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Three Up, Three Down: Explore Our Greek Revival Heritage in Six Buildings

The Parthenon in Greece and St Josephs Church, NYC
The Parthenon in Greece and St. Joseph’s Church in Manhattan

Two centuries ago, a war began in Europe that would shape boundaries and alliances on the continent for years to come. Greece, which for centuries had been under Ottoman rule, began a war for independence in 1821, and with help from the United Kingdom, France, and Russia, achieved victory and became its own nation by 1830. Some 5,000 miles away, that same struggle would also shape our own communities’ aesthetics, resulting in treasured and elegant streetscapes in Greenwich Village, the East Village, and NoHo.

Greenwich Village and environs were booming in the early and mid-18th century, thanks in part to the opening of the Erie Canal and the cholera epidemics that sent New Yorkers to venture out from the tip of Lower Manhattan to seek out the healthier, more sparsely settled areas to the north that became our neighborhoods. Mix that drive for new real estate with the greater sense of nationalism in the United States at the time and a growing consciousness of the New World’s increasing independence from the Old, and you have new builders looking for an architectural style divorced of existing English and colonial roots, one that reflected new democratic ideals. With the Greek struggle for independence still fresh, they were inspired to turn to the ancient buildings of the so-called Cradle of Democracy for their new designs. The Greek Revival style was born, and defined many of our most beloved landmarks, as well as ubiquitous, everyday structures. 

To mark the bicentennial of Greek Revival and its connection to our neighborhoods, Village Preservation developed a StoryMap of some wonderful examples of the Greek Revival style in our neighborhoods, both existing buildings and those long gone, to help make you an expert in spotting and understanding this elegant style. Let’s take a look at a few examples of what you’ll find on the map.

Still Here: St. Joseph’s Church, 365 Sixth Avenue

St Joseph’s Church, Sixth Avenue, via Wally Gobetz/Flickr

Many Greek Revival churches built during this era drew directly on Greek temples such as the Parthenon as models. One outstanding example is St. Joseph’s Church, located at the corner of Washington Place and Sixth Avenue, built in 1834 for its first pastor, James Cummiskey, and designed by John Doran. Two large, fluted Doric columns are set within the entrance portico flanked by walls with pilasters at the corners. According to the 1969 Greenwich Village Historic District designation report, this modification of the templum-in antis of antiquity where the side walls were extended found a new form in Greek Revival in the United States with the extension of the walls along the front façade. 

St. Joseph’s is the oldest extant intact Catholic church in Manhattan. It was originally founded in 1829 to accommodate the growing Catholic immigrant population in the neighborhood, particularly the Irish laborers who began to move here. The cornerstone of the church was laid on June 10, 1833, and despite several extensive renovations and a major fire in 1885, the church that stands now is still the original.

St. Joseph’s Church, from the 1969 Greenwich Village Historic District report
St. Joseph’s Church, from the 1969 Greenwich Village Historic District report

The church has been known to welcome more than just immigrants. In 1982, it hosted the first meeting of what would become the Gay Officers Action League, an organization of LGBT police officers; the first public education program on AIDS ever held in Greenwich Village and first meeting of Gay Men’s Health Crisis also took place there.

Gone but Not Forgotten: Spring Street Presbyterian Church, 246 Spring Street

Spring Street Presbyterian Church 1927
Spring Street Presbyterian Church 1927

The Spring Street Presbyterian Church was founded in 1809 with prayer meetings held in residences and business locations, and a structure was completed two years later. The Spring Street church was well known for its abolitionist efforts, had a multiracial Sunday school, and welcomed Black Americans to full communion. In July 1834, the church was among the sites attacked and almost completely destroyed in anti-abolitionist riots.

In 1836, the Spring Street congregation started over, erecting a glorious Greek Revival sanctuary that would flourish for another 127 years at this location. Temple front in its design, it had two Doric columns at the front of its recessed portico beneath a full entablature and pediment. 

By 1963, the area in which the church was located had been given over almost entirely to industry. Down to fewer than 49 members, the Presbytery of the City of New York voted to close the church. There were still hopes of fundraising to reopen the church, but in 1966 the abandoned building suffered a tragic fire. The structure was razed, and a parking lot was built over the site. In December 2006, construction of the Trump SoHo began at the site; nine years later, the Trump Organization reported that the $450 million, 46-story hotel condominium was no longer going to be affiliated with them. The building, which still stands today, is now called The Dominick.

Still Here: St. Mark’s in the Bowery Church, 131 East 10th Street

St. Mark’s in the Bowery
St. Mark’s in the Bowery

One of the most historically significant landmarks in not only the East Village but the entire city, St. Mark’s in the Bowery Church is the oldest site of continuous religious worship in New York City, built on the grounds of Peter Stuyvesant’s chapel in his bouwerie (farm). Its beautifully and simply detailed steeple was designed by architect Ithiel Town in 1828 in a pure Greek Revival style of simple stepped blocks. The church and grounds were designated a New York City landmark in 1966 and placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1975.

The church was built over an extended 55-year period. The main building was constructed of fieldstone in the Georgian style in 1799, followed by the Greek Revival steeple in 1828. In 1854, the cast-iron, Italianate portico was added, possibly by architect James Bogardus. The iron fence was constructed in 1838, likely part of a series of renovations undertaken by architect Martin E. Thompson. A fire damaged the church in 1978, and the building was not fully restored until 1986.

The church in 1936, image via Historic American Buildings Survey

Stuyvesant himself is entombed along with numerous other notable family members in the Stuyvesant family vault in the churchyard. St. Mark’s is further known for its social justice mission and its commitment to the arts, and has been a noted leader in anti-war activity and crusading for civil rights, supporting the Black Panthers in the 1960s and the Black Lives Matters movement in the 2010s. The first lesbian healthcare clinic was housed here as well.

Gone but Not Forgotten: St. Ann’s Church Parish Rectory, 120 East 12th Street

Facade of St. Ann's Church with NYU dorm behind it
Facade of St. Ann’s Church with NYU dorm behind it

Before NYU’s 26-story Founders Hall dormitory was built here, there stood a structure and sanctuary that had served three of New York City’s main religions. From 1983 until the time of its demolition, it was known as St. Ann’s Armenian Catholic Cathedral, an Eastern Catholic church. Previously it was known as St. Ann’s Church, a Roman Catholic congregation located here since 1870.

When the Archdiocese of New York sold the entire site to a developer in 2005, the sale included the 1840s brick Greek Revival rectory, which is believed to have been built and served as a residence before becoming the parish rectory of St. Ann’s Church. This rowhouse to the west of the church had an intact original brownstone Greek Revival temple–like enframent, as well as its brownstone stoop and brilliant Greek Revival ironwork. The parlor floor window openings were also intact. Although the window lintels had been shaved back, there was still a pressed metal cornice with paired brackets between the bays at the parapet, most likely a later 19th-century addition. The areaway ironwork was of particular note complete, with wrought-iron Greek Revival anthemia atop the rail.

The Greek Revival rectory of St. Ann’s
The Greek Revival rectory of St. Ann’s

In 2006, NYU announced plans that led to construction of the dorm facility, a plan Village Preservation rallied against. The Landmarks Preservation Commission never granted St. Ann’s landmark status, and calls to save the building went unanswered. The church was demolished. NYU eventually “restored” the church façade, tower, and iron gate — none of which are in the Greek Revival style — but all were left entirely empty. This yielded one of the oddest architectural juxtapositions in the East Village, a mixture the the AIA Guide to New York City referred to as a “folly behind which lurks yet another dorm for NYU … the effect is of a majestic elk, shot and stuffed.”

Still Here: Cushman Row, 406-418 West 20th Street

Cushman Row

Chelsea’s Cushman Row is frequently cited as the one of the finest rows of Greek Revival residences in New York City. Their elegant beauty is accentuated by their positioning facing a square, the campus of the General Theological Seminary, at the heart of the Chelsea Historic District. (Another outstanding and similar example is the set of rowhouses on Washington Square North.) Set 10 ft back from the property line, these 1839–40 houses have deep front yards marked by exquisitely detailed iron fences and gates, crowned with anthemia and palmettes. The stoops have elaborate candelabrum newels, and lead to deep brownstone temple-like entryway enframements, above which are classic Greek Revival low attics. The dentilled cornice is topped by tall chimneys and two small dormers — unusual for Greek Revival houses. 

Cushman Row was developed under the guidelines established for the development of Chelsea by Clement Clarke Moore — who wrote the poem “A Visit from St. Nicholas” (“Twas the Night Before Christmas”) while on a sleigh ride through Greenwich Village — and James N. Wells. The two established both rigorous and sophisticated standards for all new construction in the neighborhood, to ensure that only the highest-quality development characterized Chelsea; stables and rear buildings were prohibited, while tree planting, fireproof materials, and large front and rear yards were required. Seeing the potential in Moore and Wells’ work and in the newly emerging neighborhood, Don Alonzo Cushman decided to build what would be Chelsea’s finest row of houses. Working within but going beyond the constraints imposed by his friends Moore and Wells, Cushman by 1840 had developed his row not only in the most fashionable and up-to-date architectural style of the day but also with amenities that would be the envy of most New Yorkers.

Iron Newel, Cushman Row
Iron Newel, Cushman Row

Today, Cushman Row is remarkably intact and admired. Though many of the houses were converted to apartments, interior details were often retained, and the exteriors changed little considering the nearly 200 years of flux and churn going on around them.

Gone but Not Forgotten: Genius Row, Washington Square South 

58-61 Washington Square South, 1936
58-61 Washington Square South, 1936

Amid the row of Greek Revival homes that once lined Washington Square South between West Broadway (now LaGuardia Place) and Thompson Street, 61 Washington Square South was perhaps the most significant of these houses, and was well documented in the Historic Architectural Buildings Survey in the 1930s. As seen in those drawings, it had a door surrounded with pilasters supporting an entablature, sidelights and a transom light. At the roofline was an dentilled cornice and dormers with rounded arched pediments — all classic elements of Greek Revival architecture.

No. 61 was dubbed the “House of Genius” due to the efforts of a woman named Madame Katherine Branchard (1856–1937) who began leasing the house in 1886. Branchard converted the single-family dwelling into a boarding house for writers, scholars, artists, and musicians. By the time she was 80 in 1936, The Brooklyn Daily Eagle referred to her as the “Mother of Washington Square.” For half a century, Branchard made the house a home and gathering place for a legendary array of creatives, some already in the midst of their success, others just starting out.

Notable residents of Genius Row included writers Willa Cather, John Dos Passos, Eugene O’Neill, Theodore Dreiser, and Stephen Crane (who wrote his masterpiece The Red Badge of Courage as a resident). The walls are said to have been a tribute to the many creative minds that lodged there, with artistic murals and poetry etched in by the former guests and residents.

61 Washington Square South Exterior Details, from Historic American Building Survey 1933
61 Washington Square South Exterior Details, from Historic American Building Survey 1933

The demolition of the House of Genius and Genius Row was one of the Village’s earliest and most contentious preservation battles. A developer named Anthony Campagna purchased the houses around 1947, planning to destroy them to build a high-rise apartment building for 302 residents. In an effort to save Genius Row, Bishop William T. Manning formed the Committee for the Washington Square Living Art Center, which included John Sloan, Justice Henry H. Curvan, and Carl Van Doran, among other early Village preservationists. They proposed that the houses be turned into a community art center, to protect the historic and creative character of the area, but that idea failed to garner funding.

Unfortunately, in 1948 Campagna acquired eviction certificates from the City. By March, he had demolished 64 Washington Square South. Tenants living in the three remaining houses battled with him in court, but they agreed to evacuate their homes by that summer. While the hypothetical high-rise was never built, the property was sold to New York University. Developers and NYU may have won the battle over Genius Row, but the loss served as a catalyst for activists and preservationists in the Village. The property went on to become NYU’s Loeb Student Center, which NYU later demolished to build the even larger Kimmel Center located here today.

Speaking of Genius Row, be sure to visit our Greek Revival Bicentennial map to become a genius about the style’s intricate details and history in Greenwich Village, the East Village, and NoHo.

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