The Flatiron Building is one of the city’s most iconic and beloved landmarks. Since 1902 it’s been a symbol of New York, though ironically its acute angle formed by the intersection of Broadway and Fifth Avenue makes it an unusual sight in our otherwise orthogonal city on a grid. But while the Flatiron Building may be the most famous product of quirky street angles, it’s far from the only one. In fact, the “off-the-grid” streets of Greenwich Village and the East Village contain scores of them, most of which pre-date the 23rd Street landmark.
Lorraine Hansberry at her typewriter in her Greenwich Village apartment in 1960. Photo by David Attie courtesy of the National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institute.
Lorraine Hansberry, the trailblazing playwright, activist, and Nina Simone song inspiration was perhaps most closely associated with Chicago. But in fact she lived, went to school, and spent much of her life in Greenwich Village, even writing her best known play “A Raisin in the Sun” while living on Bleecker Street. And shortly a historic plaque will mark the site of her home on Waverly Place.
Caffe Reggio, via Prayitno/Flickr
Many think of Little Italy’s Mulberry Street or the Bronx’s Arthur Avenue as the centers of Italian-American life and culture in New York. But some of the most historically significant sites relating to the Italian-American experience in New York can be found in the Greenwich Village blocks known as the South Village–from the first church in America built specifically for an Italian-American congregation to the cafe where cappuccino was first introduced to the country, to the birthplace of Fiorello LaGuardia, NYC’s first Italian-American mayor.
There’s no shortage of sites in the Village and East Village where great makers of popular music lived or performed. Less well known, however, are the multitude of sites that were the backdrop for iconic album covers, sometimes sources of inspiration for the artists or just familiar stomping grounds. Today, many are hiding in plain sight, waiting to perform an encore for any passersby discerning enough to notice. Ahead, we round up some of the most notable examples, from “The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan” to the Ramones’ self-titled debut album.
6th Avenue and 11th Street, 1905. Image via Ephemeral New York,
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.
Greenwich Village Bohemians outside Cafe Wha in the 1960s, via Vintage Everyday
“Bohemian” may be hard to define, but we all know it when we see it. But even in a city like New York, where bohemian can be used to describe everything from a polished West Village cafe to a South Bronx squat, few people know why exactly we today use this term, connected to a medieval Central European kingdom, to describe those with a countercultural bent.