South Village preservation wait a costly one
Its safe to assume Jack Kerouac never heard the term Asian fusion uttered. Fifty-eight years after he wrote On the Road, a restaurant serving just that occupies the space that was once one of his favorite hangouts, the San Remo cafÃ© in Greenwich Village.
The Ritz Asia restaurant is at the site that once housed the San Remo cafe, a popular hangout for beat poets, including Jack Kerouac. (Photo by RJ Mickelson/amNY)
Whats unsettling for preservationist Andrew Berman is that the artificial stone exterior of the newly opened Ritz Asia restaurant, at the corner of Bleecker and MacDougal streets, has replaced the San Remos original cast-iron details.
All physical traces to the San Remo have been destroyed, said Berman, executive director of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation.
More than two years after preservationists formally proposed that the city designate the southern end of the Village, a one-time Italian immigrant enclave, as a historic district, no action has been taken to preserve the neighborhoods past. And despite the troubled economy, real estate developers are steadily moving in on the South Villages oldest structures.In a March 13 letter to Robert Tierney, Landmarks Preservation Commission chair, Berman listed eight buildings that have either been demolished or had their history compromised through renovations in the past several months alone.
Its a bit of a catch-22 because in order to get the city to move, you need to wage a very public campaign, Berman said. But by putting it in the public eye, you give unscrupulous developers the opportunity to swoop in and tear down historic properties before landmarking takes effect.
The rest of Greenwich Village is already a designated historic district. Berman is calling for that protection to extend to the South Village. To make the process more manageable, Landmarks is first considering about one-third of the proposed area, the blocks west of Sixth Avenue.
Landmarks spokeswoman Elisabeth de Bourbon said the agency plans to call a meeting later this spring to give property owners information on the process of designating a historic district.
A phone message left at the Ritz Asia restaurant was not returned by press time.
Owners of some of the buildings Berman listed in his letter defended their projects. John Wu, who has begun demolition work at 178 Bleecker St., part of a row of nine 1861 houses, described the building as a tenement that was not well built and is structurally unsound.
Wu said his new eight-story condo building will also include a jazz club and nonprofit art gallery.
Im looking to bring back the Village to its old times, he said. Look at the Village. Everything that it has changed into has been downgraded, not upgraded.
At 133-139 MacDougal St., NYU is demolishing the former Provincetown Playhouse and Apartments and constructing a six-story law school building. Alicia D. Hurley, NYUs vice president of government affairs and community engagement, said the university made a priority of respecting the buildings past in its designs, but added that it was significantly altered in the 1940s.
The school has promised to keep the walls of the playhouse, where Eugene ONeills plays were first produced in the 1910s and 20s.