50 West 13th Street Gets Unanimous Calendaring Vote from City, Now Officially on Its Way to Landmark Status

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

The New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission just unanimously voted to approve “calendaring” or considering for landmark designation of 50 West 13th Street, an endangered 1846 Greenwich Village house that Village Preservation has been fighting to save through landmark designation since 2020. Today’s vote means a public hearing and vote on full landmark designation must take place within a year. Nearly all calendared properties are typically approved for landmarking, thus this vote gives us great hope that the endangered historic site will soon be landmarked and protected. The calendaring puts in place some initial safeguards to protect the building, while landmark designation would protect it in perpetuity.

Village Preservation has proposed and fought for landmark designation of the historic house since the death of longtime co-owner Edith O’Hara in 2020, which left the fate of the iconic structure in doubt. Village Preservation’s research and documentation, submitted to the Landmarks Preservation Commission (NYC LPC) as part of the campaign, showed not only the building’s extreme significance to theatrical history in New York, as the longtime home of one of New York’s oldest and most important Off-Off-Broadway theaters, but to civil rights and women’s suffrage history. According to our research, noted suffragist, educator, and civil rights leader Sarah Smith Tompkins Garnet lived here for at least eight years, from 1866 to 1874, during a critical period of her life. From 1858 to 1884, leading 19th-century Black businessman Jacob Day lived and ran his business here and owned the home, when Greenwich Village was the center of African American life in New York and the home of its largest Black population. Day was a leading crusader for abolition and for equal voting rights for Black New Yorkers, as well as a leading supporter of institutions like Abyssinian Baptist Church, then located in Greenwich Village. One of the city’s most successful Black businessmen and leading citizens, he was suspected of supporting the activities of the Underground Railroad, including at this location.

In addition to voluminous research submitted to the NYC LPC, Village Preservation has generated thousands of letters of support for landmark designation from New Yorkers and those interested in preserving Black, women’s, and theater history across the country, as well as elected officials including Councilmember Erik Bottcher (whose council district included the site until this year) and Gale Brewer in her previous capacity as Borough President. Village Preservation began the campaign because with the death of Edith O’Hara, an agreement to preserve the building by the majority owners was no longer in force. Since her death, the theater has been closed and the building has been in increasingly derelict condition. Village Preservation has worked closely with O’Hara’s family and others connected to the operation of the 13th Street Repertory Theatre. Landmark designation is essential to prevent its destruction.

June 18, 2024