Lower East Side Preservation Initiative: we’re local residents and preservationists who want to preserve what’s left of the historic architecture and streetscapes of Manhattan’s historic Lower East Side. This area, which is one of the city’s – and country’s – most diverse and historically rich communities, includes such neighborhoods as the East Village, Lower East Side below Houston St., Chinatown, Little Italy, and the Bowery, extending from East 14th Street south to Fulton and Franklin Streets, and Broadway east to the East River. We’re a grassroots not-for-profit organization, formed in 2007.
LESPI’s first order of business has been to address preservation of the East Village, where we were instrumental in the creation of two new New York City historic districts. We’re now rallying to preserve additional historic areas of the East Village as well as the Lower East Side below Houston Street.
Why does this need to happen?
It needs to happen because the Lower East Side’s historic streetscapes and buildings serve as markers that tell us of an architectural and cultural history that has been central in the development of the city as well as the country, a history that includes generations of immigrants, artists, writers, political activists, and others who helped define who we were and are as a people. Every day now more of the area’s historic tenement, institutional, and community buildings are being destroyed in waves of development that seem out of control. This destruction destroys an important tie we have to those who came before us.
A rezoning of the East Village was recently enacted, will this help preserve its architecture?
This will help. But a lot of the historic buildings are being torn down and replaced with buildings of the same height, or their ornate facades are being removed to create modern structures with no relationship to the other buildings on the street. This is likely to continue without some kind of protection for these structures.
What’s the best way to protect the East Village’s / Lower East Side’s historic streetscapes?
Designation as a New York City Historic District by the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) is the best way to protect them. This is not necessary for most of the area’s streets, however, there are several left that are relatively intact from when they were built in the late 19th century, and these and other historically, architecturally and culturally important streetscapes and buildings deserve protection.
The LPC has been moving in this direction, first focussing on Second Avenue below St. Mark’s Place and Tompkins Square North. LESPI was instrumental in the designation of historic districts in these areas, meeting with LPC, gathering petition support for their designation, and forming an alliance with other preservation and community groups to broaden and strengthen the preservation message. Wonderfully, on January 17, 2012 the LPC voted unanimously to landmark the East 10th Street Historic District, a milestone in the preservation of the East Village / LES. This is the first NYC historic district designated in large part because of its ties to immigrant and tenement history and architecture.
East 10th Street Historic District designated January 2012
Then, on October 9, 2012, the LPC voted to landmark the East Village / Lower East Side Historic District, which runs along Second Avenue from 2nd Street to St. Mark’s Place, and on East 6th and 7th Streets east of First Avenue.
East Village / Lower East Side Historic District designated October 2012
Landmarking of this district, much larger and more diverse than the East 10th Street Historic District, is another immensely significant step toward the preservation of the community’s historic resources. The full NY City Council ratified the district on February 6, 2013, with the strong support of local Councilmember Rosie Mendez, LESPI and other organizations, and local residents.
What is LESPI doing to help?
To spread the word about the importance of landmarking the intact historic architecture and streetscapes of the East Village / Lower East Side, LESPI on an ongoing basis meets with the LPC staff and local elected officials, works with other neighborhood and preservation groups, and gives testimony at Community Board 3 and LPC public hearings in support. We’ve also been tabling on Avenue A in front of Tompkins Square Park and Houston Street near the Bowery to discuss the issue with residents, workers and visitors, and ask them to sign our petition for support: so far we’ve gathered in total over 1,500 petition signatures.
LESPI has completed Phase 1 of our block by block survey and mapping of the East Village, Lower East Side below Houston Street, and Chinatown. The purpose was to identify streets – in addition to the LPC’s two new East Village historic districts – that retain a coherent sense of their historic architecture. Typically these are tenement blocks where most of the buildings have remained intact. We’ve used our survey information to create maps of our proposed historic districts for the LES below Delancey Street and for Chinatown, and have teamed up with other local preservation and community groups to propose expansions for the two new East Village historic districts. We’re currently reviewing our proposals for new district designations with elected officials and the LPC.