Early Village Preservation Efforts Preserved

Last car through Washington Square Park, 1958. Tankel Collection, Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation.

Last car through Washington Square Park, 1958. Tankel Collection, Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation.

The Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation’s Preservation Archive and Oral History Project was begun in 1995, a project to document over sixty-five years of grassroots advocacy to “Save the Village.” The collection contains oral history interviews, clippings, and photographs that illuminate this preservation history. Today we’ll be spotlighting the oral history interview of Edith Lyons, who recorded her memories as a leader of the Committee to close Washington Square Park to traffic sixteen years ago today, February 19, 1997.

The idea for the creation of GVSHP’s oral history collection took shape at a conference celebrating the 25th anniversary of the creation of the Greenwich Village Historic District and the 30th anniversary of the creation of New York City’s Landmarks Law. GVSHP leaders realized that written records documenting early neighborhood preservation efforts did not exist. The oral histories were created as an official documentation of this work.

Edith Lyons was just one of those early preservationists. She was a co-founder and leader of the Joint Emergency Committee to Close Washington Square Park to Traffic. This explicitly named group successfully fought a Robert Moses-led plan to create an expressway through the park. The interview explores the committee’s tactics, both grassroots and political, as well as their work on behalf of the park following their victory. The interview also contains very personal stories of her time leading the committee, including one about the Brooklyn Borough President supplying the Committee with lunch from a local delicatessen during a Board of Estimate hearing and one that describes how she secured fashion models to collect petition signatures in the park. Ms. Lyon’s amazing work for Washington Square Park, along with her keen sense of humor, is preserved in this record. She died just five years after this interview was conducted.

You can find this oral interview, as well as many others, on the GVSHP website.

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Sheryl Woodruff was GVSHP's Senior Director of Operations until December 2014.

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