Reasons to Save 316 East 3rd Street

316 East 3rd Street (image courtesy

Word has been spreading that a developer intends to demolish an historic rowhouse at 316 East 3rd Street, near the corner of Avenue D in the East Village, and replace it with a Karl Fisher-designed seven-story condo.  Prior to this, however, GVSHP and three other community groups submitted an emergency request to the Landmarks Preservation Commission asking them to landmark the house. For those readers who see this as just another pretty rowhouse among many, we thought we’d take a moment here to explain just why it is so critical that we save this particular building.

Flemish Bond at 316 E 3rd Street

1) The house is MUCH older than people think.
The real estate listing claims that 316 E 3rd Street was constructed ca. 1900. Not even close. This building actually dates to 1835! It’s extremely uncommon to find a building of this age in Alphabet City (we know this because we’ve done research on the history of every single building in the entire East Village). Its age is evidenced by its Flemish Bond brickwork (alternating stretchers and headers), popular in New York until around 1838, which dates the building to the Federal era. This house predates the Civil War by over 25 years!

2) This was the first building ever to exist in its place.
No. 316 East 3rd Street was constructed as part of the first wave of development in Alphabet City, when the waterfront bordering today’s East Village was the center of New York’s shipbuilding industry. When the house was built, there would have been shipyards just down the block, where the Jacob Riis and Lillian Wald houses currently stand. Like the scores of other rowhouses that once existed around it, No. 316 was likely built for wealthier merchants who had ties to this industry. Though they were once abundant along the waterfront, only a handful of these early rowhouses survive. Most were replaced by tenements in the late-19th and early-20th centuries; several more have succumbed to more recent development pressures in the neighborhood.

3) The number of surviving buildings from this significant period in the neighborhood’s history is dwindling.
Today, all traces of the early shipyards along this portion of the East River waterfront are gone. All we have left to remind us of this early history of Alphabet City are the handful of surviving buildings that stand just inland from the former coastline. Sadly, in recent years many of them have been lost. Just last year, we lost a battle with developers to preserve the ca. 1837-41 rowhouses at 326 & 328 East 4th Street, one of which was developed by the builder of the first steamship ever to cross the Atlantic Ocean.These architecturally-intact Greek Revival homes were beautiful survivors from this time; sadly, they are now gone. We cannot bear to see the same thing happen here.

The ca. 1838 homes at 326 & 328 East 4th Street were destroyed last year

4) Not a single NYC landmark represents the earliest period of development in Alphabet City.
Only six buildings east of Avenue B in the East Village are protected NYC landmarks. Not a single one of them dates from this initial period of development in the neighborhood. This means that all surviving remnants of this critical era in the neighborhood’s history are prone to demolition.

5) The house is in excellent condition
When we fought to save 326 & 328 East 4th Street, the Landmarks Preservation Commission told us that their condition was too poor to warrant landmark designation (which was ridiculous; the details had survived intact for nearly 170 years and could have been restored). Such is certainly not the case here. No. 316 East 3rd Street is in excellent condition; its Flemish Bond is in fine shape, its cornice and lintels have been well-preserved, and its beautiful ironwork, which appears to be original to the building, is intact.

6) In 2008, the Landmarks Preservation Commission called this building “eligible for NYC landmark designation.”
When the East Village/LES was rezoned in 2008, the Environmental Impact Statement assessed the rezoning’s possible effects on historic resources within the area. In that document, the Landmarks Preservation Commission specifically called out 316 East 3rd Street as appearing eligible for NYC landmark designation. That they are now pulling back on that claim does not make sense.

7) Frankly, we’re just getting sick of seeing the neighborhood turn into this:

Do you want to help save this 316 East 3rd Street? It is essential that we act fast to preserve this building. Write to the Landmarks Preservation Commission urging them to landmark 316 East 3rd Street. For more information on our efforts in the East Village, visit our Preservation Page.

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Elizabeth Elizabeth Finkelstein was GVSHP's Director of Preservation & Research from Summer 2008 to January 2012.