Vol. 14 No. 2  Spring 2023

News from LESPI

In this issue:

New Design for Chinatown's 70 Mulberry Street: Is it Appropriate?

New design for 70 Mulberry Street. Rendering: Grimshaw.

Here’s the latest development on 70 Mulberry Street, the former PS 23 in the heart of historic Chinatown: Grimshaw Architects has come up with a new and long-awaited design for the fire-ravaged building, which for many years had served as a community center. Originally designed by renowned school architect CBJ Snyder - his first of hundreds of NYC schools - and built in 1893, the building was devastated by the 2020 fire that resulted in the controversial removal of the upper stories (see photos below). 

The preliminary design, shown above, was commissioned by the City and supported by Community Board 3. LESPI is excited about the prospect of new building interiors, however, in line with our mission, our focus is only with the surviving historic facade and the design of the new facade to replace the lost stories. 

Although we’re relieved to see the retention of the facade's surviving stone and brick masonry, and are generally supportive of combining boldly contemporary and traditional design, we believe that the new facade design is not at all compatible with the historic building. There is no aesthetic “dialogue” between the historic base and tower and the new upper stories. Additionally, the ground floor alterations, consisting of enlarging window openings and creating a new building entrance, are not respectful of the base’s beautiful brownstone masonry. 

The architect should go back to the drawing board (or computer screen) to completely rethink their facade design, or bring in a consultant who specializes in contextual design for historic buildings. For such an important historic site in Chinatown, extra consideration must be given to devise a first rate, appropriate design that harmonizes with the architecture of both the original building and the surrounding historic streetscapes. 

The City is planning to hold a community participation meeting in April or May of this year, live and via Zoom. Stay tuned for more info on this important meeting - we need your help to protest this facade design.

Post-fire view of 70 Mulberry Street.

Archival view of the former PS 23.


LPC and the LES: What's Next?

LESPI's and FOTLES's proposal for a new LES Tenement Historic District

Map's red boundary demarcates Lower East Side. Yellow shows existing historic districts. Map by Merica May Jensen.

We’ve heard what we think is some good news: late last month during our meeting with the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission senior staff we were told that, after a three-year pandemic related hiatus, the LPC is moving forward with their work on our proposals for new historic districts and individual landmarks in Manhattan’s Lower East Side.

Along with the LPC, this meeting was attended by LESPI, NY City Councilmember Christopher Marte, the Councilmember’s senior staff, a representative from Deputy Mayor Torres-Springer’s office, and Friends of the Lower East Side. LESPI presented outstanding LESPI and FOTLES Requests for Evaluation for two LES historic districts and four individual landmarks that LPC had previously acknowledged as worthy of further study, but not fully acted on, particularly since the start of the pandemic. Councilmember Marte made a strong pitch for the designations, noting that that the LES below Houston Street has great local and national historic importance, but no historic districts. He volunteered himself and his staff to fully assist with LPC’s outreach on all of these proposed designations.

Along with our LES Tenement historic district proposal, our other proposals included historic district designation for an Oliver Street - Al Smith historic district, and individual landmark designation for the Eastern Dispensary and three historic settlement house buildings.

Will LPC move forward quickly with some or all of these designation proposals? As always, the proof is in the pudding. When LESPI pressed the LPC for a timeline toward designation of the LES Tenement district - our top priority, first submitted to LPC more than six years ago - they demurred. We need assurance that LPC will act in a timely manner, as the need to protect the historic Lower East Side from rampant development is urgent.  We’ll keep you posted as we proceed.

City Moves to Monitor At-Risk Landmarked Buildings

Earlier this month, the City announced a plan to help prevent the demolition of landmarked buildings by owner neglect or contractor or engineering negligence.  The plan calls for the Landmarks Preservation Commission, Department of Buildings and Fire Department to share information and coordinate actions when an at-risk landmarked building is identified. We’re very happy to see this development, though we would like to see further details such as time frames for interagency communication, and whether or not negligent owners would be subject to penalties.

We hope that the new rules will help prevent disastrous situations from arising such as the severely deteriorating conditions at CHARAS/El Bohio / former PS 64 on East 9th Street, as well as the total destruction by fire of the Beth Hamedrash Hagodol synagogue on Norfolk Street, both seemingly preventable. For further info see the City’s announcement HERE.



NYC Residents: Take Action to Help Preserve Our Historic City! Help the LPC in its Preservation Work.


The East 10th Street Historic District. Photo: David Jarrett.

The NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission is one of the City’s smallest agencies, yet they’re responsible for administering almost 40,000 landmarked properties - including individual and scenic landmarks and buildings in historic districts - as well as researching historic buildings and neighborhoods to create new landmarks.

The city administration is proposing to significantly cut the LPC’s budget for the next year, which will shave the resources of the LPC to below bare-boned. This will hurt all of New York's historic communities, including the Lower East Side.

Write to your local elected officials and tell them to maintain the LPC’s budget for the coming year - hit the button below to send a letter today!



Co-naming Chinatown’s Mosco Street “Corky Lee Way”


Corky Lee at "Chinatown Photo Newsstand" exhibit, October 2020. Photo: Edward Cheng.

Corky Lee mural in Chinatown's historic core. Photo: Deborah Wye.

A leader of NYC’s Chinatown community, a political activist for Asian American civil rights, a LESPI Adviser, and widely known as the “Asian American photographer laureate,” Corky Lee was an inspiration for New Yorkers and beyond. Sadly, in 2021 he died of Covid-19, a terrible loss for so many. Now a campaign is underway, spearheaded by Think!Chinatown, to co-name Chinatown's Mosco Street “Corky Lee Way.”

LESPI strongly supports this effort - you can read our letters of support to local officials HERE. Mosco Street is a particularly appropriate choice: it’s near the heart of Chinatown’s historic core, and it was the site of Think!Chinatown’s and LESPI’s October 2020 photo exhibit “Chinatown Photo Newsstand,” based on the photographs in LESPI’s “Chinatown: Lens on the Lower East Side.” This is where Corky spent many hours gallery-sitting for the exhibit, often accompanied by LESPI members and others from the community.  

Corky was one of the friendliest people you’d come across, his gentle yet impassioned determination helped him build strong and broad support for his important causes. We need more people to follow in his footsteps.

Community Board 3 and District 1 City Councilmember Christopher Marte support the street co-naming. It now must be passed by the full City Council.

You can lend support by signing the petition HERE. Check out LESPI's letter of support HERE.



LESPI Events


LESPI's tour "Exploring Two Centuries of Chinatown History" is May 7.

Now on YouTube: LESPI's webinar “To Fight for the Poor with My Pen: Zoe Anderson Norris, Queen of Bohemia."

LESPI's May 7 Tour "Exploring Two Centuries of Chinatown History" 

Join us Sunday May 7 at 3:00pm for a special tour of Chinatown's historic core, one of NYC's best known and best loved neighborhoods. You'll experience century old streetscapes peppered with Chinese-inspired ornamentation, traditional Chinese restaurants, shops and religious institutions, and a wonderful street life found nowhere else. The tour is led by the Rev. Dr. Bayer Jack-Wah Lee.

REGISTER FOR THE TOUR HERE. This event is part of Jane's Walk and Lower East Side History Month.

LESPI Webinar Now on YouTube: “To Fight for the Poor with My Pen: Zoe Anderson Norris, Queen of Bohemia"

If you missed our fascinating webinar last month, “To Fight for the Poor with My Pen: Zoe Anderson Norris, Queen of Bohemia,” you can now see it on LESPI's YouTube Channel. Norris (1860-1914), a foremother of modern-day social-justice advocates and confessional bloggers baring souls in print, particularly focussed on NYC's Lower East Side, including its political and social scene. Enjoy!


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). 

You can order online HERE. Or 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. For questions: contact us at info@LESPI-nyc.org or 347-827-1846. Unfortunately we cannot offer returns or exchanges.

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

LESPI Books Make for Great Reading and Gifts!

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

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

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

LESPI's wonderful photo journal books "LES: Lens on the Lower East Side," "East Village: Lens on the Lower East Side" and "Chinatown: Lens on the Lower East Side" are now all available at Yu and Me Books on Mulberry Street. The East Village and Chinatown 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. Please contact the store to check availability.


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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


 © 2023 Lower East Side Preservation Initiative

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