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History Remembered with Preservation and Plaques

May is coming just around the proverbial corner on our calendars. Those 31 days bring us Preservation Month, when we celebrate historic sites across the country as well as highlight the social, cultural, and economic benefits of their preservation. It’s also a good time to reflect on the noteworthy places and histories that organizations like Village Preservation have worked to protect, strengthening our communities and vital connections with our past. Here are a few of the sites that we have successfully campaigned to preserve over the years; you can read more about our four-plus decades of achievements on our Advocacy and Accomplishments storymap.

Van Tassell & Kearney Mart

Built in 1903, 128 East 13th Street (between Third and Fourth Avenues) is a survivor, perhaps the last intact horse auction mart still standing among what had been a common building type in New York City in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Known as the Van Tassel and Kearney Horse Auction Mart, it was where the Vanderbilts and Delanos went to view and purchase horses that were paraded on a central ring in a grand central hall. In the 1940s, with the horse trade in decline, the building was converted into a World War II assembly-line training center for women. 

128 East 13th Street (left), which served as home and studio for influential abstract artist Frank Stella for 27 years

The building went through another conversion in the decades to come, matching the changes taking place in the community around it, to become a source of great art. From 1978 to 2005, the building served as both home and studio for Frank Stella. The painter, printmaker, and sculptor was one of the most influential artists of his time, a groundbreaking explorer of abstract expressionism. In the 1970s, Stella introduced wood, aluminum, and other materials into what he came to call his “maximalist” paintings, a new style well under way when he moved to East 13th Street in 1978.

In 2006, Village Preservation discovered plans by a new owner to tear down the building and replace it with a seven-story condo development. We immediately brought the plan to the Landmarks Preservation Commission’s attention and called for an ultimately successful emergency hearing to save the building. After years of hearings and perseverance, the building was designated a landmark in 2012. In 2021, we further honored the building with a historic plaque for Frank Stella’s accomplishments there.

70 Fifth Avenue

The impressive 12-story Beaux Arts–style office building at 70 Fifth Avenue (West 13th Street) was constructed in 1912 by architect Charles Alonzo Rich for the noted publisher and philanthropist George A. Plimpton. The fact that this striking and handsome structure remains almost entirely intact and true to its 112-year-old design would warrant landmark designation on its own. What makes this historic building even more significant is the staggering array of civil rights and social justice organizations that have called the building home over more than a century.

70 Fifth Avenue (left, photo by Dylan Chandler); home to The Crisis magazine and many other key civil rights organizations

The NAACP, the nation’s oldest and largest civil rights organization, was headquartered here from 1914 to 1925, during the organization’s early campaigns against lynching, employment discrimination, voting disenfranchisement, and defamatory representations in the media, including the film The Birth of a Nation. It housed W.E.B. DuBois’ The Crisis magazine, the first African American magazine and voice of the civil rights movement for over a century; the publication was also a launching pad for the Harlem Renaissance and writers Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, and Countee Cullen, among others. No. 70 Fifth was an early or original home to many other progressive, human rights, and civil liberties groups, including the ACLU, the American Federation of Teachers, the League for the Abolition of Capital Punishment, the League for Industrial Democracy, the Women’s Peace Party, the Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs, and the Near East Foundation, which led the effort to prevent and respond to the Armenian Genocide. The National Board of Review of Motion Pictures  (now known as the National Board of Review) was established here to fight government intervention in the film industry.

Village Preservation fought to preserve 70 Fifth Avenue as an individual landmark and as part of our proposed South of Union Square Historic Historic District. The effort paid off in 2021, when the Landmarks Preservation Commission designated the structure a landmark. The following year, Village Preservation, The New School, and an array of speakers unveiled a plaque honoring the organizations that helped make history here.

Julius’ Bar

Sitting at 159 West 10th Street off Waverly Place is a circa 1825 structure that houses one of the city’s oldest continuously operating bars and its oldest gay bar, Julius’ Bar. It was also the site of a historic protest, one of the earliest public actions protesting discrimination against gay people. 

Sip-In at Julius’ (left, © Estate of Fred W. McDarrah; our special thanks to the Estate of Fred W. McDarrah for their support of Village Preservation) and the 2022 plaque unveiling at the historic bar

In the 1960s, “drinking while gay” was considered illegal in New York State, with rules essentially criminalizing LGBTQ+ people and the bars and other spaces where they openly gathered. On April 21, 1966, members of the Mattachine Society —  Dick Leitsch, Craig Rodwell, John Timmons and Randy Wicker — walked through the door of Julius’ to engage in a “sip-in,” an action inspired by earlier “sit-ins” to desegregate diners in the American south. They sat at the bar and demanded that they be served even if they openly identified as “homosexuals”; they were denied by the bartender because such service was against the law. The action helped lead to the dismantling of discriminatory rules regarding LGBTQ+ people and gathering spaces three years before the nearby Stonewall Riots.

After a 10-year-long effort by Village Preservation, Julius’ Bar was landmarked in 2022, building on previous successful campaigns to preserve other sites essential to the history of LGBTQ+ rights, including the Stonewall Inn and the Gay Activists Alliance Firehouse. Earlier in 2022, Village Preservation unveiled a historic plaque near the bar’s entrance honoring Julius’ and the Sip-In.

Learn more about our preservation successes in Greenwich Village, the East Village, and Noho here, and help further efforts for preservation in our communities by making a donation today.

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