Now a bustling epicenter of NYC culture, the West Village’s rich history is just as compelling as its current atmosphere. While not exactly the same as years past, the West Village remains one of the most influential and renowned neighborhoods in Manhattan. With more than 200 years of occupation, New York City has had plenty of time to acquire its own list of interesting historic events. Thanks to a few dedicated historians, the cultural history and relevance of the West Village neighborhood is not lost on modern civilization. A review of the area’s history reveals 10 unique facts only the West Village can claim, distinguishing it from other NY neighborhoods:
1. Washington Square Park. Though not a world wonder, Washington Square Park has been the site of much civil unrest in the past 50 years. In 1961, the park served as the location of a public protest. During the event, a budding filmmaker by the name of Dan Drasin caught it all on camera, which led to the creation of the era’s first protest film. Less than a decade later, the Stonewall Riots in the West Village would signal the beginning of the gay rights movement in New York. Currently, Washington Square Park is a top destination for both tourists and residents of the West Village.
2. Chumley’s. Among the streets of the West Village are some of the most influential locations of the 19th and 20th centuries. Specifically, the neighborhood is home to Chumley’s, a historic speakeasy and famous restaurant currently in the process of re-opening after a devastating 2007 façade collapse. While controversy over Chumley’s re-opening is alive and well, restoration of the building would complement the neighborhood’s goal to preserve local history.
3. Celebrities. As of 2014, the West Village is home to nearly 30 award-winning celebrities. According to Rentenna, top stars like Calvin Klein, Courtney Love, Julia Roberts and Leonardo DiCaprio, have “humble” abodes in Manhattan’s Lower West Side, along with nearly 30 other notable individuals in the area. Once celebrity homes are mapped in all five boroughs, the number rises to over 100 well-known celebrities living across Manhattan and in nearby neighborhoods.
4. Historic arrests. On the list of NYC’s high-profile arrests is the late Mae West. Known for her wittiness and outspoken nature, she was once held on charges of obscenity in what is now the West Village’s Jefferson Market Library Branch. Though no longer serving as a holding cell, the Jefferson Market Library Branch is just as architecturally stunning as it was in Mae West’s day. Now a busy city library, the building greets children, adults and families on a daily basis and plays an integral role in community events.
5. Poets. A noteworthy home to famous poets, the West Village was regularly frequented by the literary likes of Edgar Allan Poe, E. E. Cummings, and Edna St. Vincent Millay. Other writers attracted to the area include Bob Dylan, Jack Kerouac, and Allen Ginsberg. Gaining popularity as a hangout for the creative in the early 20th century, the West Village never ceased to attract the some of the most innovative minds in the world. Today, writers, artists and free thinkers continue to seek the fast-moving, thought-inspiring landscape of New York City’s Lower West Side.
6. The Village Vanguard. An internationally recognized jazz club with an 80+ year history, the Village Vanguard is famous for its acoustics, 7th Ave location, and the many talented names to grace its stage over the decades. Erected in the 1930s, the Village Vanguard is believed to have transformed the life of jazz. Today, the club remains open most days of the week and continues to receive acclaim from fans across the US as a major player in the development of America’s jazz music scene.
7. Eighteenth Century homes. Formerly a part of Yul Brynner’s estate, the oldest house in the West Village was built in 1799. Serving as a farmhouse when first constructed, the home at 77 Bedford St. boasts more than 4,000 square feet. In 2013, the four bedroom, four bathroom property sold for nearly $7.5 million. Not far away, on Bedford St., lies the narrowest home in the city – which is less than 10 feet wide!
8. Grove St. Nestled in the West Village, Grove St. is said to be the location used by John Wilkes Booth to plan the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. With its modern cafés, bustling streets and unique boutiques, Grove St. cleverly masks the historic events that took place in 1865, just before the course of United States history would be forever altered. Today, the street is lined with shops and other businesses, serving as a hot spot for West Village residents.
9. The White Horse Tavern. A famous bar in the West Village, the White Horse Tavern was the preferred drinking location of esteemed poet and writer Dylan Thomas, who passed away in 1953 from unconfirmed causes. Though many speculate alcohol abuse contributed to Thomas’ poor health, no one knows for sure. Because he spent time at the White Horse Tavern, Thomas became the first of many artists and writers to gain inspiration from its walls.
10. Art. One of many reasons to consider the West Village an integral part of the arts community, Jackson Pollack made his home on Carmine Street in the West Village. Credited with the development of the abstract expressionism movement, Pollack is perhaps the most well-known American modern artist of the 20th century. During his time living in the West Village, Pollack is believed to have developed as an artist by creating some of his best work, particularly once he began to pursue the study of art.
These ten interesting facts compromise a small fraction of what encompasses the West Village neighborhood. Manhattan’s Lower West Side, a part of the original colony to settle in the area, has had its share of good and bad in the past couple centuries, although there was nothing with the power to mar the spirit of area residents. While the neighborhood is rich in history, its past clearly will not define its future.
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