The "Village," a Brief Look at New York's Famed Greenwich Village

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The famed Historic District of Greenwich Village in new York City (known simply as “the Village”) is like no other cultural center in the world. Home to the Beat Movement, East Coast Hippies, as well hundreds of renown artists, musicians, writers

New York’s famed Greenwich Village, commonly referred to simply as “the Village,” is a largely residential neighborhood on the west side of Lower Manhattan, generally recognized as an extraordinarily important landmark of American Bohemianism where unconventional lifestyles often focus around musical, artistic, or literary pursuits. Known even by the late 1800s for its colorful, avant-garde residents and the alternative culture they propagate, the Village has traditionally been a focal point of new movements and ideas, whether political, artistic, or cultural.

The birthplace of both the Beat Movement of the 1950s and the East Coast Hippie Counterculture of the late 1960’s, the Village it is the second oldest Historic District in New York City, where countless icons of the arts have established their personal and creative headquarters through the decades.  From Jimi Hendrix’s Electric Lady Sound Studios to the original Whitney Museum to the so-called Citadel of Hippiedom at the Electric Circus on St. Marks Place created by Andy Warhol and Lou Reed, the Village is unlike any other place on the planet for cultural diversity, attracting literally hundreds of the most prominent creative minds of the past century.

Electric Lady Studios

Located on what was marshland until 16th century, the hamlet of Greenwich Village was established in 1664, growing separate and apart from New York City to the south (which may explain the independent attitude it still has to this day). Officially becoming a village in 1712, is was at first referred to as Grin'wich in 1713 Common Council records. Today, the oldest house remaining from this era is the Isaacs-Hendricks House, at 77 Bedford Street which was built 1799.  In 1822, a yellow fever epidemic hit New York City, sending residents fleeing to the healthier air of Greenwich Village, after which, many stayed. By later that century, it was apparent that a like-minded, independent spirit was shared by those who took up residence there.

By the early 20th century, it was established that Greenwich Village was distinguished from the upper-class neighborhood of Washington Square (based on the major landmark Washington Square) which from 1797 to 1823 had actually been was a “potter's field” where an estimatesd 20,000 of New York's poor were buried and still remain. Comparatively upper-scale Greek revival rowhouses had been built about 1832 on the north side of Washington Square, establishing the fashion of Washington Square and lower Fifth Avenue for decades to come.  Well into the 19th century, the district of Washington Square was considered separate from Greenwich Village, which perhaps ironically, now sets at its center.

Washington Square

At the turn of the twentieth century, a number of what would become New Your artistic landmarks would set up shop in the Village.  In 1914, famed American sculptor and art patron Gertrude Whitney established the Whitney Studio Club at 8 West 8th Street as a facility where young artists could exhibit their works.  Ten years later, in 1924, the Cherry Lane Theatre  was established, and is now New York City's oldest continuously running off-Broadway theater--and still carrying the reputation as a place where aspiring playwrights and emerging voices can showcase their work.  In 1938, renowned abstract expressionist artist and teacher Hans Hofmann moved his art school from to 52 West 8th Street. (The school remained active until 1958 when Hofmann retired from teaching.)  These major contributions to New York's art scene spawned hundreds to follow. 

During what has been called the “Golden Age” of Bohemianism, Greenwich Village became famous for internationally-acclaimed eccentrics such as Joe Gould and Maxwell Bodenheim, dancer Isadora Duncan, writer William Faulkner, and playwright Eugene O'Neill.  Political rebellion also thrived here with John Reed and Marcel Duchamp, who in the 1940s proclaimed the founding of "The Independent Republic of Greenwich Village.”  A haven for Beatniks of the 50s and early sixties, (as well as the Eastcoast Hippie), the Village would later play central roles in the creative musings of the likes of Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, William S. Burroughs, James Baldwin, Truman Capote, Marianne Moore, Maya Angelou, Rod McKuen, and Dylan Thomas (who collapsed while drinking at the famous White Horse Tavern on November 5, 1953).  And following the lead of Village resident and cultural icon Bob Dylan, dozens of other now famous pop stars got their start in the Village's nightclub, theater, and coffeehouse scene during the 1950s, 1960s, and early 1970s, including Barbra Streisand, Peter, Paul, and Mary, the Kingston Trio, Joan Baez, the Lovin’ Spoonful, Simon & Garfunkel, Jackson Browne, James Taylor, the Velvet Underground, Maria Muldaur, Tom Paxton, Phil Ochs, Joni Mitchell, Laura Nyro, and Jimi Hendrix-- among many others. The Village of the 1970s even saw the likes of Jim Morrison and John Lennon walking the famous streets.

While today Greenwich Village is home to many celebrities including Julianne Moore, Liv Tyler, Uma Thurman, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Edward Norton, Leontyne Price, and Amy Sedaris, many old-school artists and local historians lament the fact that the Bohemian days of Greenwich Village are long gone due to the extraordinarily high housing costs of the neighborhood.  (Many of the artists have fled to other parts of the city, and even outside the state.)  Nevertheless, residents of Greenwich Village still possess a strong community identity and are proud of their neighborhood's unique history and fame, and its well-known liberal "live-and-let-live" attitudes.

West 4th and West 12th

McDougal Street


Images via and the Greenwich Historical Society


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