One Year in the Life of the East Village/LES Historic District

One Year in the Life of the East Village/LES Historic District
These 1891 Queen Anne tenements on East 7th Street, east of First Avenue, are now protected.
These 1891 tenements in the Queen Anne style on East 7th Street, east of First Avenue, are now protected.

These 1891 Queen Anne tenements on East 7th Street, east of First Avenue, are now protected.

On this day one year ago, the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission officially designated the East Village/LES Historic District. Encompassing 325 buildings and 15 blocks, centering along Second Avenue and stretching between East 2nd Street and St. Mark’s Place, it is by far the largest historic district designation in the neighborhood, and encompasses much of the rich artistic, immigrant and religious fabric that makes this neighborhood so special.

Coupled with the designation of the East 10th Street Historic District earlier last year, in January 2012, the designation of these two areas increased tenfold the number of buildings in the East Village with historic district protections. Before these, no historic district had been designated in the East Village since 1969.

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Here at GVSHP we are proud of the strong, consistent advocacy that helped bring this about — we and our allies and neighbors fought very hard to have the proposed historic district expanded, and of course to have it ultimately designated. GVSHP has also researched and documented the history of every single building in the East Village, and will be making that information available to the public online in the near future.  But most importantly, we also anticipate working toward further historic designations in the neighborhood as well. Stay tuned.

One year later, what does the creation of this large new historic district mean to the neighborhood? Plenty, local folks told us. Here are some thoughts from people you may know:

Tom Birchard, owner of Veselka restaurant:

“The East Village means a lot to me. I first came here when I was a sophomore in college and I’ve never left. The energy and diversity of the neighborhood captivated me. I’ve raised five children here, and four of them still live and/or work in the neighborhood. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting some incredibly interesting people over the years.

I think the landmark designation not only helps preserve the architectural uniqueness of our community, but also helps preserve the cultural diversity and creative energy. Where else could a naïve kid from the suburbs meet and make friends with Ukrainians, Poles, Jews, Puerto Ricans, artists, writers, actors, designers, gays and lesbians without leaving his block? I feel incredibly blessed to have had the opportunity to spend my life here. I love the East Village. I look forward to helping preserve more of it.

John Leguizamo, actor and former East Villager:

“I’m happy that this important area is now being respected as the birthplace of so many ideas and talents that made NYC the city that it is in the eyes of the world. So many notables were nurtured in this fertile delta of the Lower East Side, including W.H. Auden, Iggy Pop and Ellen Stewart, to name just a few.”

Rachel Lubell, general manager of the Rod Rodgers Dance Company on the Fourth Arts Block:

“I’ve been here since the late 80s. I’ve seen the neighborhood go through quite a transformation, some positive and some not so positive. It’s important to preserve, outside of the actual facilities, the people and the culture of the community.

I think any official recognition of the neighborhood is a positive thing for the businesses as well as the residents. It shows we work hard to keep the community moving forward and moving into the 21st century, whether it’s getting white roofs, or getting more bicycles in the community, or recycling garbage. Having any type of recognition, it’s a great help to all of us. It’s the small things that add up, that really make a difference.”

Note: Rachel recalled that Rod Rodgers moved his dance company into 62 E. 4th Street in the mid-80’s, when the building was decrepit. The interior was renovated at the time, and the exterior was just renovated two years ago. Now it’s an “elegant, prestigious” address, she says; another interior facelift is up next.

David Mulkins, chair, Bowery Alliance of Neighbors:

“Bravo to the one year anniversary of the EV/LES Historic District! Considering the ferocious pace of real estate speculation, the city should move quickly to preserve additional parts of the Lower East Side, including the New York Marble Cemetery and the Bowery, which is NYC’s oldest thoroughfare and the birthplace of tap dance, streetcars, vaudeville, and punk rock.

This area’s tremendous prosperity and the throngs of visitors who come here are proof positive that its low-rise historic character is the precious key to its allure and economic vitality. Preserving the East Village/Lower East Side makes good economic sense.”

 

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Karen Loew

Karen Loew is the Director of East Village and Special Projects at GVSHP.

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