Readers who have been involved in our efforts to support the City’s two proposed East Village Historic Districts know that a small but vocal group is looking to halt the plan in its tracks. Those in opposition believe that owners should be trusted to preserve their own properties without governmental interference. While this is a wonderfully idealistic theory, two cases this week of actions being taken on buildings within the currently proposed historic districts in the East Village — before those landmark designations take effect — demonstrate the good and the bad that come with leaving such decisions solely in the hands of private owners.
Off the Grid covered 62 East 4th Street once before, when we shared news that the Fourth Arts Block (of which it is a part) would be receiving a 2011 Village Award. The building’s unique fire escape and storied history have always fascinated us. Originally built as a hotel 1889, it later became a German music union called Astoria Hall (in the late 19th & early 20th centuries this was an extremely vibrant block, filled with meeting halls & social clubs to service the immigrant community). But 62 East 4th Street is perhaps most famous for having housed Andy Warhol’s porn movie house in the 1970s. Today, the Fourth Arts Block (FAB) manages the building, which houses the Rod Rogers Dance Company.
The building has been hidden under scaffolding for quite some time, as FAB has been renovating the facade. We have anxiously been awaiting the big reveal, so were extremely excited earlier this week when we noticed the scaffolding had come down and the shiny new facade had finally been finished.
Kudos to FAB on a beautiful facade restoration! We look forward to future renovation phases, which we are told include restoration of the 5th floor and development of the back lot. FAB clearly recognizes the importance of preserving this building for future generations, and was able to adaptively reuse the space without destroying its historic integrity. If only all building owners could be this preservation-minded.
Alas, such is not the case.
Just a few blocks up, 331 East 6th Street, a beautiful 1852 townhouse (one of the oldest on the block) is in the process of being demolished. While it appears that only the interior is being gutted, the owners have secured a permit to demolish both the front and rear facades as well. This is especially devastating given that this block is one of the most intact in the entire neighborhood, and that the building is only two doors down from the Community Synagogue, a National Historic landmark. In fact, when the East Village was rezoned in 2008, the Environmental Impact Statement identified this block of East 6th Street has being especially historically significant and worthy of landmark protection.
We don’t know exactly what the replacement building will look like. Whatever it is, it will no doubt contribute significantly less to the history and character of the block and neighborhood than its 150 year old predecessor. Fortunately at least, thanks to the 2008 contextual rezoning of the neighborhood which GVSHP and a broad coalition of community groups secured along with the Community Board and Councilmember Rosie Mendez, the building will be only about 5 or 6 stories, whereas under the old zoning, a new building could have been more than double that height.
While FAB’s restoration of 62 East 4th Street shows that sensitive owners can and will preserve, the destruction of 331 East 6th Street shows that not all property owners think alike. This only highlights the urgent need for landmark protections in this neighborhood.
We’re thrilled that the Community Board 3 (CB3) Landmarks Subcommittee voted last Wednesday to support the two proposed East Village Historic Districts, and we are hoping that the full Parks Committee will back-up that support when they meet this evening to vote. If you’re interested in letting CB3 know how important landmarking is to the neighborhood, come to tonight’s meeting and let your voice be heard!
For more information on our efforts to preserve the East Village, visit our Preservation page.