Volume 78 / Number 1 - June 4 - 10, 2008
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since

Letters to the Editor

That’s ‘razed,’ not ‘raised’

To The Editor:
Re “Provincetown project’s now about preservation” (editorial, May 14):

The Villager article has one major fact wrong. The original stage was not raised by New York University. It and the historic dome were razed by N.Y.U.

I have been having discussions with the architect N.Y.U. hired more than nine months ago for the Provincetown Playhouse project.

As Steve Kennedy Murphy finally told us in his letter before he deleted it from the O’Neill Forum, N.Y.U. itself destroyed the historic Provincetown Playhouse stage and dome in 1997. Yet, publicly they released a statement saying the building was gutted entirely in 1940, when anyone who ever worked at the Provincetown Playhouse up to 1997 knew that was not true. They also did not reveal that the original stage and dome were destroyed by N.Y.U. until Steve revealed that fact to us. However, they, I suppose, stated “raised,” not “razed,” to the press. That was their tribute to the Provincetown Players.

These are very serious issues for readers of the O’Neill Forum to consider. What N.Y.U. did is unforgivable and morally wrong. And now to give them permission to build their offices and research center is an issue to ponder. Just because they already destroyed the Provincetown Playhouse does not qualify them to rebuild, and build.

N.Y.U. wrote me that the historian they used for their plan was Jeff Kennedy, a student at N.Y.U. who did his thesis on the Provincetown Playhouse.

N.Y.U. will say and do anything necessary to have their offices and law research center at the site of the Provincetown Playhouse. They did not even pay Steve Kennedy Murphy for directing 18 plays in 10 years at the Provincetown Playhouse. As esteemed actress Marian Seldes says now: Shame on N.Y.U.

Even if Steve is asking us to stop protesting, I won’t — and ask all of you to remain vigilant.
Gail Cohen
Cohen is a theater historian and archivist

It’s your transit system

To The Editor:
As a New Yorker, I have always known that we are blessed to have the largest mass transit system in the Western Hemisphere right here in our backyard. As the chairman of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, I’ve come to appreciate the advantage it gives us as a region. It is truly an economic engine and asset in and of itself. Most important, it is your asset, and one that we must work together to protect. 

The value of our transportation network has become even more apparent over the past few weeks as people across the country have been digging into their pockets and their savings to deal with astronomical rises in the cost of their daily commutes. Twenty to 30 percent increases in the price of gas — in only a few days or weeks — are really stressing drivers and the economy. By comparison, the cost of our subway, bus or rail rides continue to be the best deals around. 

I know you probably don’t think of it this way, but the transportation network belongs to you, the public. As a New Yorker, you are actually an investor who has a stake — not just in whether the fare goes up — but in how the system is financed and what’s needed to bring it to a state of good repair.

The system that moves 8.5 million people each day costs billions of dollars to maintain each year, far more than just what gets put in the fare box. The rest of the money needed to run, rebuild and expand the system comes from a broad range of financing mechanisms provided by our partners in the city, state and federal government. 

So, you see, the services that the system provides are, therefore, dependent on a combination of what the public is willing to pay at the farebox and also what they are willing to pay elsewhere. As we propose our next five-year capital plan to the state, it’s something all of you, as riders and owners, should focus on. The current five-year plan, which runs through 2009, totals $21 billion — and the next five-year plan will most assuredly be bigger — so we’re talking about a major investment here. 

Capital funding is crucial to the system and, therefore, to the region’s economy, and we need it. But you, as owners, should be active participants in the public discussion. Let your elected officials know that the transit system matters to you and how you think it should be improved. Be supportive of government funding — but expect financial clarity, budget transparency and operational efficiency in return. 

We on the M.T.A. board will, assuredly, do our part, but I am asking all of you to take ownership in what we are doing to move the M.T.A. ahead. This is a partnership and we need each other to make it a go.
H. Dale Hemmerdinger
Hemmerdinger is chairman, Metropolitan Transportation Authority 

More than just Chumley’s

To The Editor:
Re “Ho-hum at Chumley’s” (Mixed Use, May 14):

While Mixed Use and The Villager have focused their attention on the future of Chumley’s, they have neglected to mention the adjoining buildings and lives that were destroyed by a negligent landlord doing illegal interior construction work. These were neighborhood residents who lived here for many years and created family ties throughout the neighborhood. For years now, these historic buildings have been left open to decay in the elements. You can see the sky through the unboarded windows, and graffiti stains the Barrow St. wall. While tourists who come in search of Chumley’s are surprised to see it gone, our neighbors see the devastation on the corner of Barrow and Bedford Sts. every day. While it’s unfortunate that some people will “miss the summer drinking season” at Chumley’s, it’s time The Villager reported on the progress of restoring the adjoining homes and not just on the sanctity of a saloon.
Andrew Marber

Her ‘rants’ backfire

To The Editor:
Re “Conflict charges absurd” (letter, by Susan Kramer, May 28):

Ms. Kramer provides no information or facts about Jack Taylor that substantiate her insulting opinions and accusations about him. Mr. Taylor has served the community well in his decades-long work for the preservation of historic buildings in our area, his service on Community Boards 5 and 6 and his efforts for a host of citywide organizations. I have known him in his role as a longtime member and leader of the Union Square Community Coalition, where he supported its mission on behalf of Union Square Park and the community. The Jack Taylor I know is a real gentleman and is known as such by hundreds of people with whom he has worked over many years.

Kramer’s intemperate, unladylike remarks reveal more about her than she realizes. She seeks to justify her own unacceptable, and often undemocratic, behavior of working on behalf of the Union Square Partnership/Park Department’s plan for a restaurant in the pavilion — doing so despite the explicit opposition of the U.S.C.C board of directors and its membership — until she finally was forced to resign. Her laughable public attacks against Mr. Taylor, as well as many of her other assertions, are transparently untrue.

Also, unlike the “rabble-rouser” Kramer described in her prior letter in The Villager (“U.S.C.C. unravels,” April 30), Mr. Geoffrey Croft just received this year’s Samuel J. Tilden Democratic Club’s Humanitarian Award for Community Service in recognition of the outstanding work he has done to benefit children and the public. As president of NYC Park Advocates, Croft lent his group’s support most recently to communities whose use of scarce public parkland is threatened by extreme neglect or ill-advised renovation plans — areas such as Van Cortlandt Park, Mullaly Park (Yankee Stadium), Riverside Park, Roosevelt Island, Union Square Park and many, many more.

Doesn’t Ms. Kramer realize that her rants against such public-minded citizens as Jack Taylor and Geoffrey Croft only provide the community with a lasting and very unflattering opinion about her? 
Eadie Shanker
Shanker is coordinator, Save Union Square Campaign

The ‘right’ to clog streets?

To The Editor:
Re “Courts on art vendors” (letter, by Robert Lederman, May 14):

Thanks to Robert Lederman for helping refine my argument, although he does so by disproving what I do not claim. For instance, I don’t claim art that’s sold is no longer “free expression,” that “a solicitation to purchase would nullify [artists’] rights” or that being paid to speak cancels the right to expression. And I surely agree that “visual art is as wide-ranging” in expression as any written material. I’ll also add that when recent art, from Robert Mapplethorpe to Chris Offili, was banned as obscene or blasphemous, it was nevertheless declared “protected.”

But I do make two other claims.

First, that the “art” making the streets under discussion often useless for its intended, and necessary, purpose is largely schlock, and that the “free expression” of what has already been expressed 20 million — or even 20 — times isn’t “expressive” art. It’s banality, plagiarism, amateurism, imitation, derivation, recitation or simply groupthink, sold or not.

Perhaps the Supreme Court would agree with Gregory Battcock, who declared in the 1960s that anything an artist claims to be art is art. That was very much of its time, though it begged the question of who is an artist. Can the Supreme Court be taught such distinctions? It does at times learn, however slowly, but can only decide on a case it is presented.

Next, Lederman quotes a passage from another plaintiff, saying “art should be available to the public...not just the wealthy.” Far be it from me to deny art its audience at any level. Still, a right to view art doesn’t mean wherever the artist chooses to plunk it down, as on my front stoop, in the middle of the Holland Tunnel or blocking public thoroughfares. There are hundreds upon hundreds of art galleries in this city, including the fanciest and ritziest, which any and all persons can walk into absolutely for free, where they can view some of the greatest, and worst, art in the history of the world. Museums have free hours, as well.

The issue at hand, in fact, is where the artist has the “right” to show his or her art. Few of the street artists under discussion would, for whatever reasons, be accepted in professional galleries, while they seem to succeed in claiming the streets essentially for free. Thus, they can sell for less and still make a profit. Is it any wonder the streets are jammed? If they had to pay their share for the creation and upkeep of the public amenities that they pre-empt, prices might rise, say, to the level of art fairs or group or club shows or co-op galleries, among other sources of modestly priced art.

To illustrate the change from, for instance,1776, I note that in one recent year — 1995, if memory serves — the number of graduates from just American M.F.A. programs was greater than the number of artists in all Renaissance Italy, not even counting the self-taught, untaught, B.F.A.’s, dropouts, hobbyists and workshop artists exhibiting today. If the numbers selling in the streets cannot be controlled, the “expressive” environment is ruined for all. The right to destroy others’ rights is not a tenet of democracy.

My larger point is that, although marketing doesn’t cancel the rights of expression per se, when a few artists were huddled on street corners the issue was moot. Now, a giant market is being given, or claiming, the rights of the “expressive” individual. Would the Supreme Court, even this Supreme Court, explicitly give a market the rights of a person? Can a huge market consisting of hundreds of different workers and styles that grabs the rights of whole neighborhoods in the name of “free expression” continue under today’s conditions to receive those “rights”? Should it?

Anyway, that’s where I’d start.
Judy Seigel

Doesn’t hold (Mc)Water

To The Editor:
Re “Chinatown rezoning call keeps resounding at C.B. 3” (news article, May 7) and “O.K. rezoning as is” (editorial, May 7):

Excusing the community board from responsibility for Chinatown’s late involvement in the rezoning, Dave McWater, Community Board 3’s chairperson, said he spent a $100,000 grant on outreach to Chinatown. The article doesn’t mention that none of this money was spent on rezoning information.

In your editorial you claim that Chinatown is difficult to rezone because it lies in three districts. But the portion in Community Board 2 is already protected by the Little Italy Special District, so it can be zoned piecemeal. The current plan even includes a few blocks of that special district.

Your claim that every rezoning must have a vulnerable periphery is inaccurate: The state court buildings, the housing projects and the Little Italy Special District surrounding Chinatown are not developable.

The small hotel zone south of Houston St. included in the rezoning and Chinatown share exactly the same current zoning, arguing for a natural protective rezoning of all the C6-1 zones, including Chinatown.

The community board can still use its leverage now to gain a commitment from the city to put a protective rezoning of Chinatown and the Bowery on the fast track. If C.B. 3 and Alan Gerson do not get that commitment now while the Department of City Planning is looking for support, we know from our conversations with Planning, that the agency will not support any future protection for the area.

The community never before spoke in such numbers about this plan. Councilmember Rosie Mendez has expressed her support for the community’s wishes. Will Councilmember Gerson do the same?
Rob Hollander

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