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Press Release - November 11, 2003

GVSHP, Community Leaders, Preservationists and Elected Officials Kick Off Campaign for Landmark Designation of South Village

GVSHP Receives Preserve NY Grant for Preservation Study, Launches ‘Virtual Tour’ of Historic South Village, and Calls on City to Save Three Endangered, Historic Wooden Structures

Greenwich Village - The Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation announced today the kick-off of its campaign to attain historic district designation for the currently unprotected South Village area of Greenwich Village. Residents, preservationists, community groups and leaders, Our Lady of Pompeii Church, and local elected officials joined GVSHP in announcing the kick-off and calling for support for the effort to save and preserve this historic neighborhood. The kick-off included a ceremony in which the Preservation League of New York State gave a grant to GVSHP to conduct a historical, architectural, and cultural survey of the South Village, which will be used to help make the case to the City for designation of a South Village Historic District. GVSHP also announced the launching of a virtual tour of the Historic South Village on its website (click here for tour), containing photos and historical, architectural, and cultural information about this unique and endangered neighborhood. GVSHP also called upon the City to join in trying to preserve and protect 233-237 Bleecker Street, a tiny complex of almost 200 year old wood and brick houses and stables on the corner of Bleecker and Carmine Streets, in the heart of the South Village. The buildings were recently served with violations by the City for hazardous conditions, a sidewalk shed has been erected around them to prevent pieces of the building from falling upon passersby, and their fate, and whether they will be restored or destroyed, is in doubt.

The Campaign for Historic District Designation In addition to the Preservation League of New York State, GVSHP was joined today by the Historic Districts Council, Community Board #2, the South Village Landmarking Alliance, Our Lady of Pompeii Church, and dozens of community residents and leaders in announcing the launch of this campaign. Additionally, City Council Member Christine Quinn, State Senator Tom Duane, City Council Member Alan Gerson, and Assemblymember Deborah Glick have all pledged support and funding for this effort to preserve this historic and endangered community.

“The South Village is a diamond in the rough, and for too long the need to preserve its unique history and architecture have been ignored. We are here today to join together in our effort to preserve this wonderful, unique neighborhood and ensure it is neither overlooked nor developed out of existence,” stated GVSHP Executive Director Andrew Berman.

The South Village is the area of Greenwich Village South of Washington Square Park and West 4th Street currently not within the Greenwich Village Historic District (click here for map). It is also the area of the Village which, in the late 19th and through the mid-20th century, was the center of its immigrant community, largely Italian-American, and later of its avante-grade theater movement, its folk music revival, its beatnik cafes and coffeehouses, and many of its jazz clubs and speakeasies. Unlike the stately rows of brownstones one frequently associates with the rest of Greenwich Village, the South Village is largely characterized by working class architecture — ornate tenements which housed countless immigrant families, modest 19th century houses, converted stables, and industrial loft buildings. Its immigrant history, working class architecture, and counter-cultural significance were overlooked by the City in 1969 when the Greenwich Village Historic District was designated and this area was excluded. Today, it faces threats of demolition of its low-scale historic buildings, and new out-of-scale, high-rise construction which would erase this special character.

Preserve New York Grant Preserve New York, a grant program of the Preservation League of New York State and the New York State Council on the Arts, awarded GVSHP $8,000 today to hire an architectural historian to conduct a full survey of the historic, cultural, and architectural resources of the South Village and issue a report. Such reports have been used in the past by GVSHP as a vital tool in the effort to persuade the City of the merit and need to enact historic district protections. Preserve New York has previously funded a similar report by GVSHP regarding the history and significance of the Gansevoort Market area, which was designated New York City’s newest historic district in September, after a three year effort by GVSHP and its Save Gansevoort Market project. The New York State Council on the Arts has also separately funded other research which enabled GVSHP to advocate for the Gansevoort Market Historic District designation. At GVSHP’s request, last year the Preservation League of New York State (PLNYS) named Gansevoort Market to its annual “Seven To Save List,” a list of the seven most important endangered historic sites in New York State, and and PLNYS has been a staunch supporter of the Save Gansevoort Market campaign. 

“The Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation is tremendously grateful to the Preservation League of New York State and to the New York State Council on the Arts (NYSCA) for this support for our efforts to document and help preserve the wonderful array of historic resources in the South Village.  As PLNYS and NYSCA have always shown tremendous support to GVSHP and to preservation efforts in Greenwich Village, this support comes as no surprise, and is just one more thing Villagers and preservationists have to be grateful to these two wonderful organizations for,” said Berman.

Launching Virtual Tour of the Historic South Village GVSHP announced today the launching of its first ever virtual tour, highlighting the historic South Village.  The tour, with over forty pages, fifty photos and historic maps, and a rich array of historical information about the architecture and buildings of the South Village, can be entered by clicking here. The tour shows some of the most important historic sites in the South Village, including two of only three remaining wooden structures in Greenwich Village, dozens of Federal Style and Greek Revival houses from the early 1800s, sites of some of the most notorious past hang out spots in the South Village (such as the Fat Black Pussycat Theatre), and a unique turn of the century hotel which once housed 1,500 sailors at a time in tiny individual rooms.  It also shows prime examples of what may be the largest concentration of intact late 19th and early 20th century tenements in New York and possibly the world, in every conceivable architectural style and with an array of intact details — elaborate cornices, cast iron storefronts, arched masonry doorways, and intricate exterior ornamentation.

The virtual tour is designed to educate the viewer about the unique historic value of this area, and the need to protect it. “I invite long-time Village residents and people who have never even been to Greenwich Village to explore the charm, history, and beauty of the South Village with this virtual tour,” said Berman.  “Through this virtual tour we hope to raise awareness of this unique and threatened part of the Village, and to build a constituency for its preservation.  Most people could not even imagine that streets like Bleecker, MacDougal, Carmine, Jones, and Cornelia — among the most historic and picturesque in New York — or places like the Sullivan Street Theater, the Provincetown Playhouse, the Little Red Schoolhouse, or Our Lady of Pompeii Church are not protected by historic district designation. We hope to change that.”

New Danger to Historic Buildings The South Village has seen an increase in the destruction of some of its most significant historic structures in recent years: the Poe House on West 3rd Street, the Judson Memorial Church Community House on Thompson Street; and a boom in new construction, including high rises — more than ten new buildings in the last five years — illustrating that unless historic district protections are put in place, the 19th and early 20th century architecture and unique history of this area may be lost.

The most recent cause for concern, however, comes at 233-237 Bleecker Street, a unique set of two and three story wooden and brick buildings — originally a house and a stable — which have recently been cited by the Department of Buildings for hazardous conditions and dangerously deteriorating exterior walls, and which are now surrounded by a scaffolding to protect passersby from the possibility of falling debris from the buildings. The buildings were built in stages, in 1822, 1830, and 1860. The two wooden structures (233 and 237) are two of only three wooden structures left in Greenwich Village, and among the few anywhere in Manhattan. GVSHP has asked the Landmarks Preservation Commission to look into the danger posed by the current situation with the buildings, and, if necessary, take immediate action to ensure their preservation.

“Were these rare historic structures landmarked, the owner would be required to make repairs and restore the buildings to their original condition. Without landmark protections, however, we run the very real danger that the owner may either allow them to deteriorate or simply decide that it is cheaper and easier to tear them down, rather than maintain them,” asserted Berman. “We need the Landmarks Preservation Commission to take a look at any threatened buildings in the South Village, and insure that they are maintained and kept safe. Otherwise, an irreplaceable piece of our history will be gone forever.”


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