57 Sullivan Street — A Landmark Designation Long Overdue

57 Sullivan Street.  Courtesy: Tom Miller

57 Sullivan Street. Courtesy: Tom Miller

As one of the oldest surviving houses in Manhattan, 57 Sullivan Street has born witness to and participated in the story of the evolution of housing in New York City.  It started as a single-family house at its inception in the early nineteenth century.  As the demographics of the neighborhood changed, it became multi-family housing for Italian immigrants. Today it has returned to a single-family residence.  And of course a lot happened in between.

This is only part of the story of this house.  The story of its consideration as a New York City landmark is equally as compelling and complex.  And on February 23, 2016, the LPC will take a step forward, one way or the other, on whether to landmark this exemplary structure both for its architecture and history.

Built c. 1816-17, 57 Sullivan Street is one of the oldest surviving houses in Lower Manhattan and it is believed to be the oldest house in the South Village.  It was built in the Federal style and maintains many of its significant features of this first architectural style of the newly born American republic.  Intact features include its front stoop, brick-clad front façade laid in Flemish bond, and incised brownstone lintels.  The house’s most remarkable intact feature is the incised entry arch with incised keystone and impost blocks.  By 1858, the third floor was added and the Flemish bond was continued on this story, as was the use of similar lintels seen on the lower floors.  Exposure of the frame on the south façade during demolition of an adjacent house revealed for a time the underlying wooden construction in 1934.

57 Sullivan Street, 1934.  NYPL

57 Sullivan Street, 1934. NYPL

The house was constructed on land formerly owned by Alexander L. and Sarah Lispend Stewart.  David G. Bogert, a mason, owned it from 1817 to 1841, and its next owner and occupant, Thomas Bray, was an Irish immigrant who owned a liquor store on Grand Street.  Following Bray’s death in 1880 and into the twentieth century, the house was rented to Italian immigrant families, reflecting the change in the surrounding neighborhood.  In 1900 three families and two boarders, all first- and second-generation Italian-Americans, made 57 Sullivan Street their home.  By 1920, as many as 21 people resided there.  At the turn of the twenty-first century, 57 Sullivan Street was restored and is currently a single family residence.  In 2013 GVSHP got the house listed on the State and National Register of Historic Places as a contributing property within the South Village Historic District.

Given this illustrious history, one would assume that it is a New York City landmark.  But remarkably, it is not…not yet anyway.  First calendared (or formally considered for landmark designation) in 1970, the LPC approved the designation of 57 Sullivan Street in May of 1973.  Apparently, however, this designation was overturned by the then Board of Estimate. In 2002, this house was one of thirteen federal houses the GVSHP and the New York Landmarks Conservancy proposed for designation, and was heard by the Commission in 2009.  Designation of the house enjoyed strong support from the local community board, local elected officials, neighbors, and preservation organizations across the city.

In 2014, the LPC proposed to decalendar 57 Sullivan Street along with nearly 100 other properties throughout the city which had been under consideration for landmark designation by the City for more than five years without a final decision.  Thanks to public outcry lead by GVSHP and other preservation organizations, the LPC changed course and these properties have instead been subject to backlog hearings at the LPC.  GVSHP presented strong testimony in November 2015 in favor of designation of 2 Oliver Street, 138 Second Avenue, 801-07 Broadway and, of course, 57 Sullivan Street — the four sites located in our area that were being considered for decalendaring.

On February 23, 2016, the LPC will hold a public meeting to consider a course of action on the back logged properties.  Hopefully the LPC will vote to proceed with designation of 57 Sullivan Street, as well as the other three properties.  This is a designation that is long over due.

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57 Sullivan St., 2 Oliver St., 138 Second Av., and 801-807 Broadway

To get the latest information on the Backlog hearings, click HERE.

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Sarah Bean Apmann