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Sullivan-Thompson Historic District receives unanimous Landmarks approval

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The Lower Manhattan area becomes NYC’s 140th historic district

The Landmarks Preservation Commission today unanimously voted to designate the Sullivan-Thompson Historic District, marking the end of a decade-long effort by preservationists to protect large swaths of the South Village from unchecked new development.

The designation was praised by Andrew Berman of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation, which has spearheaded the effort to create a South Village Historic District since 2006. “The South Village embodies New York at the turn of the last century when it was awash with immigrants who, from modest beginnings, transformed our city,” Berman said in a statement. “We want to preserve and honor that rich history, the charming architecture, and the human-scaled streets, and not watch it give way to anonymous oversized development as we have seen in so many other places.”

This is New York City’s 140th historic district, and joins Lower Manhattan’s Charlton-King-Vandam Historic District, MacDougal-Sullivan Gardens Historic District, Soho-Cast Iron Historic District and its extension, South Village Historic District, and the Greenwich Village Historic District and its extension.

Before the commissioners voted to designate the district, LPC research staff responded to concerns raised during the historic district’s public testimony meeting in late November, namely the inclusion of vacant lots and non-contributing buildings within the district’s boundaries.

But as a staff member noted, it’s always been an LPC practice to include both vacant lots and non-contributing buildings to ensure the area remains a “distinctive enclave that retains its unique sense of place.” The landmark ruling minimizes, but does not eradicate altogether, the likelihood of new development on both vacant lots and on the sites of buildings whose architecture doesn’t add to the district.

The commissioners noted that the Sullivan-Thompson Historic District is not only being designated for its aesthetic contribution to New York City, but also its cultural and historical impact. The area includes a collection of tenement buildings and historic storefronts that preservationists say speak to the Italian immigrant experience in late 19th century and early 20th century New York City.

“We protect historic sections of the city not only for their architecture but for their social and cultural patterns that give insight into New York City's development history,” said LPC chair Meenakshi Srinivasan before gathering the commission’s unanimous approval, “This really deserves protection."

The process of calendaring, hearing testimony for, and approving the Sullivan-Thompson Historic District was unusually expedient for the Landmarks Preservation Commission. The historic district has been used as a bartering tool by City Councilman Corey Johnson, who has endorsed the transfer of air rights and subsequent redevelopment of St. John’s Terminal in exchange for the vast protection afforded by the new historic district. The City Council will vote on Thursday on whether to approve the air rights sale.