Today we’re looking at the historic plaques that Village Preservation has placed throughout our neighborhoods commemorating some of the amazing women who have lived, worked, and changed history here.
Historic plaques are a great tool to educate the public about the remarkable history of our neighborhoods, and the incredible people, events, and movements connected to sites all around us.
Historic plaques benefit local communities, as well as tourists and visitors, by sparking further interest in local history. Dedication ceremonies, which celebrate the installation of the markers, also focus attention on historic preservation efforts. Plaques provide documented histories that are made easily accessible to the public, and they represent the importance a community places in its heritage. A plaque also serves as an obvious reminder that a site is historically significant.
The activist and writer Jane Jacobs was instrumental in protecting and preserving Greenwich Village in the face of post-war “urban renewal.” With her seminal text The Death and Life of Great American Cities, she changed the way we built, planned, and organized cities across the country and world, based upon lessons illustrated and learned in Greenwich Village. Jacobs’ keen observations, deep humanism, and fearless activism set in motion our current love of the metropolis.
In late 2020, we placed a plaque on her former house in which she wrote Death and Life of Great American Cities, at 555 Hudson Street. You can view the plaque unveiling program here.
In 1857, the first female physician in America, Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell, established the first hospital for women, staffed by women, and run by women, called The New York Infirmary for Women and Children. It was located in the house still standing at 58 Bleecker Street (at Crosby Street), which was originally numbered 64 Bleecker Street. Built in 1822-1823, the Federal style house was erected for James Roosevelt, the great grandfather of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who lived there until his death just ten years before Blackwell embarked on her groundbreaking effort. Blackwell’s hospital opened on May 12, 1857, the 37th birthday of Florence Nightingale, whom Blackwell had befriended earlier in her career. The hospital was open seven days a week and provided medical care for needy women and children free of charge. (Note plaque is on the Crosby Street Side.) Photos of dedication event here: http://bit.ly/blackwellphotos and video here: http://bit.ly/blackwelldedication
The first African American woman to write a play performed on Broadway, Lorraine Vivian Hansberry bought her Greenwich Village home at 112 Waverly Place in 1960. Already a Villager at the time, Hansberry was a staple of the progressive, creative scene in the neighborhood. Best known for her play A Raisin in the Sun about living under racial segregation in Chicago, she was a New School graduate, a political organizer, a furtive participant in the LGBT rights struggle, and a social justice advocate. Her political engagement drew the attention and surveillance of the FBI. Although she died young, her creative spirit and activism continued to spur her fellow Villagers and artistic peers forward; Hansberry was the inspiration for Nina Simone’s song “To Be Young, Gifted and Black.” In 2017 we unvelied a cultural medallion on her former home at 112 waverly Place. Photos of the plaque dedication are here, and video of unveiling is here.
Called “the Picasso of dance” and “a prime revolutionary in the arts of this century and the American dancer and choreographer whose name became synonymous with modern dance” by The New York Times, the great American modern dance innovator Martha Graham had her first dance studio at 66 Fifth Avenue beginning in the 1930s, remaining here through the at least the 1950s. Starting off as an all-female dance company, it was while located here that Graham first integrated men into her work and school.
The Martha Graham Dance Company, founded in 1926, is known for being the oldest American dance company. Long after Graham’s death in 1991 it continued on, later located at 55 Bethune Street in Westbeth.
In 2015 we unveiled one of our historic plaques in honor of her, with The New School, at 66 Fifth Avenue where her company rehearsed and forged new performances in the 1930s and 40s. Here you can see photos and a video of the unveiling, and an article in The Villager.
27 Cooper Square
In the 1960s, this 1845 former rooming house became a laboratory for artistic, literary and political currents, including growing activism among African-American artists. Writers Hettie and LeRoi Jones, their Yugen magazine and Totem Press, musician Archie Shepp, and painter Elizabeth Murray all had homes here. The vacant building was transformed into a vital hub of cultural life, attracting leading figures including those from the Beats and the world of jazz. It was also the childhood home of a second generation of East Village artists and thinkers. See video of the dedication and photos of the dedication.
Despite its brief life, the Fillmore East is remembered with tremendous affection by both the artists who played there and the concertgoers who enjoyed it, as a place of warmth, spirit, innovation and the finest popular music. The great impresario Bill Graham opened the hall as a sibling to his Fillmore West in San Francisco, and brought in many women performers including Janice Joplin, Roberta Flack, Joan Baez, the Staple Singers, and many more.
The building was a destination for entertainment both before and after the Fillmore East. It opened in 1926 as a Yiddish theater, soon becoming the Loew’s Commodore movie house, followed by the Village Theater. In the 1980s it was the trendsetting gay nightclub The Saint, becoming Emigrant Bank in 1995, and Apple Bank in 2013. While the façade retains much of its original Medieval Revival style, the rear of the building, which housed the auditorium, was demolished and replaced by the Fillmore apartment building in 1997. You can view photographs of Village Preservation’s ceremony of the installation of the historic plaque here.