This is the first entry in our new blog series, “Hidden in Plain Sight,” which highlights the many architectural curiosities and unique features found on buildings throughout our neighborhoods — details you might not notice on first pass, but if you’re paying attention, they tell easily overlooked and often forgotten stories.
Every building in Greenwich Village contains countless stories within its walls. Many are up to 200 years old or older, and have borne witness to generations of immigration, political change, and cultural evolution. If you learn how to interpret the materiality of these buildings, layers of history can be revealed, in everything from the style of windows to the chemical composition of the mortar that holds the bricks together.
But there are also much more accessible clues that offer insights into the life cycle of these places. One such example is the historical “name plate” sometimes carved into or embossed upon a building. These names can remain long after the ownership of the building has changed, making these signs curious timepieces and portals to the past. Here are a couple of fascinating examples within Greenwich Village:
200 Bleecker Street – “Joe Laemmle”
Facing the wide intersection of Bleecker Street and Sixth Avenue, 200 Bleecker Street (aka 272 Avenue of the Americas) is immediately recognizable as the current home of the Little Red School House, a progressive school founded in 1921 and housed in this building since 1962. Originally, these were two Federal style single-family row houses, constructed circa 1825-26 for Thomas Parker. Both were built to two-and-a-half stories, and in 1876, 200 Bleecker Street (then the address of the more easterly of the two houses) was raised to three stories, and its lower floors converted to commercial use. The adjacent 202 Bleecker Street followed suit soon after, when its basement was altered to accommodate a store in 1882, and the building raised to three stories in 1889 by architect John B. Franklin. By 1970, the buildings were combined for the school. However, the changes done in the 1880s for the owner at that time, Joseph Laemmle, bring us to today’s hiding in plain site feature.
Gazing up toward the roofline of the Sixth Avenue side of the building, you’ll notice a break in the standard cornice (that’s the decorative unit that extends across the top of the building, often made of wood, stone, or metal, in this case the latter). This particular cornice features a flat decorative piece at its center, with an embossed foliated design, and beneath it, the name “JOE. LAEMMLE”. There is also a matching name plate embedded in the cornice on the Bleecker Street side.
The Laemmle Dairy was located in this building from the 1880s to about 1920. Laemmle, born in 1854 in Würtemberg, Germany, became a naturalized citizen of the United States in 1880, and city records indicate that 202 Bleecker Street was his address from 1884 to 1914. When he retired that year, his son John B. Laemmle took over the family business for the next five years or so. Joseph Laemmle’s work in the dairy industry contributed to the establishment of stricter laws surrounding the price of milk in New York City. Though the Laemmle family has not been connected to this building for more than a century, their name remains, a visual reminder of how this building, now a well-known institution offering mental and intellectual nourishment, was once a place of much humbler offerings of physical nourishment.
125 West 3rd Street – “Z.T. Piercy”
A nearby building has a similar name plate, though the history of the building is quite different from its Bleecker counterpart. West 3rd Street, just one block north of Bleecker Street, has a contrasting feel to it. This stretch between Sixth Avenue and MacDougal Street features some more industrial buildings, in particular two garages. On the north side of the street, 125-129 West 3rd Street was constructed as the “Z. T. Piercy Garage” in 1919, by Frank Vitolo for Zachary T. Piercy. So in this case, the name emblazoned on the building announces its original use.
The three-story beige brick garage has terra cotta architectural features, including the upper panel with the engraved name. The building now includes apartments and a hardware store. It was common to brand buildings with the owner’s name in the 19th and early 20th centuries, often an early form of signage to indicate a business or company owned by that family. But many of these signs are removed or covered when ownership changes. These are just a couple examples of the ones that can still be found scattered throughout the neighborhood.