He was born July 25, 1925. He moved to Morton Street on September 1, 1955. And now—nearly 90 years after the first big event and 60 years after the second—Albert Bennett’s friends and neighbors in the Morton Street Block Association decided it was time to celebrate. The MSBA honored Albert at a gala party on Saturday, April 25, at the beautiful home of Ellen (MSBA Treasurer) and Tom Stevenson. Every guest received a big button with Albert’s photo and the inscription “Albert—Nifty at Ninety.” Separate cakes memorialized the 90th birthday and the 60th anniversary dates, and the champagne flowed as toasts were raised to the lifetime achievements of this extraordinary man.
Albert was a founding member of the MSBA in 1993, served as Vice President for a year, and then as President from 1996 until 2007, when he stepped down to assume the role of Community Liaison. He is still active in that position, which he fills with passionate zeal by continuing to do what he has always done: fighting against inappropriate development in his beloved Greenwich Village and fighting for the preservation of its historic buildings and waterfront.
He has been a particularly ardent and effective advocate for the waterfront, helping to prevent commercialization from engulfing Pier 40 and trying to save (alas, unsuccessfully) Morton Street’s own Pier 42. His love of the Greenwich Village waterfront shines through the 2002 book Maritime Mile, for which he contributed the informative, entertaining, and scholarly captions describing each of the book’s dozens of striking photographs. (Another Village activist, Katy Bordonaro, pointed out at the party that Albert was the one who coined the phrase “Maritime Mile” for the stretch of waterfront between 14th Street and Canal, which covers exactly one mile.)
Serving on numerous committees and task forces, Albert pursues his activism as a Public Member of the Community Board 2 (Manhattan) Landmarks Committee and has served as Landmarks Chair of the Greenwich Village Community Task Force and as a member of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation’s South Village Historic District Advisory Board. His years-long work to landmark the South Village bore fruit when the Greenwich Village Historic District Extension II was created in 2010 (although not all the areas that he had advocated for were included). Albert’s eloquent testimony at many a hearing—where his wry humor often brought laughs from appreciative audiences—was instrumental in the success of this effort.
At his party, Albert noted that he has had many careers in his long life: he served on Okinawa during World War II, he graduated from Yale School of Drama and acted in numerous stage performances; he was on the editorial staffs of the American Heritage Dictionary and Funk & Wagnalls Encyclopedia. But the most satisfying of all, he said, was his career as a Preservationist. That brought a huge round of applause from well wishers at the party, who obviously hoped that Albert will be able to continue in this ultimate career for many years to come.
Mary T. Phillips is an MSBA member and Communications Chair.