Vol. 10 No. 1  Spring 2019

News from LESPI

“Chinatown: Lens on the Lower East Side” Exhibit, Panel, and Book Launch

Photographer and Curator Corky Lee, showing his photographs

Exhibit's opening reception at NY Arts Center

In March LESPI sponsored a wonderful exhibit of contemporary photographs titled "Chinatown: Lens on the Lower East Side", based on LESPI's recently published book of the same name, at the NY Arts Center on the Bowery. More than 200 people attended the opening reception, soaking up the beautiful photographs of historic Chinatown; meeting exhibit photographers Corky Lee, An Rong Xu, Edward Cheng, Jook Leung, and Karen Zhou; and enjoying refreshments including delicious dim sum generously donated by Nom Wah Tea Parlor on Doyer Street.

The exhibit, curated by LESPI Vice President Carolyn Ratcliffe and by the book’s lead photographer Corky Lee, was intended to show that Chinatown's historic core - from Baxter to the Bowery, Canal to Worth - has an amazing culture, history, and historic architecture, which will soon be lost to demolition and overdevelopment unless the City quickly protects it through landmarking, community land trusts, or similar means.

Complementing the exhibit, LESPI hosted a photographers' panel moderated by Bayer Lee.  The panelists included photographers Edward Cheng, Karen Zhou, Jook Leung, and Corky Lee, who spoke about their work and professional experiences. Bayer and Jook also discussed Jook's 360 degree photography and its use to document the historic Sea and Land Church on Henry Street, built in 1819 - a technique that allows a viewer to travel around and through the building at the click of a mouse.

The event launched LESPI’s new photo essay book “Chinatown: Lens on the Lower East Side”, which includes the exhibit photographs as well as many more of the community, along with a local history.  Want a copy?  You can purchase it 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.  (Photos by Bruce Monroe)


National Park Service’s Proposed Rules Seek to Undermine National Register Listing Process

The National Park Service (NPS) has proposed rule changes which seek to significantly weaken the implementation of the National Historic Preservation Act  (NHPA) of 1966.  These changes would diminish the NHPA in several ways, including:

  • significantly limit the ability to list federal properties on the National Register
  • reduce the availability of the federal historic tax credit for restoration work on National Register listed properties
  • give large property owners the right to veto the listing of entire historic districts on the National Register.

LESPI organized a letter writing campaign in opposition to the proposal, and the NPS received in total thousands of comments, most in opposition.  In this political climate we must remain diligent, or our treasured historic architecture and cultural history will be sacrificed to greed, expediency, and overdevelopment.  Check our Facebook page for future updates.


Lower East Side photo by Bruce Monroe

Brief Update on Historic District Proposals

Lower East Side:

The NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) has been moving ahead with LESPI’s and FOTLES proposal for a Lower East Side Tenement historic district, located below Delancey Street, around the Tenement Museum.  The LPC has recently met with the area’s building owners, an important step in the process toward landmark designation.  We'll keep you posted on the progress.

East Village:

LESPI, GVSHP, EVCC, BAN, and HDC met with the LPC in December to discuss expanding the two recently designated districts, the East 10th Street and East Village / Lower East Side Historic Districts, as well as other historic sites worthy of landmarking.  This group of organizations will be following up with the LPC in June to check on their progress on reviewing the sites, and to discuss next steps and scheduling. 


In Memory of Jack Taylor, Longtime Preservationist and LESPI Adviser

In February of this year Jack Taylor, longtime and deeply committed NYC preservation activist, died at the age of 93.  Jack cut his teeth in preservation in two very challenging but ultimately unsuccessful campaigns for city landmarking: the fight to save the historic Luchow’s restaurant on East 14th Street; and to have Union Square declared a historic district. Of course he had several important wins: the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) designated several Individual Landmarks around Union Square in lieu of a historic district; and designated the Ladies’ Mile Historic District in 1989, one of the truly magnificent collections of historic buildings in the city.  He also helped lead the push to designate the East 17th Street /Irving Place Historic District in 1998 and Tammany Hall in 2013, the latter the result of a 29 year campaign (note that he was not at all happy about the LPC-approved rooftop addition now under construction!).   

Along with serving on the Boards of several other preservation and community organizations, Jack was on LESPI’s Board of Advisers for many years, and was an early and very generous supporter.  An editor in his professional life, he copyedited LESPI’s “Lens on the Lower East Side” books on Chinatown and the East Village.  He stayed active in preservation to the end.  Jack’s family organized a beautiful memorial service for him on May 17 at the historic St. George’s Episcopal Church on Stuyvesant Square, attended by family, friends, and preservationists from around the city.  He is very much missed.  (Photos: Stephen Tucker / Historic Districts Council and NY Times)


LESPI on Instagram!

LESPI is now on Instagram! Follow us @nyc_lespi for neighborhood news, advocacy alerts, and lots of beautiful photos of the historic Lower East Side: www.instagram.com/nyc_lespi.  (Photo by Bruce Monroe)


LESPI’s Tour of Chinatown

Tour leader Bayer Lee

The tour group in Columbus Park

On May 18, Bayer Lee led LESPI's "Chinatown: Lens on the Lower East Side Walking Tour: Exploring Two Centuries of Chinatown History”, as part of Lower East Side History Month.  What a remarkable tour! 

Bayer discussed and illustrated with archival material a wide range of topics, including what, prior to the 19th century, had been the Collect Pond; the (very limited) professional opportunities for Chinese immigrants during the 19th century; Mulberry Street commerce as the street transformed from Little Italy to Chinatown; early 20th century street gangs; Mabel Ping-Hua Lee, Chinese American advocate for women's suffrage; and much more. Plus, we got to experience close-up one of the city's most wonderful historic neighborhoods, a community that needs protection now from gentrification and insensitive development.  The Rev. Bayer Lee is Pastor of the First Chinese Baptist Church on Pell Street and a post-doctoral scholar at Columbia University.


LESPI Joins Stonewall 50 and Sponsors LGBTQ East Village Tour

Guide Lawrence Frommer

LESPI is proud to have joined the Stonewall 50 Consortium, a group that’s sponsoring LGBTQ-related events all around the city to help celebrate the the 50th anniversary of the event known simply as Stonewall.  To help mark this anniversary, on May 5 LESPI and Jane's Walk sponsored a special LGBTQ walking tour of the East Village, as part of both Stonewall 50 and Lower East Side History Month. Led by guide Laurence Frommer, we visited the sites of an 1890s gay bar; 1980s art galleries; former homes of renowned LGBT poets such as W.H. Auden and Frank O’Hara and artists such as Andy Warhol; and much more. We had a fascinating tour and, despite the chilly weather, a great time.

For those not familiar, Stonewall was a spontaneous rebellion by a disparate group of LGBTQ New Yorkers against what started as a routine police raid on a Greenwich Village gay bar, Stonewall Inn, on June 28,1969.  It soon became known as a historic turning point in the LGBT civil rights movement, which previously had been a largely subdued and underground effort.  As the riots of the first night turned into four consecutive nights of protests and acts of civil disobedience, the era of quiet submission to police harassment and shaming were over, and LGBTQ civil rights advocacy was “out of the closet and into the streets”. 

For preservationists, a particular cause for celebration is the 2016 declaration by President Obama designating the streetscapes that were the site of the Stonewall uprising as the Stonewall National Monument, managed by the National Park Service. This is the nation’s first National Monument designated to commemorate an LGBT historic site.

World Pride NYC: Stonewall 50 is an open invitation for the world to celebrate this landmark anniversary in New York City.  It’s also a celebration of the civil rights successes achieved since Stonewall, while acknowledging the many challenges LGBTQ+ people in the U.S. and around the world still face. World Pride NYC: Stonewall 50 is partnering with organizations and institutions throughout the city on a calendar of over 50 events in June, published online


Upcoming LESPI Events

Walking Tour: “The East Village: 400 Years of Art, Architecture and Activism” Sunday May 26

Join urban historian Barry Feldman for a walking tour and discussion of the history of this iconic downtown neighborhood. Explore streets lined with nineteenth century tenements, trendy restaurants, houses of worship and community gardens. Contrast the wildly ornate buildings and the Jewish Walk of Fame that recall the neighborhood’s immigrant past with today’s lively night spots, community theaters and museums. Admire Jim Power’s whimsical mosaics that unexpectedly appear on lampposts; the mid-nineteenth century work of “wunderkind” architect James Renwick; and the East 4th Street Cultural Arts Block, site of the first Yiddish theater production, the present home of La Mama and contemporary dance and theater venue.  

See HERE for more info and tickets.

Walking Tour: “The Power of Place: The Lower East Side of Past and Present” Sunday June 30

Urban historian Barry Feldman’s tour will cover one of the great historic periods of immigrant settlement on the Lower East Side (1880's to 1924), and discuss the area’s demographic changes, housing and social issues, and failed depression era plans for neighborhood rehabilitation. We’ll visit venerable sites including the Forward Building and Educational Alliance, and contrast 19th century tenements with the contemporary Essex Crossing and Blue. We’ll pass trendy shops and restaurants, while discussing LESPI’S and FOTLES’s proposal to designate a historic district in the area.  The tour is sponsored in partnership with the Lower East Side Jewish Conservancy, whose mission is to celebrate, preserve, and share the Jewish heritage of New York City's neighborhoods, starting with the iconic Lower East Side.  

See HERE for more info and tickets.

Illustrated Lecture: 200 Year Anniversary of the Historic Sea and Land Church on Saturday June 29

Now celebrating its bicentennial, the Sea and Land Church on Henry Street has a rich history.  This wonderful building, built in 1819, was originally a Dutch Reformed Church, and since 1951 has been home to the First Chinese Presbyterian Church.  On June 29 Bayer Lee will present an illustrated lecture on the building’s history.  The event will also include a tour of the church, followed by a reception.  More details to follow: watch your email inbox and our Facebook page.


Sign LESPI's Petition for a LES Historic District!

Join more than 1,500 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, which has played such a formidable role in our 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!  Proceeds benefit LESPI's work. Only $25 (including shipping and handling). Show your support for the East Village / Lower East Side and Chinatown by purchasing HERE!


LESPI's "East Village: Lens in the Lower East Side"

LESPI's "Chinatown: Lens in 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.


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


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Contact Us

Lower East Side Preservation Initiative
c/o Neighborhood Preservation Center 232 East 11th Street
New York, New York 10003