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Posts Tagged ‘Greenwich Village’

Paranormal Activity

August 20, 2014 | by

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Fernand Lungren, Washington Square, 1897

James’s writings about New York disclose, more than anything, an anger, quite unlike any other anger in James, at what has been lost to him, what has been done, in the name of commerce and material progress, to a place he once knew. It is not an ordinary anger at the destruction of beauty and familiarity; it is much stranger and more complex than that, and it deserves a great deal of attention.

That’s from Colm Tóibín’s introduction to The New York Stories of Henry James. It’s a great primer on the writer’s hometown ambivalence—a quite explicable turn of events when one considers that any visit to the Village would have brought James face to face with the death of childhood, with constant overhaul, Mammon, and rampant sexuality on nearly every block. And with bad food, to boot. 

On a constitutional in Washington Square Park today, my thoughts turned to James—they generally do, when I see the intact row houses fronting the park. (Well, James and NYU.) The man titled a novella after it—even if, as a friend recently pointed out, Washington Square gives less sense of the neighborhood than of interiority. (He’s said to have modeled the Sloper residence on memories of his grandmother’s. And if you want to see that brought to life, take a tour of the Merchant’s House Museum, one of the small treasures of the city, listed on any compendium of NYC’s haunted spaces.) 

Perhaps my favorite of James’s New York stories is “The Jolly Corner.” Like The Turn of the Screw, it is a ghost story and more than that. It concerns a man returning to his empty childhood home, which is about to be subdivided into apartments. Read More »

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Goodnight House?

July 29, 2014 | by

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121 Charles Street, in Greenwich Village.

The optimists among us may think we’re okay: the world will sort itself out, the climate will stabilize, young people will always read and dream and give us hope for the future. And yet, sometimes you see something so objectively depressing that it’s hard not to feel we’re doomed. Case in point: 121 Charles Street, in Manhattan, also known as Cobble Court.

The property, an eighteenth-century farmhouse, is noteworthy for its charm—it’s surrounded by a pretty yard on a picturesque Greenwich Village street. Peep through the fence and you can see the little white birdhouse made in the larger house’s image. Not original to the neighborhood, in 1967, it was moved from York Ave. and 71st Street to avoid demolition.

Horribly enough, it is imperiled again: a broker recently listed it as a “development site” for $20 million. Quoth they,

ERG Property Advisors is pleased to exclusively offer for sale a West Village development site located at 121 Charles Street on the corner of Charles and Greenwich. The property is directly situated in arguably the most desirable enclave in all of Manhattan, the West Village. The property’s corner location benefits from significant frontage along both Charles and Greenwich Street … creating tremendous street presence. The property consists of a 4,868 square foot corner lot in the Greenwich Village Historic District. The offering would allow a developer or user to execute a wide variety of potential visions, from boutique condominiums, apartments or a one-of-a-kind townhouse.

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Letter from Greenwich Village: Plan B

November 5, 2012 | by

A young Mitt Romney type in J. Crew stood on the corner of Christopher and Hudson streets, thermos in hand, offering passersby cups of coffee, two dollars a cup. People just gave him looks.

Mostly, people were neighborly. Hudson Bagels handed out day-old bagels. Garber’s Hardware, who had a generator, put out power strips for people to charge their phones and offered Pepperidge Farm cookies and coffee (no two dollar donation required).

People shared candles and batteries and food and offered neighbors hot showers. (No, not in that way. Although ... well, maybe.)

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Ghost River

January 23, 2012 | by

Not long ago, I read an article about archaeologists in Greenland who discovered that plants growing above an ancient Norse ruin possessed slightly different chemistry from plants growing nearby. I was taken with the idea that the energy of a forgotten structure, invisible and buried deep underground, may percolate upwards to leave subtle impressions on the surface. It was this that came to mind recently when I discovered Minetta Brook, a hidden stream that flows beneath the streets of Greenwich Village.

I had learned of the stream from an 1865 map of Manhattan, drawn by an engineer named Egbert Ludovicus Viele, which showed marshlands, rivers, and streams crisscrossing the island beneath an overlay of the city’s grid. The map, which is still used today by engineers, showed Minetta Brook beginning as two branches, one originating from a spring at Fifth Avenue and Twentieth Street, the other from a marsh near Sixth Avenue and Seventeenth Street. They met near Twelfth Street, then flowed south down Fifth Avenue, through Washington Square Park, before emptying into the Hudson River at Charlton Street. According to the historian John Fiske, the brook, in the seventeenth century, had been a favorite fishing spot for the Lenape and the Dutch: “a clear swift brook abounding in trout.” By the early nineteenth century, it had disappeared from maps, buried beneath the streets, forgotten. Or perhaps not. There were stories floating around about basements of older buildings in the Village with grates in the floor, through which you could see the stream flowing. I wanted to listen to the stream, smell the water, dip my fingers in, maybe even take a small sip. Wouldn’t that be something. And so I decided to retrace the path of Minetta Brook, going door-to-door, asking everyone I met about the stream that flowed beneath their building. Read More »

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Pronoun Trouble

January 17, 2012 | by

Elizabeth Bishop, "Cabin with Porthole."

Elizabeth Bishop was a painter as well as a poet, and the paintings that she left to her partner Alice Methfessel, who died in 2009, are now being sold. I’ve been to see the paintings a couple of times: last winter in the office of James S. Jaffe Rare Books, and a few weeks ago in the Tibor de Nagy Gallery.

The paintings are quiet. Some are domestic still lifes, including pansies in a wicker basket, a candelabra on a table, a tea set, and a doll-like lover asleep in bed. Others feature  vernacular architecture: a Greenwich Village apartment building of ivy-covered brick, a wooden church in Key West, a county courthouse grand in the way of the nineteenth-century South. Most are in watercolor and gouache on vellum paper, whose delicate translucence no reproduction quite captures; lines are sometimes drawn in ink or pencil. Bishop didn’t have a steady or a precise hand, but her eye for color was fine, and she understood how to make the most of patterns, such as the radiations of a palm leaf, the stripes of a comforter cover, or the palings of a fence. She also had a Walker Evans–ish appreciation of the way that words, when they appear in the world as things, can seem both monumental and silly. The county courthouse is childishly labeled as such on a gable. On a street near a cemetery, each of five tombstones leaning against a shack reads “FOR SALE.”

The choice of subject and the modesty of style suggest that the paintings were for Bishop a personal matter. She usually signed them, when she signed them at all, with her initials or just her first name. Read More »

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Staff Picks: Bookshop Door, Thinking Fast and Slow

September 16, 2011 | by

The Greenwich Village Bookshop Door at the Harry Ransom Center.

Thinking, Fast and Slow sums up the cognitive research that won Daniel Kahneman a Nobel Prize in Economics (a first for a psychologist). It is also an old-fashioned work of philosophy: a series of DIY experiments that teach you how and why to doubt your intuitions about things as basic as cause and effect. —Lorin Stein

The Ransom Center has launched a curiously fascinating exhibit online, based around a door from Frank Shay’s bookshop that was signed by hundreds of the habitués of 1920s Greenwich Village, including Theodore Dreiser, John Dos Passos, Upton Sinclair, Sherwood Anderson, and Sinclair Lewis. The original shop was across the street from my current apartment and exploring the site, and the interconnected histories of the people who frequented the store, is a nifty way back in time—like a portal to twenties social networking. —Deirdre Foley-Mendelssohn

I’ve been looking forward to pulling Dalkey Archive’s new collection of stories and essays by Mina Loy off my shelf, but it hasn't yet found it’s way into my reading cycle. I have managed to dip my toe in by way of Triple Canopy’s excerpt of her play “The Sacred Prostitute,” a very funny send-up of, among other things, men’s attitudes toward women. What’s more, some young genius at the magazine has put a handful of CF’s sublime, seductive drawings into the mix. —Nicole Rudick

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