West Eighth Street and MacDougal Alley

As seen from MacDougal Street in 1942. Alfred S. Mira painted this scene of one of World War II–era Greenwich Village’s main drags. 

The shop on the right-hand corner eventually housed Eighth Street Books, one of those fabled Village bookstores in pre-Amazon, pre-Barnes & Noble days. 

And the Eighth Street Theater, which survived until the 1990s, was right around the corner.

This stretch of Eighth Street looks almost exactly the same today, except the crowds are a little sketchier. Too bad Mira didn’t reproduce the store signs and names.

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24 Responses to “West Eighth Street and MacDougal Alley”

  1. mykola (mick) dementiuk Says:

    Wow, the area looks like it’s frozen in time. I remember 8th Street Books like I had wandered in from a rainy day and spent hours in the place. It had two floors and they eventually opened up a third, which I guess they had used for their stock room. The first street level was for hardbacks and they had another you descended down for art books. Novels and other fiction were kept on the 2nd floor.The books you could find there was truly amazing! That bookstore I still miss to this day.

  2. mykola (mick) dementiuk Says:

    But looking at the picture I’m sure the bookstore was in the white building more to the left and opposite the blue sign across the street. Had an alcove you walked into after the olive building.

  3. mykola (mick) dementiuk Says:

    Street scene is a hell of a different place than it was back than. Some buildings have kept up their fronts. This is from Google:

    http://maps.google.com/maps?hl=en&tab=wl

  4. mykola (mick) dementiuk Says:

    Damn, that didn’t work…

  5. petey Says:

    on the right there seems to be a woman in trousers. not what you’d expect in 1942 maybe, tho’ my mother has a picture of herself in trousers from the 1930s.

  6. Jill Says:

    I recognized this block before reading any of the words, much to my surprise. What a wonderful painting.

  7. wildnewyork Says:

    When I first saw the painting I recognized the block immediately as well. I spent many days as a teenager in the Postermat on West Eighth!

    Mick, I’d always read that the bookstore was on the Southeast corner of Eighth and MacDougal. Maybe they were in the white building first? I’m looking into it now….

  8. mykola (mick) dementiuk Says:

    I was wrong…funny how our memory goes

    http://realitystudio.org/bibliographic-bunker/positively-eighth-street/

    This has the historic info about the shop

  9. mykola (mick) dementiuk Says:

    Found a bit more…and I was right!

    “Finally in 1967 there became available, slightly eastward at 17 West Eighth Street, a five story townhouse where Texas Guinan, of “Hello, Sucker!” prohibition fame, once lived. The Wilentzes purchased it, and the gutting of the interior began (they never did find Guinan’s legendary gold bathtub when they excavated the place). Once renovation was completed, the new location possessed little of the hamische atmosphere of the old place. “All the warmth of an airline terminal,” as one employee put it. But the opportunity to play Library at Alexandria was a fair exchange. Even larger than most of today’s Borders outlets, the three sales floors of Eighth Street Bookshop at 17 West prided itself on stocking over 60,000 neatly arranged titles. By its own estimate “Greenwich Village’s Famous Bookshop,” the United States’s Famous Bookshop was more like it.”

    from http://realitystudio.org/bibliographic-bunker/positively-eighth-street/

    That is across the street from the bookstore photo which was 32 W 8th St. and taken in the early 60s. A bookstore did open there in the 70s with the first theft ringer-alarm at the door –first time that was used in NYC. But all they did was take away the book you were trying to steal.

    http://www.nysonglines.com/8st.htm

    has the wrong info Dylan did meet Ginsburg there but they should also list 17 W. 8th St.

  10. wildnewyork Says:

    Excellent research!

  11. mykola (mick) dementiuk Says:

    If you like doing research you would love my novel “Vienna Dolorosa.” Took 3 years of writing, reading and sweating about the Nazi take over of Vienna in 1938.

    http://www.viennadolorosa.com/

    Whew, that was tough! But I’m happy I did it…

  12. Alex Says:

    The store on the left with the blue sign was Bleecker Bobs iRecord Store in the late 1970s.

  13. Alex Says:

    The bookstore was replaced by an ice cream parlor (Hagen Das?) in th 1980s.

  14. Jill Says:

    Reminiscence was on the left side of MacDougal in the late 70’s/early 80’s. It’s now a film school or something like that. If I remember correctly there also was a Danskin store on this block around that same time.

  15. Allegra Says:

    Alfred S. Mira was my Papa Alfredo (granddad). I’m glad to see someone using his work for a noble cause.

  16. wildnewyork Says:

    He’s a wonderful painter; you must be very proud. This post has been very popular, as the number of comments attest.

  17. Allegra Says:

    Thanks! I am proud. I am honored.

  18. Gary Says:

    The way I remember it the bookstore employees went on strike once too often so the Wilentzes threw them out, closed the book store, and opened a record store

  19. Lizz Says:

    I am building out the space at 32 W 8th St., formerly 8th St. Bookshop (or the first location I guess by reading the comments), I am trying to incorporate some of the history of the space and the neighborhood into the design. I have quite a bit on 8th St. Bookshop. Does anyone know what it was before and after that?

    • mykola (mick) dementiuk Says:

      On the old 8th Street Bookshop, which was directly across 8th Street, after it was closed for good, a bookstore did open up there which had an electronic beeper which you passed through. It was the first beeper that I saw in the area, though I’d heard they were in use uptown. The new bookstore didn’t last very long but went the way of the other older 8th Street Bookshop. Here’s a pic of the shop from an article I wrote, the article has little to do with the bookshop

      http://www.lambdaliterary.org/features/10/12/remembering-variety-photoplays/

      A ‘new’ Greenwich Village was quickly coming…

  20. nabeguy Says:

    Let me try to set the record (or book in this case) straight. The original 8th Street Bookshop that was opened by my father and uncle was at 32 West 8th Street. As noted, it moved in 1967 to 17 West 8th street, and opened up an adjacent annex for discount books at 19 West 8th Street (formerly Wise Show Store, not to be confused with Wise Books, a competitor across the street). It was the annex that had the electric security beam, installed by the previous resident. It was not closed due to “multiple” strikes, but because my father wanted to retire from the business and none of his children had an interest in taking it over full time.

    • Chris Kearin Says:

      I worked in the Wise Book Shop briefly in 1976 and 1977. It was operated by a man named Ed Soshone (I’m no longer sure of the spelling) who I believe was originally from Alexandria in Egypt. Originally it was a door or two down from the Wilentz’s Eighth Street Bookshop, which was much more famous (and an infinitely better store, I must say), but we gave discounts, at least on hardcovers, which at that time was still a fairly limited practice, and which I don’t think made us popular with other bookstores. I remember selling vast numbers of the new Georgia O’Keefe monograph that came out that Christmas. A month or two after I began working there we relocated to another storefront more or less directly across the street from the Eight Street Bookshop; the storefront itself was small but we had a large basement that also served as selling space.

      Sometime in 1977, as I recall, the Eighth Street Bookshop was heavily damaged by a fire, and my recollection is that when it re-opened it was remodelled as a two-level shop instead of three. The Wise Book Shop only lasted for a year or so after I left. At the time there were also branches of Brentano’s and Marlboro Books on 8th Street, and possibly one or two independent stores as well. I don’t remember when the Wilentz store closed.

  21. The Greenwich Village vision of artist Alfred Mira | Ephemeral New York Says:

    […] city, Mira focused his work on the sites and monuments of Greenwich Village: the Washington Arch, MacDougal Street, and Seventh Avenue […]

  22. Places to Kiss and Be Kissed | Blog Says:

    […] likes of Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg in the 50s and 60s. Just around the corner, the secluded MacDougall Alley offers a quiet slice of the Greenwich Village that movies are made of. Make out shamelessly without […]

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