This week New York’s East Village went from having only two tiny historic districts (about a block long each) and a short list of individually landmarked sites to a much larger, newly approved historic district that covers a lot of ground, from the Bowery to Avenue A and from St. Mark’s Place down to East 2nd Street. The city’s Landmarks Commission approved the proposed East Village Historic District with only a few slight modifications.
According to the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation, the new historic district includes a number of important sites that were not previously landmarked, among them:
Congregation Mezritch Synagogue at 415 East 6th Street, the East Village’s last remaining tenement synagogue, which came very close to demolition in 2008; the Russian Orthodox Cathedral at 59 East 2nd Street, for which plans had been filed to build a condo-tower above; … and 101 Avenue A, an elaborately-detailed late 19th century tenement with a ground-floor gathering space that was the site of labor rallies in the 19th century and the groundbreaking Pyramid Club in the late 20th century.
The approval of the historic district is the latest victory in a long fight by preservationists to maintain the down-to-earth, neighborhood vibe of the East Village, largely by fighting against high-rise condos, dorms, and hotels. In 2008 and 2010, most of the neighborhood was rezoned, a move that imposed height restrictions on the majority of new developments.
Of course, while rezoning goes a long way toward preserving the neighborhood’s physical character, you can’t hand-pick the residents or do much about the people who flock in droves to drink at bars along St. Mark’s Place. NYU may not be building any enormous new dorms, but the school’s students are still everywhere. The East Village will always have historical character and charm, and I’m glad it’s being physically preserved, but at this point the old, alternative, and riotous East Village lives on mainly in people’s memories — and I guess in those nouveau-anarchists who lines the paths of Tompkins Square Park.