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The Lower East Side is an Endangered Species

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[Photo via Flickr/lucky_dog]

In case the big new dorms, pixelated luxury condo buildings, boutique hotels and Italian sports cars haven't clued you in?the Lower East Side ain't what it used to be. In fact, the Times says as much today, in a story about the decline of the Orchard Street shmata business. But the changes run deeper than lingerie and undershirts, of course, and today the whole country will be warned about the turbogentrification of the LES. At a press conference this morning at Seward Park High School on Grand Street, the National Trust for Historic Preservation will name its 2008 list of America's 11 Most Endangered Historic Places. One of those places on death row: the entire Lower East Side. But are a few obnoxious bars and luxury apartments enough to kill off the heritage of an entire neighborhood?

Here's the National Trust for Historic Preservation's explanation:

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.

But what good can come of this list? The National Trust for Historic Preservation is hoping to get some attention for the Lower East Side Preservation Coalition, comprised of nine community organizations and formed in 2006 to create a landmark district on the LES. Whatever, guys, just don't mess with Fat Baby. Where else are Jersey dudes gonna score?
· National Trust for Historic Preservation [preservationnation.org]