Andrew Berman, Executive Director of GVSHP
This post is part of a series about our favorite things in and about the Village.
Andrew Berman, GVSHP’s Executive Director since 2002, has a plethora of favorite things about our neighborhoods, so it’s hard to press him for a discreet list. But there are a few things that Andrew feels particularly passionate about, and we thought we would share them with you today Off the Grid.
“There are two things that draw me to the Village. Physically, it’s incredibly beautiful; it’s this intimately scaled amalgam of 19th and 20th century architecture that amazingly has stayed intact and preserved for over 200 years. And then there’s the culture that has been a breeding ground for so many wonderful movements in terms of arts, literature, politics, social change, and music, all of which I really admire. It doesn’t matter where I live or end up, I’ll always feel a strong sense of connection to the Village and what it represents.“
Edna St. Vincent Millay’s house at 75 1/2 Commerce, the narrowest house in New York
The Twins, 39 and 41 Commerce Street
“My favorite buildings in the West Village are legion, however few places can be said to exemplify the eclectic charm of the West Village as completely as the quirky and picturesque apartment building at 102 Bedford Street known as “Twin Peaks.” In fact, I’d put it right up there with the Edna St. Vincent Millay House at 75 1/2 Bedford Street (“the narrowest house in the Village”), the twin houses at 39 and 41 Commerce Street, and Grove Court as the embodiment of the West Village’s peculiar magic. The 2 1/2 story building was raised to 5 stories, and given a sort of Tudor/Medieval/Swiss Chalet facade, including the twin peaked roofs, from which its name is derived. The building was specifically intended to attract artists, with 10 one-room studios with casement windows, similar to the “artists’ studios” which had been popping up on the top of houses throughout the Village during this time. According to Christopher Gray (citing the NY Herald Tribune) the building was originally painted black, green, orange, and blue — a color scheme which has long since been replaced and of which there seems to be little or no photographic record.”
Twin Peaks before paint change
“Twin Peaks is located within the Greenwich Village Historic District, designated in 1969, and thus, fortunately, for the last forty-two years at least, any changes to the exterior of the building have been carefully regulated. GVSHP will celebrate the 50th anniversary of the designation of the Greenwich Village Historic District throughout all of 2019. We hope that everyone will join us for the many programs we are planning for the year. They will be both fun and informative. You can read the brief section in the Greenwich Village Historic District designation report about Twin Peaks HERE.”
SIDE NOTE: It has been a while since GVSHP first pointed out to the Landmarks Preservation Commission that permits were incorrectly issued allowing a battleship grey and beige/cream makeover of the iconic West Village landmark “Twin Peaks.” The Commission has still not taken action to rescind the permits or correct the stultifying paint job which has removed the building’s defining exuberance and whimsy.
In early June of 2017, GVSHP provided the Commission with irrefutable evidence that the permits it issued at staff level without a public hearing were not a “restoration of historic conditions” as claimed. The building, long a symbol of Greenwich Village Bohemianism and high-spiritedness, originally had a “rainbow-hued” paint scheme. More than a half century ago, it received the “chalet-style” paint scheme most of us know it by. The new dark grey and beige/cream paint job has no historic precedent and no relation to the unique spirit and character of this building. Local elected officials joined GVSHP in calling upon the LPC to correct this serious mistake.
102 Bedford after paint change
3 West 13th Street
“As for modern buildings, there is a common misconception that preservationists hate all modern architecture. As a matter of fact, preservationists have a great deal of respect for modern architecture that’s done well. In the last 10 to 15 years we’ve seen some good examples of new modern buildings going up in Soho, Tribeca, and the Ladies Mile Historic Districts where the architects did a good job of reinterpreting and updating the contemporary take on a loft building. One favorite example is 3 West 13th Street by Avi Oster Studio– it’s largely glass and metal, but it fits in with the historic buildings discreetly while contrasting them in a respectful way.”
Historic and picturesque South Village Historic District
“GVSHP has had some very significant victories over the past decade and a half. But some of the sweetsest victories were designation of the South Village Historic District, The Sullivan Thompson Historic District, which was the third phase of the South Village Historic District, and the designation of the Van Tassell and Kearny Horse Auciton Mart.
The South Village Historic District was designated at the end of 2013, and it was particularly meaningful for a variety of reasons. There’s so much cultural history there. We managed to get several NYU buildings included within the district that the city initially excluded. This will prevent a 300-foot-tall dorm from being built on Washington Square South. And finally, it was very clear that the city was not going to approve the district, but we used the leverage we had with the Hudson Square rezoning and demanded that the City Council not approve the rezoning unless the South Village designation moved ahead because changes to Hudson Square would have impacted the neighborhing South Village.
The South Village embodies New York at the turn of the last century when it was awash with immigrants who, from modest beginnings, transformed our city. We want to preserve and honor that rich history, the charming architecture, and the human-scaled streets, and not watch it give way to anonymous oversized development as we have seen in so many other places.”
Van Tassell and Kearny Auction House, later the Frank Stella Studio
“The other one is the Van Tassell and Kearny Horse Auction Mart at 128 East 13th Street. It was days away from the wrecking ball, and we rushed to the LPC and urged them to act quickly. They did calendar it quickly, but it took six years to landmark. The building’s history is so unique and reflective of the development of the neighborhood. Built in 1903, it started as place where horses were sold to wealthy families, and then when the East Village became gritty and industrial, it was used as an assembly line training school for women during WWII. That’s why we used the Rosie the Riveter image as an icon for the preservation campaign. And in the 1970’s it served as Frank Stella’s studio. How many building have those three incredibly different but rich layers of history?“
In all honesty, what’s NOT to love about the Village? There are so many favorites that we could write infinite posts about the subject.