For many, celebrating Irish American heritage in March brings one to Fifth Avenue for the annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade, or perhaps a visit to St. Patrick’s Cathedral. But for those willing to venture beyond Midtown, there’s a rich Irish American history to be found in Greenwich Village and the East Village. While both neighborhoods became better known for different kinds of communities in later years – Italians, Ukrainians, gay men and lesbians, artists, punks – Irish immigration in the mid-19th century profoundly shaped both neighborhoods. Irish Americans and Irish immigrants played a critical role in building immigrant and artistic traditions in Greenwich Village and the East Village. Here are some sites connected to that great heritage, from the city’s oldest intact Catholic Church to Irish institutions like McSorely’s Old Ale House.
When we think of great African American historic sites in New York, we typically think of Harlem’s Apollo Theater, Lower Manhattan’s African Burial Ground, or Brooklyn’s Weeksville Houses. But one building that should perhaps join the list is 70 Fifth Avenue in Greenwich Village, which housed the headquarters of the NAACP, the nation’s oldest and largest civil rights organization; The Crisis, the first magazine published for an African American audience; and the first magazine dedicated to African American children, meant to combat the commonplace demeaning stereotypes of the time, headed by none other than civil rights icon W.E.B. DuBois.
This year, the New York Public Library is celebrating its 125th anniversary. With 53 million items and 92 locations across Manhattan, the Bronx, and Staten Island, the NYPL is the largest municipal library in the world. It’s also the steward of some of New York’s greatest landmarks, reflecting a century and a quarter of Gotham’s history, and in some cases even more.
The roots of this library system can be found in Greenwich Village, the East Village, and Noho. The main antecedents of the NYPL which formed the foundation of today’s system— the Astor Library, the Lenox Library, and the New York Free Circulating Library – all began in these neighborhoods just below 14th Street. As a result, this is where New York’s oldest public library buildings and the oldest building housing an NYPL branch are located — the latter ironically having been where great works of literature were banned and censored before it became a library.
Streetview of 14-16 Fifth Avenue, Map data © 2020 Google; Painting of Henry Breevort via public domain, Photo of General Daniel Edgar Sickles courtesy of the Library of Congress, and photo of Celeste Holm via public domain
Madison Realty Capital filed plans last month to demolish 14-16 Fifth Avenue, a five-story apartment building constructed in 1848, and replace it with a 244-foot-tall tower. Because it is located within the Greenwich Village Historic District, it can only be demolished if the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission rules that the building itself is of no historic or architectural merit, and does not contribute to the character of the district (the public hearings where this would be debated and decided have not yet been scheduled). What may seem like a nondescript apartment building actually has an incredibly rich and varied history. Throughout its 170-year history, 14-16 Fifth Avenue was home to Civil War generals, Gold Rush writers, Oscar-winning actors, railroad magnates, pioneering industrialists, inventors, and politicians. What follows is just some of the history behind this easily-overlooked lower Fifth Avenue landmark.
As this year marks 400 years since the first African slaves were brought to America, much attention has been paid to what that means and how to remember this solemn anniversary. The city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission issued a story map highlighting landmarks of the abolitionist movement in New York City. Absent from the map were a number of incredibly important sites in Greenwich Village, the East Village, and Noho, which were a hotbed of abolitionist activity through the 19th century, as well as the home of the city’s largest African American community. Ahead, learn about 14 significant sites of the anti-slavery movement.
From top left: Photo of Robert Frost via Wikimedia, Photo of Emily Post via Library of Congress, Photo of Henry Miller via Wikimedia; From bottom left: Photo of James Baldwin by Allan Warren via Wikimedia, Photo of Patricia Highsmith via Wikimedia, and Photo of Margaret Mead via Smithsonian Institution Archives Wikimedia
This year marks the 50th anniversary of the designation of the Greenwich Village Historic District. One of the city’s oldest and largest landmark districts, it’s a treasure trove of history, culture, and architecture. Village Preservation is spending 2019 marking this anniversary with events, lectures, and new interactive online resources. This is part of a series of posts about the Greenwich Village Historic District marking its golden anniversary.
Greenwich Village, specifically the historic district at its core, has been described as many things, but “literary” may be among the most common. That’s not only because the neighborhood has an air of sophistication and drama, but because it has attracted some of the nation’s greatest writers over the last 200 plus years. Ahead, learn about just some of the cornucopia of great wordsmiths who have called the Greenwich Village Historic District home, from Thomas Paine to Lorraine Hansberry.
Photo of Bob Dylan by Chris Hakkens on Wikimedia, Photo of Janis Joplin via Wikimedia, Photo of Buddy Holly via Wikimedia, Photo of Jimi Hendrix via Wikimedia, Photo of Lou Reed by Mick Rock on Wikimedia
For generations, Greenwich Village, and particularly the historic district which lies at its core, has attracted musicians of all stripes. They’ve been inspired by its quaint and charming streets and the lively cultural scene located in and around the neighborhood. It would be a fool’s errand to try to name every great musician who ever laid their head to rest within the Greenwich Village Historic District’s boundaries. But as we round out a year’s worth of celebrating the 50th anniversary of the district’s designation, here are just a few of the greats who at one time or another called it home, from Bob Dylan to John Lennon to Jimi Hendrix to Barbra Streisand.
The area south of Union Square, on the border between Greenwich Village and the East Village, is changing. The approval of the new 14th Street Tech Hub south of Union Square combined with an explosion of tech-related development in the area has resulted in the demolition of mid-19th-century hotels and Beaux-Arts style tenements, with new office towers like 809 Broadway taking their place.
Aside from being rich in 19th- and early-20th-century architecture, this area is overflowing with history connected to many of the great American artists, writers, musicians, publishers, activists, innovators and artisans of the last century and a half. As part of Village Preservation’s work to document and bring to light some of that often forgotten history, we wrote this piece last year exploring the connections to Mark Twain and Walt Whitman, Alexander Graham Bell and Leroi Jones (among many others). Now, we’ve uncovered even more history-making people and events connected to this area and its buildings, from Hammacher Schlemmer (NYC’s first hardware store) to a slew of influential publishing houses (including that which published the first U.S. edition of “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland”) to the Women’s Suffrage League headquarters.
On August 8, 2008, Village Preservation and the East Village Community Coalition (EVCC) submitted a request to the LPC to landmark a little-known but remarkable survivor– Congregation Mezritch Synagogue at 515 East 6th Street between 1st Avenue and Avenue A. The building was the last operating “tenement synagogue” in the East Village. A young, little-known developer named Jared Kushner was planning to tear it down and replace it with condos and a new space for the tiny congregation, which had operated out of the building since 1910.
The story has a (relatively) happy ending – the synagogue and much of its surroundings were landmarked in 2012, and the demolition plan was dropped. But unlike the deservedly beloved and celebrated Eldridge Street Synagogue, now a National Historic Landmark, Mezritch is one of several unique but in many cases overlooked historic synagogues still standing in and around Greenwich Village, the East Village, and the Lower East Side, which in the early 20th century contained what was by many accounts the largest Jewish community in the world. Ahead, we take a look at the history of seven of them and what makes them so unique.
Photo via Flickr cc
The tumult and unrest in the streets of Puerto Rico right now harken back to a time when many Puerto Rican New Yorkers were also agitating in the streets for long-overdue reform and change. One milestone in that history took place 50 years ago when several Puerto Rican activists gathered in the East Village to found the New York Chapter of the Young Lords. This began a flowering of Puerto Rican cultural and social ferment in the East Village, the legacy of which can still be seen and experienced in the neighborhood today. From Tompkins Square Park to the Nuyorican Poets Café, here are six of the most significant spots.