Vol. 14 No. 1  Winter 2023

News from LESPI

LPC Votes to Demolish Historic Middle Collegiate Church Facade

Pre-fire view. Image: Daytonian in Manhattan.

Current (post-fire) view. Image: Richard Moses.

After multiple public hearings and public meetings, last month the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) voted at public meeting to allow the demolition of the historic Middle Collegiate Church facade, the one significant remnant of the church’s terrible fire of 2020.

We at LESPI are very sympathetic to congregation’s desire to take down the facade to facilitate construction of a new church and maintain as safe a work site as possible. However, we also found agreement with the two LPC Commissioners who voted against the demolition, in that we believe that the facade’s masonry conditions were still not adequately understood, as they had not been inspected close-up by a seasoned preservation engineer. Potentially, a solution could have been found to retain some or all of the facade, and to build a new, perhaps strikingly contemporary church behind it. As Middle Collegiate is one of the most important historic buildings in the East Village/Lower East Side Historic District, we believe that an extra effort should have been made to make sure that a physical marker, beyond the salvage of individual pieces of ornament, remains on Second Avenue for our and future generations.

The demolition seems to be part of a larger, more disturbing trend where the City appears not able to respond adequately to landmarked  buildings with negligent owners (not the case at Middle Collegiate) and/or challenging structural conditions.  For example, in 2017 the abandoned Beth Hamedrash Hagodol synagogue building on Norfolk Street was victim of a terrible fire, and the result was the complete demolition of this individual landmark. More recently, the Dept. of Buildings (DOB) ordered the demolition of the landmarked, two hundred year old house at 14 Gay Street in Greenwich Village, as well as most of the nine landmarked buildings on 9th Avenue and West 14th Street, dating from the 1840s. This was due to what DOB considered to be unsafe conditions (which was not the case at Middle Collegiate).

Clearly there must be a better way for the City to respond to these types of structural challenges. Seasoned preservation engineers can often devise innovative and cost effective ways to save even the most fragile of historic buildings.


Court Puts Brakes on New 250 Water Street Tower in South Street Seaport Historic District

Tower design. Image: Skidmore Owings & Merrill / Howard Hughes Corp.

Last month, the Seaport Coalition - and all NYC preservationists - won a major victory when the NY State Supreme Court struck down the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission’s approval for a new 23 story tower within the South Street Seaport Historic District. Notable for its low-rise 4-5 story, early- to mid-19th century buildings, the district would clearly be compromised by the insertion of this massive tower. Moreover, the approval would have set a terrible precedent that could have facilitated the approval of hi-rise towers within other low-rise historic districts. Instead, the judge vacated the LPC’s permit, thereby putting a stop to construction. 

The judge’s ruling was based on two principles: first, LPC had previously turned back applications for tall buildings on this site that were substantially shorter than this one because they were out of scale with the district. For this application LPC never justified its complete reversal in permitting this much taller building. 

Second, LPC partially justified its decision (as evidenced in correspondence) by noting the benefits of the developer's promise to donate substantial sums to the South Street Seaport Museum. The Seaport Museum is without a doubt a venerable institution worthy of the City’s support. However, for LPC’s approval to rest at least in part on this promised donation would set a bad quid pro quo precedent. Deciding what not-for-profit is worthy or not worthy of support is beyond their mission, as is deciding on the appropriateness of a new building design based on the amount of funding to be provided for another entity.

The applicant, the Howard Hughes Corp., has expressed their intention to appeal the decision. A lot will be riding on this.


Large 5G Towers to Land in a Historic Neighborhood Near You

Tower at Mulberry and Bayard Streets. Image: Amir Hamja for The New York Times.

The City recently embarked on a program to erect some 2,000 5G internet towers, in an effort to bring more equitable internet service to New Yorkers. Of course the devil’s in the details: the towers, at some 30 feet tall, loom over their neighborhoods, including one at the corner of Mulberry and Bayard Street in the historic core of Chinatown.

Is there a better way to provide this service? Can the towers be made smaller and/less obtrusive? What are the best locations for these towers, from both a technological and aesthetic perspective? We would like answers to these questions. We’ll keep you posted.


Join Us for our Zoom Webinar: “To Fight for the Poor with My Pen: Zoe Anderson Norris, Queen of Bohemia (1860-1914)”

Join LESPI and Eve M. Kahn for a fascinating Zoom talk on “To Fight for the Poor with My Pen: Zoe Anderson Norris, Queen of Bohemia. Norris (1860-1914)”. Norris was a foremother of modern-day social-justice advocates and confessional bloggers baring souls in print. In millions of published words of fiction and journalism - including in her own bimonthly magazine, The East Side(1909-1914) - she documented desperate immigrant poverty from her "literary sanctum" on East 15th Street and called for the world to heed and help.

Much of the material in Norris’s The East Side relates to extant buildings on the Lower East Side, ranging from tenements where Zoe interviewed the families of Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire victims to the charity hospital where she died after mailing out an issue predicting her own death.

Eve Kahn's upcoming exhibition at the Grolier Club features the only complete run of The East Side known to survive in private hands, as well as Norris' novels, periodicals featuring Norris' work alongside major Gilded Age artists, and a fascinating collection of artifacts. The exhibit runs from March 2 until May 13.

Kahn, a former weekly Antiques columnist for The New York Times, is finishing a biography of Norris for an academic press.

The talk is scheduled for Wednesday March 29 - mark your calendars! We'll be emailing out the Zoom sign-in information within the next few weeks.


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 (contact us at info@LESPI-nyc.org or 347-827-1846 with questions).  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. 


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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