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Village Preservation’s Historic Image Archive: Interior Motives

With the colder air, the shorter days, and the mania of holiday planning that come with late November, it seems right to start spending more time in the warm, comfortable indoors. And looking through our Historic Image Archive, while our neighborhood’s building facades and street life take center stage, it’s also nice to note the fascinating interiors that these photographers chose to document. Let’s wander through some of them.

Carole Teller spotted this dreamy fireplace, found inside Colonnade Row.

Veselka, 144 2nd Avenue

We’ll start at one of our (everybody’s) favorite places – Veselka on the corner of 2nd Avenue and 9th Street. Opened in 1954 as a small candy store, the space underwent a number of renovations over the years (most recently in 1996) to expand and become an East Village landmark. They continue to source their ingredients from local and family-owned businesses. (Owner Tom Birchard kindly shared some of his favorite Village things with us in a previous Off the Grid post.)

A seat at the counter and a view of Veselka’s painted walls from 1981.

Of course, you can step into this temple of Ukrainian specialties anytime – they’re still going strong and stay open 24 hours a day. But with these photographs we can take a look at the restaurant’s interior in 1981, comparing the then-and-now wall murals painted by Arnie Charnick and imagining what a seat at the counter would have looked/sounded/smelled/tasted like nearly 40 years ago (probably bustling and delicious). Though so many of the places in our Archive no longer exist, it’s a treat to have images of long-standing, beloved neighborhood spots.

Colonnade Row, 428-434 Lafayette Street

Next, we get to glimpse behind the magnificent exterior of Colonnade Row (or LaGrange Terrace) on Lafayette Street. Originally a row of nine early-1830s Greek Revival buildings, only four remain, but they still unfailingly catch the eye of passersby. In Part 4 of our extensive collections (see Parts 1, 2, 3, and the filming of The Godfather) of photographs taken by the extraordinary Carole Teller, we can observe the unbelievable ceilings, pilasters, and fireplace surrounds found within (at least as of the early 1960s).

Incredible views of Colonnade Row’s interior details, from Carole Teller’s Changing New York, Part 4.

As we see, the building is filled with details that make it majestic both inside and out: rosette ceiling moldings, elaborate anthemion and volute designs, delicately draped curtains, and more. Such features remind us that the homes were indeed built “for families like the Vanderbilts and the Astors” (NY Times). With these photographs, though – and this recent article about the place – we can pretend for a moment that we’re there (and see that the interior details have remained).

Mark Twain House, 21 5th Avenue

For our third stop, we journey back to when lower Fifth Avenue, now home to tall apartment buildings, resembled the smaller-scale streetscapes of much of the rest of the Village. Some remnants of that time, in fact, were around not too long ago. We find a wonderful example from 1954 in the NY Bound Bookshop collection in our archive.

Mark Twain House drawing room (January 1954), from NY Bound Bookshop Collection.

Among the invaluable views of the Village in this collection, there are a handful of photographs of the Mark Twain House, on the southeast corner of Fifth Avenue and 9th Street, including a couple of interior shots. We see the starkly lit drawing room, with a silhouetted figure standing by one of the elegant French doors. There even appears to be snow on the balcony right outside (it was January, after all). Built in 1851 and described in the Greenwich Village Historic District Designation Report as “one of the most architecturally notable houses in all New York,” the house only very briefly served as Twain’s residence. Still, these photographs give us a rare look into the now-lost home of an American (and Village) literary legend.

House on Renwick Row, 26 West 10th Street

That chaise! From the Renwick Row Interior, 26 West 10th Street Collection.

And, saving what I think is the most jaw-dropping for last, we’ll head around the corner to 26 West 10th Street. This grand home is one of a row of handsome Anglo-Italianate houses designed by preeminent 19th century American architect James Renwick, Jr. (presumably the designer of the Mark Twain House, too).  The photographs from this collection place you right inside a turn-of-the-20th-Century home, filled with collected works of art, a mixture of furniture styles, dramatic mirrors over fireplace mantels, and wall treatments you’d scarcely find today.

From the Renwick Row Interior, 26 West 10th Street Collection.

At the time, the home was owned by the Moir family, who lived there from 1866 to 1900. We’re fortunate to still have these buildings in our neighborhood – part of the original Greenwich Village Historic District – but their interiors are likely altogether different now. Thus we’re equally fortunate to have Village Preservation’s Historic Image Archive and supporters who so generously shared their photographs with us.

There are plenty more interiors to see in our Historic Image Archive. Keep snooping!

If you have old photographs of our neighborhoods that you would like to donate to Village Preservation, let us know! Email Sam Moskowitz to ask about adding your photos to Village Preservation’s Historic Image Archive. Prints from the archive are also available for purchase here.

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