It was five years ago today at 86 Bedford Street that a chimney separated from an interior wall and collapsed into the world-famous Chumley’s bar in Greenwich Village.
Chumley’s had been a Village institution since Leland Chumley bought the building in 1926 and converted the existing stable and house (built in 1831) into a Prohibition-flouting speakeasy. Situated in between multiple back-alleys (see diagram at right) and altered with secret passageways, 86 Bedford Street provided an ideal location for surreptitious imbibing. The bar also became popular hangout of major 20th century writers, such as Edna St. Vincent Millay, Willa Cather, William Faulkner, John Dos Passos, and John Steinbeck. Chumley’s was also neighbors to other uniquely Greenwich Village locales, like Twin Peaks and the narrowest house in New York City.
The 2007 chimney collapse occurred as unapproved interior renovations were taking place in the building. The building and its owner had a checkered history as far as maintaining and renovating the structure, and had received violations over the years for things like the removal of structural partitions without a permit, failure to maintain the facade, and digging down two feet in the cellar without a permit.
Also, through an administrative error, the Department of Buildings had not even listed 86 Bedford Street as part of the landmarked Greenwich Village Historic District. This omission allowed the Buildings Department to issue alteration permits to owners without them first getting approval from the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission. In 2006 GVSHP alerted the Department that several hundred buildings in the Greenwich Village Historic District — including 86 Bedford Street — and throughout the city were left vulnerable to improper alterations because of this omission.
In the months and years that followed the chimney collapse and closing of Chumley’s, the building itself was entirely razed, and has since been rebuilt in fits and starts. A new Chumley’s has yet to reopen in its old space.