Beware the Ides of March! Though Caesar may have had cause to worry, thankfully the Village is a little more manageable than the Roman Republic. However, that doesn’t mean this Ides we can’t be aware of it with our own twist. Below are a few tidbits of Village history that hopefully help you notice the impact of Hellenistic culture, Italian influence, and the intrigue of murder right here in the Village!
Greek Revival Style
Much as the style of ancient Greece influenced the development of Roman architecture, so too did it influence the Village in the form of the Greek Revival style. This style enjoyed popularity in New York in the late 1820’s through the 1840’s (the Federal style, which was born after the Revolutionary War, fell completely out of favor in New York by the 1830’s, with some structures in the late 1820’s and 1830’s built in a transitional Federal/Greek Revival style). Several factors influenced the popularity of this style, including recent archaeological discoveries, pride in the United States as the first new democracy since ancient Greece, and the Greek War for Independence which was won at this time.
There are many examples of Greek Revival architecture in Greenwich Village including the stunning row of houses along Washington Square North, Colonnade Row on Lafayette Street, and St. Joseph’s Church on Sixth Avenue. Each of these structures evokes the charms of ancient Greece through columns, pilasters, entablatures, and, in the case of St. Joseph’s, pediments. These are elements one would see on stately Hellenistic buildings in both ancient Greece and Rome, the latter absorbing and appropriating many elements of the former in their architecture as it moved from republic to empire.
Italian Immigrant community
Caesar’s reign may have ended and the Roman Empire eventually fell, but the Italian influence can still very much be felt in Greenwich Village. Within the waves of immigration to this country in 19th and 20th centuries were 5.3 million, most of whom initially passed through New York City and in many cases settled here as well. Many of them ended up in the South Village, which became one of the most prominent Italian-American communities in the city. While few of the immigrant communities of the past remain, the South Village has managed to maintain a connection to its ethnic past through the relatively unchanged look of the neighborhood, the prominence of institutions such as Our Lady of Pompeii and St. Anthony of Padua, and even its gastronomic legacy as seen in neighborhood icons like Raffetto’s Pasta, O. Ottomanelli & Sons, and Porto Rico Importing. Much as the legacy of ancient Rome adds to the appeal of contemporary Rome, the Italian community continued to be a major draw to the South Village. In 2007, GVSHP released a report all about the Italians of the South Village, which can be read here.
The Butchery on Bond Street
It didn’t happen on the Ides of March, but the infamous “Butchery on Bond Street” was a murder of nearly equally mythic importance and intrigue. On January 31st, 1857, dentist Harvey Burdell was found stabbed to death in his quarters at 31 Bond Street, igniting one of the most famous murder scandals in New York City’s history. Emma Cunningham, his ex-lover and landlady was immediately accused of his murder in a case that filled the headlines for months on end. The murder of an upper-middle class professional in the sanctity of his own home, coupled with the accused murderess’ unceasing efforts to extract revenge is both a cautionary tale as well as a look into the lives of middle-class New Yorkers in this area in the middle of the 19th Century. Though Dr. Burdell did not have the power and influence of Caeser, and Cunningham was a little less hands-on than Brutus and Cassius, we can recognize that in the end Burdell and Caesar were two men whose hubris lead to disastrous consequences involving people close to them.