Everyone knows the folk-rock classic “Summer in the City” by the Lovin’ Spoonful, which topped the charts 51 years ago this August in 1966. But fewer know the song’s roots in Greenwich Village–lead singer John Sebastian actually grew up in the neighborhood and the act got their start in the local clubs–and fewer still know a 15-year-old Village student was responsible for a significant part of its composition.
By Andrew Berman of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation, Thu, August 10, 2017
102 Bedford Street in 2015 (left) via Wiki Commons, and as of today, via GVSHP
Few buildings capture the whimsy, flamboyance, and bohemian spirit of early 20th century Greenwich Village as does the building known as “Twin Peaks” at 102 Bedford Street. Described as a “wonderfully ludicrous mock half-timbered fantasy row-house castle” by architecture critic Paul Goldberger, the present incarnation of the building was born in 1925 as a radical remodeling of an 1830 rowhouse into a five-story artists’ studio apartment building. In the mid 20th-century, the building became even more iconic with a cream and brown paint job that mimicked its Alpine cottage inspiration. However, a more recent paint job stripped away this history, resulting in a controversial landmarks battle.
On August 6, 1966, the first known recording of “I Heard It Through The Grapevine” was made by the Miracles. Written by Motown pioneers Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong, the song was re-recorded several times, most famously by Gladys Night and the Pips and Marvin Gaye, whose version landed on the top of the charts for seven weeks in early 1969.
But the famous saying about receiving important news or information through a person-to-person chain of communication significantly pre-dates the Motown era. In fact, plentiful evidence and credible sources say it all goes back to a beloved tavern on the corner of 6th Avenue and 11th Street in Greenwich Village.
An “oversized Silicon Alley” is what some are calling Mayor de Blasio’s plan to transform Union Square and its southern stretches into the city’s next tech hub. The main component so far is the massive Union Square Tech Hub proposed to replace the P.C. Richard & Son building on East 14th Street, but Councilwoman Rosie Mendez and the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation are advocating that, in exchange for the building, the city rezone the surrounding blocks to prevent an influx of out-of-scale development. Despite their oppositions, CetraRuddy has revealed on their site two environmentally friendly proposals for the site at 799 Broadway, the former home of the St. Denis Hotel at the southwest corner of East 11th Street. Spotted by CityRealty, the 240-foot, 17-story office building would be the first catering to the Mayor’s tech dreams, though the renderings are merely conceptual at this point.
If you’ve ever walked by the busy intersection of 7th Avenue South and Christopher Street, you’ve likely seen people snapping photos of the iconic corner-facing Village Cigars, but what you probably didn’t realize is that they were standing on top of New York City’s smallest piece of private land. The Hess Triangle sits in the sidewalk at the southwest corner of this Greenwich Village crossing, a small concrete slab with an embedded mosaic that reads “Property of the Hess Estate Which Has Never Been Dedicated For Public Purposes,” and today marks the 95th anniversary of its installation.
Plan of New York map courtesy of Curriculum Concepts International
In 1626, the Dutch West India Company imported 11 African slaves to New Amsterdam, beginning New York’s 200 year-period of slavery. One man in this group, Paolo d’Angola, would become the city’s first non-Native settler of Greenwich Village. As the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation (GVSHP) discovered, and added to their Civil Rights and Social Justice Map, as a recently freed slave, d’Angola was granted land around today’s Washington Square Park for a farm. While this seems like a generous gesture from a slave owner, d’Angola’s land actually served as an intermediary spot between the European colonists and the American Indians, who sometimes raided settlements. This area, in addition to Chinatown, Little Italy, and SoHo, was known as the “Land of the Blacks.”
“Old-fashioned” can have any number of meanings: a euphemism for stodgy, or a signifier of cutesy and intentionally low-fi, for example. But the landmarked pair of 1883 Greenwich Village luxury co-op buildings named Portsmouth and Hampshire at 38-50 West 9th Street are exactly that–old fashioned–with no hidden subtext and plenty of charm. Rich in pre-war detail with two working fireplaces (summer will be over before you know it!), this one-bedroom apartment is up for sale for the first time in over forty years–and with the exception of important upgrades like a washer-dryer, and a $1.395 million asking price, it probably hasn’t changed much over that time.
Forty-eight years ago, just after 1:00am on June 28th, police raided Greenwich Village’s Stonewall Inn, the well-known gay bar on Christopher Street. Unlike past raids against gay bars, the crowd outside fought back, throwing bottles at the cops and protesting around the site for the next six days. According to the NYC LGBT Historic Sites Project, the event is “generally credited as the beginning of the modern LGBT rights movement,” sparking “the next major phase of the gay liberation movement, which involved more radical political action and assertiveness during the 1970s.” But as they also note in an earlier interview with 6sqft, the struggle for LGBT rights existed long before Stonewall.
Join the Project’s co-director Ken Lustbader and project manager Amanda Davis in this video tour of historic sites around the neighborhood that play an equally important role in LGBT history and advocacy in NYC and beyond.
Last June, President Obama formally recognized Greenwich Village’s Stonewall Inn and its surrounding area as a national historic monument, creating the first National Park Service unit dedicated to the gay rights movement. To expand the reach of this monument, Senator Chuck Schumer announced on Sunday a $1 million grant from Google to the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center to begin a project preserving the oral histories and human experiences from early LGBTQ leaders present during the Stonewall Inn riots. According to the New York Times, the initiative will create an educational curriculum for students and a digital platform that’s expected to launch by the 50th anniversary of the protests in 2019.
It’s often said that if you’re not sure which neighborhood you’d like, renting is the best way to get to know a few before you make the commitment of buying. And while Greenwich Village is often a top choice, it’s an expensive commitment. This $13,000 a month rental in a classic pre-war co-op at 61 West 10th Street is pricey, but you’re starting at the top, with a view, on downtown Manhattan’s “Gold Coast” in the aptly named Windsor Arms. And there’s plenty of room at the top in the form of two big bedrooms with room for more.