Statement on the Proposed East Village/Lower East Side Historic District

June 26, 2012

Statement of the Historic Districts Council

Before the Landmarks Preservation Commission

Regarding the Designation of the East Village/Lower East Side Historic District

The Historic Districts Council is the citywide advocate for New York’s historic neighborhoods.  HDC has long been an advocate for preserving the East Village and Lower East Side, and we are, of course, in strong support of the proposed historic district.

Kleindeutschland, the Yiddish Rialto, Loisaida – whatever you call it, the neighborhood is the epitome of a classic Manhattan neighborhood.  The buildings were (and still are) homes to new immigrants and long-time residents; hubs of social justice, equality and identity movements; and centers of culture and entertainment. Given the cycle of constant change which this area has undergone for almost two centuries, it is remarkable that anything recognizable from history still exists, and yet it does. Preservationists talk a lot about the “layering of history”, of how buildings from different eras co-exist next to each other, creating a complex cityscape which is heterogeneous but intimately connected. Although there is a vast diversity of architectural styles in the East Village, there is a unity among the structures – seen in their complementary scale, materials and articulated details – which much like the diversity of its  residents, lends a vibrancy and a character that is unique to  the neighborhood.  Although this area has qualities in common with other of New York’s historic districts, it is the concentrated layers of history, both architectural and cultural, which make this neighborhood so distinctive and so worthy of being protected. Here, more than most other historic districts, the charge of landmark oversight will be to guide the ceaseless change of the neighborhood in ways that do not erase or falsify its history. HDC looks forward to working with the LPC, our colleagues and partners and all the community stakeholders in ensuring that this district has as exciting and vibrant a future as it does a past.

 

Finally, HDC hopes this is not the last of the Lower East Side that the Landmarks Commission turns its attention to. The area of the neighborhood from St. Mark’s Place to 14th Street is also deserving of preservation consideration, as is the whole area surrounding Tompkins Square Park and other points east. We greatly appreciate the LPC’s attention to numerous significant historic structures on the Bowery and hope that the agency will continue its program of protection there. Lastly, we recommend that an historic district below Houston Street centered around the Lower East Side Tenement Museum, which was proposed several years ago in a number of iterations,  as well as potential individual landmarks such as the Bialystoker Home for the Aged be studied as they would greatly help in preserving the immigrant and working class history of Manhattan.

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The Historic Districts Council is the advocate for all of New York City's historic neighborhoods. HDC is the only organization in New York that works directly with people who care about our city's historic neighborhoods and buildings. We represent a constituency of over 500 local community organizations.

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