By Patrick Hedlund
DNAinfo News Editor
EAST VILLAGE — Preservation advocates are urging the city to better recognize the historic significance of some Manhattan's early thoroughfares as part of a planned redesign of Astor Place.
The project — which includes a major overhaul of Astor Place and Cooper Square to create more open space in the busy corridor — is seeking to reconfigure short strips of street to make them more pedestrian friendly.
But some of those stretches of road date back more than 350 years, once acting as trails for Manhattan's Native Americans and later for the Dutch, and should be distinguished for their historic importance, argues the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation.
"It really would be a shame if those streets that existed for 350 years were completely erased from memory," said GVSHP director Andrew Berman, who has been petitioning the city's Department of Transportation and Public Design Commission to maintain the roadbed on Astor Place between Lafayette Street and Cooper Square, which is currently slated to become a pedestrian plaza, while retaining planned features such as seating and plantings.
"What they can and should do here is make sure that it's clear that this, historically, was a street, and was a street that had such a special history to it," he said.
The group also wants to maintain Astor Place's historic connection to nearby Stuyvesant Street, a short ribbon of road that defies the borough's grid system and dates back more than three-and-a-half centuries.
According to GVSHP's letter, Astor Place follows the path of an old Native American trail appearing on Manhattan maps as early as 1639 and was used to connect the current Bowery to a trading post on West 14th Street. Stuyvesant Street represents a lane stretching across the former holdings of Peter Stuyvesant, purchased from the Dutch West India Company in 1651.
In addition to requesting that roadbeds be maintained as separate from the sidewalks in grade, the group has asked that proposed curb enlargements on Stuyvesant Street, where it connects to Astor Place, be eliminated to keep the link between the two pathways intact.
"Given the historical significance of these streets, we feel it is critical that one continue to be able to look at these two streets and see that they were once part of the remaining Astor Place and Stuyvesant Streets," the letter stated. "Their former routes should be made plainly clear in the design, and their paths should continue to be distinct."
Berman explained that similar steps were taken during the reconfiguration of Broadway at Times and Herald squares, to make them more pedestrian-friendly.
"That convergence of streets is what tells the story of this area," he said of Astor Place. "And you don't want to whitewash it over, you want to celebrate it."
The Public Design Commission brought the issue up to the Department of Transportation at a meeting on Monday, Berman added, and the Commission would be scheduling a public hearing on the matter in the coming weeks.