Sevier Stories

Interview by: Danielle Sevier

Produced by: Mike Persico

“Andrew Berman has been the Executive Director of Village Preservation since 2002. He previously worked in government focusing on land use and historic preservation. He has been

recognized for his preservation work by Vanity Fair, the New York Observer, and New York Magazine. Andrew is a lifelong New Yorker with an Art History degree from Wesleyan University.”

DS: Hi, I’m here with Andrew Berman. He’s been the executive director of the Village Preservation since 2002. Andrew, what has some of your recent successes been with the Village Preservation?

AB: Two great recent successes are we were able to get the Landmarks Preservation Commission to reject a plan that would have really endangered a wonderful old landmark house in the West Village, 131 Charles Street, which is one of the earliest landmarks in the neighborhood, and its back house, which was the home of photographer Diana Arbus for many years. We also, after a ten year campaign, were able to get Julius’s Bar landmarked, which we’’ve been fighting to get landmarked for a decade, almost. That was a wonderful victory and long overdue. We’’re trying to get the city to focus more on things connected to civil rights and social justice, history and underrepresented communities, so that was really wonderful.

DS: Great. Congratulations!

AB: Thank you.

DS: So in that time, what has been some of the biggest lessons you’ve learned in advocating for preservation?

AB: Well you can’t give up. You often don’t win right away. You got to keep going and keep pushing. Some of our greatest victories took ten or 15 years, and it’s really worth it once it happens because you get those landmark protections in place and they stay there forever. You got to keep working once they’re there, but they’re so important to get. And the other is that it’s really important to have a good argument for why a place deserves landmarking, but you’’ve also got to have people who are engaged and passionate about it and willing to fight for it. Me or a couple of other people from the Village Preservation saying this should be landmarked isn’t really going to impress anybody that much. We’’ve got to have hundreds of people behind us saying the same thing, and that makes all the difference.

DS: And do you usually have that?

AB: We often do. We’’re blessed to have a community that really cares about this sort of stuff and is willing to turn out for these press conferences and hearings and demonstrations, and it really makes a difference.

DS: Great. So in all this time, do you have a favorite building?

AB: Well, it’’s like picking your favorite child, but probably have to say Jefferson Market Library. It’’s the very definition of a landmark. It really defines the West Village, and it has just such an incredible history in that it was saved from the wrecking ball. It now serves this wonderful function as this community center for the whole West Village as a library. And it’’s just such a great, fun work of architecture. And you still look at it to see what time it is, and you look at it to figure out sort of where you are in the Village in relation to everything else. The perfect landmark.

DS: Yes. We interviewed Frank, the manager, because we love the building as well.

AB: He’s great.

DS: So, one of the most notable architectural changes that I’’ve noticed in the village is the proliferation of the restaurant sheds. What is your stance on that?

AB: So, the sheds, when they first came about, the whole idea was they were supposed to be temporary. It was because of the pandemic. And, of course, so many businesses were suffering, and they needed a leg up, and we fully supported that. What’’s happened since then is it’’s become a permanent fixture on our streets, and there’s definitely locations where it makes sense to have these where it’’s in a more commercial location, but there’s a lot of places where it doesn’’t make sense and where they’’re having a terrible, terrible impact. So we’’ve really pushed back along with many others who’ve been much more involved, it’s been much more of a center of their attention than ours and said, look, you can’t have a one size fits all plan that says, well, any place where we had a shed during the pandemic is appropriate. To have a shed going forward, it’’s really got to be much more nuanced than that, and we’ve got to have enforcement. A lot of these don’t even fit the rules such as they are. They’re garbage, sanitation issues, health issues. So it’s clearly an area where we’’ve got to do a lot better than we’’re doing now.

DS: Okay. I hope you succeed with that, for all our sakes.

AB: Yes.

DS: I’’d just like to thank you and the Village Preservation for the work that you’ve done in bringing awareness and trying to stop the installation of the 5G towers. I’’m a long-term West Village resident and it means a lot to me that you guys are doing that, because I don’’t want them there. I’’ve written my letter to the city officials. I encourage everybody else to do the same. I want to thank you for everything that you do. It makes such a huge difference.

AB: Thank you so much.

DS: My pleasure.

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