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As 35 Cooper Square is Dismantled, Activists Plan Wednesday “Funeral,” Future Strategy

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As we mentioned yesterday, preservation activists are planning a rally tomorrow night (6 p.m.), in front of 35 Cooper Square, the historic row house that is being demolished to make way for new development. The event is meant to mourn the loss of a treasured landmark, but also to galvanize the community for preservation battles still to come. After the jump, you can read a letter being circulated by the event’s leaders.

We come together as a community to mourn the loss of 35 Cooper Square and to call upon the City to take specific steps to insure that no more historic buildings are lost on the Bowery. The wanton demolition of this historic 1825 Federal-style house is a blatant reminder of how vulnerable the Bowery is to rampant out-of-scale development. [Last year, the distinctive upper floors of the Germania Bank Building (185 Bowery) were destroyed in order to preempt objections to a 30-story luxury hotel plan.]

The Bowery Alliance of Neighbors has identified and submitted to the Landmarks Preservation Commission 21 buildings recognized by historians and community members as top priorities for protection. They are the tangible survivors of three centuries of the Bowery’s rich and colorful history. Losing any of them would greatly diminish the physical evidence of the Bowery’s contributions to the city’s and the nation’s cultural and architectural history. By protecting these buildings, the City will be ensuring the bare minimum needed to keep the Bowery a real place instead of a convenient brand for real estate development.  Recognizing the dangers that threaten these buildings, we urge LPC Chair Tierney to schedule his promised meeting with us as soon as possible.

However, landmarking is not enough! The City must act to relieve the intense development pressure the area labors under. The east side of the Bowery is the release valve for all speculative energy focused on the neighborhood. There is a giant “BUILD BIG HERE” sign written in the air above the Bowery that only height limits can erase. Until the City lowers the allowable height to a reasonable level, we are going to see more and more luxury buildings growing higher and higher year by year. The City cannot continue to ignore the devastating impact overdevelopment is having on long-time residents, small businesses and the artists’ community that still exists on the Bowery. The only way to truly save the Bowery from becoming a non-place is to put fair and equitable heights on the entire east side of the street. The broad support for this has been expressed by some of our most prominent writers, artists, and business leaders, including Luc Sante, Philip Glass, and Keith (Balthazar) McNally, who has written, “Development in any neighborhood may be inevitable, but in as noted and distinctive an area as the Bowery, it is desirable only as long as it preserves the neighborhood’s character while enhancing its value” (letter to City Planning, 6-12-09).

With the Bowery poised to be listed on the State and National Register of Historic Places, the City cannot continue to ignore this street’s architectural, historical and cultural importance. The Bowery has played a seminal role in the emergence of tap dance, vaudeville, minstrel shows, abstract expressionism, Beat literature and punk rock. As the convergence point for multiple historic neighborhoods (Chinatown, Little Italy, NoHo, East Village and Lower East Side), it needs to be preserved and protected in order to maintain the flow and historic sense of place of all these unique areas.  As Pete Hamill stated at the candlelight vigil for 35 Cooper Square, “In order to make the present as rich as possible, you have to have a sense of the past….This is our inheritance.”

We, as a united community, call upon the City to:
· protect the Bowery’s remaining historical resources.
· change the sky’s-the-limit zoning on the Bowery’s east side to the more reasonable height caps that exist and help protect its west side.
· schedule a public hearing on the future of the Bowery.
· extend the proposed East Village Historic District study area to include portions of the Bowery.

As Amanda Burden, Chair of the City Planning Commission, has so aptly stated, “Once you lose a building, you lose character and history.” The City must now step up and save the character and history of the Bowery.

David Mulkins, Bowery Alliance of Neighbors

Victor Papa, Two Bridges Neighborhood Council

Simeon Bankoff, Historic Districts Council

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