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What’s In a Historic Plaque?

plaque - Owh
Owh! In San Pao

There’s an appealing 1951 painting by Stuart Davis owned by the Whitney Museum of American Art, though it’s not currently on view in the new building. Vibrant and memorable, the work is titled “Owh! In San Paõ.”  The Whitney explains the unusual name: “…Davis had planned to exhibit it at the 1951 Biennial in São Paolo, Brazil. When it was rejected by the exhibition’s organizers, he humorously renamed the work.”

It’s a favorite of mine, so I was excited to see, when I walked by a building on West 13th Street one day, that Stuart Davis had lived and painted this very painting in a building that once stood on this site. Thus, a bit more meaning was added to the day’s wanderings.

This plaque is installed by the entrance to The Cambridge, at 175 W. 13th Street, at Seventh Avenue.

Historic plaques of every kind line our West and East Village streets—some more familiar, some less. They educate us about the major events that took place before our time, the important people who walked right here decades or centuries ago. Here at GVSHP, we have our own plaque program, and the public is invited to attend our next installation event on October 7, at 6 pm, when we honor the great writer James Baldwin at one of his former homes, 81 Horatio Street.

Graham Plaque
GVSHP’s most recent plaque, installed on a New School building at 66 Fifth Avenue this June.

The Historic Landmarks Preservation Center runs the most prolific plaque program in the city, installing its medallions in every borough. Explore this map and you’ll probably see a familiar one, or learn something about, for example, where composer and pianist Scott Joplin lived (136 W. 131st Street); I’m reminded of piano lessons long ago — or whom is honored by the one and only medallion on Staten Island (George William Curtis, an influential writer who co-founded Putnam’s Magazine in 1852).

This medallion may be unfamiliar, as it is hidden away at 4 Patchin Place, an alley off West 10th Street:

plaque - ee
This plaque even has another one installed above it, placed by the e.e. cummings society and the Landmarks Preservation Commission.

I’m a fan of the one-offs in particular, the plaques placed by passionate fans who will never do such a thing again. Such is the case with a plaque honoring the great baseball player Hank Greenberg, at the home where he lived as a young child. Here a blogger remarks on both the meaning, and the mystery, of this plaque.

plaque - Hank
Installed at 16 Barrow Street, near Seventh Avenue.

Is there a notable person or place you’d like to see memorialized in Greenwich Village, NoHo, or the East Village? Just let us know (kloew@gvshp.org) — we haven’t yet chosen what next spring’s plaque will be!


2 responses to “What’s In a Historic Plaque?

  1. Thanks for the article. I would like to see more plaques that memorialize some of the great music and art venues of the Village and the artists and musicians that frequented them. Max’s Kansas City (Union Square, not technically the Village), The World (East 2nd Street), Club 82 (East 4th Street( CBGB’s (The Bowery/2nd), and others. How do I go about supporting the creation and installation of such plaques?

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