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East Village Historic Area Could Include Birthplace of Drag

By Patrick Hedlund

DNAinfo News Editor

EAST VILLAGE — Call it the city's first landmark in drag.

The Landmarks Preservation Commission has agreed to broaden its study area for a future East Village Historic District to include a tenement building housing the Pyramid Club, credited as birthplace of the drag movement.

The initial proposed study area included nearly 300 properties on the blocks bounded roughly by East 2nd and East 7th streets between First Avenue and the Bowery, as well as 10th Street on the north side of Tompkins Square Park, which played a key role in downtown's immigrant experience.

The LPC this week agreed to expand the area to include four buildings on Avenue A and 13 properties on East 2nd Street, after preservation advocates pressed for a more comprehensive study.

The expanded study area includes the 1876 tenement building at 101 Avenue A, currently home to the famed Pyramid.

The nightclub, which opened in 1979, became a counter-cultural hub during the '80s for hosting all types of performance art and helping kick-start the careers of drag performers like RuPaul.

Legend has it that Nirvana and the Red Hot Chili Peppers supposedly played their first New York City gigs at the Pyramid, joining acts like Madonna and Blondie on stage.

Other notable properties included in the expanded study area include the 120-year-old Russian Orthodox Cathedral at 59 E. 2nd St., and the Anthology Film Archives building at 32 Second Ave., former home to a local court.

A host of preservation and neighborhood groups — including the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Designation, the Historic Districts Council, the Lower East Side Preservation Initiative and the East Village Community Coalition — joined Councilwoman Rosie Mendez in successfully pressing for expansion of the study area.

"These are buildings that really I think speak very strongly to both the immigrant history of the East Village and the artistic and cultural history of the East Village," said GVSHP executive director Andrew Berman, who's organization completed its own survey of the neighborhood's historic properties.

For instance, the Pyramid building housed German social hall after its construction in 1876, seeing waves of immigrants pass through its doors over the decades.

"I don't think these decisions were made without an enormous amount of individual scrutiny," Berman added of how the LPC went about including the additional properties.

"The cultural history in the East Village is obviously particularly strong, and I think that everyone recognizes that there is an overall importance that this neighborhood plays in the cultural history of New York City."