We love receiving research queries here at GVSHP, but never more so than when the person asking the question has something to tell us.
So we were quite pleased to receive an inquiry from a curator at the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin, who wanted to know the history of the building at 4 Christopher Street. Turns out, they happened to have an extraordinary item in their collection relating to the address: an interior door from the Greenwich Village Bookshop opened by Frank Shay at that address in 1920.
But make no mistake — this is not just any door, as made clear by The Greenwich Village Bookshop Door, the Harry Ransom Center’s online exhibit about said artifact. The door was signed by 242 Greenwich Village authors, publishers, artists, and other notables. Turns out, the door was a transplant from 11 Christopher Street, a building occupied by writer Floyd Dell, managing editor of The Masses. It isn’t known how the tradition of signing the door came about once it came to live in the bookshop, but the exhibit does have a fascinating history of the door as an artifact.
Those with even a little knowledge of Greenwich Village history will enjoy perusing the door. Most will be sure to recognize more than a few of the names, such as John Sloan, Susan Glaspell, Theodore Dreiser, and Sinclair Lewis. While exploring the exhibit, be sure to take a look at the “Bohemians” section, which allows you to see the signers grouped by category. This section notes that the Provincetown Players, who made a home at the Provincetown Playhouse on MacDougal Street, are arguably the single most influential community associated with the bookshop.
And for those of you wondering whether the building that housed the Greenwich Village Bookshop at 4 Christopher Street (just west of Greenwich Avenue) still stands … it does not. The building that stands now is a modern one, built in 1960, nine years before the Greenwich Village Historic District, which includes the site, was designated.