Thursday, February 3, 2011

#35's Personal Jane Jacobs

When we last checked in with artist and community activist Sally Young, she was a one-woman force to be reckoned with, struggling to save 35 Cooper Square single-handedly. Recently, over 100 people showed up at a rally for the historic building. I talked to Sally this week to find out more about how the momentum has grown over the years and what's in store for this piece of Lower East Side history.

Sally Young

I'm really flabbergasted at the amount of interest that has grown over this house," she told me. "I think a lot of people had looked at it for years and, like me, just assumed it must be landmarked.” But the oldest building on Cooper Square, one of the oldest of the Bowery, wasn't protected at all. The 1825 Federal-style house--once the home of Stuyvesants, Beat poets, and artists--became evermore vulnerable when its neighbors were destroyed for the controversial Cooper Square Hotel.

Sally & her students, photo: Louise Millmann

Sally first became interested in #35 in 2006 when she was working on a show called “Art in Odd Places.” She said, “The show was about the block between 5th and 6th Streets being demolished to make way for the Cooper Square Hotel. I put up a display in front of my apartment building that had a big wooden book with photos and journal entries about the destruction of this block. This is when I started researching #35."

The little house became a passion for Sally. She decided to petition the Landmarks Preservation Commission to save it from destruction. She got advice from the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation (GVSHP) and got in touch with the artists who had passed through #35, including poet Diane DiPrima and photographer Billy Name. She spoke to a man who’d spent his childhood in the building. Everything she discovered about #35 went into the petition. “It was a lot of work,” she said, “and then it was rejected.”

Sally's art

But Sally didn’t give up. She joined the burgeoning Bowery Alliance of Neighbors (BAN) and inspired others to help save the little building. Since her first effort at landmarking, she says, “There is this energy out there, a convergence of energy. The rapid changes to the East Village and Bowery area have sped up the process of making people more aware” of the losses faced by the neighborhood. Now, she’s no longer working alone. She is part of a team assisted by the members of BAN, GVSHP, the Historic Districts' Council (HDC), and the Lower East Side Preservation Initiative (LESPI).

“Strength is in numbers with people working together, and helping each other,” says Sally. “This is what's happening now and I think it's great. The support letters we got from so many elected officials is amazing.”

Before the hotel: everystreetinmanhattan's flickr

You can still sign the petition, but as for the house being saved, Sally tells me, “it doesn't look good. The original owners of the Cooper Square Hotel had stated in a public meeting that they wouldn't tear down the little house, and they didn't, but then they foreclosed and the new owners sold the three lots, including the house.” #35 went, with the lot next to it, for $8.5 million.

She wishes that the LPC would do what the community wants done in this case, and not what the new owner wants. “It's sad,” she says, “everything is about money, and in the end, many of these new buildings are not only eyesores, they often fail.”

photo: sally young, 2008

"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." --Diane DiPrima


Bowery Boy said...

From what I've read I see no mention of the new owners deciding to tear down #35. Maybe I'm naive, but has anyone asked them to preserve the building? Is that too much to ask?

Laura Goggin Photography said...

I'm hoping that sinkhole proves to be an obstacle to tearing this building down. I find it strange that' we've not been able to gather any new information on it - it doesn't look as if any work has been done to fix what ever is going wrong on that corner.

Anyway, thanks to Sally for all her hard work!

Anonymous said...

Thanks so much to Sally for all her hard work. The outcome is beyond disappointing, but not at all surprising.