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New York Cheat Sheet: Greenwich Village

June 23rd, 2009 by admin
This is a new, regular series of entries called “New York Cheat Sheet.”  Once a week I’ll highlight a different neighborhood in New York City, with history, architecture, points of interest and more.  We’ll start with Greenwich Village.  I hope you enjoy.

Greenwich/West Village

Settled by the Dutch as a tobacco farm and known as “Bossen Bouwerie” (Farm in the Woods), the name was later changed by landowner and English commander Sir Peter Warren in 1664 to its present title.  Originally an “uptown” village from the main lower settlement, city dwellers fled there in the 1790′s to escape disease.  Its streets buck the New York grid as it was separately established from the city.  The first half of the 1800′s it was known as the “American Ward” for its many native-born residents, but as commerce went further uptown, it was left behind and immigrants filled the void.
Greenwich’s heyday began in the early 1900′s.  It became an avant-garde hangout due to cheap rent, structural charms, and the indifference of the immigrant population.  Artistic movements with origins in Greenwich include “the little theatre movement” (Eugene O’Neill, Bette Davis), Abstract Expressionism (Jackson Pollack, Willem De Kooning), the Beat Generation (Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, Willem Burroughs), and folk revival (Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Simon & Garfunkel).  Other famous residents included Mark Twain, Dylan Thomas, Edgar Allen Poe, Sherwood Anderson, Hart Crane, O. Henry, Winslow Homer, and Henry James.
Its artistic prime has passed it by, and now is primarily known for it’s nightlife, Washington Square Park and the home of NYU, the largest private university in the country.
Architecturally, it still feels like a colonial village, especially in the West Village.  Here you will find the finest examples of Federalist, Greek Revival, and Italianate brownstones the country has to offer.  Much of the neighborhood is an historic district of New York City.
10 Points of Interest

1.  Washington Square Park – Originally marshland, then a Potter’s field, then an execution site.  The “Hanging Elm,” said to be the oldest tree in the city, stands in the NW corner of the park.  Unofficial campus of NYC, now a spot for art, street performers, and the occasional drug dealer.
2.  The park is home to Washington Memorial Arch (architect, Stanford White), a celebration of the 100th anniversary of Washington’s inauguration as president.  First built of wood, it was so popular that another marble model was built by public subscription.  Seventh Avenue used to run through it until the park was closed off to street traffic in the 1964.  Its flanking statues depict a war time and peace time Washington.
3.  “The Row,” on the north side of the park represents what some consider the finest Greek Revival houses in America.  Built for the social elite in the 1830′s.

4.  Site of the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire, 29 Washington Place, on the east side of the park.  In 1911, the upper stories of the Asch factory set fire.  No sprinklers were installed and fire exits were locked to prevent unscheduled breaks.  146 factory girls died, all immigrants, most by jumping the ten stories to their death.  A tragic but landmark event in the history of labor reform.

5.  Macdougal Street – Considered the heart of modern day Greenwich Village.  Sites include the Cafe Wha?, which hosted the likes of Dylan, Hendrix and Joplin, The Provincetown Playhouse, the springboard for Eugene O’Neill, and the Minetta Tavern, named after Minetta Brook which still flows beneath the streets.  The Tavern was a speakeasy during Prohibition, and in 1922 its basement housed the birth of the publication The Reader’s Digest.

6.  Sheridan Square – sometimes referred to as “The Times Square of Greenwich Village.”  Many streets converge here, and it can be difficult as a driver or even a pedestrian to understand what’s going.  The Statue of General Sheridan stands in Christopher/Sheridan Square Park.  Also located there, the George Segal sculpture work Gay Liberation.

7.  The area around the intersection of Grove and Bedford street provides the truest example of old village architecture.

–102 Bedford Street, known as “Twin Peaks” is a fairy tale looking house designed as an inspiration to local artists.

17 Grove Street, Built in 1822, the most complete wood frame house in Greenwich.  It sticks out surrounded by so much stone.

4-10 Grove Street, considered the most authentic examples of Federal architecture in America.

Grove Court, an amazing row of old laborer houses, shady and secluded.  You wouldn’t believe something like this exists in New York.

8.  St. Luke-in-the-Fields – erected in the 1820′s, first presided over by omnipresent NY figure Clement Clark Moore of “Twas the Night Before Christmas…” fame.  The church was rebuilt in the early 1980′s via public donation after a devastating fire.  Federal-style houses blend seamlessly with the structure.  Has a wonderful public garden.

9.  Stonewall Inn – 53 Christopher Street, sight of a turning point in gay rights in 1969.  The bar did not have a liquor license and police routinely raided the scene.  Typically, patrons of the bar submitted to quiet arrest for fear of publicity, but on June 28th of that year they rebelled, prompting several days of riots.  The event is commemorated with Gay Pride parades in many cities at the end of June.

10.  Jefferson Market Library – Victorian Gothic architecture at its most flamboyant.  Standing at 425 Sixth Av, designed by Central Park co-architect Calvert Vaux and Fredrick Clarke Withers.  Stands on the site of a prominent 19th century produce market, now a library specializing in city and Greenwich Village history.  Rated the country’s fifth most beautiful building…in 1855.


  1. i was just in NY! I was sshocked at everything there is to try thereand the peopleare not as bad as people say…

    Frank Demarcus
    November 22nd, 2010

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