Greenwich Village, often referred to by locals as simply “the Village”, is a neighborhood on the west side ofLower Manhattan, New York City. Greenwich Village has been known as an artists’ haven, the Bohemian capital, the cradle of the modern LGBT movement, and the East Coast birthplace of both the Beat and ’60s counterculturemovements. Groenwijck, one of the Dutch names of the village (meaning “Green District”) was Anglicized to Greenwich. The New York University (NYU) is located in Greenwich Village.
Greenwich Village has undergone extensive gentrification and commercialization; the three zip codes that constitute the Village – 10012, 10013, and 10014 – were all ranked among the ten most expensive in the United States by median housing price in 2014, according to Forbes.
In the 16th century, Native Americans referred to its farthest northwest corner, by the cove on the Hudson River at present-day Gansevoort Street, as Sapokanikan (“tobacco field”). The land was cleared and turned into pasture by Dutch and freed Africansettlers in the 1630s, who named their settlement Noortwyck. In the 1630s, Governor Wouter van Twiller farmed tobacco on 200 acres (0.81 km2) here at his “Farm in the Woods”. The English conquered the Dutch settlement of New Netherland in 1664, and Greenwich Village developed as a hamlet separate from the larger New York City to the south on land that would eventually become Lower Manhattan.
The earliest known reference to the village’s name as “Greenwich” dates back to 1696, in the will of Yellis Mandeville of Greenwich; however, the village was not mentioned in the city records until 1713. Sir Peter Warren began accumulating land in 1731 and built a frame house capacious enough to hold a sitting of the Assembly when smallpox rendered the city dangerous in 1739. His house, which survived until the Civil War era, overlooked the North River from a bluff; its site on the block bounded by Perry and Charles Streets, Bleecker and West 4th Streets, can still be recognized by its mid-19th century rowhouses inserted into a neighborhood still retaining many houses of the 1830–37 boom.
From 1797 until 1829, the bucolic village of Greenwich was the location of New York State’s first penitentiary, Newgate Prison, on the Hudson River at what is now West 10th Street, near the Christopher Street pier. The building was designed by Joseph-François Mangin, who would later co-design New York City Hall. Although the intention of its first warden, Quaker prison reformerThomas Eddy, was to provide a rational and humanitarian place for retribution and rehabilitation, the prison soon became an overcrowded and pestilent place, subject to frequent riots by the prisoners which damaged the buildings and killed some inmates.By 1821, the prison, which was designed for 432 inmates, held 817 instead, a number made possible only by the frequent release of prisoners, sometimes as many as 50 a day. Since the prison was north of New York City, being sentenced to Newgate became known as being “sent up the river”, an expression which carried over when it was replaced by the new Sing Sing Prison in Ossining, New York.
The oldest house remaining in Greenwich Village is the Isaacs-Hendricks House, at 77 Bedford Street (built 1799, much altered and enlarged 1836, third story 1928). When theChurch of St. Luke in the Fields was founded in 1820 it stood in fields south of the road (now Christopher Street) that led from Greenwich Lane (now Greenwich Avenue) down to a landing on the North River. In 1822, a yellow fever epidemic in New York encouraged residents to flee to the healthier air of Greenwich Village, and afterwards many stayed. The future site of Washington Square was a potter’s field from 1797 to 1823 when 10 to 20,000 of New York’s poor were buried here, and still remain. The handsome Greek revival rowhouses on the north side of Washington Square were built about 1832, establishing the fashion of Washington Square and lower Fifth Avenue for decades to come. Well into the 19th century, the district of Washington Square was considered separate from Greenwich Village.
Reputation as urban bohemia
Greenwich Village is generally known as an important landmark on the map of American bohemianculture. The neighborhood is known for its colorful, artistic residents and the alternative culture they propagate. Due in part to the progressive attitudes of many of its residents, the Village has traditionally been a focal point of new movements and ideas, whether political, artistic, or cultural. This tradition as an enclave of avant-garde and alternative culture was established during the 19th century and into the 20th century, when small presses, art galleries, and experimental theater thrived.
The Tenth Street Studio Building was situated at 51 West 10th Street between Fifth and Sixth Avenues, the building was commissioned by James Boorman Johnston and designed byRichard Morris Hunt. Its innovative design soon represented a national architectural prototype,and featured a domed central gallery, from which interconnected rooms radiated. Hunt’s studio within the building housed the first architectural school in the United States. Soon after its completion in 1857, the building helped to make Greenwich Village central to the arts in New York City, drawing artists from all over the country to work, exhibit, and sell their art. In its initial years Winslow Homer took a studio there, as did Edward Lamson Henry, and many of the artists of the Hudson River School, including Frederic Church and Albert Bierstadt.
From the late 19th century through the 21st century, the Hotel Albert has served as a cultural icon of Greenwich Village. Opened during the 1880s and originally located at 11th Street and University Place, called the Hotel St. Stephan and then after 1902, called the Hotel Albert while under the ownership of William Ryder it served as a meeting place, restaurant and dwelling for several important artists and writers from the late 19th century well into the 20th century. After 1902, the owner’s brother Albert Pinkham Ryder lived and painted there. Some of the other famous guests who lived there include: Augustus St. Gaudens, Robert Louis Stevenson, Mark Twain, Hart Crane, Walt Whitman, Anaïs Nin, Thomas Wolfe, Robert Lowell, Horton Foote, Salvador Dalí, Philip Guston, Jackson Pollock, Andy Warhol, and many others. During the golden age of bohemianism, Greenwich Village became famous for such eccentrics as Joe Gould (profiled at length by Joseph Mitchell) and Maxwell Bodenheim, dancer Isadora Duncan, writer William Faulkner, and playwright Eugene O’Neill. Political rebellion also made its home here, whether serious (John Reed) or frivolous (Marcel Duchamp and friends set off balloons from atop Washington Square Arch, proclaiming the founding of “The Independent Republic of Greenwich Village”).
In 1924, the Cherry Lane Theatre was established. Located at 38 Commerce Street it is New York City’s oldest continuously running Off-Broadway theater. A landmark in Greenwich Village’s cultural landscape, it was built as a farm silo in 1817, and also served as a tobacco warehouse and box factory before Edna St. Vincent Millay and other members of the Provincetown Players converted the structure into a theatre they christened the Cherry Lane Playhouse, which opened on March 24, 1924, with the play The Man Who Ate the Popomack. During the 1940s The Living Theatre, Theatre of the Absurd, and the Downtown Theater movement all took root there, and it developed a reputation as a place where aspiring playwrights and emerging voices could showcase their work. In one of the many Manhattan propertiesGertrude Vanderbilt Whitney and her husband owned, Gertrude Whitney established the Whitney Studio Club at 8 West 8th Street as a facility where young artists could exhibit their works in 1914. By the 1930s the place would evolve to become her greatest legacy, theWhitney Museum of American Art, on the site of today’s New York Studio School of Drawing, Painting and Sculpture. The Whitney was founded in 1931, as an answer to the then newly founded (1928) Museum of Modern Art’s collection of mostly European modernism and its neglect of American Art. Gertrude Whitney decided to put the time and money into the museum after the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art turned down her offer to contribute her twenty-five-year collection of modern art works. In 1936, the renowned Abstract Expressionistartist and teacher Hans Hofmann moved his art school from E. 57th Street to 52 West 9th Street. In 1938, Hofmann moved again to a more permanent home at 52 West 8th Street. The school remained active until 1958 when Hofmann retired from teaching.
The Village hosted the first racially integrated night club in the United States, when the nightclub Café Society was opened in 1938 at 1 Sheridan Square by Barney Josephson. Café Society showcased African American talent and was intended to be an American version of the political cabarets Josephson had seen in Europe before World War II. Notable performers there included among others: Pearl Bailey,Count Basie, Nat King Cole, John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Ella Fitzgerald, Coleman Hawkins, Billie Holiday, Lena Horne, Burl Ives, Lead Belly,Anita O’Day, Charlie Parker, Les Paul and Mary Ford, Paul Robeson, Kay Starr, Art Tatum, Sarah Vaughan, Dinah Washington, Josh White, Teddy Wilson, Lester Young, and The Weavers, who also in Christmas 1949, played at the Village Vanguard.
The annual Greenwich Village Halloween Parade, initiated in 1974 by Greenwich Village puppeteer and mask maker Ralph Lee, is the world’s largest Halloween parade and America’s only major nighttime parade, attracting more than 60,000 costumed participants, 2 million in-person spectators, and a worldwide television audience of over 100 million.
The Village again became important to the bohemian scene during the 1950s, when the Beat Generation focused their energies there. Fleeing from what they saw as oppressive social conformity, a loose collection of writers, poets, artists, and students (later known as theBeats) and the Beatniks, moved to Greenwich Village, and to North Beach in San Francisco, in many ways creating the east coast-west coast predecessor to the Haight-Ashbury-East Village hippie scene of the next decade. The Village (and surrounding New York City) would later play central roles in the writings of, among others, Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, William S. Burroughs, James Baldwin, Truman Capote, Marianne Moore, Maya Angelou, Rod McKuen, and Dylan Thomas, who collapsed at the Chelsea Hotel and died at St. Vincents Hospital at 170 West 12th Street, in the Village after drinking at the White Horse Tavern on November 5, 1953.
Off-Off-Broadway began in Greenwich Village in 1958 as a reaction to Off Broadway, and a “complete rejection of commercial theatre”. Among the first venues for what would soon be called “Off-Off-Broadway” (a term supposedly coined by critic Jerry Tallmer of the Village Voice) were coffeehouses in Greenwich Village, in particular, the Caffe Cino at 31 Cornelia Street, operated by the eccentric Joe Cino, who early on took a liking to actors and playwrights and agreed to let them stage plays there without bothering to read the plays first, or to even find out much about the content. Also integral to the rise of Off-Off-Broadway were Ellen Stewart at La MaMa, originally located at 321 E. 9th Street and Al Carmines at the Judson Poets’ Theater, located at Judson Memorial Church on the south side of Washington Square Park.
The Village had a cutting-edge cabaret and music scene. The Village Gate, the Village Vanguard, and The Blue Note (since 1981), hosted some of the biggest names in jazz on a regular basis. Greenwich Village also played a major role in the development of the folk music scene of the 1960s. Music clubs included Gerde’s Folk City, The Bitter End, Cafe Au Go Go, Cafe Wha?, The Gaslight Cafe and the Bottom Line. Three of the four members of The Mamas & the Papas met there. Guitarist and folk singer Dave Van Ronk lived there for many years. Village resident and cultural icon Bob Dylan by the mid-60s became one of the foremost popular songwriters in the world, and often developments in Greenwich Village would influence the simultaneously occurring folk rock movement in San Francisco and elsewhere, and vice versa. Dozens of other cultural and popular icons got their start in the Village’s nightclub, theater, and coffeehouse scene during the 1950s, 1960s, and early 1970s. Notably, besides Bob Dylan, there were Jimi Hendrix, Barbra Streisand, Peter, Paul, and Mary, Bette Midler, The Lovin’ Spoonful, Simon & Garfunkel, Liza Minnelli, Jackson Browne, James Taylor, Eric Andersen, Joan Baez, The Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem, The Velvet Underground, The Kingston Trio, Carly Simon, Richie Havens, Maria Muldaur, Tom Paxton, Janis Ian, Phil Ochs, Joni Mitchell, Laura Nyro, and Nina Simone, among others. The Greenwich Village of the 1950s and 1960s was at the center of Jane Jacobs’s book The Death and Life of Great American Cities, which defended it and similar communities, while criticizing common urban renewal policies of the time.
Founded by New York-based artist Mercedes Matter and her students, the New York Studio School of Drawing, Painting and Sculpture is an art school formed in the mid-1960s in the Village. The school officially opened September 23, 1964, it is still currently active and it is housed at 8 W. 8th Street, the site of the original Whitney Museum of American Art.
Greenwich Village was also home to one of the many safe houses used by the radical anti-war movement known as the Weather Underground. On March 6, 1970, however, their safehouse was destroyed when an explosive they were constructing was accidentally detonated, killing three Weathermen (Ted Gold, Terry Robbins, and Diana Oughton).
The Village has maintained its role as a center for movements that have challenged the wider American culture, for example, its role in the gay liberation movement. The Stonewall riots were a series of spontaneous, violent demonstrations by members of the gay community against a police raid that took place in the early morning hours of June 28, 1969, at the Stonewall Inn, 53 Christopher Street. They are widely considered to constitute the single most important event leading to the gay liberation movement and the modern fight forLGBT rights in the United States. Greenwich Village also contains the world’s oldest gay and lesbian bookstore, Oscar Wilde Bookshop, founded in 1967, while The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center – best known as simply “The Center” – has occupied the former Food & Maritime Trades High School at 208 West 13th Street since 1984. In 2006, the Village was the scene of an assault involving seven lesbians and a straight man that sparked appreciable media attention, with strong statements both defending and attacking the parties.
Since the early 2000s, many artists and local historians mourn the fact that the bohemian days of Greenwich Village are long gone, because of the extraordinarily high housing costs in the neighborhood. The artists fled first to SoHo, then to Tribeca, and finally toWilliamsburg as well as other neighborhoods in New York City. Nevertheless, residents of Greenwich Village still possess a strong community identity and are proud of their neighborhood’s unique history and fame, and its well-known liberal live-and-let-live attitudes.
Since then, preservation has been a part of the Village ethos. Shortly after the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) was established in 1965, the LPC acted to protect parts of Greenwich Village, designating the small Charlton-King-Vandam Historic District in 1966, which contains the city’s largest concentration of row houses in the Federal style, as well as a significant concentration of Greek Revival houses, and the even smaller MacDougal-Sullivan Gardens Historic District in 1967, a group of 22 houses sharing a common back garden, built in the Greek Revival style and later renovated with Colonial Revival facades. In 1969, the LPC designated the Greenwich Village Historic District — for four decades, the city’s largest — despite preservationists’ advocacy for the entire neighborhood to be designated an historic district. Advocates continued to pursue their goal of additional designation, spurred in particular by the increased pace of development in the 1990s.
The Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation (GVSHP), a nonprofit organization dedicated to the architectural and cultural character and heritage of the neighborhood, successfully proposed new districts and individual landmarks to the LPC. Those include:
- Gansevoort Market Historic District was the first new historic district in Greenwich Village in 34 years. The 112 buildings on 11 blocks protect the city’s distinctive Meatpacking District with its cobblestone streets, warehouses and rowhouses. About 70 percent of the area proposed by GVSHP in 2000 was designated a historic district by the LPC in 2003, while the entire area was listed on the State and National Registers of Historic Places in 2007.
- Weehawken Street Historic District, designated in 2006, is a 14-building, three-block district near the Hudson River centering around tiny Weehawken Street and containing an array of architecture including a sailor’s hotel, former stables, and a wooden house.
- Greenwich Village Historic District Extension I, designated in 2006, brought 46 more buildings on three blocks into the district, thus protecting warehouses, a former public school and police station, and early 19th century rowhouses. Both the Weehawken Street Historic District and the Greenwich Village Historic District Extension I were designated by the LPC in response to the larger proposal for a Far West Village Historic District submitted by GVSHP in 2004.
- Greenwich Village Historic District Extension II, designated in 2010, embracing 225 buildings on 12 blocks, contains 19th century houses, 19th and 20th century tenements, and a variety of cultural landmarks.
- South Village Historic District, designated in 2013, covers 235 buildings on 13 blocks, representing the largest single expansion of landmark protections in Greenwich Village since 1969. It includes well preserved and renovated 19th century houses, colorful tenements, and a variety of sites important to the area’s rich immigrant, artistic, and Italian-American history, as well as several low-rise, historically significant New York University buildings on Washington Square South.
The Landmarks Preservation Commission also designated as landmarks several individual sites proposed by the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation, including the former Bell Telephone Labs Complex (1861-1933), now Westbeth Artists’ Housing, designated in 2011; the Silver Towers/University Village Complex (1967), designed by I.M. Pei and including the Picasso sculpture “Portrait of Sylvette,” designated in 2008; and three early 19th-century federal houses at 127, 129 and 131 MacDougal Street.
In addition, several contextual rezonings were enacted in Greenwich Village in recent years to limit the size and height of allowable new development in the neighborhood, and to encourage the preservation of existing buildings. The following were proposed by the GVSHP and passed by the City Planning Commission:
- Far West Village Rezoning, approved in 2005, was the first downzoning in Manhattan in many years, putting in place new height caps, thus ending construction of high-rise waterfront towers in much of the Village and encouraging the reuse of existing buildings.
- Washington and Greenwich Street Rezoning, approved in 2010, was passed in near-record time to protect six blocks from out-of-scale hotel development and maintain the low-rise character.
New York University and Greenwich Village preservationists have been embroiled in a conflict over campus expansion versus preservation of the scale and Bohemian character of the Village.
As one press critic put it in 2013, “For decades, New York University has waged architectural war on Greenwich Village.” Recent examples of the university clashing with the community, often led by the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation, include the destruction of the 85 West Third Street house where Edgar Allan Poe lived from 1844-5, which NYU promised to rebuild using original materials, but then claimed not to have enough bricks to do so; the construction of the 26-story Founders Hall dorm behind the façade of demolished St. Ann’s Church at 120 East Twelfth Street, which advocates protested as being out of scale for the low-rise area, and received assurances from NYU, which then built all 26 stories anyway; and the demolition in 2009 of the Provincetown Playhouse and Apartments, over protests.
In 2008, as part of a multi-stakeholder Community Task Force on NYU Development, the university agreed to a set of “Planning Principles.” Yet advocates did not find NYU to follow the principles in practice, culminating in a successful lawsuit against the university’s “NYU 2031” plan for expansion.