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Celebrating the Impact of the Landmarks Law in Greenwich Village, the East Village, and NoHo

The New York City Landmarks Law was enacted on April 19, 1965, by Mayor Robert Wagner. It was the culmination of a lengthy and laborious process, spurred in part, famously, by the demolition of the original Beaux-Arts Penn Station in 1963.

Penn Station being demolished, 33rd Street & 7th Avenue, ca. 1963. From the Carole Teller’s Changing New York Collection in Village Preservation’s Historic Image Archive.

Though the loss of the grand McKim, Mead & White train station was consequential, advocates had long been leading grassroots efforts to save our built heritage, and smaller scale successes laid the groundwork for preservation in New York City in the years leading up to that fateful event. Many of these earliest, pre-legislative preservation success stories took place in the Village, and many of its champions were based here. As early as the 1950s, local preservationists succeeded in removing cars from Washington Square Park and saving the Jefferson Market Courthouse from demolition; they formed ad-hoc organizations like the Village Neighborhood Committee and the Greenwich Village Study, which sought to make the community more livable.

It should come as no surprise, then, that some of the very first official New York City Landmarks under the new 1965 law were located right here in our neighborhoods.

The Stuyvesant-Fish House, 1971. From the Evelyn Haynes collection in Village Preservation’s Historic Image Archive.

The Stuyvesant-Fish House at 21 Stuyvesant Street was designated at the Landmarks Preservation Commission’s inaugural hearing on September 21, 1965. The Old Merchant’s House (formerly the Seabury Tredwell House, now the Merchant’s House Museum), La Grange Terrace (or Colonnade Row) at 428, 430, 432, and 434 Lafayette Street, and the Astor Library (formerly the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society Building, now the Public Theater) designations were soon to follow, in October of that year.

In addition to numerous individual landmarks in our neighborhoods, we currently have sixteen historic districts and historic district extensions — many of which Village Preservation has been integral to achieving landmark status for since our founding in 1980.

Colorful row houses of MacDougal-Sullivan Gardens, courtesy Ephemeral New York.

Among the earliest historic districts to be designated throughout all five boroughs were the Charlton-King-Vandam Historic District, designated on August 16, 1966, and the MacDougal-Sullivan Gardens Historic District, designated on August 2, 1967. As the designation reports explain, both small Village districts contain pristinely intact and homogenous row houses that transport one back to an earlier time.

Two early historic district designations in our neighborhoods are particularly monumental: The St. Marks Historic District, designated on January 14, 1969, and the Greenwich Village Historic District, designated on April 29, 1969. The designation reports for these oldest listings are fascinating historical documents in their own right, and the introduction to the Greenwich Village Historic District designation report is especially laudatory: “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.” Now who are we to argue with that?

Grove Street, within the Greenwich Village Historic District, 1994. From the Susan De Vries Architecture Collection in Village Preservation’s Historic Image Archive.

After this initial flood of historic district designations in the area, LPC’s focus on the neighborhoods’ historic assets slowed for a time. The sole local historic district designated in the 1980s, the St. Marks Historic District Extension, was created to include just two houses, Nos. 102 and 104 East 10th Street, which were left out of the original district designation.

Designation photo for the Cable Building, 611 Broadway, part of the NoHo Historic District. Courtesy NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission.

Over the past 25 years, however, major strides have been taken to protect our neighborhoods, often thanks to efforts led by Village Preservation. This year, we will celebrate the 25th anniversary of the NoHo Historic District, designated on June 29, 1999. It was expanded to include the NoHo East Historic District and NoHo Historic District Extension on June 24, 2003 and May 13, 2008, respectively.

14th Street and Ninth Avenue Meatmarket, within the Gansevoort Market Historic District, in 2000. From the Susan De Vries Architecture Collection in Village Preservation’s Historic Image Archive.

Huge wins for the protection of the Greenwich Village waterfront, and its related industrial, manufacturing, and commercial history, were the designations of the Gansevoort Market Historic District on September 9, 2003, and the Weehawken Street Historic District on May 2, 2006. The designation report for the latter includes an acknowledgement of the research conducted by Regina M. Kellerman, who was the executive director of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation (Village Preservation’s former name) at the time.

The Greenwich Village Historic District Extensions I and II were designated in 2006 and 2010, expanding the district southeast and west to incorporate areas that many, including Jane Jacobs, felt should have been part of the original designation.

Designation photo for East 10th Street Historic District. Courtesy NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission.

And in the past decade or so alone, Village Preservation has helped to achieved protections for significant portions of the East Village and South Village, with the East 10th Street and East Village-Lower East Side Historic Districts, designated on January 17 and October 9, 2012; the South Village Historic District, designated on December 17, 2013; and the Sullivan-Thompson Historic District, designated on December 13, 2016.

As we celebrate the important anniversary of the Landmarks Law, and reflect on the hard-won battles that ensure our historic assets are well protected, we look to the future as well. There are many buildings in our neighborhoods whose fates remain uncertain, and much more to be done to prevent the loss of historic fabric, both in and out of existing historic districts. Take a look at our advocacy page to learn about Village Preservation’s ongoing efforts.

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