On Tuesday June 6th the New School and Parsons hosted the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation (GVSHP) 37th annual meeting and presented the 27th Annual Village Awards. Visitors swelled and packed the auditorium eagerly. GSVHP enjoys the patronage of 1573 paying members, 10% of whom have given over $723,000.
The event began with a unanimous renewal for everyone on the board of trustees: Richard Blodgett, Kyung Choi Bordes, Cassie Glover, Anita Isola, Justine Leguizamo, Leslie Mason, Ruth McCoy, Andrew Paul, Robert Rogers, Allan Sperling, and the induction of two new members, Jessica Davis & John Lamb.
The annual report was led by Executive Director Andrew Berman who listed a slew of accomplishments and battles ongoing and yet to be had. Despite tireless work by preservationists, our historic city seems set on the relentless conveyor belt of time. As such, GVSHP’s work matters more now than ever. It is the greatest force standing between the village and those who would disregard rich history to cash in on lucrative real estate. Managed improperly, the development of luxury hotels and apartment buildings will destroy what made them so desirable in the first place: the sweat, culture and inspiration from millions of immigrants.
At its core, GVSHP is an education institution. It hosts 60 events a year that celebrate Lower East Side history and culture. Giving knowledge to the community is the fastest route to change. Frank Collerius states clearly, “Villagers know where their power is and how to get stuff done.”
Among the most notable of last years the successes was blocking air rights for two eighty-foot-tall towers on Jane street. The towers would have overwhelmed the original architecture, blocked out views of the river and lit the quiet street for 24 hours a day.
Awards were presented by the nationally accredited village poet Bob Holman. It was clear that he had fully embraced the task, beginning the ceremony with a poem he had written specifically for the occasion. The reading – rhythmic, lyrical and heartfelt – was a perfect way to set the mood.
GVSHP gave 7 Village Awards, and the recipients are as follows:
Founder of “The Little Underground Project” and beloved village activist.
B & H Dairy
127 2nd Ave, New York, NY 10003
Good Old Lower East Side (GOLES)
187 West 4th Street, New York, NY 10014
306 E 9th St, New York, NY 10003
The Public Theatre
425 Lafayette St, New York, NY 10003
Lenox Hill Greenwich Village, St. Vincent’s Triangle Park, NYC AIDS Memorial
The speeches all came from the heart, with the award winners remarking on how the support of the community has kept them going. Memorably, the speech by Olga Smigielska and husband Fawzy Abdelwahed owners of B & H Dairy remarked on the gas explosion that occurred March 26, 2015 at 121 Second Avenue destroying three buildings and killing two. The landlord had created an illegal gas line. B & H Dairy has been a staple in the neighborhood for more than seven decades as a kosher and dairy restaurant. Like many other restaurants on the block they were forced to close their doors. They re-opened in August of 2015 due to an amazing crowd sourcing efforts and many Lower East Side residents in attendance proudly wore their black shirts with green text that read “Challah! Por favor.’
By the end of the speech the crowd chanted out each word spelling C-H-A-L-L-A-H.
B&H is a vegetarian kosher diner owned by a Muslim and a Ukrainian, while the other restaurant to receive a Village Award, Patisserie Claude, is a Parisian Pastry shop run by Pablo Valdey, a Dominican. The diverse smorgasbord of culture and food is representative of the lower east side spirit.
The final recipient of the village award was Lenox Hill Greenwich Village, St. Vincent’s Triangle Park, NYC AIDS Memorial, a change in theme during an award ceremony that had previous only represented local villagers and long-time cultural institutions. An organization dedicated to preservation is not necessarily opposed to new development as long as it is appropriate. “If buildings such as these are to be replaced, their replacements must, as much as possible, respect the scale, character and variety of the area and not skew it so uniformly in the direction of larger buildings and new designs,” GVSHP said.
The memorial is a needed contribution to a neighborhood whose collective memory of the AIDS crisis had been long overlooked. This is the first monument in NYC to acknowledge the AIDS crisis, its loved ones and its victims.
Article written with help of Chris Coryat.