Testimony: East Village / LES Historic District

To: New York City Council Landmarks Subcommittee January 29, 2013

My name is Richard Moses, President of the Lower East Side Preservation Initiative, also known as LESPI. LESPI is a not-for-profit, grass roots, all volunteer organization dedicated to the preservation of the historic streetscapes of the East Village / Lower East Side.

We respectfully urge the Landmarks Subcommittee to vote to ratify landmark designation for the East Village / Lower East Side Historic District. The East Village has great local, city-wide and national importance for its central role in our culture’s immigration, political, music, art, and theater history. This history is reflected in the area’s wonderful variety of beautifully ornate 19th and early 20th century architecture. The scale, materials and ornament of these historic buildings provide us today with a profoundly rich urban environment. 

Development pressures in the East Village are intense and getting stronger all the time. Although the 2008 rezoning of the area established certain height limitations, the brute force of gentrification has resulted in ornate historic buildings and facades being demolished and replaced with generic glass and stucco boxes. Without landmark designation the historic East Village will be lost building by building and street by street.

There have been concerns raised about the religious properties in the district. When my great-grandmother first arrived in the Lower East Side from Russia 120 years ago, having been sent alone by her family as a teenager to escape the programs, she was disappointed that the streets were not literally paved in gold. But the countless religious buildings in the neighborhood did provide this aura. Although many of our community’s religious buildings have been lost over the years, those remaining continue as beacons, providing residents a sense of spiritual peace and reassurance as society becomes increasingly commercialized. Losing these magnificent structures would be a tragic loss for us all.

Based on our extensive outreach, we believe that the vast majority of the neighborhood’s residents want landmarking. We have gathered over 1,000 signatures in support of historic district designation in just a few petitioning sessions. Community Board 3 has voted in support of the district. 

The East Village / Lower East Side Historic District will provide solid and necessary protection for its historic buildings and streetscapes. Historic district designation is the only way to effectively ensure that what we cherish about our neighborhoods will survive in the years to come. Please vote to ratify landmark designation for the East Village / Lower East Side Historic District with its current boundaries intact. 

Thank you.