In a tiny house still part of Bedford Street, Edna St. Vincent Millay could stand in her living room, spread her arms and touch both walls. In a brownstone on Charles Street, Norman Mailer lived and wrote. On 11th Street, the President’s wife, Eleanor Roosevelt, maintained an apartment as a pied-à-terre during her years as Mrs. President. And lots of other houses/apartments were early sanctuaries for dozens, perhaps, hundreds, of now famous people.
You can still stand at the bar in the tavern on Hudson Street, the White Horse, where Dylan Thomas and other noted writers and artists went to drink nightly. Chumley’s restaurant/bar (which closed when the building collapsed a couple of years ago) was a literary hangout during Prohibition; the front door faced on Barrow; the back door exited on Bedford and was an escape hatch on the occasions when the cops phoned ahead to warn customers of their impending raid.
At the river between Bank and Bethune, Westbeth was created and built over the old El tracks as an affordable living and working space for starving artisans. The old El tracks are still visible in the new High Line walkway built on the second story over/through/between buildings and running along the Hudson River uptown from Gansevoort St. into the 30’s.
For all those years, the West Village has also been a haven for ordinary, respectable people. And all those old dwellings and lots more like them — the brownstones, the houses, the small apartment buildings, the giant apartment buildings, the charming shops — still exist. And on your way home from work in those past years, you could stop at the bakery on 11th and Bleecker to buy a cupcake with a mountain of cream topping.
Until recently, everything new, even big, was built to fit — like 20-story brick apartment buildings next to small brick houses. The original character was maintained.
Not anymore. The quiet, peaceful, comfortable West Village has been overshadowed, destroyed by the new madness for superstructures — giant and ugly — and a greedy desire for tourist traffic. Today, if you want a creamy cupcake at the Bleecker Street bakery, you have to get in a line of tourists and wait your turn.
Sure, there has to be progress. When several 20-story glass monsters appeared at the river’s edge on Perry Street, they were unsightly, totally out of character but tolerable. When a few uptown shops brought merchandise down to Bleecker Street, that seemed reasonable.
However, there has to be a limit.
Unhappily, a few years ago, the quiet, unobtrusive wholesale Meat Market was slowly demolished and replaced with restaurants, bars, nightclubs, chi-chi overpriced clothing stores. A mile-high hotel was built in the parking lot between Gansevoort and 13th Street, a giant ugly silver monster; then greedily it added a monstrous block-long/quarter-block high advertising signboard dangling on the back on Hudson Street. The neighborhood protested, marched on the site, begged the city to halt this eyesore, but, like every other plea, it was ignored.
No one is listening to the pleas of residents to stop this desecration.
The West Village had a character, an image, a quiet dignity. Soon, who will remember? Is this progress…or is this blasphemy?