NYC Theater Artist Faces Stark Choice: Eviction or Landmarking


This is an “Only in New York” story that should serve as a cautionary tale to the rest of us.

Ralph Lewis, a longtime Clyde Fitch Report supporter and one of the triumvirate of theater artists that comprises the Obie-winning Peculiar Works Project (which just scored a hit with its revival of Can You Hear Their Voices?), is in a peculiar bind. For nine years he has lived is what may be the last Federal-style row house on the Bowery; as reported by Curbed, the building’s owner intends to demolish it — legally or otherwise, perhaps.

Story continues below.

That is, unless the Landmarks Preservation Commission recognizes 206 Bowery for its clear and unique architectural and historical value. Fortunately, this is possible: On June 15, the LPC “calendared” 206 (as well as another Bowery structure dating from 1818) for consideration.

The question now is whether the political and civic will exists to pressure the LPC to do the right thing and save 206 Bowery from winding up its two-century-plus history as reckless rubble. Given what the New York Times said about the LPC in late 2008, and the decidedly mixed record of the LPC’s chair, a political appointee named Robert B. Tierney, this could be another make-or-break moment for the lethargy-prone agency. (Why “lethargy-prone?” Why on earth has the LPC refused to move forward on Marx Brothers Place? What on earth are they waiting for?)

For Lewis in particular, the stakes couldn’t be higher: If the LPC acts in the building’s favor, he’ll have a place to live. If the LPC doesn’t, he’ll be evicted. Welcome to the theater. Everybody sing “I Love New York.”

Really, Lewis’ fate rests in the LPC’s hands. And in the hands of the theater community. It’s a matter of whether we can rally behind Lewis to save his home.

This link tells you even more about the structure at 206 Bowery, and I suggest that you read it.

This link will tell you what the land is worth (and, thereby, the usual story of why the landlord wants to knock it down).

This link leads to a photo of the storefront by Berenice Abbott, taken in 1935.

And the following, below, is a sample letter Lewis has put together. On his behalf, I ask all in the theater community to consider sending it, or a version of it, directly to the LPC. We talk a lot about the importance of housing for artists. Now we have an opportunity to put our money and our political will where our mouths are. Will you join me in making sure the LPC does the right thing? Will you join me in making sure Lewis has a home?

You can send this letter — again, or any version you prefer — by snail mail or email to Make sure you wrote “re: 206 Bowery” in the subject line.

June 16, 2010

Landmarks Preservation Commission
Municipal Building
1 Centre Street, 9th Floor
New York, NY 10007

RE: 206 Bowery

Dear Commission Members:

As someone who cares deeply about preserving the unique and indispensable history of The Bowery, I want to thank you so much for putting the Federal-style row house at 206 Bowery on your calendar for landmark consideration.

It is important to me and my community that houses of this age and character are supported and preserved. There are so few actual houses left in Manhattan. 206 Bowery is a wonderful example of the intimacy that once was downtown Manhattan, and stands in stark contrast to new, larger buildings – this diversity makes both types of greater value. We need to retain the parts of our history that tell a story about who we were, and this house is an important reminder of an incredible time and place.

206 Bowery is currently under threat of destruction. It deserves and needs the attention of preservation laws to ensure its survival. I hope the Commission will schedule 206 Bowery’s hearing as soon as possible.

Thank you again for your attention to this unique house.

Respectfully submitted,

Your Name