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New Oral Histories: 
Performance Artist Penny Arcade, The Strand Owner Fred Bass, Cooper Square’s Valerio Orselli, and Westbeth's George Cominskie

We are proud to share four new oral histories we have just added to our online oral history collection conducted with individuals who have profoundly impacted our neighborhoods, and beyond.

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, her association with Andy Warhol, 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. Read or listen here.

Fred Bass (1928-2018) – Bass worked in the family business, the Strand Bookstore, since 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 12th Street and Broadway. Bass spent much of his time over the years 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 bought 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, and jazz musicians who visited the bookstore; his recollections of Book Row over the years, and changes to the neighborhood he witnessed firsthand.  Read or listen here

Valerio Orselli – Affordable housing advocate, developer, and manager Val Orselli Orselli immigrated to New York from Italy via Brazil in 1960. 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. Read or listen here

George Cominskie – Tenant leader and artists’ advocate George Cominskie has lived since 1983 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, Cominskie discusses the significance of an affordable housing community for artists, changes to Wesbeth and the West Village over the years, his experiences serving on the Westbeth Artists Residents Council, of which he was the president for many years, and his general activism in the West Village and New York City over the years.  Read or listen here.

Our oral history collection now numbers nearly 60 interviews, with everyone from Preservation Pioneers like Jane Jacobs, Margot Gayle, and Shirley Hayes to architects like Richard Meier and James Polshek, artists like Merce Cunningham, Marlis Momber, David Amram, Wolf Kahn, Peter Ruta, and Jonas Mekas, activists like Frances Golden, Chino Garcia, and David Rothenberg, proprietors of beloved neighborhood businesses like Theatre 80, B&H Dairy, Veselka, Porto Rico Importing Co., Raffetto’s, Umanov Guitars, Veniero’s, and people connected to key institutions like St. Vincent’s Hospital and the LGBT Community Center.  Explore them all and learn about history first hand from those who made and witnessed it.



Home : Resources : Oral History Collection : New Oral Histories December 2019

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