Monday, March 25, 1996
Local Leaders - Happy 80th Birthday, Evelyn Strouse!
There is a tiny lady with a strong deep voice who looks after Union Square, keeps nightclubs at bay, watches over the Greenmarket and helps poor kid s get scholarships. That dynamic person, Evelyn Strouse, will be 80 years old on Wednesday March 27, 1996, and we all want her to keep going to at least 120, we need her.
Evelyn is a Smith grad who studied comparative literature at NYU until her first child was born. A Scarsdale mother of three - a lawyer, a farmer and and a psychotherapist, she became involved in the 1972 McGovern campaign and Vietnam protest, lived in Israel for seven years, and, upon return to NYC, in 1981 joined the Union Square Community Coalition. She has been the chair of the USCC since the untimely death of her co-chairman in 1991.
The Union Square Community Coalition was organized in 1980 by local residents, (such names as Karl Rosenberg, Phyllis Andrews, Marjorie Berk, Verneta Berks and Barry Benepe are mentioned), initially headed by Rosenberg and subsequently co-chaired by the late graphic designer Oliver Johnston and Evelyn Strouse, the latter alone since Johnston's death.
The USCC's mission was to reverse the deterioration of the Union Square Park, one of the grat open spaces in NYC, by fostering reconstruction, maintaining greeen space, watching over proposed zoning changes and encroachmnts of tall buildings and keeping members informed of impending dangers. It is a membership organization (individuals $20, families $30, businesses $40), and depends on dues and occasional foundation grants.
The Park was in terrible shape in 1980. Full of drug dealers and the gutter people that they attract, it was a blight. USCC rallied the neighborhood together, proposed reconstruction (plans developed by Rosenberg, Benepe and Richard Sonder) and policing. After years of effort the city allocated the millions of dollars required to bring this, the only remaining park from the grand plan of 1812, back to life. The first phase of the reconstruction was completed in 1987, after a year when the park was closed (secondd phase, involving potentially closing Broadway to traffic is currently deliberated, under the auspices of CB5). The 1987 plan was supervised by Parks Department architect Bronson Binger, the landscape architecture was done by Taiwan-born architect Hui Mei Grove, subsequently briefly a Landmarks Preservation Commissioner.
Being a community activist in an effort to preserve a neighborkood is a taxing task, and it is amazing that the initiatives are ever accomplished, in the face of the controversy. Landmarking efforts are objected to by owners who fear the obstruction and delays in their ability to make alterations, no matter how consevative and preservation-minded the changes may be. There are eight designated landmarks around the Union Square - the Lincoln Building at 1 Union Square West; the Metropolitan Bank (recently cafe); the Moorish Decker Building; the former Century Publishing (now Barnes and Noble) Building on 17th Street; the Everett (200 Park Avenue South) and Guardian Life (201 PAS); the Century Association clubhouse (vacant building on East 15th Street, next to the Lee Strassberg Theatre Institute where Marlon Brando learned a natural acting technique, rubing his back against the door jamb), and the Union Square Savings Bank, designated but not yet confirmed by the City Council. Then there is the Ladies' Mile Historic District, starting its Southern boundary at 17th Street and Broadway, both NE and NW sides. Union Square is also the crossroads of Community Boards 2,3,5 and 6. While jurisdiction is not in dispute, cross-impact of decisions is far-reaching. And the night clubs - the late unlamented Underground at 860 Broadway (now mercifully Herman's Sporting Goods), the relatively controlled Paramount, and the threat of the House of Blues at the former Union Square Bank. Reconciling the various interests sometimes is impossible, but Evelyn tries.
One of the groups that USCC cooperates with is the 14th Street BID/LDC, whose purpose is area business development. Rob Walsh and Evelyn have a cordial caring relationship, even though they may clash in public. Current issues involve the 22-story Union Squre South building (resolved between Rob and Evie but not necessarily within the USCC ranks) and the Phase Two of Union Square redesign, closing Broadway (not resolved).
The Greenmarket, whose director and founder is Barry Benepe, is an important constituent of the USCC. Founded in 1976 as a project of the Commission on the Environment of New York City (Director is Lys McLaughlin), it now administers some 32 markets beyond the original, Union Square facility. Manhattan alone has some 16 locations.
In addition to the above, Evelyn has a personal one-woman project, Kids Who Can. She looks for talented performance artists among the poorer kids in grade schools, auditions them and and gets them scholarships for professional training. Another project seven years in the making is Friends House, a residence for 50 homeless people with AIDS, to be opened in September at 25th Street and lexington Avenue. Evelyn never stops.
Arlene Harrison, another neighborhood dymamo, cosiders Evelyn her role model. Barry Benepe wonders where she gets her energy, "she moves like a youngster of 60."
The story of the Civil War adventures of John Bigelow of Gramercy Park will continue after this brief intermission.
Greenmarket Cynthia Miles 130E16 477-3220
Commiss on the Environment of NYC 51 Chambers st Lys McLaughlin (Pike) Dir
Arl Harrison 260-3875
Ev Strouse 533-2838
14th st bid/ldc 4 irving Pl 460-1200 Rob
Ken gidden Rothmans
Eugenia dooley,Ol Huber
Umbrella org for adjacent CBs 2,3,5,6, Ladies' Mile (the So boundary of which is at the NE and NW corners of Bw and 17th St), protect 8 ind des landmarks - GLIC, Everett,Cent Pub (BN), Decker, Metro, Linc and Cent Asso Clubhse (15, vac, next to Lee Strassber Thea Studio), US Sav des, soon to be conf.
USCC also spons conc, dance recitals and a mo picnic
The Council on the Environmet of NYC, BBenepe holds greenmkt MWFS, oldest. TFPike's wife head