It is customary in this week of Turkey with all the fixings, Macy’s Day Parade Floats and Balloons and Black Friday shopping to take an ever brief moment to say thanks and to be grateful.
So while I am incredibly thankful for my family and friends (you know who you are!) I want to say thank you to my home for the last 14 years, New York City!
Now now, I know it is cool to be jaded and not love New York, after all, no true New Yorker ever says it aloud or even worse (gasp!), actually wears an I Love NY t-shirt in public. But hear me loud and clear world, make no mistake, I really do LOVE New York.
Recently I enrolled in a continuing education class at the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation or GVSHP. As a licensed Associate Broker in NYC, it is compulsory to take 22.5 hours of continuing education every two years. Mostly these classes are a joke—and involves me sitting in a room watching a clock very slowly tick off each excruciating minute so I can obtain a certificate to hand over to my office manager who in turn will mail it to the state so I can continue selling real estate. These 22.5 hours have been nothing like that.
The GVSHP is dedicated “to preserve the architectural heritage and cultural history of Greenwich Village, the East Village, and NoHo.” I have read about the GVSHP in local papers and blogs in passing, and certainly understood their connection to my profession (sometimes working together, sometimes in opposition), but hadn’t been involved in any of their programming for the public.
The 22.5 hour course is focused on fair housing, landmark law and zoning, which seemingly sounds so dry but all the lectures and walking tours were artfully imbued in New York City’s rich history by some serious scholars.
Sometimes the only way to figure out the present (and the future) is to look to the past—understand all the layers of paint beneath the most current one.
It can be easy to live in NYC and love it for the architecture, the restaurants, the art, the music, the energy, etc—but it is so much more powerful to know how there were others before our time who loved NYC for the architecture, the restaurants, the art, the music, the energy.
Here are some tidbits from the lectures and the walking tours that I thought I would share:
· Stuyvesant Street in the East Village is the one of the only true east-west streets in NYC and one of the city’s oldest. If you have never seen it, it diagonally cuts across from Third Avenue through 9th and 10th Streets. While this may not seem like a huge deal at first blush, what is cool about it, is that it is also from the original city planning grid by who else but the Stuyvesant family themselves. When the Commissioner’s Plan of 1811 called for strict use of a grid in Manhattan, Stuyvesant Street was the exception and thank goodness. I love walking down that short street, gazing at all the townhouses—some of the oldest original houses in the city are right there. One of note is 21 Stuyvesant (AKA the Hamilton Fish House). The home is a landmarked Federal style townhouse originally inhabited by the great granddaughter of Peter Stuyvesant, Elizabeth Stuyvesant Fish and her hubby Nicolas Fish. They went on to have a son who was none other than Hamilton Fish, a governor and senator of New York. Also interesting tidbit—Cooper Union owns the home now and the university’s president lives there.
· The East Village was full of…Germans! Oh you could fill a book with what I don’t know about NYC, but that one was a big surprise to me. I always think Irish and Italians when I think NYC immigrants, particularly downtown but in fact 1 in 5 New Yorkers were German in the mid-to-late 1800s. Many were arriving because of the Franco-Prussian War—and interesting enough, the Germans that were settling in NYC were artisans, iron-workers, masons, bakers, builders, etc and as a result were able to set up a better immigrant life for themselves. Tompkins Square Park was an important public space that the Germans called the Weisse Garten. There were beer gardens, sport clubs, libraries, choirs, shooting clubs, German theatres, German schools, German churches, and German synagogues all over the East Village. The theatre that La Mama on East 4th Street off of the Bowery, is housed in what was originally a German music hall—the Germans loved their music!
· The history of tenements downtown is fascinating. They probably most exemplified the increasing stratification between the wealthy class and the poor immigrants. The Tenement Houst Act of 1867 dictated that there was 1 water tap per building and 1 toilet for every 20 occupants. Meanwhile the population of NYC was swelling—and doubled from 1.8 to 3.4 million people—and 70 percent of them were living in tenements. The population density south of Chambers street was greater than Bombay or Calcutta’s population density has EVER been.
So here it is. I give thanks for NYC and its incredibly rich history. Happy Thanksgiving!