The Late 20th Century (1950-1999)

Research Team:

Laura Gibson
Catherine Falzone
Brendan Dolan
Daniel Kim
Dennis Riley


While encapsulating the history of an area by decade may tempt overly neat generalizations, the convention does at least provide a framework on which to hang significant events and through which to map general trends. But it's just that: a framework. In fact the attempts to document Greenwich Village from 1950-2000 make one thing very clear: the cultural, political, demographic and developmental trends of one decade find their distinct roots in the decade which came before it, and their effects last well into the next. Furthermore the essays that follow each demonstrate that events and currents specific to Greenwich Village have always been informed and shaped by broader currents and events affecting both New York City as a whole and the nation itself.

Having said that, these decade-based essays do provide a general sweep and some broad trends do become clear when read from start to finish, much in the manner of a time lapse map generated with GIS technology. Perhaps most strikingly, over this fifty year span the Village never failed to provide each decade with fertile ground for the visual arts, literature and music, the cultural heritage that is probably its most famous legacy. Ironically, its streets, long the battleground of preservationist and developers have now become less amenable to that very creative impulse as artists are priced out of its gentrifying fringes. The essays that follow help to describe in greater depth this and other processes that have affected the unique landscape that is Greenwich Village.

The 1950s

In November 1951, a TIME magazine profile on the youth of America summed up what it termed the “Silent Generation” as:

Some are smoking marijuana; some are dying in Korea. Some are going to college with their wives; some are making $400 a week in television. Some are sure they will be blown to bits by the atom bomb. Some pray. Some are raising the highest towers and running the fastest machines in the world. Some wear blue jeans; some wear Dior gowns. Some want to vote the straight Republican ticket. Some want to fly to the moon.1

A year later, the same generation would receive a new moniker of “Beat” signifying “More than a mere weariness … the feeling of having been used, of being raw. It involves a sort of nakedness of mind, and, ultimately, of soul; a feeling of being reduced to the bedrock of consciousness.”2

It is in this national context that Greenwich Village of the 1950s became an incubator of a new bohemianism. In the years after World War II, the neighborhood had “a sense of coming back to life, a terrific energy and curiosity, even a feeling of destiny arising out of the war … The Village was charming, shabby, intimate, accessible … We lived in the bars and on the benches of Washington Square. We shared the adventure of trying to be, starting to be, writers and painters.”3

Despite the prevailing image of the Village as the heart of New York subculture, the neighborhood still retained a significant immigrant element. Though the Italian immigrant population of the Village experienced a steady decline starting after World War I, by 1960 there were still nearly 9,000 persons of Italian birth and parentage in the South Village.4 Throughout the decade, Carmine DeSapio, a product of the Italian community in the Village, continued his reign in local politics as leader of the Tammany Hall political machine.

Conflict between the long-time Italian community and the new bohemians was summed up by Diane Di Prima, “I had seen plenty of [racism] in the Village of 1953-54, when Italians would swarm up MacDougal Street en masse from below Bleecker to threaten or wipe out a Black man for coming to the Village with a white woman.”5

The slum clearance projects initiated by Robert Moses throughout the city during the 1950s also targeted the Italian community of the Village. New York University supported such efforts to allow it to build high-rise housing as part of its expanding campus. Local leaders in the community formed the Lower West Side Civic League, whose director was affiliated with the DeSapio political club. The efforts of the league in opposing Robert Moses’ plans helped spare most of the South Village from urban renewal.6

Meanwhile the Washington Square roadway, another Moses project, was opposed by elements of the middle class who lived in the Village. Women such as Jane Jacobs, Doris Deither and Shirley Hayes spearheaded local resistance to Moses’ designs for the neighborhood. It was Shirley Hayes, a mother of four, who discovered in February 1952, city plans to extend Fifth Avenue through the middle of Washington Square Park. She founded the Washington Square Park Committee and led the seven-year fight against the planned roadway.7 Such luminaries as Eleanor Roosevelt, Margaret Meade and Lewis Mumford enlisted in the cause to “Save the Square”. Mumford, the New Yorker architectural critic, referred to the plan as “unqualified vandalism” and highlighted the fact that it would benefit property owners to the south of the park who could then claim a Fifth Avenue address.8 By the end of the decade the park would be closed to traffic for good.

Despite the vestiges of immigrant enclave and middle-class respectability, the Village of the 1950s is more commonly associated with the literary, artistic, and musical ferment of the era. From Beat writers, to abstract painters, to the tones of bop jazz and the strums of folk music, Greenwich Village was quite literally the crossroads of cultural politics during the decade. With its cheap rents, bars and cafeterias, the Village attracted a critical mass of individuals who rejected middle class conformity. Describing the popular Waldorf Cafeteria, Joyce Johnson recalls “… it was always crowded with interesting grownups who had no visible means of support: artists, poets, communists and anarchists, guitar-pickers, jailbirds, scavengers…. the Waldorf was only the afternoon stop on the circuit of places that made up the tantalizing night life of the Village … from the Waldorf one could go to the San Remo on MacDougal Street … Or the dangerous Pony Bar, a mobster-protected lesbian hangout…Or Julius’, preferred by the earnest folk-singing crowd…And after all these places the final sobering stop in the small hours of the morning was the Jeff (short for Jefferson) Diner.”9 Photographer Fred McDarrah described the general Village scene as “Everybody knew everybody, and it was like a family get-together. Painting, poetry, music, dance, and off-Broadway theater were all in full swing … Everybody was ‘creating’ something.”10

Folk music enjoyed a revival in the 1950s, despites its leftist associations and the prevailing anti-Communist fever in America. Folksingers and guitar players would gather during the day in Washington Square Park and play under the arch or around the fountain, while at night they inhabited the coffeehouses and bars of MacDougal Street. The Folklore Center opened on MacDougal Street in 1957 as the first folk-centric establishment and quickly became the prime meeting place for folk singers in the Village.11

Jazz also found an important foothold in the Village during the decade. “The new, critical question seemed to be what jazz was, since it tended to change, as from hot to swing to bop to cool, and all threaded through with the blues, which also would not bow to definition. To call jazz Negro music meant whites couldn’t play it and they wanted to; to call it Negro music also put on it what was put on Negroes themselves, and no one wanted that.…and whatever jazz was, it was on people’s minds.”12 While the rhythms of bop, as expounded by the likes of Charles Mingus, Charlie ‘Bird’ Parker and Thelonius Monk, had roots in Harlem, the Village anchored its jazz connection primarily in two main venues, among several others such as The Pad and the Village Gate. The two pillars of the jazz scene at the time were The Village Vanguard, which eventually switched to an all-jazz format in 1957, and the Five Spot, which featured Thelonius Monk for a seven-month residency. This was Monk’s first appearance in New York since losing his cabaret license in 1951. One other memorable jazz moment was a 1958 concert by Billie Holliday and the Modern Jazz Quartet at the Loew’s Sheridan. This was one of her last concerts and one of the few in New York since her cabaret license was revoked in 1949.13

Likewise, while the Village did not suffer from a lack of bars, such as hipster hangouts like the San Remo or Kettle of Fish, two establishments helped anchor the literary and artistic elements of the Village: the Cedar Tavern on University Place and the White Horse Tavern on Hudson Street. Originally a workingman’s bar, during the 1950s the Cedar became the primary hangout of the painters and artists in the Village, from the likes of Jackson Pollock to William de Kooning, Franz Kline to Mark Rothko, Larry Rivers and other abstract expressionists of the New York School. Musicians like John Cage or poets such as Frank O’Hara might drop by for a drink, but the painters “reigned” at the Cedar, a place where artistic genius was admired.14 Similarly, the White Horse had long been the establishment of longshoremen who worked the nearby piers and warehouses along the Hudson River. By most accounts, its transformation into a literary hangout started when the Scottish poet Ruthven Todd introduced Dylan Thomas to the bar during his first reading tour of America in 1950.15 It was at the White Horse that Thomas imbibed his famous last 18 whiskies before dying a few blocks away at St. Vincent’s Hospital of complications related to his unbridled drinking.16 After Thomas’s demise, writers continued to gather at the White Horse, including Norman Mailer, Michael Harrington, William Styron, Jack Kerouac, Pete Hamill, James Baldwin, Dan Wakefield and Frank McCourt. As Wakefield described it in his memoir of the 1950s, “for writers, the one place where you could always find a friend, join a conversation, relax and feel you were a part of a community was the White Horse.”17

Another important phenomena in the 1950s Village, was the proliferation of coffeehouses, poetry and art galleries. The Beat poets are credited with reviving the concept of poetry as a spoken art, a spontaneous form, and wanted to get instant feedback from their audience.18 “Poetry readings were a new, qualitatively different route for writers. Few were in print and performance counted.”19 One of the main venues central to such bop prosody, as it was called by Jack Kerouac, were the multitude of coffeehouse that sprung up throughout the Village towards the end of the decade, such as the Gas Light Cafe on MacDougal Street and Café Bizarre or the Caravan Cafe on West 3rd Street. However, the spontaneous, spoken word was not always welcome and often times poets and their patrons ran afoul of the law, as in the case of the Caravan ticketed for holding a reading without a cabaret license or William Morris arrested for disorderly conduct for reading poetry in Washington Square Park.20 The East 10th Street Galleries, between Third and Fourth Avenues, were a critical center for the art community of the Village with some 250 dues-paying members of these co-operative galleries between 1952 and 1962, with at least double that number of artists exhibiting their work during the galleries’ heyday.21 In December 1957, the art, poetry and music worlds of the Village melded together at the first jazz-poetry reading held at the Brata Gallery featuring Jack Kerouac, Philip Lamantia, Howard Hart and David Amram. Subsequently, they performed at the Circle in the Square theater, where everyone improvised, including the light technician – a precursor to the psychedelic light shows of the 1960s.22

Three last pieces of the cultural mix deserve honorable mentions in the history of the Village during the 1950s. In 1952, a revival of Tennessee Williams’ play Summer and Smoke at the newly founded Circle in the Square Theatre, at 5 Sheridan Square, is credited as the first commercial success of the Off-Broadway theater movement.23 In 1954, Helen Gee opened the Limelight gallery and coffeehouse as the first and, at the time, only gallery in New York dedicated to the art of photography. In its seven short years, it hosted 70 exhibitions, including works by Minor White, Alfred Steiglitz, Berenice Abbott, Ansel Adams, and Robert Frank.24 At the end of 1955, a new neighborhood paper made its debut. Founded by Dan Wolf, Ed Fancher and Norman Mailer, The Village Voice's intention was to blend advocacy and personal journalism to reflect the cultural and political discontent churning intellectual life at the time.25

A profusion of artistic, literary and musical talent found its way to the Village in the 1950s and as such the neighborhood served as a social-cultural nexus. While the poets and painters moved on, and the Beat phenomenon was co-opted by popular culture, the Village in the 1950s set the stage for the counterculture of the 1960s.

The 1960s

In the 1960s, the Village retained its reputation as a “social-cultural nexus” for musicians, artists, gays and lesbians, and other groups who were outside the mainstream of American life, but underwent a significant cultural and geographical shift from the beginning of the decade to the end. During the 1950s, the West Village had become known for its Beat culture and music scene. By 1960, the neighborhood was filled with aspiring musicians, hangers-on, and tourists. Rents greatly increased as more people moved in just as the neighborhood began to lose some of its hipness. As a result, many countercultural types began moving to the East Village.26

Along with the movement from West to East Village, the 1960s saw a transition from folk music to rock. Early in the decade, however, folk was still the dominant mode of expression for young white people. Gerde’s Folk City on West 4th Street, the Bitter End on Bleecker Street, the Gaslight on MacDougal, and Café Au Go Go on Bleecker Street were four clubs popular with folk and jazz musicians of the early sixties. Café Wha? was also a popular folk venue, but was overrun with tourists and seen as less legitimate than the other clubs.27

As in the 1950s, Washington Square Park was another place to see live music. Although there was music there every day, Sundays were special. Hundreds of people would gather every week to play and sing. This event was particularly popular with teenagers who were barred from most of the clubs. But in 1961, when Newbold Morris replaced Robert Moses as parks commissioner, he ordered the Sunday singing to cease. On April 9, 1961, hundreds of people gathered in the park anyway and about fifty protesters attempted to sing, at which point the police arrested and injured several demonstrators.28

The struggle between the police, Parks Department, and groups like the Committee to Preserve the Dignity and Beauty of Washington Square Park on one side and the folkies, young people, and Greenwich Village Right to Sing Committee on the other is a perfect illustration of the ways in which the Village was changing. Morris, objecting to “elements from ‘the Bronx and so on’,” used euphemisms to describe the unease that many older residents felt over the increased presence of African-Americans and mixed-race relationships. Within the contested space of the park, folk musicians were redefining how this public space could be used. “A melting pot of musical personalities and styles, the park came to symbolize what folk music was all about. It was the place where traditions were learned and passed around, where new traditions were created…The local Italian residents brought their children to the park to play, spent the day with friends, and played their own folk songs.”29 Although some Italian residents were certainly unhappy about the nontraditional lifestyles of the Beats’ followers and those in the folk scene, they utilized the park in a similar way. After weeks of conflict, Mayor Wagner reinstated the Sunday hootenannies on May 14.30

Washington Square was also the site of non-musical struggles. Continuing the work begun in the Fifties, in 1962 a group of Village residents lobbied successfully to stop cars from driving through the park, with a ban on buses following in 1965.31 A new preservation movement had begun with the fights to designate Brooklyn Heights the city’s first historic district, which it became in 1965, and to save Penn Station, which was demolished in 1963. These two campaigns provided the inspiration for a Greenwich Village historic district. The Landmarks Preservation Commission began hearings on the possible designation in December 1965. Finally, on April 30, 1969, the Village became a historic district that encompassed 2,035 buildings.32

Jane Jacobs, urbanist and opponent of Robert Moses’ top-down planning style, also worked to retain the Village’s character. She recognized that the old low-rise buildings and dense, close-knit communities were worth preserving. In 1963, Jacob’s coalition defeated Moses’ plan to build high-rise housing near the West Village waterfront; the low rise West Village Houses were built instead, and were intended for middle class buyers.33

Bob Dylan is probably the figure most closely associated with the Village folk scene, but he had been drawn to the neighborhood by earlier musicians like Dave Van Ronk and John Lee Hooker. To Dylan and the other young musicians—Joan Baez, Peter, Paul, and Mary, Richie Havens, and Phil Ochs, to name a few—who came to the Village, it represented “the possibility that one could leave one’s past behind and arrive in the city, suitably emboldened by its sheer energy to start a completely clean slate.”34 Dylan started out playing traditional songs, like most of the other folk singers at the time, but soon branched out to performing his own material. Other musicians followed in his footsteps, creating an environment that was “collegial and competitive at the same time.”35 Village music became more political than it had been in the 1950s, with musicians drawing inspiration from the civil rights movement to write (or modify, as the case may be) the beloved anthems “We Shall Overcome” (Pete Seeger) and “Blowin’ in the Wind” (Bob Dylan).36

By 1963, Village folk musicians were prominent on the national level, with number one hits on the national charts. Many of them appeared alongside Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. during his March on Washington, which was broadcast live on CBS. But the folk renaissance would soon make way for a new kind of music. The arrival of the Beatles had a profound effect on the American music scene and the Village was no exception. When John Sebastian, of the New York-based Lovin’ Spoonful, heard their album "Meet the Beatles" in 1964, he knew that he had to move beyond folk music. They were soon joined in their amplified rock music experiment by the Mamas and the Papas and the Byrds. There was a pervasive sense that folk music was constricting artistic growth, wasn’t modern, or had become overly commodified.37

The new sound was accompanied by new drugs and a new atmosphere. “Many legitimate organizations like the War Resisters League, the Black Panther Party, and Women Strike for Peace used the Village as a vehicle to spread their cause and recruit new members. The Village was filled with people who were viewed as directionless: but, in reality, they were being offered and were following many directions. It was a time of searching and discovery, and, whether or not you were taking drugs, the Village was mind-expanding.”38

The East Village became the place to be. After losing much of its Jewish immigrant population to the Bronx and Brooklyn throughout the early twentieth century, there was room for newcomers who were “[l]eft alone by the tourists and folk singers west of Broadway, by the city bureaucrats and mobsters alike, [and] created for themselves a more singular, idiosyncratic version of Greenwich Village.”39 In 1961 realtors attached the phrase “East Village” to the area east of the Bowery between 14th Street and Houston Street, which had been known as the Lower East Side, in order to capitalize on the cachet of the Village to sell apartments in an area that had for many years been a Jewish, German, Irish, Puerto Rican, and Eastern European immigrant community. In a neighborhood not yet overrun with tourists and hippies, bands like The Fugs, the Holy Modal Rounders, and the Velvet Underground could experiment with their particular brands of rock and roll in an open environment. Jazz, poetry, and avant-garde theater continued to flourish on the east side, with Ornette Coleman and Thelonious Monk playing at the Five Spot on the Bowery, Amiri Baraka reading at the American Theatre for Poetry on East Fourth Street, and Sam Shepard writing plays for Theatre Genesis at the St. Mark’s-in-the Bowery Church.40

Perhaps the most famous personality to emerge from the East Village was the pop artist Andy Warhol. After seeing the nihilistic, drug-influenced band the Velvet Underground perform, he became their patron in 1965 and had them play during his happenings called “the Exploding (or sometimes Erupting) Plastic Inevitable,” a riot of lights, film projections, dancing and music.41

Warhol and the Velvet Underground’s brand of downtown cool coexisted with the young hippies who, beginning around 1967, flooded the Tompkins Square Park area, allowing landlords to double rents in response to the increase in demand. The older “beats-turned-hippies” were wary of the newcomers, whose clueless behavior attracted unwanted police attention. The Puerto Rican residents of “Loisaida” were not pleased either. They had also moved to the neighborhood in the wake of the Jewish departure and were distressed by the growing presence of young white people, many of whom were not interested in examining the privilege inherent in a lifestyle that allowed them to take drugs and wander around the Village all day but with the expectation that they will be taken care of. Sometimes the neighborhood, like many urban areas at the time, erupted into racial violence.42

One group, however, that did see positive change at the end of the 1960s was the Village’s gay community. Although the neighborhood’s gay bars, many of them run by the Mafia, could be dangerous, they were also spaces of extraordinary liberation during a time when it was illegal to dance with a person of the same sex or to cross-dress.43

One popular gay bar was the Stonewall Inn on Christopher Street. On the night of June 28, 1969, a routine police raid (during which the police would usually find ways to humiliate the patrons) turned into a riot when a lesbian who was put into a cop car started to fight her captors. A crowd of angry GLBT folks barricaded the police inside the bar and threw paving stones, bottles, and garbage at the cops. People came the next few nights to fight. There was a pervasive sense that gay people no longer had to be silent or submissive to authority figures; many sources cite this event as the beginning of the gay rights movement.44

By the end of the Sixties, the Vietnam War was still dragging on and the United State’s cities were in significant decline. This national trend took its toll on the Village, both East and West.45

The 1970s

During the seventies, Greenwich Village could not escape the effects of the general economic and political climate of New York City, while the aftermath of the sixties set the tone for its cultural stage. The decade commenced midway through Republican John Lindsay’s mayoral tenure (1965-1973). Lindsay, who changed his party affiliation to Democrat in 1971 and ran an unsuccessful bid for the Presidency the following year, borrowed extensively to finance municipal expenditures [in the city], which more than doubled during his reign. This practice of deficit financing is regarded as having been a major cause of the fiscal woes that democratic mayor Abe Beame inherited after his election in 1973.46 These woes turned into a legitimate fiscal crisis in 1975 and Beame was forced to ask the federal government for a loan guarantee to bail out the city, a request denied by then President Ford and famously summed up by the Daily News’ headline, “Ford to City: Drop Dead.”47 “To avoid bankruptcy [Beame] laid off large numbers of city employees and delayed maintenance and important capital expenditures, " ultimately losing the democratic nomination in 1977 and retiring from politics.48 Democrat, and Greenwich Village resident, Ed Koch succeeded Beame in 1978 and managed to secure a federal guarantee of $1.6 billion, on which the city paid 7% interest.49 The city finally limped toward a recovery from a decade-long economic slump that had impacted its every aspect.

In Greenwich Village, the area most affected by this economic distress during the seventies was the East Village, still considered by many an extension of the Lower East Side. “An NYU sociology project that studied Washington Square in 1973 determined that ‘the dominant source of dissatisfaction is the lack of safety and the presence of undesirables [i.e., intoxicated and licentious bums, gamblers, panhandlers, pushers, and ‘weirdos’],” but that the crime in the Ninth Precinct (East Village) was twice as bad.”50 "It was only a few years since the civil rights movement and race riots of the 1960s, yet large sections of the city such as the South Bronx, Lower East Side, Bedford-Stuyvesant and Harlem looked as if they'd survived military bombings. Crumbling buildings, abandoned by their owners because the tenants could not pay rent, filled block after block. Conditions in these areas gave rise to street gangs that spread citywide."51 When lightning struck near the Indian Point power plant on July 13, 197552 causing a two day blackout, these conditions were put to the test as general looting ensued, leaving 550 policemen injured and 4500 looters arrested throughout the city.53

In contrast to the urban decay and neglect of the East Village, community activism persevered in the more central and western areas to guide development and urban planning. One of the cornerstones of 1960s era activist Jane Jacobs’ urban planning philosophy was the reconfiguration of zoning by “scale,” not zoning by “use, ” (i.e. residential, commercial, industrial). She had proposed that “cities be divided into self-governing zoning districts, none larger than ‘about a mile and a half square’ and most of them smaller… operated by a kind of legislature of two hundred elected representatives from smaller organizations and street neighborhoods.”54 “Her dream was finally realized with the formation of a system of community boards under the Lindsay administration.”55 In the central Village this inclusion of the local voice in public planning had tangible results. In 1970, local residents who had organized themselves into the Cooper Square Committee finally quashed a plan developed by Robert Moses to demolish “twelve city blocks between Second Avenue and the Bowery, from Ninth Street down to Delancey [which would have evicted] nearly three thousand low-rent tenants…to make way for the construction of co-op housing.” The defeat marked victory in an eleven-year struggle against development.56

The area around Washington Square Park didn’t fare quite as well. NYU expansion trumped the efforts of preservationists in the seventies, the most visible sign of which was the opening of Bobst Library, designed by Philip Johnson and Richard Foster in 1973.57 Some concessions were made however: the “only outdoor sculpture in the city designed by [Picasso] in a non-museum setting, the Bust of Sylvette, a thirty-six foot tall cement portrait [was] installed in the courtyard of the Silver Towers between Bleecker and Houston in 1970. The sculpture is partially an homage to the working women of the Frenchtown district, which was razed to erect University Village in the late 1960s.58

In the West Village two strands of development appeared in the seventies. First, many obsolete industrial spaces began to be converted for residential use such as the West Village’s Manhattan Refrigerating Company between Gansevoort and Horatio streets on West Street. “It was vacated in 1979, and its frozen innards were carved up into 234 apartments and given a trendy name – the West Coast. Its meat storage facilities had operated for so long that it took two months for the building to thaw before the conversion could begin.”59 Another project generated much more public debate and controversy. In 1973 a truck plunged through a pothole on the elevated West Side highway, catalyzing ambitious plans for a replacement roadway called “Westway.” Westway was to be a “4.2-mile Interstate Highway…built beneath 170 acres of landfill [and]…90 percent of [its] costs would have been paid by the federal government.”60 Dismantling the old roadway altered the face of the West Village as “most of the elevated structure was demolished in stages from 1976 to 1989.”61 The unpopular project however became embroiled in over a decade of studies and litigation until it was finally quashed for good in the late 1980s.62

Whatever the developmental concerns, the Village remained a vibrant bastion of popular cultural expression in the seventies, perhaps no more visible than in the exuberant post-Stonewall flowering of gay culture. "Gay institutions prospered during the 1970s as the threat of police harassment diminished."63 The first Gay Pride parade was inaugurated in 1975 with a route up 6th avenue to Central Park64, while Pier 48, an abandoned shipping pier on the Hudson became a central cruising spot.65 Indeed, West Village gay culture became the focus of national attention and local outrage with the location shooting of Cruising in 1979, starring Al Pacino.66

In the arts, “the late 1960s and early 1970s [saw an emergence of] a new generation of filmmakers closer to the commercial mainstream and fiercely committed to New York City" many filming in the Village such as Martin Scorsese with Taxi Driver and Paul Mazursky with Next Stop Greenwich Village, both in 1976.67 Francis Ford Coppolla used the East Village to substitute for old New York locations in the Godfather Part II (1974)68, and in 1979 Fame was filmed at an old East Village high school that was later to become the influential experimental theater, P.S. 122.69 In theater, "The LaMama Experimental Theatre Club founded by Ellen Stewart on East 4th st. thrived during the seventies and "nurtured the early careers of such figures as Sam Shepard, Lanford Wilson, Robert Wilson and Philip Glass.70 Influential dancer and choreographer, "Twyla Tharpe started her career rehearsing at the Judson Church, New York's facilitator for the downtown avant-garde,"71 and Charles Ludlam housed his Ridiculous Theatrical Company in the West Village theater located at one Sheridan Square, former home to Café Society where Billy Holiday once devastated audiences with her renditions of "Strange Fruit."72

The Village underwent many of the same cultural shifts as the rest of the city and nation in the seventies. New York’s oldest saloon, McSorley’s on Seventh Street between the Bowery and Second Avenue opened its doors to women in 1971 under court order.73 Second avenue’s hippy mecca, the Fillmore East closed its doors in June, 197174 while on the Bowery,"Hilly Kristal founded CBGB in 1973 as a venue for country, bluegrass, and blues…It was one of the only places that would allow a band to perform original music [without] a record contract” and became a central locus of punk rock.75 A sign of rebirth on the cusp of the eighties can be found in the 1978 launch of Operation Green Thumb, which made city-owned vacant lots available for gardens for $1 a year.” Over the next decade five hundred community gardens were established in the city, a sign of a revitalizing move away from the economic torpor of the seventies.76

The 1980s

In fact, during the next decade the Village became the center a thriving visual art scene, consisting of young artists in their 20s.77 New galleries appeared, moved, or vanished78. Moving was often a sign of success, because it meant the owner could afford either a larger gallery, or they moved to So-Ho, where many of the more established galleries were.79

These new galleries were founded by artists, and sold their paintings at low prices at first.80 The major galleries were Fun Gallery, Gracie Mansion Gallery, and 51X, founded by Bill Stelling and Patti Astor, Gracie Mansion and Rich Colicchio respectively.81 Some of the artists involved were Rodney Alan Greenblat, Rhonda Zwillinger, Luis Frangella, Greer Lankton, and Dan Friedman.82

Unlike other movements in art, there was not a coherent style to this fragmented group of artists, dubbed the East Village Art Scene.83. The favored medium was painting.84 While the artists were working outside of the mainstream, they wanted to have their work shown in established galleries.85 Another unique feature was the role speculation played in this art market. Some people bought paintings hoping the artist would become the next big thing and the painting would increase in price.86 The painting was not an object to be admired for its beauty, but an investment.87

Despite this burgeoning cultural scene, crime was still a significant problem in Greenwich Village in the 1980s. Washington Square Park was one of the major locations in the Village where people would buy and sell crack cocaine. In 1986 there were 1,490 drug cases in or near the park, 1,053 convictions, 100 received jail sentences of 15 days or more, and 503 cases involved no jail time at all. That same year 27 officers were assigned to patrol the park, but this did little to stop the dealers; they learned when the police changed shifts and planned accordingly.88

The highly organized dealers were rarely caught with large amounts of drugs. This ensured short sentences, ranging from a few hours or days in jail before they returned to selling in the park.89 In 1987, during one raid, the police found 923 vials of crack and $3,500 in cash.90

Random acts of violence were unfortunately common occurrences: Two pedestrians were attacked in the village by a stranger.91 A man was stabbed getting off the subway.92 Examples of more sensational crime follow: 7 teenagers robbed and assaulted over a dozen people during a three hour period.93 A photographer was shot and killed while attempting to stop two men from robbing a New York University student.94 $120,000 was stolen from a jewelry store.95

An antique and furniture dealer who used his apartment to show and sell his products was shot by someone who gained entry as a potential customer.96 Ellen Fox, an artist was found strangled in her loft.97 Her store had been broken into almost every night during one month.98

Organized crime had a presence in the Village as well. The head of Genovese crime family, Vincent Gigante, lived in Greenwich Village. He would talk to other organized crime figures during long walks late at night in an attempt to avoid bugging devices. The equipment used to listen in on conversations had a limited range, and following him with a car was not practical.99

Part of the pizza connection drug ring took place in Greenwich Village. The Mafia had been importing $1.65 billion worth of heroin from Sicily, and selling it through pizza parlors.100 Pietro Alfano, a defendant in the case, was shot.101 Mr. Alfano had been indicted in 1985 of operating the drug ring.102

The presence of organized crime often made it difficult for law-abiding Italian-Americans in the neighborhood. A number of social clubs for Italians such as the Citizens for a Better Village and American Legion Post 1212, were raided in attempt to find Carmine Gaulteire, a murder suspect who was connected to the Mafia. The suspect had been arrested before the raids on the clubs, but some members of the police department and FBI agents assigned to the case were unaware that the arrest had been made. The members of American Legion Post 1212 and the Citizens for a Better Village claimed that what had occurred was an example of police discrimination, and that they were being singled out because they were Italian-American.103

In May of 1981, the New York Native, a gay newspaper, published a story concerning rumors of a new and extremely dangerous form of pneumonia in gay men. The Center for Disease Control representative with the local public health department called the rumors unfounded.104 The Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report of July 4th that year had an article titled “Kaposi’s Sarcoma and Pneumoycstis Pneumonia Among Homosexual Men-New York and California,” in which 20 cases of this rare disease were found in New York. The article noted that this was part of a 30 month trend of Kaposi’s Sarcoma cases “among young, homosexual men,” which was highly unusual, especially when 4 gay men in New York had “severe, progressive, perianal herpes simplex infections” and immune deficiencies.105 By December of 1981, there were two new diagnosed cases of Kaposi’s Sarcoma in New York each week.106

Two years later, New York lacked AIDS clinics, AIDS wards, outpatient facilities and none in development.107 In March of 1983, New York had 45% of the nation’s AIDS cases. While the City Interagency AIDS Task Force seemed promising, it deteriorated into city officials promising to look into a problem but during the next meeting would claim that there was a major obstacle to achieving a goal, so that very little was resolved by this new group. There was a definite need for coordinated action.108 The disease soon overwhelmed the health care system. St. Vincent’s Hospital, had been seeing and treating many AIDS patients, even before the disease was officially named.109 By January of 1985, the hospital did not want more AIDS patients. The situation grew so dire that many AIDS patients were advised by their doctors to show up in the Emergency Room, where they could not be turned away.110

Mayor Ed Koch was heckled by Act-Up, a group of AIDS activists, while attending an event to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the riots at the Stonewall Inn.111 The same organization disrupted mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral by laying down in the aisles or chaining themselves to the pews. This protest lead to 111 arrests.112

In the 1980s the number of building owners abandoning properties and not paying property taxes owed decreased.113 The economy improved, which created a demand for housing in the city.114 Some of the economic growth was in finance, which created new jobs for white collar workers. These were people who could afford expensive apartments. To accommodate this new demand for housing, developers were buying empty lots and abandoned buildings with plans to covert them into luxury apartments.115

The city passed a tax incentive program that made it much cheaper to convert existing structures such as lofts and warehouses into apartment buildings, as opposed to building something new.116 In addition the Koch administration passed a 10-year partial tax exemption for luxury housing.117

Tension existed between developers who wanted to make money, and residents who wanted to maintain moderate and low-income housing.118 Due to gentrification, housing prices increased faster than the income of most of the longtime residents.119 The newer residents tended to be young, white, and single.120 The previous residents had been a diverse group of races and ethnicities.121

Through gentrification, low-rent housing units were eliminated.122 Public housing programs were seen has barriers to redeveloping the area.123 The developers' goal was to replace the low-income public housing with vacant land that they could then use to build new luxury apartments.124

Another development that was part of gentrification was the renovation of apartment buildings into condominiums.125 According to New York state law, occupants had to agree to the conversion and be given the option to buy their apartment, but few residents in the apartment buildings could afford the substantially higher prices of the condominiums. Many developers would buy a building, and then keep apartments empty in an effort to get around this rule. Under the law, an empty apartment would count as a consenting tenant.126 This became a major source of tension at a time when the “homeless [were] crowding the parks and streets while apartments remain empty until they are sold at prices no one native to the area can afford.”127

In July of 1988 there were roughly 200 homeless living in Tompkins Square Park.128 On August 6th and 7th there was a failed attempt by police to impose a nighttime curfew on the park.129 At 1 in the morning, the police charged the park, which lead to a violent confrontation between those living in the park and the police.130 Within one week of the riot, there were 81 complaints of police brutality.131

The 1990s

The neighborhood tension exemplified by the Tompkins Square riots extended into the 1990s. Indeed the next decade could be characterized as a period dominated by gentrification, but also as the fruition of economic, political and cultural forces that had started long before and continued through this period.

To begin, Greenwich Village's economic development during this decade took place within the larger economic context of New York City. In the early 1990s, along with the rest of the country, New York City experienced the fallout from a national recession, which resulted from an increasing pattern of manufacturing functions moving out of the country, and corporate downsizing. The late 1990s, however, was a period of economic recovery as surviving companies began to adapt to a global marketplace by focusing on international markets for products and services. The recovery was also lead by the rapid growth of a high-technology sector (sometimes called 'Silicon Alley') and a booming stock market. Altogether, after a difficult start, New York City began to experience a period of economic prosperity, and Greenwich Village developed within this economic climate.132

A great deal of political attention and resources were centered around the goal of reducing crime. At the start of the 90s, crime was a city-wide obsession as the combination of a legacy of ineffective police practice through the 80s and a budget crisis helped worsen the situation. "(T)he truth of the matter is," said The Village Voice, "the streets are menacing and…answers are needed"133 Although unfairly characterized as being “anti-police” by some, Mayor David Dinkins laid the foundation for improved police services by hiring thousands of new police officers134 and overseeing changes to police management. In fact, by 1992, the numbers for most crimes across most areas of the city had fallen to their lowest since 1985 after two consecutive years of substantial decreases.135 His successor, Mayor Rudy Giuliani, instituted new approaches to police deployment based on statistical analysis and “the broken window” theory of policing, which basically dictates that no small crime, whether graffiti or subway 'turnstile jumping' should go unpunished since they all contribute to a climate of lawlessness.136

Law and order was not the only strategy being employed to reduce crime. The pioneering ideas of urban planners like Jane Jacobs and William White continued to influence later generations of policy-makers. Inspired by the theory that the best way to reduce the number of undesirable people - namely criminals - in an area is to increase the appeal of the area to desirable people,137 a new category called Special Assessment Districts (SADs) were created. This provided a mechanism for securing municipal funds for the purpose of improving specially targeted areas. Unfortunately, the process required that each SAD be enabled by its own piece of legislation.138 In 1982, a more efficient and comprehensive concept called Business Improvement Districts (BIDs) replaced SADs. With the strong support of powerful neighborhood corporations (Guardian Life, Con Edison, the New School), Fourteenth Street was the first BID and was deemed a success. Soon other BIDS followed and improvements like regular street cleanings, widened sidewalks, uniformed patrols, landscaping and increased lighting significantly improved formerly troubled spots like the areas around Pennsylvania Station, Bryant Park and Grand Central. Taking notice, an Eighth Street BID was started in 1993 and is credited with transforming Eighth Street from Sixth Avenue to University Place.139 In conjunction with improved policing then, tangible improvements to the physical environment spurred new interest in residential and commercial property in neighborhoods throughout the Village. Changes to zoning laws and an influx of investment helped create a frenzy of new developments and refurbishments. In a short period of time, properties that had been rented for tens of dollars in the 1970s were renting for thousands of dollars, and it became routine to hear about celebrities paying millions of dollars to buy apartments.140

At the same time, preservationist sentiments, an ever-present feature of Greenwich Village, remained strong through this period. As developers endeavored to build towering behemoths throughout desirable neighborhoods in Manhattan, opponents organized to maintain the original scale and charm of the neighborhoods in the Village, especially around Washington Square. The success of such efforts is evident in the buildings - or at least their facades – that remained through the 90s: early churches from the 19th Century, rows of townhouses from the 1830s, the Astor Library, historic commercial buildings such as the Asch building (site of the 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Company fire), and Judson Church.141

The goal of preserving buildings and facades, of course, is quite different from the goal of saving their original purposes, however. Although the physical structures of many “bohemian haunts” were preserved, many of the original tenants could not remain as skyrocketing real estate prices and rents became unaffordable to many artists, writers and other creative professionals. For this reason, the real estate boom is often blamed for a clear decline in artistic and cultural activity in Greenwich Village.142 Even NYU tried to evict a group of nine artists from their spaces in a converted hat factory when it was realized that the artists were paying an average rent of $500 while the market was commanding $7,000.143On the other hand, some evidence of artistic activity did survive through the 90s. The New York Studio School continued to operate in the former Whitney Museum building, and the Washington Square Outdoor Art Exhibit serves as a reminder of the vibrant artistic communities in past decades. Music venues, such as Cafe Wha?, the Bitter End, the Bottom Line, the Blue Note, and CBGB-OMFUG continued to operate through these years.144

Beyond a diminished cultural sphere, there were serious social consequences resulting from this rush for property. Some groups in the Village, like the Italian Americans distributed in communities throughout the area, were able to make the transition better than others. In fact, many Italian Americans who had owned homes purchased many years earlier were able to profit handsomely after recognizing that a new generation of city dwellers were willing to pay exorbitant prices and rents on houses and apartments formerly occupied by Italian American families.145 Others who were less fortunate increasingly found themselves unable to afford rents in the city. Squatting, which became prevalent in the previous decade, continued in pockets of abandoned housing throughout the Village, and the responses of developers and administrators continued to follow a strict policy of police-enforced eviction. This was perhaps epitomized by the squatters community in three apartment buildings on East 13th Street,146 which ended with the removal by armed police officers of all the inhabitants in the face of peaceful resistance and legal appeals.147

Just as the changes in the 1990s reflected the interplay of forces that had started much earlier, there could be no doubt that the push and pull between stakeholders would be carried through to the 'new millennium.' At times, advocates for development would be victorious such as when New York University defeated opponents to plans for the Kimmel Student Center.148 At other times, champions of preservation would prevail as when NYU had to modify its proposal to build a 194-foot law school building behind Judson Church after facing a coalition of opponents upset at the degradation of views and the destruction of the Edgar Allen Poe House that its construction would have entailed149

Whether developers or preservationists prevail in altering or preserving the face of Greenwich Village, it is clear that the neighborhood will continue to manifest the same resiliency it has shown in the face of change over the last half century. Cultural, political and demographic shifts may come and go but the Village will always remain the Village if only as a dim reflection of its storied past.


add at least 4 resources per team member

Abu-Lughod, Janet L. From Urban Village to East Village: The Battle for New York's Lower East Side. Cambridge, MA: Blackwell, 1994.
This is a collection of essays on the East Village that came out of a project at the New School called Research About Lower Manhattan (REALM). They each analyze aspects of social, political, and economic change throughout the neighborhood's history.

Beard, Rick and Leslie Cohen Berlowitz, ed. Greenwich Village : culture and counterculture. New Brunswick, N.J. : Published for the Museum of the City of New York by Rutgers University Press, 1993.
A good survey of Village history, not solely focused on late 20th century, but lays important groundwork and general background as to how the neighborhood evolved.

Dan Cameron, Liza Kirwan, Alan W. Moore eds. East Village USA. New York: New Museum of Contemporary Art, 2004.
This companion volume to an exhibition of East Village art contains essays filled with insider information relating to the performance, music and art scenes in the purported glory days of the early 1980s. The plates are great too.

Fletcher, Tony. All Hopped Up and Ready to Go: Music from the Streets of New York 1927-77. New York: W.W. Norton, 2009.
A comprehensive look New York music history, this book has a great deal of information on the Greenwich Village folk and rock scenes.

Flint, Anthony. Wrestling with Moses : how Jane Jacobs took on New York's master builder and transformed the American city. New York : Random House, 2009.
Excellent recounting of the fight to preserve the “village” character of the neighborhood against the onslaught of urban development – a great companion to Robert Caro’s The Power Broker.

Folpe, Emily Kies. It Happened on Washington Square. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2002.
The author focuses on the history of Washington Square Park, a beloved landmark and the site of many important events and conflicts.

Gratz, Roberta Brandes. The Battle for Gotham: New York in the Shadow of Robert Moses and Jane Jacobs. New York: Nation Books, 2010.

Hajdu, David. Positively 4th Street: The Lives and Times of Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, Mimi Baez Farina and Richard Farina . New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2001.
It covers the folk scene in Greenwich Village, by focusing on four individuals who exerted a major influence on the art and music scene in the early 1960s.

Harris, Luther. Around Washington Square: An Illustrated History of Greenwich Village. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2003.
Despite the impression given by its title, this book makes a strong contribution with a detailed history of Greenwich up to 2001. The rich illustrations are an added bonus.

Johnson, Ronna C. and Nancy M. Grace, ed. Girls who wore black : women writing the beat generation. New Brunswick, N.J. : Rutgers University Press, 2002.
Collection of essays examining the literary/cultural impact and contribution of women writers during the heyday of the Beats. Not strictly Village history in terms of content, but does add context to the literary scene of the Village in the 1950s, especially since the memoirs of the women involved (i.e. Joyce Johnson, Hettie Jones) provide critical portraits of life in the Village and New York during the post-WWII era.

Mahler, Jonathan. Ladies and Gentlemen, the Bronx is Burning: 1977, Baseball, Politics, and the Battle for the Soul of a City. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2005.
It focuses on a single year, but bring together culture, history, politics and other elements of life in New York city. While it is not about Greenwich Village specifically, what is happening in other parts of the city impacts Greenwich Village.

Mele, Christopher. Selling the Lower East Side: Culture, Real Estate, and Resistance in New York City. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2000.

Miller, Terry. Greenwich Village and How it Got That Way. New York: Crown Publishers, 1990.
Miller divides the neighborhood into seven sub neighborhoods and describes notable structures and interesting facts accompanied by great photographs.

Picano, Felice. Art and Sex in Greenwich Village: Gay Literary Life after Stonewall. New York: Carroll & Graf, 2007.
Greenwich Village has long been a major center of gay life and culture in New York City. Many of the people mentioned may have lived or frequented places in Greenwich Village.

Shilts, Randy. And the Band Played On: Politics, People, and the AIDS Epidemic. New York: St. Martin's Press , 1987.
This is one of the major works on the early years of the AIDS crises. Many of the people most affected lived in Greenwich Village.

Tiefenbacher, Lyn. "Parallel Universes: Anarchy and Ethnicity: A Study of Politics, Real Estate, and Ritual in the East Village, NYC." PhD diss., Temple University, 1995.
This dissertation focuses on the East Village— Tompkins Square Park in particular— as a contested space in which the residents struggle against outsiders' representations of their community. It mostly deals with the early 1980s to the early 1990s, but contains a history of the area prior to that.

Tricarico, Donald. The Italians of Greenwich Village: The Social Structure and Transformation of an Ethnic Community. New York: The Center for Migration Studies, 1984.
This is a straightforward, but focused overview of the Italian American community in Greenwich Village. Starting with the origins in 1865, the author covers the demographic, cultural and geographic changes through the 1980s.

Wetzsteon, Ross. Republic of dreams : Greenwich Village : the American Bohemia, 1910-1960. New York : Simon & Schuster, 2002.
Mostly focuses on the literary & artistic ferment of the early 20th century Village, while also touching on some post WWII history as well. Provides some interesting vignettes on specific personalities that helped give the Village its reputation as an anti-establishment incubator and certainly sets the stage for the later 20th century.

Woliver, Robbie. Hoot! A Twenty-five Year History of the Greenwich Village Music Scene. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1986.
This book is an oral history of participants in the Greenwich Village music scene from roughly the 1950s to the 1970s. It features photographs and author commentary, but the main focus is on the experiences of those who were there, in their own words.

Primary Sources:

Clellon Holmes, John, "This is the Beat Generation", The New York Times Magazine, November 16, 1952, 10.
Seminal article which "defined" the Beat generation prior to publication of On the Road.

Jones, Hettie. How I Became Hettie Jones. New York : Penguin, 1990.
Memoir of the wife of poet LeRoi Jones (aka Amiri Baraka) provides a great sense of the Village in the 1950s, especially the jazz and literary scene.

New York City Department of Records and Information Services, Municipal Archives, Photo Gallery
Provides access to some of the more popular images held by the Municipal Archives. Unfortunately there is no browse category for the Village, but the collection on-line does give a good sense of what the City Archives holds, as well as useful images to the general development of the city in the late-20th century

Wakefield, Dan. New York in the 50s. Boston : Houghton Mifflin/Seymour Lawrence, 1992.
Memoir by the journalist includes many topics related to the Village, including the Beats, the White Horse Tavern, Cedar Tavern and the art scene, as well as the Catholic Worker.

"Lexis Nexis Academic" [].
Extensive database providing full-text of newspapers, newswires and transcripts from the U.S. and some other countries.

New York City, Tamiment Library and Robert F. Wager Labor Archives, "Squatters' Rights Collection: Jerry 'The Peddler' Wade," TAM 366.

"Proquest Newstand" [].
Database containing articles from major newspapers from around the world.

Time Magazine Archive, 1923-2009
Allows users to search past covers, articles and TIME Magazine back issues

Village Voice, 1955-2004.
Google has digitized many issues of the Village Voice from 1955 to 2004. Not every issue is there, but it’s helpful to see the articles in the context of the rest of the newspaper.

Library of Congress. “Historic American Buildings Survey/Historic American Engineering Record/Historic American Landscapes Survey.”
This database provides photographs and measured drawings of more than 38,600 historic buildings in the United States, including many in Greenwich Village.

New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission. “Forms and Publications: Designation Reports.”
One can search or browse LPC’s website for PDFs of the more recent Landmark Designation Reports. These contain a great deal of historical and architectural information on landmarked buildings, as well as the rationale for preservation, photos, drawings, and/or maps. For earlier reports, check

New York Public Library. “Photographic Views of New York City, 1870s-1970s.”
This online collection of NYC photographs is browsable by borough or searchable by street. The viewer is not that easy to use, but the collection is quite large and the image quality is generally good.

John Penley Photographs Flickr Exhibit
Penley became a photo journalist while documenting the squatters' movement in the East Village during the 1990s. This exhibit gives a handy visual reference to the time and place.

Jane Churchman Papers (TAM 313), Squatters' Rights Collection, Tamiment Library, New York University.
The 2 box collection holds a wealth of clippings relating to the East Village Squatter movement. Of particular note are two large posters protesting gentrification.

Tiefenbacher, Lyn Parallel universes: Anarchy and ethnicity. A study of politics, real estate and ritual in the East Village, NYC
Ph.D., Temple University, 1995 , 387 pages; AAT 9527541
This 1995 dissertation takes an ethnographic approach to examining the East Village from the early 1980s to the early 1990s. Available on-line through ProQuest.

McFadden, Robert D. "Park Curfew Protest Erupts Into a Battle And 38 Are Injured"
New York Times (Late Edition (East Coast)). New York, N.Y.: Aug 8, 1988. pg. A.1
This New York Times article was written the day after the 1988 Tompkins Square Park riot. The Times' articles (1980-Present) are available on-line trough the New and Newspapers database on the NYU Libraries page.

Village Voice Archive
It is in some respects the local paper for Greenwich Village. While there is a liberal slant to the newspaper, it will be a definite source of local information, as well as how the editorial staff views national issues.

New York Times (1851-2006), Proquest Historical Newspapers
The paper covers stories that occur in Greenwich Village, although these will be what the editors considered of national interest. In addition, this would be an excellent source for national developments which would have had an impact on the Village.

This database searches a number of different archives to find relevant results. One feature allows you to see the location of the results, and narrow the search by city.

Sam Reiss: Eyewitness to Labor History
The website’s greatest feature is the large collection of photographs relating to unions and labor. The photographs could provide a starting point for further research. There is little historical information accompanying the pictures, which does limit their usefulness.

Wordle for Greenwich Village in the Late 20th Century.

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