Tom Bernardin has been a good friend to Village Preservation for some time. And it’s safe to say he is obsessed with the history of our neighborhoods. In his capacity as the unofficial historian for Julius’, the historic gay bar on the corner of West 10th Street and Waverly Place, he has given lectures and led tours for Village Preservation’s public programs series. And he provided us with some valuable research too.
Tom was with us the day we appeared at the City Council to protest Intro 775, the plan to restrict the landmarks law. How ironic as we celebrate its 50th anniversary.
Tom is one of twenty people recently interviewed for Village Preservation’s expanded oral history project. When Tom spoke, it was from the viewpoint of a longtime neighborhood resident who has seen a lot of change:
“All right, to put Julius’ in some context, it’s now at the corner of Waverly and West 10th Street. That would once be the corner of Amos Street and Factory Street. There was a huge carding factory on Waverly up towards Seventh Avenue. It became a bar right after the Civil War. The Village would have been polka dotted with a hundred pubs — a hundred Irish pubs — when this part of the West Village here. This side of Sixth Avenue would have been working class — Irish, Italian, working on the piers, OK? Over by Washington Square Park would have been the more patrician — the Henry James crowd and all of that.
They didn’t necessarily get along. So, Julius’—I have no idea what it was named back then — would have been one of those pubs, a White Horse Tavern. That’s still there, of course, on Hudson. It gradually segued into becoming a gay bar. The Village of course is left-minded people, more -embracing people, more nonconformist, anarchist, socialist, lefties, rabble-rousers, all of those great things. Artists and sculptors and all living here cheap, so they could do their thing and create their art, would have started to hang out in Julius’. Being more open-minded and liberal, it gradually became a hangout for gay men. Hopefully always will be. That’s another one of my battles. You would have people like Edward Albee and just everybody, everybody, passing through there at some point.“
It’s so true that there is a lot of change, some bad, some good, but the fact that we have historic districts and some individual landmarks helps us to preserve a lot of the history that makes the Greenwich Village area so special.
And stay tuned for a program that we are planning to do with Tom in the spring of 2016 about another of his passions: public clocks. Tom is the founder of the organization Save America’s Clocks. Where does he find the time?