One of New York City’s most charming and distinctive corners, the St. Mark’s Historic District was landmarked by the City of New York on January 14, 1969. Containing fewer than 40 buildings on parts of just three blocks, this extraordinary East Village enclave contains several notable superlatives, including Manhattan’s oldest house still in use as a residence, New York’s oldest site of continuous religious worship, Manhattan’s only true east-west street, the remains of the last Dutch Governor of New Netherland, and the only “triangle” of houses attributed to celebrated 19th century architect James Renwick.
The St. Mark’s Historic District is built entirely upon land which was part of the farm of Peter Stuyvesant, purchased in 1651. Stuyvesant Street, at the heart of the district, was part of a grid of streets eventually laid out upon lots on that farm, which followed true east-west, rather than the somewhat eschewed orientation of Manhattan Island which today’s Manhattan street grid follows. Stuyvesant Street is the only remaining street from that pre-Manhattan Grid grid, and originally divided two farms, or “Bouweries” (the Dutch term).
The oldest surviving buildings in the district include the original section of St. Mark’s in the Bowery Church, which dates to 1795-99; the house at 44 Stuyvesant Street, which dates to 1795; and the house at 21 Stuyvesant Street, which dates to 1803-04.
St. Mark’s Church is built on the site of Peter Stuyvesant’s church, thus making it the oldest site of continuous religious worship in New York City. Stuyvesant’s remains are buried underneath the church (under what was then a chapel, no longer extant, built in 1660), as are those of a remarkable array of notable Americans. Later sections of the church date to 1828 and 1854. The church has suffered and survived several fires, resulting in the replacement of its spire. It was one of the first designated individual landmarks in New York City, in 1966.
44 Stuyvesant Street was originally built as a freestanding house at the corner of Stuyvesant Street and the no-longer-extant Judith Street (named for Stuyvesant’s wife). It was built for Stuyvesant’s descendant Nicholas William Stuyvesant, and his wife Catherine Livingston Reade. While somewhat altered, including the addition of an early 20th-century artist’s studio window, the house more or less retains its original shape and configuration and remains in residential use. As such, it is the oldest house in Manhattan still used as a residence.
21 Stuyvesant Street is also known as the Stuyvesant-Fish House or sometimes the Hamilton Fish House. It was built by Peter Stuyvesant, the great-grandson of the original Peter Stuyvesant, for his daughter Elizabeth at the time of her marriage to Revolutionary War hero Nicholas Fish. Fish was a close friend of Alexander Hamilton and executor of his estate. He named his son, who was born at 21 Stuyvesant Street in 1808 and would go on to serve as New York State Governor and Senator, as well as Secretary of State, Hamilton Fish. When General Lafayette returned to America fifty years after the Revolutionary War, a reception honoring him was thrown by the Stuyvesants and the Fishes at 21 Stuyvesant Street. Like St. Mark’s Church, the house is also an individual New York City landmark (one of the first so designated) and now serves as the home of the President of Cooper Union.
Perhaps the most striking array of houses in the district, however, are the newest. Wrapped around the acutely-angled intersection of Stuyvesant and East 10th Street, the “Renwick Triangle” houses at 23-25 Stuyvesant Street and 114-128 East 10th Street were built on the site of Elizabeth Fish’s garden, an undeveloped plot of land across from the church which the homeowners on surrounding lots used. But after Fish died in 1854, the garden was sold off for development, with the houses we see today completed in 1861. Grand and picturesque structures designed in the then-fashionable Anglo-Italianate style, they seem as surprising today when you turn upon them from Second Avenue as they did a century and a half ago when they were built.
At that time, the surrounding neighborhood, which had once been among the most prestigious in New York, was already transforming into a teeming district of working-class German immigrants known as Kleindeutschland. While the houses of Renwick Triangle (so named because they are attributed to the great 19th century American architect) are today among the most sought-after in New York, by the late 19th century and through much of the 20th century, most had been divided up into boarding houses, and have only been restored to their original purpose as single-family homes in recent decades.
The ‘newest’ structure in the district is the only one facing East 11th Street. The white mansard-roofed rectory of St. Mark’s Church at 232 East 11th Street was designed by renowned architect Ernest Flagg in 1900, and has served as the home of the church’s spiritual leader for over a century. Like the church, the rectory suffered a devastating fire in 1988. A partnership between the church and the Neighborhood Preservation Center in 1999 transformed the building into offices for preservation organizations on the first and second floors, including Village Preservation (formerly known as the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation), while the church maintains a rectory on the third floor.
Interested in learning more about the St. Mark’s Historic District or celebrating the 50th anniversary of its landmark designation? Come to the 50th-anniversary celebration co-sponsored by Village Preservation, St. Mark’s Church in the Bowery, the Poetry Project, and many others on Wednesday, January 16 – get information and register here.
A version of this article originally appeared in 6sqft.