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HISTORY - The Local East Village Blog - NYTimes.com


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Radical Memories of Knickerbocker Village


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group-2012Laura KupersteinReunion of former and current KV residents, 2012.

In the first part of a two-part story, Mary Reinholz speaks with some former residents of Knickerbocker Village.

Although hard hit by Hurricane Sandy, Knickerbocker Village still looks like an urban fortress, with its aging collection of 13-story brick buildings spanning one full city block. As lower middle income residents once again consider the option of going co-op, it’s worth noting that this sprawling complex, a precursor to the Mitchell-Lama Housing Program, was once a hot bed of tenant activism and radical politics during the Depression era on the Lower East Side.

This was a time when the gangs of New York held sway in impoverished immigrant neighborhoods, and mobsters controlled the docks on the East River nearby. An infamous “lung block” on which the complex sits between the Manhattan and Brooklyn Bridges got its name because so many tenants there had died from tuberculosis in squalid living conditions.

“It used to be all alleys and tenements, the worst kind of tenements you can imagine,” said Hal Kanter, 83, a retired restaurateur and former owner of Manhattan’s Broadway Joe steak house who lived at Knickerbocker Village from 1935, a year after it opened, to 1948. “Knickerbocker Village cleaned all that up. I was a tot when it opened and it seemed so safe. It was like a prison–with walls and gates so high you couldn’t scale them.”

DSC00232Photo courtesy David AlmanlRosenberg author Dave Alman

Author David Alman, 93, who grew up in a tenement on Rivington St., moved into KV in 1941, noting “It dwarfed anything we had ever seen before.” It struck him, he said, as a kind of working-class paradise. Some seven decades later, in 2009, he published a book with his late wife Emily Arrnow on an episode in KV history. It was called, “Exoneration: the Trial of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, and Morton Sobell.“

The Rosenbergs, who were convicted for conspiring to pass atom bomb secrets to Russia, and executed at Sing Sing prison in 1953, remain Knickerbocker Village’s most notorious former tenants. Both were communists who had been living with their two young sons in a modestly priced apartment. Read more…


Six More East Village Buildings That May Soon Be Declared Historic


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Yesterday the executive director of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation, Andrew Berman, shared the history of six buildings that may soon be part of the proposed East Village-Lower East Side Historic District. Before this afternoon’s critical hearing, he’s delving into the history of six others.

68 East 7th StreetG.V.S.H.P. 68 East Seventh Street

68 East Seventh Street, built in 1835. This row house at 68 East Seventh Street was built speculatively in 1835 by Thomas E. Davis. Sometime in the 1850s or 1860s, the original Greek Revival façade was updated with Italianate details that include the triangular and segmental window pediments and the frieze located below the original cornice. In 1882, the house was sold to the Protestant Episcopal Church Society for Promoting Christianity Among the Jews, which occupied it until 1904, when the house became a Jewish religious school operated by the Machzikei Talmud Torah. It was then subsequently a synagogue. The house was returned to private residential use in 1960. Read more…


Six East Village Buildings That May Soon Be Declared Historic


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On the eve of a critical hearing regarding the proposed East Village-Lower East Side Historic District, the executive director of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation, Andrew Berman, shared information on 12 of the more compelling buildings within the footprint. Here’s a look at the first six.

101 avenue aG.V.S.H.P. 101 Avenue A

101 Avenue A, now the The Pyramid Club. Built in 1876 by architect William Jose.

Although little is known about William Jose, a German-born tenement-house architect, his buildings are often some of the most unusual and intricate in their neighborhoods. His Neo-Grec design for 101 Avenue A is no different, with an unusually ornate cornice, florid fire escapes, and deeply incised window hoods.

The building housed several tenement apartments on its upper floors, while its ground floor long served as a hall where locals would gather to eat, celebrate, mourn, or discuss labor issues and neighborhood gossip. Kern’s Hall was the first to open in 1876 and was followed by Shultz’s Hall, Fritz’s Hall, and most famously, Leppig’s Hall.

John Leppig and later his son, also named John Leppig, both served as the unofficial “Mayor of Avenue A.” Leppig’s closed in the 1930s, and by the 1960s the space was home to a series of performance spaces and cultural centers, which reflected the East Village’s evolution from an ethnic enclave to a worldwide center of cultural ferment. It was also at this time that underground music icon and Warhol superstar Nico lived upstairs at 101 Avenue A, while she was performing with the Velvet Underground.

In 1979 the present occupant, the Pyramid Club, opened in the space. The Pyramid Club had a profound impact on the downtown art, music, and performance art scene. The Wigstock Festival is said to have begun there, as well as politically-conscious drag performance in the early 1980s. In later years it became a showcase for up-and-coming artists, including Madonna, RuPaul, Nirvana, and the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Read more…


On a Tour of Former Squats, Trash Artists and Cat-Poo Painters


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A couple of weeks ago, the founders of the Museum of Reclaimed Urban Space told The Local they had started hosting “spontaneous tours” of squats and community gardens. This past weekend, we joined just such a tour, as longtime squatter activist Frank Morales took visitors on a winding, nearly three-hour journey through the interiors of four urban homesteads.

Standing outside C-Squat, where MoRUS is to be housed, Mr. Morales described homelessness as “the consequence of state repression.”

“That was the point of entry for our taking buildings – to create communities of self defense, to defend against being forcibly moved into the shelter system,” he said.

Homesteaders recalled the raucous days of the late 1980s, when squatters controlled as many as two dozen East Village and Lower East Side buildings. Read more…


On Eve of Landmark Hearing, a Tour of East 10th Street


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Tomorrow, a public hearing by the Landmarks Preservation Commission will determine the future of East 10th Street along Tompkins Square Park. Over the weekend, The Local spoke with Andrew Berman, the executive director of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation, about the history of the strip.

293 East 10th Street

239 East 10th StreetG.V.S.H.P. 293 East 10th Street

This building, like a lot of buildings in the East Village, shows in a very material way the evolution of the neighborhood from a place of single-family homes for the merchant class to the locus of immigration to New York City. It was built at the corner of East 10th and Avenue A in 1845 for James French, a boot-maker.

Only five years later it was sold to a gentleman named Joshua Varian and a Haraim Chandler leased it from him. Chandler lived with seven other families. This building very quickly became a multi-family home, or a tenement. By the late 1890s it was owned by Charles J. Smith, whose name still appears on the top left-hand side of the building. The top floor of the building was probably added by Smith as part of the tenementi-zation of it.

Interestingly, we know that Chandler worked for the N.Y.P.D. very early in its existence; it was only founded in 1845. Chandler worked as a detective and was injured during the 1863 draft riots. He died in 1881.
Read more…


Read The History of the Bowery That Got It into the State Register of Historic Places


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Screen shot 2011-10-24 at 11.38.11 AM

With the Bowery now added to the State Register of Historic Places, The Local got hold of the registration form that architectural historian Kerri Culhane and the New York State Historic Preservation Office prepared in order to nominate it. The 171-page document, sponsored by The Two Bridges Neighborhood Council and Bowery Alliance of Neighbors, describes the Bowery as a “Main Street for the Irish, German, and later Chinese immigrant wards that surround it”; “the nexus of many labor and social movements, and a meeting place for labor unions, socialist, anarchists, Nativist organizations, proimmigrant groups, and innumerable others”; and “the center of New York’s working class theatre and entertainment in the nineteenth century; the reputed birthplace of American minstrelsy and adopted home of vaudeville; and home and inspiration to songwriters, including Stephen Foster and Irving Berlin.” Read more…


On 10th St., Towers that Never Were


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St. Mark's in the BoweryIan Duncan St. Mark’s in the Bowery as it looks today, and below, a rendering of one of the towers that might have stood on the site, courtesy of Modern Mechanix.
Design for St. Mark's Church

Frank Lloyd Wright is probably not a name to make the hearts of preservationists quake. But if the architect had had his way, tonight’s debate on a new East Village historic district would have been held in a very different context.

In the late 1920’s, Wright proposed tearing down the row houses on East 10th and Stuyvesant Streets and building over the cemetery at St. Mark’s in the Bowery to make way for four glass skyscrapers. Plans held by the Museum of Modern Art show the church crowded in by the towers: at 19 stories they would have rivaled the Cooper Square Hotel for size.

And just as two East Village clerics have come out as opponents of the preservation area, it was The Reverend William Norman Guthrie, the rector of St. Mark’s, egging Wright on.

The church’s once-affluent congregation had been whittled away as the Lower East Side became a home to immigrants. Guthrie approached Wright in 1927, commissioning him to design an apartment tower on church land, hoping the rent would restore its ailing finances.

“At that time, Wright’s career was in the doldrums,” said Hilary Ballon, an expert on his work and deputy vice chancellor of NYU Abu Dhabi. “Getting to build a skyscraper in New York was a great restart.”
Read more…


The Day | Memory Lanes


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Phillip Kalantzis Cope

Good morning, East Village.

Seems like everyone’s looking backward today. Performer Edgar Oliver will be doing a show in Savannah, Georgia about his time living in rooming house on East 10th Street in the late 1970’s. Charleston City Paper has a preview. Mr. Oliver lived with a wheelchair-bound man, who, having no use for the upper stories of his house, rented them out. On the top floor were some people that possibly tried to kill Mr. Oliver, but, he told the paper, he developed a fondness for them nonetheless.

Santa Fe-based travel writer Billie Frank offered a different sort of trip down memory lane, recalling her 1950’s escapes from “middle-class prison” Stuy Town into the hurly-burly world south of 14th Street.

DJ Josh Sparber found a stash of old gay news-weeklies on Second Avenue, buried among a pile of less salubrious publications. He was rewarded with early photos of some of today’s biggest night life personalities, which he promptly posted to his blog.

Popping — as they say — on Twitter yesterday was DNAinfo’s interview with style blogger Scott Schuman, aka The Satorialist. The influential fella slid east from his Greenwich Village home to promote a tie-in with skin care brand Kiehl’s at its Third Avenue store. He said he likes shooting young women in Tompkins Square Park because they mix “vintage with designer.” That’s as opposed, presumably, to the rest of the park’s denizens who merely are vintage, and rarely find themselves on the blog.

The tabloid story of the day was The Post’s news that NYPD officers are encouraging East Village barkeeps to put themselves on the front line in the fight against international terrorism. By using ID-card scanners the police apparently hope to track would-be attackers who are also fond of a tipple. Gothamist casts a quizzical eye over the story so you don’t have to.

If you’ve yet to find out, it’s going to be another hot one, with a heat advisory still in force and temperatures forecast to reach 100 degrees. Take care.


Looking Back | St. Mark’s Church


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Tim Schreier on the cultural and historical significance of St. Mark’s Church.

stmarks4

“I had always known about St. Mark’s Church from the perspective of its involvement in racial harmony, anti-Vietnam War, poetry, dance and the arts in general. Having spent some time with Roger Walters, the history curator of the church was an eye-opening experience. I learned so much from Roger about St. Mark’s role in the community, its deep-rooted history, the cause and effect elements of decisions made at the church about invoking the arts into the practice of worship. Some of the things we New Yorkers take for granted or go unnoticed are actually quite remarkable in a historical perspective.”
Read more…