Places that Matter

District Council 65 (former)

District Council 65 (former)
Long-time headquarters of a union with an activist history
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Place Matters Profile

Thirteen Astor Place holds a central place in New York City's labor history. For many years this 19th century building was home to District Council 65, a union founded in the 1930s that grew to have enormous influence before it went bankrupt in 1993. Remembered by its many members as the embodiment of the union's wide-reaching social and political roles, the building has now been converted into private condominiums.

District 65, United Auto Workers (UAW) traces its origins to the Wholesale Dry Goods Workers Union organized in 1933 by a group of employees in a dry goods warehouse on New York's Lower East Side. Through a series of mergers the union grew to over 15,000 members in the early 1940s. And during the postwar years the union expanded its reach even more, eventually representing workers in such diverse fields as publishing, museums, and university administration. The union was also known for its participation in the social issues of the day including the women's movement, the civil rights movement, and efforts to end the Vietnam War. Merging with the UAW in the late 1970s, District 65 declared bankruptcy in 1993 and its members were absorbed into other UAW chapters.

For most of its existence District 65 was housed at 13 Astor Place, a large brick and red sandstone building with double-height windows at street level, which was constructed in 1892 to house the Mercantile Library. (Thirteen Astor Place is also the former site of the historic of the Astor Place Opera House.) The union offered many services at the building such as a cafeteria; "Consumer Service," a members-only department store; and halls for special events and family gatherings. One union member's daughter remembers "being in the District 65 building was like being home; we got our medications at the pharmacy, our glasses at the optical and household goods at the Consumer Service." Many political rallies were also held outside the building.

When the union left the building in the 1990s, it was converted into private condominiums. As of 2004, the retail spaces on the ground level, which had been rented out during the union's time as well, included a Barnes & Noble and a Starbucks Coffee.

Sources:

 

Crowe, Kenneth C. "Union Files Bankruptcy to Thwart Foreclosure." New York Newsday, January 19, 1993.

Eisner, Gene. Place Matters/New York Labor History Association Storytelling Contest. February 2, 2000.

Kayton, Bruce.Radical Walking Tours of New York City. New York City: Seven Stories Press. 1999.

Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives. District 65, United Auto Workers Records. New York University.