New York Daily Photo Analytics

Friday, December 21, 2007

Bleecker Street

The problem with Bleecker Street is nothing new - a place being a victim of its own success. Over time, the South Village has gone through several incarnations. In the early 19th century, the area around Minetta Street became known as Little Africa. A large portion of the city's black population was living within a few blocks of Minetta Street - these were freed African-Americans (New York State abolished slavery in 1827). The area saw the nation's first black church, the first black theater (African Grove) and the first black newspaper (Freedom Journal).

By the 1850s, the area just slightly east, where the Washington Square Village apartment complex now stands, became settled with an immigrant French community - in fact the area was known as Frenchtown. By the 1870s, most of the French had moved uptown, tourists invaded and the area became commercialized. Known as the Latin Quarter, it was populated with brothels and taverns.

Later of course, from the early 20th century through the 1950s and 60s, the area became a renowned bohemian center and still has that reputation to this day. Where does that leave us? Well, it leaves me with very mixed feelings about a street that has had quite a run and been virtually synonymous with Greenwich Village. The few blocks just between 6th Avenue and Laguardia Place has had many landmark establishments - The Village Gate, Bleecker Street Cinema, The Back Fence, Kenny's Castaways, Terra Blues, The Little Red Schoolhouse, Le Figaro Cafe, The Bitter End, Peculier Pub, Cafe Au Go Go and the Actor's Studio Drama School.

In fairness, I must say that there are still many quality business establishments on the street, like Terra Blues e.g. When a place has been beaten hard with an onslaught of tourists for over a century, you do the best you can. And on a quiet weeknight with a little drizzle in the air and the soft neon glow of the Back Fence's neon signs, things don't look all that bad ...

A note about the street name: Bleecker Street is named for Anthony Bleecker (1770–1827), a poet and friend of Washington Irving and William Cullen Bryant. The street ran through his farm and in 1807, Bleecker and his wife deeded the land to the city.

10 comments:

J$ said...

it's more of a college town than a bohemian center these days. and the western part is verging on becoming a strip mall or something similar to soho.

Lucy said...

Nice moody photo which seems to partake of the bohemian flavor of yesteryear. Yes, with the high prices of real estate, very expensively educated student population and commercialization, this area's reputation as a bohemia is not realistic anymore. Those are the days gone by...

Brian said...

Unfortunately it's the case everywhere. And with communication and media as immediate as it is, new "bohemias" or frontier lands become exploited very rapidly.

oldmanlincoln said...

Boy does that look spooky.

For us old folks, it is a weary time of year. So as it winds down may I wish you and your family a very happy and healthy holiday and a prosperous new year.

Abraham and Patty Lincoln
Brookville Daily Photo
Brookville, Ohio USA

marley said...

Its always interesting to learn why a street has the name given to it, Bleecker Street is no exception.

rchrd said...

Bleecker St in 1966 is here

Brian said...

Richard;
I love that photo and writing. Interesting that the Cafe Figaro was considered a "rough" place.

rchrd said...

It was, especially very late at night when the drunks left the bars. This part of the Village was not as trendy as the West Village around Sheridan Sq. Of course, the really rough part was the East Village, around Ave 1 or 2. Walking back and forth late at night between Washington Sq and Tompkins Sq was scary in 1966. Now I'm told that even the East Village is trendy and unaffordable.

And then you would never venture below Houston St. even in the daytime! Now you pay over $400/night to stay at upscale hotels where flop houses used to be, apparently.

I haven't been back to NYC since the early 90's. That was quite a shock then. I'm not sure which one I like. (Its sorta like going to visit an old girlfriend out of rehab.) Imagine, fern bars on lower Broadway! Not in my time!

imagina said...

BUON NATALE - Merry Christmas 2007

rchrd said...

I meant Avenues A or B, not 1 or 2, of course. Just goes to show I've been away too long.