Vol. 12 No. 4  Fall 2021

News from LESPI

LESPI'S ERP Tennis Center Comfort Station Rally: "Restore, Don't Demolish!"


LESPI's Richard Moses addresses the crowd. Photo by Helena Andreyko.

On a chilly November Sunday LESPI, along with about 40 people, gathered at the East River Park’s historic Tennis Center Comfort Station to protest the City’s plan to demolish the building and the Park’s Track House as part of the East Side Coastal Resiliency project. Built in 1938 and designed by the City’s chief architect Aymar Embury II specifically for the park, these are the two remaining structures out of what were originally a set of five, the other three long since demolished.

The rally’s speakers praised the simple yet elegant design of the Art Deco/Moderne Tennis Center Comfort Station and Track House, which includes detailing that refers to the site’s history of shipbuilding, dockyard and other maritime uses. All speakers insisted on restoration, renovation, and reuse over destruction. “Although the buildings now look dirty, their limestone, terra cotta and slate exteriors remain in good condition, and with a simple cleaning their facades would sparkle. The buildings would have all new interiors that would sparkle too. They can be readily adapted to meet the Parks Department’s requirements,” said LESPI President Richard Moses. The City plans to replace them with standard contemporary structures devised from a Parks Department template used in parks all around the city.

An initial, preliminary study indicated that the renovation of one or both buildings can be accomplished without significantly delaying the overall project or increasing the budget. LESPI has called for the City to retain a preservation architect to produce an independent, objective assessment of this restoration proposal, but the City has declined.

Chris Marte, incoming NY City Councilmember for District 1, speaks. Photo by Lorna Nowvé.

LESPI's Deborah Wye, Phyllis Eckhaus and Richard Moses (L to R). Photo by Helena Andreyko.

Chris Marte, incoming NY City Councilmember for District 1, called on the City to stop stonewalling, and to step up and do the right thing by saving the two buildings. LESPI’s Richard Moses stated, “The planned demolition of the Track House and Tennis Center Comfort Station is another example of the City ignoring the wishes of the community, ignoring our history and architectural heritage, and ignoring the very fabric of our community, to simply keep bulldozing and demolishing. This is not progress, it’s destruction, and it’s got to stop.” The crowd then chanted “Restore! Don’t demolish!”

Along with LESPI’s Richard Moses and Councilmember elect Chris Marte, the rally speakers included George Calderaro of the Art Deco Society of New York, Michele Campo of Bowery Alliance of Neighbors, Mitchell Grubler of Friends of the Lower East Side, Lorna Nowvé of the Historic Districts Council, Laura Sewell of Lower East Side Preservation Initiative, Michael Kramer of the Seaport Coalition, Andrew Berman of Village Preservation, and Peg Breen of the New York Landmarks Conservancy (statement provided).

Track House terra cotta ornament. Photo by Bruce Monroe.

Proposed restoration of the Tennis Center Comfort Station. Rendering by Davies Toews Architecture.


Preservation Updates: Fighting the Madness

LESPI's Richard Moses testifying on November 9 via Zoom against the City's proposed SoHo/NoHo upzoning plan.

CB3's resolution urges the City Administration to protect NYC's mix of high density and lower density neighborhoods, such as the East Village / Lower East Side

LESPI has been presenting testimony and performing advocacy work on some very hot local preservation topics:

City’s Proposed SoHo/NoHo Upzoning:

City Council’s Zoning Subcommittee’s November 9 Public Hearing on the Mayor’s proposal to upzone SoHo and NoHo was a grinding but impassioned 6-1/2 hours of public testimony.

The majority of people who testified spoke strongly against the plan, which covers not only SoHo and NoHo but also parts of the East Village and Chinatown, and calls for new buildings to be built at up to 2-1/2 times what current zoning allows - think midtown densities. Although advertised as providing affordable housing, the plan would ignite immense development pressure in the area that would endanger existing affordable housing and mom-and-pop businesses, and threaten the low-to-medium scale SoHo-Cast Iron and Noho Historic Districts.

Additionally, as the City’s first attempt to upzone existing historic districts, the proposal if passed would set a terrible precedent for historic districts throughout New York. As LESPI President Richard Moses noted in his testimony, “we need a plan that would help create more affordable housing for the area, while maintaining the neighborhood character that so many residents, businesses and visitors cherish.”

The first of the required three City Council votes on the proposal may take place as early as this Thursday, December 2, when the Council’s Zoning Subcommittee meets next. After the Subcommittee's vote, the Land Use Committee and the full Council must vote. Although there may be revisions to the plan beforehand - Councilmember elect for District 1, Chris Marte and others have been reaching out to current councilmembers to discuss reversing the damage the proposal will do - effecting substantial changes to the plan appears to be difficult at best. You can write your city councilmember and let them know that they should vote against this terrible proposal.

Community Board 3 Resolution for Human Scale Zoning and Historic Preservation:

We’re happy to report that, in late September, Community Board 3’s Full Board voted to approve LESPI’s proposed resolution calling on the City to re-prioritize neighborhood residents, mom and pop businesses, human scale zoning and historic preservation, over demolition of historic structures, overdevelopment, and the resulting gentrification.

The resolution, based on a similar resolution previously passed by Community Board 1, can be read HERE (see page 27). LESPI has reached out to Community Board 2 to propose that they also pass a similar resolution.

Proposal for Union Square South Historic District:

The area south of Union Square is a cornucopia of historic architecture: early-to-mid 19th-century row houses in Greek Revival, Italianate and neo-Grec styles; late-19th-century commercial buildings with cast iron facades and other ornate historic materials; and grand early 20th century apartment buildings and hotels.

The area’s social and artistic histories are legendary. The neighborhood was an incubator for trailblazing African American, women's, and LGBT civil rights organizations. Once known as New York’s version of Paris’s Left Bank, East 10th Street and the vicinity south of Union Square were home and hangout to numerous renowned writers, musicians, and artists, including Frank O’Hara, Willem and Elaine de Kooning, Robert Indiana, and Frank Stella, to name a few. Artists, galleries, and publishing houses gathered in this locale, creating a creative synergy. To this day, the area retains its aura as a special and historic urban environment.

Community Board 2 had voted earlier to pass a resolution in support of this proposed historic district, initially brought forward by Village Preservation. Community Board 3’s Landmarks Committee also voted unanimously in favor. Unfortunately, at the CB3 October Full Board meeting the vote was split between supporters and objectors, and the resolution failed to pass. You can read LESPI’s letter to the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission, similar to our Community Board 3 testimony, HERE. We’ll keep you posted as the proposal moves forward.



"Behind the Curtain, A History of 19th Century Theaters in the Lower East Side" webinar is Tuesday, November 30.

From our October webinar "LGBT History of the Lower East Side." Photo by Christopher D. Brazee/NYC LGBT Historic Sites Project.

Join Our Webinar Tuesday Nov. 30: Behind the Curtain, A History of 19th Century Theaters in the Lower East Side

Now that Broadway theaters are reopening after a long and unwelcome hiatus, we're ready to celebrate:

Join LESPI and downtown theater-maker Ralph Lewis for a unique look at New York City’s earliest theaters—where they were built, why they succeeded (or not), and what became of them. 

From Bowling Green to Astor Place, this virtual tour charts the birth of Broadway from the very first venue to the establishment of an entire Theater District—the important locations, the builders and managers, and the actors who made history on its stages. It’s an entertaining and informative accounting with diabolical anecdotes and over 100 images of NYC’s theatrical heritage. Behind the Curtain is the down-n-dirty story of how the Great White Way was born, and is tailor-made for lovers of American theater and its incredible NYC history.

Tuesday November 30 at 6:30PM via Zoom. Register for this free event HERE.

October 19 Webinar "LGBT History of the Lower East Side" Now on YouTube

This fascinating talk from the NYC LGBT Historic Sites Project team focused on the Lower East Side, including today's East Village and Lower East Side below Houston Street, as an area that provides a wonderful snapshot of the city's LGBT history as a whole. Featured sites ranged from those connected to immigration in the 1890s to the AIDS epidemic a century later. Pivotal to the neighborhood's LGBT history was its affordability for much of the 20th century, attracting numerous diverse artists and activists who both lived and worked there. You can view the video of the event on LESPI's YouTube channel.

The NYC LGBT Historic Sites Project is a cultural initiative and educational resource that is making an invisible history visible by documenting extant historic and cultural sites associated with the LGBT community throughout New York City.


NYC’s “Neighborhood Stories” Oral History Project

As William Faulkner wrote, "The past is never dead. It's not even past.” History is a continuum.

The Neighborhood Stories Project “is a storytelling initiative by the NYC Department of Records and Information Services (DORIS), which aims to gather and permanently preserve the stories of NYC community members - connecting local history with the records of City government maintained in the collections of the Municipal Archives and Library.  The project endeavors to empower local residents to provide their own rich historical narrative, and to encourage them to reflect on how the past connects to their lives, their families and their future.”

In this light, Manhattan’s Lower East Side deserves NYC landmark protection not only to mark the lives and achievements of prior generations, but to respect the history now being made all around us.  You can help document your important history as well as that of your community - including your ties to Manhattan’s historic Lower East Side - by partaking in this oral history. For more information see HERE


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.

East River Park's Tennis Center Comfort Station. 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.  Both books are available at McNally Jackson on Prince 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!


Share This

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


 © 2021 Lower East Side Preservation Initiative

Follow Us

Having trouble viewing this email? View it in your web browser

Unsubscribe or Manage Your Preferences