Think of some of the most iconic sites in our great city, and what comes to mind? The Statue of Liberty. The Empire State Building. The Chrysler Building. The Queensboro Bridge.
Now consider some sites across the five boroughs that tie into our history over four centuries, and you might name the Hall of Fame for Great Americans in the Bronx or the Bowne House in Queens, the Weeksville Heritage Center in Brooklyn or Sailors’ Snug Harbor in Staten Island.
How about some of our world-renowned institutions? That list would include the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the New-York Historical Society, and the main branch of the New York Public Library, to name just a few.
So what do these metropolis-defining locations and others like them have in common? They all can be found beyond the borders of Greenwich Village, the East Village, and NoHo — yet all owe their modern-day existence in some way to the communities we serve.
This week, Village Preservation officially unveiled Beyond the Village and Back, the latest in our series of maps that tell the story of our neighborhood. With more than 35 entries, we’ve had to divide this new addition into two storymaps: one covering Manhattan below 72nd Street, the other for the rest of the city.
Explore the maps and you’ll learn how several Village institutions merged to form the New York Public Library system and ultimately the grand temple of books and research on Fifth Avenue and 41st Street. How one of the nation’s largest synagogues, on the Upper East Side, connects with the sad remnants of a church on 12th Street off of 3rd Avenue. How the Bowne House in eastern Queens ties into the Flushing Remonstrance — one of the key documents defining religious freedom in the not-yet United States — as well as Peter Stuvesant and St. Mark’s Church in the Bowery. How three of Harlem’s most significant churches can trace their origins to the one-time Greenwich Village community known as Little Africa. And how a 19th-century bannister in a 21st-century NYU law school building links up with the Bronx home of one of the early nation’s most important writers.
These are just a few of the stories you can discover exploring both comprehensive maps. A personal favorite is the story of the radiant American Radiator Building, the gold-tipped, black-bricked skyscraper across the street from Bryant Park in Midtown. Completed in 1924, the building was designed by Raymond Hood, whom architecture critic Paul Goldberger considered “perhaps the 20th century’s greatest molder of the skyscraper form.” Before such notoriety came his way, Hood toiled in complete obscurity; his first big break came via restaurateur Placido Mori, whose eponymous establishment opened at 144-146 Bleecker Street in the 1880s.
In 1920, Mori befriended the 40-year-old still-novice architect, gaining enough confidence in him “to let him have his meals on the cuff when his pocket proved empty,” wrote Hood biographer Walter H. Kilham, Jr. “Mori had picked him as a winner. As he said at the time, ‘He must be a genius — he eats so much.’” Mori gave Hood the job of designing a new facade for the pair of row houses, adding a row of Doric columns across the ground floor, imitation Federal lintels, and a setback penthouse studio. The restaurateur also let him live in a small apartment on the site. Every Friday, according to Kilham, the “Four Hour Lunch Club” met, eventually becoming an institution among architects, drawing in regulars, Joseph Urban, Ely Jacques Kahn, and Ralph Walker as well as guests such as Frank Lloyd Wright and artist Tony Sarg.
The building, photographed in 1935 by Berenice Abbott as part of her famed “Changing New York” Federal Arts Project, later became another kind of landmark: the long-missed Bleecker Street Cinema, which closed in 1990.
This and many more connecting histories found in the storymaps are derived from our long-running series of blog posts also titled “Beyond the Village and Back.”
Village Preservation has other maps that also relate the stories of Greenwich Village, the East Village, and NoHo, from our Civil Rights and Social Justice Map to our Greek Revival Architecture Guide and the Bob Dylan Map. These and many more can be found here.