We’re gearing up for tomorrow’s LPC public meeting in which the commissioners will vote to “calendar” the proposed South Village Historic District. With this in mind, we thought we’d take a look at some buildings that once existed in the proposed area as part of our Map It! series.
While Minetta Brook has long been hidden from our eyes with streets and buildings, its name carries on in a small section of the Village. From Minetta Street to Minetta Lane and the famous Minetta Tavern, visitors and Villagers alike may not even realize the connection (though we know many do!). It’s true that these places survive today, however there was another “Minetta” in the area that no longer does: Minetta Place. But just where was Minetta Place?
According to the 1857 map above, this small L-shaped alley was entered off Minetta Street and was located at the center of the block also bounded by Minetta Lane, Bleecker Street, and Carmine Street (before Sixth Avenue cut through this section of the neighborhood). Five brick dwellings (in pink) stood on one side of Minetta Place, and rear outbuildings (in gray) – likely belonging to the wood row houses fronting Minetta Street – existed on the other.
A couple of wonderful photographs available via the Collections Portal of the Museum of the City of New York (MCNY) provide us with a glimpse of what Minetta Place looked like in the early 20th century. While the date of construction is unknown, these vernacular buildings were possibly built as early as the 1830s or 1840s. Each building had a stoop and attic windows; Minetta Place itself appears to have been paved with stone slabs.
At one time, when the area was known as “Little Africa,” many African-Americans were known to have lived in these buildings. One of the MCNY photos show that by 1914 white families (perhaps Italian immigrants) had moved in.
Despite the fact that these buildings were likely crowded tenements, the secluded Minetta Place at least seems to have afforded residents a relatively quiet place to chat with neighbors or play with friends. It also would have brought light and air to the surrounding tenement buildings. Interestingly, Minetta Place even earned itself coloring book status!
However, it would be hard to ignore the rough conditions of this block, known as “the Minettas,” at the turn of the 20th century. Prostitution and poverty had plagued the Minettas for years, prompting the Greenwich Village Improvement Society to advocate for the removal of this area. In their view, the quickest way to accomplish this was by having Sixth Avenue extend down this way, which, as you can see in the aerial view above, changed the shape of this block. The Department of Health declared many tenements in the Minettas as unsanitary, and many buildings were either vacated or cleaned.
The Princeton Alumni Weekly from 1925 noted that a lot of attention in New York newspapers had been paid to the “restoration of what was once considered a neglected slum and its transformation into model apartments, at 4 Minetta Place…”
Today, there appears to be no physical reminder of this forgotten little place, which was replaced by two apartment buildings in 1941 that were designed by architect H. I. Feldman. The irregular shapes of these brick apartments do provide for light and air – and some green space – which, in a way, gives us a link to the brick row houses built a century or so earlier.
If you’re interested in learning more about the South Village, please see our page HERE.
[UPDATE]: A follow-up post has been written HERE.