Vol. 12 No. 1  Winter 2021

News from LESPI

On the Road to Recovery:

70 Mulberry Street / Former PS 23

Fire guts 70 Mulberry Street.

Recent view.

Gutted in a horrendous fire in January 2020, then partly demolished by the City, the historic 70 Mulberry Street / former PS 23 now looks to be on the road to recovery.

Last summer, the City Administration pledged $80 million dollars to the building’s reconstruction. Over the last several months, the Dept, of Citywide Administrative Services has been soliciting neighborhood input with Zoom meetings and town halls, where the community expressed almost unanimous support for restoration of the exterior, and the modernization of the interior to meet the needs of the building’s tenant community organizations.

Following impassioned requests by LESPI, Think!Chinatown, the NY Landmarks Conservancy, and other allies, the City recently engaged a consultant to perform a preservation assessment of the building. This study, now underway, will help outline what historic building features can and should be preserved and restored. LESPI has provided technical input, and intends to remain involved in the planning for the restoration, as much as possible, to help make sure things move forward on the right path. We'll keep you posted. 

Although everyone agrees that 70 Mulberry needs to get back into service as soon as possible, it’s important that the reconstruction is planned and carried out with care, as the building will remain an anchor and important historic marker for the community for generations to come.


Imperiled: ERP's Historic Track House and Tennis Center Comfort Station

Rendering of restored Tennis Center, Davies Toews Architecture.

Rendering of restored Track House, Davies Toews Architecture.

Despite widespread community support for the preservation of the historic East River Park Track House and Tennis Center Comfort Station, these Art Deco / WPA Moderne buildings, deemed eligible for the State and National Registers of Historic Places, nevertheless continue to be gravely threatened with demolition as part of the East Side Coastal Resiliency project. 

This massive project calls for demolishing virtually everything within the park, and raising its grade level 9 feet to help prevent future flooding. It also calls for replacing these two unique historic structures, designed specifically for the East River Park, with cookie cutter facilities that are being installed in various parks around the city. 

In response to this threat, LESPI commissioned Davies Toews Architecture (thanks to an Emergency Grant from the NY Landmarks Conservancy) to study the viability of moving and adaptively reusing the buildings. Davies Toews’s design work showed that the structures can be restored, and sensitively enlarged and modernized to easily meet the park’s programmatic requirements. Based on their (preliminary) analysis, restoration will be comparable (or less) in cost and a far greener solution than demolition and new construction, and will not delay the park’s floodproofing work. 

To date we‘ve received unanimous support from Community Board 3, the Lower East Side East River Residents' Coalition, our local elected officials, and 8 citywide historic preservation organizations. We continue to push the City Administration toward restoration, and are now planning a rally and other actions for this spring to impress upon the City the importance of saving these wonderful buildings. We hope you’ll join us in the fight for their preservation - stay tuned for next steps. And for now, please sign our petition HERE.




Educational Alliance building at East Broadway.

University Settlement building at Eldridge Street.

LESPI recently kickstarted a campaign for the preservation of three important Lower East Side settlement house buildings: University Settlement (1898) at 184 Eldridge Street, Educational Alliance (1891) at 197 East Broadway, and the former Grand Street Settlement (1905) at 311 East Broadway. All three are exemplary for their architecture and cultural history.                                                                                                                                    

For over a century, settlement houses have had a major impact in the life of immigrants and other Lower East Side residents. Early on, these organizations sought to fulfill vital yet unmet needs that are now often met by government programs. In fact, it was settlement house workers who instigated many of the governmental social reforms we benefit from today. And these organizations continue to offer ever-expanding social services. 

By 1910, New York housed a population that was 40% foreign-born, much of it in the crowded Lower East Side.  At that time, settlement workers often learned about these immigrant communities by living there, by “settling” in the neighborhood to better understand its needs. In response, they presented wide-ranging programs, including in education, the arts, health, hygiene, and recreation, and also offered financial, legal, and employment advice.                                                                                                                          

Designed by well-known architects of their day, these three settlement house buildings are steeped in beautiful classical detailing, and evoke a sense of respectability, strength and dignity that must have reassured those newly-arrived immigrants who participated in their programs. They provide a vital link to our historic past, yet their contributions continue. LESPI believes that they deserve the recognition and protection offered by Individual Landmark designation. We’ll keep you posted as our campaign progresses.

Former Grand Street Settlement at East Broadway.

Archival photograph of former Grand Street Settlement.


Remembering Corky Lee

Corky Lee.

Photograph by Corky Lee.

On January 27, photojournalist and activist Corky Lee died unexpectedly of Covid-19. All who knew him - and he was known far and wide - were shocked and deeply saddened.

We first met Corky in October of 2017. We had started putting together our book, “Chinatown: Lens on the Lower East Side,” the second in our series on the LES, and to help plan the book, LESPI Vice President Carolyn Ratcliffe asked Gigi Lee, then Chair of Community Board 3, for recommendations for local Chinese American professional photographers. LESPI was looking for the book to focus attention on the rich culture and architecture of Chinatown’s historic core, as the area was facing massive redevelopment pressures and resulting threats to its architecture and culture.  Gigi told us that Corky was probably the best known photographer of Chinatown.

Carolyn reached out to Corky, who graciously accepted our invitation to help with the book. LESPI President Richard Moses and Carolyn then met and talked with him several times for about the book and many topics related to Chinese American history and Chinatown. “I was totally impressed with his wide range and depth of knowledge about Chinese immigration and how Chinatown had evolved in New York City,” recalls Carolyn, “his photographs were just what we were looking for - they portrayed local people in their neighborhood, the cooks, shoppers, kids, a mix of people, street scenes and architecture encompassing the gestalt of Chinatown.” 

Corky helped LESPI choose most of the book's other local Chinese American photographers, whose work captured the wonderful people and streets of Chinatown. After the book was published, Corky co-curated with Carolyn an extremely well-attended gallery exhibit and book launch at the New York Arts Center, on the Bowery at Canal Street. This past October, he co-curated again with Carolyn the joint Think!Chinatown and LESPI pop-up newsstand gallery exhibit of the book’s photographs at Mosco and Mott Streets, as part of Think!Chinatown's Art Week. The exhibit was a smash success.

Corky, a member of LESPI’s Board of Advisors, was a tireless and passionate advocate for Asian Americans and Chinatown. He was also a very good friend, and will be sorely missed by us all.

Corky (right) at "Chinatown: Lens on the Lower East Side" exhibit on the Bowery.

At Chinatown Photo Newsstand exhibit.


Town Hall & Teach-In March 15:

Proposed Soho/Noho Upzoning

The City’s proposed SoHo NoHo Upzoning, set to begin the public review and approval process this fall, would allow massive new development in these neighborhoods and parts of Chinatown and the East Village, and allow huge big-box chain stores to locate in the neighborhood. But it’s been packaged by the City and many of its supporters as promoting equity, diversity, and affordability.

A study produced by Village Preservation shows just how untrue that is. Analysis shows it would make the neighborhood richer, less diverse, and more expensive than it is now, producing only 1/5 of the projected affordable housing and likely demolishing much more affordable housing along the way. It would disproportionately impact and destroy the homes of lower-income and Asian American residents of the neighborhood and have spillover effects on the rest of Chinatown and the Lower East Side.

Attend this Town Hall/Teach-In on the study and its findings, and learn from Village Preservation Executive Director Andrew Berman about the city’s plan and what you can do.

MONDAY, MARCH 15, 2021, 6:00PM - Register HERE 

Tell City Officials To Reject The Mayor’s SoHo/NoHo Upzoning Plan and Support the Community Alternative - Write to them HERE!

Co-hosted by the SoHo Alliance, NoHo Neighborhood Alliance, Broadway Residents Coalition, LES CommUnity Concerns, Lower East Side Preservation Initiative (LESPI), East Village Community Coalition (EVCC), and the #ChinatownMuralProject.


Book Talk March 24

"Rebel Cinderella: From Rags to Riches to Radical, the Epic Journey of Rose Pastor Stokes"

Join us and award-winning author Adam Hochschild as he uncovers the riveting story of Rose Pastor Stokes—the immigrant firebrand who became one of the most celebrated figures of the tumultuous early 20th century. 

In 1905, Rose Pastor of the Lower East Side married philanthropist James Graham Phelps Stokes, scion of a family whose wealth was likely unimaginable to the former cigar-factory worker. The couple met at University Settlement on Eldridge Street, where Pastor, writing for the Jewish Daily News, interviewed Stokes, a leader among the wave of college graduates hoping to serve that crowded, poverty-stricken neighborhood. 

Did this unlikely union survive? What became of Rose Pastor Stokes, prominent Socialist, labor activist, and birth control advocate? Hochschild leads us through this remarkable tale.

This event is co-hosted by Lower East Side Preservation Initiative, Village Preservation, and the Victorian Society New York

Wednesday, March 24 at 6PM, via Zoom
Register for this event: HERE.

You can buy a copy of the book HERE.

"Rose Harriet Pastor, The Genius of the Ghetto."

Archival Image.


Fundraiser Event March 25 to Help Rebuild Historic Middle Church

On December 5, a terrible fire decimated the 1892 Middle Church on Second Avenue at East 7th Street, within the East Village / Lower East Side Historic District. It seemed likely that nothing of this building but its1729 New York Liberty Bell could be saved.

Fortunately, we now have a bit of good news: the church’s beautiful front facade and towers can likely be salvaged and restored as part of the rebuilding. Conditions will need further confirmation as work proceeds, but we’re relieved that this imposing historic structure appears to be sound and not require demolition.

In the meantime, in order to help the congregation, on Thursday, March 25 the church’s friends are throwing a party that’s meant to entertain as well as raise funds to rebuild this wonderful site. 

March to Rise is a LIVE virtual benefit concert hosted by Tituss Burgess and Bevy Smith. Expect appearances from Broadway performers, actors and activists alike, such as Norah Jones, Ellie Kemper, Emily King, Aunjanue Ellis, Heather Headley, Elizabeth Stanley, among many others.

For tickets to this 7:00pm event see HERE.

Fire at Middle Church, December 2020.

Archival photograph.




St. Brigid's Church, Avenue B

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

Brigid Day Event

For more than 150 years St. Brigid's Church has reigned over the East Village's Tompkins Square Park.

Encountering this beautiful church brings to mind many questions. Who was the original Brigid? What was Ireland like during her time? What was Irish immigration like, especially for Irish women, in 19th century Lower East Side? What’s the history of the church, and the story behind its near-demolition and later rebirth two decades ago?

Grammy award-winning vocalist, songwriter and producer Susan McKeown, who immigrated to the Lower East Side from Ireland in 1990 and is currently the founder and Director of the Cuala Foundation, and LESPI Vice President Carolyn Ratcliffe, a longstanding East Village resident and Artistic Director of Art Loisaida, discussed these topics and more, as part of LESPI's and East Village Community Coalition's St. Brigid Day celebration February 2. 

If you’d like to see the video of this wonderfully illustrated lecture, see LESPI’s YouTube Channel.

“East Village: Lens on the Lower East Side” Book Talk

In December, author Marilyn Appleberg and photographers Ciaran Tully, George Hirose, Don Freeman, and Onno de Jong, who also served as graphic designer, led an illustrated talk on LESPI’s beautiful photography book, “East Village: Lens on the Lower East Side.” There was discussion of the East Village’s unique history and culture, as well as an intimate, behind-the-scenes look at the making of this great book. 

If you didn’t catch the live event, don’t miss the video - which includes a selection of the book’s beautiful photographs - on LESPI’s YouTube Channel.  

Copies of East Village: Lens on the Lower East Side are available at McNally Jackson Bookstore on Prince Street and The Source (212-473-7833) on East 9th Street, or by sending a check for $25.00, made out to "LESPI", with the book’s name and your complete mailing address, to LESPI, 93 Fourth Avenue, #1223, New York, NY 10003.


Photo Credits: Bowery Boogie, Richard Moses, Bruce Monroe, Eoin Collins, and Duke Todd.


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 more than 2,500 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 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 each fascinating histories of their respective historic communities, accompanied by the work of six boldly contemporary professional photographers who capture the areas' special streetscapes, people and spirit.  All contributors have ties to the local community.  The East Village book is available at McNally Jackson on Prince Street and The Source on East 9th Street; the Chinatown book is available at Museum of Chinese in America on Centre Street, the Strand Bookstore on Broadway, Jackson McNally on Prince 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


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