making history in the South Village

| 13 Dec 2016 | 12:33

The Landmarks Preservation Commission on Tuesday morning unanimously approved its 140th historic district. The new Sullivan-Thompson Historic District stretches from West Houston Street to Watts Street, with most of its buildings located between Thompson Street to the east and Sixth Avenue to the west. Its designation completes the South Village Historic District, which has been in the works for the last decade.

“Today’s landmark designation will preserve the neighborhood we have been fighting for a decade to protect from developers like Jared Kushner, who have recently bought up properties in this area,” Andrew Berman, executive director of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation, said in a statement. “The South Village embodies New York at the turn of the last century when it was awash with immigrants who, from modest beginnings, transformed our city.”

Berman’s organization was responsible for landmarking the first two phases of the historic district in 2010 and 2013. With significant help from Council Member Corey Johnson, they finally got the third phase on the LPC’s schedule earlier this fall. As part of negotiations over an impending redevelopment of the St. John’s Terminal involving a transfer of air rights from Pier 40, which many in the Chelsea community have vocally opposed, Johnson ensured that progress would at last be made on the Sullivan-Thompson section.

At a public hearing on Nov. 29, several property owners spoke out against landmarking the area, as they did not want to take on the extra costs associated with upkeep of landmarked buildings. They asked that their buildings, which they argued were not good examples of the neighborhood’s collective aesthetic anyway, be left out of the district. Corinne Engelbert, a researcher at the LPC, explained the commission’s justification for not doing so. “Since its inception, the commission has included non-contributing buildings within the borders of historic districts in an effort to avoid isolated, noncontiguous fragments that would undermine the continuity of the streetscapes as well as the sense of place,” Engelbert said. She added that the commission had received more than 400 letters in support of the designation.

Of the roughly 157 buildings in the Sullivan-Thompson Historic District, only 15 percent were built after 1931. The area is largely comprised of residential, tenement-style buildings that were once home to thriving Western European and African immigrant communities. The completed South Village Historic District now cuts a choppy path encompassing blocks as far north as West 4th Street with Watt Street as the southernmost border, stretching between Hudson Street to the west and Laguardia Place to the east.

Madeleine Thompson can be reached at