Vol. 12 No. 2  Spring 2021

News from LESPI


Some very good news: the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) took a first step toward recognizing the importance of Chinese American culture and history earlier this month, during their Public Hearing for Individual Landmark designation for the Kimlau War Memorial arch on Chatham Square, just to the east of Chinatown’s historic core. 

Designed by architect Poy Gum Lee and constructed in 1961 by the American Legion, the arch commemorates Americans of Chinese ancestry who lost their lives in defense of the U.S. The memorial was named after U.S. Army Air Corps 2nd Lieutenant Benjamin Ralph Kimlau, a resident of Chinatown shot down during World War II. 
Representatives of the American Legion, local preservation groups, and others testified in support of designation, no one spoke against. In addition, LPC received 65 letters--all in favor. LESPI’s testimony is posted on our website HERE. The next step is for LPC to vote on the final landmark designation, which LPC expects to be sometime soon, date to be determined.

We’re looking forward to future LPC designations celebrating Chinese American history and culture - it’s time for the City to start paying more attention to this long-overlooked but vitally important community.



Screen Shot of District 1 Forum on Zoom.

Screen Shot of District 2 Forum on Zoom.

Having trouble deciding who to vote for in the upcoming NY City Council primary elections?

At the beginning of June, LESPI and Village Preservation hosted, along with our cosponsors, NY City Council Candidate Forums on Preservation and Planning for District 1 (roughly lower Manhattan to Houston Street) and District 2 (roughly the East Village and north). During the Zoom meetings we posed multiple questions to each candidate; their answers provide compelling insights into their beliefs and positions on various preservation-related topics.

If you missed these forums you can watch them HERE. And don’t forget to vote on or before Tuesday!


Preservation Updates

East River Park's Track House and Tennis Center: 

Still Hanging in the Balance

Archival View of Tennis Center. NYC Dept. of Parks.

Archival View of Tennis Center Comfort Station. NYC Dept. of Parks.

Over the last few months LESPI has been working with our elected officials, especially NY State Senator Brad Hoylman and State Assembly Member Harvey Epstein, to save the East River Park’s endangered Art Deco Track House and Tennis Center Comfort Station, constructed in 1937. 

Unfortunately, despite what had seemed to be productive conversations between Sen. Hoylman, LESPI, and the State Historic Preservation Office, we still have not been able to put a stop to the planned demolition. We continue to pursue available strategies to save these important historic structures. Stay tuned.

70 Mulberry Street / Former PS 23:

Fate Still to Be Determined

Current view of 70 Mulberry Street.

Archival Photo: NYC Municipal Archives.

Thanks to the prodding of LESPI and our allies - including protests, letter writing campaigns, and public testimony - the City’s Dept. of Citywide Administrative Services finished preparing, with the help of an architect and architectural conservator, a preservation assessment of the badly fire-damaged and partially demolished 70 Mulberry Street.

Before the January 2020 fire, 70 Mulberry was a community center serving the heart of Chinatown.  Constructed in 1891, the structure is the first school building designed by C.B.J. Snyder, who would go on to be responsible for the design of the vast majority of NYC’s turn of the 20th century school buildings, most of which still survive. The building served as a school until the 1970s, and many local residents attended and have fond memories of their time there. It's listed as a contributing building to the Chinatown Little Italy National Register Historic District.

LESPI served on a consulting committee to review the preservation assessment, which appeared to do a very thorough job of identifying and outlining the building’s current conditions. In short, the report found that the historic facade materials and stair tower remain in generally good condition, and can be readily restored.

The next step for LESPI is to push to make sure that the surviving portions of the building are restored, and that new construction on top of the existing is well designed and aesthetically compatible with the original building, as well as the surrounding buildings in Chinatown’s historic core.

LPC’s 250 Water Street Approval:

A Terrible Precedent

250 Water Street is the dark tan tower toward the right, with the historic district in front of it. Image: Skidmore, Owings & Merrill / Howard Hughes Corp.

In January, LESPI, along with dozens of other groups and individuals, testified at the Landmarks Preservation Commission’s (LPC) Public Hearing that the Howard Hughes Corporation’s proposed new 470 foot tower at 250 Water Street, within the South Street Seaport Historic District, was grossly out-of-scale with the surrounding low-rise early- to mid-19th century buildings of the district, and that approving the design would set a terrible precedent that could allow for the construction of other out-of-scale buildings in other historic districts throughout the City. We stated that the developers’ proposal to donate money to the South Street Seaport Museum, though laudable, should not be a consideration in judging whether the project meets LPC’s standards of appropriateness. These standards include whether architectural scale, massing, materials and other aesthetic criteria are compatible with the district’s surrounding historic streetscape. LESPI’s testimony can be seen HERE.

The LPC turned back this initial application, based primarily on its size. Then in May, the applicant came back again to Public Hearing with a somewhat shorter, though bulkier tower. LESPI once again testified that the proposed building was way too tall, set a bad precedent, and additionally was deficient aesthetically as an ersatz approximation of a historic streetscape, though at more than 300 feet in height. Our more recent testimony can be seen HERE.

On May 4, the LPC voted 6-2 to approve the tower, advancing the project to the City’s ULURP (Uniform Land Use Review Procedure) process due to the zoning issues involved in the project. A coalition of local community groups is litigating the LPC’s decision (LESPI is not a petitioner). We’ll keep you posted as the proposal progresses through the City’s review process.


New to LESPI's YouTube Channel!

Screen shot from LESPI's webinar on the Jarmulowsky Bank Building restoration.

Tour Guide Barry Feldman at LESPI's Virtual Walking Tour of the Yiddish Rialto.

Jarmulowsky Bank Building: The Resurrection of a Lower East Side Landmark

If you’ve ever wondered how an aging and deteriorating building is brought back to life, listen to Architect Ron Castellano and Architectural Historian Kerri Culhane discuss their adventure in restoring the Jarmulowsky Bank building at the corner of Orchard and Canal Streets. Moderator Richard Moses, LESPI President, fields audience questions.  This now resplendent former bank—restored both inside and out—is once again a proud symbol of the Lower East Side. See video HERE.

Virtual Walking Tour of the Yiddish Rialto

For those who have missed exploring the Lower East Side with a tour guide, you can now join - virtually - LESPI Board Member and licensed tour guide Barry Feldman as he walks along Second Avenue and remembers the Yiddish theater district that once flourished there. Along the way, you’ll also learn about other architectural and cultural landmarks of the East Village from this charming and informative expert. See video HERE.

Corky Lee at Chinatown Photo Newsstand Exhibit last October. Photo: Edward Cheng.

Lower East Side terra cotta spandrel panel.

A Celebration of the Life and Work of Corky Lee

Corky Lee was a much loved community leader and a prolific and talented photojournalist. His life mission was to capture, with his camera, the spirit of contemporary Asian American life and culture. And he sought to retrieve and celebrate Asian American histories that had been lost or discarded due to neglect or bigotry. Tragically, Corky died of Covid-19 in January of this year, at age 73.

Corky was instrumental in the production of LESPI’s book “Chinatown: Lens on the Lower East Side.” This webinar event, which celebrates Corky’s life, features photographers Karen Zhou, An Rong Xu, Edward Cheng and Jook Leung, discussing and showing their own work and their relationship to Corky, as fellow photographers, as co-contributors to “Chinatown: Lens on the Lower East Side,” and as friends. Examples of Corky's work from the publication are also discussed. See video HERE.

If you can, stop by to see "Corky Lee on My Mind: A Photographic Exhibit" at Pearl River Mart, 452 Broadway, now through August 29, where you can also pick up a copy of LESPI's “Chinatown: Lens on the Lower East Side." For more info see HERE.

90 Years of Terra Cotta on the Lower East Side (1849-1939)

Terra cotta is a remarkable building material that takes many forms around New York, even mimicking other building materials like limestone or granite. This webinar, featuring terra cotta expert Susan Tunick, explores how to recognize terra cotta and differentiate it from other materials (even when it looks like stone!). It also highlights the very varied range of terra-cotta ornament found in buildings throughout the Lower East Side. See video HERE.

You can watch these and many other LESPI webinars at our YouTube Channel!


Book Review:
Dagger John: Archbishop John Hughes and the Making of Irish America by John Loughery

Emigrating from Ireland in 1817, John Hughes became one of the most celebrated and influential figures of the Lower East Side. Ordained a Roman Catholic priest at 30, he rose to Bishop and Archbishop and was installed at Old St. Patrick’s on Mott Street, living in the episcopal residence at 263 Mulberry Street. But his domain extended far beyond that immediate neighborhood to encompass the Catholic Church in America more broadly.

Often referred to as “Dagger John,” Hughes wielded power as a riveting orator, a fearsome taskmaster, and a “can-do” force who shaped not only issues of his diocese, but also those of state, national and international import. (The purported “dagger” referred to a misinterpreted cross he added to his signature.)

But always at the top of Hughes’s agenda was the fate of the Irish Catholic immigrant. He lobbied for Catholic education as an essential tool of uplift and fought back against virulent Nativist tendencies. He watched as multitudes of starving Irish men, women and children arrived on American shores in the wake of the Great Famine. Many settled in such crime and disease-ridden neighborhoods as the Five Points, close to where he lived.

When Civil War was inevitable, Hughes encouraged Irish immigrants to serve, believing their bravery and loyalty would forever change negative attitudes. But the War was longer and bloodier than ever imagined and, at the end of his life, he witnessed the horrific Draft Riots that convulsed New York City and brought infamy to the Irish working class who formed murderous mobs. By then, Hughes was too old and sick to help stem the tide of this disastrous event; he died six months later. With a local legacy that includes both Fordham University and St Patrick’s Cathedral on Fifth Avenue, Hughes must also be seen from the vantage point of American history writ large, as this engaging biography makes abundantly clear.


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.

Photo by Bruce Monroe.


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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