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Remembrances of The Lost Village: Doris Deither the fighter

By Roger Paradiso

Starting October 19th with THE LOST VILLAGE premiere at the legendary Cinema Village Theaters, we did community panel discussions after each screening. Sponsored by WestView News, we ended up doing 8 panels in that first week. But none was more memorable than the night Doris Deither came to visit. She has been called “The Grande Dame of New York City Land Use” by Observer.com for her work in preserving the Village.

It was a cold October night when Abigail Hastings, the Judson Memorial Church archivist, pulled up in a car with Doris. I saw a diminutive lady sitting in the front seat. That was Doris. When we opened the door she grabbed our helping hands and started making her way down 12th Street towards the theater. When we entered the lobby the staff led by Adriel and Emily helped her down the stairs and into the bohemian basement theater.

When the film was over and the spotlight was turned on she really came alive. You could feel her spirit. It should be bottled and sold. Maybe we would be winning the fight against the current siege of Greenwich Village.

When Doris spoke you could sense the audience focus on every word:“When we started working with Save the Village many years ago… we had a very novel system… We divided the Village up into sections and each one of us had our sections. I had the Central Village. Jane Jacobs had the West Village. And Verna Small had parts of the South Village. The way we worked it was if something was going to be happening in one area we would notify all the other people and they would bring all their people to that area. So we were not one small little group fighting. It was a whole 5 or 6 groups fighting all at the same time… I think we should start thinking about doing that again.”

As Brian Pape wrote in WestView News a few years 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!”

Doris celebrated her 90th birthday with friends at Judson Memorial Church this past January 10th. Back in 1958 Doris married Jack Deither in Judson Memorial Church. She still lives in the Village apartment she shared with her husband. How many people stay in one place nowadays for 51 years? Not many, but then Doris is a special person. She’s a fighter who has resisted any landlord from moving her out of her home.

Photo by Allan Baillie.

Doris Diethers’ 90th birthday party at Judson Memorial Church, January 10.

By Suzanne Dickerson 

An active member of Community Board 2 for almost six decades, making her the longest ever, Doris known as the go to zoning specialist, also helped save Shakespeare in the Park and alongside Jane Jacobs fought Robert Moses.

Doris’ many families (Judson, Community Board, Washington Square Park) friends, fellow preservationists, activists and last but not least her many boyfriends merrily drank, danced and celebrated the Grande Dame, the recognized Queen of Washington Square Park with thanks for all that she has done for us and appreciation for just being the Doris we love to love! For those Diether friends who didn’t get to individually greet the much in demand Birthday gal, there were boards to leave a personal greeting. Many were curious about the blow-up pig at the table…a reference to a famous incident in 1960 when Diether protested demolition of older buildings at Governor Nelson Rockeller’s office holding a live rented pig on a leash.

Senior Judson Minister, Rev. Dr. Donna Schaper gave a loving tribute to long time Judson member Diether. Associate Judson pastor Micha Bucey wrapped Doris in a red feather boa, Judson’s famous gesture of ordination. Almost $3,000 was raised for the Judson Memorial Elevator fund in Doris Diether’s name to replace the rapidly decaying elevator for Judson’s multipurpose community uses.

Doris recieved five proclamations and citations from the City.

Staff from The Lantern on Bleecker St. not only donated but came to mix margaritas, Le Souk donated champagne! and Wine – both came to serve setting up hot-food tables of Middle Eastern style couscous, etc. etc. Other restaurants were also generous with delicious fare from their restaurants. Doris friends did not leave hungry!

Sharon Woolums and Suzanne Schropp organized Diethers’ 80th birthday blowout extravaganza, also at Judson ten years ago. It was a great success but the 90th with Erin Rogers and Hellen Osgood on the DDBB committee and so many volunteers throughout— this was even better!

Reflecting on why Woolums thought it important to honor Doris with a celebration, Sharon said in her opening remarks: “It’s rare to find an individual who has no political ambition, is not running for office, who has no hidden agenda and who just wants what’s best for her community and is ready to give her all. We hope by honoring this wonderful lady tonight you might also be inspired to follow in Doris’ footsteps. You may have ideas, yet be reticent to take that step – but these are dire times and we’re so glad Doris, so many years ago, you made your way to our town unafraid to step forward and make a difference.”

Sharon Woolums Opening remarks for Doris Diether Birthday Bash (DDBB):

Good evening! My name is Sharon Woolums. I’m the chairperson of the Doris Diether Birthday Bash Committee and it’s my honor on behalf of the DDBB committee and our host, Judson Church, to welcome Doris’ friends and her many families – her Judson family, her Community Board family, her Washington Square Park family, her fan club and last but not least her many boyfriends.

We’re gathered tonight in this beautiful space to honor Doris a friend, a neighbor and comrade-in- arms, because she’s honored us not just for her enduring accomplishments – but for brightening our day – running into Doris will put a smile on your face…So we’re here for many reasons – How do we love thee Doris – Let us count the ways – tonight!

Certainly deserving of praise is Doris decades of public service – the victories we know about but also what we didn’t see – the countless private hours researching, the patient study that earned her the title of New York’s zoning maven, all achieved without the relevant college degree! We want to honor what it took to win that seat at the table with the men in suits. Our Doris in her pretty floral print blouses with the perfect earrings and lipstick to match earned a place at the table where women in those days were rarely invited…and our city benefited immeasurably by the beautiful sweet lady…tough as her well-manicured nails and fearless to take on the twice as tall powers that be when proposing potentially detrimental deeds against community interests. Doris asks the tough questions that no one else does because of what she knows – because her diligent study paid off. It’s rare to find an individual who has no political ambition, is not running for office, who has no hidden agenda and who just wants what’s best for her community and is ready to give her all. We hope by honoring this wonderful lady tonight you might also be inspired to follow in Doris’ footsteps. You may have ideas, yet be reticent to take that step – but these are dire times and we’re so glad Doris, so many years ago, you made your way to our town unafraid to step forward and make a difference.

So tonight we have quite an agenda. Our elected officials wish to pay tribute! Then – a very special treat – The Washington Square Super Stars – they’re the talented musicians who entertain us in the park. Doris is one of their biggest fans and they know Ms. Diether is the indisputable Queen of Washington Square Park.

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