By Brian J. Pape, AIA, LEED-AP
These Village streets, by any other name, would be just as charming. But since New York has a habit of changing names, some of our streets have been known by other names over the years.
Since colonial times, Villagers hired surveyors to lay out their streets and plot their properties, taking their cues from already-established routes, namely, Broad Way, Greenwich Lane (now Greenwich Avenue), Skinner Road (now Christopher Street), and Hudson Street. The streets generally followed one another in an orderly fashion, with variations in block sizes and shapes resulting from adherence to some existing property lines.
Under English rule, this area was named Greenwich and contained the country estates of colonists, including Sir Peter Warren. With the Revolution, and early development of the Republic, large numbers of tradesmen created a village, with many summer homes, later year-round living to escape the noise and dangers of downtown Manhattan.
Through the Eighteen-twenties, New York City was closing the gap between itself and Greenwich, with the portion of the Village west of Sixth Avenue as the primary area of development; to the east of it lay the prime residential neighborhood of the City in which stately town houses were erected.
Greenwich Village was saved from becoming an indistinguishable part of the metropolis for two main reasons. Firstly, its early street pattern detached it from the main avenues to the east. Secondly, many early families remained for generations, forming a permanence or preservation bloc.
(The Greenwich Village Historic District Designation Report of 1969 by the Landmark Preservation Commission provided this historic background.)
Greenwich Lane was obviously a major street in the early 1800’s, originating at the river bank, directly east to Eighth Avenue near 14th Street, and then diagonally down to Fifth Avenue, near the “Manetta Waters” (Creek), where the future Washington Square would be plotted. Looking at the juncture of Fifth Avenue and Greenwich Lane, “Art Street” angles off to the northeast; today it is no longer there, replaced by more of the 1811 grid, and we would soon lose Greenwich Lane below Sixth Avenue.
Note that there is no Tenth, Eleventh or Thirteenth Avenue on the map yet, and Fifth to Ninth Avenues originate at Greenwich Lane, run north, and do not intrude further into the Village at this time. Individual structures are shown, mainly homes labeled with their owners’ names, even when they sit in the middle of a street, destined for removal.
The central core of the Village was later saved from deterioration by a renaissance in 1916, when realtors and residents made a successful appeal to the City’s Zoning Commission to set apart the central blocks of the Village for residential use, thereby establishing their concern for the future of the area and halting further erosion of its boundaries.
Now let’s return to 14th Street, the northern boundary of the West Village.
The numbering of cross-town streets is part of the 1811 grid system that picks up at Houston Street further east, but Village streets south of Greenwich Lane are named, not numbered, except for this little corner above Greenwich Lane. West 13th Street will remain split by the future Jackson Square at Eighth Avenue.
West 12th Street is forever divorced from the other West 12th Street, and the relocated (see below) West 12th Street is four blocks south of the renamed (Little) West 12th Street; (Little) West 12th Street seems begging for a name change, but didn’t get one. The old Greenwich Lane below it and west of 13th Street gets the colorful name Gansevoort Street, Dutch for the “White Fort” that was built out on the shoreline.
Below Greenwich Lane (Gansevoort), Horatio and Jane Streets keep their names. Then Cornelia Street (duplicate names with one further south) will be rebranded West 12th Street as it got connected to West 12th Street further east, making a bend at Greenwich Lane. Between Cornelia and Bank Streets, a Bethune Street will be added. Below Cornelia, Bank Street remains, but will be sundered in two at Hudson Street in order to create a playground on Bleecker Street.
Hammond Street, just south of Bank, will be renamed West 11th Street when it is connected to West 11th Street east of Greenwich Lane. Below Hammond is Henry Street, later renamed Perry Street. We’ll return to Henry when we look at the southern half map. Meanwhile, let’s look at the parallel streets between Hudson Street and Greenwich Lane.
Catharine Street, just west of Greenwich Lane, will become part of Waverly Place in the future, after Washington Square is created. Next, when West 4th Street is extended north, it will absorb William Street. And George Street, nearest Hudson Street, will later be connected to a series of streets to the east, and finally be labeled as Bleecker Street.
Hence, the confusion created by West 4th Street crossing West 11th and 12th Streets.
We return to Henry (later Perry) Street, just north of Charles Street, to look at the southern half map. When the Newgate Prison is abandoned, all the streets nearby will be extended to West Street, and West Street and Washington Street will be infilled and extended further north to 14th Street. Another later addition will be the block-long Charles Lane, an alleyway between Charles Street and Henry Street.
South of Charles Street is Amos Street. When it was later renamed West 10th Street as it was connected to West 10th Street further east, making a bend at Greenwich Lane, and West Fourth Street is extended north, absorbing William Street, it added to the confusion of numbered streets crossing one another.
We’ve reached Christopher Street, another major commerce area, leading from the shoreline at West Street and the Newgate Prison (#67), east to Greenwich Lane. When a marketplace replaces the prison, Christopher Street will be widened greatly for the market activities from Greenwich Street to West Street. Obviously, the plethora of piers and wharfs have not yet reached this area.
None of the other cross streets below Christopher Street extend all the way to Greenwich Lane, but end at the farm above Manetta Waters (Creek). This farm is where 8th Street and West 3rd Street will terminate at the future Sixth Avenue. (9th Street will also end at the future Sixth Avenue.) So, let’s return to Greenwich Lane at Christopher Street and work our way around.
Just below Greenwich Lane where it meets Art Street is Amity Street, later renamed West 3rd Street to connect it to East 3rd Street. East 4th Street will need to be added to the area, becoming West 4th Street, and forming the southern border of Washington Square.
Below Amity is “David Street” which takes a turn north at Hancock Street and will later become part of Bleecker Street. When Seventh Avenue is later extended south to Houston, Hancock Street will disappear. Near Hancock is Macdougal Street, which will form the western border of the Washington Square.
Below David is “Houstoun Street” but it only runs from Broad Way to Bedford Street, where it became “Hamersley Street” to the river; later, Houston Street was widened, extended east of Broadway, and had its name substituted for Hamersley Street.
As we move west on Hamersley Street, and continue north from Houstoun and Hamersley Street, we see the familiar names of Clarkson, Leroy, Morton, Barrow, Downing and Carmine. Leroy Street will later bisect the Episcopal Cemetery, but as St Luke’s Place, and then Burton Street on the east will be renamed as Leroy Street also.
Just east of George Street and Burton Street, the little unnamed street below Jones will get the name Cornelia Street. North of Burton Street, we see a piece of Garden(?) Street, that will get renamed Morton, and we see a piece of Commerce Street that will be turned to meet Barrow. Barrow Street will later be extended all the way to Washington Square, but then have the last leg renamed Washington Place.
The next street north is Columbia Street, which later becomes Grove Street, extended to Waverley Place.
Today, without a map, it can be hard to find your way. The streets seemed a little more logical in 1810.
Brian J. Pape is a LEED-AP “Green” architect consulting in private practice, serves on the Manhattan District 2 Community Board, is Co-chair of the American Institute of Architects NY Design for Aging Committee, and is a journalist, especially on architecture subjects.