Before the Village awakes

”This section of Manhattan, owing to its peculiar street system . . . preserves to this day the traditions, habits and quaintness of old New York” – Real Estate Record & Guide of 1915.

Almost a century since the guide was published, little has changed in the West Village. Having spent my first year (in NYC) there, and looking back on 7 years, 5 apartments and 3 boroughs, it continues to be my favourite neighbourhood in the city!

A few weekends ago, a friend and I decided to meet at the crack of dawn and photograph the streets and buildings of this wonderfully quaint hood. For a change, I’m going to let the photographs do the talking, or most of it at least 🙂

Our walk begins in Washington Square Park, considered by many to be the heart of the Greenwich Village. On the park’s south side, the tower of the Judson Memorial Church rises high enough to pick up the first few rays..


On the west side of the park, while NYUs Hayden Residence Hall continues to remain in the dark, a neighbouring building is brilliantly lit.


A few blocks down, on the corner of 11th St and 5th Ave, the First Presbyterian Church or the ‘Old First’ has also managed to garner a fragment of morning light.


By the time we make it over to 6th Ave, the sun has risen high enough to illuminate Jefferson Market Clock Tower, the century-old icon of the Village, which still makes for a grand sight..


The brownstones on Christopher St, meanwhile, are beginning to reap the benefits of the trickle-down effect!


Looking back east along Gay St., it is easy to appreciate why the West Village is such a fascinating part of the city – oddly-angled streets and a breadth of architectural styles!


The intriguing little block on 7th Ave, between Grove and Christopher streets, is what I once called home – that red and green building, to be precise! The late 19th-century brownstone lost its south east corner in 1914 to allow for the extension of the avenue (south from 11th St), which somewhat explains its unconventional appearance today!


As we begin to cross 7th Avenue, I pause to look south. In all my time on #61 Grove St, I had never seen it look so desolate!


On Grove St., the Pharmacy is long gone, the Japanese eatery has changed ownership and names, but some Village institutions persist to this day – Marie’s Crisis Cafe, a gay bar and music venue, and Arthur’s Tavern, a legendary Jazz club..


If the West Village is my favourite part of the city, Grove is my most preferred street in the Village! If for nothing else, then the fact that it boasts several oddities!

On the northeast corner of Grove & Bedford is one such – one of the last remaining clapboard structures in Manhattan!


Diagonally across from it are 2 creeper adorned townhouses. The creeper is shared, but the house that spawns it also boasts a tandem..


A few doors past it, and nestled between 10 & 12 Grove St., is Grove Court, a private enclave made up of mid 19th-century brick townhouses. Originally built for the working class, and known in the past as ‘Mixed Ale Alley’, this mews is now one of the most coveted pieces of property on the island!


On the western end of Grove St. lie 4 near identical houses. Built in a simple style in the early 19th-century, they were constructed prior to the introduction of the Greek Revival form.


Retracing our steps a bit, we head south along Bedford, pausing briefly at #75½ Bedford St. Not just any old house this – at a width of 9½ feet, it is the city’s narrowest!


A little further ahead, we make a right onto Commerce St. This quaint, inverted L-shaped street does nothing more than connect Bedford with Barrow!  It doesn’t have too much commercial activity to boast off either, baring the historic Cherry Lane Theatre..


And a namesake restaurant..


Where Commerce St. turns north to meet Barrow St, stand two identical 19th-century brick houses, separated by a garden and nicknamed the ‘Twin Sisters’!


Barrow is your typical tree-lined, narrow street, with plenty of eyes to keep a watch on its serenity!


We begin to work our way back to the park, using Bleecker St. to cut across east. Walking through it, we encounter another Village classic – Ottomanelli & Sons – whose facade has probably changed very little in over 7 decades!


In my Grad school years, MacDougal St. was the ‘go to’ on weekend nights. Seeing it this early in the morning is a whole different experience, given that the lines outside Kathi Roll Company and Mamoun’s Falafel would have subsided only hours ago! Thankfully, those two legends continue, although the street’s anchor tenant these days is McNally‘s hot spot, Minetta Tavern.


Surrounded by taller buildings, MacDougal is one of the few streets in the Village that does not get a whole lot of natural light till later in the day.  But since 1927, Caffe Reggio has been perfectly located to pick up a sliver!


Meanwhile, NYUs Hayden Residence Hall is adequately lit by the time we return to our starting point, it’s very ornate porch looking most impressive in late morning light!


Almost 3 hours have passed since we started our walk and as the sun shines brightly overhead, Washington Square Park has begun to receive its first few visitors..


A full set of pics from the walk can be seen here.

6 thoughts on “Before the Village awakes

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