The crunch for space in New York has once again pitted its heritage against someone’s vision for its future. The latest phase of this long running battle is being fought at 35 Cooper Square, a seemingly nondescript 2 story construction, placed feebly right beside the ultra-modern Cooper Square Hotel in East Village and set for demolition.
At first glance, the unpretentious building strikes one as anything but a landmark, but the moment you turn the pages of history, a fascinating story unravels. 35 Cooper Square was built way back in the 1820s, and over the years it has seen an array of tenants and owners, including artists, writers and shop-owners. Singer Liza Minnelli and poet Diane diPrima both lived here at different points of time. Over the last decade it hosted the Cooper 35 Asian Pub, a favorite haunt for students of NYU and the Cooper Union. However, the pub served its last drink on January 22, and the property, purchased by Bhatia Development for a whopping $8.5 million, is set to face the axe anytime. Not without a fight, though.
A large group of preservation advocates have already asked for landmark status for the building in order to protect it. However, the Landmark Preservation Commission rejected their appeal on the grounds that the façade of the building has been altered drastically by its brownstone coating. This, the L.P.C decided, makes it ineligible for landmark status. However, protesters are unwilling to relent, and they recently gathered in front of the building for a rally. Carrying banners such as ‘Build Memories, Not Luxury Hotels’, they presented a strong case.
The group was led by the chairperson of the Bowery Alliance of Neighbors, David Mulkins, and included state senator Tom Duane, Assembly member Deborah Glick, executive director of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation Andrew Berman, and the executive director of the Historic Districts Council Simeon Bankoff.
The protesters argued that the history and heritage of the Village has nearly been destroyed by ambitious developers, and the fall of this building too will be a tragic and irreparable loss. Says David Mulkins, “If we lose this building, Cooper Square loses a much earlier sense of its history.” He went on to add, “If we have this kind of out-of-scale, out-of-context development, we will destroy the sense of place that we get in these historic neighborhoods.”
The protesters argued that the alterations made to the building were necessary, considering that it’s nearly 200 hundred years old. They go on to add that other buildings, with more significant alterations, have got landmark status. Simeon Bankoff is quick to point out the significance of the building. He says, “The Bowery that has been known over the centuries is vanishing before our eyes. At this point we have to say, Stop.”
In spite of the determination of the protesters, the chances of survival for 35 Cooper Square look really bleak, and the drive for development is set to win out once again.