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How Hell Square became hell…some history

BY CLAYTON PATTERSON | People are outraged at the videos of a wild late-night street party posted in Diem Boyd’s talking point in The Village Sun, “Hell Square sinks to a new level of hell.” But for us living on the Lower East Side, we know this kind of scene all too well. It’s been going on for 20 years.

If a person takes a T-shirt and shoves it down the toilet it will likely plug the toilet. You call the plumber. The plumber will use his snake to pull out the T-shirt. After this happens three or four times, hopefully the person gets the idea the T-shirt will not flush and will plug the toilet.

But in Hell Square we have other kinds of snakes, and there is so much money to be made that nobody cares about the sewage. Instead because of greed, we have turned our area into what many people witness as the public toilet. Thanks to the people who ignored the rules and regulations and sold out our quality of life, the pipes here have burst.

I am not here to point and say corruption. I am just giving a brief look back at some of the roots of where this started. In the future, someone will study this history and make sense of it.

At this point in time, I do not blame the cops for going slow in moving people out of the area after the bars close. Who wants to deal with a herd of very drunk, very young people? Who are often resisting and at times, fighting back. Yelling, “Do you know who I am? Do you know who my father is?” Clear the mess and tomorrow it will just be back. No lesson is learned. Arrests and assaults will not solve the problem.

As the developers’ big money poured in, the first tool used to burn out the forest that made up our neighborhood was firewater: bars and liquor licenses. Bars trumped small local businesses. A bar equals high rent. To get to this point, the rules and regulations had to change.

Here are just a few memories. One of my favorite quotes was about David McWater when he was the head of Community Board 3 and chaired the board’s committee that dealt with liquor licenses. Basically, I was told to forget that he owned seven bars.

“This is democracy,” someone from Board 3 told me. “Anyone can lead these meetings. Because his whole life is invested in bars does not mean he cannot be fair.”

Then there are the ways to kill off the opposition. Take what happened to Rebecca Moore. She was almost driven to drink because of the noise and destruction caused by scenes like you saw in the videos posted in Diem’s talking point in The Village Sun. Rebecca approached the district manager of C.B. 3. Rebecca, who grew up in New York City, was doing her best to lead a community group to fight the bar problem in her area. A sensitive musician, Rebecca was brutally attacked. Called mentally ill, crazy, stupid.

Marcia Lemmon, who was stronger, a board member of the Seventh Precinct Community Council, felt we were not getting the proper police attention. She wanted to see the books of the Community Council, take a look at the money it had raised. She had a right to but was never allowed.

Don West, the head of the Community Council, used to come to my area, Ludlow St., and park illegally. Would place his police parking permit in his car window. A parking permit is hard even for cops to get and is supposed to be used only for police business. He would go into the bar, sit by the window, look out. I would call the precinct and ask why West had the right to break the law. A cop would come and West would move his car.  No ticket.

Our area started becoming so polluted with bars, Marcia Lemmon, Danny Stein, Elsa and I became a group at the Seventh Precinct Community Council meetings. We asked questions. For example, at the end of my block a nightclub opened up — even though it was across from a school and two other bars, no problem. Marcia checked in Florida where the place’s owner came from. Cocaine sales history. The Seventh Precinct captain was there to supervise the club’s opening.

Then it later turned into a topless bar with bottle-table service. There were gunfights, stabbings, assaults and so on. At the Community Council meeting, I would ask how the place could keep its license? The solution to the problem of Marcia asking to look at the Community Council’s books and our questions about crime was to hold a vote to ban us from attending. The vote ended at 8 p.m., and we had enough votes. Then a group of West’s friends showed up and we lost. Imagine? Banned from attending democratic meetings. Cheating?

Throw in things like the captain — Danny Stein would show me photos — dancing with Hasidic men, some real estate people, at special events. Never danced with the boys or girls between Houston and Delancey. Never even had coffee over here. And if celebrity A-listers, actors and rappers, show up at noisy and disruptive local events, the starstruck cops will just ask for their autographs and take selfies with them.

And on and on. So many examples. I will leave it here. To say there is a history to all of this would be correct. Probably 50 years from now, so much will come out. As for now, I am sure the cops are doing the best they can. The old guard has moved on. They have been handed a T-shirt down the toilet. Only there is no plumber to call. Meanwhile, the list of actual snakes is obvious. Some have been sent to jail. The problem really is not a deep dark secret. We, including the cops, are stuck with the toilet overflow.

How to untangle all this change and make it go back to the way it was? It will take years. Again, we know the developers made much money. But they are too poor in the head to ever think boohoo for you.

Patterson is a documentarian and owner of the Clayton Outlaw Art Gallery on Essex St.


  1. Peter Kleinman Peter Kleinman May 28, 2022

    Thanks, Clayton. I left NYC in 1968, having lived for a while on 5th Street across from the 9th Precinct. Now I live in Oakland/Berkeley and miss the commotion of NYC not one bit. Always been too much dirty money in NYC; the snakes seem to luv it, though.

  2. Peter Best Peter Best July 2, 2021

    Clayton, my comments were addressed exclusively to the writer who is called Holy Moly who, upon reflection, I suspect is a troll for the bars and cleverly attempting to divide and conquer. That or a fool. But my words had nothing to do with what you wrote.

  3. clayton patterson clayton patterson July 1, 2021

    One of the best archive places I have is the NO!art site. Archivist Dietmar Kirves does an incredible job. I do not get everything on this site. The only mention of the Minority Report is in one piece I wrote on a NYC special Police Brutality meeting in Washington DC. All the NYC Black Press and some families who lost a family member to police-caused death had a private meeting with Justice Department head Congressman Conyers. Anyway. CB 3 did not see the value in this report.
    My point is, it seems, if the subject of a report or a point of view does not work with some sort of favor with our leaders and politicians, they destroy it. They try and destroy people, information, anything that does not suit them. Maybe the archive needs to be in a separate building with an unbiased archivist?
    My question remains. Why are they all so in favor of destroying our community with drunks and all the other garbage that comes with drunk people? The damage they have done to our quality of life is for what purpose? Just explain that to me. Whose idea was the Entertainment Zone?
    I am sure I have a copy of the Minority Report somewhere, Elsa would know where it is. But.
    I am including Penny Arcade in this conversation. I saw her complaint on Facebook. She mentioned the booze-driven rude intrusion, the music blasted on balconies and rooftop parties has on her quality of life. Again. A question to our leaders and politicians, our protectors: What are you getting out of turning our community into an alcohol theme park?
    Congressmember John Conyers holding a meeting on police brutality

  4. clayton patterson clayton patterson July 1, 2021

    Peter I hope I got my point across that I supported all the community leaders who opposed bars in Hell Square. We have to accept some change, but what happened was led by mindless greed.

    And looking for an answer to my question of Why would our community leaders and politicians be so in favor of a business that has been destroying our community?

    There is now another step in this struggle. The destroying of history. BTW, There was a government-sponsored community group set up to put together the pieces that formed the 1988 police riot.  A wide cross-section of people were invited to give their understanding and to make a statement on their version of the history of the event: For example:  CCRB members, Chief Gelphan, representative from Dinkins’s office.  Off the top I do not remember exactly who was on the committee:  Carol Watson with Rain, Miriam Friedlander often ran it, Michael Farrin, Donna? LES Dems, Joel Myers and myself.  Joel Myers and myself were the only ones to write a report.  It was called the Minority Report ——-.  

    Somehow this report has disappeared. I wrote to get a copy. I have been told Stetzer had taken it upon herself to destroy certain documents/history.

    Clayton, I don’t have this report, sorry.
     Susan Stetzer, District Manager Community Board 3, 

  5. Holy Moly Holy Moly June 28, 2021


    Thanks for the shout-out to our dear late friend Marcia Lemmon. I knew her well and she taught many of us how to deal with bars and the State Liquor Authority.

    Compared to Marcia, Diem Boyd and her group LES Dwellers are anemic pretenders whose group creates an impression of standing up to the nightlife industry, but does little. When Bill de Blasio created the Nightlife Mayor’s office and repealed the Cabaret Law, they did nothing. Since then, and even now with the bars in the streets, they do nothing.

    What I would give to see a new leader the likes of Marcia.

    • Peter Best Peter Best June 29, 2021

      Other than honoring the memory of a good soul and champion of the LES who was Marcia Lemmon, I must admit to being completely baffled by the point of your letter. I too knew Marcia and I too admired and respected her work but to use her memory to belittle unpaid activists like Diem Boyd and the LES Dwellers who volunteer their time (and endure ceaseless attacks and ridicule, by shills of real estate and bars) to do what they can do to stop or at least hinder an extremely well orchestrated super-financed assault on the LES is pointless. The work Marcia did was equally noble and selfless but if she were anywhere as near effective as you are implying, we wouldn’t have this nightmare to begin with. Taking on CB3 in cahoots with the SLA is an exhausting and utterly thankless job — that much more so when your only reward is often ridicule. “Anemic pretenders?” What are you talking about? This is not a competition. This kind of talk is not only dishonoring the memory of a fighting spirit but is giving giving solace to the forces and institutions who have utterly taken over our community. As far as I see the ONLY people who are standing up are Diem Boyd and the LES Dwellers and if you really wanted to support the spirit of Marcia, you would join them.

      • clayton patterson clayton patterson June 30, 2021

        Peter Best. Not sure how you see I am putting Diem down. I support her. Without her we would be in much deeper trouble. I am a fan of Diem. Here is my point. I hope more clear. I illustrated 2 peopled 1 group. The 2 people were Rebecca Moore and Diem ( of course her Dwellers). Group: Marcia Lemmon, Danny Stein, Elsa Rensaa and myself. We were all viciously attacked by the powers who wanted the bars. Marcia, Elsa, Danny and I were banned from the 7th precinct council for asking questions related to crime connected to the bars. Diem had her speech taken away from her at CB 3 meetings. Rebecca was endlessly attacked by Stetzer and the power people. Rebecca was called crazy, stupid, mentally ill. All any of us were doing was trying to stop more liquor licenses. My question is why do all these political leaders and local leaders fight so hard to make our community unlivable? I am talking Hell Square. Why? What do these pushers get for fighting so hard for bars? This is over decades. We all have seen the end result. There are many videos. Many complaints. I was talking to a cop tonight and he said the night time drunks are a real serious problem. He asked me if I witnessed what went on. last weekend. One part of the gift – just look at the bar closing. The screaming mass of drunks are loud enough to wake up the dead. The cop sirens and loud speakers speaking loudly clear the streets and so on. Forget the garbage, fights, puke, used condoms, urine, feces, and so on. Why do these leaders want this? This is what they gave us. Long story….. All the leaders from the Hell Square part.. those who opposed were attacked.. but no question Rebecca, Marcia, Diem are leaders to be honored. All of them.

      • David Troutman David Troutman July 2, 2021

        Marcia Lemmon lived on the back side of her building and could not hear any of the noise and hell-raising that was happening on Ludlow Street where she lived. Makes it all the more amazing that Marcia fought so hard against the problems and the people causing those problems in our neighborhood. Rest her Soul, she fought the fight.

    • David Troutman David Troutman July 2, 2021

      Hi Holy Moly.
      I don’t think you are well informed about the tireless efforts of Diem Boyd and the LES DWELLERS. I hope you will retract your statement. It is more of a poor reflection on you than anyone else.

  6. Clayton Patterson Clayton Patterson Post author | June 27, 2021

    This history is just the tip. There are many sources of history out there. It has to be saved and put together. A part of this is in the government records. I think if history is put into a timeline there will be many surprises.

    After the police riot, I was part of a government community study. Miriam Friedlander was one of the responsible people. The Shadow covered many of the meetings. Paul DeRienzo also covered some for WBAI. Dinkins had a liaison attend the meetings. Only 2 people wrote a report. Joel Myers and myself wrote a Minority Report. It is supposed to be in the archives of Community Board 3, I have been asking to get a copy. It’s a little hard. One reason I have been told is that the Manager of CB 3 got rid of many files. I’ll wait to see what happens. To throw out a government report based on such an important historic event would be a problem. Why throw out any files? I have to see if this is true.

    The people in power may believe they are immune. I don’t think they grasp the level of discontent all these liquor licenses has caused. Or the relevance of history.

    Here’s just a quick snapshot cross-section of a couple of people documenting these Entertainment Zone problems. A NY Times reporter who has documented how out of control and what a quality of life issue the drinking is in the community. A lawyer who has documented what he believes to be the blind greed with political support that is one cause for the out of control drinking. Many in this community have a history of complaints and, if there was a response, it tended to be a personal attack. Ed Litvak from the LoDown has attended many community board meetings. Lincoln when he was editor of The Villager covered many of these problems. First time I met Ed was at an opening of a new place with a liquor permit on Houston St. and there was the Business Improvement District and Susan Stetzer. Seemed odd to me why they would be there celebrating. All this information just has to start to be organized. 311 reports. Ambulance responses. OD’s. Deaths. Arrests. I will speculate there’s plenty of evidence once this is started to be put together.

    Just a quick look back at some of the political or community leadership in my area who were supporters of the BID: Mark Glass was an obstacle when Elsa and I were collecting signatures to stop the BID in our area. He went to jail for 14 years for trying to kill a tenant. William Rapfogel, the former chief of New York’s Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty, went to jail for stealing money from his organization. Silver, our assemblyman, is in jail for a $5-million public-corruption case. Just the tip of the big boys leadership iceberg.

    This Entertainment Zone drunk disaster has been set up by politicians and community leaders who have been pushing a real estate and liquor license agenda and have lost their connection to community quality of life. Since they set this up, I do not see why the police should be used as a babysitting service. Why should the cops be responsible to clean up the mess created by drunk people filling the streets before and after the bars close? It should not be the police’s responsibility to take care of the masses of drunken, out of control youth — or to protect the drunks from the predators. The cops cannot solve this problem. The people responsible for creating this mess should be responsible for cleaning it up.

  7. clayton patterson clayton patterson June 26, 2021

    I am not stuck on peace and quiet. That’s one reason I never moved to Europe. It is the takeover of our community by bars, outsiders and high rents making it impossible for traditional business to remain here that is the problem.

    As for Varvatos taking over the CBGB space, I went to the protest, I wanted to know more. It took me time and a bit of a struggle to meet with the owner. I heard his plans and his connection to CBGB’s. The effort to try to save CBGB’s was over. Done. I went to document what I was told was happening. I am happy to say that space is not a bar, it is a clothing store. Change is a fact of life.

    Same with Ludlow House. I checked that out — again, from meeting the heads of the organization to attending events. I got local creators memberships in exchange for their art. I got people to attend the free Varvatos events. Ludlow House could have been a large club filled with massive parties. Instead the place is almost invisible. I am happy enough with my background work in these areas.

    Change happens. It always will. But turning our residential area into an entertainment zone, and the entertainment being places to get the youth drunk is just plain stupid and unforgivable. If the local political leaders who made this happen did not get paid off, then why did they sell us out? The whole history of how this happened needs to be examined. This name calling and causing problems for people who are opposed to more liquor licenses has to stop. We have enough drinking holes. We need community services. The attacks against Diem Boyd show how afraid of the truth they are. People in our area are very proud of Diem’s hard work. She stands for what is good for the community. The other people stand behind greed.

    Our leaders and politicians, by hook and by crook, have sold us out. I hope people think about this next sentence from Diem Boyd’s talking point: “If nothing is done regarding enforcement and policing, and if the unspoken mandate is for C.B. 3 to continue to license this area into oblivion, we can expect more mayhem, chaos and violence.”

    We have reached a place where I do not see where a protest could help. It is obvious nothing will be done. I think it is wrong to expect the police to take care of the mass of drunks that get dumped on the street. There is a very good chance something terrible can happen. What is missing in all of this is that on the outer edge of the mass of drunks are a good number of predators. Make no mistake, crime is up. The drunks are an easy target. Besides turning our area into a drunk tank, they have also given us the gift of a ticking time bomb.

    As to selling out and sailing the world, I have too many responsibilities. I have Elsa and her disabilities. I have a massive photo and video archive to get into order and save. I am one of the few people who has documented and saved much content that is talked about in these different dialogues.

    Hope you are good, John. Nice to hear your voice.

  8. Hell Square Neighbor Hell Square Neighbor June 26, 2021

    Clayton, thanks for the history of how hell started. I remember how all this shit started all too well. Marcia and Rebecca fought hard for us but the incoming was too powerful and too corrupt.

    Susan Stetzer, David McWater, Shelly Silver, Sion Misrahi (who started the BID with Shelly Crook Silver’s help), Don West (dirty bird), Dominic Berg (SPURA sellout and, talk about institutional racism, he is the poster boy who protected the status quo and white interest in the district, like Shelly, no POC were ever coming back to the area), Margaret Chin and Scott Stringer (glad to see his fall down the political ladder, laughable he was a “progressive”–he is bought and sold, took a lot of money from real estate and the nightlife industry), they all made sure every liquor license was approved down here and worked overtime to shut us all up.

    Susan Stetzer will do whatever the political powers want her to do, even the dirty work. People ask why she does it. It is to have power and feel important, needed. It is all really sad except she keeps screwing the people who live here.

    The good thing about COVID is you get to watch the CB 3 meetings, laugh out loud and scream at the screen at the f-ing idiocy. The Executive Committee meetings are the best! You see SS’s handpicked sycophants and you see how the cycle continues. Little people are always so desperate to feel important.

    The new SLA Committee chairperson, Michelle Kuppersmith, is the scariest of all because she thinks she is so smart and is really hungry for power. She is SS’s new pet toy and mouthpiece. Exhibit 1, “Dominic Berg must be reappointed” speech. This board is never going to rep the people until SS is gone.

    Not to say us old-timers didn’t try, but I think Diem and the Dwellers are so good at this. They know how to bring attention to the problem and are a really smart group. Also, people like Diem (not SS or her toadies) and trust, listen to her. She is not afraid of SS and is way smarter than her. SS hates that people like Diem. Diem is a leader.

  9. Apelles Pinxt Apelles Pinxt June 26, 2021

    Very much class-driven, in Washington Square they use police in riot gear to enforce a 10 P.M curfew of a crowd consisting of mostly minorities, while Hell Square seems to be affluent white kids who spend money at the bars.

    • Peter Best Peter Best June 26, 2021

      Apelles Pinxt, while there is no shortage of affluent white kids helping to create this ugly, unbearable circus, any walk along Stanton, Ludlow, Rivington or Orchard Sts. at night will reveal a virtual rainbow coalition of obnoxious assholes. Just look at the videos in Diem Boyd’s Open Letter. And of the idiots who think it is their right to drive around and steal our piece of mind by blasting their endlessly repetitive music into our brains at all hours of the day and nights, or rev their engines like teenagers, or soup them up so they sound like bombs or gunfire, I have yet to see an affluent white kid behind the wheel. In short, while class often has a role in how police respond or do not respond, painting this miserable situation as some kind of white privilege is simply not borne out by the facts and is a distraction we can ill afford.

  10. John Penley John Penley June 25, 2021

    All my best wishes to Clayton and Elsa. As we all grow older and because of age and medical problems, can’t drink or party anymore, we want peace and quiet. Basically, life sucks for the elderly. I remember when Clayton said he was going to move to Europe. Why didn’t he do that? I now live in Vegas because it is a wild place like the old neighborhood, and since most of my neighbors work on the strip, my middle-income housing project is quiet and the people are really nice. I can still do wild when I want to here. Both Clayton and I specialized in photographing the East Village and the LES and without the crazy nightlife it would have been boring and dull. Anyway, I would feel sorry for Clayton in relation to the party mob, but he did party at the John Varvatos-occupied former CBGBs when many from the neighborhood were protesting outside. Clayton has the option to sell his building for a ton of money and move somewhere else. When I had to move out, it was to live in a tent for a while at Occupy Wall Street D.C.

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