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Advocates Hold Candlelight Vigil to Protest Demolition of East Village Building

By Patrick Hedlund | February 23, 2011 8:00am

By Patrick Hedlund

DNAinfo News Editor

EAST VILLAGE — Advocates behind a push to landmark a centuries-old Cooper Square building held a candlelight vigil outside the property Tuesday as part of last-ditch effort to protect the historic structure from demolition.

A developer bought the Federal-style rowhouse at 35 Cooper Square, which dates to 1825, for $8.5 million last year and recently filed plans with the city Department of Buildings to demolish the three-story structure.

But local preservationists have continued to press for historic designation by city Landmarks Preservation Commission, which previously deemed the property unfit for landmark status due to exterior work that altered the building's appearance.

Now, with the structure in imminent danger of being razed and crews already beginning to dismantle the building, advocates are urging the developer to respect the property's historic significance and not simply tear it down.

"We're drawing a line in the sand," said Andrew Berman, executive director of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation, noting that only 2 percent of properties in the East Village enjoy landmark status. "No more of our neighborhood will be destroyed."

The vigil also got a boost from journalist and author Pete Hamill, who said he spontaneously decided to lend his support after seeing the demonstration from across the street.

"I think if this comes down, we should all be ashamed of ourselves," he said of the property. "This is our inheritance. This is the inheritance of my 13-year-old grandson. ... These are the buildings that help us love this place."

The city recently issued a stop-work order on the property for work without a permit after neighbors observed crews on the roof renovating portions of the 185-year-old structure.

But despite indications that the developer plans to move forward with a full demolition, advocates are holding out hope that the new owner may decide to reverse course and keep at least some features of the building intact.

David Mulkins, cofounder the Bowery Alliance of Neighbors, explained that buyers of other longtime properties in the neighborhood have been awarded development bonuses for preserving historic features.

"Losing this building is losing one of the most precious and significant buildings in this historic district," he said during the demonstration.

Others pointed to the Bowery's rich past as an entertainment hub as reason enough to preserve 35 Cooper Square, which is one of the oldest buildings on the stretch.

"Every time you lose a building, you lose a slice of history," said Andrea Coyle, of the Lower East Side History Project.

"The community can't live without its past," added Rob Hollander, of the group Save the Lower East Side. "Unless we fight for it, we will lose it. The history is the future."