Victory! 70 Fifth Avenue Landmarked; Continue the Fight for South of Union Square

70 Fifth Avenue collage

Yesterday the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission voted unanimously to landmark 70 Fifth Avenue (2-6 West 13th Street), a 1912 Beaux Arts-style office building that is among several critical civil rights sites Village Preservation proposed and campaigned to have landmarked in the area south of Union Square. 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. It 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. The building was also 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 its ongoing campaign to win landmark protections for this and other buildings south of Union Square. The group also secured extensive support for designation from organizations and scholars connected to the building’s history, including the NAACP, the ACLU, and the Near East Foundation, among many others. Landmark designation of 70 Fifth Avenue is also critical because this block front 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 makes the construction of such a building here all but impossible. 

Visualization of the supertall that could be built where 70 Fifth Avenue stands without landmarking.

Village Preservation is continuing the campaign for landmark designation of the entire endangered and historic area South of Union Square, which includes scores of sites like 70 Fifth Avenue connected to civil rights, social justice, artistic and literary history.  In 2018, when the City Council approved the Mayor’s 14th Street Tech Hub upzoning at Councilmember Carlina Rivera’s request, breaking her campaign promise to only approve the plan if comprehensive neighborhood protections were also included, we were told that more landmark and zoning protections for the area would be forthcoming. No zoning protections ever materialized, and 70 Fifth Avenue is actually in Councilmember Corey Johnson’s district, who unlike Councilmember Rivera has urged the Commission to extend landmark protections to the area south of Union Square in his district.  Since that approval, plans have been filed for the demolition of 64-66 University Place and 815 Broadway, both in Councilmember Rivera’s district.

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May 19, 2021