View of Lower Manhattan from Brooklyn (photo F. Gillis)

VAF NYC, June 2006

Précis of the New York 2006 Meeting:

Planning for the New York conference is moving right along, with the Planning Committee working hard to put in a place the program that will bring the VAF to important cultural landscapes of this wonderful city. Right up front, we would like to acknowledge the J. M. Kaplan Fund, whose support has been a great help in this planning stage.

The meeting will open on Wednesday June 14th, with a keynote address and reception in the early evening at the City College of New York. The talk, “New York: Building the Vernacular City,” will be given by Andrew S. Dolkart, who is on our committee and holds the James Marston Fitch Associate Professorship in Historic Preservation at the Columbia University School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation. Several churches and row houses in the City College neighborhood (Hamilton Heights) will be open for visiting in the late afternoon..

On Thursday June 15th, the Tenement Museum on the Lower East Side will be open for guided tours between 8:30am and 12:30pm. We’re planning for 300 people to tour the museum in small groups and arranging for special programs to be held in the downstairs rooms of the museum. The Eldridge Street Synagogue, the Museum of Chinese in the Americas, and other major sites on the Lower East side will be open for self-guided visits during the morning and the afternoon.

Other options for Thursday afternoon include a tour of commercial architecture in Lower Manhattan, which will include an early example of a counting house, nineteenth-century loft buildings, other examples of commercial architecture, and skyscrapers. We hope that some sites will be open for visits. Mary Beth Betts and Jeff Cohen will guide two groups of 20-25 people each; self-guided tours will also be possible. A self-guided tour of reform housing on the Lower East Side is also being planned.

For Thursday evening, we’re adding a new event to the usual VAF schedule: a forum co-sponsored by The Gotham Center for New York City History (and to be held at the CUNY Graduate Center Auditorium). The topic is “Place Matters: The Lower East Side,” with Marci Reaven, chair. Speakers include Suzanne Wasserman, historian and Associate Director of the Gotham Center, Orlando Plaza, community activist and life-long resident of the Lower East Side, and others. This event will be open to the public.

On Friday, June 16th, VAFers will have the option of choosing a full-day tour in Harlem or Queens. Folks who want to visit Harlem will take the subway from the conference hotel or dorms and proceed to explore on foot the diverse history of development and population change in this community from the 1880s when large-scale speculative development began, through the early twenty-first century. The tour will explore architecture and cultural issues – row houses, tenements, apartment buildings, churches; the shift of population from white Protestant; to white immigrant; to African American and Caribbean; to the loss of the black middle class and more recent changes as the neighborhood attracts affluent white and black residents. Self-guided and guided tours will be available, with the guided tours accommodating 100 people. In the morning, half the group will visit the area around 125th Street; half will visit the area around 135th; and switch in the afternoon. Both groups will visit the intersection of 125th Street and 7th Avenue, where there are sites of major importance in Harlem’s history. The full group will meet for lunch at a local hall or church with a local business or church group preparing food. A note to VAFers concerned about descending en masse on this community: cultural tourism is big business in Harlem these days; double-decker tour buses are frequently seen on Harlem streets, as are groups of European tourists, walking on foot.

The Queens tour will explore this physically large and culturally diverse borough with the help of local community groups. Cutting through the borough is the No. 7 subway line--known as the International Express for its intersection through one new immigrant community after another. We'll team up with local folklorists, who got the train line listed as a National Millennium Trail in 2000, and explore places along its route like the Hindu Temple, assembled in Flushing from stone carved and shipped from India. The tour will start at Sunnyside, where we will visit Sunnyside Gardens, Phipps Houses, Matthews Model flats, and other examples of reform housing from the 1920s. We’ll eat lunch at the Hindu Temple in Flushing; VAFers will then visit Jackson Heights, developed by the Queensboro Corporation in the 1920s and now a center for the South Asian community in the metropolitan area, and then move on to the Astoria Pool (an exemplary WPA project by Robert Moses). We’re hoping that preservationists, folklorists, and local residents will be on hand in each community for discussion; self-guided tours will also be possible. We’re planning to use buses to tour Queens, although it will be possible to take the subway to visit some of the sites.

In the late afternoon on Friday, everyone will meet at the Bohemian Hall in Astoria for a drink. Established in the early-twentieth century by Czech immigrants, the Bohemian Hall is one of the few beer gardens still open for business in the city. We’re planning on bringing folks on the Harlem tour to the Bohemian Hall.

Other important matters: The conference hotel will be the Holiday Inn Downtown, 138 Lafayette Street (a short walk to the Tenement Museum); the conference dorms will be at St. John’s University (near the World Trade Center site). The Saturday paper sessions will take place at Avery Hall, hosted by the Columbia University School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation. Plans are underway for the Saturday evening banquet, reception, dinner, awards, and dance to be held in a banqueting hall in Chinatown (not too far from the Holiday Inn).

With best regards and looking forward to seeing you in New York in June,

Marta Gutman for the New York 2006 Planning Committee
(Mary Beth Betts, Jeff Cohen, Cynthia Danza, Andrew Dolkart, Marta Gutman, Marci Reaven, and Zach Rice)


Conference prospectus
for download (.pdf)

Registration forms (.pdf)

Schedule for Saturday
paper sessions

Conference Schedule at-a-glance (.doc)

99 Orchard Street, now the Lower East Side Tenement
Museum (photo c. 1939, New York City Municipal
Reform housing in Sunnyside, Queens (photo 2005, M. Gutman).
Hotel Theresa, Harlem (photo 2005, F. Gillis).
Soho streetscape (photo 2004, J. Cohen).

[VAF Homepage] [VAF NYC Conference prospectus (.pdf)] [VAF NYC Registration Form (.pdf)] [Papers Session Schedule] last rev. = 26 May 06 jc