Jerry Banu, the Mayor of Perry Street: A Remembrance

By Barbara Lorber

Jerry Banu, one of the founders of the Perry Street Block Association, and its president for many decades, lost his battle with pancreatic cancer on May 28, 2022.

A resident of his block for 47 years, Jerry was often called “the mayor of Perry Street.” He was the creative force and producer of Plant It on Perry, where every spring and fall scores of residents gathered in front of his house to collect free plants or bulbs, compost, tools, and gardening advice to turn barren tree pits into giddy mini flowering gardens.

Jerry was the reason there are historic Bishops Crook lampposts from Perry Street’s beginning at Greenwich Avenue all the way to West Street and the Hudson River. He ran the campaign, raised the funds from neighbors and neighborhood businesses to purchase the lampposts, and dealt with the city agencies.

Jerry dreamed up Perryphernalia, a block-long, day-long, block party/yard sale/flea market where some 70 residents and locals sold vintage goods and treasures. Perryphernalia generated funding for Plant It on Perry and marked the unofficial opening day of spring for 22 years on Perry Street. Like so many things Jerry started and maintained, Perryphernalia became a community-building activity. It was homecoming for many past Perry Street residents who returned to their block to see old neighbors. It was a day when people sat on stoops, caught up with each other, and made new friends.

Gerald Banu was born in the Bronx on June 30, 1942, the first of two sons of Gizella Neuman Banu and Frank E. Banu. Jerry is survived by his wife Beatrice, his younger brother John, and, from both sides of the family, by five nieces and nephews, four grandnieces and nephews, one great grandnephew and one on the way, and one great grandniece.

Educated in the NYC public school system, Jerry was a graduate of Christopher Columbus High School in the Bronx, and CCNY with a degree in mechanical engineering.

TYPICAL JERRY. Photo credit: Bea Banu.

Jerry had many roles, but one of his favorites was “working property owner.” He managed the house, did a great deal of the historic restoration work himself and most of the repairs, and dealt with all the business aspects of the place.

Beyond his general know-how, and encyclopedic knowledge of how to get things done at the grassroots level in this city, Jerry also knew just about everybody in the neighborhood; and just about everybody knew and liked him. From cops at the 6th Precinct, to firefighters at Squad 18, to sanitation guys who help keep Perry Street clean, to the mailman and shopkeepers, Jerry knew most by name and what was going on with their families.

On an essential level he did more. Much more. Just by being Jerry, he helped create community among the residents of Perry Street—an ephemeral but precious commodity in a big ever-changing city. It is a very different world and a very different West Village we live in now from what it was four decades ago, or even fifteen years ago. Seeing Jerry stride down the street, all 6’6” of him—stopping here to remove an ad taped to a lamppost, or there for a few minutes of conversation—somehow grounded these blocks in a comfortable and more caring time and place.

Shakespeare was right: we shall not look upon his like again.

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