Vol. 14 No. 3  Summer 2023

News from LESPI


14 Gay Street (first white facade) in 2016. Photo: Ephemeral New York.

14 Gay Street after demolition. Photo: Duplex Imaging NYC / NY Post.

Why are we losing so many of our city's beloved historic buildings to gross neglect, structural damage, and careless construction work? Last week LESPI helped sponsor a panel discussion, led by Historic Districts Council and The Municipal Art Society, titled "A Stitch in Time Saves Nine: A Conversation on the Future of Vulnerable Historic Buildings in NYC," that dove into this question. 

Two of the most recent examples of the loss of landmarked buildings are: 

  • 14 Gay Street, built in 1827, which was completely demolished due to what appears to be contractor negligence, 
  • rowhouses  on 9th Avenue and West 14th Street, built in the 1840s, which had to be partly demolished/dismantled due to conditions revealed and/or exacerbated by the construction of a new Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) approved tower behind them. 

The panel, composed of preservationists, an LPC representative, and a preservation engineer, appeared to be in general agreement on policy recommendations. These included maintaining a list of at risk historic properties; providing better tax incentives and financial assistance to landmark building owners; and improving communication between the LPC and Buildings Department (DOB), which has the final say on demolishing buildings for public safety. 

LPC has begun to move on these issues. However LESPI would like to see recently developed LPC guidelines for dealing with at risk properties formally codified; that LPC retain seasoned preservation engineers to work with DOB to find creative engineering solutions to difficult structural conditions; and much stronger and stringently enforced rules against assertively negligent and recalcitrant owners who let their properties fall down around them.

Read more on this important issue in the recent Village Sun article by Phyllis Eckhaus HERE.



Former Hook and Ladder Company No. 9. 209 Elizabeth Street. 1883. Designed by Napoleon LeBrun & Sons, official Fire Department architect from 1879-1895. Photo by Lisa Vogl.

Former Fire Engine Company No. 15. 269 Henry Street. 1884. Designed by Napoleon LeBrun & Sons. Photo by Lisa Vogl.

Two striking Lower East Side buildings - on Elizabeth Street and Henry Street - once served the city as Fire Engine Companies. Their distinctive designs, by the prominent firm Napoleon LeBrun & Sons, represent New York’s commitment to civic architecture in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Such buildings were particularly resonant in the crowded tenement neighborhoods where they became symbols of protection for newly arrived immigrants. They remain touchstones of their streetscapes today. 

LESPI’s Requests for Evaluation to the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) for these two buildings as potential city landmarks was met with a response from LPC that has become all too familiar. They noted that while the buildings “may merit consideration for designation,” further study is based on “agency priorities.” The Lower East Side—certainly among the most historically significant neighborhoods in the city and country—does not appear to be, unfortunately, a priority for the LPC at this time. But we'll be keeping up the pressure.  




Eye and Ear Infirmary on Second Avenue. Photo by Richard Moses.

LESPI President Richard Moses speaking at July 31 rally.

The campaign to save the NY Eye and Ear Infirmary, on Second Avenue and East 14th Street, accelerated with a boisterous rally outside the facility on July 31. Assemblymember Harvey Epstein, State Senator Kristen Gonzalez, Congressman Jerry Nadler, and Councilmember Carlina Rivera spoke, along with LESPI President Richard Moses, other preservation, community, disability advocacy, and labor group leaders, on saving the facility and its important historic building. Richard asserted that NYC landmarking is the only way to ensure that the building can continue its service to the community and city, as both an important medical center and beloved architectural gem, and that otherwise it will undoubtedly be threatened with demolition.

You can watch a video of the first part of the rally HERE (LESPI is at the approx. 27 minute mark) and the second part HERE.

The Eye and Ear Infirmary is one of the very important institutions in the East Village / Lower East Side. Dating to 1893, the building clearly deserves NYC landmark status, for its impressive Romanesque Revival architecture as well as its important contribution to medical history. Dr. Edward Delafield and Dr. John Kearny Rodgers, who founded the institution in 1820 as the earliest specialized hospital in the Western Hemisphere, became known as the “Fathers of American Ophthalmology” through their work at the facility.

Previously, in April, LESPI had joined Village Preservation and other groups to officially propose landmark status to the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission. We'll keep you posted.



Corlears Hook Park, early 20th century,

Archeological finds in Corlears Hook Park. Photo: Friends of Corlears Hook Park.

During the latest construction at Corlears Hook Park, archeologists unearthed a fascinating trove of centuries-old building foundations, cellar steps, and cisterns, as well as numerous pottery shards and other reminders of daily life in early New York.

A Consulting Party for the East Side Coastal Resilience project, LESPI was asked to comment on the City’s proposal for how to deal with these finds. The City’s plans included re-burying the subsurface building components, and finding a place to display the artifacts.

Instead of reburying this archeological trove, LESPI proposed installing, above the most significant below-grade features, glazed vision panels so that people could appreciate these features from above. The City responded that installing these panels would interfere with handicapped accessibility to the pedestrian bridge. We maintain that with some ingenuity the vision panels and accessibility could be made to work together. It appears that construction is too far along to go back, and even if it wasn’t we’re not sure whether the City has sufficient motivation to display these features in the new park.

Finally, LESPI requested that the small artifacts be displayed within the park, if at all possible. The City has agreed to try to find a suitable place, so we’ll be checking in on their progress and keeping you posted. LESPI consulted with Friends of Corlears Hook Park on this initiative.



New Tower at Church of St. Augustine

Church of St. Augustine, Henry Street. Photo Li.Saltzman Architects.

Rendering of new tower by Think! Architecture + Design.

In June, LESPI testified to the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) on the design of a proposed 21 story tower behind the 1828 Georgian/Federal Style Church of St. Augustine on Henry Street.

We're never thrilled to see a new tower constructed in close proximity to such an important landmark - to put it mildly. However, here the LPC's 1966 designation report acknowledged the future construction of a building on the site. The architect's proposal called for not damaging any original material, as well as significant restoration work - sorely needed - for the historic church.

LESPI recommended lowering the tower's height, if possible, and adjusting the color of the cladding to better harmonize with the church facade. The LPC ultimately approved the tower, with the provision that the facade color be adjusted. You can read LESPI's testimony HERE.

Rooftop Addition at 277 Canal Street

277 Canal Street. Photo: The Village Sun.

Rendering of 277 Canal Street addition by Morris Adjmi Architects.

In late June, LESPI testified to the LPC on a proposed rooftop addition at 277 Canal Street, a vernacular 3-story commercial structure in the Soho-Cast Iron District Extension.

LESPI was not opposed to the construction of an addition, due to the uncharacteristically low scale of the existing building within the historic district and its conventional vernacular design. However, we recommended to the LPC that the height of the addition be reduced from 12 stories to 5-6, to better harmonize with the streetscape; that the addition be set back from the building facades to allow the original building's design to read more clearly; and that the termination at the top of the building be further emphasized, either with a more developed cornice or similar means.

Ultimately the LPC approved the design as presented but required the applicant to work with the the staff to further develop the cornice design. You can read LESPI's testimony HERE.



Join us for our live Photographers' Talk Thursday September 28, 6:30-8:00pm, at Loisaida Center, 710 East 9th Street. The Talk will be based on our ongoing "Lens on the Lower East Side Exhibit" there. For more info see HERE.

Christodora House on Avenue B has long been a contradiction: a symbol of both enduring hope and social turmoil, of urban decay and gentrification. Join us on November 1 for a live and lively book talk "Skyscraper Settlement" with author Joyce Milambiling on this building's story and its important role in East Village/LES history. Stay tuned - details to follow.



The opening reception of our "Lens on the Lower East Side" photography show September 14 at the Loisaida Community Center on East 9th Street was a great success. Folks chatted with the photographers, and noshed on delicious food and wine donated by Veselka (on Second Avenue) and pastries donated by Veniero's (on East 11th Street). If you haven't seen the show, be sure to stop by, through October 2.

Author Ada Calhoun treated us to a very engaging book talk September 6, "Spotlight on the East Village," on her "St. Mark's is Dead" and "Also a Poet," at P&T Knitwear Bookstore on Orchard St. The audience asked questions, had Ada sign their books, and chatted over wine and cheese. 

For this year's Lower East Side History Month, LESPI held a very nice little exhibit of photographs from our photo essay book, “LES: Lens on the Lower East Side” at the Nine Orchard Hotel. The hotel is in the landmarked and beautifully restored former Jarmulowsky Bank Building, which we highly recommend stopping to see, including the wonderfully ornate interiors.

For MAS Jane's Walk and LES History Month, LESPI hosted a walking tour of the historic core of Chinatown, led by the Rev. Dr. Bayer Jack-Wah Lee and Kerri Culhane. We had a great turnout and a wonderful afternoon exploring Columbus Park, the spot of the original Five Points intersection, and much more.

Despite rain chasing us away early, on September 9 we had a nice day tabling at the 10th and Stuyvesant Streets Block Party, including gathering signatures for our petition for a new LES historic district, chatting with passersby, and selling LESPI books and merchandise. 

It was a beautiful day at the Museum at Eldridge Street's "Egg Rolls, Egg Creams, and Empanadas Street Festival" on June 18. LESPI volunteers did a lot of outreach, gathered support for LES preservation, and had a great time enjoying the festivities.

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. Clearly there are very few historic districts in the LES, and we need more! Map by Merica May Jensen.


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 available at most Lower East Side branch libraries. 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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