Behind Building Blocks: 285 East 3rd Street, home of Steve Cannon and Gathering of the Tribes

Behind Building Blocks:  285 East 3rd Street, home of Steve Cannon and Gathering of the Tribes

When Village Preservation released an online tool that details historic information about every one of the East Village’s 2,200 buildings, we thought it would garner a lot of interest.  Little did we know that by now it has garnered over 62,633 views. The tool is called “East Village Building Blocks,” and it provides both present-day and historic photos of each building, while also offering a wealth of information from the original architect, to the date of construction, original use, alterations over time, and more.

Today we look at one of those buildings and the information we have on it, illustrating what you can find on Building Blocks.  So let’s take a deep dive into the history and architecture of 285 East 3rd Street.

Every building, lot, or garden in the East Village has an entry page. For 285 East 3rd Street it looks like this:

The address is identified as well as the Block and Lot, which is another way the city government keeps track of real estate. In addition, the building date, original use, original owner, and original architect are listed when that information is retrievable. As with many buildings this old, there is no record of an architect here, but we do know the building was constructed in 1837 as a residence for Charles J. Dodge.

And then for each location,

we include the description and alterations made to the building over time. In this case, as the former home of Village Award winner Steve Cannon and the Gathering of the Tribes (where I worked briefly in the 90s), there is a lot of rich history. The entry continues:

“For many years, the building was the home of Steve Cannon and his organization, The Gathering Of The Tribes.  Known as “the keeper of the multicultural flame and flavor of downtown Bohemia” since the early 1960’s, Cannon originally hailed from New Orleans and as the youngest of 8 children. Influenced by his family’s penchant for storytelling, recitation, and music, he pursued writing and cultural endeavors. When he arrived in New York City in the early 1960’s, his only interest was becoming part of the downtown scene where writers, artists, musicians, dancers, photographers and many others expressing their artistic visions could gather and exchange ideas. He has lived in the East Village ever since, over the years mixing with such legendary figures as Norman Mailer, Miles Davis, Cecil Taylor, Leonard Bernstein, Charlie Parker, LeRoi Jones, Gregory Corso, Allen Ginsberg, David Henderson, Henry Threadgill, and EL Doctorow.  Cannon was instrumental in the founding of many of the Lower East Side’s and East Village’s cultural institutions such as the Charlie Parker Jazz Festival, the Lower East Side Arts Festival, the Howl Festival (of which he is the is Poet Laureate), and the Nuyorican Poets Café.  The Gathering of the Tribes ran out of his apartment here, and included a gallery and gathering space in this Greek Revival house built by the founder of The Nation magazine, Hamilton Fish.  Their website states: Tribes was conceived as a venue for underexposed artists, as well as a networking center and locus for the development of new talent. The formation of Tribes was motivated by the thriving artistic community in and around the Lower East Side: poetry at The Nuyorican Poets Café; performances and plays at the Living Theater; activist art at Bullet Space; as well as hundreds of artists trying to find and develop a voice in their medium and a place in which their work might be appreciated (read more about Cannon and Tribes here).”

On the right-hand side of the webpage for each building, there is the “Additional Resources” section. This varies for each entry, depending on what our diligent research team was able to find out about that particular location. Some places have more documents available than others. Some buildings have a more illustrious story and history than others. Each line is a clickable link to the source material.

If you look at the 1853 Perris map, you can see that much of the East Village was developed by that year, largely with row houses, many of which survive until this day, including this one from 1837. New York City started to require permits for new buildings in 1866, so determining the date of construction for buildings constructed prior to that date means relying on old property tax records (there may not have been building permits then, but there were always taxes).  These records are available on microfilm at the New York City Municipal Archives; the process of finding these records for specific properties is quite tedious and time-consuming, but provides invaluable information about dating buildings which might otherwise be impossible.

Here we were able to find the Tax Assessment Record from 1837, and link to it when you click the highlighted line on the original entry page here.

It is always interesting to see such old records. Since street addresses change over the years, the Block and Lot number are a more accurate way to identify a property over time.

Zooming into this document we see that lot 63 was “unfinished”, meaning that it was under construction at the time, hence how we arrived at the year it was built.

The following year of 1838, the tax record shows a house at this location, the “H” and an assessed value of $4,000, double in value in one year.

So you can see that through this resource, we can determine its building date along with the original owner, Charles Dodge.

But the more recent history of the building is perhaps even more interesting than its early 19th century origins.  It was the home and gallery of the creative genius Steve Cannon, who sadly passed away in on July 7, 2019.  The highlighted section of the “Additional Resources” page links to an article about his life that was written when he received a 2016 Village Preservation Award.

“Originally hailing from New Orleans and the youngest of 8 children, the now 81 year old Cannon has experienced many lives and adventures. Influenced by his family’s penchant for storytelling, recitation, and music, he has always pursued writing and cultural endeavors. When he arrived in New York City in the early 1960’s, his only interest was becoming part of the downtown scene where writers, artists, musicians, dancers, photographers and many others expressing their artistic visions could gather and exchange ideas. He has lived in the East Village ever since, over the years mixing with such legendary figures as Norman Mailer, Miles Davis, Cecil Taylor, Leonard Bernstein, Charlie Parker, LeRoi Jones, Gregory Corso, Allen Ginsberg, David Henderson, Henry Threadgill, and EL Doctorow.

Steve Cannon and Ed Clark at the Studio Museum in Harlem in the 1960’s

Steve Cannon and Ed Clark at the Studio Museum in Harlem in the 1960’s

Steve Cannon has been instrumental in the founding of many of the Lower East Side’s and East Village’s cultural institutions such as the Charlie Parker Jazz Festival, the Lower East Side Arts Festival, the Howl Festival (of which he is the is Poet Laureate), and the Nuyorican Poets Café.

Cannon is also well known as the founder of The Gathering of the Tribes in his former apartment, gallery and gathering space on 3rd Street and Avenue D in an historic Greek Revival house built by the founder of The Nation magazine, Hamilton Fish.  As their website states: Tribes was conceived as a venue for underexposed artists, as well as a networking center and locus for the development of new talent. The formation of Tribes was motivated by the thriving artistic community in and around the Lower East Side: poetry at The Nuyorican Poets Café; performances and plays at the Living Theater; activist art at Bullet Space; as well as hundreds of artists trying to find and develop a voice in their medium and a place in which their work might be appreciated. Cannon is currently working on publishing a Tribes Anthology, and will be the focus on an upcoming PBS documentary.”

 

According to poet Bob Holman, there will be tributes to Steve Cannon in September and October this year, with a big Celebration of Life scheduled for November 3rd, 2019.

 

For all of these reasons, in 2011 Village Preservation and the East Village Community Coalition submitted a Request for Evaluation (RFE) letter

to the Landmarks Preservation Commission in hopes that this building and its neighbor at no. 287 would be considered for landmark designation.

Unfortunately, that request was denied. We are continuing to fight for comprehensive landmark protections for this area, which is incredibly rich in history and architecture. Let Councilmember Rivera, Mayor de Blasio, and the Landmarks Preservation Commission know that the East Village needs more extensive landmark protections to protect its rich history — click here to send a letter to city officials.  And to explore the rest of our Building Blocks website and the incredible history of hundreds of other East Village buildings, just go to www.gvshp.org/buildingblocks.

We have also published an in-depth report on the East Village by architectural historian, Francis Morrone which you can access HERE. It is also available in print for purchase HERE.

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