“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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Worth Reading: Metropolis Mag — “The Shell Game” — on NYU Mega-Expansion Plan 2031

Via Metropolis Mag:
The Shell Game
By Martin C. Pedersen

Friday, April 13, 2012 9:30 am

New York University announced yesterday that it was scaling back its controversial plans for expansion by “almost a fifth.” Wow, now that’s a significant number, you might think, if you didn’t already know how these cynical games are played. The school had originally proposed adding 2.5-million-square feet of dorms, classrooms and commercial space to the two superblocks it owns south of Washington Square Park. A couple of new towers (designed by Toshiko Mori and Grimshaw Architects) were part of the plan.

Rendering

On the face of it, the announcement was in response to local opposition. But this is really a move straight from the developer’s playbook. In honor of the client here, let’s call it “Gamesmanship 101.” 

Here is how it works: 1) propose a humongous, X-million-square foot project; 2) get predictably hammered by outraged community groups who claim it will ruin the neighborhood; 3) appear to re-group or “go back to the drawing board”; 4) allow a decent interval of time to elapse (you’re busy processing all of the “neighborhood concerns”); and 5) roll out a slightly modified new plan (still too damn big, of course, but not quite as bloated as the original) that appears to be in response to local “input,” but is in fact very close to the internal number you were aiming for all along.

Think of it as a high stakes poker game, with numbers and renderings and zoning variances as the chips. You want 2-million square feet of new construction approved in the Village? First ask for 2 and a half million. (Oh, it also doesn’t hurt to have most of the elected officials in your back pocket.)

NYU Proposed Expansion Plan 2031 — Is the Fix ‘In’ With the Bloomberg Administration?

I’m posting previous WSP Blog entries as refreshers on NYU and President John Sexton’s “vision” for the University’s Expansion Plan 2031. It’s a very critical time right now.

It raises the question — is the ‘fix’ in with the Bloomberg Administration? Given this Admin’s history over the last seemingly gazillion years (will his term ever end?), that would not be much of a surprise.

If so, how to stop it?

If her statements at the Community Meeting on NYU Plan 2031 earlier this month were any indication, Council Member Margaret Chin likely does not have the strength to stand up to Bloomberg and Council Member Quinn who will put pressure on her to go along with it.

More at WSP Blog on NYU here.

Greenwich Village On Halloween Night – Policing Run Amok? Washington Square Park Closed; Access to Parade Limited; Streets Dangerously Barricaded

Washington Square Park Gated and Locked Halloween 2011

Police Barricading the Arch Around 6 p.m.

Joe Mangrum Halloween Sand Painting before Park shut down

Empty Pathways Washington Sq Park

Eastern Entrance to Park Closed

NYPD shutting South entrance to Park

Lonely Arch

Updated — So… the famous Greenwich Village Halloween Parade occurred last night – hard to miss as it’s an institution at this point, no longer on the fringe but part of the mainstream, and now in its 39th year.

Of course, one of the best places to get the true Greenwich Village flavor before, during and after the parade would be … the famous Village park that resides a mere block away. And yet… Washington Square Park – the entire public space – was gated, cleared out, locked, and closed as of 6:30 p.m. yesterday. This is only in more recent years under the Bloomberg Administration*. Not even Mayor Rudy Giuliani closed the Park for Halloween. The Bloomberg Administration is the first to do so, as part of its ongoing encroachment on the accessibility and use of public space.

As I left shortly after the park was closed off and walked around the perimeter, a young man asked a police officer inside, “Is the park closed?” She responded, “Yes, temporarily.” He asked, “‘Til when?” She said, “I don’t know.” She paused. “Until they tell us.”

Venturing up to Sixth Avenue, I found a spot with a friend along the parade route between West 8th and Waverly on the eastern side. We decided to seek out a spot with better sight lines thinking heading north might be better.

As we ventured a few steps north, we could not get very far. 8th Street was closed off and barricaded – you could not cross it but you also could not turn east onto it except via a narrow, barricaded passageway along the sidewalk right up against Barnes & Noble. There was a packed crowd there all trying to get somewhere with little space to navigate within. The crush of the crowd – fortunately very good-natured but growing restless and angry at being caged in – was intense. Despite having created this dangerous situation where the teeming crowd was all forced into this small space via excessive barricading, there were no police to be seen at that location.

A man standing against the wall at Barnes & Noble said if we could get 1/4 of the way down the block, the barricading ended and we could walk freely. That is exactly what happened. Except, next, they started blocking off all of 8th Street. I said to a police officer, “Why are you closing the street? This is crazy.” He shrugged, “Do I look like I’m in charge here?”

We then got to Fifth Avenue where the overflow crowds from this untenable scenario had all headed. Every block between 5th and 6th Avenues was closed off and we were all directed to 14th Street. Except when we got to 14th Street, that too was closed off, and, over a bullhorn, a police officer announced, “Attention: Access to the Parade Route is Closed. You’re Late. The Parade Is Over.” (It wasn’t.) We then ventured to 17th (or 18th?) 19th Street and were finally able to head west to 6th Avenue except the parade ended a block further south so nothing was visible.

Now, this might sound like NYPD crowd control – as in a way to make things “ordered” – but it was not. It is creating a potentially pernicious situation. I kept saying, “This isn’t safe.” My friend shook his head and said to me, “This isn’t about safety. It’s about their control. The higher ups use these parades to practice their logistical command.” Then, it seems to me that it’s control at the expense of safety. We are just lucky there wasn’t an incident of some kind because their “system” of barricades and blocked off streets is not set up to accommodate it. Someone I know who was there agreed, stating: “I felt the same way. They trapped people in.”

People are cooperative and yet the city does everything to assume the worst of everyone and in the process makes the parade, while still fun and with great energy, a negative and potentially harmful experience – because of the City’s actions.

The media are given up close access, as are the politicians, so no one is reporting on this. It’s possible even the event organizers are not aware of the extent to which the NYPD is harming their parade and the experience of it. If I had stayed in my relatively cozy spot on Sixth Avenue off Waverly, I might not have realized the scope of this NYPD insanity.

There needs to be a hard look at how this parade, a Village tradition, is now being managed by the Bloomberg Administration and the NYPD.

As far as the park being closed, people ought to have access to this public space. If it’s public safety that the city is worried about, stop blocking off virtually every single street along the route with barricades and sending people on elaborate ruses and corralling them into narrow passageways. People want to have fun and be playful on Halloween – assuming the worst of them is just so wrong and so Bloomberg.

Bottom line: Washington Square Park should be open on Halloween night.

*Someone called the Bloomberg Administration “the control freak administration” in a comment at the Villager piece on no musical performances near the park’s fountain, benches. Couldn’t agree more.

Spotlight: Neighborhood Blog – The SoHo Memory Project

A new blog has popped up in SoHo! Only in existence since January 1st, 2011, the blog focuses on growing up in SoHo in the ’70’s and includes lots of great photos and insight into SoHo’s history as well as present day.

FOOD cooperative restaurant at Prince & Wooster, 1970's

Tiffany & Co., 550 Broadway at Prince, 1850

Check out The Soho Memory Project:

Every person has his or her own 1970’s SoHo, and it is very different from the SoHo of today. For me, it was a wonderful place to grow up and explore and make friends. In a way, my 1970’s SoHo resembled a description of your average American neighborhood, where people know their neighbors and all the children play together. But on the other hand, I did learn how to ride a bike in my house! Anyone visiting SoHo today could not even fathom such as place existing in lower Manhattan. And because this aspect of SoHo has not been well documented thus far, I would like to build this collection of recollections over the coming months and years before our ephemeral memories fade and disappear forever.

Photo of Tiffany & Co.: Curbed via Flickr

Musings: On Washington Square, The Villager and the Village Alliance BID

This week’s Villager features an article on the Washington Square Park ribbon cutting last week (May 28th). The writer is Albert Amateau who I met at the park’s opening the week prior. I’m a little stunned at this piece which glosses over anything that might have been problematic over the Park’s redesign. It’s not as if The Villager hasn’t reported it over the years, and in detail. There’s reference to some discord but little context. The little there is is allotted to one person who is quoted stating that “20 people” were against changes being made to the park. ??

It’s amazing how quickly the arguments can get lost or forgotten amidst the … pretty. This piece seems to rewrite history and ignore what was a truly problematic, non-transparent and unnecessarily hostile process put into place by the New York City government in the redesign of Washington Square Park.

On this blog, although I’ve certainly had people write in saying they love the new park, I’ve also had people write in with substantive and thoughtful explanations as to what they take issue with. Perhaps Mr. Amateau didn’t encounter many people who were able to give him concrete thoughts on-the-spot. Many people stayed away that day who felt uncomfortable with the “celebration.” Long time activist Mitchel Cohen, who was out of town, wrote in commenting and asked … why wasn’t anyone handing out flyers critiquing the Parks Department and informing people about what went on?

It’s a valid point and, as much as no one wants to be “the negative person” forever, it’s also important for other communities and other battles – and Washington Square Park’s history – that people know what went on here during the Bloomberg Administration.

On the Business Improvement District and their “significant” contribution?

Then there’s the question of the Village Alliance Business Improvement District (formerly the 8th Street BID) which is, it seems to me, gearing up to play a key role in any private conservancy. A conservancy is greatly opposed by the vast number of community members (and the Parks Department is well aware of this).

The Villager article states: “Honi Klein, president of the Village Alliance business improvement district, who raised significant funds for the Washington Square Park renovation, declared the phase-one completion a resounding success.”

From what I know, the Village Alliance raised $125,000 thus far with plans to raise another $125,000. Now, I’m not saying that’s a small amount of money but for a project (Phases I-III Washington Square Park Redesign) with a price tag of over $32 million, that’s really not a “significant” amount, is it?

****************************************************************

** For an up-to-date refresher on what the issues were and are, go here. **

“Washington Sq Park: Designs Over Time” Wednesday, May 27th, 6 p.m. at Center for Architecture With Presentation by NYC Parks Department

This Wednesday night May 27th! “Washington Square Park: Designs Over Time” Presented by The American Institute of Architects(AIA) – NY with presentations by NYC Parks Department designer George Vellonakis and Washington Square Park Administrator Rebecca Ferguson.

From the announcement:

In recognition of the re-opening of Washington Square Park’s central plaza, the New York Chapter of the ALSA (American Society of Landscape Architects) and the AIA (American Institute of Architects) New York Chapter welcome designers, enthusiasts and community members to:

Washington Square Park: Designs over Time

Presentation and dialogue with:

* Adrian Smith, Landscape Architect, EDAW

* George Vellonakis, Landscape Designer, City of New York Department of Parks & Recreation

* Rebecca Ferguson, Administrator, Washington Square Park, City of New York Department of Parks & Recreation

* Nancy Owens, Landscape Architect, Nancy Owens Studio

Adrian Smith, ASLA (American Society of Landscape Architects), will present an historical overview of the park’s past iterations as a marshland, potters’ field and military parade ground, and review prior design proposals and implemented plans since Washington Square first became a recreational space. Park Designer George Vellonakis will discuss the freshly completed phase and the next steps of the current renovation. (more…)

The Unveiling of Washington Square Park’s NW Quadrant & Fountain Plaza: Word Is Fencing To Come Down Monday, May 18th

Well, I was close… Word from a reliable source is that the fences that surround the long under construction NorthWest Quadrant of Washington Square Park will start coming down on Monday, May 18th after 16 1/2 months of the area being closed off. The unveiling will be done without much fanfare. Originally, a ceremony with elected officials was also scheduled for Monday; that will now happen at a later date.

Some thoughts: It’s important to note that this Park could have gotten to where we are now without the acrimony if the New York City Parks Department had been upfront and honest and transparent in their statements and their actions.

No one was against a true renovation of Washington Square Park the park had fallen into serious disrepair due to lack of maintenance by the Parks Department. What people were against was the pushing through of a design with a lack of community involvement in the decision-making process.

When you look at the newly completed section, there’s new green lawn and bright flowers, there’s new pathways, there’s new fencing, there’s new lighting, there’s new benches. A true “renovation” of the existing space would have also put forth most of these same changes – except the fence would have been lower and the lighting would have been different (not the stock lighting used at oh so many other George Vellonakis-designed city parks, including City Hall and Abingdon Square). Yeah, the aligning of the Fountain with the Arch seems ridiculous and the leveling off of the sunken plaza unnecessary. That ‘other’ renovated version of Washington Square Park would have looked gorgeous.

Nonetheless, the park is probably opening at the perfect time – people throughout the City are reconsidering their finances and their values. It’s not the same political or cultural climate as it was when the Park’s redesign plans were first presented.

People may look at the newly designed Washington Square Park and have heard of some controversy and mistakenly think “Why were people against this?“. The truth is important here — no one was against a *renovation* of Washington Square Park – it was the process and the design (and lack of input into the design) that people took issue with. (In many ways, the future phases add more dramatic changes than Phase I did.)

The Park will, in the end, be what people make it.

Photo: Cat

A Look at Washington Square Park This Week — Part I(Photos)

Updated —

Fountain late Apr 09

Fountain late Apr 09

Snapshots of Washington Square Park. Above, center of the Park currently under construction. (It’s getting close to opening but not quite there yet!)

NorthEast corner Bustling; Picnic Tables in Use

NorthEast corner Bustling; Picnic Tables in Use

The NorthEast section of the Park (above, Tuesday afternoon) is scheduled for construction next. The NE corner of the Park is quite large now and is scheduled to be significantly reduced (into a more quaint “Plaza”) and all the picnic tables removed. Apparently, the NYC Parks Department doesn’t want picnic tables in the, uh, Park.

Photos: Cat

The first photo entry into the Washington Sq Park Blog Flickr Pool! Yes, I know, we’re all ready for spring…

The famous Washington Sq Park chess tables covered in Snow '08

The famous Washington Sq Park chess tables covered in Snow

Okay, yes, I think we’re all ready for shots of the Park bustling with signs of springflowers, people, the Fountain ON, people frolicking IN the Fountain (and, of course, the redesigned Fountain area is not open – yet), performers, dogs, squirrels, birds, eccentricities… – that’s coming.

But a thank you to Juggler314 for posting the first entry into the Washington Square Park Flickr Photo Pool … This great shot of the Park’s chess tables covered in pure white snow (’08). Read more about the new WSP Blog Flickr Pool option here. Submit your photos and tell your friends!

Photo: Juggler314