By Brian J. Pape, AIA, LEED-AP
Greenwich Village has been challenged on many fronts, but the car-centric culture has been one of the biggest.
You may already be aware that when the early civic leaders decided Manhattan needed a simple, logical street layout for the city to grow north of Chambers Street, The Village was already well established, with influential Village property owners who would not allow their buildings to be wiped out. City fathers instead laid out The Grid to go around the Village.
That plan held until the early 1900s, when transportation needs grew so critical, in the rapidly expanding northward thrust, that subterranean railroads had to be considered for north-south travel. The early 1900s also saw the proliferation of private automobiles and metered cabs, as well as delivery trucks and surface trolleys and freight railroads. Elevated railroads for commuters had been erected in as many places as feasible, but people hated them, and heavy storms could still bring travel to a standstill. This led to decisions to create main avenues through neighborhoods where they had formerly been blocked, many with subways tunneling underneath them.
Today the scars of these avenue right-of-ways are still evident some 100 years later. Many buildings were either demolished entirely or a new, angled wall patched up the amputation, leaving the odd triangular lots and corners that result when a wide avenue is cut at an angle to the established layout.
In Greenwich Village, 6th Avenue was plowed through from The Village to SOHO and Tribeca; 7th Avenue South forever modified The Village from Greenwich Avenue down to Houston Street where it tied into Varick; and 8th Avenue was bulldozed in from Greenwich Avenue down to Bank Street, tying into Hudson Street.
These remnant lots were seldom economically feasible for major buildings, so small one- and two-story service buildings sprang up in their place. The timing was right for the new demand for car “service stations,” which could fit their underground fuel tanks and driveways into tight corners.
By the 1940 Tax Photo records made of every lot in the city, we see gas stations at nearly every corner, much like towns all over America. Space constrains us from showing all the gas station photos, but you can go to NYC Municipal Archives, 1940 Tax Photos, http://nycma.lunaimaging.com/
Here is a sampling from that record; it is not an exhaustive list. I challenge you to keep an eye out for these former service station locations: 20-22 7th Avenue South, 29 7th Avenue South, 48 7th Avenue South, 56 7th Avenue South, 76 7th Avenue South, 85 7th Avenue South @ 20 Barrow, 115-125 7th Avenue South @ 170 W. 10th, 137-141 7th Avenue South, 162-170 7th Avenue South @ 20 Perry, 157-159 7th Avenue South, 173 7th Avenue South @ 5 Perry, 177 7th Avenue South @ 61-65 Greenwich Ave., 538-544 Hudson St. @ Charles (NE), 532-536 Hudson St. @ Charles (SE), 627 Hudson St. @ 43 Horatio, 22-26 Little West 12th St., 39 Little West 12th St., 404 W. 13th St., and 300 W. 13th St. @ 64 8th Avenue &
1 Horatio. Only the last one remains today.
Brian J. Pape, AIA, LEED-AP, is an architectural consultant in private practice, serves on the Community Board 2 in Manhattan, is Co-chair of the American Institute of Architects NY Design for Aging Committee, and is WestViewNews.org Architectural Editor.