In this series, ‘More is More,’ we will look at extensions of historic districts in our area. Extensions to historic districts are just what they sound like — additions to previously-designated historic districts that abut the original district and are determined to share not just geography but architectural and/or historic significance. Why such areas are overlooked in the first place varies from district to district. Today we are going to look at the oldest historic district extension in our area, the St. Mark’s Historic District Extension.
The St. Mark’s Historic District Extension was designated 15 years after the St. Mark’s Historic District and only consists of two buildings, 102 and 104 East 10th Street. But they are quite an important pair of buildings, which one might be surprised were not included in the original landmark designation. No. 102 is actually the oldest building on the block (c. 1839) and both properties were the first to be developed on the block. And yet, as stated in the designation report “[t]hey are the only two buildings on the south side of the block between Third Avenue and Stuyvesant Street which were not included in the historic district as it was designated in 1969.”
The story of their eventual designation is one of successful efforts by community organizers to challenge development and its potential harm to our historic and cultural resources.
In 1969, the St. Mark’s Historic District was one of the first historic districts designated in New York City by the relatively new Landmarks Preservation Commission. Consisting of 36 buildings, according to the designation report “among its important qualities, the St. Mark’s Historic District is a residential area notable for the quality and variety of its architecture, that it represents one of the oldest developments of this part of the City, and has its own street pattern, that it occupies the site of Governor Stuyvesant’s famous “Bouworie” or farm, and has many associations with the Stuyvesant family,…that it has retained much of its original character and that in the heart of the City it represents a residential area of exceptional charm and historic significance.”
At the time of this designation and going forward, Third Avenue was under tremendous development pressure. Several attempts were made by developers to change the zoning from R-7 (allowing a floor area ratio of about 6, or six times the size of the lot) to R-10 (allowing a floor area ratio of 10), encouraging out-of-scale development in this part of the East Village. Community efforts from organizations such as the Third Avenue Tenants, Artists, and Businessmen Association thwarted those efforts. However, with the purchase by NYU of Nos. 31 and 67 Third Avenue, the much feared development occurred in spite of those efforts.
Marilyn Appleberg, a 2012 Village Award winner, and president and founder of the 10th and Stuyvesant Street Block Association was at the forefront of leading the charge to maintain the low rise character and mitigate, if not impede, the effects of development on the St. Mark’s historic district. The Block Association in coalition with other community groups pushed for the extension of the St. Mark’s Historic District to include Nos. 102 & 104 East 10th Street. They described the exclusion of these two houses as “the puzzling omission,” a mantra they repeated over and over again. Their efforts were eventually successful and the St. Mark’s Historic District Extension was designated in 1984.
According to Marilyn, “of all the achievements I am credited with, the extension ranks at the top — not only for permanently preserving these two important elements of the district but for keeping the NYU dorms from encroaching further into the block. I am sure that without the extension, these two houses would have been lost.”
For more of this incredible history, check out GVSHP’s oral history with Marilyn Appleberg here, and read the designation report for the St. Mark’s Historic District Extension, with more history on these 19th century houses which were almost lost, and on the entire area, here.