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Thread: Push for Historic District in Soho & Village

  1. #1

    Default Push for Historic District in Soho & Village

    Push for new historic district in Soho & the Village


    Map showing boundaries of proposed South Village Historic District


    By Albert Amateau

    The Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation last week dropped an 80-page report, three years in the making, on the desk of Robert Tierney, chairperson of the Landmarks Preservation Commission, in a call for a South Village Historic District comprised of 38 blocks and about 800 buildings.

    The report, by Andrew S. Dolkart, associate professor of historic preservation at Columbia University’s School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation, covers an area south of W. Fourth St. to W. Houston St. roughly between Seventh Ave. and LaGuardia Pl., with an extension from W. Houston St. down to Watts St. between Sixth Ave. and the midblock line west of W. Broadway.

    “Our historic South Village Preservation Project will be one of our top goals for 2007,” said Andrew Berman, G.V.S.H.P. executive director, who commissioned the report in 2003 after receiving grants from the Preservation League of New York State and the New York State Council on the Arts. “Landmark designation of this area is one of the great pieces of unfinished preservation business for Greenwich Village and, indeed, for New York City as a whole,” Berman said.

    “The South Village Historic District would really be the city’s first largely tenement-based historic district and the first to focus largely on…the history of a home to immigrants, especially Italian-Americans,” said Berman. “Very important to the story is the area’s history of the city’s largest African-American community in the 19th century; the center of the city’s gay and lesbian life in the early 20th century, and as the great hub of bohemian and countercultural life in New York — and possibly the world — throughout a large chunk of the 20th century,” Berman said.

    Although the neighborhood has seen less development pressure than other places, like the recently landmarked and rezoned far West Village, it is home to several buildings beloved of preservationists. Berman cited the demolition of the Tunnel Garage on Broome and Thompson Sts., the Circle in the Square Theater on Bleecker St., the Sullivan St. Theater and the Poe House and Judson Memorial Church Community House at Thompson and W. Third Sts.

    The Soho Alliance has signed on as a supporter of the proposed historic district, along with the Central Village, Carmine St., Bedford-Downing, West Houston, Morton St., Vandam St. and Charlton St. block associations.

    The proposed district abuts the large Greenwich Village Historic District to the north, and the three-block Charlton King Vandam district on the west. The large Soho Cast-Iron Historic District extends east from West Broadway a half block from the boundary of the proposed district.

    In a preface to the report, Berman notes that what many consider the heart of the Village — streets including Bleecker, Carmine, MacDougal, Sullivan, Thompson, Cornelia, Jones, Minetta and Minetta Lane — are included in the proposed South Village district but were missed when the Greenwich Village Historic District was designated in 1969.

    The proposed district includes Our Lady of Pompei and St. Anthony of Padua churches, important in the history of Italian immigration.

    “This proposed designation is…compelling because so much of the 19th- and early 20th-century built fabric of the area is intact. This is one of the few places where the landscape of working-class New York remains virtually unaltered,” the report says.

    The area surveyed in the report could encompass a single South Village Historic District, or could be divided into subsections, with major streets and avenues serving as a divide.

    The recorded history of the land within the study area begins in 1644, when New Netherlands Director General William Kieft transferred property north of the New Amsterdam settlement to African freed slaves to serve as a buffer against incursion by Native Americans. The report notes that Gracia D’Angola and Paulo D’Angola were among those of African descent who owned property in “the Negro land” that became today’s South Village.

    But by the late 1600s, those properties had been sold to large landowners and most of the land in the South Village had become the property in 1690 of Nicholas Bayard, grandson of the original Dutch settler of the same name, the report says.

    By the 1820s and 1830s, major residential development was taking place with houses both modest and grand. Later, row houses were the fashion on St. Clement’s Pl. — now MacDougal St. between Bleecker and Houston Sts. — on Varick Pl. — now Sullivan St. between Bleecker and Houston Sts. — and Depau Pl. between Thompson and Houston Sts.

    The tenement era began around 1870 and reached its peak in the first years of the 20th century. The tenement was legally defined in 1869 as a building for more than three families living and cooking independently from each other. In 1887 the definition was expanded to buildings that housed just three families. And the term was used just to describe housing built for the poor with few amenities. Various changes in the housing laws mandated private toilets, running water, gas lines and one or more windows in every room.

    “The South Village provides an opportunity to study and understand the entire history of tenement design, construction and use, with archetypical examples of pre-law, old-law, new-law and reform tenements,” according to the report, which, block by block and almost house by house, lays out the neighborhood history.

    Among the advisory board members of the Historic South Village Preservation Project are Ann Arlen, former Community Board 2 Environment Committee chairperson and current public member of the committee; Katy Bordonaro and Zack Winestine, co-chairpersons of the Greenwich Village Community Task Force; Mary Elizabeth Brown, author of “From Italian Villages to Greenwich Village;” Miriam Cohen, Vassar College professor of history; Terri Cook, author of “Sacred Havens: A Guide to Manhattan’s Spiritual Places” and member of St. Veronica’s Parish Council; Karen Cooper, director of Film Forum; Dave Ethan, co-owner of Grey Dog Cafe; Margaret Halsey Gardiner, Merchant’s House Museum executive director and resident of MacDougal-Sullivan Gardens; Robert Kaufelt, owner of Murray’s Cheese; and Jerome Krase, Brooklyn College emeritus professor and board member of both the American Italian Coalition of Organizations and the American Italian Historical Society.

    Albert@DowntownExpress.com

    Downtown Express is published by
    Community Media LLC.
    145 Sixth Avenue, New York, NY 10013

  2. #2
    Disgruntled Optimist lofter1's Avatar
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    This ^^^ would be a very good idea.

    Meanwhile, until LPC acts, the sound of owners filing applications at DOB to get potential project under the wire of existing regulations could be deafening ...

  3. #3
    Chief Antagonist Ninjahedge's Avatar
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    What???

  4. #4
    Disgruntled Optimist lofter1's Avatar
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    If that ^^ is addressed to my comment ...

    Any number of sites within the proposed district where owners have been contemplating new devleopments could now see some action. Under DOB practice/ procedure once a certain amount of work has been done on a site then that proposal would be grandfathered in under prior regulations and thus not be affected by new more limiting Landmarks regulations.

  5. #5

    Default Who Knew it was Historic?

    Thirtyfive years ago,when 4th Street was jumping and hippie was in full flourish,when the coffee houses featured Dylan and Dave Van Ronk and "The Fantastix" had just opened at The Circle on The Square,I occupied a couple hundred square feet of a 5th floor walkup at 110 Thompson.
    At the time,I thought it was the best location in the City.I worked just a few Subway stops South--across Barclay St from what would one day be the WTC--and I played just a few city blocks North,around Washington Square and Bleeker.
    The Village was flourishing then,as the Baby Boomers discovered the pleasures of the City,and creativity was in full bloom.Folk singers and nacent rock stars played in dozens of clubs,Warhol was just beginning to reproduce things,the patrons at Stonewall were raising Gay Hell,pot was $30 an ounce...

    I lived a few blocks South of Houston--it was still "The Village" then,none of that frou-frou "SOHO" stuff.Once you crossed Houston,the non-stop noise of the City nearly vanished.Here was where people lived,and it was respectfully quiet after 10,almost suburban quiet.

    At the basement level of my home,sort of tucked under the stoop where a small convenience store is now,was an Italian "Social Club".It was always filled with well-dressed,middle aged,Cadillac-driving guys.They would stand out on the street,a glass of wine in their hands,discussing the days' business in fluent mother tongue.They would nod as I passed,a friendly bunch.
    Right across the street was an authentic Italian bakery,where you could get the best pastries on the planet,and next to it was a tailor shop where you could get buttons sewed on for free if you lived in the neighborhood.There were TWO shoe repair shops,and Ben's Pizza,a hundred feet away at Spring St,made a juicy calzone that would feed a family of 4.
    A couple Union Halls occupied some of the other storefronts,and the street was always busy,filled with olive-skinned people doing their thing.Above all these storefronts lived the remnants of the Immigrant Generation,all the Papas and Mamas who had defined THIS slice of New York as Little Italy.
    I might have been the only German on the block.

    When I first moved there,I was told by a stoop-sitter that it would be wise to find a parking space somewhere other than in front of the apartment.The fellows in the Social Club,I wad advised,enjoyed parking convenient to their club.After awhile,when these nicely dressed wiseguys got to know me,I got permission to park there as often as I wanted to.Sometimes,especially on weekends when half of New Jersey parked on our street,the Club members would save a spot for me.I would always reciprocate.

    I did that for several months until my MGB got stolen and vanished forever.That was unusual,because Thompson St was one of the safest,crime-free locations in the City,due to all the Sons watching out for Mama and Papa.The wiseguys said they'd keep an eye out for it,but it never showed up.

    There were probably a dozen places within a five minute walk that served pasta,and whenever the festival of San Gennarro took place,the streets around my place resembled a town in Sicily.Thompson and Spring was the epicenter of Italian life then,and the history of those streets is the history of NY itself,the story of the immigrants who populated the City in their strong enclaves until the '70s changed all that.

    Little Italy is fast becoming a misty memory.It would be nice to preserve some of what it was.

  6. #6

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    ^Caused me to remember that delicious incident just 11 years ago when a clueless guy from Harlem, Willie King (aka "The World's Dumbest Mugger"), robbed an elderly lady walking at Sullivan St./West 3rd St. before discovering that she was the mother of Genovese godfather Vincent ("Bathrobe and Slippers") Gigante.

  7. #7
    Chief Antagonist Ninjahedge's Avatar
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    *cough*
    Quote Originally Posted by lofter1 View Post
    Meanwhile ... the sound ... could be deafening ...
    *cough*

  8. #8

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    Quote Originally Posted by ManhattanKnight View Post
    ^Caused me to remember that delicious incident just 11 years ago when a clueless guy from Harlem, Willie King (aka "The World's Dumbest Mugger"), robbed an elderly lady walking at Sullivan St./West 3rd St. before discovering that she was the mother of Genovese godfather Vincent ("Bathrobe and Slippers") Gigante.
    I remember that.

    Vinny The Chin.

  9. #9
    Disgruntled Optimist lofter1's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ninjahedge View Post
    *cough*
    *cough*
    Try one of these ...


  10. #10

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    Quote Originally Posted by Hof View Post
    Little Italy is fast becoming a misty memory.It would be nice to preserve some of what it was.
    There were rag pickers in horse-drawn wagons.




    And the historic district's a great idea.

    But they already wrecked Sullivan Street. Used to be the prettiest one down there; I would detour just to revel in its beauty.

  11. #11
    Moderator NYatKNIGHT's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by ablarc View Post
    But they already wrecked Sullivan Street. Used to be the prettiest one down there; I would detour just to revel in its beauty.
    How so? I live on Sullivan near Prince St. - it hardly seems "wrecked", though I'm sure it has changed somewhat. Which street in your opinion is has overtaken it as the prettiest?

    I love where I live despite all the nostalgia of good ol' days gone by, for so many reasons. Hof, thanks once again for the colorful recollection of the old neighborhood. Obviously it isn't the same as it once was, but it's still a fantastic part of the city. By the way, the older Italians still linger there, and they come out of the woodwork when the church does their precession around the surrounding blocks on the Feast of St. Anthony every summer.

    So it's to be a historic district - that's great to hear. But I agree with lofter, I wouldn't be surprised if the area is suddenly inundated with construction.

  12. #12

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    The full (93 page) proposal for creating a South Village Historic District, with lots of history and photos, can be found HERE. A separate descriptive inventory of all buildings in the proposed district prepared by the GVSHP is HERE.
    Last edited by ManhattanKnight; January 19th, 2007 at 05:49 PM.

  13. #13

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    Quote Originally Posted by NYatKNIGHT View Post
    How so? I live on Sullivan near Prince St. - it hardly seems "wrecked", though I'm sure it has changed somewhat. Which street in your opinion is has overtaken it as the prettiest?

    I love where I live despite all the nostalgia of good ol' days gone by, for so many reasons.
    Oh, it's still plenty pretty, but do you remember it with the playhouse and the row of townhouses complete? As I recall, they were a harmony of diverse colors.

    "Wrecked" is too strong a word (sorry!) --unless you remember it that way.

  14. #14
    Moderator NYatKNIGHT's Avatar
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    ^Good stuff.

    So has anyone heard this area referred as the "South Village" before, or did they make that up because "Greenwich Village" and "SoHo" already had historic districts? I've lived here for seven years and this is the first I've heard it called that.

  15. #15

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    ^What do you call it? What constitutes GV has shifted over the years. Originally, it didn't include anything east of 6th or 7th Aves (proud Washington Square North homeowners 120 years ago certainly did not consider themselves to be residents of GV -- a slum).

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