10 May 2009

Greenwich Village Fights Landmarks Commission Attack on Mural

On the side of 88 Perry Street, the old building at the corner of Bleecker in Greenwich Village, there's an beautiful blue-and-white mosaic in the shape of the door. In the center, it says "Ano 1868." The story goes that, when the building was renovated in 1972, the owners commissioned Senior Rodrigues, an artist from Seville, to created a mural for a recessed part of the wall. Since then, it's become a kind of a local landmark. People use the mural as a place to meet and such like that.

Problem is, the alteration was not properly recorded with the Landmarks Commission. And now—after 37 years of letting it be—the commission wants the owner of 88 Perry Street to remove the mosaic and restore the building to its original 1972 appearance.

Now, this decision would make sense if the owner had done something abhorrently ugly to the old building back in 1972. But he added something beautiful, instead. Certainly, he should have checked in with the Commission before doing so; every landlord of a landmarked building should. But at this point, the mural should be grandfathered in as a more recent part of the building's colorful Village history.

A lot of Villagers think so, too. A petition is being circulated around the neighborhood in favor of saving the mosaic. Locals are busy cooking up other ways to put pressure on the Commission, as well. The West Village Committee, elected officials and Community Board 2 are being asked to help.

As one local aptly stated it to Lost City: "My neighbors and I feel that the Landmarks Commission should be busy safeguarding the Village from oversize commercial overdevelopment. This is what truly matters! Instead they are advocating the removal of this charming little mural."

UPDATE: There's further reporting on this matter on Curbed, in which the Commission seems to be taken a somewhat softer, if not exactly less silly, stand on the matter.


Blayze said...

I can't believe the Landmarks Commisson is wasting it's time over such a quaint little mural. With the destruction of so many historic buildings in the area, it couldn't find a better way to use it's resources.

I hope the mural stays, it looks like it could have easily been apart of the original building. It's not graffiti, it's not something totally abstract and stupidly modern.

Really, it survived for this long, why erase such a nice little piece of art? Really?

Ken Mac said...

this is stunning. Don't these morons have any sense of taste whatsoever? How did they get their jobs? I have wondered about this beautiful mural many times; it's one of those beautiful details that makes the Village special. These idiots at Landmark should be, as we say down south, "strung up." Or at least whacked. What a waste of time like Blayze said, as our city vanishes.

Ralph Adams Cram said...


First of all, why have you posted a comment that advocates the lynching, if not outright murder, of public servants? Is that the kind of puerile, childish "discussion" that you're hoping to foster on your site? Frankly, I think you'd be much better served by excluding the hostile rantings of lunatics from your website.

Secondly, once again, you're writing about the Landmarks Commission without knowing a damned thing about it.

Every day in this city's historic districts, building owners make changes to their properties without LPC approval. I'm sure you understand why this can be a problem: if we're going to have historic districts--that is, districts in which significant historic and architectural features are protected from willy-nilly removal or alteration--you can't just let owners go around making whatever changes they like without LPC approval. Makes sense, no? Without LPC oversight, you've got no protection. And you do want historic districts protected from inappropriate changes, don't you?

So then, it also makes sense that when owners make changes without LPC approval, there has to be some way of addressing the situation. And there is. An owner who makes unauthorized changes receives a violation from the Commission. That owner can then propose work that will correct the violation, or apply to receive approval for the alteration after the fact. This approval may be granted by the agency's commissioners at a public hearing, taking into account public testimony that is presented there.

So, that's how the law works. The LPC isn't picking on the owner of 88 Perry, but having been informed of a change that occurred without its approval, the agency had no choice but to issue a violation. In other words, LPC HAS SIMPLY BEEN FOLLOWING THE LAW. In turn, the owner is apparently going to ask for the mural to be approved after the fact. Given the community's stance on this issue, it's not unlikely that the Commission will come down on the owner's side.

In short, your assertion that "the commission wants the owner of 88 Perry Street to remove the mosaic" is patently wrong, and demonstrates a complete ignorance of the workings of the Landmarks Commission. In the future, before you comment on these kinds of things, please do your readers a service and do some research and get your facts straight. You totally blew it here.

PS: In case you haven't learning anything from the last, say, 200 years of American history, talk about "stringing people up" isn't funny. My people have been strung up in this country (fortunately not for many years), and it's no laughing matter. It's shocking that I even have to tell you this.

Brooks of Sheffield said...

Lord Cram! So good to hear from you again. I was afraid we had lost touch. Now, let's see. Lynching? Did I write something advocating the lynching of Landmarks Commission members? Let me go back and read it over again. Hmm. Hmm. Nope. Nothing in there about lynching, sorry. You must be thinking of something you read in the National Review or something. Oh, and by the, Bob Tierney asked me to pass on a message. He can't meet you in the usual place, so the payment will be folding up in a Wall Street Journal at the newsstand near City Hall.

Ralph Adams Cram said...


I was referring to your posting of Ken Mac's comment--try reading that one.

Next time, instead of just being obnoxious, how about actually responding to the meat of my argument?


Brooks of Sheffield said...

If I'm going to post your heated remarks Lord Cram, I have to post Ken Mac's. Obviously, he isn't serious about stringing people up. And obviously he has to be quite angry with the Commission to resort to such language. A lot of us our. Your argument is sound in its way. But surely you must see how short-sighted the Commission is being, how misguided their priorities are. We're losing historic buildings to reckless development all over the place. Are they stepping in the way of developers and the awful buildings they want to erect? No. They're to being policing lovely artworks that were build out of love, not greed.

Ralph Adams Cram said...

And Brooks, nice distraction ploy. This has nothing to do with Bob Tierney; I could forward this to 50 historic preservationists right now, and they'd all agree that you have absolutely no idea what you're talking about. Zip.

Brooks of Sheffield said...

I don't know what that reply means, Cram. I don't know that the destruction of a architectural heritage is a "distraction." It's hard to argue with you. Your language clearly communicates that you don't want to engage in any sort of discussion. If you don't believe my assertions that the Landmarks Commission is not living up to its charge, please check any of the major dailies. There have been huge stories about the matter in each of them during the last six months.

Longtime West Villager said...

Mr. Cram,
I do not dispute the things you state in your defense of the LPC. However, considering the LPC has allowed THIRTY SEVEN YEARS to pass before addressing this matter, they open themselves up to the ridicule you hear now. By now that mural has become part of the neighborhood. It has been there for almost two generations!

Ralph Adams Cram said...

West Villager,

I know it doesn't seem to make sense, but there's no statute of limitations on this stuff. If Landmarks is informed of a change that's occurred since the district's designation, they have to issue a violation. They can't pick and choose who gets a violation and who doesn't. That's just the way things are. As I mentioned before, there may be a public hearing on this; stay tuned, and make sure to make your voice heard, either in person or through a letter or email.

Brooks, a few responses:

A) I don't know how long you've been in this country, but to those of us who grew up here, talk about lynching people is at the very least tasteless, and at worst, threatening. Don't try to defend Ken Mac's comment by saying that you have to post everything that's submitted. You're this site's operator and policeman, and you, and only you, decide which comments get posted here. What's next for Lost City, Holocaust humor? Do the right thing and take Ken Mac's comment down.

B) Again, issuing a violation in this case is a simple matter for LPC of following the law. If you have a problem with this, lobby your elected officials to have the law changed. Until then, stop blaming LPC for operating under the legal framework it's required to operate under.

C) You say that I don't want to engage in any kind of discussion, but you're the one who responded to my original, reasoned, fact-based statement with a schoolyard insinuation that I'm in Tierney's pocket, and then followed it up with absolutely nothing of substance.

D) You didn't understand what my reply to you "means." Here's what it means: I went to grad school for historic preservation and have been working in the field, here in the city, for nearly a decade. I know dozens of people who are doing exactly the same thing, and those who have experience with the Commission would verify that what I'm telling you is absolutely correct, and that you're just spouting off with no clue. Don't believe me? Call the Municipal Art Society and ask them about this situation. Or is the MAS in Bob Tierney's pocket, too?

Brooks of Sheffield said...

YOU went to grad school for historic preservation and are working in the field? YOU, Lord Cram. Oh God, how depressing. This city really is in trouble.

And I am not being flippant. You have truly depressed me.

Anonymous said...

ralph crabs,

you are a sad sad little thing.

- laws aren't always just. and, in fact, they most normally aren't. not only because justice doesn't exist in pure form, but because they are put in place with those in power to protect and augment their power, at the expense of others.

I would hope that if you work in the field of historic preservation, you would do so with your heart as a guide, and not a list of laws. that's bullshit. and sad bullshit.

this mural has gained historical significance nonetheless.

" If you have a problem with this, lobby your elected officials to have the law changed."

- representative democracy is bullshit as well. and does not work! look the fuck around. and it does not work adequately enough to save or streets. you are not helping preserve when you do so through piles and piles of paperwork. save and preserve them through community understanding and consensus. you fool. do you not see the overwhelming consensus in this case?

I don't think you have made a single valid point dear Cram, other than that the LPC is operating under the legal framework under which it is legally allowed to operate. WEAK SHIT HOMIE