greenwich village

 002-mercantile.jpg (51811 bytes) Pict0276.jpg (130899 bytes) Pict0138.jpg (126974 bytes) Pict0111.jpg (126873 bytes)
001Grace Church  002 NY Mercantile Exchange 003 One Fifth Ave. 004 First Presbyterian Church 005  Forbes Magazine Building
GV006-01.jpg (76320 bytes) Pict0080.jpg (133536 bytes) Pict0042.jpg (132894 bytes) Pict0024.jpg (136054 bytes)
006 Lockwood DeForest House   007 Hemmerdinger Hall   008 Salmagundi Club 009 Butterfield House 010 The New School
Pict0161.jpg (148664 bytes) Pict0279.jpg (132161 bytes) Pict0218.jpg (131774 bytes) GV014A.jpg (35027 bytes)
011Church of the Ascension 012 Washington Mews   013 Bigelow Drugs  014 127-131 MacDougal Street 015 Cable Building  
Silver Towers PICT0035.jpg (128779 bytes) Pict0286.jpg (132251 bytes) Pict0236.jpg (129057 bytes)
016 University Village (Silver Towers) 017 The Atrium 018 Bobst Library 019 1-3 Washington Square North   020 New York Studio School
GV023-04.jpg (70623 bytes) Pict0147.jpg (139015 bytes) Pict0183.jpg (133155 bytes)
021 Judson Memorial Church 022 St.Joseph’s Church 023 Greenwich House 024 18 West 11th St. 025 56 West 10th St
GV026-01.jpg (82990 bytes) Pict0166.jpg (130745 bytes) Pict0030.jpg (127132 bytes) PICT0154.JPG (50739 bytes) Pict0205.jpg (143535 bytes)
026 Village Community Church 027 Renwick Terrrace 028 Jefferson Market Library 029 Hook and Ladder 8 030 Patchin Place
GV031-01.jpg (76287 bytes) GV032-4-10_Grove_Street_2.jpg (46896 bytes) GV-PICT0064.JPG (47217 bytes) GV034-02.jpg (59722 bytes) GV035-02.jpg (67071 bytes)
031 37BankStreet. 032 4-10 Grove St.   033 Catholic Center at New York Uni'. 034 St.Vincent’s Hospital 035 70 Perry Street  
036 Church of St.Luke-in-the-Fields 037 Grove Court 038 39 and 41 Commerce Street 039 Isaac- Hendricks House 040 6 St.Luke’s Place
Pict0296.jpg (124592 bytes) PICT0096.jpg (80542 bytes)
041 61 Morton Street 042 Federal Archive Building 043 “Narrowest House” 044 19-26 Washington Square North   045 The Row
gv-wash-arch.jpg (29097 bytes) GV058-Liquor.jpg (43049 bytes)
046 Washington Square Arch 047 The Liquor Store 048 Our Lady of Pompeii Church   049 7 Leroy Street 050 23 Leroy Street  
grove1a.jpg (13672 bytes) GV52B.jpg (84147 bytes) GV053.JPG (31238 bytes) Pict0047.jpg (129690 bytes)
051 14-16 Grove Street 052 Lunchbox Diner 053 401 Broadway Building 054  31-33 West 12th St. 055-The Ear Inn
view_popup04a.jpg (16214 bytes)
056- Banco Di Sicilia headquarters 060- 497 Greenwich St.

The best way to see the Village is to walk, and by far the best place to start is its natural center, Washington Square, commemorated as a novel title by Henry James and haunted by most of the Village's illustrious past names. It is not an elegant-looking place – too large to be a square, too small to be a park. But it does retain its northern edging of red-brick row houses – the "solid, honorable dwellings" of Henry James's novel and now home to mostly administrative offices for New York University (NYU) – and more imposingly, Stanford White's famous Triumphal Arch, built in 1892 to commemorate the centenary of George Washington's inauguration as president. 

Marcel Duchamp, along with an agitator going by the name of "Woe," climbed to the top of the arch in 1913 to declare the Free Republic of Greenwich Village. Don't plan on repeating that stunt; the arch has been cordoned off around its perimeter in an effort to ward off graffiti. James wouldn't, however, recognize the south side of the square now: only the fussy Judson Memorial Church stands out amid a messy blend of modern architecture, its interior given over these days to a mixture of theater and local focus for a wide array of community-based programs.

wpeA5.jpg (51467 bytes)

wpeE1.jpg (42291 bytes)

Most importantly, though, Washington Square remains the symbolic heart of the Village and its radicalism – so much so that when Robert Moses, the tarmacker of great chunks of New York City, wanted to plow a four-lane roadway through the center of the square there was a storm of protest that resulted not only in the stopping of the road but also the banning of all traffic from the park, then used as a turnaround point by buses. And that's how it has stayed ever since, notwithstanding some battles in the 1960s when the authorities decided to purge the park of folk singers and nearly had a riot on their hands. Today, in a recent and (mildly) successful effort to clear drug dealers from the park, the city has installed hidden security cameras, and undercover cops now mingle inconspicuously with the crowds. The park itself is closed after 11pm, a curfew that is strictly enforced. But, frankly, nothing's likely to happen to you in this part of town and if things look at all hazardous it's just as easy to walk around. As soon as the weather gets warm, the park becomes running track, performance venue, chess tournament and social club, boiling over with life as skateboards flip, dogs run, and acoustic guitar notes crash through the urgent cries of performers calling for the crowd's attention. At times like this, there's no better square in the city.

North of Washington Square

At the eastern end of Christopher Street is another of those car-buzzing, life-risking Village junctions where Sixth Avenue is met by Greenwich Avenue, one of the neighborhood's major shopping streets. Hover for a while at the romantic Victorian bulk of the Jefferson Market Courthouse, voted fifth most beautiful building in America in 1885, and built with all the characteristic vigor of the age. It hasn't actually served as a courthouse since 1946; indeed, at one time – like so many buildings in this city – it was branded for demolition. It was saved thanks to the efforts of a few determined Villagers, including e. e. cummings, and now lives out its days as the local library. Walk around behind for a better look, perhaps pondering for a moment on the fact that the adjacent well-tended allotment was, until 1971, the Women's House of Detention, a prison known for its abysmal conditions and numbering Angela Davis among its inmates. Look out, also, for Patchin Place, a tiny mews whose neat, gray rowhouses are yet another Village literary landmark, home to the reclusive Djuna Barnes for more than forty years. Barnes's longtime neighbor e. e. cummings used to call her "Just to see if she was still alive." Patchin Place was at various times also home to Marlon Brando, John Masefield, the ubiquitous Dreiser and O'Neill, and John Reed (who wrote Ten Days that Shook the World here).

Across the road, Balducci's forms a Downtown alternative to its Upper West Side rival, Zabar's, its stomach-tingling smells pricey but hard to resist. Nearby, Bigelow's Pharmacy is possibly the city's oldest drugstore and apparently little has changed; and, south a block and left, West 8th Street is an occasionally rewarding strip of brash shoe stores, tattoo parlors, and cut-price clothes stores. Up West 10th Street are some of the best-preserved early nineteenth-century townhouses in the Village, and one of particular interest at no. 18. The facade of this house, which juts into the street, had to be rebuilt after the terrorist Weathermen had been using the house as a bomb factory and one of their devices exploded. Three of the group were killed in the blast, but two others escaped and remained on the run until a few years ago.

For anyone not yet sated on architecture, a couple of imposing churches are to be found by following 10th Street down as far as the Fifth Avenue stretch of the Village, where the neighborhood's low-slung residential streets lead to some eminently desirable apartment buildings. On the corner stands the nineteenth-century Church of the Ascension, a small, light church built by Richard Upjohn (the Trinity Church architect), later redecorated by Stanford White and recently restored outside and in, where a gracefully toned La Farge altarpiece and some fine stained glass are on view. A block away, Joseph Wells's bulky, chocolatey-brown Gothic revival First Presbyterian Church is decidedly less attractive than Upjohn's structure, less soaring, heavier, and in every way more sober, with a tower said to have been modeled on the one at Magdalen College Oxford, England. To look inside, you need to enter through the discreetly added Church House (ring the bell for attention if the door's locked). Afterwards you're just a few steps away from the pin-neat prettiness of Washington Mews.

Click here for the Greenwich Village walking tours.

Greenwich Village’s known history dates back to the 16th century, when it was a marshland called Sapokanikan by Native Americans who camped and fished in the meandering trout stream known as Minetta Brook. By the 1630s Dutch settlers had cleared pastures and planted crops in this area, which they referred to as Noortwyck. Freed African slaves brought here by the Dutch also farmed parcels of land in this sparsely populated district. After the English conquest of New Amsterdam in 1664, the settlement evolved into a country hamlet, first designated Grin’wich in 1713 Common Council records. Sir Peter Warren, Vice-Admiral of the British Navy and commander of its New York fleet, amassed a vast land tract here in the 1740s, as did Captain Robert Richard Randall.

Greenwich Village survived the American Revolution as a pastoral suburb. Commercial activity after the war was centered near the edge of the Hudson River, where there were fresh produce markets. In the 1780s the city purchased a parcel of eight acres for use as a potter’s field and public gallows, at what is now Washington Square Park. The comparative seclusion of the area began to erode when outbreaks of yellow fever and cholera beset the core city in 1799, 1803, 1805, and 1821. Those seeking refuge fled north to the wholesome backwaters of the West Village, triggering the construction of temporary housing as well as banking offices. During an especially virulent epidemic in 1822 many who had intended to remain in the area only temporarily chose instead to settle there permanently, increasing the population fourfold between 1825 and 1840 and spurring the development of markets and businesses. Shrewd speculators subdivided farms, leveled hills, rerouted Minetta Brook, and undertook landfill projects. Blocks of neat rowhouses built in the prevailing Federal style soon accommodated middle-class merchants and tradesmen. From 1820 a more affluent residential development emerged to the east near Broadway. Another fashionable area developed around Washington Square Park, at the foot of Fifth Avenue. The potter’s field was closed in 1826 and transformed successively into a military parade grounds and a spacious pedestrian commons. On the perimeter of Washington Square, stately red brick townhouses built in the Greek Revival style drew wealthy members of society. The crowning addition to this urban plaza was the triumphal marble arch designed by Stanford White. Erected in 1892 and funded through private subscription, it replaced a temporary portal raised to commemorate the centenary (1889) of George Washington’s inauguration as President.

During the early 19th century new institutions served the spiritual, educational, and cultural needs of the growing community. Religious denominations commissioned buildings with elaborate decorative schemes, New York University grew on the east side of Washington Square from 1836, and the neighborhood soon became the site of art clubs, private picture galleries, learned societies, literary salons, and libraries. Fine hotels, shopping emporia, and theaters also proliferated. The character of the neighborhood changed markedly at the close of the century when German, Irish, and Italian immigrants found work in the breweries, warehouses, and coal and lumber yards near the Hudson River and in the manufacturing lofts in the southeast corner of the neighborhood. Older residences were subdivided into cheap lodging hotels and multiple-family dwellings, or demolished for higher-density tenements. Plummeting real estate values prompted nervous retailers and genteel property owners to move uptown.

The Village at the turn of the 20th century was quaintly picturesque and ethnically diverse. By the start of World War I it was widely known as a bohemian enclave with secluded side streets, low rents, and a tolerance for radicalism and nonconformity. Attention became increasingly focused on artists and writers noted for their boldly innovative work: books and irreverent "little magazines" were published by small presses, art galleries exhibited the work of the avant-garde, and experimental theater companies blatantly ignored the financial considerations of Broadway. A growing awareness of its idiosyncrasies helped to make Greenwich Village an attraction for tourists. Entrepreneurs provided amusements ranging from evenings in artists’ studios to bacchanalian costume balls. During Prohibition local speakeasies attracted uptown patrons. Decrepit rowhouses were remodeled into "artistic flats" for the well-to-do, and in 1926 luxury apartment towers appeared at the northern edge of Washington Square. The stock market crash of 1929 halted the momentum of new construction.

gas station

During the 1930’s, galleries and collectors promoted the cause of contemporary art. Sculptor Gertrude Whitney Vanderbilt opened a museum dedicated to modern American art on West 8th Street, now the New York Studio School. The New School for Social Research, on West 12th Street since the late 1920s, inaugurated the "University in Exile" in 1934.

The Village had become the center for the "beat movement" by the 1950s, with galleries along 8th Street, coffee houses on MacDougal Street, and storefront theaters on Bleecker Street. "Happenings" and other unorthodox artistic, theatrical and musical events were staged at the Judson Memorial Church. During the 1960s a homosexual community formed around Christopher Street; in 1969 a confrontation by the police culminated in a riot known as the Stonewall Rebellion, regarded as the beginning of the nationwide movement for gay and lesbian rights. Greenwich Village became a rallying place for antiwar protesters in the 1970s and for activity mobilized by the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s.

The historic preservation movement in Greenwich Village was begun nearly fifty years ago. In the 1940s, urban renewal efforts on Washington Square South had altered the physical character of the neighborhood by demolishing many 19th century structures. Local resentment of these development initiatives inspired a preservation movement and helped to defeat a plan by Robert Moses to carve a roadway through Washington Square. Efforts by preservationists were strengthened by "downzoning" changes in 1961 and by the designation in 1969 of a contiguous Greenwich Village Historic District that protected more than 2,035 structures and encompassed one-third of the Village. Currently there is a movement to protect the waterfront, exempted from earlier landmark designation. This local preservation initiative is still in progress.

Edited excerpt from pages 506-509 of The Encyclopedia of New York City edited by Kenneth T. Jackson, ©1995, Yale University. Reproduced by permission of Yale University Press.

Greenwich Village Society
for Historic Preservation
232 East 11th Street
New York, NY 10003


Click here for some notes on the Hudson River Park walk.