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Village History

Contents:
1. Pre Contact, Dutch and the Eighteenth Century *

2. The Nineteenth Century

2.1 The Federal Period, 1790-1820 *
2.2 The Empire Period, 1820-1860 *
2.3 The Gilded Age, 1870-1900
2.4 Immigration in the Village *

3. The Twentieth Century

3.1 Bohemia, 1900-1929 *
3.2 Art in the Village, 1930s *
3.3 The “Beat Movement” and Happenings, 1950s-1960s *
3.4 The Historic Preservation Movement, 1940-Present

Pre-Contact, Dutch and the Eighteenth Century

Greenwich Village’s known history dates back to the 16th century, when it was a marshland called Sapokanican by Native Americans who camped and fished in the meandering trout stream later 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.

 

Related Resources:

Past Program: The Dutch in New Amsterdam
Early History of the South Village

 

Related Issues:

St. Mark’s Historic District

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The Nineteenth Century

The Federal Period, 1790-1820
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 and buried Minetta Brook, and undertook landfill projects. Blocks of neat row houses built in the prevailing Federal style soon accommodated middle-class merchants and tradesmen.

 

Related Resources:

The Federal-Era Rowhouse of Lower Manhattan
Daniel LeRoy House, 20 St. Mark’s Place, Individual Landmark
Hamilton Fish House, 21 Stuyvesant Street, Individual Landmark
Hamilton-Holly House, 4 St. Mark’s Place, Individual Landmark
131 Charles Street, Individual Landmark
Old Merchant's House, 29 East 4th Street, Individual Landmark
Virtual Tour: 83 and 85 Sullivan Street
Far West Village Report: The Era of Significance
The Development of an Affluent Row House Neighborhood

 

Related Issues:

Federal Era Rowhouses

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The Empire Period, 1820-1860
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.

 

Related Resources:

Guide to Identifying Iron Work
Past Program: Henry James's New York
Virtual Tour: MacDougal-Sullivan Historic District
Virtual Tour: 116 Sullivan Street House
Virtual Tour: 203 Prince Street House

 

Related Issues:

43 MacDougal
233-237 Bleecker Street

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The Gilded Age, 1870-1900
Immigration dominated the late 19th century in Greenwich Village and completely changed the character of the neighborhood. Aside from new waves of immigrant groups including French, Irish, and Italian, the area experienced a rise in Bohemianism and a departure of the fashinonable set, who were now moving northward towards Fifth Avenue and Central Park. With the departure of the upper classes, the area became increasingly commercialized. Large factories such as the Asch Building (1900), later home to the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory, were being constructed along Broadway and the Greenwich Village waterfront. Despite more commercial nature of the area, in 1892 the Stanford White designed Washington Square Arch was permanently constructed in marble and the area around the Park was immortalized in the writing of Henry James and Edith Wharton. James wrote his Washington Square in 1880 and many of Wharton’s books, including The Age of Innocence, take place in the Village during this era.

 

Related Resources:

Virtual Tour: Judson Memorial Church
Jefferson Market Library, Individual Landmark
Astor Library, 425 Lafayette Street, Individual Landmark
Bayard-Condict Building, 65-69 Bleecker Street, Individual Landmark
Bond Street Savings Bank, 330 Bowery, Individual Landmark
DeVinne Press Building, 393-399 Lafayette Street, Individual Landmark
Engine Company 33 Firehouse, 44 Great Jones Street, Individual Landmark

 

Related Issues:

128 East 13th Street - Frank Stella Studio/Horse Auction Mart

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Immigration in the Village
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 beginning in 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.

 

Related Resources:

Past Program: Gangster City
Past Program: Changing Perceptions of Italian Immigrant Women
Past Program: The Villagers of Ellis Island
Population Change in the Tenements of the South Village
The Italians of the South Village
Children’s Aid Society, Elizabeth Home for Girls, Individual Landmark
Christadora House, 147 Avenue B, Individual Landmark
Ottendorfer Public Library, 135-37 Second Avenue, Individual Landmark
Eleventh Street Public Baths, Individual Landmark
First Houses, East 3rd Street and Avenue A, Individual Landmark
German-American Shooting Society, 12 St. Mark’s Place, Individual Landmark

 

Related Issues:

Mezritch Synagogue
South Village Landmarking
Saving Village Theaters

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The Twentieth Century

Bohemia, 1900-1929
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 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 row houses 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.

 

Related Resources:

Past Program: The Bohemian Women of Greenwich Village
Whitney Museum, 8 West 8th Street, Individual Landmark
Far West Village Report

 

Related Issues:

128 East 13th Street
Webster Hall
Provincetown Playhouse and Apartments

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Art in the Village, 1930s
During the 1930s, galleries and collectors promoted the cause of contemporary art. Sculptor Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney 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.
 

Related Resources:

What is the South Village?
Whitney Museum, 8 West 8th Street, Individual Landmark

 

Related Issues:

Provincetown Playhouse and Apartments

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The “Beat Movement” and Happenings, 1950s-1960s
The Village had become a 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 between the police and patrons 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 in response to the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s.

 

Related Resources:

Dylan Thomas Walking Tour
Charlie Parker Residence, 151 Avenue B, Individual Landmark
Stonewall National Register of Historic Places

 

Related Issues:

Provincetown Playhouse and Apartments

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The Historic Preservation Movement, 1940-Present
The historic preservation movement in Greenwich Village was begun over 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 most of the West Village from 6th Avenue to Hudson Street. In addition, a number of adaptive reuse projects came to fruition, notably conversions for residential purposes of structures formerly used by the federal archives, the Manhattan Refrigeration Company, and Bell Laboratories.*

For the next several decades, the Greenwich Village Historic District remained as it was, despite the desire by residents to expand the district to other parts of the neighborhood. When the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission designated the Gansevoort Market Historic District in 2003, it was the first new district in the Village since 1969. The extension of the Greenwich Village Historic District and the creation of the Weehawken Street Historic District in 2006 was the culmination of the neighborhood’s long-held goal to preserve the waterfront, which was excluded from the original district. These recent landmarking victories in the Village would not have happened had it not been for the successful advocacy of GVSHP. The Society continues to work in close connection with the community to realize these goals and to fight to protect much of the undesignated areas of the neighborhood, including the South and East Village.

 

Related Resources:

Far West Village Report
Astor Library, 425 Lafayette Street, Individual Landmark
Jefferson Market Library, Individual Landmark
Jane Jacobs Oral History
GVSHP Preservation Oral History Archives

 

Related Issues:

Provincetown Playhouse and Apartments
PS 64

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*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.




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