Rally Tonight at 5:30pm — Don’t Turn Our Neighborhood Into Silicon Alley!

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Moby Dick: Herman Melville’s Epic Journey Began on Gansevoort Street

Image courtesy of Northwestern.

On November 14, 1851, Herman Melville’s magnum opus, Moby-Dick, was published.  Unlike the search for a white whale, it isn’t difficult to find Melville’s deep connection to the Village, as his grandfather is the namesake of Gansevoort Market. Read the rest of this entry »

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Solving Mysteries in Historic Photos, Part II

Last time we put out a call to the public to help us solve some mysteries in historic photos, we got a great response. While we have identified many of the people and places in the photos on GVSHP’s growing image archive, some still remain a mystery, and therefore we are putting out a call again.

Some of our great successes? A woman emailed to tell us that her mother was the subject of this photo. Another man let us know this is the only existing photo of his grandfather. Several people wrote in to identify this man as Henry Agard Wallace, who served as FDR’s Vice President from 1941-45, and ran for President in 1948 as the Progressive Party candidate, including Wallace’s grandson! A few years ahead of his time, Wallace advocated for universal government health insurance and an end to segregation at a time when Jackie Robinson was beginning to integrate baseball, and sixteen years before the Civil rights Act outlawed discrimination based on race.

Henry Agard Wallace. Mystery solved!

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Touring Bleecker Street’s Diverse History

Last week I took a break from my normal duties as GVSHP’s Director of Research and Preservation and led about forty people on a tour of Bleecker Street as part of the #ShopBleecker initiative of the Greenwich Village Chelsea Chamber of Commerce. I confess that I was a bit nervous as this role of tour guide is a bit outside of my normal bailiwick. It ended up being a lot of fun mostly because of the very diverse history of this very old New York City thoroughfare (not-to-mention that we had an enthusiastic group on the tour!)

Bleecker Street Tour at Father Demo Square at Sixth Avenue.

We started at West 10th Street and Bleecker Street, right in the heart of the Greenwich Village Historic District. In total, we traversed four New York City historic districts including the Greenwich Village Historic District Extension II, the South Village Historic District, the NoHo Historic District, and the aforementioned Greenwich Village Historic District. A few things stood out about Bleecker Street when I reviewed its history in preparation for the tour. First, Federal Houses (1790-1835) are seen throughout, which speaks to the early development of the street. Second, Bleecker Street has a long tradition of stores located on the first floor of its houses, especially in the Greenwich Village section of the street, in contrast to other streets in the area which were traditionally only residential. Finally, Bleecker Street’s twentieth-century cultural history is multi-layered and somtimes seedy, making for good fodder for discussion on walking tours! Here are some of the highlights, including historic photos on the Urban Archive app, available for free and compatible with Apple iPhones.

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Otis Kidwell Burger, Who’s Seen the Village From Suffrage to Luxury

West Village history can’t be said to live in any one person, but Otis Kidwell Burger has seen a great deal of it, and holds a great deal more in her family tree. She grew up with abolitionists and suffragists, and watched Jane Jacobs get arrested protesting the proposed Lower Manhattan expressway. She threw literary parties attended by the likes of Kurt Vonnegut and Norman Mailer, and navigated actual meat in the streets of the Meatpacking District.  For all this and more, we celebrate Otis’s long life, which began on November 9, 1923.

Like Otis herself, Otis’s oral history conducted with GVSHP is a treasure trove of anecdotes about the Village, observations about what’s changed (her favorite phrase is “It’s become the billionaires chasing out the millionaires”), and how the literary world has been a part of her life.

Otis Kidwell Burger as a young artist in the village. Photo provided by Otis.

Otis Kidwell Burger comes from a long line of activists. Her great-grandfather was Sydney Howard Gay, a New Yorker who became a fierce abolitionist after taking a trip to the American South and seeing first-hand the horrors of slavery (but who is not, as is sometimes assumed, the namesake of Gay Street). As a result, Gay joined the staff of The Anti-Slavery Standard as an editor for fourteen years and became a conductor for the Underground Railroad. Otis’ grandmother, Mary Otis Gay Willcox, was a well-known activist and public orator in her time, who dedicated much of her activity to the suffragette movement. Otis was part of a GVSHP program in February of 2016 about the book “Secret Lives of the Underground Railroad in New York City, Sydney Howard Gay, Louis Napoleon and the Record of Fugitives,” along with author Don Papson, about her famous great-grandfather, his role in abolition, and the Greenwich Village connection (Photos and video of this program are online).

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Shop Local; Small Business Saturday

November 25th is Small Business Saturday to supporting shopping local small shops. We recently hosted an architectural walking tour of Bleecker Street to draw attention to the array of shops on that classic strip and are attending the small business forum tomorrow being convened by Senator Holyman. Today we are doing a round up of some of our Business of the Month awardees to let you know about these amazing gems in our neighborhoods. Check them out, support your neighborhood small business, and nominate your favorite by clicking here.  You will be entered to win a book from our collection if you nominate before November 30.

GVSHP Business of the Month sticker on Tea and Sympathy. Photo courtesy of Nicky Perry.

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Labor History in the Village

Image courtesy of 6sqft.

Some of the most important events and most prominent figures in the labor movement bear strong connections to the Village and East Village.  Without these courageous individuals, or the events connected to them, we might never have had fair wages, better working conditions, or the right to collective bargaining.  Below are a few standout homes and locations from our Civil Rights and Social Justice Map that highlight some of these pioneering individuals and impactful events from labor history in our midst. Read the rest of this entry »

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Suffragette City

You thought I was going to blog about Bowie, didn’t you?  Not today!  Today we look back on November 6, 1917, which was a critical milestone in the health of our democracy and a red letter day for the State of New York.

Suffragettes in Washington Mews. Image Getty Images.

The achievement of full voting rights for women in New York State came three years before the ratification of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution in 1920 granted all women in the United States the right to vote. The 1917 victory, which resulted from a statewide popular vote that the Suffragette side had lost just a few years earlier, followed fifty years of marching, fundraising, and rallies. The triumph was achieved despite the fears of opponents of women’s suffrage that when a woman received the right to vote, ”political gossip would cause her to neglect the home, forget to mend our clothes and burn the biscuits.” We’ve come a long way, baby…. Read the rest of this entry »

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The Birth of the Provincetown Playhouse

On November 3, 1916, the Provincetown Players performed their first production in their new home in Greenwich Village. The theater company performed King Arthur’s Socks by Floyd Dell, The Game by Louise Bryant, and Bound East for Cardiff by a young, relatively unknown Eugene O’Neill. Referred to as “the birthplace of modern drama”, the Provincetown Playhouse staged the works of some of this country’s most well-known playwrights and talented actors, including Eugene O’Neill, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Edward Albee, Sam Shepherd, David Mamet, Bette Davis, and Paul Robeson among others.  In addition to its incredibly talented authors and actors, the theater is noted for its progressive ethos – it had a large number of women involved in all levels of productions, and boldly staged controversial plays featured African Americans actors.

Original Provincetown Playhouse at 139 MacDougal Street. Source: New York Historical Society.

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African Free School, First in America for Black Students, Found a Home in Greenwich Village

120 West 3rd Street today.

The African Free School was founded on November 2, 1787 in Lower Manhattan by the New-York Manumission Society and founding fathers Alexander Hamilton and John Jay. It was the very first school for blacks in America.  Ultimately consisting of seven schools, the system’s third school was located in Greenwich Village, at 120 west 3rd Street, then known as Amity Street. This site is one of over a hundred on our Civil Rights and Social Justice Map.

The schools prepared black children, many of whom were children of slaves, to take their place in the New York public school system.

Founding Father John Jay started the Manumission Society with the express mission to abolish slavery in the state of New York, which was achieved in 1827. Though many members of the Society were slave owners themselves, they understood that beginning the abolition process through the education of children would allow the state to move forward with the mission of abolition, for which so many organizations and individuals were fighting at that time.

The mission of the institution was to empower young black people and educate them for something other than slavery, which was a complicated and bold proposition for the time. In 1785 the Society worked to pass a New York State law prohibiting the sale of slaves imported into the state. This preceded the national law prohibiting slave trade, passed in 1808. The 1783 New York law also lessened restrictions on the manumission of enslaved Africans. In New York, a gradual emancipation law was passed in 1799, which provided that children of enslaved mothers would be born free. However, long periods of indentured servitude were required; 28 years for men and 25 for women. Existing slaves were eventually freed, until the last were freed in 1827.

The African Free School’s role in this process was unprecedented, as it educated thousands of students. Its first teacher, Cornelius Davis, served as head of school and fundraiser, inviting visitors from around the world to experience the school’s functions, educational methods, and students, of which Davis was incredibly proud. Once the student population grew, the school hired Black teachers as well, creating an early example of a mixed-race faculty of educators.

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