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The Never-Built Verrazano Street: Community Organizing at its Best

This is one of a series of blog posts which highlights the information found in our new Village Independent Democrats collection in our Preservation History Archive.

The successful fight against the proposed Lower Manhattan Expressway (LOMEX) is arguably one of New York’s most famous and significant preservation battles. As originally proposed, it was a multi-lane, above ground expressway that would have cut across Manhattan near Canal Street, connecting the Holland Tunnel with the Williamsburg Bridge, with an additional highway down Chrystie Street to connect to the Manhattan Bridge. If this had been completed, it would have destroyed much of lower Manhattan, including blocks of what is today SoHo and Little Italy. This was hardly the end of the damage that would have been inevitably caused by the construction of such a massive expressway. It would have required the construction of on and off ramps, the widening of streets and in some cases the construction of entirely new roads in order to accommodate the increased traffic. The latter would have been the case in the South Village, where “Verrazano Street” was supposed to be constructed in order to facilitate the traffic created by Lower Manhattan Expressway.

1959 Brochure which demonstrates the expressways proposed route. Source: Museum of the City of New York

This street would have run from Seventh Avenue South to Sixth Avenue, cutting through Downing, Carmine and Bedford Streets. While construction of this street was never completed, in 1952 the city acquired the land that would be required to construct it. This land included numerous tenements and rowhouses that were home to many Greenwich Village residents. The buildings soon fell into disrepair, with some residents even losing access to utilities. In order to protest these conditions, a tenants organization was founded. One tenant, Rudy Castore, a truck driver who lived on Downing Street for his entire life, became the chairman.

It was not until 1958 that tenants became aware of  the plan for these buildings, and the intention to demolish them to construct Verrazano Street. It was then that tenants began to receive notice that they must vacate their apartments. Some of them abided, and by 1961, there were 70 Vacant apartments in these city-owned buildings. Castore was one of the residents that refused to vacate, and he and several neighbors began a battle against the proposed street. Not only did they want to save their homes, but to preserve the affordable housing they occupied within Greenwich Village. 

Their group was called the Verrazano Street Tenants’ Association. Castore was the chairman, and began to present their cause to several local civic organizations. The Save the Village Committee soon took an interest. Here, Castore met Sarah Schoenkopf, who was the Democratic State Committeewoman for the neighborhood. Schoenkopf introduced him to another community organization: the Village Independent Democrats (VID), a local civic organization that worked to reform city government and make other community improvements.

From a 1961 election booklet for James Lanigan and Carol Greitzer. in the Village Independent Democrats Collection. View entire collection here.
From a 1961 election booklet for James Lanigan and Carol Greitzer. in the Village Independent Democrats Collection. View entire collection here.

The Village Independent Democrats took immediate interest in the issue. Schoenkopf, along with Carol Greitzer, another VID member and later City Council person, traveled to the city owned tenement buildings, where they painted an apartment to draw attention to the city’s neglect.

The Village Independent Democrats and the Verrazano Street Tenants’ Association coordinated with elected officials to make visits to the street. Soon enough, elected officials began to agree that what was needed was affordable housing, and not a new road.

From a 1961 VID Newsletter in the Village Independent Democrats Collection. View entire collection here.

At a public hearing at the Board of Estimate in May of 1961, the Village Independent Democrats, Save the Village Committee, and other community representatives successfully argued that the plan needed to be vetoed for further study. The Mayor was impressed, and was interested in any plans that could bring middle income housing to the site. 

From a 1961 VID Newsletter in the Village Independent Democrats Collection. View entire collection here.

Thanks to the work of Rudy Castore, the Save the Village Committee, the Village Independent Democrats, and many others, Verrazano Street was never completed. In a 1985 Board of Estimate Hearing, the plan was officially buried, when the the City voted to sell back the land that they had purchased to construct the road.

Much of this information comes from the latest addition to Our Preservation History Archive, the Village Independent Democrats Collection: 1955-1969. Check out this collection to learn more about the group, and the important contributions they made to Greenwich Village and all of New York City. 

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