Looking down Sixth Avenue in Greenwich Village

Sixth Avenue at West 10th Street looks about the same today, right? Well, except for the notorious women’s prison building hiding behind the Jefferson Market Courthouse turned Library.


Walter Brightwell painted this scene, according to Artnet, naming it “Looking Down Sixth Avenue Towards the Jefferson Market Library Building.”

The painting looks like it was done in the 1940s, but interestingly, Jefferson Market didn’t became a NYPL library branch until the 1960s.

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27 Responses to “Looking down Sixth Avenue in Greenwich Village”

  1. Lu Says:

    Love the picture of the Jefferson Court House, but there’s definitely something wrong with it. There was an overhead EL train tracks on sixth avenue, certainly in the mid 1950’s. Torn down by the end of the decade, I think.

    Does this painting indicate the EL was a construction of only one decade’s duration?

  2. ephemeralnewyork Says:

    Glad you liked the painting! The Sixth Avenue El was torn down in 1939; it first went up in the 1870s. I imagine that Brightwell was struck by how different Sixth Avenue looked with hulking steel train tracks, and how much more light came in, and he was compelled to capture the open space.

  3. Mike Says:

    I’m confused by the reference to the Jefferson Market “library” since it was not a library till the 60’s. Maybe he painted it in the 60’s using a photograph from the 1950’s. I say 50’s because the public school appears to be built already on 11th street between 6th and 7th.

    • RD Wolff Says:

      The artnet page says:

      “Looking down sixth avenue towards the Jefferson market library building”

      While it has a boiler plate for the page that says “Title:” in front of that, it doesn’t necessarily mean this was the actual origina; title the artist gave the painting, it could be what someone else later described it as, or what artnet gave it.
      It could have been simply “Looking down sixth avenue” and the rest was added later by the one who was selling it.

  4. Joe R Says:

    Cars tend to be good indicators of the earliest times possible in a picture. That dark car near the nun seems to be an early 50’s model. Those cars across the street almost seem late 50’s.

  5. ephemeralnewyork Says:

    P.S. 41 does appear to be in the painting, or at least, its U.S. flag, and that didn’t go up until the late 1950s. I wonder if the dumpster on the far right, where West 12th would be, is there for the construction of the Mark Twain, the apartment building on the corner that also went up in the 1959.


  6. Nicholas DiGiovanni Says:

    Reblogged this on World of Wonders and commented:
    I love this painting of Sixth Avenue and the Jefferson Street Market. The former prison had been converted to a library by the time I moved to Chelsea after graduating from college. This great old structure was my local library branch!

    • pgk Says:

      The prison building was never converted to a library. It was demolished approximately four years after it was closed down as a prison. It was the old courthouse building adjacent to the prison that was converted into a library.

      • RD Wolff Says:

        I can attest to that, I was 13 when it was being demolished in 1973, I snuck in a couple of times to explore it and find things I could take home and I distinctly remember the rows of steel jail doors and long hallways. I had wanted to try to get one of the jail door locks but it was all integrated into the steel door itself

      • Lisa Says:

        Those of us who’ve read Tom Wolfe’s essay, “The Voices of the Village Square” will recall that the Women’s House of Detention was on the North corner of Sixth & Greenwich– the female prisoners made a game of yelling out random men’s first names, for the sheer joy of confusing unwitting male passerby.

  7. Lu Says:

    Ephemeral—This is very confusing because when I lived as a child on West 12th between 5th and 6th Avenue I walked under the dark shadows of the elevated every day on the way to the old PS 41, in the mid 50’s. I think it may have been a nonfunctioning elevated, but not yet torn down. I remember what an incredible sunny, open difference its tear-down made.

    Never climbed any steps or actually rode this EL which supports this idea I have that it was still up but not used. The Fifth Avenue bus ran two ways then, turning around at the fountain at Washington Square and this was the transportation we usually took to get uptown and back.

    We were in the first class to move from the old 19th Century PS 41 on Greenwich Avenue to the new one on 11th. We walked over, two by two, carrying our pencil boxes and immediately set up shop. I believe that was 1957. And the EL I think was torn down in ’55.

    Wonder how to sleuth this and reconcile the dates with the body memories.

  8. Lu Says:

    Oh—just realized what you’re saying!

    Yes, if (the new) PS 41 is in the picture and I think it is—then the answer is simple. This painting is from ’56, or ’57 at the earliest. When, in my memory, the El was definitely gone.

  9. ephemeralnewyork Says:

    It’s great to hear from another PS 41 student; I spent kindergarten and first grade there in the 1970s, by which time shop had already been set up! It was a very different place than the school I walk by these days.

    As for the El, I thought it was torn down in the late 1930s, and supposedly sold off to Japan…where it was turned into war ammo not long after, as referenced in the e.e. cummings poem:


    Jefferson Market was my library too!

  10. Lu Says:

    What a surprise! That’s really nice. The place made such an impression on me that I remember the name of every fellow classmate….

    Here’s something I came across once. I don’t know this guy who was a bit before my time, but what’s fun about his little blog is he shows the old familiar report cards.


    I went to the building a few years ago for a community meeting trying to stop NYU expansion. Was shocked at how small and unmagical it had become, haha.

  11. OmaK Says:

    I went to PS 41 too! 11th St is not shown in this painting. The flag you mention is on 10th St.

  12. Lu Says:

    OmaK—It really is 11th st., and beyond that—look for that narrow white vertical band going along the edge of the 4-story red brick building facing 6th.

    That very likely is the edge of 41, which is made of white brick.

  13. OmaK Says:

    Lu–Thanks. Now I see it, and I think you’re right.

  14. OmaK Says:

    My father-who lived on 6th Avenue at 11th st from 1943 to 1949-tells me that the elevated track was down by 1943. He says he would not have moved there had it still been there, as he is a light sleeper and those tracks were VERY noisy.

  15. Lu Says:

    Well, I’m stumped, because your father’s experience is very real.

    I wasn’t alive in 43 but distinctly remember coming out of this intriguing toy store on sixth between 9th and 10th—it had trains, little soft German dolls, European toys—-(ask your dad if this rings a bell) with my older cousin and getting his bike which was locked onto the girders of this cavern of iron that cast a shadow and sun pattern onto the street. Many memories like this. This would have been 1954-55 at the earliest. When PS41 was still on Greenwich near Charles.

    And even though 6th Ave seemed so much sunnier and spacious when it was taken down—I desist! Maybe I time traveled as a child.

    Meantime hello to a fellow 41-er! Ephemeral probably has a lot of us.

  16. ephemeralnewyork Says:

    There’s a Facebook group for former PS 41 attendees from the early years–I forget what it’s called but it is worth a look if you are an alumnus.

  17. OmaK Says:

    The caption for the 6th photograph in this article says the 6th Ave EL was demolished in 1939: http://news.yahoo.com/photos/historical-images-of-new-york-city-subway-1421962140-slideshow/

  18. Lu Says:

    Ephemeral–Thanks. I’ll check it out.

    About the 6th Ave EL and me—I’m reminded of the lines from a movie called “Still Crazy”, a sort of British “Spinal Tap”.

    Beano: Hollywood bowl. Now there was a gig.
    Les: We never played the Hollywood Bowl.
    Beano: We didn’t? That was one of my most vivid memories.”


  19. Rach Says:

    It looks like it represents various years. You can see the flag pole and the edge of PS41 in the picture.

  20. Clark Whelton Says:

    The 6th Avenue el was torn down in the late 1930s. The scrap steel was supposedly bought by Japan, to be converted into weapons, which were turned against the USA a few years later.. In his poem “Told Him,” e.e. cummings wrote… ” it took
    a nipponized bit of
    the old sixth
    el;in the top of his head:to tell

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