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Oral Histories of the “Virtual Village” — South of Union Square

Village Preservation is thrilled to share “Virtual Village,” a new online interactive tool that allows users to journey back in time to explore and engage with the rich history South of Union Square. In addition to featuring basic information on each one of the two hundred buildings located here, “Virtual Village” includes nearly forty themed tours that showcase the neighborhood’s dynamic and varied significance, including in the spheres of music, literature, social movements, and industry. Among the many virtual explorations of the neighborhood available on this site is the Oral History Tour, which highlights a collection of oral histories that focus on, connect to, or mention sites south of Union Square. This tour pulls from Village Preservation’s Oral History Project, which holds recorded and transcribed interviews with some of the the great artists, activists, business owners, community leaders, and preservation pioneers of our neighborhoods.

Paula Poons, 827-831 Broadway

Paula Poons, 2017.

Paula DeLuccia Poons and her husband Larry Poons have lived at 827-831 Broadway since 1977. Both are artists, following a long tradition of those in the arts who have taken refuge in these buildings over the last half century. In her oral history, Paula talks about other occupants of the buildings including Willem de Kooning, MoMa Director William Rubin, and Cyndi Lauper.

827-831 Broadway, 2013.

She also discusses the major changes to the neighborhood over the past 40 years, as well as the recent battle to preserve 827-829 and 831 Broadway, slated for demolition until Village Preservation was able to successfully advocate for the buildings’ landmark designation.

Listen to Paula Poons’ Oral History here.

David Rothenberg, 80 Fifth Avenue

David Rothenberg, 2017.

David Rothenberg is one of the Village’s most prolific activists. A former Broadway producer, he also produced the Off-Broadway play “Fortune in Men’s Eyes,” which ignited a movement to advocate for the incarcerated and formerly incarcerated. From this, Rothenberg founded the Fortune Society in 1967, an organization that works to support successful reentry from incarceration and promote alternatives to incarceration. In his oral history, Rothenberg discusses his early AIDS activism, run for City Council, leadership roles for the LGBT Community Center and National Gay Task Force, and the changes to the neighborhood he has experienced as a Village resident for over 50 years.

80 Fifth Avenue, 2020.

Rothenberg was on the Board of Directors of the National Gay Task Force (now The National LGBTQ Task Force), which had headquarters at 80 Fifth Avenue from its founding in 1973 until 1986.

Listen to David Rothenberg’s Oral History here.

Vincent Livelli, 17 East 13th Street

Vincent Livelli, 2016.

Vincent Livelli has lived in the Village for close to 100 years. From the 1940s to the 1970s, Livelli helped transform the cruise ship industry as a music and dance director. In his oral history, Livelli reminisces about his early years growing up in the South Village, the child of Sicilian and Genovese immigrants, and his career as a musician, crossing paths with industry legends such as Al Jolson, Charlie Parker, and Anatole Broyard. Livelli also discusses his friendships with many famous Village residents, including Anaïs Nin.

17 East 13th Street, 2012.

Nin, one of the 20th century’s most revolutionary female writers, established her own press, Gemor Press, at 17 East 13th Street in 1944.

Listen to Vincent Livelli’s Oral History here.

Edwin Fancher and Gloria McDarrah, 80 University Place

Edwin Fancher, 2019. Photo courtesy of The New School.

Edwin Fancher (born 1923) was a co-founder and part-owner of the Village Voice from the 1950s until the 1970s. In his oral history, Fancher describes the origins of the Voice — how he met his business associate Dan Wolf, what the local New York City press scene was like in the 1950s, and why he and Wolf decided to launch their renowned publication. The Village Voice has had several homes, and in the 1970s was located at 80 University Place.

Gloria McDarrah, 2014.

Gloria McDarrah has lived in the Village since the 1950s. She worked in publishing, as well as at the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission. Gloria McDarrah was married to Fred McDarrah, who established himself as a photojournalist and a leading documentarian of mid-to-late 20th century Greenwich Village.

Fred W. McDarrah was the primary (and often only) photographer for the Village Voice newspaper for decades, since the newspaper’s inception in 1955. He covered the Village counterculture, Gay rights, Women’s Rights, anti-Vietnam War, and Experimental Theater movements, as well as other organizing centered around the Village.

80 University Place, 2020.

Listen to Edwin Fancher’s Oral History here.

Listen to Gloria McDarrah’s Oral History here.

Fred Bass, 826 Broadway

Fred Bass, 2017.

Fred Bass (1928-2018) joined his family business, the Strand Bookstore, at the age of 13 when it was located on Fourth Avenue. In 1956, he took over the business, and in 1957 moved it around the corner to its present location at 826 Broadway.

826 Broadway,

As the years went on, Bass came to spend most of his time at the buying desk, cultivating relationships with regulars, and turned a small second-hand shop into an international icon that boasts “18 miles of books.” In 2005, Bass was able to buy the building that houses the Strand and made various physical improvements. This oral history includes Bass’ encounters with the writers of the Beat Generation, Abstract Expressionist painters, folk singers, jazz musicians, and many other intellectuals who visited the bookstore; his opinions on some of the early Book Row bookstores, their owners, and the competitive spirit that typified Book Row in its prime; and changes to the neighborhood that he witnessed firsthand.

Listen to Fred Bass’ Oral History here.

Explore the “Virtual Village”

To visit even more sites connected to Village Preservation’s oral history subjects, continue the Oral History Tour of our “Virtual Village” interactive map.

#SouthOfUnionSquare is an irreplaceable piece of New York, American, and world history, and an unprotected but essential slice of Greenwich Village and the East Village. We hope you’ll enjoy, explore, and advocate for saving this amazing neighborhood. 

To send a letter supporting landmark designation of these and other historic buildings south of Union Square, click here.

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