East Village Landmarks
While out and about in the East Village, you have probably come across at least a few especially picturesque buildings and wondered about their origins. It is a safe bet that many of those buildings have been designated official landmarks by the city’s Landmark Preservation Commission. Below are a few of the most striking East Village landmarks to look out for on your next walking tour of the neighborhood.
Metropolitan Savings Bank Building
Nine East Seventh Street (at Third Avenue)
When the Metropolitan Savings Bank building opened in 1867, fireproof structures were by far the exception rather than the rule. This four-story Second Empire-style building, therefore, garnered as much praise for its lack of flammable materials as for its stately style. The staircases, the columns, and the ceiling of the basement, where the bank’s vaults were located, were all made of iron; the facade was clad in equally durable white marble. The building’s fireproof quality made it easy for Metropolitan Savings to rent out the spaces it was not using, enabling the building to pay for itself (it cost $150,00 to construct, the equivalent of more than $2.5 million today). Metropolitan Savings sold the building in 1937 to the First Ukrainian Assembly of God; it has since been converted to apartments and offices.
New York Marble Cemetery
Between East Second and East Third Streets, Second Avenue and the Bowery
Due to yellow fever outbreaks, the city outlawed coffin burials in 1830. People could be buried in underground vaults, however, which led an enterprising gentleman named Perkins Nichols to buy a block of land and install 156 marble vaults beneath it. Numerous prominent families bought those vaults in what would become the New York Marble Cemetery, the city’s first nonsectarian cemetery. The success of the venture led to another group purchasing a lot just a block away for the same purpose; this is now the New York City Marble Cemetery (52-74 East Second Street, between First and Second Avenues), the city’s second nonsectarian cemetery. While the New York City Marble Cemetery (which like its predecessor was granted New York City landmark status in 1969) does have monuments and markers above ground to indicate the locations of the vaults, the New York Marble Cemetery does not; only plaques on its three remaining stone walls indicate who is buried within each vault. As a result, the latter resembles a private lawn rather than a cemetery. It is open to the public roughly once a month from April to October. The New York City Marble Cemetery is open even less frequently, though the leafy grounds are easily visible through its wrought-iron gate.
Four St. Mark’s Place (between Second and Third Avenues)
Those who frequented St. Mark’s Place in the 1970s up until a few years ago probably know this red-brick townhouse as the home of rock-and-roll clothing store Trash & Vaudeville. (The store moved to 96 East Seventh Street, between First Avenue and Avenue A, in 2016.) From 1833 to 1842, however, this was the home of Eliza Schuyler Hamilton, the widow of Alexander Hamilton. Her son Alexander Hamilton Jr. bought the house for her two years after it was built, when it was one of an entire block lined with similar Federal-style homes. Mrs. Hamilton lived here with her youngest daughter and her husband, Sidney Augustus Holly, as well as with Alexander Jr. and his wife.
The German Dispensary and the Ottendorfer Branch Library
135-137 Second Avenue (between East Eighth and East Ninth Streets)
The lower East Village and the upper Lower East Side were known as Kleindeutsch, or Little Germany, in the mid-19th century, when only Berlin and Vienna had larger German populations than New York City. Realizing that the German immigrants flooding the neighborhood needed affordable healthcare, Anna and Oswald Ottendorfer, owners of the German-language newspaper “New-Yorker Staats-Zeitung,” had the Deutsches, or German, Dispensary built in 1883. While they were at it, they commissioned the construction of what would be the city’s first free library beside it. Designed by William Schickel, the neo-Italian Renaissance buildings have red-brick facades ornamented with terra-cotta, a fairly novel building material in the city at that time. Adorning the front of the dispensary building are busts and bas-reliefs of notable physicians and scientists including Galen, William Harvey, and Carl Linnaeus. The clinic was affiliated with uptown’s German Hospital, now known as Lenox Hill Hospital, and in 1906 it moved uptown as well, selling the building to the Deutsch Poliklinik. Anti-German sentiment during World War I resulted in the name being changed to the Stuyvesant Polyclinic Hospital, which is what it was called when poet Langston Hughes died there in 1967. After becoming a clinic of Cabrini Medical Center, the former Stuyvesant Polyclinic closed in 2007 and was converted to office space. The Ottendorfer Library still lends books for free, now as a branch of the New York Public Library.
St. Mark’s Church in-the-Bowery
East 10th Street and Second Avenue
St. Mark’s Church in-the-Bowery stands on what has been a site of Christian worship since 1660, when Peter Stuyvesant had his family chapel built here. The cornerstone of the current Episcopal church was laid in 1795, making it the second oldest surviving church building in Manhattan. (The oldest is St. Paul’s Chapel on Broadway in Lower Manhattan.) The Greek Revival steeple, the building’s most prominent feature, was added in 1828. Also notable are two marble statues of Native Americans, titled “Aspriation” and “Inspiration,” by Solon Borglum that flank an entry to the church. To non-parishioners, St. Mark’s is probably best known for its arts programs dating back nearly a century. Isadora Duncan gave a dance performance in the church in 1922, as did Martha Graham in 1930. Launched in 1966, the Poetry Project has hosted readings and workshops led by Kathy Acker, Eric Bogosian, William S. Burroughs, Jim Carroll, Allen Ginsberg, and Patti Smith, among many others. It continues to hold weekly Wednesday night readings and readings every other Monday and Friday night, as well as the annual New Year’s Day Marathon Reading. In addition, Danspace hosts performances from September through May in the church sanctuary, and the church is the official home of the New York Theatre Ballet.
Village East Cinema
189 Second Avenue (at 12th Street)
With its Moorish arches and interior adornments, not to mention the elaborate Star of David that decorates the interior of its dome, the building that houses the Village East Cinema is not your typical movie theater. That is because it was built in 1926 as the Louis N. Jaffe Theater to house the Yiddish Art Theatre, which performed plays written in Yiddish as well as English-language works by everyone from Shakespeare to Shaw translated into Yiddish. At the time this area was the Yiddish Theater District, the equivalent of Broadway for the Jewish immigrants populating the Lower East Side. In 1945, by which time Yiddish theater had all but died out, the basement of the building became the 181 Club. Controlled by the Mafia, the club catered to an LGBT audience, with shows featuring female impersonators who would make RuPaul proud. Eight years later the Phoenix Theater took up residency. Influential in the development of off-Broadway theater as a cutting-edge complement to Broadway, it opened with a production of “Madam, Will You Walk?” by Pulitzer Prize winner Sidney Howard starring Hume Cronyn and Jessica Tandy; later plays featured Montgomery Clift and Roddy McDowall, among others. After a short stint as a burlesque house in the 1960s, the building became the off-Broadway Eden Theatre, where “Grease” and “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” played before heading to Broadway; then-controversial “Oh! Calcutta” played here as well. In 1991, after laying empty for several years, the building was converted to the Village East Cinema.
Elizabeth Home for Girls
308 East 12th Street (between First and Second Avenues)
Founded in 1853, the Children’s Aid Society is perhaps best known for introducing the “orphan trains” that transported city orphans out west where they would be taken in by pioneer families. But the organization (which lives on today as Children’s Aid) also supported orphanages and shelters here in Manhattan. The Elizabeth Home for Girls was one of these. Built in 1892 and designed by Calvert Vaux, one of the co-designers of Central Park, the four-story red-brick building was named after Elizabeth Davenport Wheeler, who had spent much of her life working on behalf of indigent youth; her mother and sisters donated the property after her death in 1890. The structure’s asymmetrical facade features a stepped gable on one half and two copper-hooded dormers on the other, lending it the appearance of two separate buildings. Today the building, which originally had dormitories that slept 58, classroom, and a laundry where the girls could learn and ply the trade, is home to condos.
Tompkins Square Lodging House for Boys and Industrial School
295 East Eighth Street (at Avenue B)
Calvert Vaux designed several other buildings for the Children’s Aid Society, including the Tompkins Square Lodging House for Boys. Built in 1887, it is the city’s oldest surviving structure designed for the homeless. Larger and more imposing than the Elizabeth Home for Girls, it was not an orphanage but rather a place where newsboys, shoeshine boys, and other “street Arabs” could pay five cents for a safe place to spend the night—so long as they bathed in the house’s washroom first. The Children’s Aid Society also served hot meals and taught classes here. A rmedley of Victorian Gothic and Queen Anne styles, with a variety of gables, bays, and dormers, the building was sold to the Darchei Noam Jewish congregation in 1925 and later served as a yeshiva. It was converted to apartments in the 1970s.
Public National Bank Building
106 Avenue C (at East Seventh Street)
This former bank stands out among the surrounding brownstones and former tenements, but not because of its impressive stature. In fact, the three-story structure is lower than most of its neighbors and, except for the terra-cotta ornamentation above its corner entry, rather plain. Unlike the surrounding buildings, however, it epitomizes early 20th-century modernism. Built in 1923, it was designed by Eugene Schoen. Though he trained and worked extensively as an architect, Schoen is better known today for his furniture designs; a sleek chestnut, Bakelite, and bronze étagère of his is in the Metropolitan Museum of Art collection. As for the Public National Bank Building, it is distinguished by fluted pilasters spanning from the gray granite base to the molded cornice that are connected by windows and concrete panels. Converted to a nursing home in 1954, it became an apartment building in the 1980s.