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NYC Preservationists Draw Attention to Forgotten Historic Buildings in Lower Manhattan - 2003-08-20


Historical preservation groups in lower Manhattan are pressing to save neighborhoods surrounding Ground Zero before rebuilding plans are finalized.

The twin skyscrapers of the World Trade Center dominated the New York City skyline from the time they were completed in 1973 until the time they fell on September 11, 2001.

Now that New York City developers are moving forward with plans to rebuild lower Manhattan, preservation groups are saying it is the perfect time to restore a number of historic buildings that were hidden in the shadow of the World Trade Center towers.

This month, preservationists are focusing on the buildings on one street in particular, Greenwich Street, which leads southward from the former World Trade Center site.

Architectural historian Francis Morrone, who leads regular historical tours around New York City neighborhoods, points out several buildings of interest, including one run down house that was built about 1800.

"Back in the early 19th century, Greenwich Street was one of the most affluent and prestigious addresses in New York City," he says. "Many of New York's leading families and richest families kept their city houses, very commodious houses, mansions, indeed, right here on Greenwich Street. Of these mansions which once made this the showplace of New York City, this is the last one standing."

These days, the Greenwich Street Corridor is a far cry from its old days. Delis, strip clubs, lingerie stores and bars are scattered along the street. The apartments above them appear unused, or in poor condition. Tall office buildings stand nearby, and there is a subway stop a short distance from the World Trade Center site. Mostly, office workers pass by on their way to work. It's hardly an affluent residential area.

So while many of the unused buildings are being overlooked, there are some that preservationists are trying to save.

Ken Lustbader represents the Lower Manhattan Emergency Preservation Fund, which is studying all the historical buildings within the boundaries of the downtown development area to find out how many there are and how many are worth preserving.

"You've got buildings behind us that are four stories high. You look at them and say, perfect development site," he says. "We're saying, wait! It's 200 years old. Let's recognize the value of these buildings before they come down and see if they can be part of the solution."

No one is saying what the end solution will be just yet. The Lower Manhattan Development Corporation (LMDC), the organization charged with planning for the site, is asking the public for ideas specific to certain neighborhoods. The overall future vision includes building new housing, cultural centers and 24-hour neighborhoods.

Mr. Lustbader says that working around historical buildings is not a part of the LMDC's plans, and his group just wants to have input while the planning stage is still going on.

But not all New Yorkers agree that saving historical buildings should be a top priority. Alice La Brie is one of them.

"I'm a citizen taxpayer who's concerned that we get a tax base back down here and jobs. Jobs are the most important issue of the day right now," she said.

The LMDC is scheduled to make a decision on the area's redevelopment within the next few weeks.

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