Why Isn’t This Landmarked?: 88 East 10th Street

Why Isn’t This Landmarked?: 88 East 10th Street
Willem de Kooning in the doorway of 88 East 10th Street. April 5, 1959. Photo © Estate of Fred W. McDarrah

This post is part of our blog series Why Isn’t This Landmarked?, where we look at buildings in our area we’re fighting to protect that are worthy of landmark designation, but somehow aren’t landmarked. 

88 East 10th Street is an 1844 Greek Revival row house located on the small block between 3rd and 4th Avenues. This house was built by Peter Stuyvesant, a direct descendant of the last Dutch Governor of New Amsterdam, on land that the Stuyvesant family continued to own for generations. Additionally, the building is extraordinarily significant in relation to 20th-century art and the development of New York as the center of the art world after World War II, as the home and studio of artist Willem de Kooning, and the center of the 10th Street Galleries.

Willem de Kooning in the doorway of 88 East 10th Street. April 5, 1959. Photo © Estate of Fred W. McDarrah

de Kooning &  88 East 10th Street

Willem de Kooning traveled to the United States as a stowaway on the Shelley, a British freighter bound for Argentina, and landed at Newport News, Virginia, on August 15, 1926. He moved to Manhattan in 1927 and made a living as a commercial artist, house painter, and carpenter. After World War II, New York supplanted Paris as the center of the art world. With the death of Jackson Pollock in 1956, de Kooning was considered the master of that world. According to Mark Stevens and Annalyn Swan in De Kooning An American Master, “the New York scene jelled on de Kooning’s doorstep.” By the late 1940s he began painting black and white abstractions and made a name for himself among the downtown artists and art critics. In the fall of 1952, de Kooning moved into 88 East 10th Street across the hall from his friend and fellow artist Esteban Vicente. In his new studio, de Kooning turned his attention to his Woman series, including Woman I, which he had been working and re-working for two years.

Woman I, Created 1950–1952

de Kooning made a number of places his home during the years he lived in New York City, including the landmarked 827-831 Broadway, from 1958-1964. But 88 East 10th Street was the first place where he combined his working studio with his residence – a trend for artists in the mid-20th century that came to transform nearby neighborhoods like SoHo and NoHo, of which this was an early example.

10th Street Galleries

Though the Tenth Street artist enclave was but a short block between Third and Fourth Avenues, it was the heart of the New York art world during the mid-twentieth century. The abstract expressionists deliberately rejected the quaint streets of the West Village and found their galleries and homes along the then-gritty thoroughfare of East 10th Street and its immediate surroundings.

When they first moved in, the Third Avenue El had not yet come down, and large numbers had not yet headed east from Greenwich Village in search of cheaper rents in what would soon be called the “East Village.” The noisy overhead rail line nearby kept Third Avenue and the Bowery rough and tumble. According to Jed Perl in New Art City: Manhattan at Mid Century, “artists of de Kooning’s generation had been in revolt against the old coziness of Greenwich Village, and they loved the fact that Tenth Street was anti-picturesque, and thus a perfect setting for the new anti-romantic romantic painting.”

Assembled artists on East 10th Street in front of Tanager Gallery (90 East 10th Street), by James Burke for Life magazine, 1956

It was during the 1950s that the then-novel concept of artist-run galleries began to flourish, particularly along Tenth Street between Third and Fourth Avenues. The first to open was Tanager in 1952, next door to de Kooning’s building, at No. 90 East 10th Street. Over the next five years, others followed including the Camino, Brata, March, and Area Galleries. These galleries stood in contrast to the conservative uptown galleries and functioned within a collaborative spirit among the artists.

Why Should This Building Be Landmarked?

What makes 88 East 10th Street so special? Willem de Kooning lived and worked on East 10th Street during some of the most important years of his career as an artist. This was also the period when he and his contemporaries were having the most profound impact on New York City and the broader art world. Very few of the structures housing the former galleries and artists’ studios remain from the original Tenth Street artist enclave, which was central to the Abstract Expressionist school of the 1940s and 1950s. 88 East 10th Street today is nearly intact to its appearance during de Kooning’s time, as seen in the images provided. It is nothing short of remarkable that the most significant structure from that time is still extant.

88 East 10th Street. L: 1950s. R: 2016

So Why Isn’t It Landmarked?

Village Preservation has presented all this informationand then some — to the Landmarks Preservation Commission about this building and approximately 190 surrounding buildings which we believe collectively warrant landmark designation (see also here and here).  Thus far the Landmarks Preservation Commission has refused.

What You Can Do

With the increased pressure on the area from the beginning of construction on the 14th Street Tech Hub, the recent demolition of the St. Denis Hotel (80 E. 10th Street; 1855 – to be replaced by this) and the completion of the woefully out-of-scale tech office tower at 809 Broadway, the time is now for the city to act to protect this incredibly historically rich but endangered area.

Urge the city to protect this vital history and neighborhood NOW – click here to send letters to city officials demanding landmark protections for this and other buildings in the area.

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