Many Layers of History at St. Marks and 2nd Avenue!
This post is part of a series about Village blocks that correspond to calendar dates. You can read some of the other ones here.
August is here and so is another date that corresponds with a Village intersection! As we are now in the 8th month, we’re taking a look at every East Villager’s favorite “8th Street,” St. Marks Place! In honor of today’s date, we are taking a look at some of the buildings and history around the intersection of St. Marks and 2nd Avenue!
Ottendorfer Library and German Dispensary/Stuyvesant Polyclinic (135-137 Second Avenue)
In 1884 architect William Schickel designed the New York Public Library and the German Dispensary. The Ottendorfer Library is the oldest branch library in Manhattan and one of the earliest buildings in the city constructed as a public library. The library and the Dispensary were built to serve the physical and mental well-being of the German community. Both the library and the German Dispensary are designated New York City Landmark. For more information on these buildings, click on Landmarks Designation Reports for the Library, the Library’s Interior, and the Dispensary.
These buildings are both representative of Kleindeutschland, or “Little Germany,” a German immigrant community that existed in what is now the East Village and Lower East Side back in the late 19th and early 20th century. We have previously discussed the library in previous posts on its first floor interior designation, as well as on the libraries of the village.
Adjacent to the Ottendorfer branch of the New York Public Library on 2nd Avenue north of St. Mark’s Place is the Stuyvesant Polyclinic building. If you take a look above the first floor, you’ll see a variety of molded terra cotta faces looking down on you. The ornate portico holds the busts of Hippocrates as well as Asklepius, the Greek god of medicine, Celsius, Roman medical text author, and Galen, a Greek physician. Running just below the roofline are busts that include William Harvey, an English physiologist; noted botanist Carl von Linne (Carl Linnaeus), Alexander von Humboldt, German scientist and explorer; Antoine Lavoisier, French chemist and physicist; and Christoph Hufeland, a German physician. By 1905 the German Dispensary relocated to the Upper East Side and sold the building to another German-community-focused health service, the German Poliklinik. With anti-German sentiment running high during World War I, the Poliklinik changed its name to The Stuyvesant Polyclinic.
133 Second Avenue
This corner building is a highly altered 1830’s row house, which was added to between 1912 and 1913 to become a movie theater, offices and shops. Over the course of its life, the theater was once home to the Negro Ensemble Company, launching such actors as Phylicia Rashad, Laurence Fishburne, and Angela Bassett.
36 St. Marks Place; 131 Second Avenue
This five-story tenement was constructed between 1898 and 1900 for Augustus Ruff. Located at the ground floor of this building on the corner is Gem Spa, a newsstand and candy store, and is known for being commonly considered to be the birthplace of the authentic New York City-style egg cream. In 1966, The Village Voice called it the “official oasis of the East Village.”
37 1/2 St. Marks Place; 132-134 Second Avenue
This six-story brick tenement was originally built in 1904 for stores in the cellar and fifteen apartments on the upper floors. It was designed by George Frederick Pelham, who was the architect of a number of tenements in East Village. The facades feature a projecting bracketed cornice with garlanded frieze, elaborate window enframements with triangular and segmental-arched pediments, splayed window lintels, keystones and beltcourses. The outermost bays of each facade project slightly. There are oval window openings with ornate surrounds at the center bay of south facade. The first-story storefront has been altered.
118 Second Avenue
This five-story tenement was originally built in 1886 to accommodate 13 families and store. The present building features projecting decorative brick work on the south facade, floral panels below the fourth-floor windows, a continuous beltcourse above the fourth floor, and rectangular window lintels and sills. The first-floor storefronts have been mostly altered.
126 Second Avenue
A three-story with basement and attic house was originally built on site in 1837-39. It was raised to four stories between 1895 and 1899. The building was altered into two stories in either 1914 or 1916.
The present facade features denticulated cornice with brick parapet above and curvilinear pediment at center, arched window openings on the second floor, enframed by moldings with scroll keystones, and divided by columns standing on pedestals. Other characters include decorative frieze, beltcourses, projecting brick piers flanking the facade, and figural carving above the corners of the first story.
The building held the Moving Picture Theatre before and after being converted into two stories. It continues to serve as a theater today.