Posts Tagged ‘Women’s House of Detention’

The women’s prison in the middle of the Village

March 14, 2011

It’s doubtful that today’s Greenwich Village residents would allow the city to put up a fortress-like jail behind Jefferson Market, the 19th century courthouse-turned-library at Sixth and Greenwich Avenues.

But the Village was different in the 1930s. When city officials decided to replace an old jail that was part of Jefferson Market, they weren’t met with NIMBY opposition.

So in 1932, the Women’s House of Detention opened.

Modern and bright (WPA murals lined the walls), it focused on reforming the inmates, often charged with prostitution.

There were some illustrious inmates, held for other crimes, like Ethel Rosenberg, Angela Davis, and Valerie Solanas, who shot Andy Warhol in 1968.

Longtime Village residents still miss the street theater: Inmates on higher floors catcalled men on the street and cussed out visiting boyfriends and husbands on the sidewalk below.

By the 1960s, it was overcrowded and as unsafe as the jail it replaced. Closed in 1971 (inmates were shipped off the Rikers Island), the building was bulldozed in 1974.

A lovely garden was planted in its place.

The end of the Sixth Avenue El

February 7, 2009

This photo was taken in 1939, just after the el was dismantled. Imagine how grimy and dark Sixth Avenue must have been with trains constantly roaring overhead and the tracks and stations blocking out sunlight.


Plenty more has changed at the intersection of Sixth Avenue, Greenwich Avenue, Ninth Street, and Christopher Street in the ensuing 70 years. Sixth Avenue traffic no longer flows two ways. The Women’s House of Detention was torn down and turned into a lovely garden. Nedick’s hot dogs is now a Barnes & Noble.

And there’s now a traffic island in the middle of the intersection—making things even more chaotic and confusing for pedestrians and drivers alike.

A Village kid’s library card

June 11, 2008

Completed in 1877, Jefferson Market served as a courthouse with an adjacent jail. (The infamous Women’s House of Detention, a separate structure, was next door.) By 1927, “Old Jeff” was no longer used for law enforcement. In the 1950s it was slated for demolition; in 1967 it was made over into a New York Public Library branch still heavily used today.

If it had been torn down, a white brick apartment building called the “Jefferson” would likely be standing in its place. But that didn’t happen, and in fact, renovations to preserve the Victorian Gothic gem are set for 2009. See an earlier post with a 1940 photo of Jefferson Market here.

The three-year-old owner of this temporary kid’s card, issued in 1974 (no barcodes back then!), did not know that the children’s room on the first floor had once been a police court.