After 2 1/2 Year Campaign, City Agrees to Consider 70 Fifth Avenue, South of Union Square, For Landmark Designation

Building Has Tremendous Historic Significance, and Site Is Vulnerable to Supertall Development; Push for Broader Landmarks Protections for Area Continues 

(l. to r.) 70 Fifth Avenue; the NAACP’s flag; The Crisis magazine.

We are pleased to report that in a surprise move, yesterday the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission voted unanimously to calendar, or begin the process of formally considering for landmark designation, 70 Fifth Avenue (2-6 West 13th Street), a site of tremendous historic significance south of Union Square, which Village Preservation has highlighted and fought to have landmarked, along with the surrounding area, for more than 2 1/2 years. The building served 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, including the film Birth of A Nation. The building also housed W.E.B. DuBois’ The Crisis magazine, the first African American magazine and voice of the civil rights movement for over a century, and launching pad for the Harlem Renaissance and writers Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, and Countee Cullen, among others. Additionally, the building was the early or original home of a stunning array of progressive, human rights, and civil liberties organizations, 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. It was also home to the National Board of Review of Motion pictures, founded to fight government intervention in the film industry and now known as the National Board of Review. 

Village Preservation provided extensive research and documentation on the significance of this building to the Landmarks Preservation Commission as part of our ongoing campaign to win landmark protections for this and other buildings south of Union Square. We also secured extensive support for designation from organizations and scholars connected to the building’s history, including the NAACPthe ACLU, and the Near East Foundation

Critical also was the support of Council Speaker Corey Johnson, who this past summer wrote to the chair of the Landmarks Preservation Commission supporting designation of this and other buildings in his district in the area south of Union Square we proposed for landmark designation.

In addition to recognizing and protecting the irreplaceable history of this building, landmark designation of 70 Fifth Avenue is critical because this blockfront is one of the only non-landmarked sites in Greenwich Village with zoning that also allows “supertall” construction — tall towers of virtually unlimited height. Landmark designation of 70 Fifth Avenue would make the construction of such a building on this blockfront all but impossible. 

A public hearing on the proposed designation will be scheduled “soon” according to the Landmarks Preservation Commission. A hearing and vote of approval will be necessary before landmark designation takes effect. 

Area of Greenwich Village and East Village south of Union Square for which Village Preservation is seeking landmark designation.

While we are heartened by this hard-fought and long-overdue victory, we must continue our pressure on the city and the Landmarks Preservation Commission to extend landmark protections even farther in this unprotected area south of Union Square. 70 Fifth Avenue is but one of nearly 200 vulnerable but historically significant buildings in this area from east of 3rd Avenue to west of 5th Avenue, 9th to 14th Streets for which we have proposed and are fighting for landmark designation via a historic district. After 2 1/2 years, this is the only building the City has agreed to move upon. We must note that a significant factor in this lack of progress is that unlike 70 Fifth Avenue, 90% of this vulnerable historic area lies in the district represented by City Councilmember Carlina Rivera, who has not supported the proposed landmark designation of this area, and who led the City Council’s approval of the nearby Tech Hub upzoning without the protections for the surrounding neighborhood she promised would be a condition of her support, thus vastly increasing pressure on this area.

January 20, 2021