For Immediate Release – September 29, 2018
Contact: Andrew Berman, Exec. Dir.,
Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation firstname.lastname@example.org / 917-533-1767 /212-475-9585 x38
VILLAGERS RALLY TO PROTEST DEMOLITION
OF HISTORIC HOTEL & PREVENT NEIGHBORHOOD
FROM BECOMING ‘MIDTOWN SOUTH;’
CALL FOR LANDMARK PROTECTIONS
FOR HISTORIC AREA THREATENED
BY EXPANSION OF TECH INDUSTRY’S ‘SILICON ALLEY’
AND CITY’S RECENT ‘TECH HUB’ APPROVAL
New York – Hundreds gathered today at a rally sponsored by the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation (GVSHP) protesting the demolition of the historic former St. Denis Hotel at 799 Broadway/80 East 10thStreet in the heart of Greenwich Village, and its planned replacement with a large glass office tower (image here). Those gathered protested the general transformation of this part of Greenwich Village and the East Village into what the real estate industry increasingly calls ‘Midtown South,’ as more and more office and hotel developments go up (see map) as the tech industry’s ‘Silicon Alley’ has expanded into this area. Those gathered called for broad landmark protections for this area to protect historic buildings like the former St. Denis Hotel, connected to figures as diverse as Abraham Lincoln, Alexander Graham Bell, and Marcel Duchamp, and cited the failure of the City Council and the Mayor to include such protections for the area in a recent deal allowing an upzoning on nearby 14th Street for a new 23-story ‘Tech Hub’ development, which has increased development pressure on the area (see GVSHP letters to the Landmarks Preservation Commission here and here).
“It’s shameful that the city is allowing this historic landmark to be destroyed, and is encouraging the transformation of Greenwich Village and the East Village into what the real estate industry now calls ‘Midtown South.’ There are many places in New York City where large glass office buildings can go. But there is only one Greenwich Village, and only one East Village. The Mayor’s refusal to provide real landmark or zoning protections is destroying our neighborhood’s character. And the City Council’s recent deal to allow a huge upzoning on our doorstep at 14th Street for a ‘tech hub’ is only adding fuel to the fire,” said Andrew Berman, GVSHP Executive Director.
GVSHP has asked the city to consider historic district designation for all the historic buildings located in this area between Union Square and 9th Street and 3rd and 5th Avenues. The Society identified about 193 buildings; however, as part of its deal with Councilmember Rivera for the Tech Hub upzoning, the city has only agreed to consider seven of those buildings for landmark designation (details here). “This is a fraction of a fraction of what this neighborhood needs and has been fighting for. Seven buildings which are not endangered and are likely never going anywhere are being considered for landmark designation by the city, while other historic buildings like the St. Denis are being demolished or face a more immediate threat,” stated Berman (for more details, see here and here).
“I was one of the last tenants of the St. Denis, a 165-year-old building that is in the process of being emptied and readied for gutting. For decades, the St. Denis was a haven for psychotherapists of every sort. We’ve shared the building’s six floors with other small businesses, mostly providers of wellness. Without landmark protections, this and almost every building around it can be smashed into dust. If that happens, people will talk about how ‘New York is always changing,’ but this change will be very different,” said blogger Jeremiah Moss, of Jeremiah’s Vanishing New York, who has written extensively about the building.
In August, the City Council passed a commercial upzoning for a nearby site at 120 East 14th Street to allow construction of a 23-story ‘Tech Hub.’ Knowing that such a rezoning would increase the development pressure on this adjacent area, GVSHP and local residents called for any passage of the 14th Street Tech Hub upzoning to include a comprehensive landmark or zoning protections for the surrounding area. The final deal brokered by local City Councilmember Carlina Rivera included an agreement by the City to consider seven of the area’s 193 historic buildings for landmark designation, and a promise to implement a mechanism which would require an additional layer of approvals for new hotels in some parts of the affected area (that mechanism has not yet been implemented, and no time frame has been offered for when it will be). GVSHP and other advocates were very critical of the deal, saying it failed to even come close to adequately protecting this neighborhood. “We are now seeing the impact of the approval of the Tech Hub upzoning and the failure to include adequate protections for the surrounding neighborhood,” stated Berman.
The former St. Denis Hotel was built in 1853, and was at the time considered New York’s finest hotel. It was designed by eminent architect James Renwick, who also designed the landmarked Grace Church across the street. Ulysses S. Grant wrote his memoirs there, with the help of Mark Twain. Abraham Lincoln is said to have stayed there with his wife Mary. The actress Sarah Bernhardt, P.T. Barnum, William “Buffalo Bill” Cody, and President Chester Alan Arthur all stayed there. Alexander Graham Bell gave his first demonstration of new telephone in New York here in 1877. For twenty years, from the 1940s until his death in 1968, the revolutionary artist Marcel Duchamp’s studio was here.
“The East Village Community Coalition opposes the aggressive rebranding of our neighborhood Union Square as the new ‘Midtown South.’ We support any and all efforts to protect the residential nature of this area and save affordable housing. Landmarking a few buildings will not do nearly enough to prevent accelerated demolition and inappropriate development in a neighborhood known around the world,” said Laura Sewell, Executive Director of the East Village Community Coalition.
“I have been in the East Village for fifty years. Rising residential and commercial rents have pushed out many of our working-class residents and our small mom and pop businesses. Many of the elements that made this neighborhood a community are disappearing. Now, with the approval of the new Tech Hub on 14th Street, I fear that the pace of change will accelerate. There is still much of value here in our community that can be preserved, but we badly need the protections that GVSHP has demanded. I don’t want to spend my twilight years watching the neighborhood transformed into Silicon Alley or Midtown South,” said Tom Birchard, proprietor of Veselka Restaurant.
Blogger Jeremiah Moss, of Jeremiah's Vanishing New York, speaking.