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A Perry Street Delight: The Timeless Charm of Spanish Tiles

The west side of Manhattan from Christopher Street to 23rd Street was once known as”Little Spain.” For a time, more than 15,000 Spaniards and their American-born children and grandchildren lived in this neighborhood.

Expressions of Spanish culture can still be found throughout Greenwich Village. In the heart of the West Village lies a particularly beautiful and surprising hidden echo of the erstwhile Spanish culture of the area.

The corner of Perry Street and Bleecker Street

The striking blue and white tiled blind arch on the side of the apartment house at 88 Perry Street is perhaps the last thing you might expect to encounter on this corner and this particular building. The tenement building was constructed between 1866 and 1868 for the plumbing firm, Brien & Adams, who contracted the architect Robert Griffin Hatfield (1815–1878) to create it as an investment property.

88 Perry Street, 1940s tax photo

Fast forward a full century: In February of 1970, Manuel Jimenez, an immigrant from Argentina who had studied architecture in his home country, bought 88 Perry Street. He opened a Spanish antique shop in the ground floor storefront. He called it El Rastro, after the market of the same name in Madrid.

When Mr. Jimenez renovated the building in 1972, he commissioned Fábrica Mensaque Rodríguez y Compañia, a world-renowned artisan maker of “azulejo” tiles from Seville, Spain to create the tile mural for the recessed area in the wall. Prior to 1972, the north wall of 88 Perry was a drab brick wall reflecting the building’s tenement status. Since then, this work of art has been an essential component of the neighborhood’s beauty, character, and charm. It has been widely photographed by locals as well as passing tourists, and has become a beloved local landmark.  It is a happy reminder of and nod to Little Spain and the Spanish immigrants who were once a vibrant part of Greenwich Village.

Detail of the tiles with the artisan’s signature

Today, as gentrification threatens to homogenize neighborhoods and erase the traces of their unique character, the Spanish tiles of Perry Street serve as a reminder of the importance of preserving the cultural landmarks that make our city truly special. In a world where change is constant and often inevitable, these tiles offer a sense of continuity, a link to the past that grounds us in the present.

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