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Greenwich Village: Immigrant Mecca

Any time of year is a good time to explore our nation’s rich and enduring immigrant history. Fortunately for us, we don’t have to travel far to honor the spirit of the newcomer from foreign lands, as there are many key landmarks to the history of immigration to be found in our own communities.

One great way to explore that history, online or on foot, can be found in our Greenwich Village Historic District: Then & Now Photos and Tours map — just click on the right-most tab and enter the Immigration Landmarks tour. Here’s a sampling of some noteworthy sites along this journey:

Emma Lazarus, 18 West 10th Street

Born in 1849 in New York City, Emma Lazarus was a lifelong Villager, descended from some of the first Jewish Portuguese immigrants to the New World. She was the fourth of seven children in a prosperous Sephardic Jewish family, but she became an advocate for poor Jewish refugees, worked with refugees at Ward’s Island, and helped establish the Hebrew Technical Institute of New York to provide vocational training for destitute Jewish immigrants.

Lazarus was also a widely published poet and writer. In 1883, the year her family moved into 18 West 10th Street, she was asked to write what became her best-known work, “The New Colossus,” to raise funds for the construction of the Statue of Liberty. While the words “Give me your tired, your poor / Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free” are today inextricably linked with the great statue, it took three decades for that association to become official with a bronze plaque of the poem affixed to Lady Liberty’s pedestal. The “gigantic effigy was originally intended as a monument to the principles of international republicanism,” noted New York writer Paul Auster, “but ‘The New Colossus’ reinvented the statue’s purpose, turning Liberty into a welcoming mother, a symbol of hope to the outcasts and downtrodden of the world.”

Chinese Consulate and Mission, 26 West 9th Street

Present-day 26 West 9th Street (tall building at right) replaced the Chinese Consulate in 1923.

In the late 19th century, Chinese immigrants to the United States faced rampant discrimination and legal hurdles to employment, housing, and citizenship. While such discrimination was prevalent in the American West, those arriving and living in New York often faced the same issues as well. Many of the organizations set up to assist and protect the Chinese newcomers were centered in modern-day Chinatown, but some key agencies also called Greenwich Village home.

Beginning around 1885, the Chinese Consulate, which was involved in activist efforts to protect the civil rights of Chinese Americans, operated from 26 West 9th Street. In 1902, the Consulate moved to another office on lower Broadway, and Huie Kin, a prominent Chinese American missionary, moved his family and his Chinese Mission from 14 University Place into this building. By this time, 26 West 9th Street also housed the headquarters of the Chinese Young Men’s Christian Association. The Kin family then turned the third and fourth floors into lodging for Chinese students who were unable to find rooms elsewhere due to discriminatory renting practices throughout the city.

The building housing the Chinese Consulate was demolished and in 1923 was replaced with the nine-story apartment building now on the site.

Patchin Place

Tiny, charming Patchin Place off of West 10th Street is today mostly associated with the famous artists and writers who lived there, but that wasn’t always the case. In the mid-19th century, the site was near the heart of the neighborhood known as Little Spain, a community of Spanish immigrants that stretched from Christopher Street to 23rd Street. Sometime around 1849, the cul-de-sac saw the construction of 10 small, three story houses that remain there to this day. While historical accounts differ, some of the earliest occupants of the houses seem to have been Basque waiters and other workers employed at the nearby Hotel Brevoort on Fifth Avenue (since demolished).

Monument to Giuseppe Garibaldi, Washington Square Park

Giuseppe Garibaldi was the 19th-century Italian patriot who crusaded for a unified Italy during the European era of state building, and was often considered one of the greatest military minds of the period. The many Italians who centered around Greenwich Village, making it one of the largest Italian immigrant communities in New York in the late 19th and early 20th century, chose to honor the general with a statue, paid for by local donations and built in 1888. The statue’s sculptor, Giovanni Turini, was a volunteer member of Garibaldi’s Fourth Regiment during the war between Italy and Austria in 1866.

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