Welcome to 1940s Greenwich Village

Welcome to 1940s Greenwich Village
close up of the Village districts

GVSHP recently came across a great website called 1940s New York.  In 1943, four local newspapers published a New York City Market Analysis, which provided hundreds of photos & color-coded maps, statistics, and short narratives about neighborhoods across the city, all based on the 1940 census.  According to the site, “The Center for Urban Research at the CUNY Graduate Center is making the 1943 profiles available to provide context for the 1940 Census records and to offer a research aid to historians and anyone else interested in learning more about New York from the 1940s.”  Of course, the first thing we did was scroll right down to the Village!

1940s New York

According to the 1943 profile of the Greenwich Village area:

Greenwich Village is not a neighborhood of artists and writers, although many of them still live in its old brick and brownstone houses.  Remodeling has changed many of the Bohemian haunts MacDougal Alley and Washington Mews.  Prosperity blooms along Fifth Avenue north of Washington Square.  Business couples like this neighborhood.  There are many “shared apartments” and rooming houses close to the park.  It is a market of many contrasts, with overflowing Italian tenements and the most expensive type of modern hotels and apartment houses.  The Washington Square College of New York University is located in this district.  From 12th Street and Greenwich Avenue west to Miller Highway, we find the Gansevoort and West Washington markets- a wholesale meat, vegetable, and egg center.  Thousands of visitors, arriving by the Holland Tunnel, get their first glimpse of New York in this district.  

This very interesting description is accompanied by monetary and demographic statistics which can be viewed on the site.  The monthly rent of a Greenwich Village apartment averaged around $40.  Ironic when compared to today’s prices, this was near the bottom of the rental market.  The more expensive properties, between $50-$100, were clustered around the park and on 5th Avenue.

close up of the Village districts

The East Village/Lower East Side, in contrast, had almost no areas above the very lowest price bracket of “under $30.”  The description classified it as:

Visitors to New York find the Lower East Side an amazing show.  There is nothing comparable in America.  But its importance as a market is due entirely to numbers and not to individual family purchasing power.  It is the most populous, most crowded, most old-world district in New York City.  Its more than 100,000 foreign-born population gives the Lower East Side a tinge that is essentially alien.  But the district is changing.  It has lost more than 40,000 foreign-born since the previous Census.  Total population has dropped 225,000 in 20 years.  Slum clearance has added many parks and playgrounds.  Big housing developments, like Knickerbocker Village, have appeared.  The pushcart markets, Chinatown, the Bowery, barber colleges, tattoo shops, flop houses, second-hand clothes exchanges provide color and atmosphere seldom encountered in the American scene.

There is so much more of this colorful history on the 1940s website.  Look up your own neighborhood and see what it was like 70 years ago!

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Dana
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Dana was GVSHP's Programs and Administrative Associate from 2010 to 2013.

2 comments on “Welcome to 1940s Greenwich Village
  1. Dana Caryn Shoenthal says:

    I grew up on Perry Street in the 1940s. I remember one year there was a parade on Bleecker Street, and all of us kids had our bikes decorated in red, white and blue for either Memorial
    day or the 4th of July. There was a picture of all of us on the front page of what I thought was the Village Voice; however, upon looking it up, it appears that the Village Voice wasn’t published until 1955 and we had already left the Village by that time. Does anyone know what newspaper that could have been in the 40s?

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  3. […] to the more recently evolving Highland Park and Atwater Village.  It is what I  imagine the Village was like in the first half of the 20th century – brimming with possibilities, not yet aware of its full […]

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