Ribbon Cuttings, Reopenings, and Anniversaries Bring Neighborhood History to the Fore
This week is full of some particularly notable neighborhood history milestones.
One hundred years ago this week, the Hess Triangle was installed at the intersection of Seventh Avenue South and Christopher and Grove Streets, in front of what’s now Village Cigars, marking what was the smallest piece of privately owned property in New York City. The charming, quixotic, approximately 2 ft x 2 ft x 2 ft mosaic-tile sidewalk installation grew out of the ongoing struggle between the idiosyncratic tangle of West Village streets and the orthogonal Manhattan Street Grid; between the desire to accommodate the car and subways, and to maintain the Village’s traditional scale; and between the little guy and City Hall. Over the last century, it’s become an enduring symbol of the charm, nonconformity, and uniqueness of Greenwich Village.
This past week also saw the opening of two new local parks named to honor neighborhood history. Manuel Plaza on East 4th Street next to the Merchant’s House Museum was named to commemorate the freed formerly enslaved Africans who formed the first free black settlement in North America, several of whom were named Manuel. That settlement, which began in 1643 and included some of the very first people brought to New York as slaves by the Dutch in 1626, covered much of present-day Greenwich Village, the East Village, NoHo, and SoHo. In many cases, these were the first non-native settlers of what’s now our neighborhoods. Village Preservation has worked hard to highlight this history, which appears on our Civil Rights and Social Justice Map.
At Grand and Lafayette Street in SoHo, Rapkin-Gayle Plaza opened honoring Chester Rapkin, the “father of SoHo,” and Margot Gayle, the pioneering historic preservationist who was a longtime member of the Village Preservation Board of Advisors, and who led campaigns for the landmark designation of SoHo and to stop the planned demolition of the Jefferson Market Courthouse, paving the way for its rebirth as a library. Special thanks for Councilmember Christopher Marte for successfully advocating for naming the parks in honor of Rapkin and Gayle, and for including Village Preservation in the ribbon-cutting ceremony.
Speaking of Jefferson Market Library, the beloved Greenwich Village landmark fully reopened late last week after a three-year renovation, which improved accessibility, renovated public and staff spaces, and improved electronic services and technological resources for the public. In June, Village Preservation joined with Jefferson Market Library to offer the public a preview of the renovations of the beloved historic space, and we’ll be holding a gala fundraising costume ball there in September as part of our VILLAGE VOICES benefit and exhibition.
This August will also be the 200th anniversary of the 1822 Yellow Fever Epidemic in Lower Manhattan, which resulted in the rapid development of Greenwich Village from sleepy farmland north of the city to bustling urban neighborhood. Many left “New York” when the epidemic hit that summer, intending to remain in the greener pastures of Greenwich Village only temporarily, but liked what they saw and stayed. As a result, the neighborhood’s population increased fourfold between 1825 and 1840, sparking the construction of hundreds of Federal and Greek Revival style rowhouses that have become the hallmark of Greenwich Village.