Vol. 13 No. 3  Summer 2022

News from LESPI


Nos. 29-13 Oliver Street (left to right). Early 19th century buildings, raised from two to three stories c. 1860s-1880s.

Alfred E. Smith and family on the stoop of their home at 25 Oliver Street, c. 1920.

LESPI and FOTLES have joined together to propose to the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) a new Oliver Street—Alfred E. Smith Historic District. It’s astonishing that, presently, no NYC historic districts have been designated in the Lower East Side below Houston Street, a storied neighborhood for both the city and nation. We cannot lose our connection to this community’s unique history, so closely linked to our country’s story of immigration.

Alfred E. Smith (1873-1944) was a four-term governor of New York, and the Democratic nominee for President in 1928. He was the first Roman Catholic candidate to run for a major party. His unlikely rise from humble beginnings in the old 4th Ward (now roughly between the Manhattan and Brooklyn Bridges) — where he started out as a laborer at the Fulton fish market — is legendary.

St. James Roman Catholic Church. 1836. James Street.

St. James School (now Transfiguration School). 1868. Corner of James Street and St. James Place.

LESPI’s historic district proposal, submitted to the LPC in August, focuses on a triangular area bordered by Oliver Street, where Smith spent over 20 years of his life, Madison Street, and St. James Place. These streets remain much the same as when Smith walked them. His Federal-era house at 25 Oliver Street sits among a row of similar 3-story buildings from that period. Likewise, Smith’s church, St. James, built in 1836, as well as his school (now called Transfiguration School), built in 1868, remain very much intact and recall a vivid past.

Here one also finds the imposing Mariners Temple and the 17th century First Shearith Israel Cemetery, both places Smith would have passed by daily. In addition, residential buildings, from c. 1820-1901, demonstrate the evolution of housing as waves of immigrants arrived. Our proposed district both honors a singular figure in the city’s history and safeguards a remarkably intact built environment, reminding us of earlier periods and offering a context for our present and future.

Photos: Bruce Monroe (upper left); MCNY at upper right.

Map of proposed historic district.

Jane’s Walk tour of proposed historic district led by LESPI Board Member, Deborah Wye, May 2022.



The Tennis Center Comfort Station, in foreground, shortly after construction.

Track House terra cotta spandrel ornament.

Unfortunately there’s only a slight glimmer of decent news amidst what is essentially very bad news on the fate of the East River Park’s historic Track House and Tennis Center Comfort Station. It looks like neither building will be saved from demolition, as specified under the City’s plan to demolish the existing park and reconstruct it at a new grade level (see HERE for more info). 

Despite LESPI’s three year-long preservation campaign, which resulted in the buildings being listed as eligible for the State and National Register of Historic Places, the Tennis Center was demolished earlier this month. There’s nothing more to say than this was a tragic, missed opportunity to restore, renovate and reuse this wonderful building, faced with limestone and ornamented with beautiful terra cotta designed with motifs specifically referring to the park’s waterfront location and its maritime history. As a result of LESPI’s urging, the Parks Department has salvaged some of the building’s terra cotta ornament. But the Tennis Center Comfort Station is now gone — a painful loss for the park and the Lower East Side.

The Tennis Center’s sister building, the Track House, is scheduled for demolition at a later date, and it appears the City is unwavering in its commitment to destroy the building. However, LESPI met with the Parks Department staff on-site in August, and it looks likely that examples of the facade’s wonderful terra cotta ornament, including the spandrel plaques with stylized fish, will be salvaged. Future plans include incorporating terra cotta ornament from both buildings in a display within the interior of the park’s new Track House, where it can be regularly viewed and enjoyed by the public. We expect this display to be accompanied by educational panels describing the park’s history and its original architecture. We’ll keep you posted as we get more news from the City.

Images: from upper left: NYC Parks Dept. Archives; Bruce Monroe; Helena Andreyko; rendering by Merica May Jensen / Davies Toews Architecture

About 40 people attended LESPI's rally to preserve the Tennis Center; shown here: LESPI's Deborah Wye, Phyllis Eckhaus, and Richard Moses.

Architect's rendering of restored Tennis Center Comfort Station.



Some good news: LESPI's "Chinatown: Lens on the Lower East Side" is now available at the New York Public Library Chatham Square Branch's reference section, for in-library use. See HERE. Or, you can buy a copy at Museum of Chinese in America, Pearl River Mart, Yu and Me Books, McNally Jackson, or Printed Matter (call first to confirm availability). Enjoy!



G.S. 1, Henry Street

“Transformative Architecture: Charles B.J. Snyder and NYC Public Schools” this Wednesday

Join our special illustrated webinar “Transformative Architecture: Charles B.J. Snyder and NYC Public Schools” this Wednesday September 21. Snyder’s great-granddaughter Cynthia Skeffington LaValle and Michael Janoska will discuss newly uncovered documentation on Snyder’s life and architecture, as laid out in the recently published book, “From Factories to Palaces: Charles B.J. Snyder and the New York City Public Schools”.

Snyder, Superintendent of NYC School Buildings from 1891-1922, believed in schools as transformative civic monuments, providing a positive way forward for countless immigrant children. His grand school buildings were a dramatic contrast to the students' often bleak living conditions.

Called “a forgotten genius,” Snyder designed 408 schools and additions throughout NYC, with the highest concentration in Manhattan’s Lower East Side. Read more and register for this Zoom event HERE.

East Village Book Talk: Celebrated Author Ada Calhoun Discusses Two of Her Books on October 3

Mark your calendars for what promises to be an exciting, in-person, outdoor event on Monday October 3, from 6:30-8:00 pm in the Courtyard at 122CC, the former Public School 122, designed by noted school architect, C.B.J. Snyder, and opened in 1895. Ada Calhoun will discuss her acclaimed “St. Marks is Dead,” a deep dive into the history of one of our favorite New York streets. Calhoun grew up on St. Mark's.

In addition, she’ll talk about her most recent book, “Also a Poet: Frank O'Hara, My Father, and Me.” Not only an intimate memoir, this volume gives us a close-up view of O’Hara, a major poet of the mid-20th century. O'Hara lived at 441 East 9th St, around the corner from our event venue, from 1959 to 1963, and was a regular fixture of the downtown New York literary and artistic scenes. 

Watch for an email invitation to this event, coming soon! 

Photo (left): Bruce Monroe.



LESPI’s "Celebrating and Saving our Neighborhood Culture” panel discussion, via Zoom last Tuesday, was a deep dive into strategies for, and challenges and rewards of preserving our city’s rich, perhaps unequaled multicultural heritage.

The impressive roster of panelists included Christopher Marte, New York City Councilmember, Molly Garfinkel of City Lore / Place Matters, Frampton Tolbert of Historic Districts Council, Yin Kong of Think!Chinatown, and Andrew Berman of Village Preservation, with moderators Richard Moses and Laura Sewell of LESPI.

Some take aways? Collaborate with other interested groups to broaden support for initiatives. Be sure to engage the community. Learn local history not only from archival sources but from longtime local residents and business owners. 

Of course there was a lot more said during this 90 minute program: you can check out the complete recording of the event at LESPI’s YouTube Channel.

Photos: Edward Cheng (center) and Richard Moses (right).



Saint Mary's tour, Carolyn Ratcliffe second from left (with hat).

"Armchair Preservationists" tour, Barry Feldman, center (with hat).

Over the summer LESPI led two wonderful tours of the Lower East Side.

Saint Mary's Grand

In July, LESPI Vice President Carolyn Ratcliffe led a tour of the beautiful St. Mary’s Church on Grand Street, as part of the NY Landmarks Conservancy’s Sacred Sites Program Open House. Despite the steaming hot day, participants visually feasted on the beautiful architecture, including the sanctuary and stained glass. The church was originally constructed in the 1840s, and altered in the 1870s, with significant portions of the original church still extant. As Carolyn pointed out, “churches, synagogues and other houses of worship represent part of the culture of the people who made New York City. The buildings still exist because people care about them and they are an integral part of the history of the city.”

"Attention Armchair Preservationists" LES Tour

Earlier this month, LESPI Board Member and urban historian Barry Feldman led his "Attention Armchair Preservationists" tour of the historic Lower East Side, cosponsored by LESPI and LESJC. Despite on-and-off-again rain showers throughout the tour, participants enjoyed an on-site review of facade ornamentation terminology, how to distinguish original facade material from later alterations, how to judge what the NYC Landmarks Commission would likely deem landmark-worthy, and much more. The 2 hour-plus tour covered much of LESPI’s proposed Lower East Side Tenement historic district, providing us all a very good physical as well as mental work-out!

Photos: Catholic New York; Richard Moses.


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.


Sculpture of Alfred E. Smith, in the Alfred E. Smith Playground, Lower East Side.


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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