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Radical Memories of Knickerbocker Village

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…

The May Day Riot of 1990: Ellen Moynihan Looks Back

Screen shot May Day 1990 by John Penley-04-30 at 7.33.36 PMJohn Penley

Before today’s May Day festivities kick off, let’s turn the clock back 22 years, to May 1, 1990. That’s when an affordable-housing festival in Tompkins Square Park ended in a riot in which 28 police officers were injured and 29 people – some of them activists, anarchists, and squatters who had participated in the better known riots two years earlier – were arrested.

In this account reprinted from Clayton Patterson’s book, “Resistance: A Radical Social and Political History of the Lower East Side,” Ellen Moynihan, a writer and photographer who lately has been documenting Occupy Wall Street, describes how the melee began, and offers historical context going back to the 1800s, when May 1 was the time when many Lower East Side tenement dwellers’ leases would expire, causing mass migration. Read more…

Rendering-o-Rama: New Condos Coming to Ninth Street

Panos VikatosClick the middle arrows to see four possible versions.

A new six-story building with condominiums on each floor is coming to Alphabet City.

227 East Seventh StStephen Rex Brown 227 East Seventh Street.

The building, expected to be completed in the summer of next year, will replace a vacant one-story building at 227 East Seventh Street, near Avenue C. Plans to demolish the existing building, which was built around 1980, were approved by the Department of Buildings late last month.

The new structure also spells the end of a big Jim Joe tag. An email to the ubiquitous artist seeking comment bounced back. Read more…

Know Your (Tenant) Rights

The housing advocates at Good Old Lower East Side will host a workshop next Wednesday on how to use the state Department of Housing and Community Renewal to one’s advantage in the fight against neglectful landlords. The talk will cover how to best to combat “harassment, rent overcharges, reduction of services” and other common tenant woes. A lawyer will be on hand to answer questions beginning at 7 p.m. at the Perseverance House at 535 East Fifth Street.

A Look at Rent Law Changes

In 11 days, changes in the laws that regulate how much your landlord can charge in rent per month will begin to take effect.

However, the changes are not exactly what local tenant advocacy groups wanted. Many groups, including the Cooper Square Committee, Real Rent Reform, Tenants and Neighbors and the Good Old Lower East Side were hoping state legislators would eliminate the rent laws’ vacancy decontrol, which allows a landlord who renovates a unit to charge more in rent per month to a new tenant after the previous vacates the unit. Instead, vacancy decontrol remains in the law.

The renewed laws, which were passed in conjunction with but overshadowed by the passage of same-sex marriage in New York, affect the residents of 1 million rent-regulated apartments across the state. It also affects the landlords of those buildings.

In the video above, The Local’s Khristopher J. Brooks offers a breakdown of some of the most significant changes.

The Day | Party, Parish and Politics

Little Annie's Big CityTim Schreier

Good morning, East Village

There’s a birthday party coming up soon and everyone in the neighborhood is invited. Bowery Boogie is celebrating its third birthday at Motor City located at 127 Ludlow Street. Members of the news blog, which covers the Lower East Side, say that you can mention #BOOGIE at the party and receive a free drink.

There’s even more good news for the East Village and Lower East Side gay and lesbian community. EV Grieve reports this morning that the pastor of Trinity Lower East Side Lutheran Parish will perform free same-sex marriage ceremonies beginning next year. The announcement comes three days after state lawmakers in Albany passed a same-sex marriage act.

Finally, there were two important government meetings last night that effect you directly. First, The Local’s Laura E. Lee reports that the Land Use, Zoning, Public & Private Housing Committee of Community Board 3 discussed four possible modifications to the Essex Street Market:  create a new market, keep what we have the same, keep the facade of the existing market and building above or have two separate markets. Many locals do not want the market closed. A decision was not made last night. The committee will continue discussing the matter next month.

And, although they heard boos while doing it, the Rent Guidelines Board passed rent increases of 3.75 percent for tenants signing a one-year lease and 7.25 percent for tenants signing a two-year lease. The increase equates to at least $60 more a month for most East Villagers.

Locals Join Albany Rent Law Protest

Albany Rent Law Rally 1Khristopher J. Brooks Protesters at the rally.

ALBANY — Hundreds of New York City residents, including 33 from the East Village, converged on the state Capitol Building Monday trying to urge state lawmakers to renew and tweak the laws that govern apartment rent prices.

Leaders of the Cooper Square Committee, Real Rent Reform and Good Old Lower East Side, organized the rally, which muscled its way into the building, past legislators, up steps and eventually to the office of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo.

Shouting “Fight! Fight! Fight! Housing is right!” the rally participants started on the fourth floor and then moved to whichever other corridor could accommodate them. They made noise, blew whistles, waved posters, banged on doors and clogged hallways.

“Right now, in Albany, our presence and our demands are being heard more than ever, more than I can ever remember,” said Wasim Lone, housing services director for Good Old Lower East Side.

At issue is how and at what rate landlords should be allowed to raise rent in future years. In its current form, the rent laws allow New York City landlords to dramatically increase the rent of a property immediately after a tenant has moved out. This practice, known as “vacancy decontrol” has resulted in roughly 300,000 empty rental units across New York City, said Marina Metalios, 48, a volunteer with Real Rent Reform.
Read more…

A Bus Trip to Back New Rent Laws

IMG_0158Khristopher J. Brooks The committee is an organizer of the trip.

Leaders of the Cooper Square Committee and the Good Old Lower East Side are organizing a free bus trip to Albany Monday so East Villagers can speak out in favor of changes to New York City rent laws.

“We’re planning to have a rally inside the Capitol,” said Georgina Christ, housing chairperson for Cooper Square Committee. “We’re just gonna make noise and try to talk to the elected officials.”

At issue is how and at what rate landlords will be allowed to raise rent in future years. Rent prices are a particularly hot-button issue for locals since the East Village is the home of some of the city’s most expensive rental properties.

As the law stands, Ms. Christ said, landlords are allowed to dramatically raise the rent of a property after a tenant has moved out, a practice known as “vacancy decontrol” that prevents future tenants from paying the same price for rent. Wasim Lone, the housing services director for Good Old Lower East Side, said vacancy decontrol is responsible for tens of thousands of vacant units around the East Village and the Lower East Side.
Read more…

5 Questions With | Anne Guiney

Guiney.Anne.1Mark Riffee Anne Guiney.

It would be a gross understatement to say that the East Village is in the midst of a transition. Old buildings have been threatened and new ones are scheduled to rise, much to the chagrin of many locals. But as Bill Millard, an East Village resident and freelance writer for various architectural and urban design publications, points out in an e-mail, it’s just as “important to consider ways to encourage the types of development that provide or foster benefits for a neighborhood” as it is to protest and block “destructive forms of development.”

So what kind of development is positive and why, recently, have some seemingly less favorable projects been allowed to continue in the East Village? The Local caught up with Anne Guiney, executive director of the Institute for Urban Design, and asked for her thoughts.


What architectural elements characterized the East Village before the gentrification of the neighborhood?


It all depends on what your carbon dating system is for gentrification and how you define it. I think the East Village has, for a very long time, been defined by tenements in terms of building type. And that hasn’t changed a lot architecturally. Obviously the street-level retail and the kinds of uses are a lot more commercial, a lot more recreational than they were 20 or 30 years ago, but the physical structure of the buildings is still defined by the tenement.
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To Buy or Not to Buy?

RENTBUY.1Photo illustration by Mark Riffee Six buildings with apartments for sale in the East Village.

It’s fun to gawk at the $3 million lofts and $4 million townhouses in Curbed’s Marketplacelistings for the East Village. Most of us can’t do much more than gawk at these palatial 3,500-square-footers unless we’re feeling very ambitious and chance a pipe dream while lying in our beds — which are conveniently five steps from the kitchen, bath, and front door in our 450-square-foot studios — wondering if today is a hot-water day or no-hot-water day.

But maybe someday we will be able to afford a less garish apartment with a more reasonable price tag. In fact, if you have the money now or in the next few years, you may want to think about making a move sooner than later. According to Tara-Nicholle Nelson, consumer educator for, a real estate search engine company and research group, prices and interest rates are extremely low right now and qualifying for loans will become more difficult in coming years.

We at The Local asked Ms. Nelson for a status update on the East Village market and some expert advice on buying and selling.


How has the East Village market evolved recently?


In terms of price, we’ve seen value increase over this past year. On a price per square footage basis, there’s been a 26.5 percent year-over-year increase to $1,087 per square foot from $798 per square foot.
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Interview | State Sen. Daniel Squadron

Senator Daniel SquadronCourtesy of Daniel L. Squadron State Senator Daniel L. Squadron, with constituents last fall, said that he favors expanding the East Village’s “bike network so that it’s a viable way for folks to get around to commute and recreate.”

A new year brings a new legislative agenda for State Senator Daniel L. Squadron, who – entering his second term – says that he wants to bring issues that are important to neighborhood residents to the forefront in Albany. In an interview with The Local, Senator Squadron, whose 25th District includes the East Village, the Lower East Side and parts of Brooklyn, discussed the importance of bike lanes, renewing housing laws, cracking down on careless drivers and noisy bars, and expanding East Village parks.


Bike lanes are a hot topic right now. But there are battles still brewing. What will you do this year to help smooth out the sometimes rocky relationship between bikers, businesses, the community and the Department of Transportation?


There’s an overall increase in the bike lanes use, and I think that is great. We are continuing to develop the bike network so that it’s a viable way for folks to get around to commute and recreate.

I like the idea of a bike share program. As we have more bicyclists and more access, which is a great thing, we need to increase compliance with laws. And we need to expand our bike networks for more people out there.

My frustration at bike lanes comes from two places: failure, in some cases, to be fully collaborative with communities and think through the consequences as we expand the network, and secondly, from those few who don’t follow the rules. Too often, the DOT implements lanes without preparing businesses to understand what the rules are. They’ve done it in ways that are not responsive to the community. DOT has gotten better at this; my job is to keep the pressure on. We need clarity about rules for bicyclists and members of the community, and work with community boards, businesses and residents before implementing them. We need opportunities for folks in bicycling communities and other groups to weigh in.
Read more…

A Memorial for Michael Shenker

A Memorial for Michael Shenker from The Local East Village on Vimeo.

With chants, signs and a New Orleans-style brass band, about 100 friends of community activist Michael Shenker honored his life with a parade-like procession Saturday through the streets of the East Village.

The procession, which began near Mr. Shenker’s home on the southeast side of Tompkins Square Park, wound its way past some of Mr. Shenker’s favorite places in the neighborhood and ended several hours later with a memorial service at The Catholic Worker on Second Avenue and First Street.

Mr. Shenker, who died earlier this month of liver failure at the age of 54, was a squatter and activist known for his advocacy on housing issues and the preservation of community gardens.

With chants of “Long live Michael,” members of Saturday’s procession – led by Aresh Javadi, a puppeteer who knew Mr. Shenker for a dozen years – spontaneously pulled weeds at a garden on Avenue C (before the space’s perplexed owner asked them to leave) and stopped at such locations as 319 East Eighth Street.

It was there that Fran Luck first met Mr. Shenker 25 years ago, when Mr. Shenker was working to turn what was then an unoccupied and neglected building into a popular squat. Today, the building is fully renovated with modern amenities.

“The gathering today shows the power, not only of Michael, but of an era we went in together for our neighborhood against gentrification,” said Ms. Luck.