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Celebrating the Greenwich Village Historic District’s 50th Anniversary

This is one in a series of posts marking the 50th anniversary of the designation of the Greenwich Village Historic District. Click here to check out our year-long activities and celebrations.

The Greenwich Village Historic District is one of New York’s oldest historic districts. As we approach the 50th anniversary of its designation, we’re taking time to celebrate the district’s history and all the things that make it great.

Map art by Barbara Macfarlane, represented by Rebecca Hossack Art Gallery, of the Greenwich Village Historic District’s Map

When the Dutch settled the area in the early 1630s, they transformed the marshlands which had been travel and hunting ground for local Native American populations into a tobacco plantation. These transformations continued, with the first dramatic changes coming in the 1800s with the area first being developed as a middle to upper-middle class suburb of New York, to its transformation into a teeming immigrant quarter beginning in the middle of the 19th century.  Through this process, the Village transformed from a rural into a thriving urban area – most like what we know today. The residents of the area founded presses, art galleries, and experimental theaters among many other innovative institutions. As the times changed, so did the area, reflecting the transformative effects of artistic, political, cultural movements such as abolitionism, women’s suffrage, labor activism, and the LGBTQ movements that paved the way for the Stonewall Riots of 1969 – the same year as the district’s designation.

With all this history, architecture, and culture, how could we not celebrate its 50th birthday?

1969 – the Year of Designation

1969 was indeed a very busy year – it was then that the Greenwich Village Historic District was designated by the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission. Neighborhood involvement and preservation was in the air, after the 1965 New York Landmarks Law was signed and the LPC was established to oversee the law’s practical applications.

Washington Mews, from the photo collection for the district’s entry in the State and National Register

The LPC designated the Greenwich Village Historic District — for four decades, the city’s largest — in 1969. They did so citing the district’s many buildings and other features of historic, cultural, and architectural significance which closely reflect the distinct, interconnected layers of New York City’s development.

The District’s Significance

In the designation report for the district, the architectural and cultural importance of the district is explored in really lovely prose. You can read the whole report here. Chronologically, the significance of the neighborhood goes back to the late eighteenth century, when investors began to build similar sets of row houses throughout the neighborhood, intact today and containing the broad range of architectural styles that have shaped the Village over time. Federal row houses were built first, followed by row houses in the Greek Revival, Gothic Revival, Italianate, French Second Empire, Queen Anne, Romanesque Revival, Neo-Classical, and Colonial Revival styles. The neighborhood also houses magnificent churches, triangular “squares,” and charming tree-lined streets, as well as grandeur in the form of monuments like Washington Square Arch and First Presbyterian Church on Fifth Avenue.

Grove Street, from the photo collection for the district’s entry in the State and National Register

The creation of a historic district, with the support of residents and homeowners in the Village, halted the destruction of historic urban fabric in the neighborhood, which faced the twin threats of urban renewal and an increasing number of teardowns and out-of-context and out-of-scale new construction. GVSHP continues this work every day; in fact, when the organization was founded in 1980, its original purpose was to be a caretaker and watchdog for the Greenwich Village Historic District.  That mission has since expanded to include the rest of Greenwich Village, the East Village, the Meatpacking District, and NoHo, and preservation of small businesses and cultural institutions, as well as architecture and culture.

Our Celebrations

…are plentiful, and so are our partners in the undertaking.  A year’s worth of programming, celebrating, and collaborating kicked off in January 2019 with a panel discussion about the early days of the district’s designation. You can watch the video here.

Other upcoming programs include:

Greenwich Village Historic District 50th: The Work Behind the District’s Designation
Monday, March 11, 7:00pm
Church of Saint John’s in the Village, 218 West 11th Street
Learn more and register here!

Greenwich Village Historic District TheaterJam
Monday, March 25, 6:30pm
The Cherry Lane Theatre, 38 Commerce Street
Learn more here, and sign up for our waitlist!

And, keep an eye on our public programs page for more to come.

The centerpiece of our celebration will be on April 13 and April 14, 2019.

Washington Square Park, from the photo collection for the district’s entry in the State and National Register

Celebrate this golden anniversary with us in Washington Square Park with folk and jazz music, art-making and activities, speakers, and festivities! This celebration will kick off our “GVHD50 Open House” weekend.

We’re especially excited about our musical guests  Ryo Sasaki & The Jazz Park Rangers,  Ali Dineen,  John Cohen of the New Lost City Ramblers with Eli Smith, and Richard Barone & Friends. Their music will showcase the vast range of music history that lives in the Greenwich Village Historic District, from Woody Guthrie’s folk songs – which he sang himself in Washington Square – to the swinging jazz that had musicians and their fans flocking and the rock and roll that did the same. We will also welcome elected officials and other inspiring speakers to join in the celebration, along with other friends and partners who will offer walking tours, a scavenger hunt, happy hour specials, and much more over the course of the entire weekend.

We’re calling the weekend an Open House for the Greenwich Village Historic District, and our friends and partners from local cultural, educational, religious, and civic groups and businesses will celebrate the district’s big 5-0 by opening their doors and offering special access to many of the treasures of the Greenwich Village Historic District.

The full calendar is forthcoming. See our list of partners and keep updated at gvshp.org/gvhd50.

Read Executive Director Andrew Berman’s posts about the Greenwich Village Historic District here.

Sign Up Here to Receive Updates about the Greenwich Village Historic District 50th!

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