Wednesday, July 23, 2008

35 Cooper Square

As the Cooper Square Hotel has risen and spread, it has engulfed the block of Bowery between 5th and 6th Streets. Two original buildings remain: the tenement home of poet Hettie Jones and 35 Cooper Square, a building with a long and interesting history.

That history has been painstakingly uncovered by artist and East Village resident Sally Young in an attempt to get #35 landmarked, thus saving it from the wrecking ball. Rumor has it, the hotel developers plan to have the building demolished. And Landmarks has turned Sally down, stating, "the property does not meet the criteria for designation."

photo: sally young, 2008

Originally called 391 Bowery, #35 was owned in the early 1800s by Nicholas William Stuyvesant, great-grandson of Peter Stuyvesant. When he died in 1833, the building passed through several hands, including an undertaker, a teacher, a hotelier, and a saloon owner.

my flickr

In the 20th century, it became a home for artists. Painter and photographer J. Forrest Vey lived there after WWII. He rented the upstairs dormer rooms for $5 apiece to people like Joel Grey, star of Cabaret, and Claude Brown, author of Manchild in the Promised Land.

Mr. Vey once broke into the attic, which had been sealed ever since a man hanged himself there. He found Civil War newspapers, a stove-pipe hat, a sign that said "5-cent Hot Whiskey," and a noose.

found in the attic

Beat poet Diane DiPrima moved into #35 in 1962. There she wrote many poems, and her memories of the place can be found in her memoir, Recollections of My Life as a Woman. She writes to Sally, "We were visited there by probably hundreds of artists and art patrons, including William Burroughs, Cecil Taylor, Frank O’Hara," John Weiners, Herbert Huncke, and Warhol Superstar Billy Name, who lived with DiPrima for a time.

Billy Name recalled in an email to Sally, "wooden broad plank floors and a very comfortable homey feeling from all the wood and open space and kitchen. and, as opposed to all the tenement buildings in its surrounds it actually looked like a 'house' from earlier america. looked and felt like it might have been the perfect home for walt should be designated a historic site and have a nice bronze plaque on the front."

Finally, the building made it into the news in 2004 (The Villager and the Times) when owner Cooper Union opted to paint over a 9/11 memorial mural and make room for advertising, against protests from the locals.

photo: hubert j. steed, 2004

The memorial has been erased and there won't be any bronze plaques. There probably won't even be a building to hang it on. #35 is one of a few lots on the block bought last year by a group of Cooper Square Hotel investors. One investor told The Observer, “These lots were to become, possibly, a restaurant-lounge and/or expansion to the Cooper hotel so we (Cooper investors) would be able to leverage the brand, amenities and staff of the Cooper Hotel next door."

In her memoir, DiPrima wrote, "From the moment when I first laid eyes on 35 Cooper Square, I knew it was the fulfillment of all those fantasies of art and the artist's life, la vie de boheme, harking all the way back to my high school years or before."

What will happen to such fantasies--and their dreamers--when all the 35 Cooper Squares of our city have been demolished and New York fails, again and again, to fulfill them?


Anonymous said...

I like how you focus on the history of this building. I feel more attached to it now, and angrier that New York doesn't want to preserve places like this.

That hotel is ugly and it looks like it belongs in Dubai more than New York.

It has an impersonal cold feeling to it that I don't trust or like.

Anonymous said...

This makes me terribly sad. I love that building; I really miss that WTC mural. It gave me a lot of solace after 9/11 and for some reason I thought it would be there forever. This little building mourned the death of other buildings - what buildings with soul will be left to mourn its passing? - BN

Anonymous said...

The relentless march of commerce marches over all things beautiful and full of whimsy in our city.

Ken Mac said...

Seems Bloomberg wants to erase NY's past to make it clean for all the foreign investors who will eventually own our city. Is there no end to the madness?

Anonymous said...

I cried when that mural was painted over. It was so beautiful, and paid a nice dignified tribute.

The mural has been made into Christmas cards though; I sent them last year. A small solace.

I can't believe how much is gone so fast. For some reason I feel like incredibly rapid change came right after the blackout of 2003. Looking back that time feels like the last time the neighborhood seemed innocent, and not overtaken.

Anonymous said...

Blackout of 2003?

You are kidding right?

Everything started to go downhill after the blackout of 1977.

Anonymous said...

Anon @2:48

Dude, I clearly stated "incredibly rapid change," meaning the mass destruction and gentrification of the entire EV. It's like I woke up from the last blackout and everything and everyone I knew was gone.

I didn't even say "downhill" -- and if you think the entire period post-1977 blackout, i.e., the 1980s to mid-1990s, was downhill, I don't agree, either.

I know this city's history, I was born in Brooklyn and grew up here. Since we are probably on the same ideological (and nostalgic) team, maybe you could kindly dial back the sarcasm. This city is full of enough rudeness.

Anonymous said...

Quite right. I like to count from September 11, since previous to that, gentrification, though extant, was not so obvious or advanced, though I recall within 2002 it was already highly noticable (though it's true it did't reach some neighborhoods until 2003 or 2004). In my neighborhood, for example, Columbous had already "discovered" my neighborhood, and his yunnie charges had a significant presence there (though there was none in say...June 2001).

LiberationNYC said...

It's a shame these developers are more concerned with their "brand" than they are with slowly swallowing a history-rich neighborhood one building at a time.

Anonymous said...

I didnt know about the landmarks hearing, I too miss the WTC mural..very spiritual, global & local. I always loved this bldg. Gives me a sense of place, esp since my family was here for a few generations, I didnt know about this specific rich history- thank you & Sally for the research

Anonymous said...

Everytime I don't think I can hate Mike Bloomberg more, something like this happens.

BBnet3000 said...

Buildings like this can be preserved even when a new building is built. Look at the original Hearst Building (maybe not a purist preservationists favorite example, ill admit) and the church underneath the Citicorp Center.

They could keep #35 Cooper Square as a restaurant attached to a new hotel expansion.

kopp said...

An Artist, Stan (Sobichek?) bought the building cheaply in the 70s, his studio was the attic and he lived on the second floor and collected rent from the various restaurants on the ground floor. I met him at DoJos in the 80s. He was a sweet man with an awful limp (childhood accident) He painted pictures for the walls of offices, high-end hotels--well done in various styles:impressionistic, abstract, realism, Hudson River school--you name it. Stan got good prices but he had no illusions that he was an "Atrist" On the floor where he lived, he had a pool table which he covered over for dinners. A trusting guy who others took advantage of. I think he died in the late 90s.

Richard Kopperdahl

Padraig said...

That's where the mural is now of the hands holding a framed "painting" of the NY skyline with paint splotches on it, right? Come on Landmarks. I've always thought that place is wonderful, and now that I know the history, I'm really upset that it's going.

Unknown said...

Yes, Stan lived there. I visited him. Don't remember who took me there but yes, what a nice man. i love this building and cant understand how landmarks could not make an exception. How can we impress on them that we are being let down and want their help?

tim said...

So many developments in the East Village have the air of insult about them. It's as if the developers, the Landmarks Commission, and Bloomberg just want to humiliate every last one of us. Magical places like 35 Cooper can never be replaced or replicated, but the present administration seems to feel a particular delight in destroying all historic aspects of a most historic neighborhood. This would NEVER happen in Rome or Paris!

Anonymous said...

"But all the good graffiti got painted over in time / she watched the last faceless chain replace the last five and dime / And she wondered if the only noble thing / ain't to just to get a big garden and plant it in the spring"