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Why Isn’t This Landmarked: 95 East 10th Street/48 Third Avenue

Part of our blog series Why Isn’t This Landmarked?, where we look at buildings in our area we’re fighting to protect that are worthy of landmark designation, but somehow aren’t landmarked.

95 East 10th Street today

95 East 10th Street (also known as 48 Third Avenue) was built in 1886 as a tenement building by architect James M. Farnsworth & Co. The ground floor stores were occupied by the owners, Samuel Thorne and S. F. Jenkins, who paid $15,000 for its construction.  Thorne was a prominent New Yorker who was president of the Pennsylvania Coal Company and a board member of the Bank of America, New York Life Insurance Company, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

The architects designed a building that was distinct from other contemporary tenement buildings.  Its façade had much lighter detailing than the heavy Victorian ornamentation which was fairly common at the time.  The recessed mortar joint and belt courses wrapped the building, emphasizing its structure.  The cornice patterns are more abstract and naturalistic than most tenements in the area.

Berenice Abbott 1937 photograph of the Northwest corner of 3rd Avenue and East 10th Street (courtesy of the New York Public Library)

While the structure itself is unique, beautiful, and worthy of landmark status, its significance in the art world makes a very compelling argument for its preservation — something we are seeking as part of our effort to secure landmark designation for the area.

If you read about the heroic age of the New York School in painting, the 1940s and 1950s, you will repeatedly see mention of the “Tenth Street artists,” the “Tenth Street galleries,” and the “Tenth Street scene.” Though the Tenth Street in question was but a short block between Third and Fourth Avenues, it was the epicenter of the New York art world for a decade.   They were cooperative, artist-run galleries that featured the works of local artists, many of whom were unknowns at the time.

95 East 10th Street/48 Third Avenue is the building in the upper left of this picture.

The opening of these galleries were momentous occasions for the downtown arts scene in New York. Before this time, the artists of the New York School created art, attended lectures, and socialized in and around 10th Street (at the Cedar Tavern, the Artists’ Club, The New School, etc.), but to show their work they tended to find representation with uptown gallery owners and/or art dealers on 57th Street or Madison Ave.

The first to open was Tanager in 1952, next door to Willem de Kooning’s building, at No. 90 East 10th Street. Not long after opening, it counted among its membership Willem de Kooning, Rudy Burkhardt, Al Held and Philip Guston.

Over the next five years, other cooperative spaces followed, including the Camino, Brata, Area, and March Galleries. These galleries stood in stark contrast to the conservative uptown galleries and functioned within a collaborative spirit among the artists.  While Willem de Kooning and Franz Kline were both prominent painters with healthy followings at the time, others like Alex Katz, George Segal, Elaine de Kooning, Joan Mitchell, Grace Hartigan, and Lee Krasner were much more up-and-coming, and their presence in the 10th Street Galleries helped to secure their eventual rise to recognition.

Elaine de Kooning portrait of President John F. Kennedy

Elaine de Kooning, best known during the 1950s and early 60s for her abstracted portraits, was the ideal ambassador for the March Gallery at 95 East 10th Street. As a woman artist in the male-dominated New York School, most high-profile gallery owners and dealers were not clamoring to exhibit and sell her work, but her paintings were so widely admired and celebrated that having her name attached to the gallery boosted its profile.

NO!art, a radical avant-garde anti-art-establishment movement started in New York in 1959 by Boris Lurie, Sam Goodman and Stanley Fisher, began with exhibitions at the March Gallery at 95 East 10th Street.  The NO!art movement called for socially and politically involved art that resists and combats the forces of the market. Lurie’s controversial work, often related to the Holocaust, frequently irritated critics and curators.  “NO! NO! NO! to the conventional, to all the evil and despair that reign here, NO to conformism and materialism!” This sentence is published in the flyer of the Boris Lurie (1924–2008) exhibition in The Gallery: Gertrude Stein in New York in 1963.  It depicts the exhibition dedicated to the NO!art movement that started in the late 1950s and early 60s as opposition to the trend of the commercialization of art.

Boris Lurie. Feel Painting NO with Red and Black. 1963. Collection of the Boris Lurie Art Foundation, New York. Publicity photo: ©Boris Lurie Art Foundation

Astonishingly, neither 95 East 10th Street nor any of the buildings on this block that are so filled with art world history are landmarked!

So Why NOT?

Village Preservation has presented all this informationand then some— to the Landmarks Preservation Commission about this building and approximately 190 surrounding buildings which we believe collectively warrant landmark designation (see also here and here). Thus far the Landmarks Preservation Commission has refused to act.

What You Can Do

With the increased pressure on the area from the beginning of the construction on the 14th Street Tech Hub, the recent demolition of the St. Denis Hotel (80 E. 10th Street; 1855 –to be replaced by this) and the completion of the woefully out-of-scale tech office tower at 809 Broadway, the time is now for the city to act to protect this incredibly historically rich but endangered area.

Urge the city to protect this vital history and neighborhood NOW – click here to send letters to city officials demanding landmark protections for this and other buildings in the area.

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