Dozens Gather at Vigil for 35 Cooper

Rob HollanderGreg Howard About three dozen demonstrators turned out to protest the planned demolition of historic 35 Cooper Square. Below: The journalist Pete Hamill (left) speaks with David Mulkins of the Bowery Alliance of Neighbors.
Pete Hammill and David Mulkins

Braving freezing temperatures and acknowledging long odds, about three dozen demonstrators took part in a protest tonight calling for a halt to the planned demolition of 35 Cooper Square.

The demonstration, described as a vigil by organizers, represented what preservationists characterized as their last-ditch effort to stop the destruction of the 185-year-old Federal-style structure, which is the oldest building in Cooper Square.

After a months-long fight between preservationists and developers of the site, the fate of 35 Cooper Square is all but certain. Nevertheless, protesters tonight brandished picket signs and defiantly chanted “Keep alive 35!” while organizers gave speeches about the historical significance of the site.

“The city wants to develop, that’s what this is all about,” Rob Hollander, a co-founder of the East Village History Project told the crowd. “It’s our community. It really belongs to us.”

The sense of community ownership, and of loss, pervaded the atmosphere on the blustery night. David McReynolds, 81, said that he has lived in the East Village for 50 years and has many fond memories of 35 Cooper Square.

“I knew Diane di Prima decades ago,” said Mr. McReynolds, referring to the poet priestess who lived in the house in the 1960’s. “She used to stuff envelopes for me at Liberation Magazine.”

The journalist Pete Hamill, who’s 75 and a former resident of the East Village, was one of the most recognizable faces at tonight’s protest.

“It’s an example of failure,” Mr. Hamill, who’s also a member of the faculty at NYU Journalism, said of the impending demolition of the building. “There are people not yet born who won’t get to see what New York was. This is our inheritance. We have to keep this place alive.”

Many demonstrators said that they recognize the futility of trying to stop new construction altogether. “We’re not saying we’re against development,” said Richard Moses, of the Lower East Side Preservation Initiative. “We’re for sensitive development. This place has cultural and historic significance.”

And in the blistering winter cold, under the metal scaffolding, in front of the boarded up, doomed little brick house on 35 Cooper Square, East Village residents continue to protest for the preservation of what they call “The Old New York.”

“It’s the eleventh hour,” Mr. Moses said. “But we’ve got to fight.”