Hundreds of Village residents turn out for rally and march
Several hundred Greenwich Village residents were joined by State Senator Tom Duane and City Council Member Christine Quinn today for a Rally and March to Save the Far West Village, organized by GVSHP.
Manhattan — Several hundred Greenwich Village residents were joined by State Senator Tom Duane and City Council Member Christine Quinn today for a Rally and March to Save the Far West Village, organized by the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation, the Greenwich Village Community Task Force, and the Federation to Preserve the Greenwich Village Waterfront and Great Port. Marchers protested the destruction of scale and character of the Far West Village by the current wave of development sweeping through the area (recently dubbed “New York’s new Gold Coast,” by real estate interests and New York magazine), and called upon the City to make landmarking and zoning changes to prevent further destruction of the historic area.
The Rally began at the construction site of an enormous new glass and steel high-rise designed by architect Richard Meier (his third such tower in the last two years on the Greenwich Village waterfront) on Charles Lane, a tiny 1-block cobblestone street which will be overshadowed by the tower and which had many of its 100-plus year-old cobblestones removed to make way for the construction. Marching through the streets of the Far West Village, the protestors ended and rallied on Weehawken Street, another tiny historic Far West Village street of 19th century houses and former stables threatened by the new wave of out-of-scale construction.
“We are here today to let the City know that we will not sit idly by and allow our neighborhood to be destroyed,” said Andrew Berman, Executive Director of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation. “The Far West Village is one of New York’s most historic and most iconic neighborhoods, and has thrived as such for generations — to allow its historic charm and character to be destroyed by out-of-scale new high-rise development is to kill the goose that lays the golden egg,” he added.
Since 1969, much of Greenwich Village has been protected from destruction by its designation as a New York City landmark district. However, the Far West Village was excluded from that district, though it contains more than 20 structures built in the first half of the 19th century and more than 35 built in the late-19th century. This April is the 35th anniversary of the designation of the Greenwich Village Historic District, and marchers protested the continued exclusion of this historic area of the Village from landmark protections. Villagers and preservationists have been urging the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) for some time to consider designation of the historic buildings of the Far West Side; this past week, Congressman Nadler, State Senator Duane, City Council Member Christine Quinn, Assemblymember Deborah Glick and the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation sent a joint letter to LPC Chair Robert Tierney urging him to hold a hearing on designation of historic sites in this.
“Villagers have been asking for thirty-five years now to have this historic neighborhood protected. We cannot wait much longer — at this rate soon there will be nothing left to save,” said Berman. In just the past few weeks, an 1830 townhouse has been slated for demolition for new development, as has the venerable Superior Ink Factory at Bethune and West Street, a local landmark with a 70-foot high smokestack. The Pathfinder Warehouse, a characteristic early-20th century industrial structure, was demolished late last year to make way for the new third Meier Tower.
Since 1985, 16 high-rises have been built in this approximately 12-block area, with at least 5 more currently in the works. Increasingly, development is taking the form of very large projects covering large sites, and tall narrow towers crammed onto small, narrow sites. GVSHP, along with the elected officials in attendance, Community Board #2, and allied community groups, is calling upon the City to implement zoning changes in the area to limit development to that which is more in context with the historic scale of the neighborhood.
“Our neighborhood is looking more like a monopoly game board than a neighborhood,” said Berman. “The City must ensure that development in the area matches the character of this great neighborhood, rather than destroying it. Much of the new development here looks like it could be anyplace else, and should be anyplace else. The Far West Village has a special character countless people have cherished for generations. Poorly planned development should not be allowed to ruin that,” he added.
Today’s rally and march followed a Town Hall Meeting in the Far West Village organized by the same groups last month. Over 400 people showed up for that event, and kicked off this campaign that began with a massive letter writing campaign to Mayor Bloomberg, LPC Chair Robert Tierney, and City Planning Commission Chair Amanda Burden. Over 1,500 letters have been sent, and at today’s rally postcards were distributed to attendees to fill out on the spot to be sent to the City. The next step in the campaign is a rally on the steps of City Hall on Sunday, May 23rd, at 2 P.M.
“We will not relent in this effort until the City has taken the actions necessary to protect this neighborhood. Each month this campaign grows, and we will keep planning more visible and vocal events to bring our neighborhood’s concerns to the attention of the City,” stated Berman.
Berman did note, however, that the Department of City Planning had recently begun a dialogue with the community groups, elected officials, and the community board about the zoning issues they have raised. “We are encouraged by City Planning’s willingness to take a look at these issues with us, and hope that they will be willing to move forward quickly on a plan to change the zoning in the area to more adequately reflect an appropriate height, scale, and density for the neighborhood. Unfortunately, we don’t have much time to spare,” said Berman.
Berman also noted that while the Landmarks Preservation Commission has not yet begun the formal process of examining possible landmark or historic district designations in the Far West Village, they have left the door open. Also, LPC did recently announce that they would hold a hearing two days after today’s rally on landmarking three 1829 houses on MacDougal Street in the South Village that GVSHP, elected officials, and other groups have long advocated for protecting. “I am very gratified that LPC is looking at the endangered and irreplaceable historic fabric of Greenwich Village. However, because of the urgent and overwhelming danger facing so much of the Far West Village, we really need them to step up to protect this area too. Otherwise, one of New York’s great historic neighborhoods will be destroyed on their watch, which would be tragic,” said Berman.