By Brian J. Pape, AIA
THEN: Ever since the City used Eminent Domain to cut Seventh Avenue South diagonally through Greenwich Village’s established blocks in the early 1900’s, and covered up the trench for the new subway tracks, Seventh Avenue South, as well as 10th Street, were well-maintained cobblestone pavements, as seen in this view looking east from just west of the Seventh Avenue intersection in the 1960’s. Let’s explore what else we see in this GVSHP archive photo.
Most prominently, the “Women’s House of D” looms above the building facades on the south side of West 10th Street, its salmon brick and dark metal details soaring like a luxury high-rise, almost obscuring the fabulous Jefferson Courthouse Bell Tower. The House of Detention was built on the site of the open-air Jefferson Market, where farmers and merchants set up stalls to hawk their produce, just as we see at Farmers’ Markets at city parks today. The House of D was demolished in the 1970’s. “Your Father’s Mustache” is a nightclub that graced the corner of Seventh Avenue for many years. Many of the other buildings along West 10th are still extant, such as the tenements in dark red, and the Traveler’s Garage in white paint.
On the north side of West 10th in the foreground, a large vertical sign with neon advertises a corner spot, and there is #185 on a canopy. To the left of that is #183, which our friend Robert Heide tells us was the cellar-dive bar called Lenny’s Hideaway, popular with many celebrities who enjoyed the friendly gay atmosphere under Lenny’s watchful eye (see the Jerry Herman obit in the WVN February edition). Finally, let’s not forget the muscle-cars, the station wagons, and the big, wide sedans that populated our streets, along with the big white garbage trucks. It really doesn’t feel that different from today.
NOW: The Women’s House of D is gone, replaced by a beautiful garden, but the Jefferson Courthouse was saved and repurposed as a NYC Public Library branch. Today, even in winter, it is almost obscured by the many trees that now shade our streets. On the south side of West 10th Street, as we look east, the parking garage has gotten a new paint job in clay over chocolate brown, while the attendant’s booth is still highlighted in white; “Your Father’s Mustache” was replaced by a commercial building of yellow brick, which housed the Gourmet Garage grocery until recently, when the building got expanded into a mixed-use building along Seventh Avenue South.
A dedicated bike path now runs in front of 183 and 185 West 10th, the pavement is now asphalt, Lenny’s is now “Small’s” jazz club, and the neon sign at the corner has been repurposed without the neon for BOBO’S Restaurant.
The sidewalks are still narrow, the traffic is light on the side streets, and the nightclub atmosphere still dominates this area. Despite a few new buildings on the odd-shaped lots along the cut-through avenue, and the spruced up townhouses between old tenements, the West Village has kept its charm, if not its grit.