Volume 79, Number 21 | Oct. 28 - Nov. 03, 2009
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933

Andrew Berman, G.V.S.H.P. director, standing near 178 Bleecker St., where a building was recently demolished, points to a map indicating how only one-third of the proposed South Village Historic District is currently being considered for landmarking.

Landmark South Village, before it’s too late: G.V.S.H.P.

By Albert Amateau

Six years after Village preservation advocates began urging the designation of a 30-block South Village Historic District, the Landmarks Preservation Commission on Tuesday held its first hearing on part of the proposal.

But the hearing, on what the commission calls the Greenwich Village Historic District Extension, covers only one-third of the larger South Village Historic District that the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation wants protected.

Andrew Berman, executive director of G.V.S.H.P., told the commission on Oct. 27 that historic buildings in the entire area were being demolished to make way for new development or altered in ways that destroy their historic features.

“While the city is gradually considering landmark designation for a part of the neighborhood, buildings are being destroyed and most of the neighborhood is not even being considered for landmark designation yet,” Berman said.

L.P.C. is considering a district of roughly 10 blocks between W. Fourth St. and Houston St. from the west side of Sixth Ave to Seventh Ave. South. G.V.S.H.P. has been calling for a new historic district to include those blocks together with about another 20 blocks between Houston and Watts Sts. from the east side of Sixth Ave. to LaGuardia Place down to Houston St., and to midblock between Thompson St. and West Broadway from Houston St. down to Watts St.

In the 10 blocks that L.P.C. is currently considering, two historic buildings have had alterations that compromise their historic value, one at 23 Cornelia St. and the other at 12 Leroy St. In addition, a row of buildings at 233-237 Bleecker St. was threatened before the L.P.C. hearing was calendared, Berman said.

In the larger area not under consideration, historic buildings that were demolished in recent years include the residence at 178 Bleecker St.; the Provincetown Playhouse and Apartments, at 133-139 MacDougal St.; the Circle in the Square theater, 159 Bleecker St.; and the Tunnel Garage, at Broome and Thompson Sts. In addition, the brick facade of the Sullivan St. Playhouse, at 181 Sullivan St., was replaced by glass. Furthermore, Fire Patrol No. 2, a 1902 building at 84 W. Third St., has been sold to a private developer whose plans for it are unknown.

Last Thursday, Berman led a demonstration of about 60 Villagers in front of 178 Bleecker St., where a five-story 1861 residential building outside the 10-block area under L.P.C. review was demolished during the summer.

The owner of 178 Bleecker St., John Wu, had applied earlier this year to the Department of Buildings for a permit to erect an eight-story building on the site. Berman, however, protested that the proposal for the property, which is only 22 feet wide, violates the city’s “sliver law,” which says that buildings narrower than 45 feet wide cannot be built taller than the width of the streets they face. Bleecker St. is registered as 60 feet wide, which would make eight stories (around 80 feet tall) a violation, Berman said. He added that the five-story building previously on the site was lower than 60 feet tall.

But D.O.B. responded that eight stories at the site does not run afoul of the sliver law because the project involves a merger of two building lots. Nevertheless, D.O.B. last week said the building application was being audited because of community concern and the permit was on hold until the audit is complete. A department spokesperson was unable to say when the audit would be completed.

Lucy Cecere, who was born and bred in the Village and celebrated her 60th wedding anniversary earlier in the week, urged neighbors at the Oct. 21 demonstration to unite against further demolitions of historic buildings in the neighborhood.

Lois Rakoff, a member of the Bleecker Area Merchants and Residents Association, was outraged that the proposed replacement would tower over adjacent buildings and overwhelm the tiny MacDougal-Sullivan Gardens Historic District, a group of row houses built around a courtyard just south of the demolished building.

City Council Speaker Christine Quinn submitted a statement to L.P.C. at the Oct. 27 hearing urging approval of the 10-block extension and “continued efforts to protect the physical legacy of the South Village.”

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