It’s finally warm enough to re-start a new feature, Places We Love, focusing on architectural, cultural and commercial favorites that local folks feel are worth preserving, particularly in the East Village. If you have one you want to talk about, write to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Beth Sopko has lived on East 8th Street in a handsome 1902 tenement for more than 20 years. She likes her home just fine — but saves her serious admiration for the imposing red-brick High Victorian gothic structure immediately next door, on the northeast corner of 8th Street and Avenue B.
“What’s not to love?” says Sopko. “Someone called it a ‘mini-Dakota’ — but it’s even better than that. I’ve only been inside a couple of times, but it’s really amazing.”
The building was erected in 1886 by the Children’s Aid Society as the Tompkins Square Lodging for Boys and Industrial School. It was designed by Calvert Vaux and George K. Radford as a combination home and school for poor boys, particularly newsboys and bootblacks. The Children’s Aid Society engaged Vaux and Radford to design about a dozen residences for needy children between 1879 and 1892; this is the third, in rust-colored brick with matching terra-cotta ornamentation, a varied roofline with dormers and chimneys, and a prominent corner tower — complementing the tower of St. Brigid’s Church across 8th Street.
Sopko is such a fan that she owns an 1886 article from Harper’s Weekly magazine on the building, about “the grimy little bootblacks and their rivals in trade, the newsboys.” Reading from the article, she quotes that boys “can sleep in a common dormitory for a nickel a night. …The boy willing to cough up a dime can sleep like a little prince in his own bed.” The status of child laborers in America was a subject to which Harper’s would return in other articles.
Sopko first came to the East Village in the 1980s to study art, primarily photography, at Cooper Union. She lived in a variety of local places before settling on East 8th, and works as a dog walker in neighborhoods from Tribeca to Williamsburg. “Walking dogs has been an incredible experience. I get to see so much of the city that I might not otherwise notice,” she says, and expresses her photo-instinct via an Instagram page.
The Lodging for Boys, commonly called “the Newsboys Home,” had several lives before becoming a seven-unit apartment building. According to Roland Legiardi-Laura, one of the resident-owners of the building (which also has renters), in the 20th century a Jewish center called Talmud Torah Darchei Noam owned the building, then the East Side Hebrew Institute. In the late 1970s, Legiardi-Laura and others acquired the building and financed a series of renovations, from removing the light yellow and dark red paint that covered the building, to replacing the slate and copper roofing, to renovating the entryway in mahogany, to re-pointing the brick façade.
Still ahead, they would like to restore to their original style all 65 window and door penetrations on the two facades; the perimeter metal fencing; and a side entry on the 8th Street alleyway. The owners welcomed designation as a New York City Landmark in 2000, and won a New York Landmarks Conservancy Lucy G. Moses Preservation Award in 2008.
And the building continues to inspire pride and joy in its neighbors.