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A ‘Strange’ Spot, on Bleecker Street

You’re walking along Bleecker Street in the heart of Greenwich Village when the hairs on the back of your neck stand on end. You feel all sorts of magic surrounding you, as if you’re at the nexus of mystical energies coming at you from all corners of the globe. You spy an elegant three-story brownstone on the corner, with a large circular skylight almost staring at you on its mansard roof. You’ve arrived at your destination: 177A Bleecker Street, better known as the Sanctum Sanctorum, and home to the famed sorcerer-hero, Dr. Strange.

The Sanctum Sanctorum in its first appearance (upper left), a more modern version, and from the 2016 film, Dr. Strange.

Of course, that means you’re also walking through a fictional world, one populated by the heroes and villains of Marvel Comics — in print, and more recently the Marvel Cinematic Universe on screen. And while there’s no 177A on Bleecker in our New York City, there is indeed a very real building today at 177 Bleecker that ties into the history of the Sorcerer Supreme.

No. 177 Bleecker Street is no massive townhouse on a corner, but instead one of four handsome red brick tenements between MacDougal and Sullivan Streets, each five stories tall with retail on the ground floor (current occupant of 177’s ground floor is a not-so-magical bodega.) Included in both the local and national South Village Historic Districts, 171-177 Bleecker Street was built in 1887 for an owner named Isidor S. Korn, and designed by Alexander I. Finkle, a New Orleans-born architect whose work can also be seen in other Manhattan buildings (nearby at 34 and 36 East 4th Street, 7 East 3rd Street, and 58 East 4th Street; on the Upper West Side, a row of Queen Anne houses on West 78th Street between Columbus and Amsterdam Avenues). Finkle’s design was typical of Victorian-era tenements in the South Village: old-law “dumbbell” configurations (as seen from above), with very small indentations in the center to allow a minimum of light and air into some interior rooms.

177 Bleecker in the 1940s (left) and today

It wasn’t until the 1960s that 177 Bleecker became associated with superheroes and the mystic arts. Dr. Strange’s first appearance in comics came in Strange Tales #110, dated April 1963, and creators Stan Lee and Greenwich Village resident Steve Ditko placed him in the heart of the neighborhood. His exact address was unknown until September 1969’s Doctor Strange #182, when writer-editor Roy Thomas showed a telegram being delivered to one Dr. Stephen Strange, M.D. at 177A Bleecker Street. Thomas had lived at the real 177 for a brief period in the mid-1960s, as did famed Marvel comic artist Bill Everett.

“The address which is now listed over its doorway as ‘177’ Bleecker Street was, in 1965-66, ‘177A’ Bleecker Street,” Thomas told Bedford + Bowery in 2014. “At one time I thought it was Bill who had used the address for Marvel’s hero magician Dr. Strange, which he sometimes drew and I sometimes wrote. But I later realized it was I who had done it. Dr. Strange lived in Greenwich Village, according to the comics, so, despite the impossibility of his unique mansion fitting into that space (but he was a wizard, right?), I gave it that address.”

That puts an end to the mystery of the real 177 and fictional 177A. Or does it? Not according to Google Maps, where a search for the Sanctum Sanctorum sites it right on our own Bleecker Street. Perhaps there’s more behind that Queen Anne facade than our nonmagical eyes can see.

Perhaps Benedict Cumberbatch, who played the title sorcerer in 2016’s Dr. Strange, can find the Sanctum using Google Maps.

One response to “A ‘Strange’ Spot, on Bleecker Street

  1. I loved reading this article. Thank you for writing it!

    Doctor Strange is one of my faves.

    I worked at Marvel in the 1990s. In the offices the real mystery of the house was it was generally believed that Steve had based the house and its skylight window on a real building in the West Village, but there was no consensus on which one. He’d once told one of our senior editors (if I remember correctly) that he’d walked by a building with a cigar store on the first floor which was the inspiration for the house and the symbol. Recently I was walking near PS 3 and saw a building on a mid-block converging point of sidestreets that looked VERY much like what I remembered Ditko’s take on the building was – a narrow house topped by a slanted roof with artist’s loft skylight. I keep meaning to go back to check it out.

    I met Steve briefly – like a two-minute conversation – as an editor. He was a very nice guy – soft-spoken. He is often labeled as eccentric or crazy or hermetic, but the truth is he was a man of his convictions and morals and had little interest in mainstream ideas of fame, success, or riches. We are blessed to have the body of work he left behind! A true visionary.

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