“Neighbors for A Viable Village” Fight for University Diner “Tradition” As Coffee Shop Closes after 70 Years

For Rent

By most accounts, University Diner wasn’t perhaps the best diner in the world food-wise but it was a neighborhood force, a meeting spot, a place where the ‘old school’ (if you will) interactions took place that just don’t seem to happen so much anymore. With its open windows and its location at 12th Street and University Place, the outside world was invited to look in and inside you could choose to look out on passers-by, or not. As of Wednesday at 4 p.m., it is now closed after 70 years in business. Jeremiah at Vanishing New York (where I first learned of this) had a great story about an exchange he witnessed there between a man and his wife.

Petition Now on Door

Margaret Laino is part of newly-formed Neighbors for A Viable Village and sent me this description of what the University Diner meant to her and others and what they would like to see happen next:

The University Diner Coffee Shop at the corner of Twelfth Street and University place just drew its last breath [Wednesday] at 4:00 p.m.. After almost 70 years of continuous operation,the last area eating place where NYU, and high school students could eat and study alongside actors, authors, seniors and neighborhood residents without being rushed out after eating or having to pay over $10.00 for a meal. Gazing out the wide windows along East 12 St. and University Place a diner could watch the the action and the actors passing by — whether students on rollerblades, “occupiers” on skateboards, or models on EmpireState 6-inch heels. One never felt alone at this diner.

Shirley, the waitress with the proverbial heart of gold was always there to listen to all, or to light a candle on a birthday cupcake for her “steadies.” One male passerby said today, “How does Shirley feel?” At 3:30 today, Shirley was just about to flag a cab to take her to work when she learned the diner was closing at 4 p.m, and told she needn’t come in. “I’m really tired and heartbroken,” she told a caller. “we were a family. What am I going to do without my regulars? Who’s going to be there for them…and for me!” Told there was a movement led by a neighborhood activists to make sure the the 31 East 12 Street co-op’s real estate agent, Sutton-Garrett Realty, rents to a similar restaurant and not to a chain, a bank, phone store or food franchise, Shirley was too disheartened to talk. The diner’s night staff besides Shirley, Sunita, and cook Manny, had come in to work today at four p.m., expecting a last night with their regulars, only to be told to take their things and go home.

Regular customer and 12th Street neighbor, Bianca Jebbia, recalled “My husband and I courted here and now we bring our three young kids here a couple of times a week. Where else can you go with small children and not have to worry?” Last night, Anne Joseph, a social activist who protests “mountain clearing” in Kentucky was visiting the city from her home in Lexington. She made a point to drop in. “The French toast on challah here is the best!” She shyly added that her father, Mr. Rosenbaum, had owned the University diner during the late 1940s. “We had moved here from Brooklyn and my friends and I would come in for the egg creams. There were looped counters then, along with a few table; I can picture it today! My girlfriends used to love to talk to my parents; they’d even advice from my mother! It’s always easier to talk to someone else’s parents,” she said smiling. “There was also a lot of political talk then. Union Square leftists and Village radicals would have endless conversations at a table.” Ms. Joseph became a member of the Village Independent Democrats while in high school. “The VID had to have a student voice on their council and I was chosen!”

Now the question is: What will be chosen to fill the empty space, filled with memories and friendships that go back to the “New Deal,” the forties, and also the 50s when Eleanor Roosevelt lived at 16 East 11th Street?

inside…

Sam Gustaffson, a tall, blond, 19-year-old music production student at the nearby Institute for Audio Research on University Place and East Tenth Street, meets his friends at the diner a few times a week. He readily signed the petition posted by the newly formed “Neighbors for a Viable Village.” Ella Levi, retiree from Beth Israel Hospital, exchanged cell phone numbers with Shirley. “What are we going to do now?” she asked.

Margaret Laino, a local writer and social worker, said “We’re going to talk, and act, and fight to make sure we get a restaurant that continues the same tradition: affordable, family friendly, and run on a human scale, with the samelow-key lighting that makes this place to relax and reflect, eat and socialize. One with the same wide windows that look to the wider village without!”

The “Neighbors” are presently setting up an on-line petition urging Villagers and anyone interested in retaining the character a liveable and vital city, and respecting its historical treasures and traditions to write or e-mail agent chandrapersaud@suttongarrett realty.org or call 646-300-4891.

Photos: Jeremiah’s Vanishing New York

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Should Downtown Sixth Avenue’s Bluestone be Replaced with “Tinted Concrete?”

On the agenda tonight, Tuesday, September 11th, for Community Board 2’s Traffic and Transportation Committee meeting is the following: “Proposal by Village Alliance for capital replacement of bluestone on Ave. of the Americas from West 4th to W. 14th St. (excluding the Jefferson Market Library & Ruth Wittenberg Triangle blocks) with tinted concrete.”

Interesting, right? First of all, do I think a Business Improvement District should be in charge of decisions relating to our city streets and sidewalks and be paying for that? Uh, no. I think that should be a governmental expense. The lines get too blurred otherwise.

I did a quick search and found some more information on bluestone and the push to preserve streets made of it at a New York Times’ article from 1994, Preserving the History That Lies Underfoot; Bluestone Sidewalks on Comeback Trail. Not sure what’s been happening in the last 18 years but apparently the preservation of bluestone has been big in Park Slope. I’d love to hear more of the argument for replacing it (surely it’s cost-motivated). More from the article:

The path toward extinction has been the same for other old-time paving materials — the granite sidewalks of SoHo and TriBeCa; the red brick streets of Queens; the Belgian block, commonly called cobblestone, of lower Manhattan and dockside neighborhoods in Brooklyn, all inexorably fading away.

But bluestone, indigenous to neighborhoods like Brooklyn Heights and Park Slope, seems to be making a comeback. Prompted by pressure from the city to fix decrepit sidewalks of all types, and after years of campaigning by preservationists, many more property owners are making the historically correct choice and creating a bluestone boomlet.

And —

Preservationists estimate that bluestone made up half the city’s sidewalks at one time, chiefly areas near the harbor that were developed first, while today it accounts for just 5 percent. But they say hundreds of sidewalk strips have been renovated in the last two years, and that bluestone has been used in major new restoration projects like Bryant Park.

Lurching progress is also being made in setting up new city contracting procedures that would lower prices and make installation easier. Cost is still a stumbling block, and many home owners in historic districts, where sidewalks must be replaced with bluestone or concrete tinted to look like it, have complained about having to pay almost four times the cost of poured concrete. …

Though the movement to save the material began in Brooklyn Heights, Park Slope and other neighborhoods in brownstone Brooklyn, proponents say interest has spread to areas with a bluestone heritage in Harlem; Long Island City, Queens; Yorkville on the Upper East Side, and Staten Island.

The revival is being catalyzed by stick and carrot. The stick is violations issued by the Department of Transportation to property owners whose walks have been heaved about by tree roots or erosion. Owners have 45 days to fix them or the city sends contractors in to do the job and sends owners the bill. Though the city offers bluestone replacement, the cost is four times the $4.81 per square foot it charges for pouring concrete. (Note: this is in 1994.)

Some background also from the Times:

Concrete has been the preference for New York sidewalks and streets since the turn of the century. But glimpses of the stones of the past are still to be found.

BLUESTONE Often confused with slate, the dark stone is quarried in the Catskills and Poconos. It can still be seen in Brooklyn’s brownstone neighborhoods, lower Manhattan, Harlem, Long Island City in Queens and the northern part of Staten Island.

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WSP connection: I’m fairly certain the fountain is made of bluestone if I recall correctly. And also maybe the Fountain Plaza is bluestone pavers ? Happy to be corrected if this is inaccurate!

To attend tonight’s meeting, it’s at 6:30 PM at Church of Our Lady of Pompei, 25 Carmine St. Father Demo Hall.

New York Fringe Festival Takes Over 1 E. 8th Street (at Fifth Ave.) for One Month as “FringeCentral” HQ

“FringeCentral” – 8th Street & 5th Avenue

1 East 8th Street, just off Fifth Avenue, is now “Fringe Central,” home to Fringe NYC (officially the New York International Fringe Festival), now in its 16th year, with events running through August 26th.

The festival set up at the 8th Street location — previously home to …  a Duane Reade? a CVS? (I can’t recall … either that or a bank?!) — in late July. It’s just being used temporarily. It looks sparse – but festive! – and pretty much as it did when I’d peek in before with its “For Lease” sign adorning the window — with a few chairs, colorful signs and people added to the mix. It has a warehouse feel and seems to work for this purpose; the location had been sitting vacant for awhile. A nice change of pace for sure!

FringeNYC began August 10th and is “the largest multi-arts festival in North America, with more than 200 companies from all over the world performing for 16 days in more than 20 venues.” There will be 1200 performances in all.

Heading from the Park, you can pick up a program, tickets and encounter other events at the site. Hours are 12 p.m. – 8 p.m.

Find the schedule here.

Scene (and Seen) on Sixth Avenue



The Other Day. Just off West 8th Street.

On Display: The River album.

Music This Sunday 5/20: Washington Square Music Festival Fundraiser and Greenwich Village Orchestra Concert (Mention WSP Blog at the Latter & Get in for Discounted Rate!)

There are two great opportunities for high caliber music and fun this Sunday, May 20th. One is the Greenwich Village Orchestra’s final concert of the season at Washington Irving Auditorium with a discounted rate – only $5 – if you mention Washington Square Park Blog! In addition, there will a fundraiser for the Washington Square Music Festival at nearby Le Poisson Rouge on Bleecker Street.

Conductor Yaniv Segal

Here are the details:

The Greenwich Village Orchestra, comprised of talented local musicians and going strong for the last 25 years, will present its final concert of the season this Sunday, May 20th at 3 p.m. The concert features guest conductor, 31-year-old Yaniv Segal, named by Esquire Magazine as a rising star who is “redefining classical music.” Performances will include Shostakovich’s “Symphony No. 9” and Tchaikovsky’s “Symphony No. 5.” There will be a free reception afterwards with food and beverages and an opportunity to meet the musicians.

** Mention Washington Square Park Blog and get in for only $5 at the door!
Location: Washington Irving Auditorium, 40 Irving Place (at 17th Street), Manhattan.

The Washington Square Music Festival will hold a fundraiser from 3-6 p.m. on Sunday, May 20th to benefit their upcoming season at neighborhood nightspot Le Poisson Rouge. The event will feature “delicious savories, sweets and wines,” door prizes (including Emily Kies Folpe’s book, It Happened On Washington Square), and entertainment by members of the Festival plus special guests. Music director and cellist Lutz Rath and soprano Lucia Hyunju Song will perform Barbara Harbach’s “Cherish-Caress” and Kurt Schwitters’ “Anna Blume,” a DADA love poem for speaker and cello improvisation. In a highly anticipated performance, Abdoulaye Alhassane Touré, the singer and leader of the Deep Sahara Band, along with members of the group, will present music from West Africa. The West Village Chorale, which performs at Judson Church, will join the Washington Square Music Festival in performance for the first time. Chorale members will present Michael Conley’s “This Bequest of Wings,” an Emily Dickinson Cycle. The 54th season of the Washington Square Music Festival will begin in July.

Tickets range from $75 to $200 ($50 special price for attendees under 40!). You can purchase tickets in advance here.

Le Poisson Rouge is at 158 Bleecker Street (between Sullivan and Thompson), Greenwich Village.

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Photo (Yaniv Segal): Rick Guest, Esquire

Today — NYC Cannibis March for Legalization of Marijuana, More at the Park; Happy Cinco de Mayo!

Today, Saturday, May 5th: The NYC Cannibis March starts at 12 noon under the Arch and then will march at 1:30 p.m. to Union Square for a Rally.* This is a worldwide event (in its 12th year) and, according to Cannibis Culture magazine, there are over 153 cities around the world holding similar events. (*Due to the redesign of the park, I’ve been told that the Fountain Plaza at WSP is not allowed for use for big big rallies anymore. More on that to come.)

Along with the legalization of marijuana, among the things that are being advocated, from the event Facebook page, are the “importance and timeliness of the Medical Marijuana issue,” opposing “Stop and Frisk methods imposed by the NYPD” [and] opposing “the incarceration of our brothers and sisters.”

1901 poster for Cinco de Mayo

Today is also Cinco de Mayo! If you are looking for a margarita after the March, check out Tortaria (94 University Place at 12th Street) with their $5 Cinco de Mayo specials. Recommended by Refinery29 on their Village Margarita Map and New York Magazine.

And some history ….so it’s not just about Cannibis and Margaritas!

Cinco de Mayo (Wikipedia):

The French invasion

Late in 1861, a well-armed French fleet stormed Veracruz, landing a large French force and driving President Juárez and his government into retreat.[15] Moving on from Veracruz towards Mexico City, the French army encountered heavy resistance from the Mexicans near Puebla, at the Mexican forts of Loreto and Guadalupe.[16] The 8,000-strong French army attacked the much more poorly equipped Mexican army of 4,000. Yet, on May 5, 1862,[17] the Mexicans managed to decisively crush the French army, one which, according to an article in Philadelphia’s The Bulletin daily newspaper, was the best army of the time.[18]

The Mexican victory

The victory represented a significant morale boost to the Mexican army and the Mexican people at large. In the description of The History Channel, “Although not a major strategic win in the overall war against the French, Zaragoza’s success at Puebla represented a great symbolic victory for the Mexican government and bolstered the resistance movement.”[19] The description of Time magazine was: “The Puebla victory came to symbolize unity and pride for what seemed like a Mexican David defeating a French Goliath.”[20] It helped establish a much-needed sense of national unity and patriotism.[16]

Pre-Babbo, Remembering The Coach House Restaurant on Waverly, and How Babbo Came to Be

Vanity Fair has a preview in their May issue of Restaurant Man, a memoir by restauranteur (and Master Chef judge) Joe Bastianich who “recounts his evolution from being the son of a Queens-based working-class restaurant owner to prevailing over New York City’s most mouth-watering gourmet Italian restaurants.” This includes popular Babbo near Washington Square and Eataly, among others. Reading the VF excerpt was interesting for its story of how Babbo came to be, the author’s partnership with Mario Batali, and an interesting anecdote about real estate in New York City. Mr. Bastianich writes of the vacant (at the time) Coach House restaurant which lead me to wonder about this “landmark” institution that preceded Babbo and closed in 1993.

Upon its official closing, in “Neighborhood Report: Greenwich Village — An Appreciation; After 44 Years and 4 Proud Stars, Dinner Is Over at the Coach House,” the New York Times wrote:

The restaurant’s setting was as warm and restorative as a wood stove in January: brick and wood-paneled walls, red leather banquettes, brass chandeliers, handsome 19th-century oil paintings, and gentle lighting. Celebrities and food mavens from around the country made a point of visiting the Coach House over the years. Perhaps the most prominent patron was James Beard, the celebrated food writer and gourmand who made a tradition of dining there every Christmas Eve.

From the Restaurant-ing blog:

At one point, when [Beard] had become more prosperous, he ate almost nightly for a solid month at one of his regular haunts, the Coach House near his home in Greenwich Village, where his favorite dishes included corn sticks, black bean soup, and mutton chops.

The Coach House was open for 44 years in its Waverly Place location and closed in 1993. (Thankfully, and perhaps unusually, at least it would be for today, it was not because of landlord issues — in this case, that’s due to the fact that the owner of the restaurant also owned the building.)

Also from the New York Times:

Housed in a 19th-century coach house just off Washington Square, on what was once the estate of the Wanamaker family, the restaurant was created in 1949 by Leon Lianides, a meticulous and genteel man who had a hand in every aspect of the business, from menu planning to wine selection and decor. The 76-year-old Mr. Lianides, who has been in failing health in recent years, never reopened the restaurant after closing for vacation last summer.

The space was vacant for close to five years until Mr. Batali and Mr. Bastianich took over the space in 1998.

The story of how that came to be from the forthcoming book via Vanity Fair:

Mario [Batali] was totally irreverent in his style, kind of a hippie like me, but a lot farther out than I was willing to go. He was from Seattle but had gone to school at Rutgers in New Jersey. He used to deal weed in college, wearing a robe and genie shoes, and he worked at a place called Stuff Yer Face Pizza. He was a skinny version of what he is now. He wasn’t wearing the clogs yet, but always the shorts. That was his signature—cargo shorts and sneakers. By then I had eased into some kind of post-bachelor, urban-contemporary bon vivant. Mostly I looked as if I owned a successful restaurant. Mario looked like he was on his way to a Phish concert. We made a good pair.

One night we were coming from dinner somewhere and were walking down Waverly Place in Greenwich Village, by Washington Square Park, and we saw the old Coach House restaurant all boarded up with a big “for rent” sign.

We were just having fun, not really planning on opening a restaurant, but somehow we got the inspiration to start what we thought would be the perfect restaurant, where we would have no economic ambitions and just kind of fulfill the pure aspiration of creating the ideal environment for eating and drinking and expressing our passion for Italy and all things Italian. You can bet that Restaurant Man has a few in him when he starts thinking like this. And that was the birth of Babbo Ristorante e Enoteca.

We didn’t need to make money, we were flush—both of our restaurants, Becco and Po, were doing better than we could have dreamed—and so suddenly there was a purity of spirit and ideas, a freedom, almost an irreverence toward what was standard or expected. Sometimes the greatest commerce comes from a lack of commerce, we declared, contrary to every truism that Restaurant Man has ever preached or lived by. We didn’t exactly have our feet planted too firmly when we got to blue-skying this fantasy—we were just thinking about this great new idea for an Italian restaurant, wine and food in the perfect setting, and the Coach House was calling our names. …

We called the number on the “for rent” sign and met with this guy who was like the sultan of Albanian-Muslim restaurant slumlords in New York—he wore tracksuits and had a fucking scimitar hanging on his wall, and this is where we learned another important lesson in the New York restaurant business: every restaurant opens based on a real-estate deal. Eventually we’d open places just because we could get the location, before we even had a concept. When it comes to you, you don’t say no. Like George Costanza and parking spaces. You see it, you take it, because it’s not apt to happen again. Not only did we get the lease, but we were able to sneak in this option-to-buy-the-building clause, because the landlord thought we were just a couple of mooks, doomed to fail, who were never going to have the money to close the deal, so he put it in there at a fixed price. A few years later, we bought it.

It’s a good read what I read thus far and a good New York story. It’s a lit-tle strange that he refers to himself as “the Restaurant Man.” ? But anyway, in 1998, when Babbo first opened, Mr. Bastianich told the New York Times, “We plan a restaurant that will be elegant but not expensive.'”

On Yelp, Babbo has the highest price rating $$$$ – $61 and up.

Anyone who experienced the Coach House out there? Would love to hear your recollections.

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A bonus — Recipe: Coach House Chocolate Cake from Bon Appetit

Greenwich Village Orchestra Concert Sunday, March 25th – Special Offer! Discount Admission for WSP Blog Readers

Greenwich Village Orchestra - Since 1986!

The Greenwich Village Orchestra was formed by local musicians in 1986 — it’s been going strong for over 25 years. Yet, it has remained a bit of a secret while those who’ve experienced it have given it rave reviews. The Orchestra’s goal:  “total commitment to performance, world class soloists, low ticket prices, and continued commitment to our local, downtown community.” Comprised of “accountants, actors, artists, attorneys, carpenters, editors, physicians, professors, programmers, retirees, riverboat gamblers, scientists, secretaries, students, and teachers,” the group is “committed to making music at the highest possible level.”

Here’s your chance to see them and with a discount if you mention this blog at the door!

The Greenwich Village Orchestra will be performing a concert this Sunday, March 25th at 3 p.m. When you mention Washington Square Park Blog, you’ll receive discounted admission — only $5! (Regularly $15 suggested donation.)

The concert will feature Brahms’ Symphony No. 3, Khatchaturian’s Sabre Dance & Violin Concerto in D Minor, and guest conductor Farkhad Khudyev.

Reception afterwards with free food and beverage and a chance to mingle with the musicians.

What you need to know:

When: Sunday, March 25th, 3 p.m.
Where: Washington Irving Auditorium, 40 Irving Place (at 17th Street), Manhattan
Who: Greenwich Village Orchestra & You!
Cost: Only $5 if you mention Washington Square Park Blog at the door.

For more information, check out the Greenwich Village Orchestra web site.

Photo: Adi Segal

Artist Tom Matt’s NY: The Series Featured at Joe: The Art of Coffee on Waverly Place Until Thursday, March 15th — Interview with the Artist

From NY: The Series by Tom Matt

My new favorite local coffee shop, tied right now with Think Coffee, is Joe: The Art of Coffee, a few blocks from the park heading west. Currently on the walls of their small yet welcoming space on Waverly Place is artwork by New Yorker Tom Matt who has put together the terrific NY: The Series which features New York City locales set against the backdrop of the New York Times. The art is featured on Joe’s walls until this Thursday, March 15th.

I asked Tom some questions via email and here are his responses:

What inspired you to put together this series of NYC shots ? New York followed a series on Paris, yes? 

At the turn of the millennium, I knew that I wanted to create a body of work celebrating New York City. I wanted to draw the city using pastel, and didn’t know what kind of surface to draw on as my ‘canvas.’ It dawned on me one day, while sketching on a scrap of newspaper in Esperanto Cafe on MacDougal Street – to draw ‘my take’ on dynamic views of the city, on top of the front covers of NY newspapers. I liked the layering effect of pastel with body copy of headlines and articles peaking through here and there. This technique also spoke of layered narratives of all of us living is such a diverse and vibrant city.

Some years later, I decided to travel to France several times, where I created my Paris series, drawing on top of the Le Monde paper. I draw all of these on-location, which I prefer, and finalize them in my studio.

Was there a different feeling focusing on New York vs. Paris?

The main difference between Paris and New York is that our city is enormous next to Paris. Having lived here for so long brings a familiarity advantage in that, I was able to find my favorite views here comfortably over time. In Paris however, I had limited time and had to work more quickly. Paris is very charming, and the hard part was finding the ‘best’ views, since everywhere I turned – every view was amazing…

How long have you lived in New York?

I’ve lived in New York for about 14 years now. I grew up in Connecticut.

Joe The Art of Coffee Waverly Place

How did the show at Joe’s come about?

I love the walls at Joe’s on Waverly, and saw an ad there inviting artists to put up their work. It took a year before there was an opening for me. I’m pleased to have my work there now.

Washington Square Park is featured in the series. Thoughts on your feelings on drawing at the park and your experience working there?

I love the Arch in the Washington Square Park. Here is one interesting story among many I can share… I created a commission last year on newspaper for a client who proposed to his fiancée in the Park. The view features the Arch, and crowds of people around it. This gentleman met her when he was at NYU grad school, while he was playing guitar one day in the park. She approached him after listening, and left her number with him on a scrap of paper. This first meeting initiated the beginning of their relationship.

He asked me to include him in the art, playing guitar, which he posed for in the same spot where he met her. Once the art was complete, he gave the piece to her as a gift on their wedding day. The art was commissioned on a particular front page of the newspaper, bearing a date that had significance for them both.

Washington Square Park is wonderful – so many diverse people, artists, musicians bustling around. I like what they did redesigning the park, especially the gardens. I love the flowers there in Springtime.
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Check out Tom Matt’s NY: The Series at Joe: The Art of Coffee, 141 Waverly Place off Sixth Avenue (head west), this week, from now ’til Thursday, March 15th. (The WSP pieces are not showcased at Joe but you can view on his web site.) You can try a cup of their direct trade, organic (but not certified) coffee while you’re there!

Website of Tom Matt
Joe: The Art of Coffee

CB2 Votes Down NYU Expansion Plan – “Not-for-Profit” Operates As For-Profit Real Estate Behemoth – Will The University Back Off?

A corridor of purple flags off the Park

There is lots of coverage this morning of last night’s Community Board 2 Meeting in which the full board voted “no” to NYU’s 2031 expansion plan around Washington Square.

Dissent Magazine, within their review this week of the documentary, “The Vanishing City,” had an apt description of the University’s behavior pattern:

NYU is “perhaps the most egregious example of a real-estate corporation (or a not-for-profit university acting like one) aiming to shoehorn new high-rise buildings—dorms, hotels, faculty offices—on every available piece of land within their realm with utter disregard for any residents that may stand in their way or for the nature of the historic neighborhood.”

Coverage includes:

The Epoch Times: NYU Expansion Plan Rejected by Community Board 2

The Real Deal: Community Board Turns Down NYU Expansion Plan; Now Faces Review by The Manhattan Beep

NY1: Community Board Votes Down NYU’s Greenwich Village Expansion Plan

DNAinfo.com: NYU Expansion Plan Unanimously Rejected by Village Community Board

Photo: Benjamin Chasteen/The Epoch Times