Celebrating Village Historic District at 50

BY GABE HERMAN | The Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation will host events throughout this year to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the landmarking of the Village as a historic district.

G.V.S.H.P. was founded in 1980 and works to protect the historic district, which includes about 100 blocks and 2,300 buildings. The actual anniversary of the district’s landmarking is April 29, 1969.

G.V.S.H.P. will host a big event on Sat., April 13, in Washington Square Park. There will also be a wide range of open-house events that weekend involving 70 local partners, including businesses, theaters, schools and churches. Andrew Berman, executive director of G.V.S.H.P., said that community organizations will open their doors to the public to give a look at what these groups do and how they play a part in preserving the area’s history.

A map of the Greenwich Village Historic District. (Courtesy G.V.S.H.P.)

“We’re hoping it’s another way people will be able to engage with and appreciate the really rich diversity of the Greenwich Village Historic District,” Berman said.

The April 13 event in the park will run from noon to 3 p.m. Speakers will include City Council Speaker Corey Johnson; G.V.S.H.P Director Berman; Sarah Carroll, the chairperson of the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission, and other local politicians.

Several musical acts will perform at the park event, including Ryo Sasaki & The Jazz Park Rangers, and Richard Barone & Friends. Barone hosts Village Nights, a monthly salon series that features local musicians and a celebration of the Village’s musical history.

That weekend will also include several walking tours, including a literary pub crawl, an L.G.B.T.Q. history tour, a tour of Abingdon Square Park, and another one that explores the historic district’s countercultural bohemia. A full list of events and participating organizations for the weekend can be on the gvshp.org web site, under “events.”

Berman said that in April, the society will begin releasing interactive tools to view images of buildings from today and back in 1969, or sometimes even earlier. People will also be able to look up information about important sites and events in the district’s history. Site users will be able to search by various categories, such as great writers, 19th-century row houses or churches.

“It’s a way for  people to engage with and appreciate the really rich history of the district from whatever angle interests you most,” Berman said.

When asked about the general state of the Village and preservation efforts, Berman said that, on the one hand, it’s remarkable that the area has been able to maintain its character and human scale, especially when sandwiched between big business districts in Midtown and Lower Manhattan.

“On the other hand, it’s under tremendous pressure,” Berman said of the Village. He called the 1969 historic district designation just the start of the battle.

“You have to be vigilant every day to make sure that the provisions are enforced,” he noted, “and that bad decisions aren’t made by the Landmarks Preservation Commission to allow things that they shouldn’t allow. So it’s a constant effort.”

One current battle is a push to landmark the interior of the White Horse Tavern. The historic bar recently changed ownership and many locals are concerned that it will change or lose its character.

Berman said the Village unfortunately has been a victim of its own success, being so popular that today it’s hard for anybody other than the wealthy to move in.

“One of the challenges we struggle with is how can we hold onto small businesses,” he said. “How can we make sure that the Village remains a place that’s open to people of all socioeconomic levels. How can we keep it culturally vital.”

The preservationist added there are no easy answers.

“I think we’re making some progress on some fronts,” he said, “but we definitely have a lot further to go on others.”

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