Grove Press: Cuba Libre, Che, and the CIA #SouthOfUnionSquare
Grove Press, arguably the 20th century’s “most explosive and influential publishing house,” profoundly shaped and transformed American literature from a number of buildings throughout our proposed South of Union Square Historic District. Grove Press is associated with a number of buildings in this area: four extant buildings, 80 University Place, 52 East 11th Street, 841 Broadway, and 795 Broadway, one recently demolished, 64 University, and publisher Barney Rosset’s home at 61 Fourth Avenue.
Founded in the West Village in 1947, Grove Press rose to prominence after it was purchased by Barney Rosset in 1951. Under Rosset’s leadership, Grove Press introduced American readers to avant-garde literature and theater, which had often previously been restricted from publication or distribution in the United States. Grove Press also published a periodical, the Evergreen Review from 1957 to 1973. In addition to inventive literary works, the Evergreen Review published texts that were crucial to the Civil Rights and Black Power movements while tracking and encouraging the movement.
Evergreen Review published radical political pieces penned by Che Guevara, Malcolm X, and others. Many radical activists in the 1960s admired the Cuban Revolution and made frequent visits through Mexico or Spain to revolutionary Cuba to circumvent the United States’ embargo. Grove Press and the Evergreen Review published a number of accounts from Cuba during this time. The idealization of the Cuban Revolution in the mind of radical activists occurred following the 1967 execution of Che Guevara in Bolivia. The Evergreen Review played a key role in elevating the idea of Che Guevara as revolutionary icon in the United States. In February 1968, Evergreen Review devoted an entire issue to Che Guevara and published a portion of the diary Guevara kept during the ill-fated Bolivian Campaign. The cover featured a now-famous portrait of Guevara painted by Paul Davis based on the original Alberto Korda photograph. Grove Press enthusiastically promoted the issue plastering New York with posters proclaiming “The Spirit of Che lives in the new Evergreen!”
On the evening of July 26, 1968, the 15th anniversary of the start of the Cuban Revolution, a hand grenade exploded in the Grove Press offices at 80 University Place. According to the New York Times, police said that it was an act of retaliation at the hands of the Movimento Nacional de Coalicion Cubano (M.N.C.C.), a group of Cuban exiles, for the publication of Che Guevara’s diaries earlier that year. Grove Press did not accept this explanation. In 1975, Rosset and Grove Press filed a lawsuit alleging that the publishing house’s offices at 80 University Place were subject to wiretapping and sabotage by the C.I.A. The suit claimed that unidentified “anti-Castro Cubans” employed or controlled by the C.I.A. bombed the New York offices of Grove Press on July 26, 1968 in connection with the agency’s domestic United States operations; that the agency wire-tapped the telephones of Grove Press and Mr. Rosset, collected the wiretapped information in an intelligence file, and divulged the contents to others; that impersonation and disguise were used to “infiltrate” Grove Press; and that a “mail watch” was conducted against the plaintiffs that included opening and copying their correspondence. The case was “voluntarily dismissed.”
Village Preservation’s proposed South of Union Square Historic District was recently named one of 2022-2023’s “Seven to Save” — the biannual list of the most important endangered historic sites in New York State — by the Preservation League of New York State. This designation shines a spotlight on the incredibly valuable and varied architecture of this neighborhood, and its deep connections to civil rights and social justice history as well as transformative artistic, literary, and musical movements.
To learn more about Grove Press’ history in our neighborhood, take the new Grove Press Tour on our South of Union Square Map and Tours, or read our submission to the Landmarks Preservation Commission about the extraordinary history of Grove Press rooted in this area.
We have received a series of extraordinary letters from individuals across the world expressing support for our campaign to create a historic district for the neighborhood South of Union Square. To help protect these incredible historic structures and other buildings in this neighborhood, click here.