Archive for the ‘West Village’ Category

The Greenwich Village vision of artist Alfred Mira

September 28, 2015

Alfred S. Mira and his realistic, gritty, intimate Greenwich Village street scenes should be better known.

[“Seventh Avenue, Greenwich Village”]


Born in 1900 in Italy to a carpenter father, he left school and began working for an interior decorator, dreaming of going to art school but without the 50 cents a day it cost to attend.

[“Washington Square Rally,” 1942]


He did make a career out of painting though; he listed his address as East 8th Street and his occupation as painter in the 1940 census. And he sold his work at the Washington Square outdoor art exhibit, a heralded event decades ago.

[“The El, View of Sixth Avenue and Eighth Street,” 1940]


Though he painted scenes from all over the city, Mira focused his work on the sites and monuments of Greenwich Village: the Washington Arch, MacDougal Street, and Seventh Avenue South.

His inspiration seems to come from the urban realists who made a name for themselves in the early 1900s, such as George Bellows and George Luks.

[Title unknown, but there’s Jefferson Market in the background]


But his style is his own: honest, sometimes gritty, sometimes dreamy, and deeply atmospheric—a true street artist who captured the moods of the city.

[“Summer Morning”—anyone know what intersection this is?]


Alfredmiraselfportrait1934“Mira painted angled, bird’s eye viewpoints, thereby creating what one critic categorized as ‘moving camera eye impressions,’” explains gallery Questroyal Fine Art LLC.

He died in 1980 or 1981, depending on the source, and his work still inspires. It also still sells, with several paintings going for thousands of dollars at top auction houses.

[Self portrait, 1934]

Visiting the 1884 original Gansevoort Market

September 28, 2015

Gansevoort Street sure looked a lot different in 1884, the year the original Gansevoort Market made its official debut. This photo was taken a little later, dating to 1907.


Opened after Washington Market in today’s Tribeca became too crowded, Gansevoort Market was an open-air produce market bound by Gansevoort, Little West 12th, West, and Greenwich Streets.

In other words, the heart of today’s ultra-trendy Meatpacking District.


The market was a big deal at the time; Harper’s Weekly even wrote about it in 1888.

“During the dark hours of early morning, as hundreds of wagons of all descriptions converge upon the market regions, pandemonium reigns as traffic chokes the thoroughfares for blocks around,” an article stated.

Gansevoortmarket1890sOver the next decade, the city built the West Washington Market, for dairy farmers and meat sellers. The WPA Guide to New York City described the scene this way in 1939.

“Activities begin at 4 a.m. Farmers in overalls and mud-caked shoes stand in trucks, shouting their wares. Commission merchants, pushcart vendors, and restaurant buyers trudge warily from one stand to another, digging arms into baskets of fruits or vegetables to ascertain quality.”


“Trucks move continually in and out among the piled crates of tomatoes, beans, cabbages, lettuce, and other greens in the street,” the Guide continues.

Gansevoortmarketkings1893“Hungry derelicts wander about in the hope of picking up a stray vegetable dropped from some truck, while patient nuns wait to receive leftover, unsalable goods for distribution among the destitute.”

Over the decades, produce moved out to the more accessible Hunts Point in the Bronx, and meat purveyors moved in.

West Washington Market burned down in a 1954 fire. The Gansevoort Meat Market building put up by the city in the 1940s remained in use.


That is, until the Meatpacking District, as it was now known, emptied of meatpackers and began hosting fashion designers and faux French restaurants.

Today Gansevoort Market lives on in a very 2015 incarnation—as a trendy food hall.

Top photo: Museum of the City of New York; second image:; third photo:; fourth photo: MCNY; fifth photo:]

107 colorful years at a Meatpacking District motel

September 7, 2015

Today’s gleaming, touristy Meatpacking District has no room for low-rent motels. But the Liberty Inn, at 51 Tenth Avenue, which famously charges by the hour, is still hanging in there.


This flatiron-shaped building is a remnant of the days when 14th Street west of Eighth Avenue was a commercial and ship-docking district, home to a produce market, meatpacking plants, sailors’ dives, and sex clubs.

LibertyinndelamatersquareThe hotel had a dicey reputation from the start.

It first opened in 1908 as a sailor’s boardinghouse called the Strand on a patch of land known as Dalamater Square (right, 1938).

“It is a three-story structure, on the ground floor of which is a saloon and the upper part of which contains 28 rooms,” stated a court document from 1914.

“[The Strand] accepts only men as roomers,” the document added, and caters “to the class of trade that has business at the river front.”

In other words, it was a rough place–which might be why it had its “all-night license” revoked in 1910.

Its waterfront location came in handy after the Titanic sank in 1912. To cover the story, the New York Times rented a floor of rooms at the Strand (below, at Pier 54).


“The editors sent reporters to the pier with orders to buttonhole survivors and then run into the Strand and dictate their notes on one of the telephone lines, which were connected to the newsroom in Times Square,” the Times recalled in a 2012 article.


There’s no reason to think the Strand—or whatever it was called as the decades went on—ever changed its seamy vibe.

And why would it, since the Meatpacking District became the haunt of sex workers and the site of sex clubs from the 1970s through the 1990s.

mp0271The Anvil operated out of the ground floor of the building from 1974 to 1986, where “drag queens and naked go-go boys danced upstairs and those looking for a more hands on experience wandered the dark passageways below ground,” recalled the Daily News.

[Above: Photo by Brian Rose]

Today’s Liberty Inn, which limits rooms to 2 guests each and charges $80 for two hours, is a far cry from the debauchery of the Anvil.


But it’s the most unsavory place you’ll find in a neighborhood that’s scrubbed its down and dirty past clean.

[Third and fourth photos: NYPL Digital Collection. Fifth Photo: Brian Rose.]

The stillness and solitude of a New York rooftop

June 1, 2015

Few artists convey the disquieting solitude of city life like Edward Hopper, as he does here in “Untitled (Rooftops)” from 1926.


Hopper, who worked out of his studio on Washington Square until his death in 1967, was fascinated by urban scenes: “our native architecture with its hideous beauty, its fantastic roofs, pseudo-gothic, French Mansard, Colonial, mongrel or what not, with eye-searing color or delicate harmonies of faded paint, shouldering one another along interminable streets that taper off into swamps or dump heaps.”

A historic “sip-in” at a West Village bar in 1966

June 1, 2015

The Stonewall Riot on June 28, 1969 is often cited as the beginning of the gay rights movement: As police arrested employees and patrons of Christopher Street’s Stonewall Inn for serving liquor without a license, crowds threw rocks at the cops, and the event set off days of protest.


But three years earlier there was another, little-known protest one block over on Tenth Street, a precursor to Stonewall that challenged a state law about serving alcohol to gays.

It happened at Julius, the circa-1826 tavern at 156 West 10th Street. The place has operated as a bar since 1867, and it’s been called the longest-running gay bar in New York, though it’s unclear when it went from being a favorite of Longshoremen to a place favored by gay men.


This description of Julius from a 1966 guidebook has it that it’s been attracting “improper bohemians” since the 1930s, though the bar website says the 1950s. The “Dirty Julius” nickname came during its days as a speakeasy.

Juliusbar2008wikiIn any event, the protest came about because the Mattchine Society, an early national gay rights organization, decided to challenge a New York state law that prohibited bars from serving disorderly patrons.

At the time, simply being gay was considered grounds for being disorderly. So on April 21, 1966, a small group of men took action.

“With reporters in tow, four activists declared they were gay and asked to be served at Julius’,” states Off the Grid, the Greenwich Village Society of Historic Preservation’s blog.

JuliusNYTheadline“While Julius’ was a historically gay bar, they had recently been raided, which meant they were under observation.”

“Their denial of service helped launch a court case, which declared that the New York State Liquor Authority could not stop service to gay patrons.”

Julius is still in the West Village, of course; an old-school time machine of a tavern with beer barrel tables stamped “Jacob Ruppert” (ostensibly from Ruppert’s turn of the century Yorkville brewery) and an unpretentious 1950s feel.

[Top image: Julius’; third: Wikipedia; fourth: New York Times headline April 1966]

West Village modern brownstone makeovers

April 13, 2015

A big part of the New York’s beauty are the rows and rows of brownstones, with classic 19th century features such as a high front stoop and enormous parlor floor windows.


But every so often you come across a modernized version of the iconic city residence. The futuristic redesign or unique facade can be creative and impressive . . . or leave you wondering what the designers were thinking.


That’s the case with this former brownstone on Greenwich Street east of Gansevoort Street, with a front made of glass and what looks like a sheet of steel stretching down the facade. It’s a novel way to block out the sun.

West13th8thave1929Around the corner on Horatio and Greenwich Streets is this three-story residence.

The brick gives it a 19th century feel, but the cutouts on the second and third floor are an interesting touch.

Then there’s this modernized home on West 13th Street between Eighth and Ninth Avenues, near where West Fourth Street ends.

In its earlier life, it was a three-story walk-up, not a brownstone, as this 1929 photo from the New York Public Library reveals (it’s taken the place of the first building on the left).

Now it’s very New York in the 21st century, sleek and trendy . . . and fittingly with a blow-dry bar right downstairs.


Check out other bizarre brownstone makeovers across Manhattan.

Holdout buildings that survived the bulldozer

February 16, 2015

They’re the survivors of New York City real estate—the walkups and low-rise buildings now dwarfed by shiny office towers and more contemporary residences.


Each building probably has a different backstory that explains how the wrecking ball was avoided.

Maybe an owner refused to sell for sentimental reasons. This lovely Greenwich Village brownstone, sandwiched between two tall apartment houses above, looks like it could have been one person’s longtime romantic hideaway.


Or perhaps an owner tried to hold out for a bigger offer, until a developer realized it wasn’t worth the payout anyway. That might have been in the case of this one-story space wedged between a 19th century tenement and 21st century box on Tenth Avenue.


And thanks to real estate rules governing landmark structures and historic districts, some of these buildings probably couldn’t be torn down, like the gorgeous carriage house on a Gramercy side street.


It’s hard not to root for these underdogs. This ivy-covered walkup on East 60th Street gives bustling 59th Street near Bloomingdale’s the feel of a smaller-scale city.


Doesn’t this stately red townhouse do a good job breaking up the monotony of a block of Murray Hill terraced high-rise apartment buildings?


I can’t be the only New Yorker happy to see a Gilded Age limestone mansion holding its own in the middle of a stately Upper West Side block.

A piece of the 1830s city on West Fourth Street

January 26, 2015

In 1894, New York University tore down the 1835 Gothic Revival beauty that was the school’s main building.


This lovely structure on the east side of Washington Square had housed all of the college’s functions.

Foundersmemorialbuilding1850sFor six decades, it anchored the college community and watched the neighborhood go from posh and stylish to more bohemian and rougher around the edges.

By the 1890s, NYU had decided to move its undergraduate school to the Bronx, and the main building had outlived its usefulness.

Lucky for us, when the building met the bulldozer, NYU officials saved one architectural detail: a small spire, complete with a handful of grotesques.

Foundersmemorial2015They ceremoniously named it the Founder’s Memorial and brought it to the new Bronx campus, where it spent most of the 20th century.

But the Bronx campus was sold off in the 1970s, and NYU once again concentrated its educational offerings in Greenwich Village. When the school came back, the spire came returned as well.

Today it sits off West Fourth Street between Bobst Library and Shimkin Hall, a modest sliver of the 1830s hiding in the shadows of the modern city.

Looking down Sixth Avenue in Greenwich Village

January 19, 2015

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.

A little girl’s very busy New Year’s Day in 1850

December 29, 2014

Catherinehavens1847“Yesterday was New Year’s Day, and I had lovely presents,” wrote 10-year-old Catherine Havens in her diary, which chronicles a year in the life of a privileged city schoolgirl, on January 2, 1850.

The diary is a wonderful artifact, describing her home on Fifth Avenue and Ninth Street, her favorite candy stores on Eighth Street, and the afternoons she spends rolling hoops and playing in Washington Square.

And it also gives contemporary readers a glimpse into what New Year’s Day was like for the city’s elite 165 years ago.

At the time, the colonial Dutch tradition of receiving male callers all day was in still full swing among upper class families, with smartly dressed gentlemen making short (often inebriated) visits to the ladies of a household.


“We had 139 callers, and I have an ivory tablet and write all their names down on it,” wrote Catherine.

“We have to be dressed and ready by 10 o’clock to receive. Some of the gentleman come together and don’t stay more than a minute; but some go into the back room and take some oysters and coffee and cake, and stay and talk.”

Newyearscalling1859harpers“The gentlemen keep dropping in all day and until long after I have gone to bed; and the horses look tired, and the livery men make a lot of money.”

Calling had romantic overtones. “Mr. Woolsey Porter and his brother, Mr. Dwight Porter always come in the evening and sit and talk a long time. They are very fond of one of my sisters.”

Catherine ends her New Year’s Day entry with a thought about the future.


“Next January we shall be half through the nineteenth century. I hope I shall live to see the next century, but I don’t want to be alive when the year 2000 comes, for my Bible teacher says the world is coming to an end then, and perhaps sooner.”

She lived until 1939, almost making it to her 100th birthday.


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