‘Don’t change our Village;’ Society recognizes 7 icons


By Albert Amateau

The Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation on Monday honored the people, institutions, architecture and businesses that make the Village the beloved neighborhood that it is.

The 20th Annual Village Awards event drew nearly 300 preservation activists to The New School’s Tishman Auditorium, at 66 W. 12th St. — itself a landmarked Art Deco space designed in 1930.

“This year we also look back on the 30 years since G.V.S.H.P. was founded,” said Andrew Berman, executive director of the society. “If we were a building we would be old enough this year to be granted landmark designation,” he said.

Berman spoke about the society’s accomplishments over the years, including the campaign for landmark designation for the Gansevoort Market Historic District in 2003 and the 1995 study that documented more than 300 Federal-style houses built between 1790 and 1835 in Lower Manhattan. The study led to landmark designation for many Federal-style buildings spread over Downtown neighborhoods, including the Financial District, the East Village, Hudson Square and around Washington Square Park.

Berman cited the G.V.S.H.P. campaign that began in 2002 to convince the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission to designate a South Village historic district with 800 buildings. He noted that L.P.C. is scheduled to vote on June 22 on the designation of one-third of the proposed district, adding, “We’re pushing for the city to consider the remaining two-thirds of the South Village as soon as possible.”

Berman noted that the society has been leading the movement to prevent overdevelopment by New York University and other institutions.

Among the individuals honored on Monday was Lucy Cecere, a lifelong Villager who in 1973 helped found The Caring Community, which now operates four senior centers in Lower Manhattan, and in 1975 helped save the Village Nursing Home — now part of VillageCare.

A staunch preservation advocate, Cecere proclaimed a challenge to threats against the character of the neighborhood.

“Don’t change our Village, we love it the way it is. Enough is enough!” she declared. “If you ever need me for a fight, I’m on MacDougal St.”

Albert Bennett, a resident of Morton St. for 55 years, was another individual honoree. He served as vice president of his block association for four years and spent the next 11 years as president. As a public member of Community Board 2, he has represented the board at Landmarks Preservation Commission hearings and visits each Village site under consideration for designation. Bennett paid tribute to the late Verna Small as a preservation mentor and urged G.V.S.H.P. members to focus on future preservation issues, including N.Y.U. and the South Village.

Caffe Reggio, 119 MacDougal St., founded in 1927 by Domenico Parisi, who has the reputation of having served the first cappuccino in the U.S., was one of the businesses honored. Niso and Hilda Cavallacci bought Reggio in 1955 and now their son, Fabrizio, runs it.

Veselka, on the corner of Second Ave. and E. Ninth St., founded 56 years ago, is the other business honoree. Founded by Wolodymyr Darmochwal, the restaurant — in the center of what used to be the largest Ukrainian community outside of Ukraine — is now run by Tom Birchard, his son-in-law, and Tom’s son, Jason. Tom Birchard said that PLAST, the Ukrainian fraternal organization that owns the building where Veselka is located, deserves much of the credit for the restaurant’s long existence.

Theatre 80, at 80 St. Mark’s Place, is another honoree. Owned by the gangster Walter Scheib during Prohibition, it served as a speakeasy, a jazz club, a theater and home for the Pearl Theater Company until 2009. Owned now by Lorcan Otway, who took over from his father, Howard, the theater is home to the Museum of the American Gangster and continues to host theater groups and new performance works.

The High Line, the elevated park converted with the help of a volunteer group, Friends of the High Line, from the railroad right of way built along the West Side in the 1930s, is another honoree. The first section of the park, between Gansevoort St. and W. 20th St., opened a year ago and has already had 2 million visitors. Joshua David, one of the group’s founders, along with Peter Mullins, the group’s development director, and Joshua Laird, representing the city’s Department of Parks and Recreation, accepted the award.

Receiving the third annual Regina Kellerman Award was the Westbeth Artists Housing Project, which opened 40 years ago as the first large-scale conversion of an industrial building for residential use and the first subsidized housing for artists in the nation.