Volume 76, Number 36 | January 31 - February 6, 2007

Letters to the editor

No more wrecking balls

To The Editor:
Re “South Village district’s time has finally come” (editorial, Jan. 17):

Regarding your editorial on the South Village historic district: I stand with The Villager in support of the creation of this district — indeed, at present, few preservation initiatives could be more urgent.

The South Village and Soho exist as living, breathing testaments to what has made this city the vibrant intellectual, creative and cultural hub that it has been for most of its history. Walk the streets of this proposed district and you will see the tenements, apartment buildings, storefronts and cafes that attracted, hosted and nourished many of America’s greatest thinkers and artists — and what you see will look a good deal as it did when those men and women of past years saw it. You will also see how the less heralded lived, and how the mix — then, as it does now — invigorated the neighborhood and the city. In essence, you will see what makes New York New York.

Alas, at this writing, all of this history and vibrancy is in peril. Developers have set their sights on many blocks of the South Village with gigantic dollar signs flashing in their eyes. In an effort to cash in on the overwhelming demand for a Village or Soho address, history is being bulldozed at a breakneck rate.

As you note, many beloved buildings have already been razed. As one of many in the community who struggled in vain to save the beautiful and functional Tunnel Garage (a profitable business thriving in a space worthy of landmarking), I can only imagine with a sense of melancholy how differently our fight might have ended if we had been granted the rights and protections that come with a historic district.

Instead, where once stood a 1922 paean to the nascent automobile culture, there now stands a fenced-off field of rubble threatening to be an outsized eyesore of nine stories of luxury housing. Residents need look no further than across Thompson St. — at 60 Thompson — to see what overdevelopment, greed and mediocre architecture can do to the scale of a block and the feel of a neighborhood.

But we have more to fear from unchecked development than the curse of ugly high-rises. The flavor and flow of the South Village owes so much to the age, scale and history of its buildings. Without protection, this area will likely fall prey to the same market forces that have divided or destroyed many other parts of the city. And while some wealthy developers may profit, many more people who actually live in the South Village, as well as those who live elsewhere in the city and who visit the city for its history and culture will lose.

We are at a crossroads. The next century in the South Village can continue to showcase what has made New York unique and essential to our country and to world culture, or it can be a sad reminder of what happens when a city forgets what made it great and gives in to the pressures of a shortsighted market. Let’s designate the South Village as a historic district so that we may look forward with hopeful anticipation, rather than look back with longing and regret.

Gregg Levine
Levine was a member, Friends of the Tunnel Garage 


Spotlight on South Village

To The Editor:
Re “New push to create South Village historic area” (news article, Jan. 17) and “South Village district’s time has finally come” (editorial, Jan. 17):

I want to thank and commend The Villager for the excellent coverage by Albert Amateau about the South Village Historic District proposal and your strong editorial supporting it.

I am president of the board of the 71 Sullivan Owners Corp., as well as the advisory board for the South Village Historic District Project. The Villager’s coverage definitely kick-starts our momentum, and we are eager to keep the spotlight on this initiative as we push through the process for enactment. It is terribly important that this proposal be enacted and this area be protected.

Having moved into this neighborhood one and a half years ago, I am open-mouthed at the pace at which buildings in the area are being destroyed and new development is being proposed — development that is totally inappropriate in size, scale and design for the neighborhood. I moved here, and am now actively involved in the life of the neighborhood, because of its unique Village character and charm — small merchants, restaurateurs and artists living in harmony and making a happy life.

I have no overall antipathy toward development in the city, but feel it must be done responsibly with an eye to the heritage and character of each neighborhood. The fact that this area is literally surrounded by other historic districts is evidence that it should be welcomed swiftly into that category, before too much else is destroyed.

I hope that The Villager will continue to work to spotlight this effort. Many thanks.

Kim Whitener


Seen too much destruction

To The Editor:
As a lifelong Villager, I am pleased and excited to be a part of the advisory board for the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation’s South Village Historic District proposal. When my family arrived from Italy in the 1890s, they went no further than Sullivan St., and we have remained in the area since then. Having lived in the South Village all my life, I am distressed to see what is happening with the new development in our area. Older buildings are being destroyed. New buildings are going up that are inappropriate in size and scale to the existing buildings. And the new designs are so out of character with the surrounding area that they are an eyesore, to say the least.

The South Village has long been ignored but has now become a desirable area. The new development is destroying everything that makes the South Village desirable in the first place. If we don’t act to protect this area, we will lose the very character that makes us a neighborhood. And we will just become one more overdeveloped area of the city. Don’t we have enough nondescript, big-box buildings all over the city already?

Let’s protect what we have in this area to keep us from that fate. But we must support this measure and let the city and the Landmarks Preservation Commission know how important it is to us all.

Silvia Musto Beam


What about park’s remains?

To The Editor:
Re “Tales from the crypt: ‘Trump bones’ shed light on abolitionist believers” (news article, Jan. 17):

I am wondering if advocates for the Washington Square Park renovation plan are aware that in 1775 Washington Square Park became a graveyard and continued to be used as such until it was filled in 1825. It is a sacred burial ground for more than 20,000 people of many races and ethnic groups. We are told even Revolutionary War heroes are buried there! Actual quotes from the 2006 construction/destruction bids contract for the park state: “This project has the potential for the disturbance of human remains...human remains must be screened through a 1/4" screen...[and] analyzed in a respectful manner.… Human remains shall...be...dry-brushed only, wrapped in acid-free tissue paper, and placed in acid-free boxes pending reinterment.”

I am so grateful that Andrew Berman has come to the defense of the Trump burial site. I hope he also comes to realize how “fascinating” also is the history of the Washington Square Park burial site and maybe he’ll also come to see why this is yet another reason why this ill-conceived Parks Department redesign of our park — as Berman said of the Trump project — “should not be allowed to move ahead.”

Sharon Woolums
Woolums is a public member, Community Board 2 Parks Committee


Pier plans raise concerns

To The Editor:
Re “‘People’s Pier’ vs. Performing Arts Center for Pier 40” (news article, Dec. 27):

This article raises serious concerns.

Before developers submitted current proposals for Pier 40, the Hudson River Park Trust commissioned a study for uses on the pier, and presented it to the Waterfront Committee of Community Board 2. According to the Trust, this was because there was potential for the community to develop a park concept for the pier, rather than again having developers decide what the park should be.

In September 1990, C.B. 2 passed a resolution to insure that open space of Pier 40 would be devoted to park use. An investigation considered sharing active recreational facilities with schools that are required to pay for using parks. This could expand such uses, which would be limited to school and working hours.

We now have two pier proposals, both with restricted potential for the park.

One would be an entertainment area, including space for ball fields. Vehicles arriving day and night for 2.7 million annual visitors would multiply conflicts with pedestrians and bikers, and there would be inadequate parking.

The second plan could take advantage of school use. But half of the existing roof would be covered with additional buildings, at least doubling the current height. This, after many in the community spent years advocating removal of all buildings from the pier deck. Quiet recreational space is limited. Time conflicts between paid and free public use of active recreational facilities suggest serious problems.

In keeping with the Trust’s intention, a community concept could devote the entire roof and courtyard to active/quiet recreation, plus year-round indoor options. Parking and other pier-supporting uses would also be inside.

This community concept would fulfill requirements of the project’s environmental impact statement, which include protection of historic resources. The E.I.S. states that the waterfront’s incredible maritime heritage is to be emphasized. This is something that C.B. 2 has consistently stressed. The heritage of well over 100 million Americans can be traced to immigrants who arrived along this waterfront corridor. Preservation requirements are critical to allow for federal funding of the park.

Bill Hine and Robert Smith
Hine and Smith are members, Save the Piers


Artful deception by Parks?

To The Editor:
Re “Some wishes for the new year” (editorial, Dec. 27):

Your editorial admonishing the Parks Department to “accept that a pavilion restaurant [in Union Square Park] won’t fly with the community or local politicians” performed a singular public service in urging the agency to “retool its proposal.”

Other details of that proposal were clouded by Parks Department Commissioner Adrian Benepe’s statement in “Opponents pile on Union Sq. pavilion plan at rally” (news story, Dec. 13). “The project,” he claimed, not for the first time, “has already been approved…by the New York City Art Commission.”

The most recent pronouncement by that municipal department, the official arbiter of design on city-owned land, was made May 15 of last year. Unless in the meantime there has been a backroom deal of which the public was unaware, the Art Commission has yet to comment on at least six aspects of the Parks Department’s “planned renovation of the north end of Union Square Park”:

1. Proposed new building for public toilets; 2. proposed uprooting of mature trees to accommodate the new restroom building; 3. proposed realignment of the park’s perimeter stone wall at the northeast corner; 4. proposed design of the paving for the north plaza; 5. proposed design and placement of new lighting fixtures; 6. proposed lowering of the existing east and west playgrounds to the level of the existing central area to make one continuous sunken playground that would be at street level, not at park level.

Your editorial wish list, welcome as it was, could have wondered, as we do, whether the Parks Department has leveled with us.

Jack Taylor


E-mail letters, not longer than 350 words in length, to news@thevillager.com or fax to 212-229-2790 or mail to The Villager, Letters to the Editor, 145 Sixth Ave., ground floor, NY, NY 10013. Please include phone number for confirmation purposes. The Villager reserves the right to edit letters for space, grammar, clarity and libel.

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