Before taking a trip to Greenwich Village, you might be interested in a little history to make it a more familiar and interesting visit.
When the Dutch began colonizing Manhattan Island in the 1600's, The Village was a woodland area inhabited by deer, elk, phesants, wild turkeys, owls and other birds that still live there today. The Dutch West India Company started a few sucessful tobacco plantations right there in Manhattan, and an area in The Village became the best tobacco plantation in the new colony.
In 1733, after the British captured "New Amsterdam" (manhattan), British Commander Sir Peter Warren bought 300 acres of the Village Tobacco Plantaiton. He and his family lived in a huge mansion overlooking the Hudson River, named Warren House, earlier named "Greenwich House". The mansion is near Perry and W. 4th Street. He planted an orchard and created farmlands that he called "Greenwich". Greenwich House became a festive gathreing place for the neighborhood residents, and the countryside attracted wealthy families, who built large homes there to show off their social status.
During the smallpox and yellow fever epidemics in New York City in 1822, families moved north from the Battery to avoid the diseases, and settled in the area which eventually became Greenwich Village. Schools, banks and shops were built and The Village became a vital link to New York City. These historic, brick, Federal style buildings still line the streets. The Washington Square (lower 5th Avenue) area became the place where wealthy merchants built their large townhouses.
By the end of the 1800's, rich residents started to move uptown, and the residential buildings in the Village were neglected by absentee homeowners. The rents dropped, which attracted the artists, radicals and rebels, who looked for a freer lifestyle, as Paris was famous for. The Village began to attract the famous and the infamous - poets, artists, philosophers, opera singers, actors and actresses.
By WWI, the Village was known as the symbol of rebellion against traditional values. During the 1890's and early 1900's, the Village waspopulated mostly by Italian, Irish, German immigrants. The immigrants mixed with the Villagers, who considered them lower class foreigners. The Italian and Irish Catholics viewed the showgirls, poets and artists as having no morals.
In the meantime, these "Bohemians" turned their backs on the Church. The repressed immigrants were shocked to see Village types smoking openly in the streets, and viewed the concepts of free love and homosexuality as taboo subjects. The radicals preached against making money just to make money, and spoke out publicly against bourgeois values and for women's rights.
The Bohemians usually gathered in groups, and some lived in communes just to save money, but all of them were fiercely independent and highly individualistic. Seventy percent of the Villagers did not attend church, and regarded the immigrants as ignorant and medieval. The immigrants considered the Villagers atheists and heathens. Most immigrants ere catholic, and the Bohemians were mostly Protestant or Jewish.
You also had the immigrants fighting amongst themselves - Irish gangs fought with Italians over territory. The more conventional immigrant classes viewed Villagers as naughty children who still deserved protection. They were allowed to eat at the immigrants' restaurants and drink at the Irish bars, and permitted their space. Immigrant families were in bed by 9 or 10 p.m., while the Bohemians partied in the Villae all night - the same "live and let live" attitude is still part of the Greenwich Village of today.
In 1916, The Village became known as "Little Bohemia" - playwrights and artists gathered here in the rundown bars. The Little Bohemia concept lasted through the 1960's. In the 50's, Beat poets mixed with the new breed of intellectually-oriented rebel actors. Fashion styles were set in Paris's Left Bank (remember Audrey Hepburn's black turtleneck, black pants and black flats). The "Beatnik" lifestyle and fashion became popular. The rreal "Beats" helped revive spirits after WWII, McCarthyism, fear of the A-Bomb and 50's conformity and materialism.
The new counterculture in the 60's began with the assassinations of JFK and Martin Luther King, Jr. Dylan, Baez, Hendrix, Joplin, Morrison and others influenced the music, hung out and played at the clubs in The Village, all protesting the war and other offenses of America and the world.k The counterculture continued into the 70's, where the sexual revolution took place, giving bith to women's, as well as gay liberation.
In the 80's, the co-op's popularity drove rents sky-high, sending the struggling artists and musicians elsewhere for reasonably priced apartments. The "Yuppies" began to move in, as well as the new immigrants - hardworking Israelis, Arabs, Indians, Pakistanis and Koreans, who opened up new shops. The Greeks, Italians and Irish who already lived in the Village, took all of it in stride.
Homelessness in the 80's hit the village particularly hard, yet people felt sheltered by the famous tolerant attitudes of the Village community. The artists, writers and actors who could not afford the high rents in the West side, moved to the East Village. In the 90's, most of the color, style and culture shifted to the East Village. There are new rock clubs and oddball shops, used book stores, inexpensive thrift and second-hand stores, restaurants.
The West Village is still a charming and historic neighborhood. It's the heart of the historic district and is on the rebound, with funky new jazz clubs and espresso bars opening all the time. It is predicted that the rents will soon come down and "Little Bohemia" will return.
There are many famous and not-so-famous ghosts of actors, directors and waiters. The most famous ghosts are said to be of Aaron Burr and Thomas Paine. Famous people have lived and played in The Village - Bob Dylan owned two houses: 92-94 MacDougal St., once he became famous - and had his first New York appearance at The Cafe Wha?. Jimi Hendrix also played the Bleecker Street strip, along with Janis Joplin, Jim Morison, Blondie, Talking Heads, Joan Baez, Peter, Paul and Mary, Buddy Holly, The Velvet Underground, Janis Ian, Frank Zappa, The Lovin' Spoonful, The Mamas and Papas, Simon Garfunkel and Madonna.
A Wee Bit of NYC Trivia
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