Throwback Thursday: Behind the Scenes of 75 ½ Bedford Street
After the great Frank O’Hara plaque unveiling earlier this week (you can view video and photos from the event), today we thought we’d take a look at another celebrated Village poet — Edna St. Vincent Millay, with this recent look back by GVSHP’s Amanda Davis.
The narrow house at 75 ½ Bedford Street is well known in Greenwich Village. Besides being just under ten feet wide, the home was the residence of poet Edna St. Vincent Millay and her husband Eugen Jan Boissevain between 1923 and 1924. It sits near the intersection of Bedford and Commerce Streets and features an unusual asymmetrical stepped gable.
Millay is one of the Village’s treasures, having been part of the Provincetown Players and having co-founded the Cherry Lane Theater just around the corner on Commerce Street. As we learned on GVSHP’s recent house tour, 75 ½ Bedford and the Cherry Lane actually share an urban courtyard in the back along with several other homes facing Bedford and Commerce Streets.
Most of the photographs you see of this beloved little house are from the Bedford Street side. The photo above shows Millay, her husband, and an unidentified man (in the background) standing in the area behind the house. Although the caption provides a date of circa 1904, this was likely taken at some point in 1923 or 1924 when the couple lived here (Millay was only 12 years old in 1904!). The photographer was Jessie Tarbox Beals who documented Bohemian life in Greenwich Village in the 1910s and 1920s.
It’s unclear as to what is exactly going on in the photograph, though Millay wrote often about nature. Her poem Afternoon on a Hill includes a verse that is similar to the “pick no flowers” sign:
“I will be the gladdest thing
Under the sun!
I will touch a hundred flowers
And not pick one.”
The site of this quirky little home was originally an alley where delivery carts and the like passed through often. In 1873, 75 ½ Bedford was constructed for Horatio Gomez, trustee of the Hettie Hendricks-Gomez Estate. According to the designation report for the Greenwich Village Historic District, the wood casement windows were installed in the 1920s. The arched doorway in the photograph leads through to Bedford Street.
Interestingly, the photograph also shows the back of 75 Bedford Street (right side) when the main entrance was located here. It was still there when the district was designated in 1969. Today, the primary entrance has been returned to its original location on Bedford Street with the creation of a new stoop and doorway.
The current photograph below was taken from the Commerce Street gate (the private courtyard is only accessible to residents), and shows that the charming multi-pane wood casements have been replaced and a fire escape has been installed. From this view, the brick courtyard, likely created in the 1920s, is just visible.