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Village Preservation East Village Oral History: Marilyn Appleberg

Village Preservation is excited to share our oral history collection with the public, and hope they will shed more light on what makes Greenwich Village and the East Village such unique and vibrant areas.  Each of these histories highlights the experiences and insights of long-time residents, usually active in the arts, culture, preservation, business, or civic life of the neighborhood.  Last month we launched new collections focusing on the East and South Villages, and have been highlighting some of the featured individuals on Off the Grid; these posts can be read here, here, and here.

Marilyn Appleberg at  her roof garden, May 28, 2014. Photograph by Liza Zapol.
Marilyn Appleberg at
her roof garden, May 28, 2014. Photograph by Liza Zapol.

“…So it’s—you know people, the administration, and I believe it was Koch who said, ‘The East Village will never survive as a middle-class neighborhood.’ So every time a developer came along, bought those parcels of land, went through the process of trying to get the zoning changed, and the community—and that’s when I started to get involved—we became part of a larger group called Third Avenue Tenants’, Artists’ and Businessmen’s Association…”(Appleberg p.11-12)

Marilyn Appleberg is a longtime East Village resident and the founder and president of the 10th and Stuyvesant Streets Block Association.  Efforts she has led or undertaken have resulted in many changes to and improvements in the area, especially in relation to St. Mark’s-in-the-Bowery Church.  Some of these betterments include improvements to the city park in front of the church, as well as its renaming to Abe Lebewohl Park, and co-founding the summer concert series that takes place there as well.  In Marilyn’s interview she discusses her move to the East Village-then still referred to as the Lower East Side- and life in the neighborhood back in the “Summer of Love,” including its renowned activism and some famous sites.

Though originally from an Orthodox Jewish family from Brooklyn, Marilyn lived in a couple of places on the Upper East Side before eventually finding the apartment on Stuyvesant Street through a couple she met at a party.  When she moved in, the apartment building was quite empty, but the crowed was young, and became very bohemian:

“And when I moved in here, there were a fair amount of empty apartments. I have the feeling that the landlord who didn’t cooperate with the landmarking process—not one of the ones thanked in the process—I think he might have been emptying it out to tear it down, because it’s a rather large—it’s six townhouses. One entrance to four of them, and the other two have separate entrances. But there is a property out back that forms our communal garden, which is quite large, and he could have put up, even with the low-rise zoning, a much more substantial—probably small one-bedrooms or studios. But then he became resigned and started renting the apartments again. So it was filled with young people. And we used to meet on the steps for wine and cheese, which was quite nice.” (Appleberg p.5)

She also goes into how the neighborhood had been central to much of the history that defined New York City, from the activism against development in the 50’s and the counterculture of the 60’s:

“This neighborhood was a hotbed of activism for a long time, from the 1950s. Esther Rand and Fran [Frances] Goldin and fighting the plan that Robert Moses had to basically have extensions of off-ramps for the LIE [Long Island Expressway] and just basically tear down everything between Delancey and 5th Street. Then the plans to basically change the zoning and have high-rises all the way up Third Avenue. So there were really amazing people. Even Jane Jacobs got involved at some point, so there was a lot of activism. But there was a lot of drugs. And that whole, you know, the St. Mark’s Place, and the Fillmore East—it was really the equivalent of Haight-Ashbury in San Francisco. St. Mark’s Place was shoulder-to-shoulder with people. And there was Andy Warhol’s place that was the old Polish meeting hall. The Dom. And the Fillmore East. I mean, seeing the 24-hour Ratner’s, which always had onion rolls on the table. All of my jackets were filled with crumbs from onion rolls because we—I mean, I was paying a high rent at that point. But it was a very exciting place. But the downside, especially as, you know, [19]67 was the Summer of Love—by the time [19]69, [19]70, [19]71, drugs were really taking [their] toll, and you were stepping over bodies of young people in their tie dyes on the street.” (Appleberg p. 7)

Stuyvesant Street.
Stuyvesant Street.

Finally, in Marilyn’s interview, she also goes into the landmark designation of the St. Mark’s Historic District Extension:

“… I found out that since everything was torn down up to the first townhouse on 10th Street, two of the houses on 10th Street—102 and 104—were left out of the original land marking in [19]69. We later found out—we surmised, we were pretty sure— that because the second house belonged to our then-council person, Saul Sherason, who actually lived in the Stuart House, which is a high-rise between Third and Fourth. But he had to have an address in the district.

He owned this place that was a rooming house. We surmised that he kept it out of the landmark [district]. Was there corruption back at that time? Who am I to say? But I organized everybody. We basically decided we were going to go for designation of those two buildings. And I kept getting turned away for very strange reasons. They were shorter than the rest of the district. We had a pro-bono architect helping us, so we took photographs of the whole district and showed how the roof lines changed all through the district. They were also two of the oldest buildings in the district. I found somebody. Her second name was Norman. I can’t remember her first name. She was wonderful, and she finally got it calendared. Of course, I wasn’t one of them, because I still was not very happy about public speaking, but I organized about fifty people on the block to come down. And everybody used—it was always important to have a mantra. So our mantra was ‘Puzzling omission.’ And everybody said it as they got up and spoke about the puzzling omission. And guess what? They were designated. And they were initially called ‘The St. Mark’s Historic District Extension.’ They no longer call it that. I then found out that if you built contiguous to a landmark district listed in the State and National Registers, there would have to be an environmental review, so I got them listed on both registers.” (Appleberg p.14-15)

The full transcription and audio for Marilyn’s interview can be read here.  To learn more about our oral history project, listen to some interviews, and read the interview transcripts, be sure to visit our website’s Oral History Collection page.  Also, be sure to stay tuned as we interview more village individuals and upload more oral histories to our website. 

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