Hess Triangle: What was Once the Smallest Piece of Property in New York City

One of the quirkiest and most beloved icons of the Village and its propensity for non-conformity, defying the street grid, and embracing a diminutive scale is also the smallest piece of property to ever be privately owned in New York City.

The story of the ‘Hess Triangle,’ at the southwest corner of 7th Avenue South and Christopher Street, begins in 1910, when nearly 300 buildings along Seventh Avenue in the West Village were condemned and slated to be torn down to widen the street to build the Seventh Avenue subway line. In 1913 the NY Times reported that, “property owners and residents within the line of Seventh Avenue extension from Greenwich Avenue to Varick Street are preparing for the demolition of the buildings within the condemned area.” The buildings along an eleven block stretch were to be “ ruthlessly cut through, destroying many curious old residences and businesses.”

Image and text from July 27, 1922 NYTimes Artcle (via Modern Mechanix)

Image and text from July 27, 1922 NYTimes Artcle (via Modern Mechanix)

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Anarchy in the Village! The Ferrer Modern School

Friends of the modern school photo c. 1911-1912

The Modern School, c. 1911-1912, from the Friends of the Modern School website.

Greenwich Village was the first home of the Ferrer Modern School of New York City. First located at 6 St. Marks Place, this school was based on the European model of the Esquela Moderna founded by Catalan educator and anarchist Francisco Ferrer, executed for sedition in 1909. Ferrer espoused education for all regardless of age or economic standing and he espoused an anti-church, anti-state and anti-authoritarian philosophy similar to Emma Goldman and Alexander Berkman. Prior to his death, Ferrer had large followings in the United States and Europe and his death sparked the formation of the Francisco Ferrer Association in New York City in 1910 by twenty-two anarchists and anarchist sympathizers. At its first public meeting on October 13th of that year, the Association pledged to start a school for adults and children.

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The Synagogues of East 6th Street

Today is Yom Kippur, so let’s take a look at some East Village buildings that are, or used to be, synagogues. Jewish immigrants to the East Village and Lower East Side were a significant segment of the population of these neighborhoods, particularly in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Sixth Street Community Center, 638 East 6th Street, between Avenue B & Avenue C

1939-40 Tax Photo (from www.nylandmarks.org

1939-40 Tax Photo (from www.nylandmarks.org

This architecturally interesting building once housed Congregation Ahawath Yeshurun Shara Torah. After many years of advocating and fundraising, and thanks to generous grants from Save the Children and other foundations, the local block association was able to purchase and renovate the abandoned structure, and in 1996 Sixth Street Community Center was born.

According to research done by GVSHP, the first record of this building comes from an alteration permit in 1869, indicating that the building was being used as an office. A decade later, the building was converted into a synagogue for the Congregation Ahawath Yeshurun Shara Torah. In 1900 in addition to other renovations, ritual baths were built in the basement. The building was used as a synagogue until the 1970’s.

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Ottendorfer Library Landmark Designation

Ottendorfer Library-German Dispensary.

Ottendorfer Library (left) and the former German Dispensary.

The Ottendorfer Branch of the New York Public Library (NYPL) at 135 Second Avenue was designated an individual New York City landmark September 20, 1977.  The library was built in 1883-4 by Oswald Ottendorfer, a wealthy German newspaper magnate, along with the adjoining Stuyvesant Polyclinic Hospital.  These buildings are both representative of Kleindeutschland, or “Little Germany,” a German immigrant community that existed in what is now the East Village and Lower East Side back in the late 19th/ early 20th century.  We have previously discussed this building in previous posts on its first floor interior designation, as well as on the libraries of the villageRead the rest of this entry »

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The Flatirons of the Village and the East Village

On September 20th, 1966, the Flatiron Building was designated a New York City landmark.  One of New York’s most beloved and iconic landmarks, the Flatiron Building is known for (among other things) its unique shape, formed by the intersection of Broadway and 5th Avenue forming an acute angle amidst the otherwise right-angled, rectilinear street grid of Manhattan.

Flatiron Building

The Flatiron Building

But of course the corner of 23rd street and 5th Avenue isn’t the only place in Manhattan where streets intersect at quirky angles.  In fact, the Village’s (and to a lesser extent the East Village’s) off-the-grid streets are full of them.

So in honor of the Flatiron Building’s landmark anniversary, we thought we’d take a look at some of ‘little flatirons’ of the Village and East Village.

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NYC Landmarks50 – Colonnade Row

Colonnade Row. Image via Wikipedia

Colonnade Row. Image via Wikipedia

As part of NYCLandmarks50, the celebration of this year’s 50th Anniversary of the NYC Landmarks Law, we are taking a look at some of the many and varied individual landmarks in our neighborhood. The building complex now known as Colonnade Row, first named LaGrange Terrace, was one of the first properties landmarked under the Landmarks Law in 1965. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1976. There were originally nine two-story buildings built in the neoclassical Greek-Revival style. Five of the buildings were demolished in 1901. Four of the buildings remain.
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University Village/Silver Towers – Urban Design that Stands the Test of Time

University Village/Silver Towers and Sylvette

University Village/Silver Towers and Sylvette

Greenwich Village is home to what is considered by many one of the finest examples in the nation of a mid-century modern residential complex: the University Village/Silver Towers. Designed by I.M. Pei & Associates with James I. Freed as lead project architect, the complex was built between 1964 and 1966. Critics from the time of its completion extolled the virtues of the design.  GVSHP proposed and secured New York City landmark designation of the complex in 2008, as well as getting the site determined eligible for the National and State Registers of Historic Places (no small feat given that the complex was less than 50 year old at the time, which required it to be found of “extraordinary significance” for it to qualify for listing). So we here at GVSHP are big fans.

The question though is:  what makes this design so successful when so many of its peers — concrete urban renewal, tower-in-the-park high-rises from the post-war years — are not?

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Business of the Month: Mercer Street Books, 206 Mercer Street

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

Mercer - facade

The tiny facade contains worlds.

In the world of bookstores, each reader has her favorite kind. Some people seek specialization, like a shop focused solely on travel or architecture. Others go for new releases, or cheap remainders. Perhaps you’re after a bookstore that carries greeting cards and coffee.

Or you may prefer a thoughtful selection of used books and LPs in good condition, a worn-in kind of place that gently envelops you in intelligence and soul. I didn’t quite realize I was looking for such a place, but I’m so glad to have found it: Mercer Street Books and Records, our Business of the Month for September.

“It’s like a little oasis for your brain. Or like a temple,” says Wayne Conti, who has owned the shop for a quarter-century. The 25th anniversary is this Sunday, September 19th. “This is a place where you can just relax.”

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Honorary Street Names: 2nd Avenue

As we here at GVSHP have previously discussed, many streets in Greenwich Village bear an honorary secondary name recognizing important people and institutions associated with the Village and its history.  These honorary names are given in additional to the street’s standard or existing name, and typically only applies to a specific block.  These renamings are implemented by an action of the City Council with the approval of the Mayor and do not require any changes to the city’s official street map.  There is even a catalog of New York City’s honorary secondary street names, listing almost all of them in the five boroughs.  In today’s post, we are focusing on the names that can be seen walking south down 2nd Avenue to Houston Street: Bill Grahams Way, Miriam Friedlander Way, Ellen Stewart Way, and LaSalle Academy Place.

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Bill Grahams Way.

Bill Graham’s Way – Located on 2nd Avenue and 6th Street, Bill Graham’s Way is named for rock promoter Bill Graham as this spot was the location of his venue Filmore East, which was open from March 8, 1968 to June 27, 1971 and featured some of the biggest acts in rock music at the time.  Graham’s Filmore East was colloquially known as “The Church of Rock and Roll,” with two-show, triple-bill concerts several nights a week.  Among some notables to play there were Jimi Hendrix, John Lennon, Crosby, Stills, & Nash, Led Zeppelin, and the Grateful Dead.  Graham himself died in 1991; GVSHP has commemorated both Filmore East and Bill Graham with a commemorative plaque that can be found on  2nd Avenue and 6th Street. Read the rest of this entry »

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Theaters of Greenwich Village and the East Village

A while back on Off the Grid we wrote about some of our favorite theaters. Theater, performance spaces, and the arts have all always been an important part of the Village, East Village, and NoHo’s cultural heritage and built environment. And last week, as part of our free public programs, we started a series about theaters of Greenwich Village and the East Village with a visit to the HB Playwrights Theater, at HB Studio on Bank Street.

124bankIn case you missed it, you can see photos and video of this program. We were treated to a lecture by Alan Pally, one of HB’s trustees, who told us the wonderful story of Herbert Berghof and Uta Hagen, founders of HB, and their dealings in West Village real estate. You’ll have to watch the video to learn the whole story, but let me just say that Liz Taylor and Richard Burton were marginally involved.

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