Volume 78 / Number 2 - June 11 - 17, 2008
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since

Letters to the editor

We can’t afford Rudin’s excuses

To The Editor:
I want to thank the Landmarks Preservation Commission for preserving many of the buildings St. Vincent’s and the Rudin Organization planned to demolish. It is an important part of keeping the authentic historic character of the
Village. However, the character of the Village is its people and not just its buildings. In order to retain the seniors and artists who have lived here for years and are being driven out of their homes by all the development and phony demolition in the neighborhood, affordable housing must be included in this project.

According to Landmarks’ own mission statement, one of its functions is to “stabilize” the neighborhood. The commission would stabilize our community by insisting that St. Vincent’s and Rudin provide affordable housing for the seniors and artists who created the Village and the spirit now being exploited by all the parasitic developers. The commission would stabilize our neighborhood by preventing St. Vincent’s and Rudin from building housing only for millionaires whose values and financial status are contrary to everything the Village has historically represented.

Rudin and St. Vincent’s have refused to take the community’s demand for affordable housing seriously. They just vague out and say they can’t know what the financial situation will be like when they are ready to build. This is disingenuous, part of a pattern of disingenuousness.

Recently, developers like Related at Hudson Yards and other builders have had no problem making a commitment up front for a specific number of affordable housing units in exchange for getting their building needs met. Rudin and St. Vincent wouldn’t even agree to meet with the Department of Housing Preservation and Development and the Housing Development Corporation to explore the financing options for affordable housing that would add units through subsidies instead of additional bulk.

That community proposal was made to them at a meeting that included representatives from the Pratt Center, Urban Justice Center, Village Independent Democrats, Housing Here and Now, Housing Conservation Coordinators and other community groups. They did not keep their promise to get back to us in a couple of weeks with their decision on meeting with H.P.D. and H.D.C. They did
not accept the offer of consultation and assistance in finding financing help offered by the housing experts from Pratt and the Urban Justice Center. They also ignored the hundreds of letters from seniors asking for affordable housing.

To steal another writer’s line, “Attention must be paid!” Villagers need the commission’s help to stabilize our community, as well as our buildings, to preserve people as well as walls by including affordable housing.
Marlene Nadle
Nadle is a member, Community Board 2 Tenants Committee, and housing chairperson, Village Independent Democrats

Don’t rip out ‘Village’s heart’

To The Editor:
Re “Drama carries on over O’Neill theater’s future in N.Y.U.’s plans” (news article, June 4):

It should be clarified that the Landmarks Preservation Commission has never turned down the Provincetown Playhouse and Apartments at 133-139 MacDougal St. for individual landmark designation: Four years ago, staff at the commission declined to recommend hearing the building based upon information they had at the time, pending the submission of additional research regarding the building’s significance.

The Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation has since shared pages of research with the commission, currently under review, substantiating why this building has been called “the cornerstone of bohemia,” “the heart of cultural life of the Village” and “the center of much of the resurgence and renaissance associated with Greenwich Village” by scholars and historians. These materials were also submitted to the Community Board 2 committee now considering New York University’s proposal to demolish most of the building, and can be viewed at www.gvshp.org/documents/PTownHistory.pdf.

However, it must be noted that there are just slightly more than a dozen individually designated landmarks in all of Greenwich Village, comprising roughly 0.3 percent of the neighborhood. The standards for individual landmark designation are extremely high, and monuments such as the Jefferson Market Library and Washington Square Arch are not individually designated landmarks, but are protected from demolition as part of designated historic districts. Similarly, the Provincetown Playhouse and Apartments at 133-139 MacDougal St., which N.Y.U. currently proposes to raze, are a key part of the proposed South Village Historic District, which is currently under review by the Landmarks Preservation Commission.

Further, the argument that this building has no historic or cultural significance simply because it was altered 70 years ago is specious at best, and would have troubling implications for much of Greenwich Village, if true. In addition to housing both the current and original Provincetown Playhouse theaters at the north and south end of the building, 133-139 MacDougal St. housed some of the most important institutions and cultural figures of 20th-century Greenwich Village. These include the Liberal Club, Washington Square Bookstore, Polly’s Restaurant and the Heterodoxy Club, which were home base for Eugene O’Neill, Max Eastman, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Theodore Dreiser and Upton Sinclair, among others. The apartments above housed Berenice Abbott, Eli Wallach, Anne Jackson and Dorothy Gillespie over the years.

Few historic buildings in Greenwich Village have not been altered over time, and many were joined with neighboring buildings and given a new facade in a manner quite similar to the Provincetown Playhouse and Apartments, as this was a commonly done to 19th-century Village buildings in the interwar years. In fact, just two blocks away is the MacDougal-Sullivan Gardens Historic District, one of the city’s first historic districts, comprised of two rows of 1840s houses (contemporaries of the four houses which make up 133-139 MacDougal St.) which were greatly altered and joined together in a 1920 renovation.

Beyond the significance of this building, it must be noted that N.Y.U. promised, in signing the “planning principles” with local community groups, elected officials and community boards, to “prioritize reuse before new development,” and pledged to support designation of the proposed South Village Historic District, of which this building is a key part. If N.Y.U.’s commitments are to mean anything, and if there is to be hope that N.Y.U.’s 25-year growth plan can be compatible with efforts to preserve our neighborhood, we must hold them to their word, and insist that they preserve and reuse, rather than demolish, this incredible piece of our neighborhood and our city’s history.
 Andrew Berman
Berman is executive director, Greenwich Village Society
for Historic Preservation

N.Y.U. move; Village can’t

To The Editor:
New York University’s plans to take over the Provincetown Playhouse and neighboring apartments must be stopped. For decades, the university has acted as though the Village belongs to it, because it can afford to outbid everyone else in order to purchase the properties it desires in order to continue to grow as one of the country’s largest and most expensive institutions.

The university refuses to face the fact that it can move anywhere in New York City and still be N.Y.U., while Greenwich Village can only be Greenwich Village by preserving its own culture, heritage and institutions.

N.Y.U. feeds off of the goodwill of the neighborhood. It attracts young people to its campus by being part of the Village, and will cut off its nose to spite its face if it continues to destroy our culture. What it has proposed amounts to cutting out the heart of the Playhouse while keeping its facade. The university is all about facades.

We understand that our neighborhood is more than an architectural style or the outside of a building. It is comprised of hearts and souls and minds and cultures and lives and families, not just four-year-degree programs for a transitional body of students who take from our culture and then dispose of it like litter on our streets when they go off to make their lives and fortunes elsewhere.
Hugo Dwyer

The ‘Prostitution Precinct’

To The Editor:
Though it is not known to be an official city policy, it is clear that the city has decided to look the other way on prostitution in the West Village. The mayor, City Council speaker and police commissioner are all well aware of the vibrant street prostitution business on Greenwich St. seven nights a week — year after year. 

Although prostitution, associated drug dealing, disorderly conduct and disturbing the peace are all accepted as normal daily occurrences, it all takes place within two blocks of the local police precinct. What is wrong with this picture? I’m sure this newspaper would welcome readers’ suggestions. 

Whatever happened to Operation Westside? For those of you who don’t remember, it was an initiative by Captain Fitzgerald three-and-a-half years ago that almost wiped out the whole street business for about three months, using only four to eight officers. The operation ended and the business returned. 

Are Bloomberg, Quinn and Kelly content in knowing they have contained the transsexual prostitution industry to Greenwich St.? Would they allow this on the streets where they live? Perhaps the political correctness of leaving this problem alone is more important than the actual quality of life of the community.

It looks like a classic matchup: Is quality of life more important to the actual community or the “community within the community?” 

I consider it a good day when only the stench of urine, not human defecation, is in my vestibule.
Bob Orzo
Orzo is owner, Hudson Bagels


Anti-street artist bias

To The Editor:
Judy Seigel’s latest diatribe against street artists (“The ‘right’ to clog streets?” letter, June 4) perfectly illustrates the thinking of many of the people pushing Councilmember Gerson’s anti-street artist agenda, which he has pursued for his entire seven years in office. With input like this informing his decisions, it’s no wonder his five proposed vending laws are so biased against artists’ rights.

They do not like our art, they do not consider us to be “real” artists and they do not care what any court, including the U.S. Supreme Court, thinks about our free-speech rights. We are a sidewalk obstruction no better than a passed-out drunk or a defecating dog.

Perhaps that is too extreme: These people think a defecating dog has far more right to take up sidewalk space than the most talented street artist.

Ms. Seigel assumes no street artist could get a gallery show. The reality is that most New York City street artists have art degrees from universities; most have had gallery shows (I had 40 before becoming involved in this movement) and most prefer to deal directly with the public, rather than through the filter of an art dealer.

The “intended” purpose of city streets, going back to antiquity, includes using them as a public forum for communication and expression, including artistic expression. Streets are not just for walking. In fact, it is the diversity of expression, of merchandise, of culture, of art and of social opportunity that makes walking down a New York City street so different from the boring sterile streets in most American cities.

The wealthy (and often bitter) former artists who now reside in Soho (New York City’s sole, official artists-only district) cannot stand seeing young artists developing a career outside the rigid and elitist gallery/curator system. It upsets them terribly to see the public enjoying and buying our art.

Here is a suggestion for all those resentful former artists:

Rather than spending so much time and energy uselessly trying to eliminate us from New York City’s public spaces, why not bring your own art out to the street, and join us? You will find it is an exhilarating experience to have more people see your art in one day than would see it in the best gallery in one year.

Then perhaps you will come to appreciate what a blessing the First Amendment is to artists, and why we continue to fight so hard to defend that right.
Robert Lederman
Lederman is president, A.R.T.I.S.T. (Artists’ Response To Illegal State Tactics)

‘She’d shred Constitution’

To The Editor:
Re “The ‘right’ to clog streets?” (letter, by Judy Seigel):

Ms. Seigel’s beef is not with Robert Lederman. Her problem is with the
courts and their interpretation of the U.S. Constitution. It appears that Ms. Seigel would gladly rip that messy little document into pieces if she had the power. This is illustrated in her confusing and verbose response to Mr. Lederman’s concise recitation of the law (“Courts on art vendors,” letter, by Robert Lederman, May 14). In fact, Ms. Seigel’s letter displays the sort of scattershot logic that those of us who are seriously working on the issue have to deal with. Bias is never helpful.

In her rant, Ms. Seigel pins the entire sidewalk congestion situation on
those she calls “artists,” when it is well known that the bulk of the sidewalk issues are caused by illegal vendors and bootleggers; nowhere in her tirade does Ms. Seigel mention them. Instead, she hurls insults and obtuse criticisms at the relatively few creative people who are simply using their rights to display their fine art directly to the public, as mentioned in the court decisions.

This sort of public art display is not only a vital part of the creative growth of the artist, it is also a crucial aspect in the ecology of art worldwide.

Ms. Seigel does not acknowledge that some gallery owners are also career artists. These gallery owner/artists have not only represented the artwork
of public artists, some of these gallery folks actually got their start in public, as well. I know. I am one.

Before belching this sort of harmful rhetoric at creative people again, it
would be wise for Ms. Seigel to research the situation beyond a passing glance. The public art scene in Soho and elsewhere in New York City is a very popular
draw for travelers and collectors and creates an environment that is full of color and light.

Let’s face it, not many people come from all over the world to see Ms. Seigel throw a fit. However, they do come to experience artists lawfully displaying
their fine artwork in public.
Lawrence White


The audacity of Gerson

To The Editor:
After having read through Council-man Gerson’s five new pieces of proposed vending legislation (three of which would directly affect street artists) submitted to the City Council two weeks ago, I am outraged at the proposals’ sheer audacity.

Having painted himself as a “First Amendment scholar with a proven record of support for free speech and the arts,” he submits a proposal (Intro No. 770) that “redefines” what is or is not First Amendment-protected material. The proposal attempts to eliminate all First Amendment protection from any art that has or might have a secondary “utilitarian use.”

This myopic proposal would render some of the world’s most significant and important artworks, such as Duchamp’s “Bicycle Wheel,” Oppenheim’s “Fur-covered Cup,” Man Ray’s “Gift” and Picasso’s “Bull’s Head,” illegal to be sold on the streets of New York City and similarly would render these art-world geniuses “illegal vendors” subject to arrest and confiscation were they alive and selling these works today on the city’s streets.

It can only make sense when and if you understand the street-artist history and that Gerson’s No. 1 supporters are the Soho Alliance, whose director, Sean Sweeney, is quoted in The Villager as saying, “I would not want Picasso selling in front of my building” (“Police descend on Soho,” news article, April 10, 2002).

It must simply boil down to be a case of Gerson giving his “handlers” what they bought and paid for.
Knut Masco
Masco is a member, A.R.T.I.S.T (Artists’ Response to Illegal State Tactics)


’60s child on seein’ Ian

To The Editor:
Re “Hot town, summer in the city” (arts article, June 4):

Any baby boomer — not just this former music critic — could set Lee Ann Westover straight that Janis Ian’s huge hit from the mid-1960s was “Society’s Child,” not “At Seventeen.” The latter song was recorded a decade later. Sounds like Westover read the press release wrong. As a kid growing up in the ’60s, I was moved by the teenaged Ian’s poignant observations about the stigma of interracial dating at that time. 

The song holds up, mainly because the lyrics of “Society’s Child” are incredibly prescient. As she breaks up with her boyfriend, due to social pressure, she sings, “When we’re older things may change, but for now this is the way it must remain.”
Kate Walter

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