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Many layers of history on 4th and 5th Streets

Image courtesy of FABnyc.

May the 4th be with you! While today is a special day for many Star Wars fans, for us in the Village today’s date is a reminder of that the low-number streets of the NYC grid plan are encompassed by within our neighborhoods. May is also Lower East Side history month and it is important to remember that one of our neighborhoods, the East Village, was historically part of the LES.  In honor of today’s date, we are taking a look at some of the buildings that dot both 4th and 5th Streets, highlighting the eclectic histories and culture that exists in the East Village, between the Bowery and Avenue A.

The Fourth Arts Block

Fab Logo

In 2001, a dozen cultural and community groups collectively negotiated the purchase of eight city properties on E. 4th Street between 2nd Avenue and The Bowery.  The block is an extraordinary cultural hub, with fourteen arts groups, ten cultural facilities, and twenty performance and rehearsal venues.  It’s recognized nationally as an incubator of original work, and is home to racially and ethnically diverse companies, free and low-cost programs, and multiple opportunities for emerging artists and youth.  All of the eight properties are also now deed restricted for nonprofit cultural use in perpetuity.  The Fourth Arts Block is also administered by an organization, FABnyc, which helps to strengthen the cultural vitality of the Lower East Side through programs and collaborations with local cultural organizations, artists, and neighborhood nonprofits.  Below are some of the standout buildings you can expect to find along this block:

La Mama Theater-74 E. 4th St.

La Mama’s main building at 74A East 4th Street. Photo courtesy of the La MaMa Archive / Ellen Stewart Private Collection.

The La Mama Theater was originally designed by August H. Blankenstein to be a clubhouse for the Aschenbroedel Verein. It underwent numerous alterations, including the removal of partitions, the addition of stairways, windows and an elevator, and the eventual conversion in 1949 to a meat packing plant. In 1969, Cafe La Mama occupied this space, and in 1970 La Mama Theater moved to this location.

The four-story red brick building has a flat roof with a broken triangle pediment. It has three bays; the windows on the third and fourth floors are six over six, double hung, with a variety of decorative lintels in triangle and segmental styles. The second floor has double-height windows under round-arched lintels with head busts beneath the arches. On the corners of the building, there are cast-iron quoins. The ground level has a set of painted metal double doors that match the building, with a “La Mama” sign over the top. There are four pilasters on the ground floor, the upper half of which are paneled, while the lower halves are fluted.

62 E. 4th St.

62 E. 4th St.

62 East 4th Street was built in 1889, when owner Victor Eckstein hired the architect Max Schroff to design what many refer to today as the “oddest” building with an Andy Warhol past in the East Village. Its stairwell is encased in a metal grille exposed on the center of the facade. The window enframements feature different forms and decoration on each story, with an ornamented loggia on the fourth floor. The cornice is a replication.

Originally, the building had a restaurant on the ground floor and meeting rooms on the second and third floors as the Metropolitan Assembly Room, which was formerly located at 64 East 4th St. Eckstein himself made his home on the fourth and fifth floors.

New York Theater Workshop- 79-81 E. 4th St.

New York Theater Workshop-79-81 E. 4th St.

The brick and glass building located at 79-81 East 4th Street was originally built in 1944 and was altered in 1995 to become the New York Theatre Workshop. The present facade and roof line were installed in 1995, along with a signboard, lighting, and security gates.






More 4th St.

68-70 Second Ave.

68-70 2nd Ave.

This six-story Renaissance Revival-style tenement building was constructed in 1907 by Mayer Sugarman and Morris Adelstein, designed by Edward A. Mayers. It was constructed for 25 families and stores on the ground and basement levels.

The facade features a bracketed and modillioned cornice, limestone window lintels and sills, beltcourses, raised brick quoins at the building corners, and quoined limestone window enframements on the second story. The storefront on the ground floor has been altered and infilled and the ground floor cornice has been removed. The roof cornice is original.

Manhattan School for Career Development- 113 E. 4th St. (324 E. 5th St.)

113 E. 4th St.

This through-block lot consists of a five-story building erected in 1905 by the City as a public school, designed by architect C. B. J. Snyder, the New York City Superintendent of School Buildings from 1891 to 1923. Located on the south side of the lot, it went through major internal alterations in 1948 and 1950. The 1948 alteration involved creating living quarters for women and children. The building currently serves as the Manhattan School for Career Development. The north portion of the lot is utilized for parking.

Before the construction of the school building, the site was formerly occupied by tenements.

The Dutch Colonial style building features a unique design by Snyder. It has a square plan and a pitched roof with Dutch gables. The windows are surrounded by stone trim and bands span the facade. The same material is utilized as coping on the gables.

139-171 East 4th Street

Village View Houses- 139-171 East 4th Street

The Village View Houses were constructed in 1960. The project was originally intended to serve as low-income housing and was to be called the Franklin D. Roosevelt Houses. However, prior to completion of construction, it was renamed and converted into middle-income cooperatives sponsored by a group of six colleges: NYU, City College, Bank Street College of Education, Cooper Union, Mills College of Education, and the New School for Social Research.

Before blocks 432 and 433 were combined to be just known as Block 432, lot numbers 18-24, 26-30,32,34,37 and 39, 40 and 42 of block 433 were part of William B. Astor’s holdings and were leased out to various people between c. 1850-1875.  His holdings also extended to the entirety of the original block 432, which was south of East 5th and above East 4th street.

5th Street

236 East 5th Street

236. E. 5th St.

This New-Law tenement originally housed 31 families. The 6-story Renaissance Revival building was constructed circa 1912. The windows feature segmental fenestration with scrolled keystones and wrought-ironwork at the first story. The building also features wrought-iron fire escape and gate to the basement entryway, segmental entryway with granite steps, scrolled keystone, garlands, rustication at the first story, and a heavily bracketed cornice with dentils and swags.

244 East 5th Street

139-171 East 4th Street

This 3-story brick, stone, and metal row house was constructed circa 1844-45 and altered in the 1880s. Originally designed in the Greek Revival style, Neo-Grec and Queen elements were added in later 19th century alterations. The building features a paneled portico with deep jambs topped by a bracketed, metal lintel; bracketed window sills; molded window sills, bracketed roof cornice with dentils, frieze panels, and central gable and sunbrust.

221 East 5th Street

221 E. 5th St.

This six-story tenement was built in 1896 by George Frederick Pelham for Joseph L. Buttenweiser. It housed 22 families over ground-floor shops. The brick, limestone, and terra cotta building features round arch fenestration at the fifth story, recessed, round-arch entryway, terra cotta band courses and spandrels, beveled lintels on the second, third, and fourth stories, molded surrounds, and blind arches above the sixth-story windows filled with sunbursts and surrounded with architraves similar to the fifth story lintels.


338 East 5th Street

139-171 East 4th Street

This five-story old law tenement building was erected in 1892, replacing two three-story buildings on the lot.

Its facade features slightly projecting side bays, patterned brickwork, arched window lintels, keystones, beltcourses, a bracketed cornice, and ornamental entrance enframements with a bracketed door hood and Corinthian pilasters. It shares the same design with the adjacent building at No. 340 East 5th Street.

9th Precinct- 321-323 East 5th Street

9th Precinct.

Since 1912, this site has served as a police station for the NYPD (it replaced a 19th century stable and feed store). Originally known as the 15th Precinct Police Station, it became the 9th Precinct in 1929 when the city’s precincts were renumbered. Fans of TV shows “NYPD Blue” and “Kojak” might recognize the building from its appearances on those crime dramas, though only the exterior was used for filming.

The six-story cast-stone facade dates to 1912 and features a cast stone cornice and terra cotta details, although the rest of the building was demolished around 2004. When a larger building with setbacks was completed, the Hoppin & Koen-designed facade, which had been disassembled, was reinstalled block by block. During construction, policemen had been temporarily stationed at a building at 130 Avenue C, and were reportedly thrilled to see the historic facade retained.

The firm of Hoppin & Koen were best known for their city and country residences, including Edith Wharton’s home The Mount; however, they received acclaim for the design of the stunning New York City Police Headquarters Building (built 1909) at 240 Centre Street. Soon after, the police department commissioned Hoppin & Koen to design this East 5th Street station. Both Francis L.V. Hoppin and Terence Koen served as apprentices in the prominent firm of McKim, Mead & White before opening their practice in this city in 1894. The influence of the Beaux Arts tradition favored by McKim, Mead & White is clearly evident in the work of Hoppin & Koen, including at this East Village police station.

7 responses to “Many layers of history on 4th and 5th Streets

  1. Thanks for making walking in my neighborhood more meaningful
    with your excellent information about the buildings I look
    at, but knew nothing about. Now I can look at them with
    more interest thanks to your work.

  2. Any idea as to when 216 East 5th was built? My ancestors lived there in the mid-1800’s and I’m curious as to whether this is the actual building they lived in.

      1. Thanks, Sam… my 3rd great grandfather was living there before he died in 1844, so this 216 was constructed after his time.

  3. 74 East 4th St was also the home of The Gallery Gwen, approx1966-1969. This performance space/gallery was first located on E.7th St near Cooper Union, opening in 1964 on a hunch of Barbara Hall Fiske, WWII cartoonist , painter and co-founder of Quarry Hill Creative Center , an artist’s retreat that became the oldest ( purchased 1946) and for a time the largest alternative community in Vermont.
    Barbara ( my mother) spent the family’s last $75 on renting the first Gallery. She began showing her work and that of friends , but the paintings were swiftly stolen. When the Gallery moved to E4th, Irving Fiske, WPA writer, playwright and speaker,began giving talks on Eastern and Western philosophy, psychology, the arts and the need of the creative individual to free herself or himself from conventional conditioning. He was Barbara’s husband and my father.A Cornell graduate and Brooklyn native , he had a great sense of humor and an ability to gconvey the value of each person, sometimes to their surprise.
    His talks on Tantra, the Yoga of Sex, advertiseed in The Village Voice , drew in crowds… . He spoke Wednesday and on Friday would drive to Vermont with those who wanted to visit. He gave out a brochure; Free Vermont Mountain Vacations! From those who could afford it he asked $10 a week.
    The building is now demolished— It was next to the “other” 74 E4th, it was a draw in the East Village as that entity flowered from the Lower East Side. Irving put huge signs in the window quoting St Paul: “ Our quarrel is not with flesh and the body , but with authority… the blind world- rulers of this life.” ( Slightly Irvingized)
    Many well known people vane to the Gallery abd i enjoyed my teens there.
    Becoming friends with the Underground cartoonists. Trina Robbins, R. Crumb and Kim Deitch … abd my boyfriend, Art Spiegelman, with whom I lived in Brooklyn for a time.

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