A secret house behind an East Village tenement

AvenuebbackhousesideThe city’s oldest neighborhoods are dotted with backhouses, some easily seen from the street through a crack in a fence or tiny alley.

But most are out of sight, sealed from street view and reachable only through surrounding buildings—like this two-story little home behind 206 Avenue B between 12th and 13th Streets.

A 30-year resident of 206, an old-school tenement constructed in 1900, describes the back house as a former carriage house.

That’s certainly possible; as the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation explains in their excellent Off the Grid blog post, some backhouses started out as stables.

“In these cases, a single family house was built, typically in the early 19th century, with a stable for the family’s horses located behind, accessible through either a side passageway or a tunnel or ‘horsewalk‘ through the house.”


Other times, backhouses were simply cheap buildings put up in courtyards so landlords could pack in more families and score more rent.

“Thus sometimes these backhouses had windows with little light or air, as they were often mere feet from the walls or windows of the front house or tenement or neighboring buildings,” states Off the Grid.

AvenuebbackhousedistantI’m not sure how the ivy-covered back house at 206 Avenue B came to be.

Considering the East Village’s history as a rough, crowded enclave of wave after wave of poor immigrants, it’s likely an example of the latter.

Off the Grid has more photos and history of these charming, sometimes rough-around-the-edges buildings.

And like its counterpart at 206 Avenue B, this backhouse in the West Village, unfortunately, has been cordoned off from street view forever.

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5 Responses to “A secret house behind an East Village tenement”

  1. Bob Says:

    I could be wrong, but I think this is where Brenda Kahn, the anti folk singer songwriter lived in the 1990’s. Many of her songs were about the East Village, Avenue A, and the trials and tribulations of living here. Everyone should now go here and give Brenda a few more views on youtube:

  2. Lady G. Says:

    Oh my gosh, how charming is that?? I love it! I’d live there.

  3. Zoe Says:

    I love this. I lived down the street for years & had not a clue it was there. Especially the ivy…

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    […] I’d seen backhouses before, mostly downtown in the Village or Chelsea—like this backhouse, now hidden behind tenements in the East Village. […]

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    […] the corner in the basement and ground floor of 337 East 20th Street, a three-story dwelling with a hidden back house on the […]

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