Archive for the ‘West Village’ Category

Upcoming Talks and Walking Tours with Ephemeral New York!

May 6, 2022

I want to let everyone know about three events happening this month, May 2022, featuring Ephemeral New York. All are open to the public, and it would be great to meet readers of this site!

Photo: Salmagundi Club

On Thursday May 19 at 3:30 pm, I’ll be speaking at the Salmagundi Club as part of their Afternoon Tea Talks monthly series. Inside this art and social organization’s beautiful brownstone parlor at 47 Fifth Avenue, host Carl Raymond and I will be talking about Gilded Age New York City, as well as how Ephemeral New York got its start, insider info about the site, and more.

After the talk, tea, sandwiches, and cookies will be available to cap off this casual and fun event. Many of you probably know Carl through his popular podcast, The Gilded Gentleman, plus his historical talks and tours exploring Gotham. Click the link for tickets!

Image: New York Adventure Club

On Sunday May 15 at 1 p.m. and again on Sunday May 22 at 1 p.m., I’ll be leading a walking tour through the New York Adventure Club, “Exploring the Gilded Age Mansion and Memorials of Riverside Drive.” The tour starts at 83rd Street and ends at 107th Street. In between we’ll walk up Riverside and delve into the history of this beautiful avenue born in the Gilded Age, which became a second “mansion row” and was set to rival Fifth Avenue as the city’s “millionaire colony.” The tour will explore the mansions and monuments that still survive as well as the incredible houses lost to the wrecking ball.

Tickets for May 15 can be bought here, and tickets for May 22 at this link. Hope to see a great turnout on a lovely May day!

[First image: Salmagundi Club; second image: New York Adventure Club]

What John Sloan saw on the night before Easter

April 18, 2022

Easter Sunday has just passed, so I wish I came across this painting earlier this week in time to write about it. But maybe it doesn’t matter, because through the eyes and Impressionist brush of John Sloan, this 1907 work is a timeless nocturne of a seemingly ordinary transaction.

We’re probably in Greenwich Village, where Sloan lived and worked. Easter lilies are laid out in front of a shop for passersby to inspect, pick through, and make their selection. These sidewalk shoppers are shrouded in darkness, practically obscured by the black umbrella one carries.

But as they touch the flowers, you can feel the softness of the petals and sense how bright they must have looked illuminated by the artificial light of the store window. The rain-slicked sidewalk and the warm light from the cafe next door makes it an even more potent, sensuous image of the simple act of purchasing flowers on a rainy spring night.

Two decades later, Sloan painted another scene of spring flowers and a wet sidewalk that is equally evocative.

The story of the bride-to-be brought to St. Vincent’s Hospital after surviving the Titanic

April 11, 2022

The sinking of the Titanic on April 15, 1912 brought deep grief to New York City, the great ship’s intended destination. This incredible story of one third-class survivor made it into the city tabloids a week later, and it was something of a bright spot amid a terrible tragedy.

Sarah Roth (left) and Daniel Iles on their wedding day, April 1912

The passenger’s name was Sarah Roth. She was born in the 1880s in what is now Poland, but her family moved to London when she was young, and she worked as a seamstress. There she met Daniel Iles, and the two became sweethearts, then got engaged.

Wanting a better life for himself and his intended bride, Iles immigrated to New York City in 1911. He found work as a clerk at Greenhut, Siegel & Cooper, the colossal department store on Sixth Avenue and 18th Street (where Bed, Bath & Beyond is today) and rented a room at 321 West 24th Street.

A crowd at Pier 59 awaits the RMS Carpathia

The next year, he sent Roth passage money to come join him in Manhattan, and she bought a steerage ticket on the ill-fated Titanic. “Sarah managed to secure one of the last third-class tickets on the maiden voyage of White Star Line’s new flagship,” wrote The Guardian in a 2000 article.

On April 10, 1912, Roth boarded the liner with a wedding dress she made herself. Four days later, asleep in her cabin, she woke with the realization that the ship wasn’t moving, according to encyclopedia-titanica. She got out of bed and soon found herself among a glut of people in steerage, prevented by an officer from going to the deck.

St. Vincent’s Hospital’s Elizabeth Seton Building, where Titanic survivors were taken

Another officer who was smitten by her, according to a 2010 Daily News article, helped her get to one of the last lifeboats to leave the ship. Picked up by the RMS Carpathia after the Titanic went down, Roth arrived with fellow survivors at Pier 59 in Chelsea. Iles was waiting, hoping his fiancee would be among the survivors.

She was brought to St. Vincent’s Hospital along with more than 100 others in various states of health. Roth was suffering from “shock and exposure,” according to an Evening World article.

Titanic survivors recuperating at St. Vincent’s

“At St. Vincent’s, Roth and the others were welcomed by doctors and nurses who were the passionate opposite of the attitude manifested by those deadly class-dividing gates aboard ship,” wrote Michael Daly in the Daily News.

Roth told hospital staff about her engagement. “The hospital now saw an opportunity to bring some cheer amid tragedy,” stated Daly. “Iles was contacted at his room on W. 24th St. and declared himself ready. Father Grogan of the Church of Our Lady of the Rosary was willing to officiate. A fellow Titanic survivor named Emily Radman agreed to be maid of honor. The Women’s Relief Committee provided a new trousseau and a bouquet.”

The headline in a front page Sun article, April 23, 1912

A week later in the hospital meeting hall, Roth and Iles tied the knot. Fellow Titanic survivors and other patients came to watch the ceremony. “Some of the sick who were able to leave their wards were put in wheel chairs and moved down the corridor so that they could enjoy the wedding. Perhaps 200 were in the crowd, and among those were black gowned Sisters of Charity, young physicians in white, and priests,” wrote The Sun.

Roth and Iles went on to have a son, and like other Titanic survivors, she disappeared into obscurity. She died in 1947, but a legacy of her trip—a Third Class menu card she kept in her purse the night the Titanic met its fate—went up for auction in 2000. The winning bid: $44,650, per Bonhams, which has reproduced the menu card here.

[Top image: NY Tribune via Encyclopedia-Titanica; second, third, and fourth images: LOC; fifth image: The Sun]

This oldest photo of the moon was taken in 1840 on a Greenwich Village roof

December 19, 2021

The black and white image has deteriorated over the last 180 or so years, and it evokes something ghostly and supernatural. But this crescent shape amid light and shadow is considered the oldest surviving photo of the moon—taken in 1840 by an NYU professor who pioneered early photography.

The backstory of the photo begins in 1839. That’s when word reached New York City about the new photography process developed in France by Louis Daguerre.

John William Draper took a keen interest. Draper, 29, was a London-born chemistry and natural history professor and part of the faculty at the new college on Washington Square then known as the University of the City of New-York (now called NYU).

Draper too had experimented with capturing light, and he “quickly realized the importance of the invention of the daguerreotype, becoming one of the first Americans to try the process,” stated Off the Grid, the blog for the historic site Village Preservation.

The NYU building, since demolished, where the moon image was taken

Draper, as well as his NYU colleague Samuel Morse (a professor of painting before he invented the telegraph), began making daguerreotypes, according to Arthur Greenberg’s book, From Alchemy to Chemistry in Picture and Story, experimenting in the studio observatory on top of the university’s main building (above).

Draper’s first successful daguerreotype that survives is a copy of an image of his 33-year-old sister, Dorothy Catherine Draper, below. But set his sights on something more extraordinary: a daguerreotype showing the surface of the moon.

Dorothy Catherine Draper, at about age 33

Though he may not have been the first person to capture an image of the moon, Draper’s moon shot, so to speak, is the oldest that survives (top image).

The photo at top was likely the specific one Draper perfected on March 26, 1840. “The extensively-degraded plate shows part of a vertically ‘flipped’ last-quarter Moon—so lunar south is near the top—which would indicate his use of a device called a heliostat to keep light from the Moon focused on the plate during a long 20-minute exposure,” according to the site Lights in the Dark by Jason Major.

John William Draper, decades after his first moon photos

Throughout his life, Draper racked up numerous achievements as a scientist, writer, philosopher, and physician, even cofounding NYU’s medical school. His moon image, however, didn’t get the recognition it deserved.

“Despite his accomplishment, Draper’s efforts received only modest recognition from his contemporaries; until recently his lunar daguerreotypes were believed to be lost,” according to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which has one of his moon daguerreotypes in its collection.

Like so many other notable 19th century New Yorkers, both Draper and his sister are buried in Green-Wood Cemetery.

Life and humanity on the “wonderful roofs” of John Sloan’s New York

November 28, 2021

If you’re familiar with John Sloan’s Lower Manhattan paintings and illustrations from the first half of the 20th century, then you’ve probably noticed a running theme among them: tenement rooftops.

“Rain Rooftops West Fourth Street,” 1913

Like other Ashcan and social realist artists of his era, Sloan was captivated by what he saw on these roofs—the people he surreptitiously watched; their mundane activities; their delight, despair, and sensuality; and the exquisite vantage points roofs offered of a city on the rise.

“Sunday Paper on the Roof,” 1918

“These wonderful roofs of New York City bring me all humanity,” Sloan said in 1919, about 15 years after he and his wife left his native Philadelphia and relocated first to Chelsea and then to Greenwich Village, according to the Hyde Collection, where an exhibit of Sloan’s roof paintings ran in 2019. “It is all the world.”

“Roof Chats,” 1944-1950

“Work, play, love, sorrow, vanity, the schoolgirl, the old mother, the thief, the truant, the harlot,” Sloan stated, per an article in The Magazine Antiques. “I see them all down there without disguise.”

“Pigeons,” 1910

His rooftop paintings and illustrations often depicted the city during summer, when New Yorkers went to their roofs to escape the stifling heat in tenement houses—socializing, taking pleasure in romance and love, and on the hottest days dragging up mattresses to sleep.

“I have always liked to watch the people in the summer, especially the way they live on the roofs,” the artist said, according to Reynolda House. “Coming to New York and finding a place to live where I could observe the backyards and rooftops behind our attic studio—it was a new and exciting experience.”

“Red Kimono on the Roof,” 1912

Rooftops were something of a stage for Sloan. From his seat in his Greenwich Village studio on the 11th floor of a building at Sixth Avenue and West Fourth Street, Sloan could watch the theater of the city: a woman hanging her laundry, another reading the Sunday paper, a man training pigeons on top of a tenement and a rapt boy watching, dreaming.

Sloan described his 1912 painting, “Sunday, Women Drying Their Hair,” as “another of the human comedies which were regularly staged for my enjoyment by the humble roof-top players of Cornelia Street,” states the caption to this painting at the Addison Gallery of American Art.

“Sunday, Women Drying Their Hair,” 1912

Of course, roofs also meant freedom. In the crowded, crumbling pockets of Lower Manhattan filled with the poor and working class New Yorkers who captured Sloan’s imagination, roofs conveyed a sense of “escape from the suffocating confines of New York tenement living,” wrote the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.

“Sunbathers on the Roof,” 1941

In the early 20th century, many progressive social reformers preferred to see these roof-dwelling New Yorkers in newly created parks and beaches, which were safer and less private.

But “Sloan embraced what he called ‘the roof life of the Metropolis’—as he did its street life—as a means to capture the human and aesthetic qualities of the urban everyday, a defining commitment of the Ashcan School,” wrote Nick Yablon in American Art in 2011.

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]

An NYU building sparks the city’s first organized labor riot in 1834

September 6, 2021

When New York University was founded in 1831, “the ‘University of the City of New-York’ (as NYU was originally known) was envisioned from the start as something new: an academic institution metropolitan in character, democratic in spirit, and responsive to the demands of a bustling commercial culture,” states the school’s website.

Yet the construction of NYU’s first building—a stately Gothic Revival structure on the east side of Washington Square (above in 1850)—touched off a labor riot and is considered to be New York’s first organized labor demonstration.

It all started in 1834, when officials in charge of the new NYU building decided to turn to the recently opened state prison at Sing Sing, 30 miles up the Hudson River, as a source of cheap stone and labor.

“While the University was building, the contractors, for economy’s sake, chose to purchase the marble at Sing-Sing, and employ the state prisoners to cut and hew it before bringing it to the city,” wrote William Leete Stone in 1872′s History of New York City.

Of course, this didn’t sit well with members of the city’s Stone Cutters’ Guild. “Believing themselves aggrieved, they held meetings, paraded the city with incendiary placards, and even went so far as to attack the houses of several worthy citizens,” Stone continued.

In August, Mayor Cornelius Van Wyck Lawrence called in the National Guard to quell the tradesmen, or “disperse the malcontents,” as Stone put it. The stone cutters also passed resolutions “condemning the ‘state prison monopoly,'” wrote Sara Trigoboth at NYUlocal.

The Stone Cutters’ Guild Riot, as it became known, ended when “the university gave in and peace was restored,” wrote Gerard R. Wolfe in New York: A Guide to the Metropolis. The NYU building opened in 1835, but was demolished in 1894. (A piece of the building remains on West Fourth Street as a memorial.)

Wolfe dubbed it “the first demonstration of organized labor in New York City.” The labor movement would only grow in strength through the 19th century, and New York was the site of the first Labor Day Parade in the nation in 1882.

[Top image: Wikipedia; second image: NYPL; third image: New-York Historical Society]

The noble mission of a Victorian Gothic building on ‘depraved’ Sullivan Street

July 25, 2021

When Charles Loring Brace founded the Children’s Aid Society in 1853, this 26-year-old minister came up with some radical ideas to help the thousands of poor and neglected kids who lived or worked on city streets—like sending children out West on so-called “orphan trains.”

But some of Brace’s ideas would seem like common sense to contemporary New Yorkers. Later in the Gilded Age, Brace decided to build lodging houses and “industrial schools” in New York’s impoverished neighborhoods, places where children could learn a trade and prepare for adult life.

In an era when options for street kids often meant the almshouse or an orphan asylum, homes and schools like these could be real lifelines.

Sullivan Street Industrial School in 1893

One of these industrial schools still stands on Sullivan Street between West Third and Bleecker Streets. Opened in 1892, it’s a red brick beauty with Gothic and Flemish touches (that stepped gable roof!) on a South Village block where Italian immigrants dominated in the late 19th century.

Brace ministered to street kids, but he also had famous friends. One was Calvert Vaux, the co-designer of Central Park as well as the creative genius behind the Jefferson Market Courthouse, just an elevated train stop away on Sixth Avenue and Ninth Street.

Sullivan Street, 1893, on the same block as the school

“Brace enlisted his friend, architect Calvert Vaux, to undertake the designs of the Society’s dozen lodging houses, characterized by ornamental features that recalled Dutch architecture, meant to contrast with “ugly” surroundings that prevailed then,” wrote Brian J. Pape in WestView News.

Vaux designed the Sullivan Street school, as well as the Society’s Lodging House on Avenue B and Eighth Street, the Elizabeth Home for Girls on East 12th Street, and the Fourteenth Ward Industrial School on Mott Street, all of which are still part of the cityscape and share the same architectural flourishes.

Sullivan Street, 1895

To fund the school, two benefactors stepped forward with the $90,000 needed: Mrs. Joseph M. White and Miss M.W. Bruce, according to an 1892 New York Times article. Supporting the Society was popular with wealthy Gilded Age families, and both women had long been involved in the Society’s efforts.

Opening day in December was captured in print. “The children, to the number of 420, girls and boys, between the ages of five and thirteen, were marshaled into the audience room under the charge of Mrs. C. Forman, principal of the school, and her nine assistant teachers,” wrote the New York Times. “They were dressed in their new suits of clothing, given to them on Monday last by Miss Bruce.”

The school and a next-door playground in 1939-1941

For decades, the Sullivan Street Industrial School served a community that became one of Manhattan’s Little Italy neighborhoods. Classes in woodworking, metalworking, sewing, dressmaking, cooking, and other skills were offered.

The Society didn’t beat around the bush about the rough and tumble neighborhood, however. “This school was placed in one of the most depraved localities in the city and already an improvement in the neighborhood is visible,” the Society wrote in a 1892 report.

The school was more than just a place of learning. An 1899 report by Principal Forman explains that funds were raised from “generous friends” to distribute food and fuel, as well as hot dinners. An organization called the Odds and Ends Society “furnished many warm and comfortable garments” for the children, and mothers who were considered “deserving poor” with husbands out of work were given money to help with rent.

Today, it looks like this former lifeline is a rental building on a much more affluent Sullivan Street. At least one apartment offers up-close views of that stepped gable roofline.

[Second image: History of Child Saving in the United States; third and fourth images: NYPL; fifth image: NYC Department of Records and Information Services]

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]