Friday, February 18, 2011

A letter to Robert B. Tierney, Chair, Landmarks Preservation Commission.


Mr. Tierney:

Since you are its chairman, I am writing to you to express my utter disgust at the refusal of the Landmarks "Preservation" Committee to step in and save 35 Cooper Square, a 186 year old gem of a historic survivor on the East Village's Bowery. To refresh your memory, I can do no better than excerpt an elegiac post from the blog EV Grieve, lamenting its imminent destruction:

Historians believe 35 Cooper Square was born in 1825. The oldest building on Cooper Square, and one of the oldest buildings of the original Bowery, this charming Federal style building with the traditional gambrel roof, twin-pedimented dormers, and large end chimneys also boasts historical and cultural associations ranging from a direct descendant of Peter Stuyvesant (it was owned in the early 1800s by Nicholas William Stuyvesant, Peter's great-grandson) to Diane DiPrima, the most influential woman of the Beat Generation.

35 Cooper Square stood for 40 U.S. Presidents, from James Madison to Barack Obama, as well as the Civil War, the Spanish-American War, World War I, World War II, the Korean War, Vietnam, Desert Storm, Afghanistan and Iraq.

"Under the stipulations of the Landmarks Law, it qualifies on architectural, historical and cultural criteria for designation as a NYC individual landmark," said David Mulkins, chair/co-founder of the Bowery Alliance of Neighbors

"The building itself is a rare specimen that has remained standing since the transition of the Bowery from a residential area to one that was home to a variety of commercial venues in the early 19th century," added New York Assemblymember Deborah Glick. "While there have been some changes made to the façade of 35 Cooper Square, the building still retains its original twin peaked dormers, chimney, and gambrel roof, and is unmistakably representative of a bygone era in New York City history."

Despite the astonishing history, rarity and historical relevance of thie small treasure, you "preservationists" declined to take action. And why? Because for some reason the stucco coating applied to the building's facade some time in its almost two centuries of existence was enough to negate every reason that might have been put forth to save it.

Mr. Tierney, unlike you, I do not claim to be an expert in architecture. But even I know that a stucco coating is not permanent and can be removed with a hammer and prybar, so for the LPC to make this coating of a mud-like substance and its underlying mesh the sole reason to condemn 35 Cooper Square to death is the most pathetic, jaw-dropping and specious reason I could imagine.

But were it not torn down, of course, then the destroyer of this gem (who definitely doesn't live in the vicinity of the Bowery) would not be able to line his pockets at the expense of our already-ravaged neighborhood, where a seemingly endless flood of large, out of scale and horrifically ugly buildings are being thrown up willy-nilly all over the Bowery and Lower East Side, with irretrievable history being permanently lost in the process. And all the while you and your committee stand idly by and watch, like sleazy voyeurs.

I know there is no way this lovely piece of New York's past will be saved, so won't bother asking you to reconsider the ill-thought-out decision condemning it. So allow me to close by saying that I consider you a disgrace, a total sell-out to corporate real estate interests, who has no real desire to preserve history if there's money to be made by outside interests. And as to those lickspittle, cringing toadys who make up the rest of the "Preservation Committee" (it is to laugh), not one of whom had the spine to stand up and protest, they are just as despicable as you. Had you weasels been around in 1962, you would probably have applauded the destruction of the original Penn Station.

For shame - upon all of you. Your unwillingness to take a stand in this, and in so many other cases, has condemned New York to become a megalopolis bristling with ugliness, rather than a place in which history stands a chance of surviving.

Lisa Ramaci


[Photo taken yesterday by Bobby Williams]

34 comments:

Anonymous said...

Here, here! EXCELLENT LETTER! Thank you thank you thank you.
-Roger P

glamma said...

wow. lisa. just wow. WEEL DONE.
Send this to the Post and the Times! PLEASE!

EVGayBear said...

Way to go get 'em!!!

Anonymous said...

It really is sad and strange how this happens so often. I think of places like Paris, which are much much older, and none of this is allowed. Nobody cares about the neighborhoods, it's strange, it's as if nobody lives here.

Anonymous said...

such a bunch of whiny NIMBYs. wahhhhhhhhhhhh!

Lisa said...

Thank you Anon 9:17, glamma and EVGayBear, your comments are much appreciated. Anon 10:13, you are, sadly, only too correct.

Anon 10:35, your witless spew merely serves to confirm the existence of Orcs upon the earth.

HippieChick said...

What a powerful, amazing letter! Anonymous 10:35, go to hell along with the Landmark cretins. Right now. Can you really be as stupid as you sound?

Ken Mac said...

CC Mayor "destroyer of worlds" Bloomberg

Marty Wombacher said...

Cheers to Lisa for putting forth the effort to write such a wonderful letter.

@Anonymous 10:35: Would you like some more ice in your beer, Mayor Bloomberg?

Goggla said...

Thank you for this letter, Lisa.

Now, how to we implement a changing of the guard at the LPC?

Anonymous said...

Ive lived in the EV on and off for the past 9 years. When I first moved there the tallest buildings were the apt buildings across the street from TSQ Park on Ave B. Looking off my roof on 3rd St (directly across from the Hells Angels) I could look out to the East River and North to the ESB, a spectacular view for those sunrise kind of mornings. Around that time the Rivington Hotel went up with total "scandal", some locals claimed they had to purchase "air space" or something from neighbors so they could then be the tallest building in the LES. Soon after that the Law School dorms went up next door to the Hells Angels, I watched as they built floor after floor until it looked like a horrid institutional flim flammy exscuse of architecture. My view of the ESB was blocked and no matter how much the neighborhood people rallied and spoke in front of committees nothing was ever changed or done. Shortly after that every disgusting building went up and height was not an obstacle. Avalon shit on bowery, those horrid buildings in the LES by 1st Ave, and the worst of the worst that tasteless blue checkered dildo looking building on Delancey or where ever. Boooooo billionaire developers. You ruined the hood.'

Anonymous said...

Sorry, had to add one more comment. I have to admit I've never felt so fond and passionate for a building before (besides the Twin Towers but we won't go there). If it weren't for EV Grieve and I think BoweryBoogie, I never would have known that such a sweet gem was about to get smashed. I went to the Bowery lecture (as some of you did too apparently) a few months ago at Tenement Museum shop and it really opened my eyes as to what brutal changes are taking place to our neighborhood. I am glad that I am not alone in my feelings of sadness and anger over all this. I have felt a definite kinship with you as I read all your comments in all the 35 Cooper Square posts along the way and I am proud to have been able to add my own updates to the fate of 35 Cooper Square for you.
Humbly,
Roger P

glamma said...

please plaster this letter all over the corpse of 35 cooper square.

--------m said...

thank you lisa for this wonderfully crafted and heartfelt comment. perhaps you are the same lisa who responded to an earlier comment of mine on 35 cooper? I hope you continue to inspire others.
to all - please check out boweryalliance.org
and thank you again!

Lisa said...

Again, a heartfelt thank you to all who have responded so favorably; I only wish I had heard similar sentiments from Mr. Tierney who, to no one's surprise I'm sure, remains silent. Roger P, what you wrote was as sad as it was beautifully crafted, and I sympathize; we once had a view of the Empire State Building from our higher front apartments, a view now blocked by the inaptly-named Fillmore condo complex. (This despite the fact that venue was on 2nd and 4th and this pile is on 11th between A and B.) And yes, --------m, I'm the same Lisa. XOXO to you all, and also to Grieve, who was kind enough to post my bitter tirade.

Anonymous said...

I'm a musician and played at this place on several occasions seeing a lot of great music there. But besides that can't we incorporate older buildings into the new or is it all just money the way of NYC Trump and screw you I've got more money than you and I can do what I want where I want. So the jerk puts up and monstrosity on Spring St. and it is a Bust. O I hope he lies the tunnel fumes. Save the Bowery from money grabbers the upper east side should stay there.

BOWERY RESIDENT said...

HEY THERE -- THE BUILDING IS NOT GONE YET!!
THERE IS STILL A RAY OF HOPE!

http://www.boweryalliance.org/

JS said...

Lisa, thank you for the wonderful letter. I hope you've sent it to Chair Rober Tierney of the Landmarks Preservation Commission, Municipal Building, 1 Centre Street, 9th Floor, NY, NY, 10007. This is just in case all of you respondents would care to contact the Honorable Tierney about the fate of 35 Cooper Square. 35 Cooper Square is the story of the Bowery. Since the Bowery is unprotected from rampant overdevelopment many wonderful historically significant gems are becoming victims of the wrecking ball to make way for massive, out-of-context buildings. Our neighborhood is being decimated by these behemoths and there is no end in sight. Penn Station was razed to make way for progress. We have learned nothing from the destruction of this magnificent building.

onegun said...

Thank You Lisa for your wonderful letter. You spoke for a lot of people by writing this. The amazing amount of comments generated by your letter show how many people care about the neighborhood. We still are a community here, and we need to get even stronger to fight back against the ridiculous greed of development that is tearing our community and its streetscape apart.

Anonymous said...

"35 Cooper Square stood for 40 U.S. Presidents, from James Madison to Barack Obama, as well as the Civil War, the Spanish-American War, World War I, World War II, the Korean War, Vietnam, Desert Storm, Afghanistan and Iraq."

By this logic, I own several pairs of underpants that have an "astonishing history" and have been in my underpant drawer through the election of three presidents, the terrorist acts of 9/11, the death of two former presidents, the Iraq Invasion, Hurricane Katrina, and now-- the revolution in Egypt!

I have no particular opinion on the landmark issue at hand. I just hate righteous BS.

JS said...

Anonymous 12:01 you obviously are part of the great unwashed out there who have no understanding of landmarks preservation and could care less.

Anonymous said...

No, JS—consider me one of the “great unwashed” who’s actually considered the issue of landmarks preservation.

On the one hand, here we have a quaint old building that makes life picturesque, if little else. On the other hand, we have the sanctity of property rights & the march of progress. I’ll take property rights and the march of progress, thanks.

You may be surprised to learn that I despise the look of Cooper Square too—I moved to NY thirty years ago because I actually LIKE urban decay. I'm just as big a snobby aesthete as you, I swear. However, I don’t confuse my subjective preferences with the supposed right to vote away an owner’s property rights, or to trap the world in the amber of my youth.

Time marches on. Old buildings are displaced for new buildings. The new buildings that you and I consider abominations will no doubt be mourned when they’re torn down. For all we know, there was a great outcry when 35 Cooper Square went up, because it displaced a beloved neighborhood horse stable.

Even when progress doesn’t seem like "progress", it’s progress nonetheless. Do you think the neighborhood cheered when the Guggenheim was built? How about the World Trade Center? How about every building that was considered ugly when new but is now considered a masterpiece of its era? Do you recognize a pattern emerging? Progress is more intelligent than you, me, or the landmarks commission.

-------m said...

anonymous 12:01 - do you ever get past your self-absorbtion? it seems that looking at your own navel is a major part of your existence. very sad.

Anonymous said...

"This is an individually run blog, not a democratic nation nor a wide-open public forum. Comment publication is entirely subject to the owner's discretion."

Exactly.

You wouldn't be very happy if a bunch of blogging-community busybodies tried to strong arm you into running your blog as THEY best see fit, would you? It's yours, to do with as you please.

You concerned citizens should extend the same courtesy to the owner of 35 Cooper Square.

To quote the philosopher Austin Powers: "Freedom, baby! YEAH!"

JStandish said...

Tuesday, Feb. 22 5:30 - 6:30 p.m. CANDLELIGHT VIGIL: Save 35 Cooper Square (btwn. 5th & 6th Streets)

Lisa said...

So, Anonymous (because I'm assuming every idiot comment made on this thread by someone too gutless to sign any kind of individual name is by the same idiot), I'm curious to know which real estate developer it is that you whore for. Please do let us know, willya?

Elliott Hurwitt said...

Great letter, Lisa, lousy posts very loghorreic "anonymous" can't-shut-up- guy. Man, you've got an AWFUL lot of FREE TIME on your hands, poseur, wonder how THAT happened ...

rob said...

for Anonymous-3:36
"Property rights" and "progress" as you mean them are too coarse-grained. Property rights do not distinguish, for example, between developing a huge skyscraper that brings vast personal revenue but contributes nothing of a local New York character, on the one hand, compared with say, expanding a lot for modest profit without displacing the local community. I'm not recommending either, just pointing out, Anonymous, that "property rights" is a gloss that hides most of the questions of community and urban planning that need to be part of the discussion.

Also your concern for property rights ignores the forces arrayed. Money, profit and development are powerful engines that need no defense or support. A piece of history owned by a profiteer endorsed by law, and perhaps with no connection to the local neighborhood -- that piece of history is vulnerable and frail and in great need of defense and support and publicity. To the extent that members of the community see merit in this townhouse, they should be applauded for speaking up. You know very well that the house's owner won't. Here the community is speaking for the voice of history and the silence of the bricks.

"Progress," if you mean by it that every successive future improves the last, describes either a blunt empirical falsehood or is some kind meaningless synonym for any change good or bad. It is worthwhile -- at least I think it is -- to distinguish from the successes and the failures of past futures, otherwise "success" and "failure" themselves have no meaning. We can collect the failures of the past and investigate and analyse their motives and origins. Similarly for the clear successes. While I agree with you that we cannot fully predict future failures, and there's plenty of uncertainty about them, but it's not all uncertainty.

If this townhouse were only one hundred feet to the east, it would probably not be redeveloped at all. The limits on development in the EV is one of the great virtues of the recent rezoning. So this is not about mere property rights. It's about the city's urban planning program for Cooper Square and the Bowery in general. That plan and its consequences are what is in question.

Your "march of progress" is an overwhelming tide swollen with money and markets that will sweep everything away regardless of history, community, every virtue but profit, wherever it can. Property rights should not entail a right to any and every kind of profit -- the profit that kills, that poisons, that despoils, we all agree must be constrained. Same here. In the end this is a dispute with LPC, not with a property owner. And the locals defending this place are doing exactly what they should be doing -- carefully, or loudly, reasonably or angrily, artfully or sharply. It's many voices, and it's quite clear that Lisa has resonantly struck the chord.

Claribel said...

Most likely the opponents of Jane Jacobs viewed the movement that she led to prevent a freeway from being built through the West Village as being anti-progress. But surely the City, as well as West Village property owners today, are benefitting from those who were presumed to have stood in the way of progress then. According to the Daily News, commercial rents on Bleecker have surpassed Bond St. in London and the Champs-Élysées in Paris (http://www.nydailynews.com/ny_local/2010/12/03/2010-12-03_a_giant_buy_makes_quaint_village_street_.html). I don’t think that’s what drove the movement against the freeway, but progress manifests itself in many ways.

Who defines the course and pace of progress? I don’t think that progress and landmarks preservation are mutually exclusive, and while structures like the Guggenheim and World Trade Center can be emblematic of progress, they are not progress in and of themselves, nor is the building that has yet to be built once 35 Cooper Square is demolished.

Thanks Lisa. Hope your letter encourages many more.

Anonymous from yesterday said...

Lisa- No, I assure you I don't work in real estate, nor does my spouse. Nor do any close friends, or relatives.

Elliot- Now THERE'S a clever tactic-- don't respond to anything I've actually said, just call me loser for having the fifteen minutes free time to say it. Ouch!

Some of us kill time typing, others hold candlelight vigils. To each her own.

JS said...

To Anonymous 9:20:

I wonder why you continue to sign on as anonymous. Obviously, this is part of your agenda to discredit those interested in supporting their community and wanting to prevent the ravages of overdevelopment. Progress can be manifested in various ways. The Europeans have been able to do this by developing communities in a responsible manner instead of fracturing them with out-of-context, massive development.

Formerly Anonymous said...

JS- For the record, I arbitrarily signed in as "Anonymous" because A) my real name happens to be Lisa, and B) I only planned on leaving the first post (about my underwear)-- thinking, what the hell does my name matter? Admittedly, leaving multiple messages as "Anonymous" becomes confusing, but at the same time, I was responding to comments directed to "Anonymous" so I responded AS "Anonymous". While perhaps irritating, how on earth would my opting not to choose a screen name be part of any supposed "agenda"?! What does it gain me?

Rob- I have a lot more faith in the forces of the free market & "profiteering" when it comes to "urban planning" than a handful of vocal, sentimental community members who are resentful of change. (I mean really-- the uproar is in part because Peter Stuyvesant's nephew's sister-in- law's son lived at 35 Cooper Square, and it's thus a historical landmark?! Please.)

As for the community being "displaced"-- the structure that will replace the townhouse will inevitably be larger-- if anything, the new structure will offer more accommodation for a larger community, not less. But, future community isn't your concern, since you folks have all staked your claim already (the community is thus complete upon your arrival).

I don't pretend to be clairvoyant regarding the the effects of progress. But, at the same time I recognize that NOBODY else is, either. It's foolish and presumptuous to think that you or anyone can predict that building A makes the city a richer place than building B. The profit motive as ultimately the wisest of "urban planners" in the long run. (As evidence, I submit to you: New York City.)

rob said...

to No-Longer-Anonymous-L
Why choose one small detail of its history as a reason to ridicule the uproar? Your argument there shows your bias. If you want bring the strong argument, list the entire history of the building and then ridicule the history of its inhabitants, and then add its architectural history, which is, after all, the primary reason for "the uproar," the other histories being supportive to it.

If you talk to almost any architect, and any reputable architect at all, they will tell you that New York has a much larger percentage of low-quality architecture than most American cities, and it's because there's so much money to be made here that civic pride gets lost. Manhattan is very much a example of the consequences of market forces, but not a particularly good example of urban design. It's successes are not created by the market, but by planners: the grid, which though dull, was not only useful, but remains so after 200 years (this year!); the first zoning law which gave us the tapered skyscraper when the market was choking the sky.

I don't pretend that all the voices clamoring for the preservation of this townhouse are urban historians and urban planners, but what's presumptuous is that you assume that no one knows anything about urban design. Some of us do.

While we're distinguishing between success and failure, let's also distinguish between "community" and "hotel district." Recall, as I'm sure you know, this street is zoned for commercial bulk (6FAR), with severe residential restriction (<3.44FAR). (So you see, there's NO free market force at play here: it's the city that has directed it and planned it.) It'll be a hotel, not rediential. Now, hotels provide lots of jobs, and lots of nearby nightlife revenue, especially desirable to city coffers in a recession -- bars do better in a recession than most businesses. So you can see what the real story is here.

What kind of "community" does a hotel district create? A lot of nightlife -- you can actually see the meatpacking district for an empirical study -- and attending businesses that crucially draw outsiders, tourists, trend-seekers. Very well, that's an important part of NYC. But that is not what is meant by "community" -- people who live in a place and commune with one another. Should one part of the city -- its revenue resource -- displace another important part of the city -- its community? Why?

You can't argue that it's replacing one community with another. This is a case of community displacement without community replacement. It's as if a whole series of communities were removed for the construction of an industrial wasteland. What happens to the life of that place?

The argument you should be making, N-L-A-L, is that this neighborhood has already lost most of its neighborhood character, so preserving it is mere historical sentimentality. But I think a lot of us recognize that, despite the radical change in the last decade, there is still something distinctive about the EV/LES. It is still a mixed neighborhood (or at least not yet a white ghetto) and that is extremely rare in NY.

Whether a high-rise upscale taxi-cab-culture residential development creates community the way low-rise low-income neighborhoods do, is an interesting question. I grew up in former and lived in the latter. There is such a thing as community in the former, but it is much more diffuse than the community of the latter. I welcome both in a city. Both!: not the former at the expense of the latter. Right now, the low-rise low-income neighborhoods are vulnerable. I wish this uproar were about the low-income as well as the low-rise, but I'll take half a loaf since both are at risk and need defense.

Danial123 said...

I grew up in former and lived in the latter. There is such a thing as community in the former, but it is much more diffuse than the community of the latter.
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