East Village is a neighborhood in the borough of Manhattan in New York City, bordered to the west by Greenwich Village, to the north by Gramercy Park and Stuyvesant Town, to the south by the Lower East Side, and to the east by the East River. Generally, although definitions vary on the neighborhood’s exact street boundaries, East Village is considered to be the area east of Third Avenue and the Bowery to the East River, between 14th Street and Houston Street.
The area was once generally considered to be part of the Lower East Side, but began to develop its own identity and culture in the late 1960s, when many artists, musicians, students and hippies began to move into the area, attracted by cheap rents and the base of Beatniks who had lived there since the 1950s. The neighborhood has become a center of the counterculture in New York, and is known as the birthplace and historical home of many artistic movements, including punk rock and the Nuyorican literary movement. It has also been the site of protests and riots.
East Village is still known for its diverse community, vibrant nightlife and artistic sensibility, although in recent decades it has been argued that gentrification has changed the character of the neighborhood.
The area that is today known as the East Village was originally a farm owned by Dutch Governor-General Wouter van Twiller. Peter Stuyvesant received the deed to this farm in 1651, and his family held on to the land for over seven generations, until a descendant began selling off parcels of the property in the early 19th century. Wealthy townhouses dotted the dirt roads for a few decades until the great Irish and German immigration of the 1840s and 1850s.
Speculative land owners began building multi-unit dwellings on lots meant for single family homes, and began renting out rooms and apartments to the growing working class, including many immigrants from Germany. From roughly the 1850s to first decade of the 20th century, the neighborhood has the third largest urban population of Germans outside of Vienna and Berlin, known as Klein Deutschland (“Little Germany”). It was America’s first foreign language neighborhood; hundreds of political, social, sports and recreational clubs were set up during this period, and some of these buildings still exist. However, the vitality of the community was sapped by the General Slocum disaster on June 15, 1904, in which over a thousand German-Americans died.
Later waves of immigration also brought many Poles and, especially, Ukrainians to the area, creating an Ukrainian enclave in the city. Since the 1890s there has been a large concentration roughly from 10th Street to 5th Street, between 3rd Avenue and Avenue A. The post-World War II diaspora, consisting primarily of Western Ukrainian intelligentsia, also settled down in the area. Several churches, including St. George’s Catholic Church; Ukrainian restaurants and butcher shops; The Ukrainian Museum; the Shevchenko Scientific Society; and the Ukrainian Cultural Center are evidence of the impact of this culture on the area.
The area originally ended at the East River, to the east of where Avenue D is now located, until landfill – including World War II debris and rubble shipped from London – was used to extend the shoreline outward to provide foundation for the Franklin D. Roosevelt Drive.
Until the mid-1960s, the area was simply the northern part of the Lower East Side, with a similar culture of immigrant, working class life. In the 1950s, the migration of Beatniks into the neighborhood later attracted hippies, musicians and artists well into the 1960s. The area was dubbed the “East Village”, to dissociate it from the image of slums evoked by the Lower East Side. According to The New York Times, a 1964 guide called Earl Wilson’s New York wrote that “artists, poets and promoters of coffeehouses from Greenwich Village are trying to remelt the neighborhood under the high-sounding name of ‘East Village.'”
Newcomers and real estate brokers popularized the new name, and the term was adopted by the popular media by the mid-1960s. In 1966 a weekly newspaper, The East Village Other, appeared and The New York Times declared that the neighborhood “had come to be known” as the East Village in the June 5, 1967 edition.