This weekly feature spotlights a wide variety of people who live and work on the Lower East Side. If you know someone you would like to suggest be featured in “My LES,” please email us here.
What do you do?
For the past 20 years, I have served as the Senior Pastor of Iglesia Cristiana Primitiva on East Broadway. This evangelical church has been part of the LES for more than 58 years.
I spent 17 years with IBM, the last twelve on Wall Street. It was a great company to work for and my time with them was very satisfying. I had no logical reason to leave that management position other than this tugging in my heart to serve people. In fact the year that I resigned (1991) was the most productive for me and profitable for the banking division where I worked. But sometimes you have to follow your heart and not your pocketbook.
After much reflection, prayer and processing with my wife and family, I made the transition. I started at the church not as the Senior Pastor, but as one of the Associate Pastors. Once onboard I on went back to school and completed a seminary masters degree and went on to earn a doctorate in urban ministry. I have the most thrilling job that anyone can hope for. I would not change a thing.
Additionally, I am the Chairperson of Vision Urbana, a community based non profit organization in the Lower East Side. I also am an adjunct seminary professor.
How long have you lived on the LES?
I have lived in the LES most of my life. My family settled at Pitt Street in 1953, when I was just months old. With the exception of a couple of years in Brooklyn and then Queens, I have lived in LES the rest of the time…I am 58 years old. My wife and I have lived in Seward Park Coop for more than 30 years.
Favorite block in the hood?
I love the vibrancy of the LES. But my favorite street is East Broadway, where I live. These short city blocks are rich in history and culture.
Favorite date spot in the hood
My wife and I like to walk through the neighborhood…especially in warmer weather. The waterfront is particularly appealing to us.
Favorite coffee in the hood?
Without a doubt, Pushcart Coffee at 221 East Broadway (Clinton St). There are other very nice places, but nothing beats that warm atmosphere and pleasant conversation that they offer. It also helps that they are right across the street from my home and just up the block from my church office.
Favorite slice in the hood?
NYC is a great pizza town. So, depending on where we are in Manhattan when the urge hits us we pick up a slice or two. But not too often.
Where do you take your visitors when they’re here?
I like to walk with visitors through the LES. Since I have been here so many years, I like sharing with them the changes that I have witnessed through the years. My walk down East Broadway includes a stop in front of the House of Sages at Montgomery St. This is a place where the more senior orthodoxy rabbis live.
I also point out the Educational Alliance and the various sites of the Henry Street Settlement and the impact that these organizations had on shaping life here in the LES. On Grand Street I have to stop at the Playhouse on Pitt Street. And of course, I take them to the South Street Seaport.
Favorite place to eat dinner in the hood?
My wife and I are careful eaters, preferring organic, gluten-free foods. Although our selection is limited, the changes in the LES continue to give us more options. I cook, so I prepare most of our meals at home.
How has the neighborhood changed in the last few years?
Gentrification continues to sweep across the LES. Some of this have been good, especially for merchants and the small businesses that have emerged. For others like seniors living on fixed income, the neighborhood is becoming more and more foreign to them. An influx of affluency had created an imaginary social class wall. This is sad.
What has changed since you moved here that you like?
The best thing about NYC and the LES in particular is that we live in the safest big city in the country. No doubt we have some problems with crime, but overall we are safe. The LES feels like a small village. I like this about our community.
What would you like to see change?
The development of SPURA on Delancey Street in a way that will honor the original plan for so many displaced families that lived at the site more that 40 years ago. I was an eye witness to the clearing of all those tenements, small business and other buildings that were leveled to make room for an urban development plan of expansion for the LES. Regrettably, a viable plan has been dormant for too long. And many of the displaced families might never have an opportunity to return, as promised.
Because of my involvement in the community, I have heard, seen and been a part of many plans for the development of the site. All with advantages and disadvantages. My position today is that we need to get going (with) some plan now. Too many years of inactivity have gone by. The empty lots are eye sores that do not showcase the true harmony and spirit of cooperation that is a trademark for the LES.
Favorite LES memory?
My favorite memories are attending grade school at PS 4 on Pitt Street, middle school at JHS 65 on Forsythe Street, high school at Seward Park High School on Grand Street. The attending college at Baruch on 23rd Street and Pace University at Park Row. And swimming at the Fish Pool at Houston Street. But my very favorite LES memory is playing at the East River Park where my parents took us when we were so young.
Pastor Rivera…thank you for sharing the sentiments of many of us who have lived on the LES all of our lives and who have been feeling like we are being driven out of our community. As for SPURA, I was raised on that property until my early teens and wonder if any of us who lived there will be given a chance to return to our true roots. I have been waiting since I was 15 years old, when the area was completely destroyed and our neighbors scattered, in some casses never to be seen again. Peace and Blessings!
OMG not many people are still around that went to PS4 my dad had a business on Pitt and we lived on Broome St across from the seltzer warehouse. Did you have Ms. Lesparance as a teacher – Ms Castro was the asst principal my god the memories LES during the bad and good we always found a way to make our day fun
Pastor Mark, u almost made me cry my eyes out….its been almost 11 years since i left next door from church…i miss the old neighb orhood and my old and dear friends….glad to see you and your wife and family are doing well…lots of love….hope to see you on my next visit to les and east broadway
What a wonderful story on my pastor. He is a great man of God and he hit many key points about the lower east side. Many of us moved out for a short time because there were no apartments available but we surely came back to our roots. Thanks for the great article. Judy
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