the little house

by marjorieingall on February 23, 2011

In my nabe there is a huge protest underway to save a little house at 35 Cooper Square. As you may know, the Bowery/Cooper area is being eaten alive by giant Eurotrashy hotels, schmancy eateries and ungapatchke condos. At best, we’re being deluged with people who like the IDEA of the Bowery (hobos! CBGB!) but have no interest in helping to preserve its history; at worst we get the entitled, oblivious, trend-crazed bottle-service crowd. And then there is the voracious, property-gobbling NYU. Don’t get me started.

Anyhoo, our neighborhood blogs have been admirably chronicling the fight to save 35 Cooper. East Village Grieve has a history of the building here. The house dates from 1825; according to Jeremiah’s Vanishing New York, it was owned by Nicholas William Stuyvesant — Peter Stuyvesant’s great-grandson — until his death in 1833. Later it housed Joel Grey as a young actor (he paid $5 rent) and Diane DiPrima, one of the few female poets to break into the Beat Generation boys’ club (plus she’s the aunt of my pal Liza). DiPrima wrote in Recollections of My Life as a Woman: ”From the moment when I first laid eyes on 35 Cooper Square, I knew it was the fulfillment of all those fantasies of art and the artist’s life, la vie de boheme, harking all the way back to my high school years or before.”

None of which is relevant to the city’s Landmarks Commission,which declined to designated the property a historic landmark, despite the begging of neighbors, historians, advocacy groups and elected officials like City Council member Deborah Glick. Writer Pete Hamill attended the vigil last night. Protesters held up signs modeled after Virginia Lee Burton’s timeless children’s book The Little House, 1943′s Caldecott-winner.

“Once upon a time there was a Little House way out in the country,” the book begins. “She was a pretty Little House and she was strong and well built.” Her builder declares she can never be sold “for gold or silver,” but eventually the city encroaches, the trucks and steamrollers come, the skyscrapers take over. The Little House winds up isolated in the big city, where the lights have become so bright she can no longer see the moon. She winds up abandoned, surrounded by subways and sprawl. But one day the builder’s great-great-granddaughter learns of the house’s history and arranges to have her moved, whole, to a hill in the countryside, where once again the Little House will be appreciated and loved.

The ending won’t be as happy for 35 Cooper. Demolition is likely to restart soon — a stop-work order placed a few days ago has been lifted. If I were a betting woman — I’m too sad to play the odds right now — I’d put big money on the wee Federal house being replaced by a giant dorm or condo; the current owner, Arun Bhatia/AIB Development, has built plenty of both.

Once upon a time, 35 Cooper featured my favorite 9-11 mural. It went up shortly after the towers fell. It was right around the time of Josie’s birth, October 13, when all I did was trudge around the neighborhood in a sleep-deprived haze. The first time I saw it, I started bawling.

It was painted by the nonprofit group CityArts, which pairs public school kids with professional artists to create murals, mosaics and sculpture. (Check out the Peace Wall in Jaffa, a mosaic created by Jewish and Arab kids, working with one Jewish and one Arab artist.) But in 2004, then-owner of the building Cooper Union painted it over, wanting to sell advertising on the wall. As a Cooper Union grad, Beth Sopko, told the New York Times, “It’s really bad PR for the school. The emotional value the mural had for so many of us will just not be matched by an ad for vodka or Dockers.”

And a dorm or condo will not have any of the history — any of the meaning — of the Little House.

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the little house on bowery
March 13, 2011 at 1:52 pm

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David February 23, 2011 at 6:39 pm

I’d recommend a sit in. You have millions of people who live in NY, and even a tiny fraction of them really care about this place, you can organize them to sit on the property and inside the house for as long as needed to draw attention to its plight. Trespassing is only a misdemeanor.

Cultural heritage sites need to be protected. The Village is so important in Manhattan!

The Wertis March 10, 2011 at 5:20 am

I really liked this post, but it made me sad. I love Jeremiah’s Vanishing New York. I love NYC and while Avenue A is probably a more pleasant place for NYU students to live these days, I could bore you with reasons why it was better back when and wax nostaligic about watching double-features in the old Theatre 80 on St. Mark’s Place and the hours of misspent youth shopping for clothes in the snarliest stores I could find. Not in the Gap.

I grew up thinking the Little House was in the West Village and loved that book as a child and then as a reading-aloud parent. But as it turns out, the city, instead of it city growing out to overrun the country, is now undergoing a reverse-process of the suburbs sprawling in to overwhelm the city.

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