Our South of Union Square map offers an interactive look into this area of Greenwich Village and the East Village that is so rich in history, but also so lacking in needed landmark protections. The platform has information on the 200 buildings within the area as well as over forty themed tours that focus on the area’s rich and dynamic history, including the many writers, artists, political leaders, and civil rights and social justice movements connected to the area.
Towards the end of the 19th century, the area just south of 14th Street began developing into a vital center for the publishing world, and over the following decades became home to many of the most prominent publishers in America and the world, producing some of the most significant works of literature of the last two hundred years. These printers and publishers included Erskine Press, Gemor Press, Appleton & Company, Ginn & Co., Longman, Inc., Penguin Books, Macmillan Company, Forbes, O.T. Louis Company, W.W. Norton & Company, Fairchild Publishing, and Ward Locke and Bowden, among many others.
However, even within that August group of publishers, one stands out for the breadth and depth of its impact, as well as its deep connection to the area South of Union Square. In the second half of the 20th century, Grove Press was referred to as “the era’s most explosive and influential publishing house” and “the most innovative publisher of the postwar era.” Grove Press was founded in 1947 on Grove Street in the West Village, if really only rose to prominence after it was purchased by Barney Rossett in 1951, who moved the upstart publishing house into the area south of Union Square. There, he worked aggressively and effectively to transform American culture in relation to issues of censorship, sexuality, race, and class.
In 1953, Grove Press moved to the second floor of 795 Broadway. It was from this location that Grove Press published Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot. Now recognized as the most significant English language play of the 20th century, in the mid-1950s other American publishers refused to publish this piece. Its publication catapulted Grove Press to the head of the cultural avant-garde in America.
It was at 795 Broadway in 1959 that Grove Press contended with legal challenges surrounding the censorship of Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer and D.H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterly’s Lover. These conflicts and discussions around censorship would go on to change the legal and cultural landscape of the United States as it related to the publication of previously prohibited literature.
Also at 795 Broadway Grove Press published Jack Kerouac’s The Subterraneans, and began distribution of its literary magazine the Evergreen Review.
64 University Place
Grove Press moved one block west in 1959. It was from this location that Grove Press published the famous July/August 1962 issue of the Evergreen Review “Statement in Support of the Freedom to Read,” which included the lower level court decision striking down the ban on Tropic of Cancer along with a statement supporting the decision and calling for an end to the legal appeals and similar bans. The statement was signed by 198 leading American writers and critics and the heads of sixty-four publishing companies.
It was also from this location that Grove Press began its paperback imprint Black Cat, thus helping to expand its cultural reach and bring cutting-edge literature to the masses, and the unedited manuscript of Naked Lunch by William S. Boroughs. The book was banned in Boston and in 1966 its case for obscenity charges was heard at the Boston Supreme court for which Grove Press was the defendant. Notable American writers such as Norman Mailer and Allen Ginsberg gave testimony on behalf of the novel.
80 University Place
In 1964 Grove Press moved from 64 University Place to 80 University Place, where it expanded to 85,000 square feet. Here Grove Press published the Autobiography of Malcolm X, and Jacqueline Susann’s Valley of the Dolls, among other notable publications.
While at 80 University Place, the Evergreen Review published an issue bearing the iconic image of Che Guevara on its cover and salutes to him inside. In response, a group of anti-Castro terrorists bombed the Press’ offices. According to a lawsuit filed in Federal Court by Rosset and Grove Press, the publishing house’s offices at 80 University Place were subject to wiretapping and sabotage by the C.I.A.
61 4th Avenue
Rosset’s affiliation with Grove Press ended shortly after he came to 61 Fourth Avenue. However, his role as cultural instigator continued. He revived the Evergreen Review as an online publication in 1998, and worked on several documentaries and films about his life and accomplishments while living here, and created a decades-long art project: a 12 feet high and 22 feet long mural which became the consuming passion of his life.
As described by Bedford+Bowery, “Rosset would stay up all night working on the mural, often painting for four hours at a time without taking a break to eat or drink or do anything but focus on his the wall. It was never finished — he would repaint it over and over, using different colors until eventually it became a completely different painting.” The mural eventually became the subject of its own documentary, Barney’s Wall.
53 East 11th Street
Grove’s move from 80 University Place less than half a block down to 53 East 11th Street around 1967 came at a crucial time for the enterprise. It was from here that Rosset aggressively pursued screenings of the film I Am Curious (Yellow) across the country. This Swedish film intrigued Rosset, and its content of sexual frankness and political critique resulted in obscenity charges after an agreement to not publicize the contents was violated.
In 1967 Grove became a public corporation, vastly expanding its scope and resources. I Am Curious (Yellow) brought a who’s who of New York’s social elite to the theater, including Jackie Kennedy. According to Glass, the film ultimately brought in $14 million for Grove and Evergreen, but ironically led them into a financial downward spiral. Flush from the film’s success, Rosset began acquiring films left and right, none of which would make the company any money. In fact, they would ultimately lead to its precipitous decline.
Grove Press had offices at 837-847 Broadway as early as the mid-1970s (including in 1974, 1985, 1993) and as late as 2012. Beginning in the 1970s Grove Press suffered financial hardship and its influence waned. Rosset sold Grove Press in 1985, and in 1986 he was fired by the new owners.