One of New York’s most classic and commonly used colloquialisms is “the Village.” While some may think of the picturesque, tree-lined streets of the West Village, or of the more alternative East Village, a new collection of stories released this week reminds us of yet another village, one ripe with New York history.
Greenwich Village Stories, produced by The Greenwich Village Society For Historic Preservation, is more than a collection of personal anecdotes from New York notables who once rooted themselves in “the Village;” it’s a love story told in 66 short chapters about one of Manhattan’s most intriguing downtown neighborhoods. Under a shadow cast by the iconic Washington Square Arch, Greenwich Village still feels to this day like it’s own world, with many of its named (not numbered) streets still home to family owned small businesses and clubs that create its character. It’s a neighborhood that was once home to Marcel Duchamp, Bob Dylan, Jack Kerouac, and Jean-Michel Basquiat, and while some may say it’s no longer the enclave for creativity it once was, the book is a 192-page love letter and homage to the neighborhood’s spirit, which continues to inspire to this day.
Founded in 1980 in an effort to honor and help preserve both the actual architecture and charming history of the neighborhood, the GVSHP pooled a diverse and bright cast to tell the stories of their Village. Mario Batali, Jonathan Adler, Graydon Carter, Donna Karan, John Leguizamo, and the late Lou Reed are just a few of the contributors that contributed to this homage, each recalling the many different notes of Greenwich Village.
In reading Greenwich Village Stories, you can hear the brassy notes shrieking out of the doors of jazz clubs as brightly as the strum of guitar strings that created the American folk revival. The “intoxicating fragrance” of Zito’s Bakery as Batali recounts, the sounds of children playing on the neighborhood playgrounds, as well as the faint smell of someone smoking a “doobie,” as per Simon Doonan’s anecdote. No matter what decade is being recalled, it’s done so in a manner that transports you to that place, back to a time where someone would use the term “doobie,” where the small streets lead to tiny bars, and the architecture informed the art being created.
You can’t help but feel melancholy flipping through the pages, inevitably reading the about what used to be of many of the treasures of the Village, knowing that some monument of inspiration has been replaced by a storefront with infinitely less character. Surely no one will be writing essays in the future about the whimsical feeling they used to get pacing by the American Apparel store, or how they had their first “New York Moment” in front of Banana Republic. However, with the help of the GVSHP, the history and independence that does remain on the Village’s streets can still be safeguarded and celebrated, thanks to their permanent documentation in print.
It’s clear in reading Greenwich Village Stories, the people who’ve lived there love their neighborhood unconditionally. And no matter what you think of when hearing someone talk about “the Village,” there’s really only one according to Vanity Fair editor-in-chief Graydon Carter. “In an age of cities, there is just one village, that is known by people the world over: Greenwich Village,” he writes. “It got there by being small. Let’s keep it that way.”
– Anthony Pappalardo
(Photos: Courtesy of The Greenwich Village Society For Historic Preservation, Copyright 2014)