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.
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.