Save Chelsea Chosen as One of ‘Six to Celebrate’
BY DENNIS LYNCH | The Historic Districts Council (HDC) launched this year’s Six to Celebrate program on Wed., Feb. 15, at a celebratory gathering held at Calvary-St. George’s Episcopal Church Parish Hall in Gramercy Park — and Save Chelsea was one of the groups recognized for their steadfast preservation and awareness efforts.
HDC noted that the Six to Celebrate program opens their “strategic resources” to local groups, thereby helping them “learn to use tools such as documentation, research, zoning, landmarking, publicity, and public outreach to advance local preservation campaigns.”
HDC Executive Director Simeon Bankoff said his organization chose to help Save Chelsea because of the group’s tireless work in the area and a need to boost the preservation conversation in a rapidly changing neighborhood.
“Save Chelsea has emerged as a very strong voice for the preservation of Chelsea, so we thought we could help with organization and outreach and programming, that’s what that’s really about,” Bankoff said. “Preserving a historic district is not just about the designation, but stewardship and remaining vigilant and helping to shape the future of your historic district.”
Save Chelsea’s vigilance and effectiveness in that arena was further noted in a written statement by HDC, which praised the group’s determination to challenge “a number of deleterious projects” approved by the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission in recent years. “Through robust public programming and outreach,” the HDC said, “Save Chelsea is positioning itself as a watchdog to foster civic awareness. By galvanizing widespread support for historic preservation and continuing its work to document undesignated historic buildings in Rose Hill and the Flower District, the group also hopes to lobby for further protections in the area.”
HDC’s help will be crucial for the ongoing efforts of the all-volunteer group, whose co-president, Laurence Frommer, said is currently focused on education, and particularly wants to raise awareness of the historic fabric north of W. 23rd St. — an area which, he noted, many “probably don’t even realize is Chelsea.”
Frommer said that Save Chelsea places a high priority on bringing attention to both the already-established historic district and landmarks, as well as unprotected buildings in the area, but 2016 was a tough year for the group, which spent much of its time and resources fighting development projects — including one that threatens W. 29th St.’s Hopper-Gibbons House (a documented Underground Railroad site and a part of the small Lamartine Place Historic District).
The HDC said that a millionaire’s plan to turn the the oldest dwelling within the Chelsea Historic District into a megamansion would have won “an award for the biggest affront to historic preservation” for the year, if one existed. Frommer believes education and awareness will help save those buildings.
“We’ve had a lot of buildings destroyed and [come] under attack, and I think if more people knew the history of north and south Chelsea, I would hope that would mean we would have more success,” Frommer said. “The knowledge is not out there in many cases. They’ll [HDC] help with the map, and a booklet, and we’re putting together a panel. We really have an education goal right now. We’re hoping that HDC and Six to Celebrate will help with that.”
Chelsea is home to three New York City historic districts — the Chelsea Historic district (along with an extension), the Lamartine Place Historic District, and the West Chelsea Historic District. The Chelsea Historic District was the first the city established, in 1970. The extension came in 1981. The LPC designated the West Chelsea district in 2008 and the Lamartine Place district the following year.
The Chelsea neighborhood, along with Hell’s Kitchen, is home to around two dozen individual landmarks.
In addition to Save Chelsea, this year’s 2017 Six to Celebrate honorees are The Corona-East Elmhurst Historic Preservation Society, The Hart Island Project, The Mott Haven Historic Districts Association, The West Harlem Community Preservation Organization, and The Prospect Lefferts Gardens Heritage Council/Parkside Avenue Block Association/Concerned Citizens for Community Based Planning.
The recently launched Six to Celebrate smartphone app includes guide books, information on individual historic, architectural and cultural sites in each district, and a district map. To download it for Apple or Android, search “Six to Celebrate” or “6ToCelebrate” on each platform’s app client. Also visit the Historic Districts Council at hdc.org, 6tocelebrate.org, and facebook.com/HDCNYC. For Save Chelsea, visit savechelseany.org — where you will find info on their “Retracing Black History” walking tour of Chelsea and the Tenderloin (Sun., Feb. 26, 12–2 p.m.).