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Patch: Residents, Politicians Ask Preservation Commission to Save the South Village

November 29, 2016

By MATT TRACY
November 29, 2016

WEST VILLAGE, NY — Residents and politicians in the South Village have seen the demolition of historic landmarks such as an LGBT safe haven, the Tunnel Garage, and the Erza Weeks-Daniel Ludlow House in recent years — and now they are begging the Landmarks Preservation Commission to step in and save more buildings from being destroyed.

Residents urged the preservation commission during a hearing on Tuesday to landmark a third and final part of the 750-building, 40-block South Village Historic District. Roughly two-thirds of the area has already been landmarked, and the final third encompasses 10 blocks and 160 buildings between Houston St. to the North and Watts St. to the south. A full map of the area can be seen here.

The campaign to preserve the area, also known as the Sullivan Thompson Historic District, has been driven by the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation and City Council Member Corey Johnson.

The many buildings that would be preserved, according to the society, include an early 19th century Federal-style row house at 134 Sullivan St.; a Renaissance Revival-style tenement building at 149-151 Sullivan St., built circa 1906; and a 128-year-old building at 38 MacDougal St., complete with Rich Romanesque Revival brickwork.

The South Village has been recognized by the National Register of Historic Places, but that designation is merely symbolic. The LGBT safe haven, located at 186 Spring St., was known as a civil rights landmark before it was destroyed; the Ezra Weeks-Daniel Ludlow House, located at 54 MacDougal St., was demolished in 2014 despite its historical connection to Alexander Hamilton, Aaron Burr, and others; and the Tunnel Garage, built in 1922 and known for its connection to the earliest days of the automobile, was demolished in 2006.

“Compounding the tragic loss of these and many other structures in the area is the fact that current zoning could allow new construction here up to 300 feet in height, which is woefully out of character for this uniformly low-scaled district,” Andrew Berman, the executive director of the historic preservation commission, said during his testimony in front of the Landmarks Preservation Commission. “Developers such as Donald Trump’s son-in- law Jared Kushner have recently bought up properties in the area. Only landmark designation will prevent more such losses and inappropriate development.”

Kushner purchased 156 Sullivan St. in 2012, according to reports, and Berman told Patch that the parking lot next to it is “especially appealing as a potential development site” if Kushner were to purchase it.

“The odious and out of context Trump SoHo is just a block outside of the proposed district, and speaks to what we fear encroaching upon the neighborhood,” he added.

Only about two people of the dozens who testified called for the LPC to hold off on landmarking the area, with those residents arguing that the value of their homes would rise if more development entered the area. But after all was said and done, the consensus was clear: the vast majority of residents at the hearing — often speaking through microphone malfunctions — said they want the legacies of their grandparents, of their ancestors, and of New Yorkers to be preserved.

Christabel Gough, who works with the preservation society, called Tuesday a “historic” day because of the possibility of finalizing the decade-long effort to landmark the area.

“Italian immigrants did so much for New York,” Gough said, referring to the tens of thousands of Italian immigrants who settled in the South Village area at the end of the 19th century. “The present political climate is very distressing to us and now is the time to honor immigrants.”

Longtime local resident Ann Warner Arlen said to the LPC during her testimony that she is counting on them to be a hero and to “right a wrong.”

“With Trump SoHo a residential building masquerading as a hotel a few blocks south, and air rights over piers on the Hudson River concocted by the legislature to benefit projects a few blocks west, is it any wonder that the unprotected Phase III section of South Village Historic District has felt like an animal staked out for the kill?” she asked.

Arlen told Patch that she was previously unsure that this day would ever arrive after the LPC initially held back on considering the area as a landmark.

“There was nothing for 10 years,” she said after the testimonies were complete. “In that time, things have changed. I do hope they’re going to do something.”

Council Member Johnson, who was thanked repeatedly by residents for his efforts on preserving the South Village, used his platform during his testimony to speak of the unique, historical significance of the area that he said cannot be substituted.

“Honoring this history – the story of our immigrants and the waves of South Village residents that came after them – will benefit future generations in enormously profound ways,” Johnson said. “Our ability to comprehend and appreciate their history is tied into the buildings that line Sullivan and Thompson Streets.”

The Landmarks Preservation Committee will review the proposal for landmark designation over the course of the next two weeks before issuing a final vote on Dec. 13, a spokesperson told Patch.

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