Among New York City’s many fascinating sites, Greenwich Village is arguably the most storied. Come immerse yourself in the rich history of Greenwich Village!
Among New York City’s many fascinating sites, Greenwich Village is arguably the most storied. Albeit usually remembered as a haven for artists, its historic roots actually run deeper. Before it was anything else, Greenwich Village in the 1630’s was a marshland where Dutch settlers fed their livestock. It was initially developed into a village separate from New York City.
But as the urban sprawl consumed the area, Greenwich Village took on a new identity in 1857 at the founding of the Tenth Street Studio Building. It housed the first architecture school in the US and attracted artists from all over the world.
It was also the place where the so-called “bohemian” movement began, a subculture which was described in an 1858 article on The New York Times as “either an artist or an author, whose special aversion is work, and whose ambition is to excel in some particular walk.” The Village’s affinity to bohemians of all sorts has since defined its identity.
Decades later, the Hotel Albert opened in 1880 and attracted the best artists and writers of that particular time. A long list of creative people stayed here including Mark Twain, Anais Nin, Walt Whitman, Salvador Dali, Andy Warhol, and Jackson Pollock.
In addition, the Village also saw the birth of American experimental theater pushed by Eugene O’Neil and Edna St. Vincent Millay, and it was integral in the transition of the global art capital from Paris to New York in the mid-20th century.
Various American art movements including Abstract Expressionism, emerged out of the Village.
The Village has significant contributions to music and self-expression, too. It’s the place where the first desegregated nightclub in the country, Cafe Society, was built. The venue dedicated itself to the cutting-edge music of its time, bebop jazz. Charlie Parker, John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Ella Fitzgerald, and other jazz giants graced it with their presence during its heyday.
The ferocious sound of bebop and Jazz also lured the Beat Generation artists to the Village, with writers Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, and others gaining the literary spotlight. In the 1960s, the Beats became an inspiration for different forms of counterculture. The progressive ideas of the Beats and the hippies informed the eventual rise of the LGBT movement and other civil rights groups. The LGBT movement found expression in the 1969 Stonewall Riot, which also happened in Greenwich Village.
Popular structures such as Grace Church and the Jefferson Market Library tower over the Village as reminders of the place’s creative tradition.
Another structure, The Westbeth, which was a former Bell Telephone Labs office, also became a popular residence for artists. It eventually housed the studios of choreographer Merce Cunningham, musical arranger Gil Evans, Robert De Niro Sr., and Vin Diesel.
While the Greenwich Village of today has none of the rustic and bohemian charm of its past, it remains one of the most renowned places in New York, thanks to the preservation of its iconic buildings.
Greenwich Village’s longevity can be attributed mainly to local laws that help maintain its historic buildings.
In fact, a section of the Village made up of more than 50 blocks has been established as part of a Historic District, thanks to the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission. Development in this area follows very strict rules, such as the requirement to preserve a historic building’s main facade if it is to be renovated.
NYC also implements Local Law 11, which indirectly contributes to the Village’s preservation. Local Law 11 is explained by real estate expert James McGrath in an article on Yoreevo. He states that the law mandates regular facade inspections of buildings higher than six stories to ensure their structural integrity. Although it’s primary purpose is for safety, the law also helps ensure that old buildings in the city are maintained. The excellent condition of most structures in Greenwich Village is a good example of how a bustling metropolis should take care of its historic buildings.
Just knowing the history of Greenwich Village and the people who have called it home are enough reasons to give this neighborhood a visit. To explore other interesting places in the Big Apple, check out our previous post about Astoria, a commercial neighborhood in Queens.
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Wikimedia
*Last Update on March/2020.*