132 and 134 West 4th Street, classic Greek Revival rowhouses

 

These two striking examples of Greek Revival architecture are instructive in several ways.  In spite of their incredible level of design, the retention of an enormous amount of original detail, and their location in what is probably New Yorkís premier historic neighborhood, these two houses are not protected by landmark designation and thus are vulnerable to alteration or destruction (they lie directly across the street from the designated Greenwich Village Historic District).  Both display some particularly grand elements of high-Greek Revival architecture:  the temple-like doorway of #132 (left in both pictures), its wreathed attic windows, and the stately frieze atop both houses typify some of the grandest elements of the style. 

 Both houses also show alterations which convey significant information about the evolution of life in the South Village.  134 lost it stoop, possibly when the building was altered from a single-family home to a multi-family apartment building (a single basement entrance made for a more efficient, if less grand, use of space).  Many Village houses, especially those south of Washington Square Park, were converted to multi-unit houses when the neighborhood began to lose its cache and immigrants and the working classes began to dominate the area. 

 Both have also had an additional loft story inserted into what was the attic story.  This became commonplace in the Village in the 1920ís and 30ís.  Once these houses were divided up into multiple units, low attic spaces were undesirable as apartments, especially as they were at the top of a long walk upstairs (elevators become common in new buildings in New York by the 1910ís and 20ís).  Many landlords simply found the cheapest way possible to expand that space to full floor height and lifted the roofs of these floors and inserted industrial glass over them to create raw loft spaces.  While such living conditions were unheard of for most people, artists were willing to trek up four flights of stairs for an amply sized living space with the requisite natural sunlight for painting, and didnít mind the lack of conventional domesticity of such a living space.  Thus the residential loft space was born. 

#132ís loft space is added in a particularly sensitive way.  Much of the original Greek Revival frieze of the attic remains as do two of the windows, with an industrial casement bay window placed in the center.  A broad plate of industrial glass forming the new attic ceiling is inserted into the roof, set back at an angle from the street -- thus, while it is visible, it does not disrupt the symmetry and proportion of the original design.

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