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Press Release - 8 October 2007

Community Leaders, Business Owners, and Preservationists Join to Celebrate the South Village’s Italian-American Heritage, its History, and its Architecture

Seek to Honor and Preserve Neighborhood’s Special Character
Report, “The Italians of the South Village,” published

Manhattan — The Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation (GVSHP), citywide preservation groups, and South Village community, business, and religious leaders joined together today to celebrate the South Village’s rich Italian-American heritage, and to promote efforts to honor and preserve the historic neighborhood. GVSHP also today released “The Italians of the South Village,” a 90-page report by scholar Mary Elizabeth Brown documenting the proud history of Italian-American immigrants and their descendants in the South Village, which is one of the country’s oldest and most important Italian-American immigrant neighborhoods. The report was two years in the making, and was funded by the J.M. Kaplan Fund (see here).

Speakers today included:

- Rev. Joseph Lorenzo, O.F.M. of the South Village’s St. Anthony of Padua Church, the oldest extant church built for an Italian congregation in the Americas
- Rev. John Massari, C.S. of the South Village’s Our Lady of Pompei Church, which was founded in 1892
- Romana Raffetto, owner of Raffetto’s Pasta on West Houston Street, operated by the Raffetto family since 1906
- Peter Longo, owner of Porto Rico Importing Co, purveyors of coffees and tea on Bleecker and Thompson Streets since 1907
- Andrew Berman, Executive Director of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation, which has proposed a South Village Historic District and has sought to document and honor the special history of the South Village through educational programs and published materials
- Simeon Bankoff, Executive Director of the Historic Districts Council, a citywide group which advocates for historic preservation which has endorsed the proposal for a South Village Historic District
- Lucy Cecere, co-founder of The Caring Community agency for seniors living in Greenwich Village, and , a lifelong South Village resident,
- Matt Umanov, owner of Matt Umanov Guitars on Bleecker St. since 1969
- Rob Kaufelt, owner of Murray’s Cheese on Bleecker St., open since 1940 and owned by Rob since 1991
- Mary Elizabeth Brown, author of GVSHP’s newly released report “The Italians of the South Village,” and a teacher and archivist at Marymount Manhattan College
- Marilyn Dorato, secretary of Greenwich Village Block Associations, which has been a strong supporter of South Village preservation efforts
- Silvia Musto Beam, a lifelong and third-generation South Villager, and President of the Vandam Street Block Association
- Jed Baker of Place Matters, a citywide organization whose mission is to foster conservation of New York City’s historically and culturally significant places, and which supports landmarking of the South Village
- David Gruber, President of the Carmine Street Block Association and Community Board #2 member who spearheaded the Father Demo Square renovation effort and has advocated for South Village landmarking for years

Today’s ceremony took place in the piazza-like Father Demo Square, named for the pastor of the adjacent Our Lady of Pompei Church who tended to the families of victims of the nearby Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire in 1911, many of whom were South Village residents and parishioners of his church.

Between 1880 and 1920, more than 50,000 Italian immigrants settled in the South Village.

At the beginning of this year, GVSHP released the report “The South Village: A Proposal for Historic District Designation,” by architectural historian Andrew Dolkart, documenting the neighborhood’s more than 300-year history and its special significance as an archetypal immigrant community, as a cradle of the Italian-American community in New York, as a place of ferment and innovation in music, art, literature, and social and political movements of the 20th century, and for its incredible array of intact 19th and early 20th century architecture, especially housing and institutions for immigrants. The report was submitted to the City for consideration of designation of the South Village as a New York City Historic (landmark) District. The report was funded by Preserve New York, a grant program of the NYS Council on the Arts and the Preservation League of NY State (see here).

Using this report, earlier this year GVSHP nominated the South Village for the State and National Register of Historic Places. In May, the State of New York determined that the South Village was eligible for listing on the Registers based upon its important immigrant, social, and architectural history (see here).

The proposal for historic district designation for the South Village is supported by City Council Speaker Christine C. Quinn, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, Congressman Jerrold Nadler, State Senators Tom Duane and Martin Connor, Assemblymember Deborah Glick, and City Councilmember Alan Gerson, all of whom represent the area. The proposal is also supported by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the Preservation League of NY State, the Municipal Art Society, the Historic Districts Council, City Lore/Place Matters, and the Medici Foundation, along with virtually every block and civic association in the neighborhood.

GVSHP has formed an advisory board for its Historic South Village Preservation Project to guide the effort to honor and preserve the history of the South Village; the Board is composed of more than 40 local business and civic leaders, local institutions, property owners, preservationists, and scholars of Italian-American history, including Rob Kaufelt, Matt Umanov, Silvia Musto Beam, and David Gruber, who were among today’s speakers (see here).

GVSHP has created a “virtual tour” of the historic South Village, which can be found here.

For more information on the effort to preserve the South Village, see GVSHP’s South Village page.

Funding for GVSHP’s Historic South Village Preservation Project comes from the Kaplen Family Foundation, the New York State Council on the Arts, City Council Speaker Christine C. Quinn, State Senator Tom Duane, City Councilmember Alan Gerson, Assemblymember Deborah Glick, and the NYC Department of Cultural Affairs and the NYS Office of Parks, Recreation, & Historic Preservation.

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