Today Off the Grid ushers in a new series, “My Favorite Things.” In it we will showcase some of our very favorite spots around the neighborhood, highlighting the incredible architecture, history, people, and businesses of the Village, East Village, and NoHo. Let us know what you think!
Few places can be said to exemplify the ecelctic charm of the West Village as completely as the quirky and picturesque apartment building at 102 Bedford Street known as “Twin Peaks.” In fact, I’d put it right up there with the Edna St. Vincent Millay House at 75 1/2 Bedford Street (“the narrowest house in the Village”), the twin houses at 39 and 41 Commerce Street, and Grove Court as the embodiment of the West Village’s peculiar magic.
As with most Village landmarks, there’s an interesting story behind the pretty face.
102 Bedford Street began its life around 1830 as a 2 1/2 story wood frame federal style house — the kind of simple structure one sees throughout Greenwich Village and Lower Manhattan. It seemed to live a pretty unremarkable life until 1925, when Clifford Daily purchased the building. According to NY Times Streetscapes columnist Christopher Gray, records show Daily, 39 years old at the time, was unmarried, lived in an old house on Sheridan Square, and was the decorator of “The Little House,” a tea room located next door at 100 Bedford Street in the tiny former back shed of 17 Grove Street.
The 1910’s and 1920’s saw a lot of new interest in Greenwich Village from artists and those who simply wanted to live around artists. Like today, real estate developers were quick to try to capitalize on this trend, and rundown buildings in the neighborhood were often given makeovers intended to project an artistic image (read more about this HERE). Few, however, were as complete, or as fanciful, in their transformation as 102 Bedford Street.
The 2 1/2 story building was raised to 5 stories, and given a sort of Tudor/Medieval/Swiss Chalet facade, including the twin peaked roofs, from which its name is derived. The building was specifically intended to attract artists, with 10 one-room studios with casement windows, similar to the “artists’ studios” which had been popping up on the top of houses throughout the Village during this time. Again according to Gray (citing the NY Herald Tribune) the building was originally painted black, green, orange, and blue — a color scheme which has long since been replaced with the more conventional brown and beige we see today, and of which there seems to be little or no photographic record.
Perhaps most notable, however, was the building’s dedication ceremony:
On May 21, 1926…the actress Mabel Normand stood on a platform on top of one of the gables and shattered a bottle of Champagne over the roof. Next to her, Princess Amelie Troubetskoy (an American novelist who had married a Russian prince in czarist days) burned acorns in a charcoal brazier in honor of the Greek god Pan. Holy water, flowers and other rites also inaugurated the building.
The studio apartments in the building are all tiny, approximately 20 by 18 feet. However, many maintain original details, and the interiors of the building literally ooze Village bohemian charm (I was lucky enough to see the building’s interior and that of a studio apartment several years ago during an open house). Despite the incredible appeal of the apartment’s unique charms, their modest dimensions have given rise to some skepticism about claims that Douglas Fairbanks Jr., Walt Disney, Cary Grant, and Miles Davis each lived there for a time (you can view a slideshow of the interior of one of the apartments HERE). However, if for no reason other than the ingenuity that living in such a confined but utterly charming space must require, it’s hard to imagine that a great deal of creativity was not inspired here.
Twin Peaks is located within the Greenwich Village Historic District, designated in 1969, and thus, fortunately, for the last forty-two years at least, any changes to the exterior of the building have been carefully regulated (you can read the brief section in the Greenwich Village Historic District designation report about the building HERE).
Twin Peaks is without a doubt one of my favorite things about the Village. If you feel similarly, you might be interested to note that apartments there are currently being advertised for both rent and sale.