By VERENA DOBNIK. Associated Press
NEW YORK (AP) _ The city’s newest historic landmark is part of a neighborhood where generations of American cultural greats staged their art, music, literature and politics– from Edgar Allan Poe and Bob Dylan to Miles Davis and Allen Ginsberg.
About 250 buildings in Manhattan’s Greenwich Village that reach back to the 1800s gained historic district status Tuesday after a unanimous vote by the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission. Row houses, small theaters, cafes and clubs that welcomed the likes of Lenny Bruce and Eugene O’Neill are part of the 13-block South Village Historic District adjoining Washington Square Park.
Commission Chairman Robert B. Tierney called the landmarking, which will make it much more difficult for developers to touch the area, “a slam dunk.”
Without landmarking, many famed spots have disappeared, including the San Remo Cafe, which billed itself as America’s first Italian coffeehouse and was a favorite hangout of Davis, Jack Kerouac, Dylan Thomas, William Burroughs and others who made the Village “one of the most important cultural and social centers of the city,” the commission said.
Musician and software entrepreneur Mark Fiedler, who has lived in the neighborhood for at least three decades, said he was “ecstatic” over the designation.
“We’ve been waiting a very, very long time for this,” he said.
The Village Gate nightclub and Back Fence bar are gone, but the Bitter End survived, along with memories of Peter, Paul and Mary and Woody Allen.
Opposite Fiedler’s apartment house is a new eight-floor building that blocks what was once his view of the Empire State Building uptown.
Advocates say they fought for years to win landmark status as some storied structures were demolished by developers in favor of new construction. In addition, drastic changes have been made to some 19th- and 20th-century buildings the commission said reflected New York life at its “pinnacle of flamboyance.”
The landmark status eliminates any future possibility of New York University erecting another high-rise dormitory near Washington Square Park, which could have been done before the designation, said Andrew Berman, executive director of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation, which spearheaded the landmarking effort.
Since the 1960s, nearly 2,500 Greenwich Village structures have been landmarked. The Village has become a fashionable residential area with prices that are off limits to many people.
It’s a far cry from the 19th-century neighborhood dominated by Italian immigrants. Then came a large black community. And the mid-20th century brought a rediscovery of Greenwich Village by bohemians including Kerouac, Ginsberg and Burroughs, who led the Beat Generation.
Bruce Springsteen fondly remembers the fun he and E Street Band member Steven van Zandt had in their Village days almost a half-century ago. Springsteen played at Cafe Wha?, which survived, and the basement Gaslight Cafe, which is gone.
“We’d spend our afternoons in the Village, sitting in front of a guitar player, watching every move of his hands, then go back to the basement of Steve’s house and try to get our guitars to make that sound,” Springsteen said last year.
It was such scenes that put the Village at the cutting edge of American life.
What’s left now is a panoply of architectural styles– from Federal and Gothic to Italianate and neo-Greek– that represent the history of the city.
Judith Callet, a Village resident since the early 1970s, said her neighborhood is one of the last in the city “where you can still see the sky and you still have air and light.”
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