Vol. 13 No. 4  Fall 2022

News from LESPI


Image: Nickerson's Illustrated Church and Musical Director, 1895.

Current (post-fire) view. Image: Richard Moses.

Will the historic facade of the East Village's Middle Collegiate Church - damaged after a severe fire that burned the rest of the building to the ground - be saved and restored, and serve as a frontispiece to a new church? Or will the facade be demolished to make way for completely new construction? After two recent NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) Public Hearings, where testimony was heard in support of both demolition and facade restoration, the LPC is expected to reach a verdict on the building's fate in early January.

At the hearings, the church architects maintained that, even if the ultimate intent is to retain the facade, most of the stonework will need to be demolished at least temporarily. This is because, they insisted, the condition of the stonework is too precarious for workers to safely repair in place. Additionally, in order to accommodate the large construction equipment required to build the new church building behind the facade, large portions of stone in good condition would need to be removed to allow access through the facade, since the neighboring property owner (whose building was completely lost in the fire) reportedly will not allow access. 

LESPI and other preservation organizations testified that, because Middle Collegiate is one of the most important structures in the East Village/Lower East Side Historic District, an objective feasibility study needs to be prepared by an architect/engineer with extensive historic preservation experience, in order to accurately map out the options before a final decision on demolition is made. We question whether the restoration work here is all that different than the restoration work required on other NYC historic buildings needing substantial masonry repairs, where standard measures are taken to ensure safety. We also question whether demolishing a large portion of the facade is necessary to access the interior of the site, when a NYC law that allows expedited judicial review in these cases could, at least theoretically, ensure that construction equipment can access the site from the neighbor's empty lot to the north.

We at LESPI are very sympathetic to the congregation and the hardships it has faced. We're very concerned about their claim that they will need to leave the East Village if the LPC requires facade restoration. However, we believe that the stakes here are too high to allow demolition of one of the East Village's most important historic structures without an objective, highly expert opinion on what the options really are. And demolishing the church facade is not a guarantee that the congregation will end up staying in the East Village, no matter how good the intentions. We'll keep you posted, and in the meantime you can read LESPI's LPC testimony HERE, and check on this and other CofA hearing schedules HERE.

Pre-fire view. Image: Daytonian in Manhattan.

Fire, December 2020. Image: USA Today.


LESPI at LPC CofA Hearings

580 Broadway. Image: LoopNet.

275 Canal Street. Image: PKSB Architects.

242 Lafayette St. Image: Daytonian in Manhattan.

When property owners of landmarked properties seek to make changes to the exteriors of their buildings, the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission reviews the proposed changes to make sure that they're appropriate to the building and, if the building is within a historic district, to the surrounding district. If the proposed changes are large scale (such as a new building in a historic district or a large rooftop addition) or do not follow the LPC Rules, they are heard at a Certificate of Appropriateness (CofA) Public Hearing, where the Landmarks Commissioners review the application and vote as to whether or not the proposal should be approved.

These hearings give the public, including LESPI, the opportunity to weigh in, either for or against these proposals. LESPI monitors CofA applications within our Lower East Side catchment area, and provides testimony during the hearings, sometimes supportive, sometimes not. If you'd like to read some examples of our past testimonies, which involve such diverse proposals as rooftop additions, window replacements, and new signage, you can see them on our website HERE. And you can check on upcoming LPC CofA public hearing schedules HERE.



Some very happy news: LESPI's new book, "LES: Lens on the Lower East Side" is "hot off the presses." This photo journal essay includes a brief history of the LES below Houston Street and the work of six outstanding local professional photographers. It joins LESPI's two previously published "Lens on the Lower East Side" books, on the East Village and Chinatown (see below). If you'd like to purchase an "advanced copy" please email us at info@LESPI-nyc.org.  We hope you enjoy it!


Latest LESPI Webinars Now on YouTube

Kleindeutschland illustration.

Image from CBJ Snyder webinar.

Kleindeutschland: Little Germany on the Lower East Side

More than a century ago, Kleindeutschland was a large, bustling Lower East Side German American neighborhood centered on Tompkins Square Park, in what is now the East Village. Peppered with German American beer gardens, sport clubs, libraries, shooting clubs, theaters, schools, churches, and synagogues, the area still retains many markers of this once lively and productive community.

In November, Richard Haberstroh presented a fascinating webinar for LESPI on Kleindeutschland. The talk provided an overview of the history of German immigration into New York City from the 1830s through the end of the 19th century, and touched upon a variety of social, cultural, and religious aspects of German-American life in this historically very important NYC neighborhood.

Transformative Architecture: C.B.J. Snyder and NYC Public Schools

Charles B.J. Snyder, Superintendent of NYC School Buildings from 1891-1922, was among the visionaries of the Progressive Era. He believed in schools as transformative civic monuments, providing a positive way forward for the countless children who arrived with the massive waves of immigration at that time. His grand school buildings were a dramatic contrast to the bleak living conditions these students often endured. Called “a forgotten genius,” Snyder designed 408 schools and additions throughout New York City, with the highest concentration in Manhattan’s Lower East Side.

Snyder great-grandaughter Cynthia Skeffington LaValle and Michael Janoska presented for LESPI a wonderful virtual tour of Snyder’s schools, with a focus on those located in the Lower East Side. They discussed the schools' highly distinguished architectural elements as well as their educational innovations, as outlined in the late Jean Harrington's and Cynthia LaValle's book "From Factories for Palaces: Architect Charles B.J. Snyder and the New York City Public Schools."

You can now view these webinars, among other LESPI webinars on the historic LES, at your leisure on LESPI's YouTube Channel.


Giving through AmazonSmile

We love small local businesses.  But if you happen to shop at Amazon, you can choose AmazonSmile, which will donate a percentage of each sale to the charity of your choice - we hope you'll pick Lower East Side Preservation Initiave (LESPI)!


Sign LESPI's Petition for a LES Historic District!

Join the approx. 3,000 people who have signed LESPI's petition for a new Lower East Side historic district below Delancey Street, in the blocks around the Tenement Museum.  This is one of the city's and country's most important historic communities, due to its unique immigration, artistic, cultural and architectural history, and the formidable role it has played in our city's and nation's development.  The only way to protect the historic Lower East Side from complete demolition and redevelopment is city landmarking.  Sign the petition HERE!


Support LESPI and look good doing it with a LESPI t-shirt!  All proceeds benefit LESPI's work. Only $25 (including shipping and handling). Send a check made out to "LESPI/FCNY", and send to LESPI, 93 Third Avenue, #1223, New York, NY 10003.  Available in crew neck only; indicate which shirt and size (contact us at info@LESPI-nyc.org or 347-827-1846 with questions).  Unfortunately we cannot offer returns or exchanges.


LESPI Books Make for Great Reading and Gifts!

LESPI's "East Village: Lens on the Lower East Side."

LESPI's "Chinatown: Lens on the Lower East Side."

LESPI's books "East Village: Lens on the Lower East Side" and "Chinatown: Lens on the Lower East Side" are available at McNally Jackson on Prince Street, Yu and Me Books on Mulberry Street, Printed Matter/St Marks on St. Marks Place, and  Village Works on East 3rd Street. The East Village book is available at The Source on East 9th Street; the Chinatown book is available at Museum of Chinese in America on Centre Street, and Pearl River Mart at Chelsea Market and Broadway in Tribeca.  Due to COVID-19 please contact the store to check availability. 


You're contribution will help us protect our historic LES buildings and streetscapes!


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Lower East Side Preservation Initiative
93 Fourth Avenue #1223 | New York, New York 10003
347-827-1846 | info@LESPI-nyc.org


 © 2022 Lower East Side Preservation Initiative

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