Annual Meeting & Village Awards On June 17, 2013 GVSHP held its 33nd Annual Meeting and 2013 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:
Originally located at 59 MacDougal Street when it first opened as the Stock Pharmacy in 1832, Avignone Chemists is now located along a quiet strip of Sixth Avenue, between Bleecker and Downing Streets. The name Avignone came into being in 1898, when Italian immigrant Francis Avignone bought the business. The current location was built for the Avignone brothers in 1929, when the pharmacy’s original location was slated for demolition due to the widening of Houston Street.
Now owned by partners Abe Lerner, Andrew Fruchtman, and John Duffy, Avignone draws in passersby and regulars alike with creative window displays and a traditional green cross above its sign. Once inside, it is easy to see why folks keep coming back. The wooden display cases, tin ceiling, and penny-tile floor installed during a renovation six years ago are set off by antiques saved from the days of Francis Avignone, including pharmacy bottles, a first aid kit, and clock. The vintage prescription books in the window—one of which even has a prescription or two filled when the store was located on MacDougal Street— showcases the store's historic importance as one of the city’s oldest pharmacies. Indeed, the New-York Historical Society boasts six Avignone prescription books in its manuscripts collection.
Of course, customer service is key to Avignone's success. They offer beauty aids that are hard to locate in a chain drug store, regulars are known by name, and strangers do not remain so for long. Customers rave about their extensive product lines and praise the excellent service at the pharmacy counter, noting the extra mile the pharmacists take to contact your doctor, transfer a prescription, or even walk your prescription to your car when parking is scarce.
Service at Avignone goes beyond its physical walls. The pharmacy sponsors a Greenwich Village Little League team, donates to Our Lady of Pompeii School, and lends a hand in the adjacent Winston Churchill Square, with which it shares a façade (and an award this year).
Avignone Chemists is presented a Village Award For 115 years as an independent Greenwich Village pharmacy, with exceptional service to their customers, their community, and their history.
When Carmine Palermo Sr. began working at Block Drug Store on the corner of Second Avenue and 6th Street in 1962, a drug store had already existed on that spot for 70 years. The Palermo family has since preserved more than just the historic storefront. At Block, they know customers by name, go the extra mile in filling prescriptions, and contribute to the neighborhood in a myriad of small ways.
Opened originally in 1895, the store was owned by the Levine family for many years. In fact, that family still owns the building. In 1942, the store changed ownership and the name was changed to Second Avenue Chemists. The store eventually took on the Block Drug name at a request from the Block Drug Stores chain, despite remaining independently owned and operated. The store’s iconic neon sign arrived during this time, in 1945.
Block is certainly a family affair. Carmine Sr.’s children all worked in the store as teenagers. Carmine Jr. started working for his father at age 16. He and his wife Beth, who is also a pharmacist, currently own the store. While Block has always been a family business, the Palermo’s make a point of hiring local neighborhood kids to assist in the store, giving them a chance to learn business skills before college or their first job out of high school.
It is evident that Block cares for the neighborhood in other ways as well. Out of power like all of Manhattan below 28th Street during Hurricane Sandy, Block set up business on the sidewalk for those in need of prescription refills during recovery from the storm, able to confirm prescriptions for many despite lacking access to their computers. Their actions that week were typical of how the store regularly does business.
Never ones to sit idle, the Palermos will soon open Block Vision Care in an adjacent storefront in the same building. Beth, who obviously loves a challenge, has gone back to school to become an optometrist. And competition from big chain stores? Beth and Carmine don’t worry about that. As Carmine puts it, “your competition is yourself.”
Block Drug Store is presented a Village Award for 125 years as a family-owned, independent business, providing personalized care and service to their customers and community.
Officially formed in 2012 in opposition to the NYU 2031, or ‘Sexton’ plan, after the University’s president, the New York University Faculty Against the Sexton Plan is a bold coalition of faculty members in public disagreement about NYU’s expansion plan in Greenwich Village.
For many years, individual NYU faculty members have been outspoken dissenters against the expansion of New York University into the Village. But it wasn’t until the first official piece of NYU’s expansion plan—a 400 ft. tall tower proposed for the landmarked portion of the I.M. Pei-designed Silver Towers complex—that faculty members began to officially organize.
Their actions are particularly valuable to GVSHP, as it has helped transform the debate around the NYU expansion from one of university versus community, to out-of-touch university leadership fighting its own faculty, staff students, and neighbors. NYUFASP posits that the 2031 plan is: financially reckless and will result in rising tuition for the students, disregards faculty input and governance, will further erode the rich cultural history of the Village, and will bring more than 10,000 more people in foot traffic per day to an already over-developed area.
The group has allowed many of the faculty, anxious to speak out publically against their employer, a vehicle to express their collective opposition to this plan. Through FASP, the faculty can make their individual identities as anonymous or as explicit as they choose.
Outspoken critics in the public realm during the public hearing process, NYUFASP also worked from within to defeat the plan. They helped secure resolutions by thirty-nine departments and divisions at the University against the plan. Inspired in part by the activism of the NYUFASP, many New York University schools have also advanced votes of no confidence in President Sexton, including The Steinhardt School, the Gallatin School, the College of Arts and Sciences, and Tisch Asia, among others.
When the 2031 Plan passed through the public approval process with only minor modifications, NYUFASP led the charge in securing highly-respected legal counsel, the international law firm of Gibson, Dunn, & Crutcher, to represent opponents in a lawsuit against the approvals. While the lawsuit goes through the legal process, we applaud the role NYU FASP has played in opposing the plan.
For its courageous, outspoken, and effective activism in response to the NYU 2031 Plan, New York University Faculty Against the Sexton Plan is presented a Village Award.
Sir Winston Churchill Square, a small, quiet park located between a bustling Sixth Avenue and a quiet Downing Street, certainly lives up to its formidable namesake, the former British prime minister. Measuring in at just 0.05 acres, the site was acquired by the Parks Department in 1943. It was redesigned in 1999 by the Parks Department to include more garden space.
The park’s central feature is a pedestal mounted armillary, an astronomical device that is also used to tell the time. Locals report that the Square’s armillary is quite accurate. While most of the park is surrounded by a decorative iron fence, the park’s western edge serves as an entrance to the Downing Street playground, ensuring a steady stream of children and their parents through the space.
The park depends heavily on the assistance of volunteers who contribute both labor and funds for the park’s upkeep. For many years, the Bedford Downing Block Association has kept the park ship-shape. Today, the park’s biggest champion is Bleecker Street resident Bert Waggott. Never happier then when his hands are in soil, Bert takes care of the Square as a volunteer with Partnerships for Parks, a group that has given generously to the Square — even providing a grant for a new planting shed.
While Bert has devoted countless hours to the park, his biggest contribution just may be his creation of a formal up-cycling program within the Parks Department. Bert, learning that plants and hardscape material would be thrown out during the renovation of Washington Square Park, negotiated with the local district manager at the Parks Department to recycle the materials for use in Churchill Square. Now, plants and stones have a new life. Due to Bert’s ingenuity, smaller community parks without big budgets can access materials being removed from their larger counterparts, a program heralded by the Parks Department.
A Village Award goes to Sir Winston Churchill Square for providing a beautiful Greenwich Village oasis while fostering volunteerism among neighbors and cooperation with the Parks Department. Manhattan Borough Parks Commissioner William Castro and Bert Waggott will accept the award this evening.
For nearly twenty years, Jeremiah Shea has served on the Ninth Precinct Community Council, transforming the organization from one that operated for the benefit of few to one that has developed productive and open communication between the police and the community it serves.
When Jerry, as most call him, arrived in the East Village in the 1990s, neighborhood crime, particularly drug dealing, prostitution, and theft, was rampant. The Community Council that Jerry arrived to was incompetent at best…corrupt at worst. Frustrated, Jerry shook things up, got himself elected to the council, and shortly thereafter became President.
Jerry welcomed the community into monthly meetings, invited the precinct to listen to community concerns, and began a series of programs for the community. Today, an average of 100 people attend each monthly meeting to review and discuss police matters in the neighborhood.
The annual toy drive and Christmas party is the most popular of the community events which the precinct and council work hand-in-hand to produce each year. Hundreds of children are treated to entertainment and hot chocolate while they wait to see Santa, who distributes plenty of toys collected by the precinct. While Jerry notes that his biggest coup in 17 years of planning this event was to secure the head Macy’s Santa for the party, he does admit that the highlight of his service on the Community Council was playing Santa himself.
Understanding that the officers from the precinct are as much a part of the community as the residents and businesses, Jerry created a yearly recognition program for members of the precinct 17 years ago – creating a space for the community to thank the police officers and detectives for their service. Held each year at the Cooper Union’s Great Hall, officers are recognized for their service in front of their families and the community and are treated to a wonderful reception donated by local restaurants.
While he will be retiring from the Council this year, he has left in place a healthy organization that will continue to thrive and instill cooperation between the precinct and the neighborhood.
A Village Award goes to Jeremiah Shea, for his twenty years of dedicated service to the Ninth Precinct Community Council, fostering open communication, trust, and goodwill between the local police and the East Village community.
Bowery Alliance of Neighbors: Sixth Annual Regina Kellerman Award
The Regina Kellerman Award is presented each year in honor of the Society's first executive director, who dedicated her inspiring career to the preservation of the architecture and built environment of the Village.
The Bowery Alliance of Neighbors, a vocal advocate for the preservation and appreciation of the Bowery as one of New York’s most invaluable and irreplaceable historical and cultural resources, is certainly following in Regina’s preservation foot-steps. Although portions of the west side of the Bowery are located within landmark and special zoning districts, development pressures are abundant. The east side of the Bowery lacks any landmark protection, current zoning favors larger, taller buildings, and the street's low-income residents are at risk.
Formed in 2007, the Bowery Alliance of Neighbors, or BAN, as they are known for short, is working to mitigate these development pressures. Formed by David Mulkins and Anna Sawaryn in response to the development of the 22-story Cooper Square Hotel, the group sponsored a State and National Registers of Historic Places nomination for the Bowery. The nomination was successfully listed on the State Register in 2011 and the National Register earlier this year. BAN is quite thankful to Kerri Culhane and the Two Bridges Neighborhood Council for cosponsoring the nomination. BAN has also completed a zoning survey for the East side of the Bowery that proposes contextual zoning for the East Side of the Bowery from Chatham Square in the south to Cooper Square in the north. They recently won a well-connected booster for their East Side Preservation Plan, when filmmaker Martin Scorsese wrote a letter in support of zoning protections for the neighborhood in which he grew up.
In addition to the group’s research and advocacy on behalf of the neighborhood, they also work to educate about the cultural and historical resources of the city’s oldest street, hosting walking tours, exhibitions, lectures and forums. BAN’s educational activities have brought to light the role of the Bowery in fostering some of our country's greatest cultural achievements.
Five years young this year, we look forward to seeing what BAN accomplishes in the next five.
The Regina Kelleman Award is presented to the Bowery Alliance of Neighbors For their tireless advocacy for the history of the Bowery, through documentation, education, and fierce determination.