Rally on Sunday to Save the South Village

This Sunday at 1:00pm, GVSHP will be holding a rally to urge the Landmarks Preservation Commission to designate the remainder of the South Village Historic District. We hope you will join us! Details can be found here.

The Children's Aid Society

The crowd will convene in front of the Children’s Aid Society (CAS) on Sullivan Street between Bleecker and West 3rd Streets, which is currently for sale and faces the threat of demolition. The building has an incredibly rich history, as it is one of approximately twelve CAS buildings constructed by Calvert Vaux (famous for designing Central Park and the beloved Jefferson Market Library Tower, among other official and unofficial landmarks) with his engineering partner George Radford in the High-Victorian Gothic style in the final decades of the 19th century. Eight of these survive, and three have been landmarked: The Elizabeth Home for Girls at 307 East 12th Street, the Tompkins Square Lodging House at 127-129 Avenue B, and the Fourteenth Ward Industrial School at 256-258 Mott Street.

The fact that one of a handful of surviving buildings by one of America’s preeminent architects could potentially be demolished and replaced with a large tower highlights the great need for more landmark protections in the South Village.

GVSHP first proposed that the City designate the South Village Historic District in 2006. The City responded by designating one-third of the district in 2010, which contains a wealth of buildings of critical importance to the history of the neighborhood. However, two-thirds of the South Village remain unprotected, and while waiting for the City to act we have lost a number of important remnants of the neighborhood’s historic fabric.

In 2001, a major blow to this history came when NYU demolished the last extant Manhattan residence of Poe, where he lived from 1844 to 1845 and wrote “The Raven.” It was replaced with an out-of-scale institutional building for New York University’s Law School.

The Poe House, before (left) and after (right)

Judson Church Houses, demolished 2002

One year later, thanks again to NYU, the Judson Church Houses at 231-239 Thompson Street were destroyed. This group of ca. 1840s Greek Revival rowhouses was renovated by McKim, Mead & White for Judson Memorial Church in 1899. They too were demolished and replaced with an out-of-scale building now used by the University’s Law School.

Then in 2005, two extremely important theaters, each of which played pivotal roles in the history of American theater, were lost forever. The Circle in the Square Theater was built in 1917 as New York’s first non-profit theater. It was replaced with a high-rise dormitory/apartment building.

The Circle in the Square Theater before (left) and after (right)

The Sullivan Street Playhouse, housed in an 1831 rowhouse and home to what was reputed to be the world’s longest-running musical, The Fantasticks (which ran from 1958 to 2002), was altered unrecognizably with an all-glass façade.

The Sullivan Street Playhouse before (left) and after (right)

Tunnel Garage

In 2006, we lost the battle to save the 1922 Tunnel Garage, one of the earliest Art Deco buildings in the United States and one of the oldest extant purpose-built automobile parking garages. A large-scale apartment building now sits on the site. Included in the building’s unique and colorful art deco ornamentation was a medallion in the crown depicting a Model A Ford emerging from the nearby planned (but not-yet-built) Holland Tunnel. GVSHP had gotten the State Historic Preservation Office to declare the garage eligible for the State & National Register of Historic Places, but even this was not enough to convince the City to save the building.

New York University continued to chip away at the South Village’s history in 2008, when it demolished the Provincetown Playhouse & Apartments. The playhouse was the leading avant-garde theater of its day, and had been called “the cornerstone of bohemia,” ”the heart of cultural life in the Village,” and “the center of much of the resurgence and renaissance associated with Greenwich Village” by scholars and historians. It too had been deemed eligible for the State & National Register of Historic Places.

Provincetown Playhouse before (left) and during demolition (right)

The most recent major loss was that of the mid-block 1861 rowhouse at 178 Bleecker Street, one of a cohesive row constructed when the South Village’s main commercial hub was an elegant residential thoroughfare for the upper middle class, and altered along with the rest of the row by the addition of iconic art studio windows in the 1920s.

178 Bleecker Street before (left) and after (right); photo on the right courtesy Maggie Berkvist

Please join GVSHP at Sunday’s rally to send a message to the City that enough is enough! Stand by our side to show your support for designating the remaining two-thirds of the South Village a historic district before it’s too late.


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avatar Elizabeth Finkelstein is GVSHP's Director of Preservation & Research.