“I have lived on the Lower East Side for seventy years. And when I came here, I found Nirvana, and I will die in this building – not in a hospital. I’ll die in this building. This is my home, and I love it here.” – That is just the beginning of the fascinating story of Frances Goldin as told by her in our oral history collection – East Village. Born in 1924, she moved to the Lower East Side in the 1940’s shortly after getting married. Her credits, to name a few, include co-founder of the Cooper Square Committee (1959), Legislative Director of the Metropolitan Council of Housing, candidate for the State Senate on the American Labor Party ticket, literary agent and housing activist on the Lower East Side.
Frances grew up in Springfield Garden Queens and was the daughter of Russian Jewish immigrants. Her first home on the Lower East Side was on 11th Street between Second and Third Avenues. She describes the area: “It was such an integrated neighborhood. There were Hispanics and Russians and Italians and Jews. There were Chinese. There were Blacks. It was totally integrated. I’ve never stopped loving the fact, I think it’s the only community in the world—and I’m not kidding, because I’ve been to the East End in London, which they say is similar—where so many huge amounts of minority peoples, they don’t live in buildings where there’s only them. They live in buildings where everybody lives. And they’re united by one thing, and that’s poverty.”
She and her husband paid $75 a month in rent for that apartment. Concerned she was paying too much, she went to the Lower East Side Tenant and Consumer Council to question the rent. Immediately she was recruited by the Council as a volunteer, beginning a lifelong involvement in tenant housing causes. She describes 1950 as the most exciting year of her life because that was when she ran for the State Senate. The American Labor Party had an office in the same building as the Lower East Side Tenant and Consumer Council and Frances describes being recruited: “Well, the American Labor Party had a very strong Lower East Side branch, and they were looking for somebody to fill a post. And they said, “Well, the consumer issue is a big issue. Why don’t you run?” I said, “I can’t run. I don’t know—” They said, “You don’t have to know anything.” They convinced me to run. They needed a woman on the ticket. They wanted a woman on the ticket, and they wanted to cover the issues of rent control and housing. And that was what I did.”
In 1959 in response to Robert Moses-threatened development of the area and slum clearance, Goldin co-founded the Cooper Square Committee with nine people, including Thelma Burdick and community planner Walter Thabit. They conducted surveys proving that 93 percent of the neighborhood’s residents would be pushed out of the neighborhood under Moses. After a year of meetings, the Committee produced the seminal Alternate Plan for Cooper Square, based on the then-radical premise that urban renewal can work so long as the people are the beneficiaries. “When we beat him [Moses] on Cooper Square, and then we beat him on the [New York State] Thruway, he never did another thing in his life. He was not used to being defeated. He planned for the world, not just for the United States. He dispossessed [thirty-five thousand] people from the South Bronx. [Thirty-five thousand] families for the Cross Bronx Expressway. He never gave a damn about that. They never were relocated. They never got another place to live. They were just scattered. And that’s what he wanted to do in Cooper Square.”