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
59-81-Washington-Street ca. 1935, via NYPL
This post is part of a series by the Historic Districts Council, exploring the groups selected for their Six to Celebrate program, New York’s only targeted citywide list of preservation priorities.
The Lower West Side may not be a neighborhood name used by brokers, but for those involved with preservation efforts in the area, it’s a neighborhood very much unique from the surrounding Financial District. Encompassing the area west of Broadway from Liberty Street to Battery Place, it was originally home to Irish and German immigrants, followed by Little Syria, the nation’s first and largest Arabic settlement, from roughly the 1880s to 1940s. But the construction of the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel and World Trade Center “nearly wiped the neighborhood off the map.” There are still several buildings remaining that serve as a connection to the past, however, and Friends of the Lower West Side is working diligently to make sure this history is not lost, expanding its oral history program, offering walking tours of the area, and appealing to the Landmarks Commission to designate a small historic district.
Find out six little-known facts about this amazing district
Clipping from the 1935 New York Times article (L); Tom Otterness sculpture at the 14th Street/8th Avenue subway station depicting the event, via MTA Arts (R)
While most New Yorkers spent yesterday in sweat pants watching Netflix, Michael Miscione was busy celebrating “Alligators in the Sewers Day.” The Times recounts how, allegedly, on February 9, 1935, a group of teenagers caught and killed an eight-foot, 125-pound alligator in a manhole on East 123rd Street while shoveling snow. A headline in the paper the next day read, “Alligator Found in Uptown Sewer,” fueling an urban legend of an entire underground alligator population. Miscione, the Manhattan borough historian, is so intrigued by the tale, that he annually observes this unofficial holiday “to honor discarded pets or escaped beasts that have grown large below our streets.”
So, how did the gator get here?
Photo courtesy of Bill Cotter/worldsfairphotos
Experience “diversity through cuisine” at CitiField this spring at an event paying homage to the iconic 1964 New York World’s Fair. Dubbed the World’s Fare, the event will feature over 100 food vendors from more than 100 cultures, as well as live music and art (h/t QNS). Highlights include an international beer garden that will offer tastings of 80 craft beers from 45 breweries and exhibits of LEGO Art and 4-D drawings.
Get the details
Renderings of the winning design by Morphosis
With the 2018 Olympic Winter Games in PyeongChang, South Korea kicking off in just two days, we can’t help but think what an incredible 17 days it would have been if they were here in New York City (logistical concerns aside). The city came closest in 2004 when it was chosen by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) as one of the five finalists to host the 2012 Olympics. London, Paris, Moscow and Madrid were the other four. Splashy renderings planted 27 venues across all five boroughs, New Jersey and Long Island, but the winning, and perhaps most eye-catching, proposal was the Olympic Village in Long Island City’s Hunter’s Point South by Thom Mayne’s Morphosis.
Get the full history here
Photo of Harriet Tubman statue in Harlem via denisbin on Flickr
For over 200 years, and leading up to the Civil War, most of New York City favored slavery because the region’s cotton and sugar industries depended on slave labor. During the colonial era, 41 percent of NYC’s households had slaves, compared to just six percent in Philadelphia and two percent in Boston. Eventually, after the state abolished slavery in 1827, the city became a hotbed of anti-slavery activism and a critical participant of the Underground Railroad, the network of secret churches, safe houses and tunnels that helped fugitive slaves from the south reach freedom. While some of these Underground Railroad sites no longer exist or have relocated, a few of the original structures can be visited today, including Brooklyn’s Plymouth Church and the Staten Island home of staunch abolitionist Dr. Samuel Mackenzie Elliott. Ahead, travel along the Underground Railroad with 15 known stops in New York City.
See the stops
Photos via the Museum of the City of New York
The image of New York’s old tenement buildings is hardly complete without lines of laundry hanging between each building. Like today, doing laundry was a public endeavor for most New Yorkers. But unlike today, they depended on their building’s laundry lines to dry everything out. Ephemeral New York notes that Monday was typically the chosen day to get it done. As the photo caption says above, full lines of laundry were evident of “A Monday’s Washing.” Monday was known as a “hard wash-day” that required incredible effort from the women of the tenements.
See historic photos of laundry day
Draft Riots in New York (1863) via NYPL
Typically seen as a beacon of freedom and diversity, New York also served as the capital of slavery in the United States for nearly 200 years. Before the American Revolution, more enslaved Africans lived in New York City than every city except South Carolina, with over 40 percent of the city’s households owning slaves. However, the state eventually became an epicenter for abolition efforts, as well as a destination for many slaves escaping enslavement in the south. To further the public’s understanding of New York’s relationship with slavery, the John Jay College of Criminal Justice has created a searchable database of slaves and their owners (h/t WNYC).
Find out more
6sqft’s series The Urban Lens invites photographers to share work exploring a theme or a place within New York City. In this installment, Katsu Naito shares his 1990s portraits from Harlem. Are you a photographer who’d like to see your work featured on The Urban Lens? Get in touch with us at [email protected].
In 1983, when Katsu Naito immigrated to America at the age of 18, he spoke barely any English. Growing up in Maebashi, a small city about 90 miles north of Tokyo, he had never heard of Harlem before moving to New York but was drawn to the energy of the neighborhood, quickly realizing he wanted to document it with his camera. Now, more three decades since he first fell in love with Harlem, Naito’s photos of the ‘nabe’s residents in the early to mid-‘90ss are being published in a book and unintentional time capsule titled “Once in Harlem,” out now from TBW Books. 6sqft chatted with Naito about his journey and what makes Harlem so special to him, and he shared a collection of his amazing images.
See them all 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