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A Guide to the Greek Revival, via Our StoryMap

The Greek War of Independence began on March 25, 1821, eventually leading to the formation of Greece as an independent state in 1830, with its borders defined in 1832 and expanded over the decades which followed. How does this chapter of history 5,000 miles away affect our neighborhoods of Greenwich Village, the East Village, and NoHo, you ask? Quite profoundly, in fact, at least in terms of the look and style of buildings constructed here, especially during the boom years of late 1820s, 30s, and 40s, after the opening of the Erie Canal (1825) turned New York into the country’s most populous and economically powerful city (a position it is yet to relinquish), and Cholera epidemics (1832) in Lower Manhattan sent New Yorkers who could fleeing to the ‘healthier,’ more sparsely settled areas to the north which became our neighborhoods. During this time, the newly formed United States, swelling with nationalism from the “Era of Good Feeling” and conscious of the increasing independence of the new world from the colonial powers with the success of the Latin American Wars of Independence (1808-1833), was also seeking a style of architecture divorced of its English and colonial roots, and reflective of its democratic ideals. Where better to look than the Cradle of Democracy, which was now also freeing itself from centuries of colonial and imperial rule by the Ottomans?

Thus architects and builders during the early 19th century turned to Ancient Greece for their inspiration, and the Greek Revival style was born. Because of the amount of building occurring in our neighborhoods at this time, the Greek Revival style defines many of our most beloved and iconic landmarks, not to mention ubiquitous, everyday structures. So to mark this anniversary and its connection to our neighborhoods, we have created a StoryMap of just some of the many wonderful examples of the Greek Revival style in our neighborhoods and beyond, along with information and details to make you an expert in spotting and understanding this elegant style.

Washington Square North east of Fifth Avenue

The map is separated into four sections. First is an introduction which explains the genesis and basic features of the stye. Next section shows dozens of examples from Greenwich Village, the East Village, and NoHo (along with some guest appearances from Staten Island, Brooklyn, and Chelsea, for reasons explained in the map) of existing buildings that exemplify or illustrate the Greek Revival Style. One such building is the Skidmore House at 37 East 4th Street.

37 East 4th Street

This three-and-a-half story house was built in 1844-45 by Samuel Tredwell Skidmore (1801-1881), a relative of Seabury Tredwell, who lived with his family only a few doors west at 29 East 4th Street, also known as the Merchant’s House. In addition to its intact shallow-pitched, front gable roof, its prominent Greek Revival features also include an entrance portico with Ionic columns supporting a full entablature. It was designated an individual New York City landmark in 1970, but allowed to deteriorate to the point where it almost had to be demolished in the early 2000s. It has since been beautifully restored.

141-145 West 13th Street, the former Presbyterian Church

Another structure featured is one of my personal favorites, the former 13th Street Presbyterian Church at 141-145 West 13th Street. This church, attributed to architect Samuel Thomson, has been faithfully reproduced after having suffered two fires since it was built in 1846. Probably the purest example of the Greek Temple front in our area, its hexastyle temple front (referencing the six columns) features Doric columns supporting a full entablature surmounted by a pediment. Triglyphs and guttae run the course of the frieze of the full entablature. The pedimented entries are recessed behind the free-standing columns and between two corner pilasters.

Church of the Nativity 46-48 Second Avenue

We also included some great lost Greek Revival structures in our neighborhoods, most of which were destroyed before the landmarks law existed and could protect them, but some of which the Landmarks Preservation Commission allowed to be razed. One such example is the Church of the Nativity at 46-48 Second Avenue. This elegant Greek Revival Church designed by architect Davis & Dakin was built in 1832-33. In 1842, it was sold to the parish of the Nativity of Our Lord. The original structure consisted of a temple front and a two-stage steeple. At the center were two Ionic columns with three engaged square columns on either side. Above was an entablature and pediment with a stepped parapet above the pediment. The building was demolished in 1969 to make way for the 1970 modern concrete and brick Roman Catholic Church and rectory that replaced it.

The final section looks at the elements and details that define the Greek Revival style. For illustration, we not only showed pictures of the buildings in our area, but also drawings of some of those buildings from the the Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS), conducted in 1935 as a Works Progress Administration program. Here are some examples.

HABS drawing of the entry at 204 West 13th Street showing Doric columns

Here are some other examples with present-day photos. 114 West 13th Street illustrates parlor floor windows, windows at the main floor which went to floor level.

114 West 13th Street

Door enframements were typically the most ornamental feature on Greek Revival row houses and expressive of the style. Here we see such an example at 228 West 11th Street.

228 West 11th Street

Ironwork at the stoop, areaway and sometimes at the windows was another way that Greek Revival motifs such as fretwork and anthemia were showcased. Here at 8 Washington Square North we see both motifs executed beautifully.

8 Washington Square North

We invite you to explore this incredible resource and learn about this style which graces so much of our area; please click here to do so, and enjoy!

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