MacDougal Alley is one of those hidden enclaves of Greenwich Village that many passersby may not notice, but if they do they are treated to a wonderful piece of city history. Many of the residences here were former stables built beginning in 1833 when the alley was formally created as a private court to serve the elegant townhouses of Washington Square North and West 8th Street. Varying in height, many of these buildings were converted to artist studios in the early 20th century as more and more creative talent called the Village home.
One of these studios at 33 MacDougal Alley, now long gone, served as the residence and work space of prominent Japanese-American artist Isamu Noguchi (1904-1988). He moved to this location in 1942 after having voluntarily spent six months in a Japanese internment camp in the hopes of improving living conditions there.
Once here, he worked on countless works of art that helped establish himself in the growing New York School. Some of his best known works, a series of interlocking sculptures begun in 1944, were created here. The book Noguchi East and West by Dore Ashton indicates that this was his New York residence until 1948.
Trying to pinpoint 33 MacDougal Alley on historical maps is tricky since many of these former stable buildings were constructed directly against the West 8th Street residences that they served and, thus, were not numbered separately on 19th century maps. (The MacDougal Alley numbering system also began to change by the mid-20th century.)
However, according to Virginia Budny’s New York’s Left Bank: Art and Artists Off Washington Square, 1900-1950, 33 MacDougal Alley was located at the back of 4 West 8th Street, a two-story brick purpose-built stable that sat at the rear of 8 Fifth Avenue and later served as the Clay Club Gallery. As was typical of the alley, it is possible that 4 West 8th Street and 33 MacDougal Alley were housed in the same building with their own separate entrances.
By the end of the 1940s, Noguchi left New York to travel through Asia. Soon after, 33 MacDougal Alley and a handful of other rowhouses facing 8th Street and Fifth Avenue were demolished to make way for a new apartment building at 2 Fifth Avenue. On page 125 of the Greenwich Village Historic District designation report, the staff notes that the modern building “forms a backdrop at the eastern end and makes even more striking the contrast between this old street and the Twentieth Century.”
Click here if you’re interested in seeing photos of Isamu Noguchi in his 33 MacDougal Alley studio.