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Voices in Focus: Controversy Over Two Buildings and a Plaza

April 4, 2012 1:59 pm Leave a comment By  | Via , , A+ / A-

This striking photo from The Jackson Heights Herald shows the controversial pedestrian plaza on 37th Road. (Photo by The Jackson Heights Herald)

Today in the ethnic and community press, we found reporting on an unwanted pedestrian plaza, two buildings cherished by immigrant communities, and a decadent sweet on offer in Washington Heights:

* Merchants in Jackson Heights’ are ramping up their complaints about a pedestrian plaza on 37th Road between 73rd and 74th streets, in the heart of the “Little India” shopping district, Desi Talk reported.

Customers have to circle around and cannot take a left turn from 73rd Street into the heart of the shopping area, merchants said.

“That is a great hardship for customers who have to then go to 75th Street, which is also blocked half-way. It is too congested and complicated,” said Ratan Sharma, one of the managers at India Sari Palace on 74th Street, in the heart of the business district.

One merchant who did not wish to be named said the plaza had become a hangout for hobos and loiterers and not those interested in going into stores, and it also deters some women customers from coming. “When there is no traffic, people just loiter. It is irksome. Nobody is taking advantage of this plaza, only bums,” the merchant said.

Shopkeepers plan to hold a demonstration against the plaza on April 8 at 7 p.m., during a meeting with City Councilmember Daniel Dromm, who has advocated for the pedestrian plaza, and U.S. Rep. Joseph Crowley at the Jewish Center of Jackson Heights.

* Advocates for two Manhattan buildings are seeking landmark status based on their connections to New York City’s immigrant communities, DNAinfo reported.

In one case, the Friends of the Upper East Side Historic Districts have petitioned the Landmarks Preservation Commission to landmark a former bank that catered to the area’s German community at at the corner of Third Avenue and East 85th Street. The group called the building, built in 1905 for the Yorkville Bank, a “powerful symbol of the German-American community that once densely populated the Yorkville neighborhood and has now lost prominence,” in testimony submitted to the LPC. It now houses a Gap clothing store and an Equinox gym.

“The Yorkville Bank Building is a prime example of the graceful architecture that was designed, constructed, owned and frequented by German-Americans,” according to the Friends group. “[It] is one of the rare, fully-intact survivors in a neighborhood marked by unsympathetic alterations and characterless new construction.”

The other building seeking landmark status faces an uphill battle. Parishioners at St. Vincent de Paul Church, on West 23rd Street, along with advocates and even the French President, Nicholas Sarkozy, argue that the French-speaking Catholic church, which now serves many Haitian and African immigrants among its congregation of 400, should be protected. But the Archdiocese of New York has tried to close the church, and opposes its landmarking. The Landmarks Preservation Commission has thrice declined to hear the case for landmarking the building, saying that it lacks architectural significance.

Parishioner Olga Statz argues that the church’s cultural history should be considered a reason to landmark the church.

Statz, who’s been a regular attendee at the church since the 1970s, said the church doesn’t only have architectural merit. Since it was founded, St. Vincent’s has been a melting pot for French-speakers of all backgrounds. In the 19th century, the church attracted a mixed audience of French-speaking African-Americans and wealthy French people.
“That’s why this church is so remarkable,” said Statz, whose own parents came from Haiti. “The church was always that focal point, and the one thing that everyone had in common was the French language.”

* And lastly, the Manhattan Times served up a mouthwatering feature on pudín de pan, the decadent bread pudding that’s a specialty of Compres Bakery, at 144th Street and Broadway, which sells it as “bandeja.” Described as “a slice of buttery, golden thickness, with liberal amounts of sugar, vanilla, raisins and spices which can include cinnamon and ginger root,” the Latin-Caribbean pudding isn’t exactly slimming:

“For a complete tray of the dessert we normally use 10 pounds of bread, 2.5 pounds of sugar, half a gallon of eggs, a Compres-Bakery-specific mixture of vanilla and butter, and an ounce of salt,” explains [head baker Bernardo] Rugerio.

After baking for 45 minutes, the sweet, thick masa, or batter, that has been placed into the industrial, high-temperature oven is transformed into a sweet, chewy baked good that resembles a cross between a pudding and cake.

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