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July 31, 2013            


DEMOLITIONS IN SOUTH AND EAST VILLAGE
AND PIER AIR RIGHTS TRANSFERS
DEMONSTRATE NEW PRESERVATION CHALLENGES,
EVEN AS WE MAKE HISTORIC PROGRESS

Dear friend,

 

We've made incredible progress in our preservation efforts of late, in every corner of our neighborhood. We've extended landmark and zoning protections to much of the Far West Village and Greenwich Village waterfront; the first third of our proposed South Village Historic District has been designated, the second phase is currently under consideration, and we have a commitment from the City to survey the final third before the end of the year; and we've increased historic district protections in the East Village tenfold.
54 MacDougal Street earlier this year (top), and today (bottom).

 

But events in recent days demonstrate that we still have a long way to go, and these neighborhoods continue to face new threats.

 

I'm saddened to report that demolition is underway on the 1820 Ludlow-Weeks House at 54 MacDougal Street, which GVSHP fought to save. Unfortunately, because it is within the final third of the proposed South Village Historic District which the City has only agreed to survey, but not yet act upon, it is not protected.  And in spite of the voluminous documentation GVSHP provided about its historic significance, including connections to Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr, the City refused to consider it for individual landmark designation.  

 

This house at the head of King Street served as a "gateway" to the South Village.  Because of its "Old New York" look, it was used in the movie "Men In Black;" it may have survived alien attacks on film, but it was not able to survive the increased development pressure created, in part, by the recent nearby Hudson Square rezoning.

 

I'm also saddened to report that demolition has begun on Mary Help of Christians Church, Rectory, and School on East 11th and 10th Streets near Avenue A. Unfortunately, the nearly century-old church, which for generations served countless Lower East Side immigrants and was featured in the poetry of neighbor Allen Ginsberg, will be replaced with luxury housing and big-box stores.

 

Mary Help of Christians Church last year (l.) and today (m.);
the 160 year old church rectory (r.) is already in the process of being demolished.

 

This spring GVSHP and our allies rallied to save the church, and revealed that what was once the city's largest Catholic cemetery was located underneath the site where a developer planned to build. Unfortunately, the developer refused to preserve the buildings and build instead upon the neighboring open yard which he also purchased, and which is not atop of the 19th century cemetery.  And the city's Landmarks Preservation Commission not only refused our longstanding request to landmark the historic buildings, but failed to even to require an archeological survey of the site to ensure that bodies are not dug up or disturbed by the new construction.  The one ray of sunshine: because of the 2008 East Village rezoning we and our allies helped secure, the 20+ story high-rise the old zoning would have allowed on this site is no longer a possibility; new construction will be limited to no more than 80 feet after setbacks. 

 

Along our Hudson River waterfront, the new pier air rights transfer provision passed by the State legislature with the support of local legislators opens up the possibility of 1.6 million square feet of air rights, and possibly more, being used for development on our waterfront blocks.  It also creates an incentive for reopening the zoning protections we fought hard to achieve. 

 

All these show that in spite of the incredible progress we have made, we have much more work to do. GVSHP is committed to extending landmark protections to the entire South Village, before more is lost. We are committed to seek and secure extended landmark protections throughout the East Village, as the new East Village/Lower East Side Historic District, while a tremendous step forward, still leaves too much of the neighborhood unprotected. And we will continue to demand answers from the City and State about the new Hudson River Park pier air rights transfer provisions, and fight to ensure that none of these "air rights" are used for inappropriate or out-of-scale development along our waterfront.

 

If you'd like to support our preservation efforts, click HERE.

 
Sincerely,
Andrew Berman 
Executive Director

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