The Sullivan-Thompson Historic District is the Village’s most recently designated historic district, and was designated in record time. We’re happy to report that it has received its new street signs in record time as well. Usually taking several years to install, the brown street signs that indicate an area lies within a historic district were recently installed, less than nine months after the designation in December 2016. These distinctive brown signs help educate the public and property owners by letting them know they are in a historic district.
The Sullivan-Thompson Historic District designation was the culmination of a fifteen-year campaign and a proposal pursued by GVSHP that resulted in the creation of three new historic districts. In addition to Sullivan-Thompson, the Greenwich Village Historic Extension II was designated in 2010, and the South Village Historic District was designated in 2013. Between the three districts, GVSHP secured landmark designation for over 650 buildings, more than half of the 1,250 GVSHP has helped landmark since 2003! With your help, we can do more — click here to read about current advocacy efforts.
Much of the South Village’s history is defined by tenements and immigrants, particularly Italian-Americans; by speakeasies, jazz clubs, beatnik coffeehouses, and folk music clubs from the area’s counter-cultural heyday of the 1920’s through the 1960’s; by crooked streets and tiny houses which may have been altered but which still retain their charm and architectural distinction.
The South Village’s distinctive architectural fabric developed in several stages. From roughly the 1820s-50s the area first developed as a (sub)urban refuge from Lower Manhattan. Scores of federal and Greek Revival rowhouses were built, some of which still exist today.
The second stage lasted from before the Civil War until just before World War I. This period coincided with waves of immigration transforming the area, and the building of countless tenements of all architectural styles, and of pre-law, old law, and new law configurations. This most common of building types in the area includes a surprising number of buildings with meticulous architectural detail. A remarkable number of these buildings retain a significant amount of their original details and materials in excellent condition. This era also saw a significant number of commercial/industrial structures built, generally of a brick or masonry form similar to the neighboring tenements, and often housing by day the same laborers who populated the nearby tenements by night.
The third stage of the South Village’s development, from World War I through the end of World War II, saw the erection of a smaller number of commercial/industrial structures, especially garages, but its greatest imprint upon the built environment came in the form of alterations to existing buildings. As foreign immigration waned in the 1920’s due to restrictive immigration laws, the South Village attracted a new kind of immigrant, the artist, and America’s premier bohemian neighborhood was born. Federal and Greek revival rowhouses had artist studio attics added on top, and tenements were rehabilitated and joined together to form communal courtyards and gardens (this was partly inspired by nearby MacDougal–Sullivan Gardens, located within the South Village but already a designated NYC historic district). Other older houses and tenements were retrofitted for new residential or commercial uses, the clearest visible manifestation of which is often the still-extant deco or moderne fire escapes that were added at this time.