While exploring the history of Greenwich Village, it’s impossible to come away unimpressed by the sheer number of historical figures who have lived in the neighborhood. The cultural giants who have graced the area’s centuries-old streets and buildings comprise a veritable who’s who of art, jazz, and theater. Even more amazing is the sheer volume of history that has occurred in the neighborhood.
Given its crucial role in the history of such a major metropolis, it is amusing to note that Greenwich Village was at one point an actual village — in that it was not considered part of the city. According to maps dating back to the late 18th century, Greenwich Village was more than two miles into the suburbs. Prisoners were sent “up river” to New York State’s first penitentiary on what is now West 10th Street. And in the early 19th century, during a yellow fever epidemic, New Yorkers savored Greenwich Village for its bucolic scenery.
Things changed rapidly. By the late 19th century, The Village — as it is endearingly called — was part of the growing metropolis. The neighborhood established itself as a haven for art, free speech, and counterculture at large with the 10th Street Studio Building serving as its focal point. Winslow Homer’s residence gave rise to the artists’ space early on, followed by such great talents as Mark Twain, Walt Whitman, Salvador Dalí, and Jackson Pollock, to name a few.
The history of jazz would be completely different without the clubs of Greenwich Village. The Village Vanguard opened in 1935, and routinely hosted all the major players. Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk, Bill Evans, and Stan Getz were all regulars. The Village Vanguard is still one of New York’s best clubs, and its place in jazz is arguably even more important today. The 1950s ushered in the Beat generation and other writers who took inspiration from Greenwich Village. Dylan Thomas famously imbibed at The White Horse Tavern, which still stands today, the night before he passed. The tradition of open-mindedness continued into the late 20th century as the LGBT movement has its East Coast home in Greenwich Village.
The several-hundred-year history of Greenwich Village is storied and ever-changing, but thankfully the neighborhood has not changed beyond recognition, as so many other parts of the city have. This is due in large part to the neighborhood’s non-standard street grid, its fiercely loyal residents, and New York City’s Landmarks Preservation Commission’s designation of the Greenwich Village Historic District in 1969. Now Washington Square Park, which was a common grave in the 18th century, will stand forever. As will the Jefferson Market Library, and the many residential enclaves that make up the Village’s distinct architecture. For four decades the Greenwich Village Historic District stood as the largest historic district in the city. That is a testimony to the history of the Greenwich Village, looking back and moving forward.
Duane Street Hotel is located just minutes from the heart of historic Greenwich Village.