Greenwich Village Preservation Bid Eyes Gay History





In the area that runs up from Bleecker to West Third, from Sixth Avenue to as far east as Broadway, histories as well as tales passed down from one generation to the next document a vibrant outcropping of establishments that served men and women who enjoyed same-sex desire--including cheap restaurants, saloons, and tea rooms--and sat close by brothels of a more traditional kind as well as Catholic churches that served the neighborhood's emerging working class Italian-American community.

By 1925, at the northwest corner of Bleecker and MacDougal Streets, the neighborhood supported a tonier watering hole, the San Remo, that for decades to come drew what cultural historian Steven Watson has called "the younger generation of bohemians," a group that could also be thought of as perhaps proto-metrosexuals-including Merce Cunningham, John Cage, Frank O'Hara, Larry Rivers, Gore Vidal, Dorothy Day, Miles Davis, Jackson Pollack, James Agee, and Jack Kerouac.

This-and more-is part of the rich cultural stew brought together and to light in an 82-page report released two weeks ago by the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Presentation and authored by Columbia University architectural historian Andrew S. Dolkart.

The report was presented to Robert Tierney, the chairman of the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC), the city agency that oversees the designation of buildings, blocks, and neighborhoods worthy of protection against adverse development. The commission has created more than 80 such districts citywide, and GVSHP is seeking approval for a South Village Historic District comprised of 40 blocks and roughly 800 buildings.

If approved, the district would run from the West Fourth Street southern boundary of Washington Square Park as far south as Watts Street, and from Sixth Avenue, and in places Seventh, east to West Broadway/ LaGuardia Place.

In his introduction to the report, Andrew Berman, GVSHP's executive director, after noting that "Greenwich Village, one of New York and the world's most venerable and beloved neighborhoods, owes much of its continuing appeal to its well-preserved architecture, its palpable sense of history, its charm, and its human scale," warns that the South Village's "historic buildings could be lost at any time."

Major portions of Greenwich Village have been protected since 1969, when the LPC created the city's first "truly large-scale neighborhood historic district," in Berman's words. Since then, additional portions of the Village have also won protection, most recently last year, when the Weehawken Street Historic District was created in a relatively compact area running north and east from the corner of Christopher and West Streets, another area of critical historical significance for the LGBT community.



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