LESPI Newsletter Winter 2011

Winter 2011-12


Did you know that, during the late 19th century:

* German-Americans made up almost a third of New York City’s population

* What is now the East Village was the heart of Kleindeutschland, where German-American biergartens, and social, singing and shooting clubs defined local social life

* Of the average working person’s budget of $600 per year in 1853, almost half paid for groceries, while only about 15% paid for rent – perhaps not surprising considering the living conditions of lower income New Yorkers at the time.

These and other remarkable facts were discussed at LESPI’s Germany in America: Kleindeutschland and New York City’s Lower East Side event on February 29, when Dr. Richard Haberstroh presented his lively and beautifully illustrated lecture on the history of local German-American life, culture, and architecture.

Dr. Richard Haberstroh

Neighborhood residents, preservationists, architects, German teachers, musicians, artists, and students, among others attended the event. Held at the historic Neighborhood Preservation Center on E 11th Street, the evening included a lively reception with delicious German food, beer and wine generously provided by Zum Schneider, an indoor biergarten at Avenue C and E 7th St.

And stay tuned: LESPI will be sponsoring additional lectures on the history of Irish, Puerto Rican, Chinese, Italian, Ukranian and other Lower East Side cultures in the months ahead. We hope to see you there!


Opened in 1931 as a home for the aged and headquarters for a “landsmanshaft” (mutual aid society), the ten-story Bialystoker Center and Home at 228 East Broadway is an imposing Art Deco style tower designed by architect Harry Hurwit. The structure is faced in golden brick and features an impressive archway adorned with twelve reliefs symbolizing the Twelve Tribes of Israel. This rare surviving building reflects the history and culture of caring for generations of Jewish immigrants on the Lower East Side.

The Home functioned for 80 years, until October 2011 when residents were vacated to other facilities and the building and adjoining garden were advertised for sale as “a highly desirable development site.” Unprotected by landmark status, the building is now threatened with demolition or drastic alterations by an imminent sale to new owners.

LESPI was one of the first of 15 Sponsoring Organizations of Friends of the Bialystoker Home to sign on to support landmark designation. We urge everyone to attend a CB 3 meeting on Tuesday, March 20 at 6:00 pm at Campos Plaza Community Ctr, 611 E 13th St, where the Landmarks Committee will consider supporting a resolution for the NYC Landmarks Commission to landmark the Bialystoker Home. Sign-in at 6:20 to testify or just come with your friends to show support. For more information, email info@LESPI-nyc.orgThis e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

Horse Auction House Now Calendared for LPC Public Hearing

The Van Tassell & Kearney Horse Auction House at 128 East 13th Street is now a big step closer to landmark designation, even as an imminent sale makes the building’s future somewhat uncertain. This is great news to all those who have been struggling to defend this unique building from demolition.

The NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission has calendared a Public Hearing June 26 for the landmarking of the Horse Auction House (the same date LPC will hear the Proposed East Village / Lower East Side Historic District). This move comes at a particularly important time. According to local news sources, in 2006 the current owners had sought to replace the building with condos, and recently a state court ordered the owners to sell the property to satisfy debts. Without landmark protection, today’s real-estate forces almost guarantee that the next owner will demolish the building and redevelop the site.

The Horse Auction House is a significant building for several reasons, both architectural and historical. The 1903 structure, which had once served such wealthy New York families as the Vanderbilts and Belmonts, appears to be the last surviving example of a horse and carriage auction house in New York City. During World War II it housed a training program for women working in wartime industry. For many years it was artist Frank Stella’s sculpture studio.

Architecturally, the building’s Beaux-Arts façade, with its small ovular and round windows, grand arch, and unusual barrel-vaulted roof profile, is not only the most eye-catching on the block, it’s one of the most architecturally distinctive in the neighborhood.

We hope that this June the LPC will give the Horse Auction House the landmark protection it deserves, and provide a happy ending to the many years of effort that have gone into saving this building. Please write to the LPC to express your support for landmarking at info@lpc.nyc.govThis e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it . Feel free to copy all or some of our letter of support which we will be posting at LESPI-nyc.org/advocacy.

East Village: Historic District Update

Most of us know by now that the biggest news this year, from an East Village preservation perspective, was the landmarking of the East 10th Street Historic District in January. Fantastic!

One lingering question hovers: what’s happening with 315 East 10th Street, the mid-19th century Gothic Revival rowhouse right in the middle of the new district? This is where the developer’s Department of Buildings application for a rooftop addition was approved just a few days before the district was landmarked, and the permit issued just hours before.

Architectural plans on file at the DOB show a rooftop addition to be built right up against the front façade, and this work is now underway (see photo, below). The addition will substantially impact the proportions of this historic building along with the scale of the blockfront. At this writing we’re hoping that, but not sure whether the building’s ornate cornice can or will be retained.

From what we can gather: in order to lessen the impact on the building’s architecture, the developer, the developer’s architect, the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC), LESPI, as well as innumerable other preservationists and local residents want to set the addition back from the front façade. However, because of 2008 East Village zoning restrictions, the developer must set his addition flush with the front façade, or apply for a relatively costly variance to allow the addition to be set back so that it’s not visible from the street.

Along with No. 315, countless other historic East Village buildings with beautiful cornices, but without the protection of landmarking, sit at the mercy of this same malfunctioning zoning rule. It’s imperative that this rule receive a full legal review and that, as necessary, we work to change it so that it no longer requires developers to deface our neighborhood’s historic buildings when they build rooftop additions. To this end, LESPI has created a Zoning Task Force to tackle the issue. If you have special knowledge of or experience with the local zoning regulations and the regulatory process and would like to help, please email us at info@LESPI-nyc.orgThis e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

On a more positive note: the LPC has now set a June 26 Public Hearing date for the designation of the Proposed East Village / Lower East Side Historic District. This district, whose spine runs down Second Avenue from below St. Mark’s Place to 2nd Street, encompasses over 300 buildings including the heart of 19th century Kleindeutschland – Little Germany – and the “Jewish Rialto” or Yiddish-language theater district. Please plan to attend the Hearing, or write a letter of support for landmarking the district to info@lpc.nyc.govThis e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it and cc LESPI at info@LESPI-nyc.orgThis e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it . LESPI will post our advocacy letter for the district on our web site www.LESPI-nyc.org/advocacy, which you can use as a template for your letter in any way you want.

Newsletter images by Britton Baine, Julia Manzerova, Bruce Monroe and Richard Moses

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.

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 is a grass roots, all-volunteer not-for-profit corporation initially formed in 2007 to urge the LPC 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.

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.