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Creating a Historic District in Greenwich Village

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

Greek Revival row houses along Washington Square North.

“Of the Historic Districts in New York City which have been designated or will be designated, Greenwich Village outranks all others. This supremacy comes from the quality of its architecture, the nature of the artistic life within its boundaries, and the feeling of history that permeates its streets.”
— from the 1969 Greenwich Village Historic District Designation report. Read as PDF.

The designation of the Greenwich Village Historic District in April of 1969 followed years of community advocacy work, disputes from real estate interests and several different plans for the district — including one which would have designated it as 18 separate smaller non-contiguous districts rather than one large contiguous one. The formal preservation movement within Greenwich Village dates back to at least the 1940s, and follows the urban renewal efforts led by parks commissioner Robert Moses which led to the demolition of blocks of historic buildings within the South Village. Residents began to appreciate and value the neighborhood’s historic buildings in a new way, and immersed themselves in campaigns to fight for its historic character being preserved.

In 1959, it was announced that the longtime home of Arnold Henry Bergier, a sculptor and notable Village Resident, at 131 West 10th Street would be demolished to construct a large apartment building with parking. In response, Bergier and several other Greenwich Village residents formed the Save the Village Committee, a community based organization that worked to alter the area’s zoning laws to protect the historic character and scale of the neighborhood.

Arnold Henry Bergier’s House at 131 West 10th Street prior to demolition. From a 1961 issue of the VID News, view as PDF.

Another group involved with this advocacy work was the Village Independent Democrats (VID), a local reform democratic group originally founded in 1956. In 2023, the group donated their archives to Village Preservation, which provides us with a new glimpse into our neighborhood’s history.

VID helped advocate for the area’s preservation in several ways. This included hosting a Save the Village Treasure hunt for children that highlighted the value of the neighborhood’s historic architecture. They also sent spokespeople to public hearings in order to advocate for zoning changes that would protect the area’s historic character. This effort helped to pass the 1961 zoning resolution which protected Greenwich Village, and others around the city, from large out-of-scale development.

From the 1960 VID Flyers, view entire document as PDF.

A lot of the organization’s work involved fighting impending demolitions and proposed luxury developments. In 1961, VID supported candidates Carol Greitzer and James Lanigan in a campaign for Democratic District Leader against incumbent candidate and Tammany Hall boss Carmine DeSapio. A portion of Lanigan and Greitzer’s campaigning was related to their fights against real estate developers and speculators within Greenwich Village. One of their campaign booklets used the slogan, “Take the Bulldozers by the Horns!” and highlighted their work in relation to these efforts, which also helped protect the neighborhood’s existing affordable housing that was within historic rowhouses and tenements. They also advocated for what they called “Vest Pocket Housing,” which was new housing to be built on empty lots that would match the scale of the area’s existing buildings.

View entire booklet as PDF.
From Carol Greitzer’s 1968 campaign booklet for City Council. View as PDF.

While the 1961 Zoning Laws offered some protection, further protections through landmark designation were still being sought. In 1963, Carol Greitzer, who was then the Democratic District Leader, took representatives from the newly formed Landmarks Preservation Commission on a tour of different sites within the West Village, to assess them for potential landmark designation. Members of VID continued to play a key role in the landmark designation advocacy work throughout the decade. Some of this was highlighted in Carol Greitzer’s 1968 campaign booklet for City Council. Greitzer and Ed Koch, who were both Democratic District Leaders for the area, fought against real estate interests who tried to prevent the area’s landmark designation.

By the time the Greenwich Village Historic District was designated in 1969, VID and other individuals and community groups had spent a decade fighting to preserve the neighborhood. If it was not for these efforts, the historic district we know and love today may have looked very different, or possibly may have never happened.

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. Click here and here to learn more about the Greenwich Village Historic District.

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