Battle for Landmark Protections for South of Union Square Includes Historic NAACP and National Gay Task Force Headquarters

(l.) 70 Fifth Avenue in 1940 (via NYC DOF) and 80 Fifth Avenue today.

As part of our ongoing effort to secure landmark protections for Greenwich Village and the East Village south of Union Square (roughly Fifth to Third Avenues, 9th to 14th Streets), Village Preservation recently submitted documentation to the Landmarks Preservation Commission about the incredible history of two more buildings within our proposed historic district – 70 and 80 Fifth Avenue. Read the letter here.

80 Fifth Avenue served as the headquarters of the National Gay Task Force (now the National LGBTQ Task Force), the very first national gay rights organization in the country, from its founding in 1973 until 1986. During these critical early years of the organization and the post-Stonewall LGBT rights movement and the early days of the AIDS epidemic, the Task Force made remarkable strides in their efforts and faced enormous obstacles. They secured an end to the long-time ban on gay people holding federal employment, got homosexuality removed from the American Psychiatric Association’s list of mental illnesses, won court rulings protecting the rights of gay teachers from automatic dismissal and defeating legislation which would have codified and legalized broad discrimination against LGBTQ people, brokered the first-ever meeting between the White House and a gay group, got the first gay rights bill introduced in Congress (by local Congressmembers Ed Koch and Bella Abzug), laid the groundwork for passage of the Hate Crimes Statistics Act, the first federal law to recognize sexual orientation, and got the stigmatizing and inaccurate name “Gay-Related Immune Deficiency Syndrome” changed to “Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome” or AIDS, while also securing the first federal AIDS education funding and approval of the first HIV antibody test.

These remarkable histories in striking buildings still standing just feet from one another is not a coincidence; this area was a center of civil rights and social justice organizing (prior research by Village Preservation showed that that lead women’s suffrage organization in New York was located just feet away at 10 East 14th Street also in our proposed historic district), great printers and publishers, preeminent writers and artists, and great innovators in commerce and industry – read more about the history of the area here.

Greenwich Village and the East Village below Union Square lack landmark and zoning protections and face increasing pressure from demolitions and out-of-character development fueled in part by the growing tech industry and the lack of promised neighborhood protections as part of the City Council’s approval of the 14th Street Tech Hub.  Councilmember Rivera and the Mayor agreed to an upzoning for that development with the only zoning protection offered to the neighborhood the recently-proposed hotel special permit requirement. But by itself this does virtually nothing to protect this neighborhood, and recent press coverage of the pushback on the plan (see also here) indicates Councilmember Rivera has not taken a position on the plan nor called for any additional protective measures.

The endangered area for which we are seeking landmark protections lies mostly in Councilmember Rivera’s district, but also partly in Councilmember Corey Johnson’s district. 


February 12, 2020