A Landmark’s Long Fight for Life

The former Public School 64, which once housed the CHARAS community and cultural center, was designed by master school architect C.B.J. Snyder in the French Renaissance Revival style in 1904-06.  And on June 20, 2006 Landmarks Preservation Commission designated it an official New York City landmark, saving it from planned demolition by its developer/owner.

NY Public Library Digital Collection, 1920.


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A Landmark SCOTUS Win: Penn Central v. City of New York

The summer of 1978 in New York City has been well documented.  The city was a place of joy, grit, and transition, looking for the next big idea — or building — to move it forward.  That summer was also when the Supreme Court handed down its first-ever decision about our landmarks law. The Penn Central v. City of New York decision supported the city’s relatively new landmarks law, and saved Grand Central Terminal from the wrecking ball.  Coming just fifteen years after the demolition of Penn Station, it was a turning point for preservation in our city, and set an important precedent which GVSHP celebrates and works to build upon every day.

Grand Central Station, pictured in 1967

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Beyond the Village and Back: “Becoming Visible” and The Legacy of Stonewall at the NYPL

New York Public Library Stephen A. Schwarzman building. Photo courtesy of the NYPL.

Our Beyond the Village and Back series takes a look at great landmarks in New York City outside of our neighborhoods, finding the sometimes hidden connection to the Village.  Today we take a slightly unorthodox approach of looking back at a groundbreaking exhibit which took place on June 18th, 1994 at one of our city’s most beloved landmarks, the Main Branch of the New York Public Library (NYPL), about events which largely took place in Greenwich Village. Read the rest of this entry »

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REBNY Report Falsely Blames Landmarking for Empty Storefront Syndrome

A recent “report” by the Real Estate Board of New York (REBNY) was released that (incredibly, but predictably for REBNY) blamed the retail vacancy crisis impacting our city on landmarking and historic districts. Although it was uncritically parroted by some media outlets, some simple digging found multiple misrepresentations and inaccuracies.  Here’s just one: Read the rest of this entry »

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Buddy Holly’s Greenwich Village

Buddy Holly (Charles Hardin Holley) was born on September 7, 1936, in Lubbock, Texas. He was an American musician, singer, songwriter, and producer who was one of the pioneers of Rock and Roll as it emerged in the 1950’s. His impact on music and musicians resonates to this day, and those who cite him as a direct influence include the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Eric Clapton and Bruce Springsteen, to name a few. He was one of the first inductees into The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1986, alongside Sam Cooke, Elvis Presley, Ray Charles, James Brown, Jerry Lee Lewis, The Everly Brothers, Little Richard, Chuck Berry and Fats Domino.

Less well known, at the end of his life, Holly was also a resident of Greenwich Village. During his brief time here and prior to his tragic death in February of 1959, Holly would write and record in his Greenwich Village apartment his famous last recordings, the ‘apartment tapes.’


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St. John’s in the Village Episcopal Church, Honoring their Open Door

Walking through the 11th Street horse-walk into the courtyard of St. John’s in the Village Episcopal Church is like walking through a magical passageway into a holy place. It’s all the more meaningful knowing that this passageway was used by countless anonymous Villagers with HIV/AIDS beginning in the 1990’s, all of whom were on their way to the Open Door. A pastoral safe haven during a time of crisis when many Christian communities turned their back on those who were suffering, the Open Door, begun by the Reverend Samuel O. Cross, was just that — an Open Door — for almost 20 years.

St. John’s in the Village, at the corner of Waverly Place and West 11th Street

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St. Vincent’s Project: Novenas for a Lost Hospital

St. Vincent’s Project: Novenas for a Lost Hospital Photo by Marcus Middleton

Rattlestick Playwrights Theater, one of Greenwich Village’s most inventive and exciting producers of new works, is partnering with GVSHP, the NYC AIDS Memorial Board, St. John’s in the Village, and the Stonewall Chorale to present a new play by Villager Cusi Cram.  With dramaturgy by Villager Guy Lancaster, and starring (former Villager!) Kathleen Chalfant (Angels in America, Wit) and Lucas Steele (Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812), the work is called St. Vincent’s Project: Novenas for a Lost Hospital. The play/public art piece is inspired by those who dedicated their lives to care and those who were lost. Guided by the character of Elizabeth Seton, founder of the order of the Sisters of Charity (played by Chalfant), the piece theatrically explores the 161-year history of the hospital. This piece uses theater and public art as a vehicle to remember, to honor, and to celebrate the life and impact of St. Vincent’s Hospital in our neighborhood, our city, and the world.

Kathleen Chalfant as Saint Elizabeth Seton Photo by Marcus Middleton

It is well known that the battle for the life of St. Vincent’s hospital was epic and at times like a development donnybrook. But today Off the Grid, we would like to highlight the some of the history of St. Vincent’s which we find profoundly interesting.

Early view of St. Vincent’s Hospital

To begin, we must travel further back in time to illuminate the life of Saint Elizabeth Seton, whose story begins before the American Revolution.

Elizabeth Ann Bayley was born in August of 1774 into a socially prominent family. Her father was a respected surgeon.  Married at the age of 19 to William Magee Seton, a wealthy businessman in the import trade, Elizabeth and William resided in a fashionable neighborhood on Wall Street. Originally an Episcopalian, Elizabeth was actively involved in social ministry, nursing the sick and dying among family, friends, and needy neighbors. Her husband William suffered from tuberculosis for most of their married life. His doctors sent the family to Italy for the warmer climate to cure his poor health, but he died shortly after their arrival. Elizabeth and their daughter Anna Maria were received in Italy by William’s Italian business partners, who introduced her to Roman Catholicism.  Her widowhood and her time in Italy living among those of the Roman Catholic faith were the turning point in the life of this ordinary woman, who would be canonized by Pope Paul VI in 1975.

Upon her return to New York, the widowed Seton was taken into the Catholic church. In order to support herself and her children, Elizabeth Seton started an academy for young ladies and, after living through many difficulties in New York, she accepted an invitation by a Catholic order in Emmitsburg, Maryland.   She moved there to establish Saint Joseph’s Academy and Free School, a school dedicated to the education of Catholic girls.

Elizabeth subsequently established a religious community of women in Emmitsburg dedicated to the care of the children of the poor. From that point on, she became known as “Mother Seton”. In 1810, the sisters adopted the rules written by St. Vincent de Paul for the Daughters of Charity in France. It had been Elizabeth’s original intention to join the Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul, but the embargo of France during to the Napoleonic Wars blocked the connection. Decades later, in 1850, the Emmitsburg community took the steps to merge with the Daughters, and to become their American branch, as their foundress had envisioned.

St. Vincent’s Hospital

Which brings us to the foundation of St. Vincent’s Hospital in New York. The Sisters of Charity, Elizabeth Seton’s order of religious sisters, founded the hospital in 1849 in the midst of a cholera epidemic. Its first home was in a small rented house on East 13th Street, hardly more than a “poorhouse” with 30 beds. It moved to its West 11th Street location in 1856. It was the first Catholic hospital in Manhattan. Through the Civil War it provided care for veterans. In 1911 it treated many victims of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire.  In 1912 it treated survivors of the Titanic who were taken there from the docks of the Hudson.  And in 1981, St. Vincent’s reported one of the nation’s first AIDS diagnoses.

Patients on Spellman 7

In 1984, “the old building” was converted to an AIDS Ward, as the epidemic was on its way to reaching epic proportions. Spellman 7, as it was known, began with approximately 20 beds. Later, it expanded to the entire 7th floor of the building, Cronin.  St. Vincent’s became “ground zero” for the AIDS crisis.

St. Vincent’s Hospital served a wide range of New Yorkers in its neighborhood of Greenwich Village, including poets, writers, artists, homeless people, the poor, and the working class.  It turned no one away.  Its emphasis was on patient-focused healthcare, with a special mission to provide care for the poor and disenfranchised. Its guiding principles were:

Respect: The basic dignity of the human person is the guiding principle in all our interactions, policies and procedures.
Integrity: Integrity is the consistency between the Catholic identity we profess and the ways in which we act it is that quality of truthfulness, which fosters trust.
Compassion: Compassion is the way we share deep concern, love and care toward each person.

Excellence: Excellence is our way of demonstrating that we can always be more, always be better

In 2010, after talks with six different city hospitals about possible partnerships, St. Vincent’s filed for bankruptcy.  The causes were varied, and disputed; from cries of mismanagement to blaming the Catholic church for burdening the hospital with its growing legal crises. The battles to save the hospital and the buildings were valiant and epic.  But the countdown to its final breath happened in April of 2010:

• April 6: The board announced it would close the hospital.
• April 9: The ER stopped accepting ambulances.
• April 15: The last baby was delivered.
• April 19: More than 1,000 staff were laid off; a gay man with AIDS and longtime St. Vincent’s patient was turned away from the ER.
• April 30: the ER locked its doors, officially ending the hospital’s 161-year run.

The chapel inside St. Vincent’s Hospital being dismantled

While the HIV clinic, under the leadership of Dr. Tony Urbina, continues to operate under the auspices of the Center for Comprehensive Care at St. Luke’s Roosevelt Hospital, the loss of St. Vincent’s Hospital poses a deep problem for the neighborhood and the city itself.  There is no longer a single hospital in operation on the west side of Manhattan from the lower tip of the island to 59th Street.  The implications of the loss of an inpatient care facility are enormous.  Should a major crisis arise, will there be enough room in the east side hospitals for all those who require care?

Novenas for a Lost Hospital addresses these issues as well as the question of who cares for the neediest? Who cares for their neighbors?

You can read comprehensively about GVSHP’s efforts in relation to St. Vincent’s here.


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Many Layers of History at 6th Avenue and 11th Street

6th Avenue and 11th Street, 1905. Photo courtesy of Ephemeral New York.

Once again, another date has come that lines up with an intersection in the Village, but as the calendar starts to climb, our focus also starts to move westwards.  In honor of today’s date, we are taking a look at some of the buildings and history on and around the intersection of 6th Avenue and 11th Street. Read the rest of this entry »

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A Stroll Down West 14th Street: Religious Architecture

West 14th Street has a multi-layered history, preserved in its architecture, which reflects the development of the surrounding area as well as New York City itself. West 14th Street is also a border street, separating Greenwich Village to the south from Chelsea to the north. Save Chelsea’s President Laurence Frommer and I teamed up for a walking tour of this thoroughfare last month entitled Planning and Preservation on West 14th Street, one of the MAS Jane’s Walk tours. Our tour only spanned from Sixth Avenue to Ninth Avenue, but nonetheless featured a variety of different building types, styles and periods. In this series, A Stroll Down West 14th Street, we look at three types of buildings we saw: residential, commercial/manufacturing, and religious. Today, we’re showcasing the religious buildings.

West 14th Street tour in front of 210 West 10th Street where Marcel Duchamp lived French Dadaist artist Marcel Duchamp lived from 1942 until the year of his death, 1968, on the top floor.

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Business of the Month, Bus Stop Café – 597 Hudson Street

Your input is needed! Today we feature our latest Business of the Month — help us to select the next.  Tell us which independent store you love in Greenwich Village, the East Village or NoHo: click here to nominate your favorite.  Want to help support small businesses?  Share this post with friends.

Corner diners seem to be going the way of the Pterodactyl.  But there is still a place in the historic West Village where they take pride in the breakfast, lunch and dinner they serve with a smile. It’s Bus Stop Café at 597 Hudson Street at Bethune Street, our June Business of the Month. Read the rest of this entry »

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