GVSHP Oral History: David Amram

amramGVSHP is excited to share our oral history collection with the public, and hope they will shed more light on what makes Greenwich Village and the East Village such unique and vibrant areas. Each of these histories highlights the experiences and insights of long-time residents, usually active in the arts, culture, preservation, business, or civic life of the neighborhood.  Recently we launched new collections focusing on the East and South Villages, and have been highlighting some of the featured individuals on Off the Grid.  These posts can be found here, and the entire oral history collection here.

Born on November 17, 1930 in Philadelphia, David Amram has been a noted musician, bandleader, prolific composer, and pioneer of the jazz French horn for over 50 years. At age seven, he started piano lessons, tried trumpet and tuba before settling on French horn. He attended Oberlin Conservatory of Music for a year, and in 1951, earned his Bachelor’s Degree from George Washington University. Amram then attended the Manhattan School of Music.

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Funny Face: ‘S Wonderful! ‘S Marvelous!

funnyface2Funny Face, the iconic American romantic musical comedy directed by Stanley Donen and written by Leonard Gersche about a Greenwich Village bookworm transformed into the belle of the Paris fashion runways, was released on February 13, 1957. Fred Astaire, Audrey Hepburn, and Kay Thompson star in the movie, which contained assorted songs by George and Ira Gershwin. Though it contains the same star, Fred Astaire, and several of the Gershwins’ original songs, the plot is vastly different from the 1927 George Gershwin Broadway musical of the same name.

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Really, Really, Ridiculously Awful (and probably illegal) Billboards

The Gansevoort Street side of the Hotel Gansevoort Billboards, Image via Google Maps

The Gansevoort Street side of the Hotel Gansevoort Billboards (Image via Google)

Nine years ago today, on a freezing cold February day (like today), GVSHP and hundreds of neighbors protested the Hotel Gansevoort billboards that had just been erected at the corner of Hudson and Gansevoort Street.  GVSHP Exec. Dir. Andrew Berman’s statements then stand true today, “The Hotel Gansevoort profits in every way it can from this neighborhood – from its name to the views it enjoys over our low-rise buildings, which remain thanks to the landmark protections we fought for. Their eight-story high billboards… turn [these neighborhoods] into backdrops for their crass self-promotion and profit.

Unfortunately, the Hotel Gansevoort billboards  are on a block not included as part of Gansevoort Market Historic District, and thus did not need landmarks approval. GVSHP argued that the billboards were illegal based upon zoning rules, but the City refused to enforce what we saw as a pretty plain and clear interpretation of the zoning law.

Sadly but unsurprisingly, the Hotel has failed to even maintained the appearance of the billboards, as they promised to do at the time, as they continue to rake in millions of dollars per year at the expense of their neighbors.
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Upscale Makeover Planned for Former Animal Hospital and Women’s Shelter, 348 Lafayette Street

348 Lafayette Street a/k/a 11 Bond Street.  Source: Google Maps

348 Lafayette Street a/k/a 11 Bond Street. Source: Google Maps

The Noho Historic District embraces a broad arc of New York City’s commercial history from the early 1850’s through the 1920’s, during which time this section prospered as a major retail and wholesale dry goods centers.  It offers an eclectic mix of architectural styles and building types including early 19th century houses, turn-of the century office buildings, modest 20th century commercial structures and 19th & 20th century institutional buildings.

One such institutional building is 348-354 Lafayette Street a/k/a 11-13 Bond Street, which was built in 1913 for the New York Women’s League for Animals as a veterinary hospital.  It was the first such building of its kind in the country, according to The New York Times from that year.

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Remembering East Village resident and musician Lead Belly

leadbellyAs regular readers of “Off the Grid” will know, one of many ways GVSHP has worked to preserve the neighborhood heritage of Greenwich Village has been to install a series of plaques remembering everything from the radical politics of saloon-keeper Justus Schwab (50 E. 1st Street) and the longtime home of poet Frank O’Hara (441 E. 9th Street), to the much-missed icon of 1960’s rock music, the Fillmore East (105 2nd Avenue).

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The “East Village” Is Born, In Print

Courtesy of the New York Times.

Courtesy of the New York Times.

On February 7, 1960 the New York Times wrote an article discussing changes in Greenwich Village and the Lower East Side.  Four years beforehand the El (above ground subway) had been removed from Third Avenue.  With that barrier dismantled, Villagers from the west began to move east as “new shops, luxury and middle-income housing, and remodeled rooming-houses” began to appear.   Increasing rents in Greenwich Village pushed residents, artists, writers, students and musicians to seek cheaper rents further east.  The neighborhood was being rechristened “Village East” or  the “East Village.”   The New York Times story appears to be one of the very first, or possibly the first, recorded instance of the part of the Lower East Side north of Houston Street being referred to as “the East Village.” Read the rest of this entry »

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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.
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Business of the Month: St. Mark’s Bookshop, 136 East 3rd Street

Bob Contant in front of St. Mark's Bookshop.

Bob Contant in front of St. Mark’s Bookshop; note the GVSHP “Business of the Month” sticker on the front door.

Your input is needed! Today we feature our latest Business of the Month — and we need your help selecting the next. Tell us which independent store you love in Greenwich Village, the East Village or NoHo: just click here to vote for your favorite.  Want to help support small businesses?  Share this post with friends.

St. Mark's Bookshop, exterior.

St. Mark’s Bookshop, exterior.

“New York is a book town, and people do buy books rather than read them online, people do both.”

St. Mark’s Bookshop has been a part of the East Village since the 1970s.  Unlike the large chain stores we are accustomed to now, St. Mark’s specializes in small and independent press, periodicals and journals.  Though it has moved over the years, St. Mark’s has managed to remain a presence within the East Village, serving students at the local universities as well as maintaining a stock that has attracted people from all over the world to their shelves.  Recently, GVSHP was able to talk with Bob Contant, one of the original founders and still a current employee at the store, to talk about its beginnings, what sets it apart from other bookstores in the area, and why now more than ever they need the public’s support.

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Next Stop, Greenwich Village: 1953 Was a Good Year for Leaving Home

On February 5, 1976, the film Next Stop, Greenwich Village premiered. Many movies, television shows, and plays have taken place in the Village, displaying the unique characteristics of the neighborhood, but arguably, none epitomizes the nostalgia of Greenwich Village quite like Next Stop, Greenwich Village. The movie, released on February 4, 1976, is set in the early 1950s. Paul Mazursky wrote and directed the film, which featured Lenny Baker, Shelley Winters, Ellen Greene, Lois Smith and Christopher Walken.

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12 years ago: Support for designation of the Silver Towers Complex

2-04PreservationOrgs_Page_112 years ago tomorrow, our colleagues at the Municipal Arts Society sent a letter to the Landmarks Preservation Commission supporting our request for landmark designation of the Silver Towers/ University Village site. This superblock, located between Houston Street and Bleecker Street, LaGuardia Place and Mercer Street, contains three buildings designed by renowned architect I.M. Pei, constructed between 1964 and 1967. The land was part of a slum clearance program, begun in 1953 by controversial urban planner Robert Moses. Getting these kinds of statements of support from preservation groups, elected officials, community groups, etc. is a key part of how we go about building a coalition to get landmark designation.

Silver Towers

Silver Towers

GVSHP was was the original proponent and proposer of this landmark designation. You may wonder why GVSHP supported landmark designation for this urban renewal, vaguely ‘brutalist’ piece of modern architecture, but you can read more about that here. In fact we are so enamored of this site, we have written about its beginning, its anniversary, its public art, and its lasting impact.

Ultimately, the LPC agreed, and landmark status was designated on November 18, 2008. Read the rest of this entry »

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