LESPI Newsletter Summer 2018
New Building to Rise at Site of 2015 Gas Explosion
The 2015 explosion at Second Ave. and E. 7th St. resulted in the untimely deaths of two men, several severe injuries, the loss of hundreds of people’s homes, and the arrest of 5 people associated with the illegal gas line work that caused the explosion, a tragic and shameful episode in East Village history.
The three ornate tenements at 119-123 Second Avenue that burned down in the fire were contributing buildings to the East Village / Lower East Side Historic District. This summer the property owner of the corner lot presented a proposal for a new apartment building on the site, which on August 7 was approved by the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission.
LESPI found the building’s facade design in general appropriate for the historic district. However, Britton Baine, Chair of LESPI’s Architectural Design Review Committee, noted in LESPI’s statement of support that “further emphasizing the playful exuberance and eye-catching detail characteristic of Lower East Side architecture would make this an even more successful design, especially for such a prominent comer location on Second Avenue.” Richard Moses, LESPI President, remarked to The Villager that the architecture was “a little buttoned-down.” The LPC’s approval included space for a memorial plaque to the explosion’s victims – see more information HERE and HERE.
LPC Needs a New, Preservationist Chair
In June, Meenakshi Srinivasan resigned her position as Chair of the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission. Over the last few years she and her staff
had worked with LESPI and Friends of the LES on identifying potential boundaries for a new Lower East Side historic district south of Delancey Street. This process, though painfully slow, showed promise of protecting the historic streetscapes of the LES. Since June the LPC has had no Chair.
LESPI and other preservation groups are determined that the next Chair will be pro-preservation and will assertively carry out the LPC’s mandate to preserve NYC’s historic buildings and neighborhoods, including in the Lower East Side, one of the most historically important areas of the city and country.
LESPI has launched a letter writing campaign to ask the mayor and other elected officials to make sure that the next LPC Chair is both highly qualified and appointed quickly. Join LESPI supporters who’ve sent over 150 letters so far – see HERE to send yours. Thank you! (Photo: Bruce Monroe)
Join Us September 15 for 10th & Stuyvesant Streets Block Party
Stop by and see us on Saturday, September 15, 12-4pm at the 10th & Stuyvesant Streets Block Party, where we’ll be rallying support for preservation in the East Village / Lower East Side and gathering petition signatures for our proposed historic district. On 10th Street between 2nd and 3rd avenues. We hope you’ll join us!
Support LESPI and look good doing it with a LESPI t-shirt! Proceeds benefit LESPI’s work. Only $25 (including shipping and handling). Show your support for the East Village / Lower East Side and Chinatown by purchasing HERE
You’re contribution will help us protect our historic streetscapes!
Join LESPI for 2018
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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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.
A Tour Guide’s Perspective: June LES Walking Tour
by Barry Feldman
I am a New York City licensed tour guide. I don’t walk in the summer: it’s too hot. I prefer the cooler, crisp season of autumn and early budding days of spring. I did agree to do a late June tour of the Lower East Side for the Lower East Side Preservation Initiative and Lower East Side Jewish Conservancy. The fates of weather cooperated. We walked the LES streets to admire and interpret the exuberant architectural sculpture and ornament that adorns the otherwise plain tenement buildings. These tenements were primarily constructed in the decades surrounding the turn of the 20th century.
Our walking quickly turned into a participatory class. We discussed building stylistic and social history. Walkers learned how to look at and analyze the building facades’ tripartite design – base, shaft and capital – and to identify ornamental features such as cornices, grotesques, bas reliefs, quoins, swags, architraves and more. Terra cotta animals, mythical figures, bearded men and finely featured women were admired. The technological advance of industrial mechanization and the availability of new materials that allowed for the development of this ornamentation were considered. The labor and contributions of Italian and other immigrant masons were acknowledged.
LESPI President Richard Moses led a discussion of NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission’s structure and mandate, and its process and criteria for designating historic districts. He then outlined LESPI’s proposals for Lower East Side and Chinatown historic districts, areas that sorely need protection from insensitive development.
The tour concluded at Kehila Kedosha Janina, a historic Romanoite Greek synagogue snuggled amidst the LES’s ornamented tenements, where Museum Director and LESPI Board Member Marcia Ikonomopoulos led a lively talk on the synagogue’s history, rituals and ornamentation.
Join us for our next walk: fall, spring, maybe summer – check LESPI emails and Facebook postings for next dates. (Photos: Richard Moses)
Land Trusts and Historic Preservation
On Tuesday August 14 LESPI hosted guest speaker Valerio Orselli, the Project Director of the Cooper Square Community Land Trust (CSCLT), part of the Cooper Square Committee. Val spoke about CSCLT’s current work as well as the potential to use land trusts for both affordable housing and historic preservation. He described how land trusts often involve a not-for-profit – such as CSCLT – purchasing an easement on the property in order to restrict certain uses (e.g. high rents) or alterations (e.g. destroying historic features). CSCLT, LESPI and Council Member Chin’s office see land trust formation as a potential means for preserving Chinatown’s historic core, one of the city’s most historically important neighborhoods. LESPI is following up on this strategy and will keep you posted. (Photos: Bruce Monroe)
LESPI / St. Mary Grand Event
On May 14, LESPI, in collaboration with St. Mary’s on Grand Street, sponsored a wonderfully successful event at this historic church on the Lower East Side. The evening was held in a joint celebration of Lower East Side history month and the Church’s 192nd birthday. St Mary’s Church is a simple and elegant building which serves as a reminder of life as it was on Grand Street before the development of the towers which now surround it. The original church, on the former Sheriff Street, was burned to the ground in 1831 by a right-wing, anti-Catholic, xenophobic, secret society, which eventually came to be known as the “Know Nothings.” The church was rebuilt in its current location in 1833.
The evening began in the Church’s Grand Hall, an imposing pre-Civil War era room hidden beneath the main church. The audience, of over 100 people, was composed of parish members, local architects, and curious area residents – some of whom had lived their whole lives in the neighborhood but had never seen the inside of the charming church.
Father Andrew O’Connor, the Church’s pastor, an artist and historian and our host for the evening, gave a lively talk on the church’s history and its importance to the immigrant populations which established residence in the area over time. St. Mary’s Grand, the 3rd oldest Roman Catholic Church in New York, was originally founded to serve the area’s Irish population. As the local residents changed, so did the church, and today the parish largely reflects the neighborhood’s Latino population.
After the lecture, guests made their way from the Grand Hall into the church’s sanctuary. On the way, they stopped to admire the building’s 1860s Romanesque Revival facade. Then, stepping into the vestibule, they stopped again to admire the building’s original 1830s Greek Revival faÃ§ade, set behind the building exterior. On entering the church sanctuary guests were enchanted by the charm of the interior and beauty of its many stained glass windows.
The final leg of the tour had guests filing along narrow passages and up old wooden staircases to the 19th century Rectory for the reception. The food for the reception, which reflected the Irish and Latino influences on the church, was cooked and served by the friendly parishioners, charming student volunteers from Brooklyn College, and Father O’Connor himself. And to wow us with more of his talent, our host introduced his line of socially conscious clothing and textiles, created with the Algodones Mayas on the Guatemalan Pacific Coast, available for purchase at the church.
If you haven’t been to St. Mary’s, come down to the Lower East Side and visit this lovely gem on Grand Street. (Photos: Bruce Monroe).
LESPI at Hester Street Fair
This summer we had two beautiful days tabling at the Hester Street Fair. LESPI volunteers outreached to scores of neighborhood residents and picked up about 200 petition signatures for our proposed Lower East Side Historic District (now at almost 2,000 total). Shoppers purchased LESPI t-shirts and literature. Thank you to our volunteers and all the fair goers who stopped by!