The block known as “Genius Row” in the Village

Stephen Crane (at left), O. Henry, Willa Cather, opera singer Adelina Patti—they all spent time bunking in one of the red brick row houses on Washington Square South between Thompson Street and LaGuardia Place.

Dubbed “Genius Row” because of its brain trust of creative residents in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the block was dominated by one row house in particular: the “House of Genius” at 61 Washington Square South.

Leased by a Swiss woman named Madame Blanchard in 1886, the House of Genius became a boardinghouse for bohemian writers, musicians, and artists—the only people she’d rent to.

“The third and fourth floors were also emblazoned with artistic murals and poetry etched by the former guests,” according to the New York Preservation Archive Project.

But after Madame Blanchard died in 1937, a developer bought Genius Row, planning to bulldoze the row houses and put up a high-rise.

Village residents fought hard against the plan, but the developer secured evictions and reduced the entire block to rubble.

In the end, however, he didn’t get his high-rise. In 1948 he sold the property to New York University, which constructed a student center there.

[Writer and Village resident Willa Cather]

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10 Responses to “The block known as “Genius Row” in the Village”

  1. Joly MacFie Says:

    In her book ”The Battle for Gotham: New York in the Shadow of Robert Moses and Jane Jacobs’ NYC Landmarks Commissioner Roberta Brandes Gratz talks about growing up living on Washington Sq South. Perhaps the events described above were a formative influence!

  2. wildnewyork Says:

    Interesting, yeah. Seeing part of your lovely block demolished would probably lead you to want to preserve, not bulldoze.

  3. Nabe News: February 28 - Bowery Boogie Says:

    […] “Genius Row” on Washington Square South in Greenwich Village was once home to Stephen Crane, O. Henry, Willa Cather, opera singer Adelina Patti [Ephemeral NY] […]

  4. Joe R Says:

    Steven Crane also lived in a building on W 23rd St., west of Seventh Avenue. Years later the same apartment was occupied by the terrific ash-can painter John Sloane. In Brooklyn Heights there was once a house which during WW2 housed W. H. Auden, Carson McCullers, Jane and Paul Bowles, Benjamin Britten, and Gypsy Rose Lee all at the same time, I think. Like the Washington Square South house, it’s now gone (per Robt Moses, I think).

  5. Paul Says:

    So typical of NYU. Even back then they were a bunch of land grabbing slime. No landmarking in the 1940s either. New York City has forever been destroying its history.

  6. Michael Says:

    I’m wondering if this was the same house where Rose O’Neill and her sister Callista lived. Rose was well known as a Bohemian and many books have been written describing her honor to have lived in Washington Square and entertaining artists, musician’s, writers and the like for many years, there. The new book The Dark Side of Rose O’Neill will share even more information on her life in New York City.

  7. February 1895-1896: Stephen Crane Around the Web | The Stephen Crane Society Says:

    […] […]

  8. Hidden Folklorists: Harry Payne Reeves, the Mysterious Cowboy Singer Daca | Folklife Today Says:

    […] Goddam Cattle” from him. This time, Daca’s shop was at 63 Washington Square South, part of a block that was known as “genius row” because of the number of artists, musicians, and writers who had lived there, including Stephen […]

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