Emboldened by the recent designation of the Gansevoort Market Historic District, preservationists are setting their sights on the so-called South Village, an area that some regard as a cradle of bohemian culture in the city, if not the country.
"People have bemoaned the fact that this part of the Village has been left out for such a long time,'' said Andrew Berman, executive director of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation, which inaugurated a campaign two weeks ago to confer landmark status on the area. "This was ground zero for much of the bohemian and countercultural revolution of the 20th century.''
With an $8,000 donation from the Preservation League of New York State, the society plans to study 400 structures, some built as early as the 1820's. The study's results will be used to undergird a proposal for a historic district that would be submitted to the Landmarks Preservation Commission.
The study area encompasses some 30 odd-shaped blocks that fit snug like a jigsaw puzzle between the Greenwich Village and the SoHo Cast-Iron Historic Districts. The main corridors include Thompson, Sullivan and Macdougal Streets, bounded by Washington Square South and Broome Street.
The district would also include a jumble of back streets west of the Avenue of the Americas, including Carmine, Cornelia and Downing.
Unlike the more patrician architecture to the immediate north, many buildings there are humbler tenements from the turn of the 20th century. While some structures have retained their original uses - notably St. Anthony of Padua Church at Sullivan Street, built in the mid-1880's as an Italian alternative to the Irish-dominated Old St. Patrick's Cathedral on Mott Street - many others have been radically altered.
"In the past, resistance by institutions like New York University may have kept this area from being a historic district," Mr. Berman said. So it came as a surprise to some when the university agreed to support the preservation effort.
"We were one of the first members of the South Village Landmark Association," said Michael Haberman, a university spokesman.
Besides, he added, "A landmark district doesn't mean that nothing can be built there."