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Multiple Landmarks Preserved with Multiple Histories

After years of effort by Village Preservation, the historic No. 50 West 13th Street is now on the path to NYC landmark designation. The Greek Revival row house between Fifth and Sixth Avenues has several different histories worthy of note: leading 19th-century Black businessman and abolitionist Jacob Day ran his business here and owned the home from 1858 to 1884, when Greenwich Village was the center of African American life in New York; noted suffragist, educator, and civil rights leader Sarah Smith Tompkins Garnet also lived here during that time, from 1866 to 1874; and the groundbreaking 13th Street Repertory Theatre was born here in 1972 and thrived for decades blazing trails in the world of theater, LGBTQ+ representation, and much more.

50 West 13th Street (l.) and Sarah Smith Tompkins Garnet

The building offers a rich, multi-layered background for the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) to contemplate in its proceedings, but that diversity is not unique among the local landmarks our organization has campaigned to earn the recognition, designation, and protection they deserve. Here are a few examples of those varied sites.

70 Fifth Avenue

The lower floors of 70 Fifth Avenue, part of our photo collection The Architecture of Union Square by Dylan Chandler

The city landmarked 70 Fifth Avenue, the 1912 Beaux Arts–style office building on the corner of Fifth Avenue, in 2021, following research and still-ongoing efforts by Village Preservation to preserve the South of Union Square area as a historic district. The building played a key role in local and national Black history, serving as headquarters of the NAACP, the nation’s oldest and largest civil rights organization, in its early campaigns against lynching, employment discrimination, voting disenfranchisement, and defamatory representations in the media. The building also saw two significant publishing milestones. W.E.B. DuBois’ The Crisis magazine started publication here as the first African American magazine and voice of the civil rights movement for over a century, serving as a launching pad for the Harlem Renaissance and such writers as Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, and Countee Cullen. The first magazine for African-American children, The Brownies Book, was also born here. 

Yet these weren’t the only progressive organizations that launched from or were headquartered at 70 Fifth Avenue. Others included 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, the Near East Foundation (which led the effort to prevent and respond to the Armenian Genocide), and the National Board of Review of Motion Pictures, among others. In 2022, we honored these groundbreaking groups and their significant achievements with a historic plaque.

Learn more about the noteworthy events at 70 Fifth Avenue and the surrounding neighborhood on our South of Union Square Map + Tours, including the Civil Rights and Social Justice Tour.

128 East 13th Street

In 2006, Village Preservation discovered plans to tear down 128 East 13th Street (between Second and Third Avenues) and replace it with a seven-story condo development. That move would have deprived the community and city of the last surviving building of its type and the histories associated with it in the years that followed.

The structure was built in 1903 as the Van Tassel and Kearney Horse Auction mart, a once-common building type where wealthy New Yorkers and others went to view horses for purchase. As the horse trade died down in subsequent decades, the building found other purposes, including as a World War II assembly-line training center for women. A few decades later, the building went through another conversion, 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, one of the most influential artists of his time, a groundbreaking explorer of abstract expressionism. 

The campaign paid off with landmark designation in 2016. In 2021, Village Preservation honored Stella’s work at the site with a historic plaque.

Webster Hall

Located at 119 East 11th Street (between Third and Fourth Avenues), Webster Hall was built in 1886 by architect Charles Rentz in the Queen Anne style as a reception hall for hire; six years later, he designed an addition to the building in the Renaissance Revival style using the same materials as the original structure. The hall soon became a site for social movements — labor rallies, drag balls, costume bacchanals, and political protests from the late 19th century through World War II.

After the war, Webster Hall grew to be an important venue for emerging Latin artists and folk musicians, and then a recording studio used by Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra, and Julie Andrews, as well as for the soundtracks for Hello Dolly and Fiddler on the Roof. It was also the location of seminal hip-hop performances by Bow Wow Wow and Sugar Hill Review in the early 1980s when the space was known as The Ritz, one of many key sites in the East Village’s history as the style’s second birthplace.

Village Preservation’s campaign led to landmark designation for Webster Hall in 2008.

Read more about our organization’s accomplishments for preserving Greenwich Village, the East Village, and NoHo here.

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