Annual Meeting & Village Awards On June 7, 2012 GVSHP held its 32nd Annual Meeting and 2012 Village Awards in the landmarked Tishman Auditorium of The New School. We looked back on GVSHP’s past year of work to protect the architectural heritage and cultural history of Greenwich Village, the East Village, and NoHo and celebrated this year’s awardees:
The 6th Street and Avenue B Garden was developed beginning in 1982, when a committee of the 6th Street A-B Block Association fought to turn six lots of abandoned, derelict buildings and garbage-strewn lots into usable community space. They petitioned the City's Green Thumb program for a lease.
With a year-long lease secured, community members began to clear the debris from the 17,000 square foot space and marked off 4 x 8 plots for garden members to plant. Like many community gardens, 6th and B members had to continually struggle to keep the space from being reclaimed by the City. Developers twice petitioned the City to build, once as a parking lot and once for a high end housing development. Garden members eventually won the community to their side by opening their gates to the public, sponsoring programs, and demonstrating the importance of green space.
Today, the garden hosts approximately 75 public events during the year, from Shakespeare readings to Friday night movies. The garden also welcomes the community by opening to the general public during the summer and fall season on weekends. In addition, the garden has developed relationships with three local preschools to welcome the children to the garden, and has developed an environmental curriculum to teach the children gardening and nature skills. All these programs are conceived of and executed by the gardens members.
As it did throughout its history, the garden continues to provide green and open space for the community. The garden welcomes membership for residents who live between 14th and Delancey Streets and between the East River and Broadway for a fee of $5 per year. Garden members volunteer their time not just developing their own plots, but in planning programming and staffing the garden’s open hours.
For creating an extraordinary green and open communal space where there was once only rubble, and for opening an artistic set of gates to the public for the past 30 years, the 6th and B Garden is presented a Village Award.
When Marilyn Appleberg moved to a walk up apartment on 10th Street in the East Village in 1969, her father jokingly called it a “run up” instead of a walk-up because of the neighborhood’s high crime rate. Marilyn however, saw its potential and has lived on the block ever since, helping to transform the neighborhood along the way.
She joined the nascent East 10th and Stuyvesant Street block association, and quickly became president, a position she has held for many, many years. In the 1980s, Marilyn led the community in fighting two large developments on Third Avenue. She extended the St. Mark’s Historic District and was instrumental in having the district placed on the National Register of Historic Places. In the 1990s she helped organize a local merchant’s association on Second Avenue when a black market of stolen goods began operating. When Marilyn saw a problem, she fixed it.
Perhaps Marilyn’s biggest accomplishment is revitalizing what is now Abe Lebewohl Park, the open triangle facing St. Mark’s Church on Second Avenue. She persuaded her neighbors to volunteer for regular trash removal duties, convinced the local liquor store to stop selling pint-sized bottles of liquor, invited the greenmarket to set up a weekly market, and worked with the nearby Third Street Music School Settlement to organize a regular summer music series in the park. Along with her neighbors and local business owners, (Abe Lebewohl of the Second Avenue Deli took a leading role), she pressured the City to maintain the park, even securing a much needed renovation. When Abe Lebewohl was tragically killed in 1996, Marilyn successfully petitioned to have the park renamed for him. Not one to stop there, she even pressed for the passage of a law to ensure the name of the park would remain permanent. This summer will mark 31 years of concerts in the park and the greenmarket continues to operate on Tuesdays in the summer and fall.
Marilyn Appleberg receives a Village Award for giving over forty years of selfless and outstanding service to the East 10th and Stuyvesant Street blocks and East Village as a community leader and neighborhood activist.
When you spend an evening enjoying pizza at Arturo’s, you aren’t just enjoying a pie cooked in a traditional coal-fired oven, you are eating at a family-owned establishment that has called the Italian South Village home for more than half a century.
Arturo’s first opened on MacDougal Street in 1957. Arthur (or Arturo) Giunta, who had worked at Frank’s Pizza on Bleecker Street, opened his own restaurant along with his fiancée, Elizabeth (or Betty) Keefe. They each borrowed money from their families and purchased equipment on trust from a dealer on the Bowery. They were married a year later. Family lore has it that Betty, who was born and raised in the Village and sang at the Amato Opera when a teenager, first saw Arturo while she was on a date with another man. After telling her date she just saw the man she was going to marry, she began frequenting Frank’s Pizza along with her mom to get to Arturo.
In the sixties, Arturo’s moved down the block to its current location at Houston and Thompson Streets. The Giunta’s purchased the building in the 1970s, and the building next door a few years later, helping cement its location on the block. Arturo began hosting nightly jazz at the restaurant, a tradition that continues today. On occasion, Arthur would play a set on the drums, and Arturo’s regulars have been treated to a set by the likes of Stevie Wonder and Tony Bennett. The Giunta children, Scott and Lisa, both went to school in the neighborhood. They both began working at the restaurant in the evenings as teenagers. Not much has changed at Arturo’s since Scott and Lisa have taken over. You’ll still find comfortable banquet seating, employees that have worked there for decades, and pictures lining the walls— even some by Arturo himself. And of course, you’ll find regulars and newcomers alike enjoying the coal oven pizza.
Arturo’s Restaurant is presented a Village Award, for fifty‐five years of delicious coal‐fired pizza and Italian food, warm hospitality, and service to the community by a family‐owned South Village restaurant.
Foods of New York Tours was unofficially launched in 1998 by Todd Lefkovic, a New Jersey native who started coming to the Village in 1977. Todd began giving food tours of the Village to New Yorkers on Saturday afternoons as a sideline job, wanting to share his love of local food and culture. A year later, he quit his day job and officially launched the company. Now Foods of New York has seventeen employees and five separate tour offerings, conducting about fifty tours per week during their busiest season.
The company, which serves predominately tourists and receives much of its business through word of mouth, keeps it local. Tour goers will taste about six samples from specialty food shops, ethnic eateries, and local restaurants during the tour. The original Greenwich Village tour has been augmented with tours of Chelsea Market, Central Village, NoHo, and even Chinatown.
Each tour brings our neighborhood’s owner-operated stores and restaurants revenue, word of mouth marketing, and often times, repeat business. In addition to sampling some of our neighborhood’s best food offerings—you’ll find more than a few past Village Award winners on the tours—guides also emphasize the area’s history and culture. A recent tour included an explanation of the different kind of brickwork on Federal and Greek Revival houses, illustrations of the impact of landmark requirements, and a stop inside the Cherry Lane Theatre.
Tastings are selected after months of research by Todd, Operations Director Amy, and the guides. Businesses can’t buy their way onto this tour: the shop must have an interesting story, appeal to locals, and have a consistent quality in terms of taste and service. Foods of New York Tours’ consistently stellar reviews and repeat business all attest to their methods of selection.
Foods of New York Tours is presented with a Village Award for exceptional dedication to promoting and showcasing local Village businesses while educating the public about the history, architecture, and culture of the neighborhood.
Little Red School House/Elisabeth Irwin High School
Ninety years ago, educator, psychologist, and reformer Elisabeth Irwin founded the Little Red School House, an experimental curriculum in the annex of PS 61 in the Village. While the school has grown over the years—it is now an independent school offering a 14-year experience for students—Little Red continues its progressive curriculum of social justice, active citizenship, and community service.
Elisabeth Irwin began her career as a reformer in the settlement movement of the Lower East Side. There, she experienced first-hand the overcrowding in New York City’s public schools and began her lifelong career reforming education. She began the pilot program that would become Little Red in 1921, changing both the layout of the classroom as well as the rote curriculum of the day. She emphasized the importance of play and the cultivation of the imagination. There were no recitations or textbooks, no report cards or corporal punishment. Students explored the community around them on frequent field trips, and expressed themselves through storytelling, writing, painting, block building, singing, dancing, and performing. In essence, at Little Red, students learn by doing: both then and now.
Budget cuts forced the closure of Little Red as a public school during the Great Depression, but parents and reformers raised funds to reopen Little Red as a private institution. Eleanor Roosevelt was an outspoken supporter of Irwin and the school and served on the Board of Advisors for decades. The school remained committed to its origins of public service, serving a diverse student population at a low cost. In 1941, the school expanded to include a high school, which opened on Charlton Street and expanded again in 2010 with the purchase of a neighboring townhouse.
LREI was founded on—and continues to promote—the ideals of reform and progressivism, ideals that speak to and build upon the larger history of the Village. A Village Award is presented to the Little Red School House/Elisabeth Irwin High School for 90 years as a trailblazer of progressive education for children of diverse backgrounds in an inspiring environment which fosters true inquiry and learning.
Fourth generation Lower East Side resident Eric Ferrara has always been interested in the history of his community. In 2003, he made his commitment to researching, documenting, and preserving the history of the neighborhood official by founding what has become the Lower East Side History Project.
The project began as a website to spotlight local businesses entitled East Village.com. It quickly evolved to feature research about the neighborhood. In 2006, the organization began offering regular walking tours of the neighborhood. Today, the organization provides educational programming to Kindergarten through 12th Grade and university level students, public walking tours, media consultation, research services, and special events, lectures, and presentations. The project has grown to include several volunteer staff members and is overseen by a board of ten. In 2009, the Project officially changed its name to the Lower East Side History Project. The Project is entirely self-funded through walking tours and services, and the occasional donation.
In 2009, the History Project launched the East Village Visitor’s Center in conjunction with the Bowery Poetry Club at 308 Bowery. A year later the visitor center partnered with Fourth Arts Block and the Cooper Square Committee and relocated to East 4th Street. The Center, now open five days a week, serves as a neighborhood information center and café.
The Project focuses on several distinct neighborhoods within what is traditionally known as the Lower East Side: the East Village, Alphabet City, the Bowery, Chinatown, and Little Italy. Staff conducts research on all facets of the history of these neighborhoods. Some of the project’s more colorful research is published. Books include the history of the mafia in the neighborhood and the often overlooked history of the Bowery.
A Village Award is presented to the Lower East Side History Project for researching, documenting, and preserving the distinctive history of the East Village and Lower East Side and engaging the public with the neighborhood's history.
Rosie Mendez was first elected to the City Council to represent the East Village and parts of NoHo and the Central Village, among other areas, in 2005. In her time on the Council, Rosie has distinguished herself as a strong advocate for public housing, women’s rights, affordable housing, and LGBT equality.
But she has also distinguished herself as a staunch advocate for historic preservation and protecting neighborhoods against overdevelopment. One of her first acts as a City Councilmember was to join GVSHP and neighbors in protesting NYU’s plans for a 26-story mega-dorm on the site of the historic St. Ann’s Church in the East Village. Rosie was also an early endorser and supporter of GVSHP’s call for NYU to establish new satellite campuses as a means to prevent continued overdevelopment in the Village.
Rosie has joined GVSHP in fighting for the preservation of endangered historic sites such as 35 Cooper Square and 326 & 328 E 4th Street. And she hasn’t stopped there. In 2008 she helped GVSHP and a vast array of community groups achieve a rezoning of nearly the entire East Village and much of the Lower East Side, establishing sensible height limits for the first time in most of the neighborhood, preventing out of scale development.
When the City stubbornly refused to include the Third and Fourth Avenue corridors in the rezoning, Rosie worked with GVSHP and allies to get them to reconsider, and two years later a rezoning of these blocks was put into effect, preventing construction like the 26-story NYU dorm from ever being repeated under the new zoning.
With Rosie’s help, GVSHP and allied groups were also able to get the City to hold an emergency hearing on the East 10th Street Historic District, designated earlier this year, and to get the city to expand a proposed East Village/Lower East Side Historic District to include key sites GVSHP has fought to protect, including 101 Avenue A and the Russian Orthodox Cathedral on East 2nd Street, which will be heard on June 26th.
While not every fight can be won, Rosie has also stood up for preservation on the City Council, and was the lone member of that body to vote against the de-landmarking of an early 19th century house at 135 Bowery and a church house in Queens.
For outstanding leadership on preservation issues locally and citywide, and for championing diverse needs and interest groups to foster more livable communities in the East Village, NoHo, and Greenwich Village, a Village Award is presented to City Council Member Rosie Mendez.
Bleecker Street Sitting Area Renovation: Fifth Annual Regina Kellerman Award
The Regina Kellerman Award is presented each year in honor of the Society’s first executive director, who tirelessly dedicated her career to the preservation of the architecture and built environment of Greenwich Village.
Completed in the spring of this year, the renovation of the small park at the corner of Bleecker and West 11th streets was the result of a true community effort.
This open seating area abutting the Bleecker Street playground was first created in 1966, and forty-six years of use were more than evident. The brick pavement had buckled over the years. Park benches and tables were in desperate need of repair.While the full canopy of Linden trees provided shade in the summer, the park’s position abutting the north and back side of a 6-story brick building oftentimes made the park seem dark and somewhat foreboding. In addition, seven of the sitting area’s trees were severely damaged and needed removal.
In 2009, Village resident Clifford Ross began to pursue a much-needed renovation for the Bleecker Street Sitting Area. He met with the Parks Department, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, and Borough President Scott Stringer, offering to help secure private funds for the project if the city would pledge some public funding and commit to a renovation. Quinn was able to secure public funding, and Ross doubled this money through a gift from the Paestum Foundation.
Senior Landscape Architect Gail Witter-Laird of the New York City Parks Department was given the undertaking of creating a redesign. Along with Ross, she met with members of the Bleecker Street Playground and listened to comments from the community and Community Board. One of the renovation’s most successful qualities is the retention of openness between the sidewalks and the park, preserving the park’s function as an open public square. The pavement’s light color brightens the dark space, and plantings soften the edges between the playground and the surrounding buildings. The space is even ADA accessible, an important concern of the community.
The success of this renovation project has yet another important benefit: Ross plans to continue the partnership with the Parks Department, bringing long overdue park renovation projects to less affluent neighborhoods.
The Regina Kellerman Award goes to the renovation of the Bleecker Street Sitting Area for the extraordinary transformation of a public space, made possible through the persistence of the community and a public-private partnership.