Image via Wikimedia
Greenwich Village has been known throughout its existence for breaking new ground and embracing outsiders. One often-forgotten but important element of that trailblazing narrative is the extraordinary role the Village played in relation to African American history. The neighborhood was home to North America’s earliest free Black settlement in the 17th century, to some of America’s first black churches in the 19th century, and many pioneering African-American artists, civil rights leaders, and organizations in the 20th century. This Black History Month, here are just a few of the exceptional Greenwich Village sites connected to African-American history.
Learn about all 15 sites here
Google Street View of 19-25 St. Mark’s Place today
Fifty years ago this week, the Velvet Underground released their second album, “White Light/White Heat.” Their darkest record, it was also arguably the Velvet’s most influential, inspiring a generation of alternative musicians with the noisy, distorted sound with which the band came to be so closely identified.
Perhaps the place with which the Velvets have come to be most closely identified is the Electric Circus, the Andy Warhol-run East Village discotheque where they performed as the house band as part of a multi-media experience known as the “Exploding Plastic Inevitable.” Many New Yorkers would be surprised to discover that the space the club once occupied at 19-25 St. Mark’s Place has since been home to a Chipotle and a Supercuts. But the history of the building that launched the career of the godfathers of punk is full of more twists, turns, and ups and downs than one the Velvet’s extended distorted jams that once reverberated within its walls.
The whole history right here
The site in 1975, via MCNY (L); Today, via Mike Licht/Flickr (R)
The disembodied church steeple sitting in front of a 26-story NYU dorm on East 12th Street between 3rd and 4th Avenues makes for one of the more head-scratching sights in New York. This jarring juxtaposition results from a confluence of powerful New York forces, including religion, immigration, real estate, and the expanding appetite of one large institution, New York University, and the shrinking resources of another, the United States Postal Service.
The whole story right here
The Thirteenth Street Presbyterian Church in 1902, courtesy of the New-York Historical Society, Robert L. Bracklow Photograph Collection
The stately church building at 141-145 West 13th Street in the West Village is the picture of serene elegance. Built in 1846-47 in the Greek Revival style, the classical balance and symmetry of the façade mask a history full of controversy, including the birth of a notorious slur in American politics, which arguably changed the outcome of a pivotal presidential election.
Find out about the scandalous story
Fire Patrol #2 in 2009, via Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation Image Archive
The former firehouse located at 84 West 3rd Street in Greenwich Village is often noted for being the renovated and restored home of TV personality and journalist Anderson Cooper. But it’s just as noteworthy for an unusual history connected to Benjamin Franklin and insurance underwriters, and for not being the kind of firehouse you think it is at all.
The whole history and current use
Zoom of the 1852 Dripps map of Manhattan, showing the proximity of downtown cemeteries, via David Rumsey Map Collection
Most New Yorkers spend some time underground every day as part of their daily commute, but some spend eternity beneath our streets, and in a few cases occupy some pretty surprising real estate.
Manhattan cemeteries are tougher to get into than Minetta Tavern without a reservation on a Saturday night because as far back as 1823, New York forbade new burials south of Canal Street. In 1851 that prohibition was extended to new burials south of 86th Street, and the creation of new cemeteries anywhere on the island was banned. But thousands of people were buried in Manhattan before those restrictions went into effect. And while some gravesites remain carefully maintained and hallowed ground, such as the those at St. Mark’s in the Bowery Church on Stuyvesant Street, Trinity Church on Wall Street, and St Paul’s Church at Fulton and Broadway, others have been forgotten and overlaid with some pretty surprising new uses, including playgrounds, swimming pools, luxury condos, and even a hotel named for the current occupant of the White House.
A streetcar at Madison and 4th Avenue in 1890. Via MCNY.
Greenwich Village is known as the birthplace of many things – the modern gay rights movement, Off-Broadway theater, the New York School of artists and poets, the “new urbanism” pioneered by Jane Jacobs, among many other trailblazing firsts. Less closely associated with the Village, however, are radical and transformative innovations in transportation technology. But while little known, the Village was in fact home to the first elevated rail line, and the first streetcar.
The whole history right this way
© Estate of Fred W. McDarrah
Perhaps no single photographer could be said to have captured the energy, the cultural ferment, the reverberating social change emanating from New York City in the second half of the 20th century as vividly as Fred W. McDarrah. McDarrah got his start covering the downtown beat of the Village Voice in the 1950s and ’60s, as that publication was defining a newly-emerged breed of independent journalism. McDarrah penetrated the lofts and coffeehouses of Lower Manhattan to shed light upon a new movement known as “The Beats” and went on to capture on film the New York artists, activists, politicians, and poets who changed the way everyone else thought and lived.
Through the generosity of the Estate of Fred W. McDarrah and the McDarrah family, the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation was fortunate enough to add to its digital archive a dozen of the most epochal of Fred McDarrah’s images of downtown icons, including Andy Warhol, Bob Dylan, Jane Jacobs, and Allen Ginsberg. And just in time for the holidays, you can purchase your own copy (with all proceeds benefitting GVSHP!).
Learn the story behind all the photos
Jimi Hendrix, via Wiki Commons
Jimi Hendrix would have turned 75 this week. In his brief 27 years and even briefer musical career, Hendrix left an indelible mark upon guitar playing and rock music, permanently transforming both art forms. But perhaps in some ways his most lasting impact came from a project completed just three weeks before his death–the opening of Electric Lady Studios at 52 West 8th Street in Greenwich Village. On August 26th, 1970, the studio opened, the only recording artist-owned studio at the time. It provided Hendrix with affordable studio space that would also meet his personal technical and aesthetic specifications.
Kicked off by an opening party near summer’s end, Electric Lady Studios was the location of Hendrix’s last-ever studio recording–an instrumental known as “Slow Blues”–before his untimely passing on September 18, 1970. Fortunately, this was only the beginning of the studio’s incredible run recording some of the greatest rock, hip hop, and pop albums of the last nearly half-century and only the latest incarnation of one of the Village’s most unusual and storied structures.
The whole history here
The Stuyvesant Casino in 1945, via the Swedish Buck Johnson Society (L); The Ukrainian National Home Today, via Wally Gobetz/Flickr (R)
On 2nd Avenue, just south of 9th Street at No. 140-142, sits one of the East Village’s oddest structures. Clad in metal and adorned with Cyrillic lettering, the building sports a slightly downtrodden and forbidding look, seeming dropped into the neighborhood from some dystopian sci-fi thriller.
In reality, for the last half century the building has housed the Ukrainian National Home, best known as a great place to get some good food or drink. But scratch the surface of this architectural oddity and you’ll find a winding history replete with Jewish gangsters, German teetotalers, jazz-playing hipsters, and the American debut of one of Britain’s premier post-punk bands, all in a building which, under its metallic veneer, dates back nearly two centuries.
Learn this fascinating history