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Oral History Collection

GVSHP began its Oral History Project in the mid-nineties to help preserve memories of the preservation movement in Greenwich Village. The collection currently contains four Oral History Collections: East Village, Preservation Pioneers, South Village, and Westbeth, as well as newly released Oral Histories. The Oral History Collection includes 42 entries, each of which contain a short interview description, transcript, and several audio clips. An abstract is available at the beginning of each transcript. 

Researchers are encouraged to access the audio files. Questions and research appointments should be directed to Sam Moskowitz.

Please click below to access the following collections:

East Village
Preservation Pioneers
South Village
Westbeth

New 2019 Releases:
Penny Arcade
Fred Bass
George Cominskie
Valerio Orselli
Ola and Fawzy Abdelwahed
Arthur Levin

2018 Releases:
Robert Sanfiz
James Polshek
Chino Garcia
Beverly Moss Spatt
Paula DeLuccia Poons

2017 Releases:
Otis Kidwell Burger
Victor Keyloun
Vincent Livelli
David Rothenberg
Peter Ruta
Rich Wandel

Penny Arcade

The oral history with this icon of the Downtown arts scene and “Queen of the Underground” covers her life in New York City since leaving home as a teenage runaway. It covers topics from her association with Andy Warhol to the AIDS epidemic, and her work giving voice to female and transgressive sexuality through her art. She says she is “fundamentally a poet,” but also sings, dances, acts, and helped define performance art in the 1980s.

Listen to a short clip:

 

Listen to the full interview here:

 

Read the full interview transcript

Fred Bass

Bass (1928-2018) joined the family business, the Strand Bookstore, at the age of 13 when it was located on 4th Avenue. In 1956 he took over the business, and in 1957 moved it around the corner to its present location at East 12th Street and Broadway. As the years went on, Bass came to spend most of his time at the buying desk, cultivating relationships with regulars, and turned a small second-hand shop into an international icon that boasts "18 miles of books." In 2005, Bass was able to buy the building that houses the Strand and made various physical improvements. This oral history includes Bass's encounters with the writers of the Beat Generation, Abstract Expressionist painters, folk singers, jazz musicians, and many other intellectuals who visited the bookstore; his opinions on some of the early Book Row bookstores, their owners, and the competitive spirit that typified Book Row in its prime; and changes to the neighborhood that he witnessed firsthand.

Listen to a short clip:

 

Listen to the full interview here:

Read the full interview transcript

George Cominskie

Since 1983, Cominskie has lived in Westbeth, a nonprofit housing and commercial complex dedicated to providing affordable living and working space for artists and arts organizations, located in the old formerly disused Bell Telephone Labs at Bethune and West Streets. In this oral history, he discusses the significance of an affordable housing community for artists, changes to Wesbeth over the years, and his experiences serving on the Westbeth Artists Residents Council, of which he was the president for many years.

Listen to a short clip:

 

Listen to the full interview here:

Read the full interview transcript

Valerio Orselli

Orselli immigrated from Italy to Brazil in 1954, and to New York in 1960. He has been a passionate advocate for affordable housing for almost 50 years, especially in the Lower East Side/East Village. His life-long commitment to activism and advocacy has led to his work with the Cooper Square Community Land Trust, Cooper Square Mutual Housing Association, and the Cooper Square Committee, where he has served as director. He discusses his decades of work protecting and creating affordable housing in the Lower East Side/East Village, battling everyone from city government to deep-pocketed developers and even the Catholic Church.

Listen to a short clip:

 

Listen to the full interview here:

Read the full interview transcript

Ola and Fawzy Abdelwahed

This true New York love story features a Muslim born in Egypt and a former Catholic born in Poland who worked across the street from one another, fell in love, were married, and now run a Kosher restaurant together, B&H Dairy, at 127 2nd Avenue between 7th Street and St. Mark’s Place. B&H Dairy has served generations of Lower East Side and East Village residents and New Yorkers from every walk of life. B&H Dairy received a Village Preservation Village Award in 2017 and celebrated its 80th birthday in 2018. In the oral history they discuss running B&H Dairy since 2003 and the challenges they have faced, including the near-destruction of their space and closure for months as a result of the nearby 2nd Avenue gas explosion in 2015.

Listen to a short clip:

Listen to the full interview here:

Read the full interview transcript

Arthur Levin

Arthur (Art) Levin has served as a Village Preservation Trustee for over 20 years, including as President since 2012, overseeing a period of organizational growth. Art grew up on the Upper West Side and has lived on West 11th Street since 1969. This oral history explores his experience with progressive politics, spearheading social programs, and community organizing over fifty years, as well as how the Village has changed in that time. He also discusses his experience with the explosion of the Weather Underground bomb factory next door to his house in 1970.

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Listen to the full interview here:


Read the full interview transcript

Robert Sanfiz

Robert Sanfiz has been the Executive Director of La Nacional since 2008.  La Nacional is the 150-year-old Spanish Benevolent Society located on West 14th Street, which represents and historically advocated for the “Little Spain” community that stretched from Christopher to 23rd Street along the west side, once the largest Spanish-American community in New York City.  Robert grew up in Queens and first moved to the Village in 1996. After five years in Spain, he returned to the Village in 2005 and is raising his family here. Sanfiz first became involved with La Nacional as their pro bono attorney. This oral history focuses on the history of the Spanish immigrant community in New York, and on the history of La Nacional and the challenges to keep the institution viable for the community.

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Listen to the full interview here:



Read the full interview transcript

James Polshek

James Stewart Polshek has lived in Greenwich Village since 1955, and his career as an architect has included buildings across the globe. His work in Greenwich Village has focused on complementing the neighborhood's historic architecture, scale, and character. Notably, he designed the Washington Court apartments, completed in 1985. He was also involved in projects for other Village landmarks such as the renovation of the Grace Church School. Polshek was Dean of Columbia University's Graduate School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation from 1972–1987. He also created and founded Architects and Planners for Social Responsibility, which works for peace, environmental protection, ecological building, social justice, and the development of healthy communities. 

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Listen to the full interview here:



Read the full interview transcript

Video of interview with Jim Polshek conducted in coordination with release of oral history, 9/20/18

Chino Garcia

Chino Garcia is a Lower East Side/East Village community activist. In this oral history, he discusses his birth in Puerto Rico and movement to New York, his activism as a founding member of the CHARAS El Bohio Cultural Center, which the city took from the community and sold, his work with renowned poet Miguel Piñero, and his connections to gangs in the neighborhood in the mid-to-late 20th century.  

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Listen to the full interview here:



Read the full interview transcript

Beverly Moss Spatt

Beverly Moss Spatt has been a leading figure in planning and preservation in New York City for over fifty years. In this oral history she discusses growing up in Brooklyn, how she helped form the first reform Democratic club in Brooklyn, how she earned her “maverick” reputation during her time on the City Planning Commission from 1966–1970, and serving on the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission [LPC] from 1974-1982 (as Chair from 1974-1978, the first woman to hold that position). The 1973 Amendments to the New York City Landmarks Law went into effect the year of her appointment, allowing for the city’s first scenic and interior landmarks. She also oversaw the controversial designation of the Grace Church townhouses on Fourth Avenue and the new structure replacing the house destroyed by the Weatherman bomb explosion on West 11th Street during her tenure.

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Listen to the full interview here:



Read the full interview transcript

Paula DeLuccia Poons

Paula DeLuccia Poons and her husband Larry Poons have lived at 827-831 Broadway since 1977. Both are artists, following a long tradition of those in the arts who have taken refuge in the buildings over the last half century. In this recording, Paula talks about other occupants of the buildings including Willem de Kooning, MoMa Director William Rubin, and Cyndi Lauper.  She also discusses the major changes to the neighborhood over the past 40 years, as well as the recent battle to preserve these buildings, slated for demolition until GVSHP was able to successfully advocate for their landmark designation.

Listen to a short audio clip:


Listen to the full interview here:


Read the full interview transcript

Otis Kidwell Burger

Otis Kidwell Burger has lived on Bethune Street for 58 years, and her life has intertwined with some of the most intriguing and important figures in the Village during that time.  She rented a room to Jane Jacobs in the 1950’s, during which time she wrote “The Death and Life of Great American Cities,” and  threw parties at her home attended by Norman Mailer and several other great 20th century literary luminaries.  In her interview, Ms. Burger reflects on some of the major changes she has seen in the Village since the 1950’s, and discusses her incredible family history, which includes her great-grandfather, Sidney Howard Gay, the Editor of The Anti-Slavery Standard (who is sometimes thought to be the namesake of Gay Street). 

Listen to a short audio clip:


Listen to the full interview here:


Read the full interview transcript

Victor Keyloun

Dr. Victor Keyloun worked at St. Vincent’s Hospital from 1963 to 1983. He was a neighborhood doctor, notably serving extended Italian families, as well as the Village’s large gay population at a time when many other doctors would not. His last few years in practice overlapped with the first few years of the tragic AIDS epidemic. This interview includes Dr. Keyloun’s account of the changes in both general medical practice and the particular management of St. Vincent’s that he observed over time, eventually leading to the hospital’s demise in 2010.

Listen to a short audio clip:

Listen to the full interview here:



Read the full interview transcript


Vincent Livelli

Vincent Livelli has lived in the Village for close to 100 years. From the 1940s to 1970s Vincent helped revolutionize the cruise ship industry as a music and dance director. Vincent reminices about his early years growing up in the South Village, the child of Sicilian and Genovese immigrants, and his career as a muscian, crossing paths with industry legends such as Al Jolson, Charlie Parker, and Anatole Broyard.

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Listen to the full interview here:


Read the full interview transcript




David Rothenberg

David Rothenberg is one of the Village’s most prolific activists. A former Broadway producer, he also produced the off-Broadway play “Fortune in Men’s Eyes”, which ignited a movement to serve the incarcerated and formerly incarcerated. From this, Rothenberg founded the Fortune Society in 1967, an organization whose mission is to foster a world where all who are incarcerated or formerly incarcerated will thrive as positive, contributing members of society. Rothenberg discusses his early AIDS activism, run for City Council, leadership roles for the LGBT Community Center and National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, and the changes to the neighborhood he has experienced as a Village resident for over 50 years.

Listen to a short audio clip:


Listen to the full interview here:


Read the full interview transcript



Peter Ruta
A renowned painter who focused on views of Lower Manhattan, Ruta painted for nearly seventy years and had lived in Westbeth since its opening in 1970 when he passed away in late 2016.  Born in Germany, he fled to Italy to escape Hitler's rise to power, finally ending up in NYC. In this interview he discusses his time served as an American soldier in WWII and the painting career that followed, as well as memories of raising a family in Westbeth with his wife, Suzanne.

Listen to a short audio clip:



Read the full interview transcript



Rich Wandel

Rich is a former president of the Gay Activist Alliance, and served as the Archivist Historian at the LGBT Community Center from its founding in 1990 to today. From the 1980s, through the AIDS Crisis, and towards greater tolerance and acceptance, Rich has been a leader in the ongoing LGBT civil rights movement. Listen to Rich discuss the Village, Christopher Street, and Stonewall as symbols of gay life and gay rights.

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Read the full interview transcript



 




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