On our way to meet our guides from the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation (GVSHP) at 359 Bleecker Street in Manhattan, a tantalizing display of icing-heavy cupcakes lured us into a tiny shop, Arianna. Turns out, they weren’t cupcakes, but beautifully carved soaps. This unexpected creativity defines Bleecker Street, as does history, architecture, and even a bit of scandal.
Our guides loved telling us Bleecker Street stories. Sarah Bean Apmann, Director of Research and Historic Preservation, could hardly contain herself each time she shared new knowledge. Equally enthusiastic was her colleague, Samuel Moskowitz, Director of Operations. Both seemed smitten to be working for GVSHP.
Since 1969, the street has been a designated historic district. Its low row houses were some of New York’s first buildings, constructed in the 1700s in the Federal style, later in the 1830s in Greek revival style.
Early residents were English, German, and Dutch, but by the late 19th century came a wave of Italian immigrants. Father Demo Square was named after a priest, who for 30 years, looked after his Italian settlers.
Bleecker Street also claims more famous heroes: Thomas Paine who wrote “Common Sense” in 1776, arguing for independence from England and the creation of a democratic republic; and Jacob Riis who denounced the dreadful tenement slums and helped enact the 1901 Tenement Law, even though he didn’t live on Bleecker Street.
In 1961, the New York Times wrote, “A certain section of Bleecker Street is one of the food treasures of New York City.” That hasn’t changed. Side by side, we saw Indian, Italian, Ethiopian, and Jewish restaurants reflecting the diversity of the city.
At 183 Bleecker, as early as the 1890s, one of the first LGBTQ sex clubs offered scandalous live sex shows. Down the block at #157 was an early gay bar, The Slide Club, called “the wickedest place in New York” by the New York Press.
After walking the entire street, the last thing Sarah showed us was her favorite city building. The Bayard-Condict was built in 1899 by famous architect, Louis Sullivan. It rises 13 stories in ornate splendor among its much shorter neighbors.
To learn more and to visit Greenwich Village, go to gvshp.org