Posts Tagged ‘Patchin place’

New York’s last gas lamp in a West Village alley

October 29, 2012

Is there an enclave in New York City lovelier than Patchin Place?

This one-lane stretch of circa-1850 brick walk-ups in the West Village is shaded by ailanthus trees and blocked off from traffic by a wrought-iron fence.

It’s shabby-romantic, the former home of many early 20th century writers.

But this little mews off West 10th Street and Sixth Avenue also contains an incredible 19th century old New York relic at its far end.

It’s the location of the last original gas lamp and stanchion in New York City.

The simple, elegantly designed lamp still illuminates the alley at night, and it helps light up the Christmas tree residents place in front of it every December.

Unfortunately, it’s no longer powered by gas; the lamp was wired for electricity in the 1920s.

Imagine the lovely glow it must have cast on Patchin Place until then!

A blink-and-you’ll-miss-it alley in the Village

October 18, 2010

Sharp-eyed New Yorkers know about the many courtyards and mews of Greenwich Village, such as Patchin Place, MacDougal Alley, and Charles Lane.

But most residents don’t notice Milligan Place, a triangular alley on Sixth Avenue near West 10th.

No wonder: Milligan Place has only four buildings, all on the far left. The tiny gate that leads inside is as narrow as a shop door.

It’s a lovely glimpse of the old Village, when homes were built along streets derived from cow paths and streams, not the boxy street grid.

Milligan Place is named for Daniel Milligan, whose home once stood on the site. His daughter married Aaron Patchin.

Patchin named the larger alley around the corner for himself and built the three-story homes here around 1850.

Milligan Place commands high rents now. But for most of the 20th century, it was considered a backwater.

“Down in Milligan Place, the little hole in the wall on lower Sixth Avenue, where babies yowl and black cats prowl and pigeons coo in unison with the music of the elevated, and the soul is untrammeled and free, there is a toy shop,” noted The New York Times in 1915.

[Above left photo of Milligan Place in 1936 by Berenice Abbott. Above right, Milligan Place today]

Strange Days in Sniffen Court

January 7, 2010

Tucked away on quiet 36th Street between Lexington and Third Avenue lies Sniffen Court—one of the city’s sweetest private alleys. Ten two-story former carriage houses, built in the 1860s, now serve as private residences (one houses a theater) that collectively look like a toy village.

Unlike other alleys, like Patchin Place in the West Village, a locked gate prevents curious passersby from strolling in and time-traveling back to Civil War–era New York City. 

But it didn’t prevent The Doors from shooting the Strange Days album cover there in 1967. Inspired by the 1954 Fellini film La Strada, the photographer recruited carnival performers and average joes (reportedly one was a cabbie paid $5 for his time) to pose for the iconic photo.

Here’s the cover shot. Compare it to Sniffen Court today; this landmarked mews has barely changed in 30 years.

The back cover photo shows the left side of Sniffen Court. The white horse and rider reliefs on each side of the back wall still exist:


“Are you still alive, Djuna?”

May 15, 2009

That’s what e.e. cummings reportedly shouted out his window on Patchin Place, the West Village gated alley where he and fellow writer Djuna Barnes were neighbors for many overlapping years.

Djunabarnes1925Cummings resided in a house at #4, while Djuna had a studio on the second floor at #5 across the way. She lived like a recluse, so occasionally cummings checked up on her. 

Barnes had been a true Bohemian, moving to Greenwich Village in the teens and advocating free love, sleeping with both men and women. After years spent in Europe (where the photo at left was taken in 1925), she moved to Patchin Place in 1940.

And she never left. Barnes made her home in that one-room flat for 42 years, her $49.50 per month rent paid for by a stipend.

Djunabarnes1962She barely published anything for the rest of her life, but her literary rep grew, and she spent her later years chasing away fans who rang her bell wanting to discuss her work. She died in 1982.

Today, a plaque commemorates cummings’ home at #4. But no plaque marks #5, even though Barnes was a literary heavyweight. Her 1936 novel Nightwood was lauded by T.S. Eliot and Dylan Thomas. 

The photo at right, of Barnes posing beside the Patchin Place gate, was taken in 1962 by e.e. cummings’ wife, poet Marion Morehouse.

Summertime theater in Patchin Place

July 30, 2008

Little Patchin Place, off West 10th Street in the Village, is one of those slightly scruffy 19th-century mews that thrill tourists and New Yorkers alike. I lived there for five years, and every day people would stand outside the front gate, peering in and soaking up the charm.

The apartments were kind of falling apart, but for the chance to live where e.e. cummings once resided? It was all okay. Below, Berenice Abbott’s 1930s Patchin Place photo.

Built around 1850 as living quarters for the Basque waiters working at the nearby Brevoort Hotel, the 3-story houses didn’t have electricity or running water until the teens, about the time the waiters moved out and artists, actors, and writers moved in.

Considering the artistic bent, it actually isn’t surprising that in 1918, residents of Patchin Place put on a play in the communal backyard behind one row of houses. According to a New York Times story, Patchinites performed Yeats’ “The King’s Threshold,” at midnight on July 1. About 300 people came to watch:


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