Update on Ralph Lewis’ Fight Against Eviction, For a Landmark


On June 22, we brought you the tale of Ralph Lewis, a longtime Clyde Fitch Report reader and one of the theater artists who comprises the Obie-winning Peculiar Works Project.

For nine years, Lewis has lived in one of the last Federal-style row houses on the Bowery; as reported by Curbed.com, the building’s owner intends to demolish it no matter what it takes.

Story continues below.

Fortunately, in June the Landmarks Preservation Commission “calendared” the building, located at 206 Bowery, for preservation consideration.

This is an important step, especially for a city agency whose attention to preservation has occasionally been, shall we say, languorous.

The following is an update from Lewis on what transpired at the LPC’s meeting on the subject, held July 13. We await any updates.

When it comes to the work of NYC’s Landmarks Preservation Commission there is no shortage of passionate feelings and challenging opinions.

Today, the big stink of the LPC’s Public Hearings is focused on the afternoon session (where 9/11 advocates are trying to keep Muslims out of the Ground Zero area by pushing through landmark designation of Cordoba House), but the morning hearing was an orderly, but deliberate, consideration of the Federal-style Row Houses at 135 & 206 Bowery.

The full-house of about 30 seats was almost entirely positive, and many of them spoke well of both houses. Not a mob, but enough that there should no mistaking the community’s concern for these two gems of history. No yelling or pushing — just dedicated locals making a number of solid cases for preserving the 200-year old, residential character of the world-famous Bowery by landmarking these two rare remaining houses.

The commissioners were professionally focused and seemed genuinely interested in hearing what makes these houses so special. Now they know.

135 Bowery had the most opposition. Apparently, it’s owned by a bank which had a lawyer, architect and engineer all speak about how it’s falling apart and all. Blah, blah, blah. Makes you wonder what would hold up the additional floors that they had [the Department of Buildings] approve last year for them to build 3 floors on top of this alleged shambles.

To get approval from the DOB for such building on top of the house, they must have been making the exact opposite case only a short time ago. Is the house structurally unsound, or not? But no one addressed that contradiction.

206 Bowery only had one person not in favor, and I felt bad for the guy. He didn’t seem to know anything about the building, and was just delivering a message from the owners, requesting that the time for response stay open, which he was assured, so that owners can make a case for destruction at a later date.

I’m sure that some folks would see no problem with such a small, little house being replaced by some big and glassy box — there’s money in that, but no value. The commissioners seemed to understand that preserving such places says to the rest of the world that our big, bad city understands that there should be a place for concepts like intimacy, modesty, humility, diversity and perseverance. This is the little-house-that-could.

If every building on the Bowery comes to look like the New Museum, then what do we need the New Museum for? If everything is new and big, then nothing is new and big. It’s these little houses that make the newer, bigger buildings look better by comparison. It’s the diversity of the Bowery that holds its charm and lifts all boats, big and small, new and old, increasing the value of every lot on the block.

I have no idea what happens next, but it was so heartening to see the community come out, and stand up, for these row houses and for the importance of preserving parts of who we were… are… will be. The commissioners have been informed, and now, it’s up to them. I still don’t know why the LPC is viewed with such consentaneousness, and I hope I don’t find out now. Let’s hope that their future conclusion corresponds to their consideration today.