERE
Join LESPI for 2017
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!
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!
East Village: Lens on the 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 beautifully written history by author Marilyn Appleberg.
Photographs by Don Freeman, Alan Gastelum, George Hirose, Onno de Jong, Marlis Momber, and Ciaran Tully show that the historic East Village is a vital, modern community, where the historic architecture and beautiful, century-old streetscapes foster creativity, self-expression and joy, as well as a diversity of people, businesses and institutions.
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, Lower East Side below Houston Street, and Chinatown, 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.
Supporters for a LES Historic District
District below Delancey Continues to Gain Momentum
Since the start of our campaign to create a Lower East Side historic district, LESPI and FOTLES have gathered support from leading institutions, organizations, and individuals.
Institutional and Organization Supporters:Angel Orensanz Foundation
Art Loisaida Foundation
Association of Latin Business Owners and Residents
Bowery Alliance of Neighbors
City Lore/Place Matters
Clemente Soto VÃ©lez Cultural Center
Coalition for a District Alternative
Committee Again Anti-Asian Violence
Congregation Kehila Kedosha Janina
Cooper Square Committee
Downtown Independent Democrats
East Village Community Coalition
Friends of the Lower East Side
Friends of Terra Cotta
Hernandez Houses Resident Association
Historic Districts Council
Lower East Side History Project
Lower East Side Neighborhood Gardens
Lower East Side Preservation Initiative
Museum at Eldridge Street
National Trust for Historic Preservation
New York Landmarks Conservancy
Orchard Street Block Association
Sara D. Roosevelt Park Community Coalition
Seward Park Conservancy
Seward Park Preservation & History Club
Studio Castellano Architect
Two Bridges Neighborhood Council
Victorian Society New York
10th Street and Stuyvesant Street Block Association
Individual Supporters of Note:– Ruth J. Abram, Founder and first President, Lower East Side Tenement Museum
– Marilyn Appleberg, author, East Village: Lens on the Lower East Side
– Prof Hasia Diner, Director, Goldstein-Goren Center for American Jewish History, NYU
– Prof. Andrew Scott Dolkart, Director, Historic Preservation Program, Columbia University Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation
– Holly Kaye, Founder and first Executive Director, Lower East Side Conservancy
– Joyce Mendelsohn, author, The Lower East Side Remembered and Revisited
– Marci Reaven, Curator of history exhibits, New-York Historical Society
– Clayton Patterson, photographer and Editor-in-Chief, Jews: A People’s History of the Lower East Side
– Elissa Sampson, Visiting Scholar, Urban Geography, Cornell University
What Role do City Council Representatives Play in Preserving the Lower East Side?
City Council representatives in Districts 1 and 2 are essential to LESPI’s preservation efforts. Most importantly, once the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission creates a new historic district or Individual Landmark, the Council has the power to approve, modify, or disapprove the Commission’s decision. The local Council Member typically has a strong say in whether or not the full Council will vote to approve the district. Our victories in 2012-13, wherein the full City Council ratified our East Village / Lower East Side and East 10th Street historic districts, was very much dependent on strong support from Councilmember Rosie Mendez, a longtime supporter of preservation in her district.
We look forward to continue working hand in hand with the elected representatives of Council Districts 1 and 2 to protect the important history and cultural markers of the Lower East Side.
We congratulate Margaret Chin on her reelection to District 1 Council seat and Carlina Rivera on her election to District 2 Council seat!
Though a lot of our work is dedicated to protecting the physical buildings that make the Lower East Side special, we also provide opportunities to learn about the history of our neighborhood through illustrated lectures. Here’s a look at some of our educational events from this past year.
The Legacy of Kleindeutschland RememberedWe had a remarkable event June 21: “Moving Uptown: German-American Culture at the Turn of the 20th Century, The Lower East Side’s Kleindeutschland and the Upper East Side’s Yorkville.” The program featured a tour of the historic Sixth Street Community Synagogue, originally St. Mark’s Evangelical Lutheran Church, by Dr. Elissa Sampson; and illustrated lectures
on German American Kleindeutchland (Little Germany) and Yorkville by Dr. Richard Haberstroh and Elizabeth Fagan of the Friends of the Upper East Side, respectively. A fascinating summer solstice evening!
A Secret History of Resistance on the BoweryAbolitionist John Brown and the Freedom Trail map of Manhattan were the focus of an evening of talks organized by LESPI and the Bowery Alliance of Neighbors. The lectures illuminated a history of resistance to slavery in Lower Manhattan as well as a portrait of African-American life on the Bowery in the 18th and early-19th Centuries.
Interactive Site Maps: New York LGBT HistoryLESPI invited the NYC LGBT Historic Sites Project to give a lecture on the research the group has done to unearth the hidden but important history of the local LGBT – Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender – community. Project members Ken Lustbader’s and Amanda Davis’s talk covered everything from underground theaters to the studios of iconic gay artists.
The result of 25 years of research and advocacy, the NYC LGBT Historic Sites Project’s website features an amazing wealth of information about NYC LGBT history, profiling several Lower East Side cultural venues, iconic nightlife spots, and medical facilities. It is all contained on a navigable map linking articles and media related to each location. Check it out HERE.
Who We Are
LESPI Board Profile: Jean Standish
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 newsletter highlights one of our Board members. For our current newsletter, we are highlighting Jean Standish, a member of our LESPI’s Board of Directors since 2011.
Jean moved to the East Village (formerly known as the Lower East Side) in the mid-1960’s. In those years the Lower East Side was a great place to live–a place for families and a wonderful variety of artists, small businesses, art galleries and funky restaurants. The Bouwerie Lane Theatre and Amato Opera were in their glory and CBGB’s reigned supreme. Especially notable were the jumble of small shops below Houston Street harking back to the days of Lower East Side peddlers hawking their various wares.
The grit and charm of this community, as well as its unique history and sense of place, make it exceptional. Some of her favorite structures: Cooper Union’s Foundation Building, St. Mark’s-in-the-Bowery Church and the many tenements with their individualistic architectural details.
The East Village still has maintained its wonderful low-rise character with tree-lined streets. Conserving the light, air and historic buildings that are so essential to this community is are the principal reason Jean has been active in neighborhood preservation and local politics, especially with the expansion of New York University, which has often brought out-of-scale development to the East Village and exemplifies how vulnerable this community is to overdevelopment and zoning variances. In addition to serving on LESPI’s our Board of Directors, Jean is also Vice President/Treasurer of the Bowery Alliance of Neighbors.
Community preservation is essential for ensuring a livable urban environment. Grassroots organizations such as LESPI serve as an important resource in neighborhood conservation. LESPI has been instrumental in bringing landmarking and much needed historic districts to the area. Preservation begins with the community: LESPI provides a forum for preservationists, organizes community activism and raises awareness of to the value of community preservation.