By Brian Pape
If you’ve lived in Greenwich Village as long as Doris Diether has, you’ve seen a lot of strange things. But Doris is not one to just watch the passing parade, she’s in the parade!
Married at the Judson Church at Washington Square Park south in 1958, she is still a regular member there. Her career as a painter, journalist, zoning expert and civic leader often finds her in the church fellowship hall for Community Board Two (CB2) meetings, where many of her former students of zoning regulations show up to present their architectural projects, and greet Doris warmly. The NY City Council held a special event to proclaim her over 50 years serving on the CB2, a record not likely to be broken.
Doris’ life has largely been devoted to preserving the special character of her Village, the architecture, the streets, the parks, the people, animals and birds. One of the treasures of this Village, of course, is Washington Square Park, so full of music, entertainers, tourists, neighbors, squirrels and pigeons. Meandering through the park with Doris, people of all ages call out or come up to greet Doris; squirrels scamper up to receive from her fingers the peanuts she carries in her walker.
This idyllic setting was not always destined to remain without alert neighbors. Back in 1959, Doris lobbied against Robert Moses’ plan to end free Shakespeare in the Park performances. She had previously joined Jane Jacobs, Ruth Wittenberg and Shirley Hayes to fight Moses’ efforts to run Fifth Avenue through the park. Recently, Doris heard about a proposal that would ban live music and entertainment from her beloved park! She went right to work to rally friends, put out notices, attend hearings, and get the votes to squash this rotten idea. And she is ready to do it again!
We celebrated Doris’ birthday recently at her favorite diner, Waverly Restaurant, a block from her home. She is recognized with a greeting and they know her favorite meal, including chocolate mousse cake with cups of coffee, at any time of day or night.
A New York Times article in 2013 on “A Fighter for Tenants Relaces her Gloves” prematurely posited that Doris’ battle against the restaurant Babbo on her block might be her last. She has proved them wrong, as she is still on CB2, going strong with no signs of letting up. The NY Public Library has collected over 110 oral histories from New Yorkers, and Doris is one of those.
Where there is a cause to help the neighborhood, Doris will be there to help, hope-fully for many years to come.