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Zito’s Bakery: Past, Present, and Future

One of several Berenice Abbott photos of Zito’s Bakery, 259 Bleecker Street. February 3, 1937. Source: MCNY.

Yesterday the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) approved an application for a new storefront at 259-263 Bleecker Street in the Greenwich Village Historic District Extension II. If this address rings a bell to you, it’s likely because it was the home of the popular Zito’s Bakery for many decades.

I really love historic storefronts in the Village; they always manage to catch my attention. A bay window displaying merchandise with a recessed door to its side adds a subtle yet charming effect to the streetscape. And while the existing storefront isn’t the same as the one Zito’s used, it recreates the glass and glazed tile front of its predecessor in a way that still reminds you that something special happened here.

That recreation was approved by the LPC just over three years ago for a business that no longer occupies the space. You may say, as one commissioner did yesterday, that the design of the storefront was to their detriment. However, the fact can’t be denied that Zito’s managed to last there for 80 years! And, yes, the storefront of Zito’s was even photographed several times by Berenice Abbott in her now iconic series, Changing New York.

(l) 2010 LPC designation report photo; (r) storefront as it exists today

It was also disappointing that some commissioners made it sound as if they would have approved the generic design presented yesterday even if the historic Zito’s storefront had still existed. Some claimed it did not rise to the level of great architectural significance. And they may be right, but historic buildings are also landmarked and regulated for their cultural and social significance. Surely, the storefront of Zito’s, a long-standing Italian bakery located on a block and in a neighborhood where countless Italian immigrants worked and lived, would qualify as culturally and socially significant.

Some commissioners chalked it all up to nostalgia, which I think undermines the importance that businesses like Zito’s had to the South Village community and how it shaped its character.

Approved storefront presented at yesterday’s LPC hearing.

Even though the historic materials no longer exist at this storefront, the basic design of the display window, bulkhead, and recessed door still do. This would be a great opportunity for the applicant to work it into their proposed space, if you ask me (and members of the community). Personally, if I owned the space, I know I would have loved to display Berenice Abbott’s 1937 photos of the store in the window or somewhere inside.

Sure, the nostalgia that the commissioners spoke of is a factor in historic preservation, but it’s not the only one. No. 259 Bleecker is a great little storefront that reflects a small but wonderful part of Village history, and I’ll be sad to see it go.

5 responses to “Zito’s Bakery: Past, Present, and Future

  1. LPC’s confusion of cultural ,social and historic significance with “nostalgia” is patronizing and offensive. I live around the corner and I will be very sad to see another mall storefront on Bleecker Street.

    1. Anthony, will you share the photo – I am looking for a zito’s pic for my kitchen wall (Philly transplant)

      Mark Rohr

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