E. First St. plaque recalls bar that was totally rad

Posted by Breaking News, Top Stories Thursday, June 7th, 2012

From left, Andrew Berman, G.V.S.H.P. director; Christin Couture, a shareholder at 50 E. First St.; and Phil Hartman, owner of Two Boots. The black-and-white paper background shows where the door to Justus Schwab’s famous saloon was once located. Photos by Bonnie Rosenstock

BY BONNIE ROSENSTOCK  |  The Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation launched its historic plaque program on Wed., May 30, with a celebration commemorating labor organizer Justus Schwab. his legendary saloon at 50 E. First St. between second and third Aves. was a magnet for social and political organizing on the Lower East Side — and a drinking hole for debate through the night.

In honoring the German-born Schwab (1847-1900), Andrew Berman, executive director of G.V.S.H.P., noted that the neighborhood’s history is disappearing.

“We are working hard to commemorate it, to help educate the next generation that moves here, and instill a sense of pride in our history of artists, leftists anarchists and labor activists,” he said.

Berman thanked Phil Hartman, owner of Two Boots pizza at 42 Avenue A at second St. for financing the project.

“Phil has been extremely generous, so we have the funding in place to keep it going,” Berman said.

Hartman said he has wanted to do a plaque program for years.

“Since this is the 25th anniversary of Two Boots, we said we wanted to do 25 events,” he noted.

The first event, in January, was the installation in his pizzeria of a mosaic portrait of Lower East Side activist Bimbo Rivas.

Christin Couture said she and her fellow shareholders of the five-story, walk-up E. First St. building were “thrilled to commemorate the birthplace of radical history and where Emma Goldman received her mail.”

When the owners received a letter from G.V.S.H.P inviting them to participate in the program, they were in the process of seeking a tenant for the 8-foot-wide-by-30-foot-deep storefront and also “pursuing history for this purpose.” They chose Fantom magazine, an international quarterly photography publication: no noisy bars need apply.

Couture read an excerpt from Goldman’s memoirs in which the famed firebrand described Schwab’s funeral, which brought together all feuding leftist factions. Afterward, the assembled gathering stepped next door to the mural-adorned First St. Community Garden for Two Boots pizza and musical entertainment.

Berman hopes to bronze the East Village, Greenwich Village and Noho with plaques.

“We want to do as many as possible — although owners don’t always want it on their building,” he admitted.

Berman urged people to attend the June 26 Landmarks Preservation Commission public hearing on the proposed East Village/Lower East Side Historic District.

The historic district’s designation will be “another critical step in the effort to preserve and honor the special history of the East Village,” he said. “While it only covers a fraction of the East Village, and we hope the L.P.C. will consider other parts of the neighborhood in the near future, this will be an important opportunity to show support for expanding landmark designations in the neighborhood, which is still vastly underrepresented.”

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E. First St. plaque recalls bar that was totally rad

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