As Development Heats Up, Landmarked Lower East Side Historic District Isn’t Any Closer to Happening

Posted on: July 21st, 2016 at 9:33 am by

This image has been archived or removed.

Bargain District signage, August 2010

With the city’s so-called “backlog” initiative firmly in the rearview, it’s time to refocus.

You’ll recall that several local grassroots preservationists continue the battle to protect an historically-significant swath of Lower East Side territory. Led by the Lower East Side Preservation Initiative and Friends of the Lower East Side, the consortium of area groups is pushing to instate a landmarked Historic District south of Delancey Street before it’s too late. Development pressures continue to chip away at the fabric of the neighborhood (e.g. Essex Crossing), and such designation would create landmark protections for the largely low-rise character of the neighborhood. Arguably its greatest asset.

There is some momentum. It was reported last November that Tenement Museum co-founders Ruth Abram and Anita Jacobson currently support the landmarking measure.

That the Lower East Side Partnership (formerly, Business Improvement District) doesn’t support the designation of a broad historic district is not surprising. Its function from the very beginning – founded in 1991 by Sion Misrahi to re-brand the area as a “bargain district” – is to prop up the neighborhood stakeholders. Landmark status for these streets below Delancey would effectively limit the take; it won’t be as easy to knock down century-old tenements and/or make building modifications.

This image has been archived or removed.

Executive Director of the Partnership, Tim Laughlin, previously provided the following statement explaining their opposing position, arguing that a “blanket” designation would do more harm to the mom-and-pop landlords in the neighborhood.

We look forward to a continued dialogue about the best ways that we can preserve the unique architectural character of our community, we are eager to review any proposal to that effect. However, it remains our firm belief that a blanket historic district designation is not the right approach for the Lower East Side. Such a regulatory scheme will likely have unintended consequences that could result in the opposite of the desired effect.

Small property owners, in particular those that only own a single building, are already overburdened and struggling to keep their buildings operating. Additionally, costs associated with such a designation will mean that storefront rents will need to increase in order to comply with costly landmark regulations. We remain committed to seeking a path forward that achieves the goal of preserving cornices and exterior facades without having negative impacts on storefronts and commercial activity. It is often easier to get things done with a carrot rather than a stick; clearly an overly burdensome and extremely expensive blanket set of regulations is not the best way to encourage small property owners to continue operating their buildings.

This image has been archived or removed.

Still absent from the list of supporters, though, is the Tenement Museum, which, coincidentally just began renovating its 103 Orchard facility. The organization had initially proposed such a district ten years ago, yet reversed course amid pressure from building owners. It’s a glaring absence. Looks like they’re doubling down. The institution is instead throwing in its lot with the Lower East Side Partnership.

“We are aware of the full range of community interests and we are currently letting the LES Business Improvement District take the lead on the initiative,” noted Jon Pace of the Tenement Museum in a dated press statement.

Touting the slogan, “Revealing the past, challenging the future,” the museum’s position doesn’t totally compute. Its whole bread-and-butter deals with neighborhood preservation and history. What’s more, don’t you find it ironic that the museum co-founders Ruth Abram and Anita Jacobson just threw their collective weight behind the proposal?

This image has been archived or removed.

Rendering of 100 Norfolk St, sitting on the ashes of Ratner’s

The LESPI, for its part, continues the quest. “In the months ahead we’ll continue to build on our support for a new district, which now includes more than 35 organization supporters and 500 petition signatures,” President Richard Moses tells us.

“We’re hoping that the BID and the Tenement Museum will come around to see that historic buildings bring people to an area, and make them want to stay there.  The alternative to preserving the historic buildings – mass demolitions then construction of faceless glass boxes – has never been a draw.”

Meanwhile, it’s also worth mentioning that there is already a Lower East Side Historic District in what’s now considered the East Village. That area was earmarked back in 2012.

Recent Stories

Meow Parlour Returns from Pandemic Shutter with Help from Petco Prize

Eighteen months suffering a pandemic purgatory, the Meow Parlour finally returns to the Lower East Side. The seven-year-old cat cafe reopened at 46 Hester Street two weeks ago, thus concluding a closure that began at the outset of the pandemic in March 2020. Meow is in soft relaunch mode, open on Saturdays and Sundays from […]

Fifteen-Story Condo Tower Slated for Lower Orchard Street

The southerly base of Orchard Street is about to receive some additional heft. Fifteen stories’ worth, in fact. The dormant building at 24 Orchard Street will meet the wrecking ball in due course. The property itself changed hands in November 2020 for $6.7 million, and now the listed owner, she’ll entity NNYY LLC, is planning […]

Photographer Captures Three Years Passing by the Former Essex Market

As the former Essex Street Market buildings continue to devolve into decrepitude, out come the artists, taggers, and the like. Commenting on the “fast transition” of the Lower East Side and its residents, photographer Kristofer Dan-Bergman over the weekend pasted a series of posters at 120 Essex Street. The project is called “LESWall(k),” with each […]

Cafe Skye Joins Clinton Street Dining Scene

The windmill stopped, but the sky is here. Rather, Skye. The new cafe recently opened in the narrow storefront at 43 Clinton Street, which previously housed Windmill, the sister location of Le French Diner. Originally from the Atlanta area, Skye Cafe owner Cameron Bean “hopes to blend the warm qualities of southern hospitality with the […]

Queens Man Arrested in Connection with Stabbing Death of Grubhub Delivery Worker on LES

Police announced Friday night the arrest of the suspect wanted in connection with the murder of a Grubhub deliveryman last week. Joseph Sandoval, 23, from Jamaica, Queens, was collared Thursday and charged with one count of murder in the stabbing death of Sala Miah. As reported, Miah had taken a post-shift break in Sara D. […]