New historic district largest expansion of landmark protections in Greenwich Village since 1969
|On December 17th, the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) voted to landmark the South Village Historic District, a 250-building, 13-block section of Greenwich Village south of Washington Square Park, and the second phase of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation’s (GVSHP) proposed South Village Historic District, the first phase of which was landmarked in June of 2010. GVSHP first proposed landmark designation of the South Village 10 years ago, and in 2006, submitted a formal landmarking proposal with boundaries to the City.
Landmark designation of the South Village Historic District brings to over 1,100 the number of buildings in the Village, East Village, and NoHo which the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation has helped secure landmark designation of over the last 10 years.
The new South Village Historic District includes a rich array of 19th and early 20th century sites connected to the development of this neighborhood as a mecca for immigrants — largely Italian-American — and for artists, writers, and musicians in the 20th century, especially those connected to the Beat Movement and the Folk Revival in the 1950s and 60s. With landmark designation of this district, which takes immediate effect, this is the largest expansion of landmark protections in the South Village since 1969, when the Greenwich Village Historic District was designated.
Landmark designation prohibits demolitions and alterations of existing buildings without the permission of the Landmarks Preservation Commission, and tightly controls new development to ensure it is in character with the neighborhood. In recent years, NYU and private developers have made several large incursions into the neighborhood, including a series of oversized, out-of-character buildings on Washington Square South. However, GVSHP successfully fought to have two potential NYU development sites included in the landmark district which the LPC initially excluded — NYU’s Vanderbilt Hall and Kevorkian Center, both on Washington Square South. Without landmark protections, the low-rise brick NYU Vanderbilt Hall could be replaced with a 300 ft. tall dormitory; landmark designation prevents any demolition or new construction on that site without landmarks approval.
This is a long-overdue victory for this neighborhood and for anyone who loves New York’s rich immigrant history and long tradition of cultural innovation. The South Village was the birthplace of modern American Theater, the place where cappuccino was first introduced to America, the site of Dylan’s earliest performances and where he wrote Blowin’ In the Wind, where Lenny Bruce was arrested for obscenity, and the home of America’s first non-profit theater and the city’s first progressive school. Few places embody as much history as the South Village, and few places were in as great of danger of losing that history — in this case to NYU and by other inappropriate development. This landmark designation so many of us fought for years to achieve will help ensure this great history is now preserved.
The South Village has faced increasing danger in recent years. In 2012, the Preservation League of NY State joined with GVSHP to name the South Village one of New York State’s “Seven to Save,” one of the seven most endangered historically significant sites in the State. Earlier this month, New York State approved GVSHP’s nomination of the entire South Village for listing on the State and National Register (SNR) of Historic Places, which will offer tax breaks and other financial incentives for preservation of historic properties, and make sure the area is protected from State or Federal actions or projects or use of State or Federal funds that would harm its historic character.
The LPC did however remove 10 houses at 130-148 Houston Street from the South Village Historic District before they designated it. The LPC has also not yet made a commitment to move ahead on landmark designation of the highly endangered third phase of GVSHP’s proposed South Village Historic District, the area south of Houston Street, which has been subject to especially great development pressure since the approval in early 2013 of the Hudson Square Rezoning, which is directly adjacent to that part of the South Village.
Landmark designation of the South Village was a great victory for everyone who fought so hard to make it happen, but we still have a lot of work to do. Phase III of our proposed landmark district south of Houston Street still desperately needs protections. In the new year, with the new administration, we will be pushing hard to landmark the remaining unprotected areas of the South Village, and proposing new zoning protections for the neighborhood to prevent out-of-scale development.
Following the vote by the Landmarks Preservation Commission, GVSHP sent a letter requesting Community Board #2 hold a hearing and pass a resolution urging the Landmarks Preservation Commission to move ahead with “Phase III” of GVSHP’s proposed South Village Historic District. Councilmember-elect Corey Johnson also wrote to the LPC Chair urging him to move ahead with “Phase III.”
Some important sites included within the new South Village Historic District include:
· – 130-132 MacDougal Street houses — owned by Bronson Alcott, his daughter Louisa May Alcott lived there for a time and is believed to have written parts of Little Women there.
· — Little Red Schoolhouse, 200-202 Bleecker Street – founded in 1921, this was the first “progressive” school in New York. The red houses from which the school gets its name date from 1826.
· – Former Mills House No. 1, 160 Bleecker Street – an early and influential experiment in reform housing built in 1896 to the designs of renowned architect Ernest Flagg. This building originally provided lodging for 1,500 single men along with communal space and social services in what were considered generous and humane conditions for the time.
· – Former Village Gate theater, 158 Bleecker Street — located in the first floor and basement of Mills House No. 1, the Village Gate was one of the premier jazz, rock, and folk music venues of the mid-20th century. Bob Dylan wrote A Hard Rain’s A GonnaFall”here.
· – Former Fire Patrol No. 2, 84 West 3rd Street — built in 1906, the Fire Patrol was a private fire insurance service which pre-dated the New York City Fire Department, with roots connected to Benjamin Franklin. The house has been renovated and converted to a private residence by Anderson Cooper.
· – Minetta Tavern and Café Wha?, MacDougal Street and Minetta Lane — two of the storied gathering spaces in the neighborhood from its bohemian heyday. Bob Dylan’s first performance after arriving in New York was at Cafe Wha? Peter, Paul, and Mary also performed there and Jimi Hendrix was “discovered” there in 1966. Minetta Tavern was a popular literary haunt in the 1920s, attracting the likes of E. E. Cummings, Joe Gould, Ernest Hemingway, Eugene O’Neill, and Ezra Pound
You can find out more about the South Village and efforts to preserve it at http://www.gvshp.org/sv .