Francis Goldin spoke at a rally on the SPURA site in 2019.
You may have seen the tributes in the past week to Frances Goldin, the legendary Lower East Side community activist who died at the age of 95. Goldin was co-founder of the Cooper Square Committee and the Lower East Side Joint Planning Council. In an obituary, The New York Times called Goldin “an unreconstructed socialist… an advocate for affordable housing and a staunch defender of the poor.”
She was also a key figure in the epic four-decade-long battle for the redevelopment of the Seward Park Urban Renewal Area (SPURA). In 2018, the first building to be completed as part of the mixed-income project, 175 Delancey St., was named in her honor.
At a rally in 2009 on Suffolk Street, Goldin did not mince words about the reasons the Seward Park site remained fallow for so many years, saying redevelopment “hasn’t happened because the people who ran the (Grand Street) co-ops… didn’t want to be surrounded by tenants who were darker skinned and spoke Spanish. That is racism. That is ugly. That is anti-humanitarian.”
The community eventually compromised in 2011, agreeing to build 50% affordable housing on the SPURA sites. It wasn’t everything Goldin and other affordable housing activists wanted, but as she said at the time, the deal is “not perfect but better than nothing… Let’s see this thing built for ourselves and our children.”
During a ceremony at The Frances Goldin Senior Apartments two years ago, she said, “I am honored to have my name associated with this beautiful building… (which) will provide quality, accessible housing to 100 of my deserved neighbors. Thank you for this honor!”
On Twitter, City Council member Margaret Chin said, “Rest in power, Frances. She was an unapologetic believer in expanding access to housing and was devoted to causes that united the diverse communities in LES. These causes are not lost. It’s up to us to keep this movement alive.”
U.S. Rep. Nydia Velazquez added, “RIP FrancesGoldin. Frances always fought the good fight and her strong sense of community was animated by her principles of fairness and inclusion. The #LES is a better place because of this fighter who refused to be intimidated by the establishment.”
The new Essex Market has been open for about six months, and the old historic Essex Street Market building on the north side of Delancey Street will soon by knocked down to make room for yet another new apartment building as part of Essex Crossing. For the past couple of months, the Cuchifritos Gallery/Artists Alliance hosted a final exhibition in the abandoned, doomed 80 year-old structure (it closed this past weekend).
The installation, 00 00 00 00 00 [Essex Street Retail Market], was the creation of Italian artist Andrea Nacciarriti. Photographer Roger Bultot viewed the exhibition and shared a collection of images with us. As Artists Alliance explained on its website:
The history of Essex Street Market is deeply ingrained in the history of New York City. Along every wall, inch of floor, and vendor display, one can find traces of the generations of residents who moved through the space. Responding to the building’s currently abandoned state, Nacciarriti will work inside of the historic location to realize a site-responsive intervention that reacts to existing environmental conditions—natural and artificial light, empty corridors, widespread silences—and introduces external objects produced by the artist. Marking Cuchifritos Gallery + Project Space’s very last show in its old home, this final work unfolds along a solitary and mysterious path throughout the Market. A series of quiet and subtle gestures, these disappearing interventions become a paradox; the architecture’s fictional resistance to its impending destruction.
After signing a waiver, visitors equipped with flashlights had the chance to explore the pitch-black environment practically alone. The low visibility was pierced by a bright white cube: the former Cuchifritos gallery, now housed in the location across the street. Its door and partitions were ripped away in a pile nearby, echoing other architectural instances of institutional critique removing gallery facades or opening up such hermetic spaces. The only foreign object introduced to the building was a representation of time in the form of a mysterious, red digital clock, reminiscent of the giant one in Union Square, counting down presumably to the end of the show’s run and thus civilian access.
Cuchifritos Gallery has relocated to the new market. You can see the current exhibition schedule here.
The other day in The New York Times, architecture critic Michael Kimmelman called the Essex Crossing project, “one of New York’s most promising new mixed-use developments.” He even dubbed it the “anti-Hudson Yards.” The Lower East Side mega-project, with its “boxy, mostly bland exteriors,” did not win him over for its aesthetics, but because it is the product of, “long years of ground-up neighborhood consultation and holistic planning.”
Kimmelman makes some legitimate points about Essex Crossing, but his review contains at least one major factual error and several mischaracterizations. Let’s take a closer look.
In recounting the contentious history of the Seward Park Urban Renewal Area (SPURA), he noted that former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and his pal, William Rapfogel, successfully blocked affordable housing from being built on the sites for decades. Kimmelman wrote, “Mayor after mayor failed to make headway. Ultimately, Mr. Silver was convicted on corruption charges, Mr. Rapfogel went to prison for a kickback scheme and a path cleared for Essex Crossing…”
Sheldon Silver on Grand Street in 2011.
That’s just not what happened. Silver was arrested in January of 2015, four years after a community task force agreed on development guidelines, a framework that Silver endorsed at the time (the project developers were named in September of 2013). His arrest and conviction have cast Silver’s role in the Seward Park saga in a different and unsavory light, but it’s simply wrong to assert that Essex Crossing happened as a result of his downfall.
This may seem like a trivial matter, but it really isn’t. The project is a reality today because a diverse collection of local activists came together to finally break an impasse that had vexed the community for four decades. They spent more than three years in often tense negotiations, collaborating with city planning and housing officials, to finally make a deal. After Community Board 3 approved the SPURA planning guidelines in January of 2011, there were still many hurdles to clear for the project to win final approval. But this was the most critical step. Federal prosecutors can obviously claim credit for taking Silver down. It was members of the Lower East Side community, however, who cleared the way for redevelopment of the Seward Park sites.
While Kimmelman wrote that, “Essex Crossing results from long years of ground-up neighborhood consultation and holistic planning,” he downplayed the role played by the community in shaping the project as it exists today. It’s true that the development team — Delancey Street Associates — has worked collaboratively with neighborhood leaders and embraced the local vision for the Seward Park sites. But what gets lost in the Times’ piece is this unambiguous fact: the SPURA Task Force laid out in detail what the project would become.
The more-or-less 50/50 mix between market rate and below-market rate apartments? Protections for the Essex Street Market vendors? Assurances that former SPURA site tenants would have first dibs on affordable apartments? A publicly accessible park on Broome Street? A commitment to making sure there’s no “poor door” at Essex Crossing and that market rate apartments and affordable apartments are integrated? Buildings that feature varied architectural styles and are contextual to the neighborhood? A new grocery store? All of these features were spelled out in excruciating detail in the community’s planning and design guidelines.
Now Delancey Street Associates has delivered on the plan and city officials from both the Bloomberg and de Blasio administrations deserve some credit for making sure of that. And the developers have added some of their own innovations. They were required to create a new, expanded home for the Essex Market. To their credit, they not only ensured that the market serves as a centerpiece of the whole project, but they also committed to creating the Market Line, a subterranean shopping pavilion under three Essex Crossing buildings that is meant to showcase unique, small-scale New York-centric businesses. Time will tell whether both the Market Line and the new Essex Market will be successful. Concerns have been raised lately about a glut of food halls across the city; they’re seemingly an amenity that every high-profile mega-project must have! But with vendors like the Pickle Guys, Nom Wah, Veselka and Essex Pearl, you can’t say the developers are not making an effort to keep the Market Line local.
Kimmelman points out that the developers, in a savvy move, decided to deliver many of the community benefits (most of the affordable housing, a medical center, the Essex Market, etc.) in the early phases of construction. He also makes this point:
The project’s developers expect to rake in plenty of cash from all the market-rate condos, apartment rentals and commercial office and retail spaces. Rising real estate values on the Lower East Side have accelerated neighborhood gentrification but also helped subsidize the project’s abundance of affordable housing and community services. I was curious to learn that Mayor Bill de Blasio hasn’t yet showed up for any of the official openings at Essex Crossing. Its profitability makes a good argument for demanding more in the way of public benefits from other large-scale private developments.
There may be some truth in this assertion, but here again Kimmelman is only telling part of the story. The city always envisioned the Seward Park project as a self-sustaining development which did not rely on a lot of city subsidies. The market rate apartments and commercial rents do help fund the affordable housing and community amenities. But here’s a huge caveat. The developers purchased the SPURA land for around $500 million, perhaps half what it was worth at the time. City officials always said that this discounted price served as a kind of subsidy of its own in which the developers agreed to provide affordable housing and other goodies for the community in exchange for the bargain land deal. Could developers in projects across the city provide more benefits to local communities? Of course they could. But it’s deceptive to portray Essex Crossing as just another private development. It is being built on formerly public land.
Renderings show the East River waterfront with four new large-scale towers.
One last point. Kimmelman wrote:
If you have been anywhere near the Lower East Side lately you could hardly have failed to notice the egregious new supertall that the opportunistic developer called Extell has imposed some blocks away along the waterfront around the Brooklyn and Manhattan bridges. Other developers are now bidding to erect more towers there. Taking advantage of anomalous zoning regulations, these projects have provoked some very loud, angry protests from residents who feel the buildings are being shoved down the throats of a largely poor, immigrant, low- and mid-rise community.
Really? Who are those “other developers” seeking to build more “supertall” towers on the waterfront? As many Lower East Siders know, the co-developer of one of these projects is L+M Development Partners, a lead partner in the Essex Crossing development consortium. Local activists and community groups are now in court trying to block the waterfront projects. Wasn’t it kind of important to acknowledge this?
A lot of Lower East Side residents have mixed feelings about Essex Crossing. We can appreciate what has been brought to the neighborhood: more affordable housing, a sustainable Essex Market (we hope), Trader Joe’s! At the same time, everyone recognizes that the Lower East Side, one of New York’s last authentic neighborhoods, will never be the same. The project is without question an engine of gentrification. Many locals would agree that Essex Crossing is a “model development.” We can acknowledge that without buying into faulty narratives about how the project came to fruition over the past decade.
Image: Nick Lawrence, Soto Family apartment, October 1969. Silver gelatin print.
Now that the Artists Alliance gallery and project space, Cuchifritos, is settled in at the new Essex Market at 88 Essex Street, they are taking a close look into some of the history of this new location (formerly known as SPURA, the Seward Park Urban Renewal Area). Their current show, “Keep Me Nearby,” which closes Sunday, July 20th, features six never-before-seen images by photographer Nick Lawrence of the “lived-in apartments that were demolished at SPURA in the late 1960s and early 1970s bring us into homes and lives in 1969.”
Four of these images were taken in the family apartment of Angel Soto, another, with its vivid declaration of “Latin + Soul,” is from a nearby tenement, and the last hints at what was to come: a staircase in 145 Clinton Street, boarded up and awaiting demolition. Nick came to make these photographs while he was an art teacher at a local junior high school, and while pursuing a larger project photographing the teenagers he came to know on the Lower East Side. We are lucky that a few of those teenagers brought him into their homes, and took him on forays into the tinned up buildings around the neighborhood. We are lucky that he had the presence of mind to make these photographs, and to have kept them safely, able to unearth them when in her research for Contested City Gabrielle came asking if perhaps he might have a photograph of anyone’s home at SPURA. To have documentation of spaces of life in the midst of urban renewal is rare, and the meaning of these photographs is both derived from everything that happened at SPURA after they were made, and from the way that many of us can see our own homes and families reflected in them…
Cuchifritos is also hosting walking tours as part of “Layered SPURA,” an ongoing project from artist and urbanist Gabrielle Bendiner-Viani. They write:
Ten years ago, artist and urbanist Gabrielle Bendiner-Viani was invited to enter this tense community to collaborate on a new approach to planning through public history and public art. Created in a multi-year collaboration with community activists GOLES and SPARC, and her students at the New School, the exhibitions and performative guided tours of Bendiner-Viani’s “Layered SPURA” project provided new opportunities for dialogue about the past, present, and future of the neighborhood.
A new Trader Joe’s, Target and hundreds of new apartments (some luxury, some below-market rate) are the most obvious signs that the Lower East Side is undergoing dramatic change. But two community organizations are about to remind us that long before Essex Crossing came along, there was SPURA — the Seward Park Urban Renewal Area. Imagining the LES: Creating Community is coming up Saturday, Nov. 3. Here’s more from the organizers, the Seward Park Area Redevelopment Coalition (SPARC) and Below the Grid lab:
On Saturday, November 3rd from 2:00 to 5:00pm, SPARC and Below the Grid Lab will host Imagining the LES: Creating Community, a day of activities to celebrate the past, present, and future of the SPURA community (now officially renamed Essex Crossing). Fifty (50) years ago a vibrant community of multi-racial/ethnic residents and the tenement buildings they inhabited was destroyed by Urban Renewal. Now a new community of mixed income buildings–including 500 affordable apartments–is rising from these empty lots. Today’s event attempts to begin to knit together the old and new and imagine a strong vision of a more equitable and just neighborhood..
Imagining the LES: Creating Community, will take place on Saturday November 3rd from 2-5pm in the 4th floor Community Center of the Frances Goldin Senior Building: entrance to the event is through the GrandLo Café at 168 Broome St. Suffolk St, between Grand St & Broome St. There will be food and music and activities to include: painting of banners, oral history interviews of residents, and performances from local arts groups. Neighborhood organizations will have tables announcing their programming. A survey will be distributed for attendees to voice their future neighborhood priorities and interests. We intend to bring together old and new residents to enjoy the activities, meet each other and engage in conversation: “How do we honor the past with a more just future?” “How do we bring together the old and the new?,” and “How do we imagine a truly equal city?”
This exciting and vibrant day is the official launch of the SPURA Living History Project, an initiative of SPARC and Below the Grid Lab to raise the profile of this complex history, inspire a new integrated present and future, and with it a new generation of activists and organizers who will carry the legacy of the Lower East Side into the next fifty years!
By the fall, the first phase of the Essex Crossing project in the former Seward Park Urban Renewal Area (SPURA) will be mostly completed. So it’s a good time to look back on the long and turbulent history of the Lower East Side development sites. A few organizations are coming together to do just that on Saturday Aug. 4.
“Imagining the LES Block Party” will take place from 5-10 p.m. on Norfolk Street (between Grand and Broome streets). Have a look at the Facebook invite:
SPARC (Seward Park Area Redevelopment Coalition), Below the Grid Lab and The Illuminator will host Imagining the LES Block Party, a day of activities to celebrate the past, present, and future of the SPURA community (now renamed Essex Crossing). Fifty years ago a vibrant community of multi-racial/ethnic residents and the tenement buildings they inhabited was destroyed by Urban Renewal. Now a new community of mixed income buildings–including 500 affordable apartments–is rising from these empty lots. Today’s event attempts to begin to knit together the old and new and imagine a strong vision of a more equitable and just neighborhood… There will be food, music and activities including: an interactive historical walking tour featuring former residents of SPURA; chalking on the sidewalks; painting of banners; oral history interviews; and dance & theatre performances from local arts organizations. The day will culminate in a series of large projections by artist collective The Illuminator that will feature historic photos of the neighborhood and its people, and raise questions to engage attendees in conversation: “How do we honor the past with a more just future?,” “How do we bring together the old and the new?,” and “How do we imagine a truly equal city?” This exciting and vibrant day is the official launch of the SPURA Living History Project, an initiative of SPARC and Below the Grid Lab to raise the profile of this complex history, inspire a new integrated present and future, and with it a new generation of activists and organizers who will carry the legacy of the Lower East Side into the next fifty years!
The Essex Crossing development project is obviously changing the neighborhood in dramatic ways. A current show at the Hionas Gallery recalls a time, three decades ago, when the former urban renewal site was targeted not for redevelopment — but for radical art.
The longtime East Village artist, Robert Goldman (aka Bobby G), was a co-founder of the activist arts organization ABC No Rio. He was one of the instigators of The Real Estate Show in 1979, in which artists took over a padlocked Delancey Street building to make a statement about the city’s pro-developer policies.
“At No Rio in those early years,” Peter Hionas explains, “(Goldman) engaged the local youth. He had discussions, drawing parties, made videos, and painted their portraits…” Last month, the Crown Heights Gallery (it was formerly located on the Lower East Side), debuted Bobby G: 1984. It includes individual paintings based on a 50-foot mural painted on an abandoned building at Delancey and Suffolk streets (now Essex Crossing site 3, which is under construction).
1984 comprises a selection of works from Bobby G’s acclaimed “Youth of the Lower East Side” portrait series, painted in the early 1980s. The seemingly stoic subjects are most notable for the artist’s use of a thin solution of silver radiator paint, which frames the postured contours of his figures then drips downward with abandon, lending each standalone portrait a vibrancy and gravitas. This is the first time in more than 30 years these works have been exhibited in public.
Back in 2014, the Lower East Side’s James Fuentes Gallery organized a group exhibition centered on the Real Estate Show. You can read about that here. ABC No Rio is working towards constructing a new building at 156 Rivington St., a site that it has occupied since 1980. The organization’s decaying tenement was demolished early last year.
As we reported yesterday, six remaining tenants at 400 Grand Street, which will be demolished next year to make way for the Essex Crossing project, are fighting for relocation rights. But another tenant in the building, the Lower East Side Jewish Conservancy, is also concerned about its future.
Several residents of 400 Grand Street, which is scheduled to be demolished to make way for the Essex Crossing development, say they continue to get the run-around by the city. Last night, they turned to Community Board 3 for help.
This week we have been following the legal back and forth between the NYC Economic Development Corp.(EDC) and a longtime vendor at the Essex Street Market. Last night, members of Community Board 3 briefly discussed the situation and the broader issue of protections for businesses at the market.