Vol. 13 No. 2  Spring 2022

News from LESPI

Landmarked Church Threatened with Demolition!

Former West Park Presbyterian Church. Image: Alice Lum / Daytonian in Manhattan.

Image: Mechanical Curator collection.

Incredibly, the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) will hold a public hearing for an application tomorrow, Tuesday June 14 for the demolition of the former West Park Presbyterian church, one of the Upper West Side's most stunningly beautiful and important individual landmarks. The applicant wants to build luxury housing on the site. 

Designed by architect Henry Kilburn and built in 1890, the church is considered to be one of the best examples of Romanesque Revival style religious architecture in New York City. Along with its stunning brownstone facades, the church is also important for its cultural history: first during the 19th century when it welcomed Chinese Americans during a time of great prejudice, and later standing at the forefront of the African American and LGBT civil rights movements. The building’s current occupant, the Center at West Park (CWP) is a non-profit community performing arts center that has made a significant impact on the cultural fabric of the Upper West Side and the city.

The church’s owner claims that the building’s required repairs and upgrades are too expensive. However, CWP has offered to buy the church, although at a price below what the owner is asking. If LPC approves the demolition, it would set a terrible precedent for landmarked religious buildings around the city, including in the Lower East Side. 

LESPI has submitted testimony objecting to the application, which you can read HERE. TAKE ACTION: Please send your own testimony (you’re welcome to use our text) to testimony@lpc.nyc.gov, and/or sign the petition calling for the preservation of this important building HERE. Please help fight against this potentially terrible blow to New York’s architectural and cultural heritage!


New York Eye and Ear Infirmary Needs Landmark Protection

NY Eye and Ear Infirmary. Image: Beyond My Ken.

NY Eye and Ear Infirmary, 1904. Image: MCNY

In April, LESPI joined Village Preservation, along with East Village Community Coalition and Historic Districts Council to submit a Request for Evaluation to Mayor Adams and the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission for the landmark designation of the New York Eye and Ear Infirmary building, at Second Avenue and East 13th Street. This majestic historic structure is a landmark in every sense of the word. 

The building was designed by Robert Williams Gibson in a Romanesque Revival style and constructed in 1893, with additions and alterations dating to the first decade of the 20th century. Since then its historic brick and limestone facades have remained very much intact. From its founding in the 1820s, the Eye and Ear Infirmary has provided care for the needy and helped advance medical science. Unfortunately, the hospital is now moving, leaving the building’s future uncertain and in need of landmark protection. We'll keep you posted.


ERP Tennis House Ornament Salvaged

Tennis Center terra cotta ornament prior to demolition.

Preliminary design for reusing salvaged terra cotta by OBJ.

We’re still deeply saddened and troubled that the city would not save the Art Deco / Moderne style Tennis Center Comfort Station, which for three years LESPI and our allies have been advocating to rehabilitate and re-use in the new East River Park. Demolition of the building is currently underway.

A slight silver lining (just perceptible) is that the Parks Dept., following LESPI’s request, has salvaged some of the building’s beautiful terra cotta ornament. LESPI Board Member Merica May Jensen, an architect with OBJ, provided a wonderful preliminary design for reusing the ornament as part of new park signage outlining the history of the East River Park - we believe that this helped convince the Parks Dept. to save the terra cotta. Meanwhile, the terra cotta blocks will need to be stored until the new park is completed and they can be incorporated into a display. While this happens LESPI will continue to press the city to save the Track House, whose demolition is scheduled further along in the park reconstruction project.


State’s Upzoning Proposal Thwarted

Image: Google Earth rendering from CityRealty / 6 sqft.

We were very happy when earlier this year, after LESPI and our allied organizations reached out to our state elected officials, Governor Hochul withdrew the budget proposal to remove statewide FAR caps. FAR - or Floor Area Ratio - refers to the zoning provision that caps the size of the building at so many times the square footage of the lot. Of course there are numerous loopholes to allow you to build an even larger building if you navigate the system. Note that the supertalls on West 57th were built under current zoning; removing the caps would likely allow even taller structures. These upzonings inevitably lead to further gentrification / pied-a-terre development, loss of existing affordable housing, and loss of light, air and environmental quality. 

Very fortunately, our state elected officials opposed this measure, and it was withdrawn. You can see LESPI’s letter HERE. The lesson? We need to continue to be ever-diligent to prevent these types of proposals from becoming enacted.


Landmarks Commission Funding Restored

View of East 10th Street Historic District. Photo by David Jarrett.

Mouths dropped when Mayor Adams’s initial Fiscal Year 2023 budget called for deep cuts in the city’s already small and underfunded Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC). LESPI and our allied organizations rallied and, thanks to the hard work of preservation-friendly City Councilmembers Christopher Marte (who represents District 1, including Chinatown and the Lower East Side) and Erik Bottcher (who's a former LESPI Director), the budget was restored. You can see LESPI’s letter example HERE.

This is certainly a victory. However, we’d still like to see the LPC’s budget increased so it can return to being fully staffed, and can work more effectively to designate new landmarks and regulate existing ones.


LESPI and LESJC LES Walking Tour Postponed

Forsyth Street. Photo by Bruce Monroe.

Unfortunately, yesterday, June 12 we had to postpone LESPI’s and LESJC’s scheduled live walking tour “Attention Armchair Preservationists and Landmarking Lovers,” with LESPI Board Member and urban historian Barry Feldman due to threatening weather. We thank those who registered, and hope that you'll join us for the new date on Sunday, September 11.


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.


Pell Street. 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, Yu and Me Books on Mulberry 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!


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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


 © 2022 Lower East Side Preservation Initiative

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