Greenwich Village

views updated May 18 2018

Greenwich Village

Greenwich Village's known history dates back to the sixteenth century, when it was a marshland called Sapokanikan by Native Americans who fished in the trout stream known as Minetta Brook. When the Dutch first settled on Manhattan in 1621, naming the area New Netherlands, all but a small area on the Southeastern tip of the island was left untouched by the Europeans. When the colony passed to British hands in 1664 and became New York, a few farms and estates emerged some miles to the north of the city; the settlement evolved into a country hamlet, first designated Grin'wich in 1713 Common Council records.

The village was transformed overnight in 1828, when yellow fever caused thousands of city dwellers to flee to the Greenwich countryside. Many of these displaced city-folk enjoyed the country, and throughout the following decade the village grew as businesses and residents moved their permanent homes there.

As the population of Manhattan grew, the city felt the need for northern expansion in an orderly fashion. The city council adopted a grid plan in March 1817 which would have placed gridded streets running from river to river, cutting through the heart of the fledgling village. The village people were outraged. During the year that the grid war waged, an anonymous 62-page pamphlet was submitted to the city laying out an argument against the plan. Soon after, the council backed down and limited the grid to the east of what is now Sixth Avenue and north of what is presently Fourteenth Street.

During the early nineteenth century, as New York University grew on the east side of Washington Square, religious denominations commissioned buildings with elaborate decorative schemes and the neighborhood soon became the site of art clubs, private picture galleries, learned societies, literary salons, and libraries. Fine hotels, shopping emporia, and theaters also proliferated. The character of the neighborhood changed markedly at the close of the century when German, Irish, and Italian immigrants found work in the breweries, warehouses, and coal and lumber yards near the Hudson River and in the Southeast corner of the neighborhood. Older residences were subdivided into cheap lodging hotels and multiple-family dwellings, or demolished for higher-density tenements.

The Village at the turn of the twentieth century was a quite picturesque and ethnically diverse area. By the start of World War I it was widely known as a bohemian enclave with secluded side streets, low rents, and a tolerance for radicalism and nonconformity. Attention became increasingly focused on artists and writers noted for their boldly innovative work. The bohemian atmosphere helped to make Greenwich Village an attraction for tourists. Entrepreneurs provided amusements ranging from evenings in artists' studios to bacchanalian costume balls. During Prohibition local speakeasies attracted uptown patrons. Decrepit rowhouses were remodeled into "artistic flats" for the well-to-do, and in 1926 luxury apartment towers appeared at the northern edge of Washington Square. The stock market crash of 1929 halted the momentum of new construction.

During the 1930s, galleries and collectors promoted the cause of contemporary art. Sculptor Gertrude Whitney Vanderbilt opened a museum dedicated to modern American art on West 8th Street, now the New York Studio School. The New School for Social Research, on West 12th Street since the late 1920s, inaugurated the "University in Exile" in 1934.

The Village had become the center for the "beat movement" by the 1950s, with galleries along 8th Street, coffee houses on MacDougal Street, and storefront theaters on Bleecker Street. "Happenings" and other unorthodox artistic, theatrical, and musical events were staged at the Judson Memorial Church. During the 1960s a homosexual community formed around Christopher Street; in 1969 a confrontation by the police culminated in a riot known as the Stonewall Rebellion, regarded as the beginning of the nationwide movement for gay and lesbian rights. Greenwich Village became a rallying place for antiwar protesters in the 1970s and for activity mobilized by the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s.

—Anna Notaro

Further Reading:

Banes, Sally. Greenwich Village 1963: Avant-Garde Performance and the Effervescent. Durham, North Carolina, Duke University Press, 1993.

Beard, Rick, and Leslie Cohen, editors. Greenwich Village: Culture and Counterculture. New Brunswick, New Jersey, Rutgers University Press, 1993.

Gold, Joyce. From Trout Stream to Bohemia: A Walking Guide to Greenwich Village History. New York, Old Warren Road Press, 1996.

Gross, Steve, et al. Old Greenwich Village: An Architectural Portrait. Washington, D.C., Preservation Press, 1993.

Kellerman, Regina M., editor. The Architecture of the Greenwich Village Waterfront: An Archival Research Study Undertaken by the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation. New York, New York University Press, 1989.

Kugelmass, Jack, et al. Masked Culture: The Greenwich Village Halloween. New York, Columbia University Press, 1994.

McDarrah, Fred W., and Gloria S. McDarrah. Beat Generation: Glory Days in Greenwich. New York, Simon and Schuster, 1996.

Selzer, Jack. Kenneth Burke in Greenwich Village: Conversing with the Moderns, 1915-1931 (Wisconsin Project on American Writers). Madison, University of Wisconsin Press, 1996.

Ware, Caroline F. Greenwich Village 1920-1930: A Comment on American Civilization in the Post-War Years. Berkeley, University of California Press, 1994.

Greenwich Village

views updated May 14 2018


GREENWICH VILLAGE. Called Sapokanikan by the original native inhabitants who used the area mostly for fishing, Greenwich Village is one of the most vibrant and diverse neighborhoods in Lower Manhattan. During the 1630s, Dutch settlers called this area Noortwyck and used it for farms. It remained sparsely populated until the English conquered it in 1664. By 1713 it had evolved into a small village renamed Grin'wich. Because of its proximity to the commercial activities centered near the Hudson River, it began to take on a more commercial orientation after the American Revolution. A series of epidemics between 1803 and 1822 increased the area's population when residents from more crowded parts of the city fled north. By 1840 the area had been transformed from a small farming hamlet to a thriving business and residential center. Land developers bought up and divided the remaining farmland, and the marshy tracts were filled in.

Fashionable Greek Revival–style townhouses sprang up around Washington Square Park.

During the nineteenth century the Village was transformed not only by its affluent residents but also by the many educational and cultural institutions that flourished there. New York University was founded in 1836 and private galleries, art clubs, and learned societies abounded. The neighborhood began another transformation by the end of the nineteenth century when German, Irish, and Italian immigrants flooded into the area to work in the manufacturing concerns based in the southeastern part of the neighborhood. As these immigrants moved in, many single-family residences were subdivided into smaller units or demolished and replaced by tenements. By World War I, a range of political and cultural radicals and bohemians had moved in, and the neighborhood began to take on the character that has marked it since as a home to and focal point for diverse social, cultural, educational, and countercultural movements.

In the 1950s, the Village provided a forum for the beat generation and produced such literary luminaries as Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg. The 1960s through the early 1970s marked the arrival of an openly gay community, hippies, antiwar activists, and an assortment of countercultural and underground movements. In 1969, police and gay residents met in a violent confrontation known as the Stonewall Rebellion. The next year members of a radical terrorist group, the Weathermen, blew themselves up while building a bomb in a Greenwich Village townhouse. In the 1980s, the Village became a center for the mobilization against the AIDS epidemic. At the start of the twenty-first century, the Village is a major tourist mecca and continues to be one of the most dynamic and diverse neighborhoods in New York City.


Burrows, Edwin G., and Mike Wallace. Gotham: A History of New York City to 1898. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999.

Gold, Joyce. From Trout Stream to Bohemia: A Walking Guide to Greenwich Village History. New York: Old Warren Road Press, 1988.

Miller, Terry. Greenwich Village and How It Got That Way. New York: Crown, 1990.

Faren R.Siminoff

See alsoNew York City .

Greenwich Village

views updated May 29 2018

Greenwich Village ★★ 1944

Would-be classical composer Kenneth Harvey (Ameche) finds his work being adapted for a musical revue by speakeasy owner Danny O'Mara (Bendix). But Harvey isn't too upset when he discovers singer Bonnie Watson (Blaine in her screen debut) is working on the show. Miranda is the club's fortune-telling comic foil. 82m/C DVD . Don Ameche, William Bendix, Vivian Blaine, Carmen Miranda, Felix Bressart; D: Walter Lang; W: Earl Baldwin, Ernest Pagano, Michael Fessier, Walter Bullock; C: Leon Shamroy, Harry Jackson; M: Emil Newman, Chuck Henderson.


views updated May 21 2018

Greenwich2 Greenwich Village a district of New York City on the lower west side of Manhattan, traditionally associated with writers, artists, and musicians.

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