LESPI Newsletter Spring 2014

Spring 2014

LESPI’s Lower East Side History Month Event Cornucopia

To help celebrate the first annual Lower East Side History Month, in May LESPI sponsored an action-packed calendar of tours and events:

Shine-a-Light Neon Tour of the Lower East Side

(May 8): Tom Rinaldi, whose beautifully illustrated book New York Neon is the go-to source on neon history, gave a wonderful tour of the LES’s great neon signage. Highlights included the ca. late 1920s Orpheum, 1930s Katz’s Delicatessen, 1940s Block Drugs, 1950s Gringers and 2000s American Apparel.

We learned how to tell “pure” neon coloring from fluorescent coloring, how to date a sign from its backing material, and much more. The best way to ensure historic neon signage preservation? After the tour we discussed the issue over pastrami sandwiches at Katz’s, and hope to resolve it over further conversations and pastrami.

A Moveable Feast: An Afternoon on the Lower East Side

(May 18): This two part event started with a tour by legendary theatre historian Cezar Del Valle, who guided us through the Bowery’s salty 19th century history, which included not only theaters but saloons (think McGurk’s Suicide Hall), burlesque houses, and dime museums.

We then landed on Broome Street at the historic Kehila Kedosha Janina synagogue where, amidst the beautifully restored synagogue interiors, Museum Director and LESPI Board Member Marcia Ikonomopoulos discussed the congregation’s Greek-American history. To cap off the day, we gobbled up a delicious kosher lunch of Greek yaprakes, bourekas, and kourlouia!

On the Block: Capturing the Disappearing Storefronts of NYC’s Lower East Side

(May 28): Photographers and authors James and Karla Murray presented an illustrated lecture based on their books, STORE FRONT- the Disappearing Face of New York and New York Nights. The audience marveled at their beautiful Lower East Side mom-and-pop storefront images and stories based on proprietor interviews. After the lecture – held at the historic Neighborhood Preservation Center, attendees enjoyed refreshments and traded notes about favorite local stores and storefronts – many of which are gone or in jeopardy of falling victim to gentrification.

LESPI was also pleased to cosponsor with Art Loisaida and the New York Public Library two fascinating lectures on Lower East Side history at the Tompkins Square Branch Library:

Shipbuilding in the Dry Dock District of New York City – 1805-1894

Presented by Laura Zelasnic on May 7.

Before and Behind the Curtain – A History of 19th Century Theatres in the Lower East Side

Presented by Ralph Lewis of Peculiar Works Theater on May 17.

What a great feast of East Village /Lower East Side architecture and history! See more photos of LESPI’s Lower East Side History Month events HERE, and stay tuned for more LESPI events coming up throughout the year.

LESPI Petitioning Drive – Heads Up!

With warm weather here, LESPI will begin our petitioning drive to request that the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission create new historic districts in the East Village / LES and the Lower East Side below Houston Street, in order to protect what remains of our invaluable historic buildings and streetscapes. Check our Facebook page for when and where we’ll be petitioning: join us, or simply stop by to say hello!

LESPI Board Member Philip Van Aver (left) with new supporters

Support LESPI!


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.


We’re looking for people to help with outreach, people with specialized skills and experience, monetary donations, and any other assistance that can help further our mission. We’d very much appreciate your help in our campaign to preserve the East Village / Lower East Side and hope to hear from you in the near future. Contact us at info@lespi-nyc.orgThis e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

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!

What’s the Latest on:

Eastern Dispensary Building at 75 Essex Street:

In March the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission sent LESPI a letter stating that it had declined to pursue landmark status for this historic 1890 dispensary, one of three of this type remaining in Manhattan. For decades this facility provided essential health services to the Lower East Side’s poor immigrant families – a beacon for the community.

The Commission cited the building’s “vernacular style,” “lack of identifying signage” and “unsympathetic ground floor infill” as reasons to deny landmark protection for the building, which is currently for sale and in danger of demolition. These are not compelling reasons to reject landmark designation, in our opinion. In fact, the building is highly significant with regard to Lower East Side architectural and immigration history, identifiable as an institutional building by its strong design and street presence, essentially intact from its original construction, and clearly deserving of Individual Landmark designation. LESPI will be joining other local preservation groups to follow up with LPC on this issue.

The Eastern Dispensary Building on Essex Street

Tifereth Israel Town and Village Synagogue at 334 East 14th Street:

On March 25 the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission held a Public Hearing for the landmark designation of this wonderful religious structure, first built in 1866 as the German Baptist Church in what was then the Lower East Side’s Kleindeutschland neighborhood. The LPC held its first public hearing on this important building in 1966. Recently the congregation has expressed interest in altering or redeveloping the site, but to date the LPC has still not taken action.

Tifereth Israel Synagogue building on E 14th St ca. 1916

Write the LPC at RTierney@lpc.nyc.govThis e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it and let them know that both buildings are wonderful, irreplaceable markers of our neighborhood’s history, that deserve and need landmark protection as soon as possible. See HERE for LESPI’s letters requesting landmarking, and feel free to borrow text. Also, please cc us at info@LESPI-nyc.orgThis e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

Who We Are

LESPI Board Profiles

Too often, the public thinks of preservation organizations as mysterious entities with lives of their own. For this reason, we want to introduce you to our Board of Directors. Each newsletter shall highlight one of the Board members. For the first of what we hope will be a regular column, we are highlighting Britton Baine, Treasurer of LESPI.

Britton’s education gave him an excellent background as a preservation architect, having received his undergraduate degree in Architecture from Lehigh University in Bethlehem, PA, his Master of Architecture from the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, PA and his Master of Science in Historic Preservation from Columbia University in NYC. As part of his Master’s program at Columbia, Britton participated in a study on the Bowery, seeing firsthand the rapid changes in this lower Manhattan neighborhood.

LESPI Treasurer and cofounder Britton Baine

Since 2005, Britton has worked as a licensed architect at Superstructures Engineers and Architects in NYC, giving him hands on experience working with a wide variety of buildings of all ages in the city and the surrounding region. His work involves introducing new technologies (waterproofing systems, structural repairs, roofing systems) into existing buildings, many of which are historic, while having as little impact as possible on the appearance of the building, and in some cases re-introducing historic elements (cornices, etc.) that were removed in the past.

Britton naturally came to historic preservation growing up in a Dallas, Texas community that was experiencing a lot of teardowns of historic houses. His grandparents lived in a home that was originally a Quaker meetinghouse which pre-dates the Revolutionary War, and the home still remains in the family, with Britton instrumental in enabling his family to appreciate the value of its historic fabric.

Britton is proud to be a founding member of LESPI, drawn to the need to preserve the East Village and the Lower East Side, a neighborhood caught up in rapid and seemingly haphazard changes and in jeopardy of losing its historic character. We are lucky to be the recipients of his passion and knowledge.

Photos by Bruce Monroe, Richard Moses and courtesy panoramio.com, unless otherwise noted


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 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.

Contact us by email at info@lespi-nyc.orgThis e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it , or use the form through our web site lespi-nyc.org, or by mail at LESPI, c/o Neighborhood Preservation Center, 232 East 11th Street, New York, NY 10003.