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Follow-Up: The Minetta Place That Could Have Been

Last week, as part of our Map It! series, we featured the long-forgotten Minetta Place, which used to be located on the block just west of Minetta Street and south of Minetta Lane. Our former Director of Preservation & Research, Elizabeth Finkelstein, asked what exactly was going on in the first photo of that post. Curious as well, I went searching for an answer, which led to even more information about these little buildings of yesteryear.

The photo in question from last week’s post: Minetta Place probably from  the 1920s. Courtesy of the Museum of the City of New York.

So what is happening here? A similar photo of Minetta Street around the corner is dated c. 1920 so it’s possible that the above photo also dates from the ’20s.

This area was known to our early 20th century counterparts as “the Minettas” because of the abundance of streets and places that went by that name. However, what was a common term back then fell into disuse after the small-scale buildings on this block were almost completely destroyed by the creation of the Sixth Avenue extension beginning in 1925; this included the five buildings you see above. A January 1928 article, “Old Houses Pass in Minetta Court” appearing in The New York Times notes that:

In slicing off the block front on the east side of Carmine Street between Minetta Lane and Bleecker Street, all of the buildings were removed clear to the small inner court in the rear of the houses on Minetta Street. This interior court has long been known on the map as Minetta Place and a narrow entrance led to it from Minetta Street…

The photo doesn’t appear to have anything to do with the extension since the collapsed alley (seen most clearly on the right side of the photo) is on the other side of these houses from that roadwork. There potentially could be excavation work going on at the Minetta Street buildings; the rear of those lots are just visible on the lower right-hand corner of this photo. Interestingly, the pavers above are different from those appearing in earlier photos.

Sketches from “Antiquated Dwellings in the Minettas About to Undergo Artistic Improvement,” appearing in The New York Times, Dec. 23, 1923, pg. RE2.

It seems likely that the above sketch and site plan help tell the story of what is going on in that top photo: a planned development. These were found in a 1923 article, “Antiquated Dwellings in the Minettas About to Undergo Artistic Improvement,” in The New York Times. Quite a fun discovery! The sketches reveal that the Minetta Place buildings would be retained, yet the court between them and the Minetta Street-facing homes would be widened and landscaped.

The article mentions that the improvement work would focus on “the large interior court known as Minetta Place. Fences and sheds will be torn down, and the courtyard will become a private garden to which the surrounding houses will have access.” Could it be that the photo in question shows the beginnings of this improvement to the courtyard space? My last post included an 1857 map that indicated outbuildings were located at the rear of the Minetta Street lots and a 1914 photo shows that a fence divided those lots from the Minetta Place alley. These could be the features being removed in the above photo, which would then date it to the early 1920s as I had originally guessed.

The buildings themselves, which one article guessed dated to 1825 or 1830, were to be modernized on the interior and converted into one- and two-room apartments with studios on the top floors. Their exterior “Colonial character” was to be restored, though they proposed to remove the stoops. The proposal was led by realtor Vincent C. Peppe – who was known for remodeling older Village homes rather than demolishing them for new ones – and carried out by architect Arthur C. Holden. The project garnered considerable attention in the New York press according to a 1925 article in the Princeton Alumni Weekly. The “neglected slum” had been transformed into “model apartments,” after which the architect had his photo taken on site “being served tea and looking as if he liked it.” An amusing choice of words!

The extension of Sixth Avenue from Carmine Street south to Canal Street, January 12, 1928. The Minettas block was cut in half by the extension; its smaller half on the right is now Father Demo Square. Photo source unknown.
Red outline shows the former shape of the block. Google Maps.

For whatever success the project brought, nos. 1-5 Minetta Place didn’t have long before they were demolished for the Sixth Avenue extension. This 1928 photo shows the devastating destruction that project had on the Minetta Place block; you can see the hole where these buildings used to sit just to the left of the left white line. Although it’s hard to tell, it looks as if the proposed courtyard in the sketch never happened. It was likely abandoned with the announcement of the extension, which, as I mentioned earlier, began in 1925.

Buildings facing Minetta Street and Minetta Lane were largely spared at this time (Minetta Court, a dead end street that was located off Minetta Lane, is visible at the above photo’s lower left, between the remaining two buildings). However, by 1940, all but two – 12 and 14 Minetta Street – were slated for demolition and two large apartment buildings designed by H.I. Feldman rose in their place.

Minetta Place, c. 1900. Photograph by George B. Ritter. Courtesy of the Museum of the City of New York.
View of Minetta Place from Minetta Street, c. 1900 but likely later. Photo by Dr. William C. Gilley. Courtesy of the Museum of the City of New York.

If you can’t tell, I’ve grown pretty fond of this little area that’s changed quite a bit in these past 75 or so years! One New York Times writer lamented the loss of these buildings in his 1928 article and figured they would only be discovered on some old map, which is exactly how I accidentally found Minetta Place.

This spot also caught the attention of one Dr. William C. Gilley, who took a photo of the alley leading to the hidden enclave (left). The photo is labeled c. 1900, but I believe it could have been taken a bit later judging by the different condition of the buildings in the c. 1900 sepia-toned photograph above.

Clearly, many were fond of this quirky little spot on the Greenwich Village map. In a 1940 New York Times article, “Landmarks Pass in the Minettas,” a lengthy piece about this spot closed by saying, “[12 and 14 Minetta Street] are the only visible illustrations today of the many things which have passed away in that quaint spot which has provided so much amusement and entertainment for the lovers of old New York.”

If you’re curious, the only two remnants of this block can be found here.

9 responses to “Follow-Up: The Minetta Place That Could Have Been

  1. Thank you for these very thorough Minetta posts! A source you might not know about is the rather rare “Block Sketches of New York City” by Clara Byrnes with maps by May C. Čermák (New York: Radbridge Co., 1918). Byrnes records statistical data (income, ethnicity, etc.) on the occupants of four Manhattan blocks in the neighborhoods of Lenox Hill, Southeast Harlem, Hell’s Kitchen, and Greenwich Village. The Village block is none other than the Minettas (tax blocks 542 and 543). If you’re curious, we hold a copy of this publication at the New-York Historical Society (where I am a reference librarian). There is also a copy for sale (at $1,200!) through New York Bound Books: http://www.newyorkboundbooks.com/featured-titles/ (scroll down a bit).

    1. Thanks, Joseph, this is wonderful! It would be great to see that document in person one of these days so thanks for the link to the catalog record (crazy about that $1,200 price tag). I’d also be interested in taking a look at other newspaper coverage of the Minettas – a future library exploration!

  2. You’re welcome. I just tried photocopying the relevant pages, with the aim of scanning them to send you as a PDF, but the volume (although very skinny) is very large and awkwardly shaped, so I gave up in frustration! Byrnes writes about the occupants, their trades, the rents they paid, etc. Feel free to stop by at any time (until Labor Day, we are open 9:00-3:00, Tuesday-Friday, with occasional early or all-day closures).

    1. Great, thanks for the information! I appreciate it as well as the attempted effort to get those pages scanned.

    1. Thanks for commenting and for linking to those great photos, Amelie! Always fun to learn more about where you live.

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