Thursday, February 4, 2010

Greenwich Village Architectural Highlights: 6 Mile New York City Walk

A few weeks ago on a sunny Saturday in January, we decided to do our daily 10,000 steps in the company of an AMC group taking an architectural walk around the charmingly crooked streets of Greenwich Village with stops at secluded mews, religious institutions, Victorian flats, British terraces, legendary taverns and prohibition speakeasies. This walk offered us the chance to join one of the popular AMC leaders who otherwise is known to organize excellent woods hikes, but unfortunately at a pace too fast for the smaller tramp!
Bibliography at end of post.

Map 1.
Here are 3 maps of the area. All are clickable, but each has been found lacking in one way or other by followers, so have your pick.

Map 2.

Map 3 link here to google map enlarges to show all little streets, including Commerce, Leroy/St. Luke, Manetta.

Our architectural tour met up at Barnes and Noble at Union Square North. It always amazes us to see how many people turn out for one of these city walks in the middle of winter. There were probably more than 50 hikers here chatting about the last time they saw each other on one or another of the woodland or concrete trails.

After signing in, we ambled east on Union Square North toward Park Avenue South....

...To arrive at what once was the Tammany Hall Headquarters. The Tammany Society started out in the 1700s as a group that helped immigrants adjust and become active in NYC. It evolved into a Democratic political machine dominant in New York City politics. By the end of the 19th century, with leaders like Boss Tweed controlling and brokering power, corruption reigned. Another Tammany leader and New York City Mayor, Jimmy Walker, was forced to resign and was replaced by Fiorello LaGuardia. The last of the Tammany regime was squelched in the 1960s by newly elected mayor, Robert Wagner. The original headquarters building was on 14th street. This East 15th Street building, the last to serve as the physical HQ of Tammany Hall, is now the home of the New York Film Academy.

The stone medallion on the left is a portrait of Tamanend, Native American leader of the Lenapes, from whom the Tammany Society took its name.

The Union Square subway kiosk, active any time of day.

Another view of Union Square. Across the park is a new condo, a glass enclosure built around the skeleton of the Tiffany Store that stood here at the beginning of the 20th Century. Interested in buying one of these apartments with a view of the park and lots of downtown cachet? Be prepared to fork over $3 mil. for a one bedroom.

For as long as we've lived here, we never could figure out what these two "art works" are. The low glass building at left sports a giant digital clock counting down who knows what. The taller building at right features a circular opening that perpetually blows out smoke rings. Go figure.

Here's another mystery. This building has been under construction for ages now, but who knows what it will be. One guess is a parking garage. With all that steel, it could end up a prison.

The venerable Strand bookstore on 12th and Broadway. Boasting 11 miles of books, it's one of the last survivors of Booksellers Row--a stretch along Fourth Avenue between 8th and 14th Streets that housed countless used book stores. Don't look for Bookskeller's Row today--it's long gone.

Washington Square is really New York University-dom. This NYU building, on University Place, faces the East side of Washington Square Park.

Washington Mews, off University Place, features buildings, some with Belgian brick and Romanesque arches, which are actually the carriage houses behind the fine 19th century homes that line Washington Square Park. According to our guide, these carriage houses were put up first so that workers who lived too far to commute during construction of the mansions could use them as temporary residences. This fashionable Mews has been home to artists and the avant garde, as well as some NYU faculty and administrators.

The Mews is bracketed on the South by NYU's La Maison Francaise and on the north by Deutsche Haus.

Walking west through the Mews, we exited at 2 Fifth Avenue, a coop apartment building where former Mayor Ed Koch lives.

We turned left on Fifth Avenue and walked a half a block south to Washington Square Arch. The arch, a NYC landmark, was built in 1889 to celebrate the centennial of George Washington's inauguration as President of the US. It was designed by the famed NY architect Stanford White, of McKim, Mead and White. (White was scandalously murdered years later.)

This handsome row of Greek Revival style houses on Washington Square North across from the Park was built in the 1830s. Now, most of them are owned by NYU, but there are at least two private grade schools here as well.

Washington Square West is walled by a number of apartment buildings, including one where Eleanor Roosevelt lived.

Hangman's Elm in Washington Square park. This tree, at more than 330 years old, is NYC's oldest tree. Whether anyone was ever actually hanged from it remains a matter of debate.

Looking back from Washington Square South, right there through the arch is 1 Fifth Avenue. We'd like to be able to afford a coop there!!

Judson Memorial Church is another creation of 19th-century architect Stanford White, sculptor Augustus St. Gaudens, and stained- glass master, John LaFarge. Built in 1892, this Italianate building combines Byzantine, Romanesque and Renaissance components. During the 1960s, it was the scene of anti-Vietnam War gatherings. It serves today as a center for arts and social activism.

At one corner of Judson Memorial is this fountain for thirsty horses. Always see to your animal's needs before going in to worship. True then as it is today.

Cafe Wha, at 115 Bleeker Street, is one of the Village's most famous clubs. Many stars of the 50s and 60s performed there, including Bob Dylan, Jimmy Hendrix, Peter, Paul and Mary, Woody Allen and Lenny Bruce. It's still going strong as a comedy club.

We passed these stunning metal doors on our way West.

Leroy Street which runs East/West through the West Village contains a very famous house at #6...

... that of former Mayor and Tammany politician Jimmy Walker, aka Beau James.

The corner of Leroy and Hudson Street. Here's something you don't see much of in NYC--solar panels.

The West Village is punctuated with charming stonework like these caryatids gracing a Morton Street building.

75 1/2 Bedford Street, former home of Pulitzer-prize winning poet Edna St. Vincent Millay . Anthropologist Margaret Mead and New Yorker cartoonist, William Stieg, also lived here.

There are three great watering holes in the Village--Chumley's and the White Horse Tavern in the West and McSorley's in the East. Chumley's, a one-time speakeasy at 86 Beford Street, is temporarily shuttered because of a building collapse. It's now being repaired and renovated for re-opening.

J. Goebel and Co., established in 1865 on Bedford Street, is a long-gone brewery.

This handsome clapboard house at the corner of Grove and Bedford is one the oldest in the Village.

Another Mews that housed workers during the construction of nearby mansions.

Next to the clapboard house, at 102 Bedford, is "Twin Peaks." An 1830 townhouse, it was renovated in 1925 by Clifford Daley with financial backing by Otto Kahn. Daley considered surrounding buildings mundane and wanted to liven things up with this unconventional design. Kahn later bought/forced Daley out. Furious, Daley buried two bottles of champagne in the basement and vowed to break them out on his return. The bottles are still there.

The renowned drinking establishment, the White Horse Tavern is located at 567 Hudson Street at 11th Street.

It was here that Dylan Thomas broke his record and had 18 shots of whiskey. He went home to his room in the Chelsea Hotel, and died the next morning.

Julius, at 159 West 10th Street, is the oldest continuously operating gay bar in New York. It played a key role in the events leading up to the 1969 Stonewall Riots, which launched the Gay Liberation movement. Famous drinkers at Julius included Tennessee Williams, Truman Capote and Rudolf Nureyev.

The Northern Dispensary at Christopher and Grove Streets was built in 1831. Vacant since 1988, this landmarked three-sided building long served as a public clinic. Edgar Allen Poe was a patient.

Gay Street, originally a stable alley named after an early owner, runs only a single block in the West Village, from Christopher Street south to Waverly Place.

The Jefferson Market Library at 10th Street and Avenue of the Americas started out in life as a courthouse. Built in 1874-77, one of its architects was Calvert Vaux, who together with Frederick Law Olmsted, created New York's Central Park.

A wooden fire-look-out tower was the first building on the site around 1833. It was razed long ago, as was The Woman's House of Detention, which stood on the site where the lovely garden prevails today. The main brick building and tower were no longer used by the 1940s, but were saved from demolition by E. E. Cummings and Lewis Mumford who convinced the city to convert it to a library.

Ray's Pizza is a New York City legend. There are countless Ray's throughout New York, each claiming to be "the Original Rays."

New York is home to a number of hidden cemeteries and it's easy to stroll right by this one on West 11th Street just east of 6th Avenue. This New York landmark is the second cemetery of the Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue. Burials began there in 1805.

The red brick wall that abuts the cemetery is the site of the 1800s Grapevine Tavern where Union soldiers as well as Confederate spies and incognito journalists hung out during the Civil War. It became known as the place where rumors start because everyone was there to listen in on everyone else's conversation. That is how the expression, "I heard it through the grapevine," was born.

Once we reached 5th Avenue, we walked down one block to The Church of the Acension, an Episcopal church, a gothic revival building designed by architect Richard Upton in the mid 1800s. In the 1880s, the interior was gorgeously redesigned by McKim, Mead and White, under the general direction of Stanford White.

We looped back west on West 10th Street. Many houses were finished with charming or whimsical touches. We loved the pineapple post toppers...

... and these rampant doggies.

20 - 38 West 10th Street is Renwick Terrace. This Italianate row was designed in 1858 by James Renwick, architect of Grace Church, at 10th Street and Broadway, and St. Patrick's Cathedral at 5th Avenue and 50th Street. Because of the line of terraces, copied from houses on Regency Street in London, this is known as Regency, or British Terrace style.

18 West 10th Street was the home of Emma Lazurus, poet and writer of the Statue of Liberty's creed, "Give me your tired, your poor, your ...

Just down the street at #14 is Mark Twain's house.

And then, a few doors down, one house, #18, just doesn't seem to fit. The exterior is set at an angle and seems to jut forward. This irregularity is caused by the reconstruction of the facade which was destroyed in 1969 when a bomb being built inside by the Weathermen exploded. Three of the group were killed. Others escaped and remained on the lam until a few years ago. One of us lived in the neighborhood at the time and heard the blast.

On an even more sobering note, our walk ended at the Brown Building at Green Street and Washington Place. This building housed The Triangle Shirtwaist Company, site of the infamous fire on March 25th, 1911, that swept through the factory. 146 garment workers, most of them women, finding themselves locked in the workspace, lept to their deaths to escape the fire.

In 1929, the building was donated to NYU, which has used it ever since as an academic building. It does help to know that learning and affirmation of life's endeavors is carried forward by students on this memorial corner.

All told, we clocked 6 miles on the old pedometer, more than the promised 4, but that included a stop at Whole Foods in search of pomegranates and a subway ride uptown. Join us again when you can. We'll be back in the hills soon as all the ice melts. Hope it's soon...

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