The sands of time often do not affect the grid of avenues and streets as the year passes. Yet New York City’s neighborhoods are organic entities. As a result, they are constantly evolving and shifting with new features coming up, and the ancient ones are disappearing with time. As with the East Village in New York City, no other location embodies the essence of continuous reinvention. This paper explores East Village and St. Marks history, and the impact that the different cultures and movements have had on them, making them the East Village and St. Marks we now know.
Geographically placed in-between Houston Street on the southern border, 14th Street on the northern border, the East River on the eastern edge, and the Bowery and Third Avenue to the Initially, the West considers that the East Village lies within the Lower East Side. To some of the native residents, it still is. Regardless of what it is called, East Village has become synonymous with dive bars, musicians, sidewalk cafes, independent boutiques, and an incredible hipster artist who has defied homogenization influencing the other parts of Manhattan, but is also changing now.
The East Village has long been an urban frontier, serving as a starting point for the influx of many new immigrants. For Puerto Rican, Irish, Ukrainian, Jewish, and German immigrants, just to name a few, East Village was more than only a location as it was a toehold that gave them a chance at a fresh start in their lives. The East Village became a magnet for activists, writers, reformers and bohemians other than immigrants. East Village was host to the cultural activity that changed the global culture, but neglect and suffering exist frequently on the other side of the coin.
In a era preceding the creation of New Amsterdam by Dutch traders in the 1600s, a large stretch of swampy marshland was the portion of Manhattan that has evolved over time to become the East Village known today. In this expanse, Native American game trails and roads crisscrossed, and a greater portion of these areas became permanent thoroughfares. The largest of them all became what is commonly known as the Bowery.
From the beginning part of the vast farm belonging to the last governor of New Amsterdam, Peter Stuyvesant, was a large portion of what came to be the East Village. John Jacob Astor, an Americanized fur baron who switched professions to become a real estate mogul, was the initiator of the transformations that changed the area to a status address, an upgrade from the pastoral countryside was. This transformation was initiated by his luxurious style set up close to what is now known as Astor Place. Through the testimony of the East Village Visitor Center, Astor place was by the close of the 1830s the most sought after real estate. Some of the most affluent industrialists, politicians, and merchants of that era, including Gardiner, Vanderbilt, and Delano, were buying a property in this area from Astor. Astor Place soon joined the best of America’s current addresses.
Stuyvesant built the Reformed Dutch Chapel that later grew into St. Mark. This church was concentrated around the elders, who acted as the electors of their spiritual leader owing to their status as high-ranking congregation members. It’s generally believed that the church made no secret of being people-centered during the initial St. Mark ‘s period. Pew rent was collected at the church, and it selectively attended to the spiritual requirements of the nascent nobility centered on property, money, and trade. Early congregants still wallowing in the magnitude of American insurgency considered themselves to be constitutionalists However, their impartiality was predominantly founded on the protection of both their economic expansion and property rights. Over time, Iron foundries gave way to blacksmith workshops, service posts gave way to livery posts, and Apartment buildings came up in the place of single-family homes. But by the year 1941, most functional businesses progressively shifted to the west, and dwellings slumped out from the middle. Poor immigrants who arrived in sequential waves from Europe- mostly Eastern Europe, and particularly Germany- in due course made the area not so much as appealing to the society types as it was in 1830. Literature from the Visitor Center states that the working class begun setting up their roots in the area after most of the locally owned estates were sold off by their owners to public housing developers. The use of the word working class was something of a neutral term during this period. After the Civil War, the whole area between 14th Street to Houston was a seething slum. This slum population consisted of a huge number of families crowded into airless public housing buildings, and this group of people had to work grueling hours under wretched conditions in the nearby slaughterhouses, garment factories, and tanneries.
The shantytowns and brutal working circumstances forced upon the inhabitants of East Village towards the late 19th century form the factors behind the establishment of the area as a hub for most social grassroots movements. Residents have held gatherings around and inside Tompkins Square Park, which has turned into riots on occasion. These gatherings aim to strike back against unemployment, hunger, the government, the draft, curfews, and various wars, among other social injustices since the 1850s. The police force has, on several occasions, with varying success levels¬¬, had to disperse protests by angry mobs in the park and neighboring streets.
The East Village’s standing as a sanctuary for counterculture has also attracted several influential writers, musicians, and artists of their corresponding generations. This includes Madonna, W.H. Auden, Andy Warhol, Allan Ginsberg, Lou Reed, Keith Haring, and Charlie Parker, just to mention a few. As stated by the Visitor Center, for poet writers William S. Burroughs, Jack Kerouac, and Ginsberg, East Village was their home base way back in the 1950s. The incipient school of painting and visual art through abstract expressions also had its home base in East Village.
Other than art and literature, music has, for a long time, been one of East Village’s chief exports. The recession shattered the 1970s and 80s, and during this time, the rundown buildings in the neighborhood provided developing artists with low-priced performance and creative spaces. Some legitimate venues on the Bowery such as CBGB & OMFUG, a renowned rock club, became world-famous landmarks. The late 1970s East Coast cultures of punk-rock and the 1980s new wave are widely considered to have had their foundations rooted in this neighborhood. Homegrown groups such as the Velvet Underground and Blondie reinvented pop music. Madonna’s journey to stardom also begun in East Village during her days working at the Pyramid Club located on Avenue A as a coat-check lady in the dawn of the 1980s.
In the present day, the last resonances of the punk era are represented by cliques of post-punk teenagers congregating on down market tattoo shops and stoops on St. Marks Place. These nostalgic teenagers for a period that predates their existence spend the day eyeing tourists with contempt. The original punk spirit continues in the not so many communal squats living in the small number of abandoned buildings left in East Village. Even these dwellings have seen a decrease in the recent past due to the real estate boom that took up all undeveloped space.
During its history, an ever-changing list of occupants has called East Village their home. This comprises the Irish and Germans in the 1900s, followed by Ukrainians and Eastern European Jews soon after that, and later an inflow of Puerto Ricans in the second half of the 20th century.
This adds up to an incoming and outgoing human traffic of millions of individuals from various socioeconomic positions and originating from multiple locations the world over. In recent times, urban renewal has transformed the neighborhood’s appearance to be virtually unrecognizable as the tough, destitute place it used to be.
The area was overwhelmingly affected by the Wall Street splendor of the first half of the 2000s. The success of the West Village naturally spilled over to the East Village, bringing in quite a several young families and professionals. Initially, these families rented their apartments, but as their income levels grew coupled with the neighborhood feel and the old New York charm, they started opting for the buying option. Pristine condos with glass walls have come up in the areas that were once occupied by tenement buildings. As a result, this has driven up property prices within the city, with apartments going for ridiculously high rates, regardless of whether one is buying or renting. This has drawn mixed reactions from the residents, welcoming the change as an improvement to their community.
On the other hand, other lifetime residents of East Village are outrightly opposing this gentrification of their home turf. However, not all redevelopment in East Village can be denied. Tompkins Square Park has seen the introduction of sunbathing lawns, entertainment area, a children’s wading pool and the first of its kind dog run partitioned to accommodate both big and small dogs. Moreover, most of the series down lots used to be hubs for violence and criminal activity have been turned into gardens protected by the Community Garden Trust and are thus sheltered from development.
Although some would argue that all improvements put aside, East Village is not the place it used to be; progress is progress irrespective of the viewpoint. The range of differing reactions to the urban renewal of East Village shows that all factors considered, what remains constant across the board, are that all members of the community benefit in one way or another.
- Fons, Hannah. “A Look at Manhattan’s East Village.” A Look at Manhattan’s East Village. Cooperator, 2009. Web. 19 Nov. 2013.
- Morris, Alex. “New York Magazine.” NYMag.com. New York Media LLC, 22 June 2008. Web. 19 Nov. 2013.
- Ramone, Joey. “Architecture of St. Mark’s Church In-the-Bowery.” St. Mark’s Historic Landmark Fund. The Edelman Partnership, 2012. Web. 19 Nov. 2013.
- Strausbaugh, John. “WEEKEND EXPLORER; Paths of Resistance in the East Village.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 14 Sept. 2007. Web. 19 Nov. 2013.
- “The Portico Restoration and Accessibility Project.” Welcome To St. Mark’s Church In The Bowery. N.p., 2013. Web. 19 Nov. 2013.