11 Most Endangered Historic Places

The Lower East Side

Year Listed: 2008
Location: New York, New York
Threat: Development

Significance

Few places in America can boast such a rich tapestry of history, culture and architecture as New York's Lower East Side.  However, this legendary neighborhood—the first home for waves of immigrants since the 18th century—is now undergoing rapid development.  New hotels and condominium towers are being erected across the area, looming large over the original tenement streetscape.  As this building trend shows no sign of abating, it threatens to erode the fabric of the community and wipe away the collective memory of generations of immigrant families.

Although the Lower East Side was placed on the National and State Registers of Historic Places in 2000, such a designation functions primarily as an "honor roll" and does not preserve a neighborhood's appearance or regulate real estate speculation.  The community, with little recourse for protection, is reeling from the recent destruction of its cultural heritage, including the defacing of several historic structures and the loss of First Roumanian Synagogue.  Slapdash and haphazard renovations have led to the destruction of architectural detail, while modern additions to historic buildings sharply contrast with the neighborhood's scale and character.  In 2007, permits were approved for the full demolition of 11 buildings on the Lower East Side, compared with just one in 2006.  These developments, among others, signify the quickening erasure of the neighborhood's architectural and socio-cultural fabric.

The Lower East Side Preservation Coalition, comprised of nine community organizations, formed in 2006 to create a landmark district that would protect the physical character of the neighborhood and its history of the immigrant experience.  The proposed District encompasses an area bounded on the west by Allen Street, with an extension that includes Broome Street west to Eldridge Street, on the north by Delancey Street, on the East by Essex Street, and on the South by Division Street, with an extension that includes Eldridge below Canal Street.  The Coalition has garnered significant support from politicians, members of the Lower East Side community and diverse ethnic groups throughout New York. 

A melting pot of cultures and nationalities, the Lower East Side remains central to the social history of the United States.  Its preservation of 19th and early 20th century properties convey the story of immigrant home, health, entrepreneurship, labor, education and recreational life in New York City.