By Harry Rissetto
I grew up in Greenwich Village during the period between Robert Moses’ proposed freeway and John Lindsey’s plans for a tourist mecca. I recently spent parts of a year back there and tried to connect my memories and current impressions.
The West Village during the ‘50s and ‘60s was mostly middle class residential, with neighborhoods that were ethnically clustered by first and second generation Italians and Irish, and interspersed with folks with long American lineages. Many five-story apartments were transitioning to steam heat and indoor plumbing from the more primitive shared tenement services. I remember sounds of the iceman, knife sharpener and vegetable wagon as they passed down the street. Most of the retail stores sold to the local residents. Grocery, vegetable, bread, meat and pastry sellers had stores on nearly every block. People bought daily because there were few freezers that held more than ice cubes.
My dad had a wine and liquor store on MacDougal St. I spent a lot of time there absorbing the culture. The political and sports discussions were heated and never-ending.
There has been a lot of transition since I lived there. Restaurants and high-end shops have replaced most of the service stores. The pushcarts that lined Bleecker Street between 6th and 7th Avenues have disappeared along with the local families that kept them in business.
What has remained the same are the artistic creativity and the diversity of the people who live here. From the historic apartment houses to the updated tenements and vintage townhouses, the Village was and still is a welcoming place, even for an outsider.