Archive for the ‘East Village’ Category

Just how old is the lovely stained glass ceiling at Veniero’s pasticceria?

May 2, 2022

There’s a lot to love about Veniero’s, the cafe and bakery on East 11th Street since 1894. First and foremost are the pastries, but also the tin ceiling, the old-school glass bakery counters, and the wonderful pink and green neon sign on the facade.

But what I noticed for the first time during a recent visit for gelato was the spectacular stained glass panels spanning the length of the ceiling, with their unusual red, gold, and green floral motifs.

I knew they must have been in the cafe for decades, and I wanted to know just how long and where they came from. On one hand, a 1990 New York Times article about bakeries in Manhattan has it that the stained glass was only installed in 1984.

“The only change over the years [at Veniero’s] has been the addition six years ago of an adjoining warm enclave, with a ceiling of stained-glass panels and the original pressed tin,” the article stated.

However, Veniero’s own website suggests the stained glass dates to the 1930s. During the Depression, owner Michael Veniero left the day-to-day management of the store to his cousin Frank.

“Under Frank’s leadership and eventually ownership, Veniero’s evolved into what it is today,” the site says. Frank “filled his new kitchen with Italian bakers and decorated his new cafe with imported Neapolitan glass that still gracefully adorns our ceiling today.”

How an East Village alley was renamed for a Ukrainian poet hero

April 4, 2022

From the city’s earliest days, streets were named after local bigwigs, typically a landowner. So in 1830, when it came time to name the one-block alley between today’s East Sixth and Seventh Streets (part of an early 18th century enclave called Bowery Village), the tradition continued.

The little slip between Third and Second Avenues became Hall Street, after Harlem landowner Charles Henry Hall, who sold the property to the city in 1828, according to a New York Times piece by Michael Goldman from 1999.

Hall Street didn’t always make it onto 19th century street maps, and it was changed in 1855 to Hall Place for unknown reasons. For 148 years, as Bowery Village morphed into the Lower East Side and then broke off to become the East Village, the Hall name stuck.

Hall Street, between Seventh Street and Tompkins Market on an 1840 map

Then in 1978, Charles Henry Hall was replaced by Taras Shevchenko, and the street officially bore the name Taras Shevchenko Place. Who is Taras Shevchenko, and what prompted the name change?

Hall Place made it on the map in 1903

“Taras Shevchenko (1814-1861) was a Ukrainian writer, painter and political activist whose novels and poems, written in Ukrainian, gave forceful expression to his countrymen’s nationalist sentiment at a time when aspects of the culture, including the language, were being suppressed by the Russian czar,” Goldman wrote.

Taras Shevchenko in 1859

Considered a hero to many Ukrainians, the name change was pushed by the Ukrainian immigrants who settled around East Seventh Street after World War II and built a community dubbed “Little Ukraine” that topped 60,000 people in the years following the war, according to Village Preservation.

The site of Tomkins Market in its Hall Street days, Taras Shevchenko Place ends at McSorley’s to the north and borders St. George Ukrainian Catholic Church on one side.

It also borders a newish Cooper Union building. Back in 2001 as plans for the new building unfolded, Cooper Union wanted to “demap” Taras Shevchenko Place and create a pedestrian walkway. Thanks to community pushback, that never happened.

[Second image: NYPL; third image: NYPL; fourth image: Wikipedia]

A ghostly store sign returns to view on Avenue B

March 14, 2022

Humble, homemade-looking store signs used to be more prevalent in Manhattan. Now, one of these unadorned signs—for an unbranded cosmetics and gift shop—is back in view at the tenement storefront at 205 Avenue B.

Nothing about this former store seems to exist in archives or old neighborhood photos, making the sign a ghostly remnant of a very modest-looking local business.

How far back in East Village history does this sign go? I’m not sure, but the store may have been selling makeup and gifts up until about 40 years ago. The sign reappeared sometime after Raul Candy Store closed in 2019, 38 years after setting up shop at 205 Avenue B in 1981, per EV Grieve.

h/t: Ghost Signs NYC

The teens who found splendor on the gritty East Side docks of the 1940s

March 7, 2022

The smokestacks and storage tanks of the East River waterfront of the 1930s or 1940s should be an unappealing place to meet friends. But painter Joseph Lambert Cain has captured a group of teenagers gathered on a pier here to sunbathe, talk, and pair off.

For these teens, perhaps from the Lower East Side or the Gas House District in the East 20s, the waterfront is an idyllic location—away from the critical eyes of adults and into the warm embrace of the working class city they likely grew up in.

Cain titled his painting “New York Harbor.” I’m not sure of the date, but my guess is about 1940. The riverfront industry surrounds them, but the modern city of skyscrapers is within sight and reach.

A lost East Village alley on a 1963 downtown map

February 28, 2022

Old maps tell us a lot about the subtle changes to New York’s streetscape. Take this illustrated map of the Village that’s almost 60 years old, for example.

Published in August 1963 by the Village Voice, the map covers not just Greenwich Village but a portion of the Meatpacking District (see “Little West 12th Street” in very small print), a slice of Chelsea, and a bit Gramercy Park, with that sliver of Irving Place at the top right.

The map extends all the way east to First Avenue. Makes sense; the newly christened East Village was at the time becoming a hipster alternative to pricey Greenwich Village, with its own clubs, bars, theaters, and head shops. The new, young residents here would likely be Village Voice readers.

“Stuyvesant Alley,” by Armin Landeck, 1940

Much of the Village Voice map aligns with the streetscape today. But there’s something missing in the contemporary East Village—it’s a place name on the map between Third and Second Avenues and East 11th and 12th Streets.

“Stuyvesant Alley,” the map says, marking a slender lane in the middle of the block. Okay, but there’s no Stuyvesant Alley anymore. So what happened to it?

Stuyvesant Alley, not named on this 1868 map

First, let’s see what the backstory is. The “Stuyvesant” name is obvious; the alley was created on land once part of the farm Peter Stuyvesant established for himself and his descendants in the 17th century. Parcels of his “bouwerie” were sold off for development in later centuries, but the Stuyvesant name stuck.

Stuyvesant Alley appears in several 19th century neighborhood maps, like the one above, from 1868. The alley isn’t named, but it runs through East 11th to East 12th Street. It also seems to have some small buildings lining it—perhaps stables?

By 1879, the alley’s name made it on the map (above), along with other places in the heavily developed neighborhood, like the Astor Place Hotel and Tivoli Theatre.

In the 1920s, Stuyvesant Alley showed up in an article in the New York Herald. An art exhibit was to be held at One Stuyvesant Alley in November 1922, the paper reported, hosted by a group of painters who called themselves the Co-Arts Club.

“The Co-Arts Club has established themselves in Stuyvesant Alley, the last frontier of Bohemianism on the East Side,” the Herald stated wistfully. “The ruthless march of tenements and factories has left only the alley untouched and the light bathes the studios there with an undimmed purposefulness.”

The painting of the alley as a narrow driveway surrounded by red brick and stone buildings (second image above) is the work of Armin Landeck in 1940. Whether Landeck’s depiction was true to life is hard to know; it’s also unclear which end of the alley he’s looking down.

His view is different from that of this 1934 photo of Third Avenue and East 11th Street (above), which shows the buildings on either side of the entrance to Stuyvesant Alley.

The alley made it into the 1960s, since it’s on the Village Voice map. But the trail goes cold after that.

To explain its undocumented disappearance, I’m going with what the Village Preservation’s Off the Grid blog concluded in 2014, when they took a closer look at Stuyvesant Alley: “The alley appears to have been wiped from the map in the 1980s when NYU built their large dorm on the corner of Third Avenue and East 11th Street.”

Thanks to Mick Dementiuk for sending the link to the map my way.

[Top image: Village Voice map via The Copa Room; second image: Brooklyn Museum; third image: fourth, fifth, and sixth images: NYPL]

A moment in time somewhere on the Bowery

November 1, 2021

An abandoned street cleaning cart. Men in hats walking alone. A streetcar traveling on dusty Belgian block pavement, an elevated train overhead, a succession of store signs and advertisements.

It’s just a glimpse in time around the turn of the century on the Bowery. But where, exactly? One of the buildings has 57 on it, suggesting 57 Bowery. That address no longer exists; it would have been near the entrance of the Manhattan Bridge.

There’s another sign that might give us a clue: the ad propped against a pole at the edge of the sidewalk. It looks like the first word is “London.” A theater with that name existed at 235 Bowery, where the New Museum is today between Stanton and Rivington Streets.

Whatever the exact address is, you can practically feel the energy and vitality—the pulse of a street now synonymous with a lowbrow kind New York life.

A guide to now-defunct Greenwich Village street names in 1865

October 4, 2021

Greenwich Village is one of the oldest sections of New York City, so you’d think the street names of this former country outpost would have been set and established by the mid-19th century.

But a look at an antique map from 1865 proves otherwise. Sure, most of the streets carry the same name they do today; you could certainly use the map to get around from 14th Street to Houston.

Still, a surprising number of streets have names that are unfamiliar and feel, well, wrong. Take 13th Avenue, on the far left side of the map, for starters (below, at Gansevoort Street, in the 1920s).

Never part of the original street grid and built on landfill in the 1830s, this neglected road went from West 11th Street to 25th Street along the Hudson River. Any plans to extend it or improve it seemed to end in the early 20th century, when almost all of it disappeared from the cityscape.

From 13th Avenue let’s go to Troy Street, the old-time name for West 12th Street, which then turns into Abingdon Place, another vanished name. Why it was called Troy is unclear, but perhaps it was the name of an 18th or 19th century landowner. The street got its name in 1827, according to oldstreets.com.

Six blocks south of Troy is Amos Street, which the map helpfully explains is now West 10th Street. Who was Amos? That would be Charles Christopher Amos, according to nycgo.com, the heir to landowner Sir Peter Warren. Amos also lent his name to Charles and Christopher Streets.

Closer to Washington Square is another ghost street: Clinton Place, today’s West Eighth Street. (Above photo shows 31-33 East Eighth Street, formerly 41-39 Clinton Place in 1928.)

“Eighth Street (Sixth Avenue to the Bowery) was named Clinton Place in memory of Dewitt Clinton, an American statesman, whose widow lived a few doors away on University Place,” explains the Village Alliance. “The street kept the name Clinton Place until the turn of the century.”

Laurens Place, below Washington Square, was a poor tenement strip in the mid-19th century dubbed “rotten row.” Rechristening it LaGuardia Place and then below Houston Street West Broadway gave it much-needed cachet.

Amity Street’s name origin is also unknown (above, showing the “Midnight Mission for Fallen Women”). “Opened in 1806, it was renamed West 3rd Street in 1875,” notes oldstreets.com. Toward the East Village was elite, terraced Albion Place, “a row of 12 houses on the south side of East 4th Street between the Bowery and Second Avenue.”

Finally, I’m curious about St. Georges Place, which appears to be the new name of East 13th Street at Second Avenue. Was a church with the same name nearby, or could this have been a long-forgotten row of posh houses similar to St. Luke’s Place and St. Marks Place?

[Map: Barry Lawrence Ruderman Antique Maps Inc. via Raremaps.com; second image: NYPL; third image: oldnyc.org; fourth image: NYPL]

Everything you need to know about the Greenwich Village of 1961 in one map

September 20, 2021

“Geographically speaking, the Village is only a small part of New York City,” so states the copy on the side of this remarkable map of the Greenwich Village of 1961 (click the map to enlarge it), which details the restaurants, bars, cafes, apartment buildings, and other notable spots from Washington Street all the way to Cooper Square.

“Map of the Greenwich Village section of New York City,” by Lawrence Fahey, cartographer

This extraordinary illustrated map, drawn and published by cartographer Lawrence Fahey, seems to be aimed at visitors.

“What is it about the Village that provokes such widespread interest? It stems primarily from the fact that the Village has long been a focus of youthful rebellion and Bohemian life and as such has been the cradle of many innovations in American art, drama, literature, and poetry, the current example of which is ‘Beat’ or ‘Hip’ writing,” the copy reads.

The text on the map reflects its era, containing comments about the relaxed vibe of Village blocks and parks, the shopping options, and why certain adjacent streets were excluded.

“While making the field survey for this map, it was found that the Hudson River waterfront with its wharfs and warehouses lacks the charm of the ‘Old Village’ and the rest of Bohemia,” per the text. “The same is true of the area south of Prince Street where depressing loft buildings and dark streets would hardly appeal to any visitor.”

Ha! By 1971, the warehouses of the far West Village would undergo conversion to housing, the “depressing” streets south of Prince would be rebranded Soho, and the area east of Cooper Square would transform into the East Village.

It’s a fascinating visual trip back to the Village of the early 1960s. West 14th Street was once Little Spain (second image); today, none of these restaurants or shops remain.

The Village Nursing Home (third image) is still a nursing home, not a luxury residence. The Women’s House of Detention boxes in Jefferson Market Courthouse, which hasn’t been repurposed as an NYPL library branch yet.

St. Veronica’s Church on Christopher Street has a school. The Sixth Precinct is still at the end of Charles Street, not in the circa-1970s new precinct house between Perry and Charles Streets. There’s a fair number of gas stations and lots of antique shops. NYU isn’t everywhere.

A surprising number of spots from the Village of 60 years ago are still with us: Caffe Reggio, Julius, Seville, Gene’s, plus Rocco’s and Faicco’s on Bleecker Street. The Waverly still plays movies, but it’s the last Village movie theater left.

[Map: NYPL Digital Collections]

A tenement sign high up at the corner of First Street and First Avenue

July 19, 2021

The corner of First Street and First Avenue is roughly the borderline of the East Village. And what better than an old-school address sign like this one affixed to a handsome brick building to welcome you to the neighborhood as you leave the Lower East Side behind?

These early 20th century address markers can be found on many tenement corners throughout New York City. In some cases, they may have served to let elevated train riders know exactly where they were passing.

Or perhaps these signs—sometimes raised and embossed, other times carved into the building—simply let pedestrians know where they stood in an era when reliable street signs had not yet arrived to ever corner in poor neighborhoods.

Beat writers and bohemians: One woman’s memoir of 1950s Greenwich Village

July 19, 2021

“When I got back to New York after my divorce came through there was never any question that Greenwich Village was where I wanted to be,” recalled Helen Weaver in her 2009 autobiography, The Awakener: A Memoir of Kerouac and the Fifties.

Helen Weaver and Jack Kerouac, undated

It was 1955 and Weaver was in her early 20s. Her brief marriage to her college boyfriend was behind her, and she looked forward to moving to a “patchwork crazy quilt” section of Manhattan filled with “artists, would-be artists, and oddballs like myself.”

“To the overprotected little girl from Scarsdale that I was, the very dirt of the streets and the subway and the stairs of tenements was exciting,” she wrote. “It represented freedom from everything I had escaped: parents, marriage, academia.”

Sullivan Street and West Third, 1950s

Little did Weaver know that she’d find herself part of the fabric of bohemian Village life in the 1950s and early 1960s: a love affair with Jack Kerouac, dalliances with poet Gregory Corso and Lenny Bruce, and a witness to the Village’s transformation from quirky and artsy to a neighborhood with rougher edges.

He story at first sounds like that of any young adult who arrives in the Village on their own. First, Weaver had to get an apartment: a third-floor walkup on Sullivan Street.

“E.B. White wrote that New York City ‘bestows the gift of privacy, the jewel of loneliness,’: she wrote. “That first apartment was a magical place for me because it was there that I learned the art—and the joy—of solitude.” To pay for her space, she secured a position as a “gal Friday” at a publishing house.

Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, Gregory Corso

A college friend also on Sullivan Street showed her how to live, getting furniture at the Salvation Army, dressing like a Village bohemian (“long skirts, Capezio ballet shoes, and black stockings”), and going to dinner at the Grand Ticino on Thompson Street. They also visited Bagatelle, a lesbian bar on University Place.

A new friend—Helen Elliott, a free spirit who had attended Barnard—became her roommate in her next apartment at 307 West 11th Street, “an old brownstone with a small paved courtyard just west of Hudson Street and kitty-corner from the White Horse Tavern of Dylan Thomas fame.”

So thrilled to have a bigger apartment, it wasn’t until after she moved in that Weaver realized there was no kitchen sink. No matter, they would do the dishes in the bathtub.

White Horse Tavern in 1961, across from Helen Weaver’s West 11th Street apartment

Helen Elliott had become friendly with Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac while at Barnard, and one November morning in 1956 the two not-yet-famous Beat writers showed up at Weaver and Elliott’s apartment. They had just returned to New York after hitchhiking from Mexico.

Elliott and Ginsberg went off to see fellow Beat Lucien Carr, who lived on Grove Street. Back on West 11th Street, Weaver and Kerouac began their tumultuous year-long relationship, which was marked by Kerouac’s drinking, long absences, and then the 1957 publication of On the Road, which made him a celebrity.

Upset that Kerouac wasn’t the man she wanted him to be, Weaver had a one-night stand with poet Gregory Corso before breaking things off for good.

Villagers at Cafe Wha?

“The pain of my disappointment in Jack and the pain of rejecting him was compounded by the pain of rejecting the part of myself that felt most alive,” wrote Weaver.

As the 1950s slid into the early 1960s, Weaver moved to a third apartment on West 13th Street. She smoked her first joint with a boyfriend and began campaigning for the legalization of marijuana.

She also became a fan of rising comic Lenny Bruce, attending his show at the Village Theater on Second Avenue (later it would become the Fillmore East) eight days after John F. Kennedy was assassinated.

In 1964, when Bruce was arrested for obscenity at the Village’s Cafe Au Go Go, Elliott and Weaver started a petition in support of Bruce’s right to free speech. When Bruce heard about it, he got Weaver’s number and thanked her…then came to her apartment, where the two went to bed together.

“All those hours Helen and I had spent listening to his voice on the records: that was our foreplay. And his gig at the Village Theater back in November: that was our first date,” Weaver wrote. In the end, Bruce was convicted of obscenity. (Bruce died two years later of a heroin overdose before his appeal was decided.)

In the 1960s, Weaver moved a final time to West 10th Street. But rising crime drove her to leave the neighborhood she loved.

MacDougal Street, 1963

When she first came to the Village, she recalled being able to walk around at any hour of the night and feel safe. Not so anymore: “Near Sheridan Square I saw a big bloodstain on the sidewalk. Another time in the subway a man punched me in the breast. I started taking cabs home instead of riding the subway. It got so I was afraid to walk to the corner deli after dark for a quart of milk. New York was getting scary.”

In 1971, she sublet her apartment and relocated to Woodstock, where she worked as a translator and astrology writer. Except for short trips back to New York City to see old friends and be part of Beat Generation events, Weaver never lived in the city again.

Helen Weaver in the 1950s

She began her memoir in the 1990s. By the time it was published in 2009, the main characters—Helen Elliott, Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, Gregory Corso—had all passed away. Weaver died in April of this year at 89. She was perhaps the last of a group whose sense of adventure and artistic leanings defined a certain time and feel in Greenwich Village.

[Top photo: from The Awakener: a Memoir of Kerouac and the Fifties; second image: oldnycphotos.com; third image: unknown; fourth image: LOC; fifth image: NYPL; sixth image: Village Preservation; seventh image: Robert Otter; eighth image: The Awakener: a Memoir of Kerouac and the Fifties]