Who We Are
As activists who have held meetings, made posters, bought books, staffed offices, volunteered, answered phones, stuffed envelopes, and decorated windows at 339 Lafayette Street, we are concerned about losing The Peace Pentagon.
The current owner of 339 Lafayette, the A.J. Muste Memorial Institute, is contemplating selling the building for a number of reasons. Friends of 339 is considering two possible scenarios should they decide to move forward with this. One possibility is that we will become a 501(c)(3) organization and take over responsibility for managing the building. The other is that we will create a special project within Muste to steward the building while it is being redesigned and renovated. The project will stay on after the renovations are finished to foster the organizations that rent office space in the building.
In either instance, we are committed to building a peace center that will inspire, support, and sustain the peace and social justice community for decades to come. Below are a few compelling reasons for maintaining the Peace Pentagon at 339 Lafayette:
Politically: The first home of many of the organizations that are currently tenants at 339 was an office building at 5 Beekman Street in lower Manhattan. Peace and social justice organizations worked out of this building for 25 years without too many problems. However, when the War Resisters League and other groups began vocally and visibly opposing the Vietnam War in the mid-1960s, the owner of the building and some of the more conservative tenants grew uncomfortable and precipitated an expulsion of the groups from the building. The goal of buying 339 Lafayette was to establish a permanent and sustainable haven for peace and justice activities that would not be vulnerable to swings of public opinion or political climate.
People who come to 339 don't pass a doorman, don't go through security, don't need permission to hang things on common walls or in windows. We don't need ID, or metal detectors, or guards. While a loft or a condo might not require all these things at the time we move in, we can't underestimate how changes in the political climate and/or the feeling and attitudes of the people who would "share" a new building could affect our work. Because the terms of our residency in a building like this would not be within our control, limits could be placed on how we do our work.
Strategically: Owning a building not only gives activists a great amount of freedom in our activities, it also provides a wonderful interface with the public to engage them in our struggles. We believe the building can reach out to people in the same way we reach out to communicate our values and ideas at demonstrations and other events. Once you begin to think about how we can use 339 Lafayette as a billboard for peace, the opportunities are endless.
Financially: If 339 is not sold, it will be inconvenient to deal with the renovations the building needs. Tenants may face the prospect of moving temporarily while renovations are completed. Staying at 339 may also create short-term financial stresses for the managing body that would not exist in a new, rented space.
However, in the long term, the movement will be in a stronger financial position if we stay. Condo fees increase, there are often add-on fees for utility surcharges, and we'll have no option for commercial rental income from a condo to offset the lower rates that activist tenants pay. The possibilities for income from a renovated first floor space can—in the long term—outweigh any short-term draw-backs of the move.
If entrusted with 339 Lafayette, Friends of 339 will raise the money and energy needed for renovations. (Please see the Saving Options page for our ideas about the extent of potential renovations). We will then steward the building into the 21st century by providing the leadership needed to foster collaborations among tenants in the building and with local, national, and international peace and social justice organizations. Our dream is that 339 Lafayette becomes a prominent, accessible, multi-generational, self-sustaining epicenter for events and collaborations between groups that share a vision of a better world for us all.
Although the project is an ambitious one, requiring a lot of hard work, we believe saving the building is crucial to the work we do and will be an invaluable contribution to the peace and social justice movement for generations to come.
What we have done so far:
• We have met with other non-profit organizations that have successfully undertaken similar capital campaign projects, as well as with organizations that regret having sold their buildings, to get their input and advice;
• We have analyzed the building’s finances and concluded that through a strategic combination of a high-profile fundraising campaign, a capital loan, and projected retail space revenue, renovating the building is well within our means;
• We have made a short film that highlights the 40-year history of 339 Lafayette as a home for the social justice movement and our dreams for its future;
• We are planning an architectural design competition to re-imagine and redesign our building at 339 Lafayette in order to share the message of the movement with the world in new ways. The competition will engage the architectural community, the public, and the tenants/users of 339 to think about how the building can promote peace and justice, be environmentally sustainable through green energy use, and be financially sustainable by utilizing the income-generating retail space to support the work of the movement; and
•We are planning a fundraising campaign that will use all of the above elements to convince supporters of the need to preserve the building for future generations of activists.
We ask that those who love this building and all that happens inside it to work to save it. To join Friends of 339, please contact us.