It Takes a Village A Look at Greenwich Village

Meandering cobblestone streets lined with 19th century brownstones. Tiny parks and postage-stamp sized courtyards tucked away in odd corners. Cafes and shops where hipsters, yuppies, and urban archetypes of all kinds rub shoulders in peace and harmony. Just as a certain nasal whine screams “Brooklyn” to New Yorkers and “New York” to everyone else, so too has Greenwich Village come to represent a particularly romantic image of the city to the outside world.

Wedged between 14th Street and West Houston Street to the north and south, and Broadway and the Hudson River to the east and west, Greenwich Village is now regarded as the quintessential downtown New York neighborhood. But it was once an uptown haven for those fleeing the slums of what is now Lower Manhattan. Founded on former marshland reclaimed by Dutch farmers in the 1630s, the area had acquired its present name by the early 1700s. (The Dutch knew it as Noortwyck, while the native Americans whom they displaced called it Sapokanikan.)

A Green Haven

For much of its early history, the Village remained a secluded pastoral outpost. In the early 1800s, however, it became a refuge for New Yorkers seeking respite from the cholera and yellow fever outbreaks to the south. The area began to develop rapidly, and the once rural enclave became a favorite settling spot for the middle and upper classes, whose presence fostered the growth of art clubs, picture galleries and literary salons.

In the late 19th century, large numbers of German, Irish and Italian immigrants came to the area in search of jobs in the warehouses and factories that had sprung up along the banks of the Hudson; by World War I, the Village had become an ethnically and economically diverse neighborhood with a reputation for harboring avant-garde artists and writers. Its image as a bohemian paradise was further entrenched during the 1950s, when it became the unofficial headquarters of the Beat movement, and the preferred hangout for writers like Jack Kerouac and William S. Boroughs. In the 1960s, the Village became home to a large and highly visible gay community; and in subsequent decades, it emerged as a rallying place for Vietnam War protesters and AIDS activists.

Missing the Beats

The most radical changes to the Village have occurred in recent years have been driven by the neighborhood’s superheated real estate market. According to figures provided by Chris Grunow, an associate broker at William B. May, property values at the Cezanne, a postwar co-op building on Jane St., have increased five-fold since 1993. A 760 square-foot. one-bedroom apartment in the building recently sold for $725,000, while a two-bedroom unit sold for $1.395 million.

As in other neighborhoods, condos tend to be even dearer. A 715 square-foot, one-bedroom in the Memphis, a postwar condominium building on Charles Street, recently went for $995,000, while a 1,426 square-foot, two-bedroom fetched $2.25 million. Peter Kelleher, who manages the Waverley Place office of Prudential Douglas Elliman, says that one-bedroom units in one of the neighborhood’s prewar Bing and Bing condominium buildings are currently selling for $1.4 million, and studios for $700,000. As one might expect, rental prices are high, as well. A small one-bedroom apartment might rent for $3,000 per month, while a two-bedroom unit in a prewar building could cost as much as $6,000.

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