Calls for a Greenwich Village historic district are renewed by preservationists

The Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation is asking the city's Landmarks Preservation Commission to designate an area south of Union Square a historic district. Photo Credit: Charles Eckert

The city rejected the idea of a Greenwich Village historic district last year, saying the area lacked “consistent architectural quality.”

The Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation is asking the city's Landmarks Preservation Commission to designate an area south of Union Square a historic district.
The Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation is asking the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission to designate an area south of Union Square a historic district. Photo Credit: Archdiocese of New York

Preservationists are renewing their calls for the city to create a new Greenwich Village historic district and save unique 19th century buildings with important New York City roots.

Structures with deep ties to the publishing industry, women’s suffrage movement and piano-making are at risk of being torn down for new development, said Andrew Berman, executive director of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation.

“The situation is more dire. The passage of the tech hub rezoning increased the pressure,” Berman said, referencing the city’s move last year to approve a 21-story building with a digital skills training space and offices for tech firms. “We are seeing more and more of these tech-related businesses going up in the neighborhood.”

The group fired off a 25-page letter to the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission last week hoping to bolster its bid to protect buildings in an area roughly bounded by East 14th Street on the north, University Place and Fifth Avenue to the west, Fourth Avenue to the east and East Ninth Street on the south.

“The research we have done uncovered even greater levels of significance,” Berman said. “It’s more clear than ever that this is an area worthy of being preserved and that will be destroyed if the city does not act soon.”

Last October, the commission rejected the proposed historic district, telling Berman in a letter that the area “lacks the consistent architectural quality, cohesiveness, and sense of place necessary to merit historic district designation.”

Instead, the commission landmarked seven individual buildings in the vicinity.

“New York City has plans for the area which are at odds with what exists there now,” said Simeon Bankoff, executive director of the Historic Districts Council, which supports the creation of a new district in Greenwich Village. “It requires a level of imagination to encourage reuse of the buildings. But if you actually reuse these beautiful buildings with an interesting history, you are creating something that has real sustainability.”

In its lengthy letter to the commission, the society details the history of 10 buildings within the proposed district, such as 10 E. 14th St., a cast-iron structure built around 1884 that once served as the headquarters for the New York City Woman Suffrage League.

The Romanesque Revival style building at 72 Fifth Ave. was built in 1893 to house Appleton & Company publishers. And Gothic details cover The Renwick at 104-106 Fourth Ave., which was designed by James Renwick, the architect of Grace Church.

An increased appetite for new commercial, retail and residential space in and south of midtown has preservationists scrambling to save these stately buildings before they are replaced with glass towers and modern architecture.

While many of these buildings house retail shops on the street level, they are still marked by distinct architectural flourishes such as cast-iron facades, granite columns and sculpted ram’s heads.

Fifty years ago, the city designated a largely western swath of Greenwich Village as a historic district.

Now looking to its east, Berman is hoping to enlist the support of lawmakers, and sway City Councilwoman Carlina Rivera, who he said supported zoning changes needed to create a tech hub in the neighborhood without securing protections against overdevelopment.

“Councilwoman Rivera continues to work with the community to ensure the history of the Village is preserved and she is meeting regularly with (the Landmarks Preservation Commission) to discuss future protections for her entire district that should be considered,” responded Rivera spokesman Jeremy Unger.

Lisa L. Colangelo