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Thirteen Years Ago, An Idea: Landmark the South Village

GVSHP Exec. Dir. Andrew Berman (center) accepting the check from Scott Heyl of the Preservation League of NY State, which funded our study that went on to become the basis for three historic district designations covering nearly forty blocks and six hundred fifty buildings.

On November 11th, 2003, GVSHP launched our campaign to protect the South Village.

GVSHP partnered with the Preservation League of New York State, elected officials, other community groups, neighborhood residents, and Our Lady of Pompeii Church to study and consider proposing a South Village Historic District.

For many of us, it is hard to believe that only six years ago, when the first section of this area became landmarked, wide swaths of the Village remained unprotected, including the entire area south of Washington Square Park, and areas south of West 4th Street between 6th And 7th Avenues.  Press coverage at the time, from the New York Times to the Villager newspaper, shared our disbelief that the area was not already landmarked, and our belief that such recognition was warranted.

Thanks to this effort, generations to come will be able to appreciate the historic 19th and early 20th century buildings that are such an important feature of the South Village.


As GVSHP said in 2003, the South Village is the area of the Village which, in the late 19th and through the mid-20th century, was the center of its immigrant community, largely Italian-American, and later of its avant-grade theater movement, its folk music revival, its beatnik cafes and coffeehouses, and many of its jazz clubs and speakeasies. Unlike the stately rows of brownstones frequently associated with the rest of Greenwich Village, the South Village is largely characterized by working class architecture – ornate tenements which housed countless immigrant families, modest 19th century houses, converted stables, and industrial loft buildings.  Its immigrant history, working class architecture, and counter-cultural significance were overlooked by the City in 1969 when the Greenwich Village Historic District was designated and this area was excluded.  Since then, it has faced threats of demolition of its low-scale historic buildings, and new out-of-scale, high-rise construction which would erase this special character.


Since 2003, many of the area’s historic buildings such as the Provincetown Playhouse and 186 Spring Street, were lost, and many non-contextual buildings replaced historic buildings such as the Sullivan Street Playhouse. Fortunately, we were able to stop further destruction by gaining the landmark protections which extend crucial protection to hundreds of historic buildings.  In late 2006, we formally submitted our proposal for landmark designation for the area.  Most of the first phase of GVSHP’s proposed South Village Historic District was landmarked in 2010 and the second phase in 2013.

With two thirds of the proposed area protected, GVSHP is fighting hard to protect the final third.

After 13 years, last week the LPC calendared the remainder of the South Village. Help protect this area by sending a letter to the Mayor urging him to designate the calendared Thompson Sullivan Historic District.

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