At mid-century New York represented a city of extreme wealth and poverty; of ethnic and racial diversity; of economic elites grappling for political power. By 1850, New York held a dominant position in the national economy, as wealth from national and international trade, from the city’s burgeoning port and shipping industry, and from investments in transportation systems and real estate accumulated in the hands of a new class of merchants.1 Overcrowding in Lower Manhattan during the early portion of the 19th century facilitated the spread of cholera and yellow fever, initiating an exodus of wealthy New Yorkers to the airy oasis of the 15th Ward, Greenwich Village.
Since the American Revolution, lower Broadway represented wealth and fashion, and as late as the 1830's – “the last days of the Knickerbockers” – young voices sang the popular song of the day:
In New York when the weather’s fair, a grand attractive spot is there. A place to which every stranger goes and fashionable Belles and Beaux! Such smiling lips and looks so arch! They to the church [thed] Broadway march. Young ladies may I ask you, pray if Cupid lives anywhere in Broadway. If Cupid lives anywhere in Broadway.2
In 1868, Edward Winslow Martin’s descriptive work, The Secrets of a Great City, profiled New York’s streets, asserting, “The most wonderful street in the world is Broadway. It extends…the whole length of the island. But its most attractive features are between the Bowling Green and Thirty-Fourth Street – the chief part of these being below Fourteenth Street.”3 Martin’s characterization reflects the upper-class migration to the Fifteenth Ward by mid-century and the transformations Greenwich Village experienced during a period of wealth-seeking, luxury, and consumerism. As early as 1814 De Witt Clinton urged for change in the pursuits of New York’s wealthy, merchant class, asserting, “the energies of our country have been more directed to the accumulation of wealth than to the acquisition of knowledge.”4 The wealthy that moved into Greenwich Village nevertheless invested in luxury hotels, palatial department stores, extravagant churches, and unrivaled cultural institutions. The upper class viewed their investments and excessive luxury as evidence of their “prosperous condition,” of a “deviation from old customs,” and thus of progress.5 They quite fittingly adorned Broadway, “the most celebrated of the great streets of the world,”6 with their trappings of luxury.
The great thoroughfare of Broadway thus represents the profound way in which Greenwich Village transformed amidst the City’s mid-century economic boom. Its churches, hotels, department stores, cultural institutions, and taverns encapsulate the neighborhood’s identity in the years leading up to the Civil War and illuminate the social structures in which they were built. As Luther Harris remarks, “Broadway’s presence in the Fifthteenth Ward practically guaranteed the ward’s success.”7 We must, therefore, take a tour of the City’s famous thoroughfare and address a few key Broadway addresses in Greenwich Village.
Churches – Grace Church and St. Thomas'
In his 1849 work, Religion in the United States of America, Robert Baird celebrated America’s religious freedom and the right of Americans to choose their own churches. He asserted that evangelical Protestant churches shared a common desire to transform America into the most Christian nation in the world by founding reform societies to combat prostitution, intemperance, and slavery (at least in the North); to embark on foreign missions to convert the “heathen;” and to create orphanages and charities to aid the poor. Baird admitted the divisions within Protestantism, yet affirmed that true evangelical Protestants viewed themselves as “branches of one great body,” marching under God’s direction.8 This elite view of religion manifested itself in Greenwich Village in the 19th Century in the form of elite, Protestant churches –
If religion played a critical role in society, the presence of fine churches marked a prestigious neighborhood. Grace Church, at 800 Broadway, stood as the most fashionable place of worship on the most fashionable thoroughfare in the City. Completed by the spring of 1846 by James Renwick Jr. – a novice architect at the time – Grace Church won the acclaim of the Greenwich Village elite, becoming the preferred church of Episcopalians. By 1850, front-row pews went for $1,400 per year, and New Yorkers and foreigners alike considered this Gothic Revival building Broadway’s “chief architectural prize.”9 In 1868, New York clergyman Matthew Hale Smith considered the sexton of Grace church, Isaac Brown, “The most famous man connected with New York’s high life.” Hale stated further, “For many years, Grace has been the centre of fashionable New York. To be married or buried within its walls has been ever considered the height of felicity.”10
1850 marked 24 years of worship at another premier institution, St. Thomas Episcopal Church on Broadway and Houston. In 1844 Reverend John McVickar arranged for the church’s remodeling and enlargement to accommodate a growing congregation – a markedly affluent flock. On March 31, 1848, St. Thomas’ housed John Jacob Astor’s funeral and burial, as prestigious pallbearers Philip Hone and Washington Irving assisted the service. By mid-century, however, the character of the neighborhood around Broadway and West Houston experienced a shift, as St. Thomas’ began “sharing the street with bawdy dance halls and saloons.”11 By 1866, a thriving red-light district emerged in the once-fashionable area surrounding Broadway and West Houston, brothels advertised openly, and St Thomas’ congregation moved their church to its current location at West 53rd Street.12
At mid-century, less affluent Greenwich Villagers that endeavored to worship on Broadway frequented The Unitarian Church of the Messiah, at number 726, and Hope Chapel, erected in 1847 by a new Baptist congregation, at 720 Broadway near Washington Place.13 While the have-nots of the Village steered away from fashionable institutions like Grace Church, members of all classes could purchase, or at least admire, the smart offerings of another trademark building of the 15th Ward, only a block to the South – New York’s first department store.14
A. T. Stewart’s Department Store
In 1840 department stores did not exist. The retailers of the early 19th century prescribed specialization as opposed to large assortments of merchandise - the department store’s defining characteristic. Before 1850, the urban shops that characterized Greenwich Village specialized in a limited line of goods, such as laces or umbrellas. The typical urban shop set prices by haggling, often resulting in the clerk badgering the customer into making a purchase as a price for leaving the store. These retailers bought on credit from wholesalers and jobbers and sold on credit to the public, often allowing a whole year to elapse before they settled the accounts. In New York City, the pioneering department stores evolved from these small shops, and reacted against these well-established practices.15
In 1846, Irish-American entrepreneur Alexander Turney Stewart built the first large dry goods retail store – the famous Marble Dry Goods Palace – on Broadway, between Chambers and Reade Streets. Although Stewart added new lines to his store, the Palace remained a place for selling cloth, ribbons, thread, sheetings, and other dry goods.16 In 1859, Stewart put plans in motion to erect a “super-scaled”17 Venetian palazzo at 784 Broadway, a full block south of Grace Church. Known simply as “Stewarts,” the palatial emporium sold a range of goods, from furniture, glassware, toys, and jewelry, to shoes, foodstuffs, and clothing.18 “Stewarts” was thus New York’s first department store, “a commercial symbol of every aspiring city.”19 Alexander Turney Stewart – in addition to Rowland H. Macy, John Wannamaker, and Marshall Field – propelled retailing into a new era by diversifying his offerings, adopting a one-price system, pledging not to misrepresent merchandise, allowing free access to his establishment without the obligation to buy, and limiting dependence on credit in stocking his store.20 Susan Porter Benson emphasizes the welcoming nature of the more elegant, modern department store in highlighting the principle of free entry: “these giant emporiums were as much public attractions as movie palaces, theaters, and museums. A certain heady democracy obtained: the humblest daughter of the working classes could rub shoulders with the city’s wealthiest grand dame…there were few other places where it was even possible or even likely for the two to meet.”21
Those who sought to subvert the conventions of the dominant culture might have viewed “Stewarts” as a symbol of excessive wealth and greed. For these embracers of the mid-19th century’s counter culture, Pfaff’s Tavern, a few blocks south at 674 Broadway, might have proved more welcoming.
Charles Ignatius Pfaff opened his Broadway tavern in 1855. In his seedy basement cellar, Pfaff served fine beers, wines, and coffee, and delicious cheese, cake eggs, German pancakes, fish, and sweetbreads. An unusual bunch of like-minded, non-conformist individuals patronized Pfaff’s tavern, and derided the rigidity and proper order of conventional society. Writers, poets, thespians, intellectuals and artists gathered informally at Pfaffs under the auspices of the King and Queen of Bohemia – Henry Clapp Jr. and Ada Clare.22 Before the founding of the tavern, Clapp and Clare had independently stayed in Paris’ Latin Quarter, “where they imbibed the heady message of Henry Muger’s Scenes de la vie Boheme.”23 Upon their return to New York, to Greenwich Village, they sought to impregnate others with their passion for irregular life, “to spread the gospel of bohemianism to other discontented souls.”24 Clapp settled in at Pfaff’s, and started America’s first bohemian paper, the New York Saturday Press, in 1858. Ada Clare joined the Saturday Press a year later, and, as Clapp’s consort, presided over parties, dinners, poetry writing contests, and intellectual discussions at Pfaffs. She flouted the conventions of the dominant culture by flaunting her affairs and her fatherless child; by staying out late, smoking cigarettes in public, and wearing a short hairstyle.25 Pfaff’s served other eccentric people, like satirist George Farrar Browne, drug-experimenter Fitz-Hugh Ludlow, and poet, Walt Whitman.26 Clapp’s Saturday Press published Whitman’s poetry when no one else would. Other contributors included Horace Greeley, the founder of the reputable New York Tribune and author Dean Howells. Mark Twain made his literary debut when Clapp’s Saturday Press published the short story, Jim Smiley and His Jumping Frog. As the Civil War raged, however, Pfaff’s saw its demise – Clare left for California in 1864, while Whitman left Greenwich Village to attend to the war’s wounded.27 Whitman’s poem Two Vaults most effectively typifies Pfaff’s tavern, and, perhaps, admonishes the impending civil war:
The vault at Pfaff’s where the drinkers and laughers meet to eat and drink and carouse
While on the walk immediately overhead pass the myriad feet of Broadway
As the dead in their graves are underfoot hidden.
And the living pass over the, recking not of them…28
As the upper class migrated to the fifteenth ward, exquisite hotels emerged along Broadway. The wealthy banker Matthew Morgan moved to the city from New Orleans in the 1840s and formed a partnership with New York merchant, Hickson W. Field. They purchased the entire block fronting Broadway between Waverly and Washington Places, and in 1843 erected the New York Hotel – at 721 Broadway – Greenwich Village’s first. In a letter to a friend concerning his new investment, Morgan illustrated the Fifteenth Ward’s desirability as a haven detached from the overcrowding of lower Manhattan, noting the New York Hotel’s location as “much preferable to the hotels in the lower part of Broadway, now almost inaccessible to any species of carriage except the omnibus.”29 Morgan and Field’s venture represented innovations in the City’s hospitality industry, as the New York Hotel offered the new amenities of indoor plumbing on every floor, bell boys, French chefs, individual room keys, room service, and an a la carte menu.30 The Hotel’s popularity soared during the 1850s, becoming a desirable lodging spot for America’s Southern gentry. Amidst the political upheaval at the time of the Civil War, many considered the New York Hotel a nest of Confederate spies and conspirators. When a Confederate arsonist group attacked many of the city’s hotels in the final days of the war, they spared the New York Hotel, further rousing suspicions.31 While social critics like Nathaniel P. Willis criticized the emergence of hotel luxury – he asserted the New York Hotel’s new private dining room opposed the American ideals of democracy32 – contemporary writers at Putnam’s Monthly lauded the emergence and social utility of full-service inns:
Society is rapidly tending towards hotel life, and the advantages of a cluster of families living together under one roof are every day becoming more and more apparent. The dearness of rents, the scarcity of servants, and the thousand nameless inconveniences and expenses of single households, which every house- keeper can enumerate are strong inducements to take rooms at a hotel, where all the cares of house-keeping are avoided, and a thousand luxuries may be enjoyed that families of moderate incomes must deny themselves, in…the “isolated household.”33
Putnam’s writers envisioned a city populated by full-service hotels that residents of modest means could afford. Nevertheless, luxury continued to characterize Greenwich Village’s lodging areas along Broadway. Between 1850 and 1854, 19 luxury hotels emerged along the fashionable thoroughfare, a development certainly fueled by the coming of the World’s Fair to New York in 1853. Some hotels, however, functioned dually for lodging and for culture, and thus we turn to the multi-faceted La Farge House at 671 Broadway.
Cultural Institutions: The La Farge House and Tripler Hall
A former soldier in Napoleon’s army, John La Farge arrived in New York at mid-century, admiring the success of the New York Hotel. He decided to try his lot just down the block. La Farge purchased a property 150 feet on the west side of Broadway, through to Mercer Street – near the Stuyvesant Institute, another prestigious Greenwich Village property – where the developer A. N. Tripler had just finished building Tripler Hall, a lavish music hall and theater. La Farge hired James Renwick Jr. to enhance the property at 671 Broadway and to design the six-story La Farge House, to match Tripler Hall in extravagance. After Renwick completed the La Farge hotel in 1852, the La Farge-Tripler partnership catered to the most affluent New Yorkers.34 Tripler Hall (later renamed Metropolitan Hall) hosted events such as the World’s Temperance Convention of September 1853, where delegates, including P. T. Barnum, Horace Greeley, Susan B. Anthony, and Lucretia Mott passed motions to work towards total abstinence, to criminalize drunkenness, and to “end the reign of Satan among Christians.”35 Patrick Bunyan keenly observes of this mid-19th century conference, “The meeting helped bring together several expanding nineteenth-century social movements: temperance, women’s rights, vegetarianism, and nativism.”36
When an 1854 fire destroyed the La Farge House and Tripler Hall, La Farge rebuilt both the hall and hotel in the same style, made both constructions larger than their antecedents, and incorporated the hall’s entrance into the structure of the reconstructed hotel.37 La Farge’s new music hall, Winter Garden Theater, became a premier cultural center in Greenwich Village. Constructed in 1859, the theater showcased famed Shakespearian actor Edwin Booth during the 1864-1865 season and housed his record breaking one-hundredth consecutive performance of Hamlet. The Winter Garden Theater also accommodated a November 1864 production of Julius Cesar, the only time all three Booth brothers – John Wilkes, Edwin, and Junius – performed together.38 After vowing to never act again – following Lincoln’s assassination by his brother John Wilkes – Edwin made his return to the stage at the Winter Garden Theater in 1866, to a standing ovation.39
After an entertaining and well-informed tour down Broadway through Greenwich Village in the mid-19th century, it is time to depart the great thoroughfare as the Industrial Age gives way to the post-Civil War Gilded Age. In 1866, Greenwich Village begins to face new challenges. In response to the fires that continuously crop up throughout New York, city officials ban wood as a building material40, and the face of the streets begins to change. Downtown traders who accumulated vast wealth during the war spent over $10 million between 1865 and 1867 on construction below Canal Street, and wanted to “[build] themselves a lasting foundation, it is to be hoped, in iron, marble, and brown-stone”.41
As downtown New York expanded, Greenwich Village slowly transformed into the bold, forward-thinking place we know it as today. New immigrants of different ethnicities begin to trickle into the Village. The Irish found themselves working side-by-side with Italians. Typically marginalized groups, such as women and laborers, began to rally and demand greater recognition and rights. Bohemians continued to blaze unconventional and happy paths.
And so begins a second Village tour, looking at place and institution as impetus for growth and change—but this time, it is off-Broadway.
THE SOUTH VILLAGE AND ST. ANTHONY’S OF PADUA
Though Italians would not arrive en masse to Greenwich Village until the 1890’s, they began to arrive gradually in 1880, mostly making their home in the South Village. The arrival of the Italians had a dual effect on the immigrant populations already existing in the Village; Africans were slowly pushed out of what was formerly known as “Little Africa”42.
In an attempt to cement their status within their new country, the Italian immigrants, under the leadership of the Italian Franciscans, opened St. Anthony’s of Padua in 1886. The church was meant to be a national Catholic diocese, connecting Italian immigrants with priests that shared their language43 Italian-language services were often relegated to the basement, reinforcing the idea that Italians were second-class citizens. This would not change until greater amounts of Italians emigrated to the South Village in the 1890’s, allowing Italians to gain political and social traction through sheer strength in numbers.
WEST TENTH STREET STUDIO BUILDING
The West Tenth Street Studio building was erected in 1857 and was the first of its kind. Designed with artists in mind, the building was filled with studios that could be rented for the use of individual artists. Future famous bohemians such as Winslow Homer, Frederick Dielman, and William Merritt Chase kept studios there. The three aforementioned men were also members of the Tile Club, a collective of artists formed in 1877. It was a group with no officers, dues, or attendance policies.44 “Bohemianism emerged in part as a mode of self-promotion and of solidifying…fledgling and insecure social and artistic statuses “,45 and the Tile Club was an embodiment of Gilded Age bohemia.
During the club’s nascent years, most of its members were young artists struggling to turn a profit, and one of its original aims was to generate revenue. The club was formed during the “Aesthetic Movement”, an artistic movement that spanned the mid-1870’s and 1880’s and focused on handpainted decorative objects. As a result, the club chose to produce saleable art on 8 x 8 kiln-fired tiles.46 Members created painted, ink-drawn, or bas-relief tiles, depending on their artistic specialty.
In true bohemian fashion, it wasn’t long before any hopes of profit-turning were tossed aside in favor of having a good time. The Tile Club, desiring of a summer vacation, convinced Scribner’s Weekly to expense their trips in exchange for illustrated articles detailing their journeys.47 The club went on three vacations, and in turn produced three articles. “The Tile Club at Play” was written by club members Edward Mackay Laffan and Edward Strachan, and was published in 1879. The article chronicled the club’s adventures in various Eastern Long Island towns. “The Tile Club Afloat,” written by Laffan and Strachan and published in 1882, spoke of the club’s boat trip up the Hudson River, and the last article, “Ashore,” also written by Laffan and published in 1882, detailed nights the club spent on an abandoned ship in Eastern Long Island. All articles are illustrated with drawings or paintings - tiles were rarely used for illustration.48
The club’s irreverent, Bohemian attitude is evident in these stories. Members dressed oddly, or “tiley”, and referred to each other only by nickname. The names held meaning (William Merritt Chase was Briareus, due to his many talents)49 but were mainly used to maintain an aura of exclusivity around the club and to keep the general public guessing at their identities.
Many famous talents joined the Tile Club—at one point, it counted both sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens and architect Stanford White among its members. The club disbanded for unknown reasons in 1887, but left their legacy in the artwork and architecture that pervades Greenwich Village and the rest of the city.
As demonstrated earlier in this essay with the introduction of Queen of Bohemia Ada Clare, “The ideal Bohemian cosmopolite also represented the rights of women.”50 For the most part, the belief that “women should not have to administer to a sex that degrades them”51 was prevalent. In the 1860’s, at a time when even Peter Cooper’s Cooper Union was opening its halls to women52 this belief extended to women outside of Bohemia as well.
In March of 1868, the Press Club of New York offered to hold a dinner for Charles Dickens at the close of his U.S. reading tour. The dinner was to be held at Delmonico’s Restaurant, an Italian restaurant located at the corner of 14th street and 5th Avenue. Jane Cunningham Croly (pseudonym: Jennie June) and Sara Willis Parton (pseudonym: Fanny Fern) were married to members of the press, though each woman was a successful writer and a member of the press in her own right. They applied, along with their husbands, for tickets to the dinner. The executive committee in charge of running the dinner regarded the applications as jokes. The committee informed the women that in order to attend, they must get a sufficient number of other women to apply. The counteroffer was given to Croly and Parton at such a late date that it was essentially a refusal.53
Tired of “not [being] treated like gentlemen”54 the women met in Croly’s West Fourteenth Street home with Kate Field, famous poet sisters Alice and Phebe Cary, and Mrs. Charlotte B. Wilbour, the wife of another New York journalist. They decided to form a Women’s Club. The club, which they named Sorosis, was meant to “recognize women of thought, culture and humanity everywhere, particularly when these qualities have found expression in outward life and work”.55 The club, which had a $5 initiation fee and met once a month, was meant to foster discussion and mutual aid amongst women across professions.
The first professional women’s society of its kind, Sorosis drew plenty of attention to itself. Though at first it was the subject of “jibes and sneers”,56 it was the recipient of some admiration. While noting that Sorosis was quite “New York” and “very un-English”,57 the leading English ladies’ paper, The London Queen, wrote that “we hope that Sorosis may be able to hold well together, if only to prove women are not destitute of the power of acting harmoniously together when they choose to do so”.58
Sorosis stood the test of time, eventually becoming known as the Women’s League. The club remained female-only throughout its existence, though the society co-hosted events with men’s clubs from at least once a year. It also served as a precursor to the Women’s Press Club, which was founded by Jane Cunningham Croly in 1889.
TOMPKINS SQUARE PARK
From one underrepresented group to the next, and from the women’s movement to the labor movement, the tour moves to Tompkins Square Park.
Due to its being the only large open space on the east side of the city between City Hall and Union Square, Tompkins Square Park has served as an assembly spot for protest rallies since its inception in 1834.59
During the Great Panic of 1873, several thousand workers met on December 11th in Cooper Union to set up a Committee of Safety. The committee, which consisted of 50 members, aimed to pressure the city for greater public works60
They called for a gathering in Tompkins Square park on January 13th, 1874, for all those empathetic of the unemployed and the poor. The Committee also asked for $100,000 to be handed over from the city for aid to the unemployed.61
The committee was denounced by Patrick Dunn, a bricklayer from a rival committee. He declared that the Committee of Safety was comprised of communists, and called for a gathering of laborers to march from Union Square to City Hall on January 5th, 1874. Some 200 workers gathered and marched to City Hall under the leadership of carpenter Patrick McGuire, where they were told Mayor Havemeyer was not in.62
The Committee of Safety urged its own members to meet at Union Square and march to City Hall on January 8th. Over one thousand workers gathered this time, and they marched to Tompkins Square instead of City Hall. McGuire asked that everyone return on the 13th, when they had a permit from the Parks Department to gather in the square, and allowance from the police to parade to City Hall.63
The police, meanwhile, had had a heavy presence at both the January 5th and 8th demonstrations, peaceable as they were. Despite the Committee of Safety’s calls for non-violent action, the group’s mission was generally considered to be radical. The Police Board, along with New York governmental authorities, were concerned. After the Parks Department approved the Committee of Safety’s request to gather in the square on the 13th, the police denied the Committee their parade route, allowing them to march to Union Square instead of City Hall.64
The night before the January 13th demonstration was to be held, Mayor Havemeyer agreed to speak to the people in Union Square. Not knowing this, the Committee canceled its parade route and elected to meet only in Tompkins Square Park. Meanwhile, the Police Board convinced the Parks Department to revoke the meeting permit. They claimed to have notified Patrick McGuire, but he was tied up in a the Committee meeting being held at the same time, and he claims never to have received notice. Herbert Guttman, author of “The Tompkins square 'Riot' in New York City on January 13, 1874: A re-examination of its causes and its aftermath.”, notes that independent evidence supports McGuire.
The next day, some 5,000 people had gathered in the square by ten o’clock in the morning. By eleven o’clock, the police had arrived. According to one account, they “made an onslaught on to the crowd, using their clubs indiscriminately”.65 Men, women, and children fled from the park, although the German workers from the Tenth Ward held on and battled the police. Police chased assemblers through the streets, and in and out of stores, and continued to inflict violence on anyone who was “poorly dressed”66
By late afternoon, Tompkins Square and the surrounding areas were peaceful. Forty-six workers total were arrested. The next day, most of the daily newspapers, with the exception of the New York Graphic condemned the workers and supported the actions of the police.67 A New York Times article titled “The Defeat of the Communists” published the next day detailed a meeting between Mayor Havemeyer and representatives from the Committee of Safety. Havemeyer stated that “It is not the purpose of the City Government to furnish work to the industrious poor.”68
The riots did not have any immediate ameliorating effects on the plight of the working or unemployed poor. What they did achieve was freedom to assemble. A successful and peaceful talk condemning the actions of the police was given by the Free Thinker’s Association at the Cooper Institute on January 30th. A demonstration demanding the release of Christian Mayer, a German unionist arrested in the January 13th riots was held in Tompkins Square on August 31, 1874. Though police were present, the riot went smoothly, no force was used, and Mayer was soon released. The right to rally had been established in New York.69
The Last Two Decades
The last two decades of the nineteenth century saw the growing commercialization of the Village, a second wave of immigration encroaching on the elegant residences of the Village, and the efforts of residents to resist change. The area, already well known as New York City’s bohemia, was home to many of the cafes and restaurants where artists, writers, and other counter-culture intellectuals congregated. In the 1850s, the earlier described Pfaff’s was the bohemian haunt of choice, but in the 1880s the growing French Quarter between Laurens and Broadway provided the best locations for living the bohemian lifestyle. The French immigrants who settled here were part of a new wave of immigrant groups to New York which also included Irish and Italians. Many of the new immigrants began settling in Greenwich Village and quickly over populated the area. They moved into tenement houses and worked in nearby warehouses. Commercialization took a stronghold over the neighborhood, and the rich who had once seen the 15th Ward as an oasis, fled the once coveted area for the less-populated streets of midtown and uptown. Immigration transformed the city of New York beyond just Greenwich Village. During the last two decades of the nineteenth century New Yorkers celebrated the opening of Ellis Island and the Brooklyn Bridge, both signifying the explosive growth the city was experiencing. Two major landmarks were also erected, one the Statue of Liberty in the harbor and the other the Washington Arch in Greenwich Village, both monuments to the history of New York City and iconic symbols of the future.
The Gilded Age of New York was an era of rapid economic and population growth, resulting in changes to both the physical and cultural map of Greenwich Village. For example, Eighth Street used to be called “Clinton Place” and was once lined with elegant residences lived in by New York’s most wealthy residents. But as commercialization of the Village increased, 8th Street soon lost both it’s elegant name and residents.70 The street was overtaken by streetcars that escorted passengers between the Jefferson and Tompkins Markets, at the west and east edges of the Village respectively. El stations at the Sixth, Third, and Second Avenue intersections also contributed to the commercialization of the street. By 1900, almost every property along East Eighth Street had been converted for commercial use.
Nearby, Lafayette Place was also undergoing a drastic transformation. In 1885, the DeVinne Press building was constructed where there had once stood a row of Greek Revival townhouses. The same fate had been met by the houses at Nos. 1-5 Bond Street in 1879, when the D. Appleton & Co. publishing company replaced them with a large office building.71 The, then, monstrous Condict Building, today known as the Bayard-Condict Building, was completed in 1899 at 65 Bleeker Street between Broadway and Lafayette Place. Architect Lyndon P. Smith left the pilasters thin and undecorated to accentuate the height of the 13 story commercial office building, thereby creating a bold visible marker of the architectural changes from residential to commercial occurring at this time in the Village.
The commercialization of Greenwich Village brought breweries, warehouses, and manufacturing lofts attracting immigrants to settle in the neighborhood. Greenwich Village experienced a phenomenon that occurred in the last two decades of the nineteenth century called “New Immigration.” New Immigration was the second major wave of immigrants coming from Europe. Escaping poverty, religious persecution, overpopulation, and exploitation, immigrants saw America as a land of infinite opportunity.
The French came to Greenwich Village, many as recent exiles and emissaries of the Commune - a failed communist insurrection in Paris during 1871 - and many looking for work after industrialization in Europe caused significant unemployment throughout the continent.72 French immigrants introduced New Yorkers to cafe life and French food and wine, contributing to the growing bohemianism of Greenwich Village.
As mentioned before, Italian immigrants had already begun arriving in Greenwich Village by the 1880s, settling in South Village and replacing the Irish, blacks, and smaller immigrant groups who had lived there before. In 1871, Italian unification led to the migration of many southern Italians away from their homeland. At the time, Italy was overpopulated and the new national political leaders neglected the needs of southern Italy, considering them to be racially inferior to northern Italians.73 The segmented labor market of New York provided economic opportunities for a diversity of ethnicities, the young and old, and men and women.74
Italians, like the French, also brought cafe life, good food, and wine to New Yorkers. In 1892, Marietta Da Prato opened Maria’s at 146 MacDougal Street, between West Third and Fourth Streets. The restaurant was in her boardinghouse cellar. Maria’s chicken nights and spaghetti hours brought her fame around the Village. Maria’s was much like Pfaff’s had been in the 1850s, although she never had a well-known bohemian such as Walt Whitman as a regular.75 In Washington Square Park, a monument to Italian Guiseppe Garibaldi, patriot and guerrilla general between 1859 and 1862, is a visible testament to the Italian community of the Village in the 1880s. Garibaldi had lived on Staten Island in is early life and returned to Italy to help fight for the unification of his mother country. Upon Garibaldi’s death in 1882, the city’s Italian community banded together to raise funds for a larger-than-life bronze statue of the general which was placed on the east side of the park and unveiled to the public in 1888 amidst a large celebration.
Residences were subdivided into multi-family dwellings to accommodate the influx of immigrants to New York in the latter part of the nineteenth century. Other times, houses were demolished to make way for the construction of new tenements specifically to house poor immigrants. By the 1860s tenements dominated the Lower East Side and quickly spread north as more immigrants arrived in the following decades. The earliest tenements had no amenities, no light, and no ventilation. They were lit by kerosene lamps and gas lights, and children scavenged the streets for coal and wood to fuel the stoves which were needed for cooking and provided warmth.76 In the 1860s, the only housing law mandated by the city was that there be fire escapes on every building and strong fireproof party walls.77 The 1867 Tenement House Act also required that every room have a window. To get around this, tenement owners placed windows in interior walls opening onto hallways and other rooms instead of the exterior. Needless to say, living conditions were extremely poor in tenements.
In response, the first major tenement law was passed in 1879. The law required that every inhabitable room have a window opening to plain air, resulting in tenements with pinched-waists creating an air shaft between tenement buildings. Typically referred to as “dumbbell tenements” because of their footprint, the air-shafts created were typically so narrow that you could “reach out and shake your neighbors’ hand.”78 You can experience this yourself with a visit to the Lower East Side Tenement Museum, located in a preserved dumbbell tenement. The law backfired, creating worsening conditions; upwards of 20 families lived in each tenement relying solely on a tiny air-shaft for fresh air and sunlight, garbage collected at the bottom of the shaft, and served as flues in a fire.79 Consequently, overpopulation, filth, and crime facilitated by tenement life were but several of the forces driving wealthy residents north and away from the Village.
In 1889, police reporter Jacob Riis, used the recent invention of flash photography to capture the squalid living conditions of tenements. He published the book How the Other Half Lives: Studies Among the Tenements of New York in 1890, describing how tenement housing has failed and including photographs of conditions that the average New Yorker had never witnessed. He argued for reform, believing that “we are all creatures of the conditions that surround us.”80
Not until the next century would there be a tenement law reform. In 1901, the New York State Tenement House Act was passed, banning the construction of narrow, poorly ventilated tenements and requiring a courtyard designed for garbage removal. Many pre-law and old-law tenements survived the last reform, never torn down, these tenements are still lived in by New Yorkers and can be spotted while strolling the streets of Greenwich Village today, most notably in the South Village.81
The last two decades of the 19th century were ripe with extravagant public celebrations. The Brooklyn Bridge opened in 1883 with a ceremony that was attended by several thousand people. President Chester Arthur and New York Mayor Franklin Edson were among the first to cross the bridge, and the East Bay was filled with ships as a fireworks display lit up the scene at night. In 1886, the completion of the Statue of Liberty was celebrated by thousands who attended a military parade that marched through the city, beginning in Madison Square and proceeding to Battery Park. Then, a boat carrying President Cleveland embarked on a nautical parade to Bedloe’s Island where the Statue of Liberty was unveiled during a ceremony of dedication. This monument recognized the phenomenon of immigration that occurred during the 19th century in New York. Another monumental addition to the harbor in response to immigration was the new immigrant inspection station, Ellis Island, which replaced Castle Garden Immigration Depot in Bowling Green. The newer, larger station was designed to handle the increased numbers of immigrants seeking admission to the United States, those part of the “New Immigration” wave that began in the late 19th century and lasted through 1914.
Recognizing the change that was occurring in their neighborhood due to increased immigration—the effects of which were gradually encroaching from the south - Greenwich Villagers responded by drawing the city’s attention back to the beauty of Washington Square. Seizing the 1889 Centennial Celebration for the inauguration of George Washington as an opportunity to flaunt the park and the elegant residences surrounding, resident William Rhinelander Stewart proposed the construction of a temporary triumphal arch dedicated to George Washington to be placed just north of the park on Fifth Avenue. Stewart hired architect Stanford White, from the reputable McKim, Mead & White firm, to draw the design for the wooden arch. The resulting design was a contemporary twist on ancient greco-roman triumphal arches and the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, with more modern simplified details.82 When the arch was revealed during the Centennial Parade it was so popular that steps were made to construct the arch permanently in stone.
White began preparations for the marble arch which was to be larger than the wooden one. The theme White chose for the decoration of the arch is Washington as a leader in War and Peace. Statues of Washington in War and Washington in Peace were to be placed on the piers facing Fifth Avenue - but the cost of fabrication impeded their placement until 1916 and 1918.83 On April 30, 1890 a crowd gathered in Washington Square Park to attend the ground breaking for the arch. The placement for the marble arch changed from where the wooden one stood on Fifth Avenue to just inside the north entrance to the park aligning with Fifth Avenue.
The arch debuted during the Columbian Celebration of 1892, in honor of Christopher Columbus’ voyage to the Americas four hundred years earlier. For the celebration the Edision Electric Illuminating Company attached 348 lights to the arch so that it would be illuminated at night.
Finally, on May 4, 1895, the Washington Arch was formally dedicated and transferred to New York City officials with a well-attended ceremony. The crowd, like the neighborhood, represented a mixture of New York’s upper and lower classes, and the Arch's co-mingling of traditional and modern aesthetics became the physical embodiment of change in one of New York's oldest neighborhoods.
Rick Beard, Leslie Berlowitz. Greenwich Village: Culture and Counterculture. Museum of the City of New York, 1993.
Patrick Bunyan. All Around the Town: Amazing Manhattan Facts and Curiosities. Fordham University Press, 1999.
Ann Alice Chapman and Albert Gilbert Cram. Greenwich Village. Dodd, Mead and Co., 1917.
Luther S. Harris. Around Washington Square: An Illustrated History of Greenwich Village. JHU Press, 2003.
Terry Miller. Greenwich Village and How it Got That Way. Crown Publishers, 1990.
M. Wynn Thomas. Walt Whitman and Mannahatta-New York. Vol. 34, No. 4 (Autumn, 1982), pp. 362-378. The Johns Hopkins University Press http://www.jstor.org/stable/2712687
Herbert Gutman. The Tompkins square 'Riot' in New York City on January 13, 1874: A re-examination of its causes and its aftermath. Labor History 6:1 (1965)
- Journal article describing how and why the Tompkins Square Riots occurred, and their aftermath.
Deborah Gardner. Tompkins Square: Past and Present. The Journal of American History 77:1 (1990)
- This article also talks about the causes and effects of the Tompkins Square riots.
Joanna Levin. Bohemia in America 1858-1920. Stanford University Press, 2009
- An academic text that discuss the rise of the Bohemian movement, in and outside of Greenwich Village.
Edward C. Mack. Peter Cooper, Citizen of New York. Duell, Sloan and Pierce, 1949.
- A thorough biography of Gilded Age tycoon and philanthropist Peter Cooper, including the founding of Cooper Union and the effect it had on the surrounding community.
Terry Miller. Greenwich Village and How it Got That Way. Crown Publishers, 1990.
- This book contains interesting discussions and photographs regarding the history and architecture of Greenwich Village.
Donald Tricario. The Italians of Greenwich Village. Center Migration Studies, 1984.
- This book takes a look at the immigration of Italians to Greenwich Village. It covers the establishment of St. Anthony of Padua as a national Italian Parish in 1866.
Mahonri Young. Tile Club Revisited. The American Art Journal. 2:2 (1970)
- The journal article describes The Tile Club, a group of artists that began meeting in Greenwich Village in 1877. Some interesting anecdotes are included.
Brown, Mary Elizabeth. The Italians of the South Village. New York, New York: Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation, 2007.
Cantor, Mindy, ed. Around the Square 1830-1890: essays on life, letters, and architecture in Greenwich Village. New York, NY: New York University, 1982.
- This book gives a general overview of the changes occurring in Greenwich Village during the period. The chapters are broken down into The Evolving Neighborhood, The Social Fabric, and Artists, Writers, Builders. The book was written on the occasion of the 150th anniversary of NYU, which seems to explain the emphasis of NYU in the telling of the bohemian movement in the late 19th century.
Ramirez, Jan Seidler. Within Bohemia’s Borders: Greenwich Village 1830-1930. The Museum of the City of New York, 1990.
- This is the print version of the interpretive script accompanying an exhibition at the Museum of the City of New York which traces Greenwich Village from the birth of an American bohemia to the commercialization of bohemian life in the neighborhood. The list of objects and accompanying object labels can be used to examine how the MCNY chose to illustrate this narrative history.
Reitano, Joanne. The Restless City: A Short History of New York from Colonial Times to the Present. New York, New York: Routledge, 2006.
Stansell, Christine. American Moderns: Bohemian New York and the Creation of a New Century. New York, NY: Henry Holt and Company, LLC, 2000.
- This book is about the men and women of early 20th century America who embraced modernism through speech, writing, and sexuality. The first two chapters focus on the spread of Bohemia around the world and the beginnings of Bohemia in New York in the 1890s.
Wetzsteon, Ross. Republic of Dreams: Greenwich Village: the american Bohemia, 1910-1960. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster, 2002.
- This book focuses on the 20th century, but the introductory chapter gives an overview of the Village from it’s earliest revolutionary leanings.
Riis, Jacob. How The Other Half Lives: Studies Among the Tenements of New York (1890). New York, NY: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1914.
- Riis describes the failed system of tenement housing and squalid working conditions of the Lower East Side in the 1880s illustrated with telling photographs.
NYU Archives. The Arch Through the Years Online photograph archive.
- Images of the Washington Square Arch from 1889 through 1980, including an image of the original wooden arch and the marble arch under construction.
“In Blizzard’s Grasp” (PDF). The New York Times. March 13, 1888. Retrieved 2010-10-11.
- Article describing the “worst storm the city has ever known” but which also helped reveal areas of danger and improvement to the city, such as the movement of electric wires from overhead streets to under them.
The history of the Washington arch in Washington square, New York: including the ceremonies of laying the corner-stone and the dedication. New York, NY: Ford & Garnet, 1896.
- A publication documenting the planning and construction of the Washington Square Arch to commemorate the “public generosity” and “patriotic impulse” of New Yorkers who helped build the arch.
Guide to the Mathew B. Brady Studio Portrait Photograph Collection
1856-1869 Mathew B. Brady Studio Portrait Photograph Collection, PR 085, Department of Prints, Photographs, and Architectural Collections, The New-York Historical Society.
- Mathew Brady developed his craft in Greenwich Village. Brady received Training from NYU professors Samuel Morse and John Draper. After operating his first portrait gallery on Fulton Street in lower Manhattan, Brady relocated to 643 Broadway (Broadway and Bleecker) in the Village. In 1860 he moved again, but stayed within the 15th ward, settling in at 753 Broadway. Greenwich Village shaped Brady as an artist, and facilated the rise of the “new art” of photography. This collection of photos reflects Brady’s life’s work while gaining celebrity as New York’s portrait artist. Brady’s photos document well the political, social, economic, and cultural dynamics of Victorian America.
The New York Saturday Press
- Henry Clapp Jr. published the first issue of The Saturday Press in October of 1858, exhibiting fiction, poetry, literary criticism, and social commentary by many of the Pfaff's bohemians, as well as other writers of the period. The Saturday Press first published Whitman’s poetry, which, at the time, was considered an “affront to respectability.” The paper also published Mark Twain’s literary debut, Jim Smiley and His Jumping Frog. Clapp’s publication provides a colorful, contemporary depiction of Greenwich Village during in the mid-19th century, amidst the burgeoning Bohemianism that the village cultivated. Lehigh University Library’s Digital Project, "The Vault at Pfaff’s" provides access to all 157 issues.
Historic New York Herald
- A Democratic New York Publication run by newspaper pioneer, James Gordon Bennett, the Herald thrived in the mid-19th century, and was among New York’s most profitable papers through the Civil War. Bennet’s paper paints a contemporary portrait of 19th century New York City, exuding the prevailing Democratic leanings of the time. Its pages further reveal the shifting journalistic methods of the time - Gordon’s paper produced the first ever interview for a story covered within its pages (The shocking front-page story of the murder of prostitute Helen Jewett – an unconventional headline for Victorian America), and conducted the first-ever exclusive interview with a sitting U.S. president (Van Buren). In 1856 Mathew Brady created the first modern advertisement when he placed an ad in the New York Herald, offering to produce "photographs, ambrotypes and daguerreotypes." His ads were the first whose typeface and fonts were distinct from the text of the publication and from that of other advertisements. Readex’s “Archive of Americana” includes a broad range of historic American newspapers, including the Herald. Searching “America’s Historical Newspapers” in Bobcat leads to the correct web portal.
Putnam’s Monthly vol.1: "New York Daguerreotyped," February, 1853.
- Putnam’s Magazine featured American literature and articles on science, art, and politics during the 19th Century. “New York Daguerreotyped,” illustrates the City’s development through an historical profile of its architecture through 1853. This issue exhibited the “new art” of photography, illustrating its pages with engravings from daguerreotypes. The issue features as bird’s eye view of the city, looking south from above Union Square (c. 1849). This engraving depicts clearly the Empire Ward (or the 15th ward encompassing Greenwich Village), stating, “New-Yorkers know that this point is rapidly becoming the center of the city and will in a few years be down town’” (p. 123). This article provides a contemporary understanding of Greenwich Village’s transformation into the 1850s, and can be found on Google Books, or by searching through Cornell University Library's digital project, "Making of America."
Scribner's Monthly, An Illustrated Magazine for the People
-Scribner's Monthly is also available through Cornell University's digital project, "Making of America. A literary periodical published between 1870 and 1881, Scribner's attracted high-profile contributors and focused on matters of timely interest as well as reviews of current literature. Much of the magazine's popularity is attributed to its use of illustrations.
Defeat of the Communists(PDF)The New York Times January 14, 1874. New York Times Article Archive.
-This article is the first in the New York Times to address the Tompkins Square Riots after they occur on January 13, 1874. The article heavily sides with the Mayor's Office and the police force, and disparages those who participated in the riots.
Street Transformation(PDF)The New York TimesMay 17, 1867. New York Times Article Archive.
-This article describes the construction of buildings below Canal Street. It describes materials being used as well as homeowners, construction companies, and costs per building.
A Digest of New York Statues and Reports, From the Earliest Period New York State Courts, Pub. 1875
-This book of statues was found via Google books. It lists ordinances as they have been decreed throughout the city, including the 1866 ban on building homes with wood frames, which affected the expansion of Village addresses such as 17 Grove Street.