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History of Greenwich Village

Established as Grin’wich Village in 1713, it was a small country hamlet until the early 1800s, when a yellow fever epidemic drove hoards of Lower Manhattan-dwellers north. The population explosion in Grin’wich ushered in rapid development of businesses and housing. By the 1830s, the neighborhood was one of Manhattan’s most upscale, the site of art clubs, private picture galleries, literary salons, fine hotels, theaters and libraries.

In the 1890s came an influx of German, Irish and Italian immigrants, who took the neighborhood in a more working class direction. By The Great War, The Village was known as picturesque and ethnically diverse, a bohemian enclave with low rents and a tolerance for radicalism and nonconformity.

The upstairs of 137 MacDougal Street, for instance, was the home base of the Liberal Club in the 1910s. Members included intellectuals such as: Max Eastman, Emma Goldman, Sinclair Lewis, Jack London, Margaret Sanger and Upton Sinclair.

During the 1930s, Greenwich galleries and collectors promoted contemporary art. Sculptor Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney opened a museum dedicated to modern American art on West 8th Street, now the New York Studio School.

In the 1950s, Greenwich Village attracted odd characters from around the states, those “displaced” by America’s burgeoning conservatism, including Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, William Burroughs and Dylan Thomas. At the end of the decade, Off-Off Broadway – devoted to experimental theatre – originated in The Village.

In the 1960s and 1970s, Greenwich Village was the east coast headquarters of folk music, the gay liberation movement and the anti-war movement.  

In 1961, “down-zoning” in Greenwich prevented the development of high rises. In 1969, preservationists designated a Greenwich Village Historic District that covered more than 2,035 structures. Both of those policies continue now, which helps explain why Greenwich has maintained its unique character over the years.


Neighborhood Description

Greenwich Village was founded as a separate village within Manhattan, and that autonomy is still obvious today. It was the only neighborhood to opt out of the Manhattan grid plan instituted in the 19th century, preserving the twisted streets and free-flowing architecture that are a source of pride for Greenwich residents.

Because of “down-zoning” in the 1960s, Greenwich has few high rises. Small buildings and old townhouse apartments are the norm, many of them designated historic, giving The Village a quaint feel… even with one of the most vibrant nightlife scenes in Manhattan. Famous for its bohemian history, the Village is a good place to find coffee shops, small theaters, jazz clubs, galleries, comedy clubs and intimate restaurants. New York University is here as well, contributing to the area’s college town feel.

Nearby neighborhoods include So-Ho, No-Ho, Little Italy, Nolita, Chelsea, Gramercy and the East Village.


Attractions

Washington Square Park, the anchor of Greenwich Village, is the most famous park in Manhattan outside of Central Park. Along with the trees, gardens, paths, picnic benches and play areas you’d expect, Washington Square has outdoor chess tables where aspiring chess masters battle it out—often with money at stake—drawing throngs of watchers. There is also a scrabble-playing area, two dog runs, an iconic fountain and statues. Looming behind it all is The Washington Square Monument, a beautiful arch modeled after Paris’ Arch de Triumph.

Cafe Reggio (119 MacDougal St) is a coffeehouse established in 1927 that has been featured in many movies, including Godfather II.

The Cherry Lane Theatre (38 Commerce Street), established in 1924, is New York City’s oldest, continuously running off-Broadway theater.

The Comedy Cellar (117 MacDougal Street) has featured nearly every notable American comedian.

White Horse Tavern (567 Hudson St) is the bar where poet Dylan Thomas drank the night he died.

The Cage, or The West 4th Street Courts (West 4th St at Sixth Ave), is New York’s most important tournament site for handball and amateur basketball.

Judson Memorial Church (55 Washington Square South) is a church that doubles as an art gallery and performance space.

Stonewall Inn (53 Christopher St), a bar, was the site of the Stonewall Riots of 1969 that initiated the gay liberation movement in the U.S.

Café Wha? (115 MacDougal St) is the music club where Bob Dylan had his first New York City gig, and where Jimi Hendrix got famous.

The Isaac-Hendricks House (77 Bedford St), built in 1799, is the oldest house in The Village.

The Village Vanguard (178 7th Ave) and The Blue Note (131 West 3rd St.) host some of the biggest names in jazz on a regular basis.

The Bitter End (147 Bleeker St) is New York City’s oldest rock club.

Sullivan Hall (214 Sullivan St) is a new music venue that features bands of all genres.

Sources: Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Greenwich_Village) and The Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation (http://www.gvshp.org/_gvshp/resources/history.htm)


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