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New York's East Village

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New York's East Village

Coordinates: 40°43′39″N 73°59′09″W / 40.72750°N 73.98583°W / 40.72750; -73.98583

East Village, Manhattan
New York City Neighborhood
Lower Manhattan
Named: 1960s[1]
Streets: 2nd Avenue, 1st Avenue, Avenue A, the Bowery, St. Marks Place
Subway: Second Avenue (F train), Astor Place (4 6 <6> trains) and First Avenue (L train)
Zip code: 10009, 10003 and 10002
Federal: Congressional Districts 8, 12 and 14
State: New York State Assembly Districts 64, 66 and 74, New York State Senate Districts 25 and 29
City: New York City Council District 2
Local Manhattan Community Board 3
Neighborhood map

The East Village is a neighborhood in the borough of Manhattan in New York City, lying east of Greenwich Village, south of Gramercy and Stuyvesant Town, and north of the Lower East Side.

The area was once generally considered to be part of the Lower East Side, but began to develop its own identity and culture in the late 1960s, when many artists, musicians, students and hippies began to move into the area, attracted by cheap rents and the base of Beatniks who had lived there since the 1950s. The neighborhood has become a center of the counterculture in New York, and is known as the birthplace and historical home of many artistic movements, including punk rock[2] and the Nuyorican literary movement.[3] It has also been the site of protests and riots.

The East Village is still known for its diverse community, vibrant nightlife and artistic sensibility, although in recent decades it has been argued that gentrification has changed the character of the neighborhood.[4]


Definitions vary,[5] but generally the East Village is considered to be the area east of Third Avenue and the Bowery to the East River, between 14th Street and Houston Street.[1]



The area that is today known as the East Village was originally a farm owned by Dutch Governor-General Wouter van Twiller. Peter Stuyvesant received the deed to this farm in 1651, and his family held on to the land for over seven generations, until a descendant began selling off parcels of the property in the early 19th century. Wealthy townhouses dotted the dirt roads for a few decades until the great Irish and German immigration of the 1840s and 1850s.

Speculative land owners began building multi-unit dwellings on lots meant for single family homes, and began renting out rooms and apartments to the growing working class, including many immigrants from Germany. From roughly the 1850s to first decade of the 20th century, the neighborhood has the third largest urban population of Germans outside of Vienna and Berlin, known as Klein Deutschland ("Little Germany"). It was America's first foreign language neighborhood; hundreds of political, social, sports and recreational clubs were set up during this period, some of these buildings still exist. However, the vitality of the community was sapped by the General Slocum disaster on June 15, 1904, in which over a thousand German-Americans died.

Later waves of immigration also brought many Poles and, especially, Ukrainians to the area. Since the 1890s there has been a large concentration roughly from 10th Street to 5th Street, between 3rd Avenue and Avenue A. The post-World War II diaspora, consisting primarily of Western Ukrainian intelligentsia, also settled down in the area. Several churches, including St. George's Catholic Church; Ukrainian restaurants and butcher shops; The Ukrainian Museum; the Shevchenko Scientific Society; and the Ukrainian Cultural Center are evidence of the impact of this culture on the area.

The area originally ended at the East River, to the east of where Avenue D is now located, until landfill – including World War II debris and rubble shipped from London – was used to extend the shoreline outward to provide foundation for the Franklin D. Roosevelt Drive.[6]

New neighborhood

Until the mid-1960s, the area was simply the northern part of the Lower East Side, with a similar culture of immigrant, working class life. In the 1950s the migration of Beatniks into the neighborhood later attracted hippies, musicians and artists well into 1960s.[1] The area was dubbed the "East Village", to dissociate it from the image of slums evoked by the Lower East Side. According to The New York Times, a 1964 guide called Earl Wilson's New York wrote that "artists, poets and promoters of coffeehouses from Greenwich Village are trying to remelt the neighborhood under the high-sounding name of 'East Village.'"[1]

Newcomers and real estate brokers popularized the new name, and the term was adopted by the popular media by the mid-1960s.[7][8] In 1966 a weekly newspaper, The East Village Other, appeared and The New York Times declared that the neighborhood "had come to be known" as the East Village in the June 5, 1967 edition.[1]

Music scene

In 1966 Andy Warhol promoted a series of multimedia shows, entitled "The Exploding Plastic Inevitable", and featuring the music of the Velvet Underground, in a Polish ballroom on St. Marks Place. On June 27, 1967, the Electric Circus opened in the same space with a benefit for the Children's Recreation Foundation whose chairman was Bobby Kennedy. The Grateful Dead, The Chambers Brothers, Sly and the Family Stone and the Allman Brothers were among the many rock bands that performed there before it closed in 1971.

On March 8, 1968 Bill Graham opened the Fillmore East in what had been a Yiddish Theatre on Second Avenue at East 6th Street in the Yiddish Theater District. The venue quickly became known as "The Church of Rock and Roll", with two-show concerts several nights a week. While booking many of the same bands that had played the Electric Circus, Graham particularly used the venue—and its West Coast counterpart—to establish in the US British bands such as The Who, Pink Floyd, The Jimi Hendrix Experience, Cream and Led Zeppelin. The Fillmore East also closed in 1971.

CBGB, the nightclub considered by some to be the birthplace of punk music, was located in the neighborhood, as was the early punk standby A7. No Wave and New York hardcore also emerged in the area's clubs. Among the many important bands and singers who got their start at these clubs and other venues in downtown Manhattan were Patti Smith, Arto Lindsay, the Ramones, Blondie, Madonna, Talking Heads, Television, the Plasmatics, Glenn Danzig, Sonic Youth, the Beastie Boys, Anthrax, and The Strokes.

Some icons of the punk scene remained in the neighborhood as it changed. Richard Hell lives in the same apartment he has lived in since the 1970s, and Handsome Dick Manitoba of The Dictators owns Manitoba's bar on Avenue B.

Art scene

Over the last 100 years, the East Village and the Lower East Side have contributed significantly to American arts and culture in New York.[10] The neighborhood has been the birthplace of cultural icons and movements from the American gangster to the Warhol Superstars, folk music to punk rock, anti-folk to hip-hop, advanced education to organized activism, experimental theater to the Beat Generation and the community of experimental musicians, composers and improvisers now loosely known as the Downtown Scene.

Club 57, on St. Marks Place, was an important incubator for performance art and visual art in the late 1970s and early 1980s; followed by Now Gallery, 8BC and ABC No Rio.

During the 1980s the East Village art gallery scene helped to galvanize a new post-modern art in America; showing such artists as Kiki Smith, Peter Halley, Keith Haring, Kenny Scharf, Stephen Lack, Greer Lankton, Joseph Nechvatal, Jim Radakovich, Nan Goldin, Jean-Michel Basquiat, David Wojnarowicz, James Romberger, Jeff Koons and Dave Vulcan.

The East Village, specifically the area known as Alphabet City, is also the setting for Jonathan Larson's musical Rent, which captures the neighborhood in the early 1990s; it opened at the New York Theater Workshop in February 1996.[11] Rent describes a city devastated by the AIDS epidemic, drugs and high crime, and follows several characters in their efforts to make livings as artists.[12][13]


The East Village's performance and art scene has declined since its height in the 1970s and 1980s.[14] One club that tried to resurrect the neighborhood's past artistic prominence was Mo Pitkins' House of Satisfaction, part-owned by Jimmy Fallon of Saturday Night Live. The venue's past performers include figures such as Murray Hill, Rob Corddry, Rachel Dratch, Amy Poehler, Moby, and Debbie Harry.[15] It closed its doors in 2007. A study done by Fordham University notes the decline of the East Village performance and art scene, and how "the young, liberal culture that once found its place on the Manhattan side of the East River" has shifted in part to new neighborhoods like Williamsburg in Brooklyn.[16][17] Rapture Cafe also shut down in April 2008, and the neighborhood lost an important performance space and gathering ground for the gay community. There are still some performance spaces, such as Sidewalk Cafe on Avenue A, where downtown acts find space to exhibit their talent, and the poetry clubs Bowery Poetry Club and Nuyorican Poets Café.[18]

From 2004 until 2009, the art gallery American Painting, located on East 6th St., between 2nd and 3rd Avenues, exhibited the works of several New York and American artists, namely, Andrei Kushnir, Michele Martin Taylor, Carol Spils, Barbara Nuss, Joachim Marx, Stevens Jay Carter and Michael Francis. One of their last exhibits, "East Village Afternoon," depicted local interiors, exteriors, and scenes of the changing neighborhood.[19]


As has often been the pattern in Manhattan, a neighborhood that is "discovered" by artists and bohemians and then becomes "hip", will often begin to attract more affluent residents, which drives up the price of housing, and begins to drive out the residents who "turned over" the neighborhood. This is one theory of gentrification,[20] and some argue that it has occurred in the New York City neighborhoods SoHo, TriBeCa and Williamsburg in Brooklyn. Over the course of time, it begins to change the essential character of the neighborhood, which becomes safer, more comfortable and less "edgy". Some gentrification opponents believe this process causes the neighborhood to lose its identity for the sake of money. The term "gentrification" is often used in a derogatory way to reflect this.[21]


Many local community groups actively worked and are working to gain individual and district landmark designations for the East Village to preserve and protect the architectural and cultural identity of the neighborhood. One such group is the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation. They have undertaken a complete survey of the East Village, documenting the history of every single building in the area.[22] This information will be made public in the spring of 2012. In the spring of 2011 the Landmarks Preservation Commission proposed two East Village Historic Districts, one small district covering the block of East 10th Street known as Tompkins Square North and one larger district focused around lower Second Avenue that would encompass 15 blocks and 330 buildings.[23] The original proposal for the larger district excluded buildings such as the Pyramid Club and the Russian Orthodox Cathedral on East 2nd Street. Thanks to efforts made by local community groups such as the Lower East Side Preservation Initiative, East Village Community Coalition, Historic Districts Council, and Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation, however, the proposed district now includes these buildings.[24] In January 2012, the East 10th Street Historic District was declared an official New York City Landmark District. Unfortunately, just minutes before the designation, an out-of-scale rooftop addition on one of the included buildings was approved by the Department of Buildings.[25] In October 2012 the East Village/Lower East Side Historic District - the larger district - was also declared an official New York City Landmark District by the Landmarks Preservation Commission. Looking ahead, preservation and community groups want more of the historically intact areas of the East Village to be landmarked, including parts of St. Mark's Place, the blocks to the north, and more of the streets bordering Tompkins Square Park.[26]

Some of the East Village sites that are protected by Individual Landmark status include: PS 64/Old Charas Cultural Center,[27] the former Yiddish Art Theater,[28] Webster Hall, which was designated a New York City landmark on March 18, 2008,[29] and Stuyvesant Polyclinic, one of the East Village's earliest designated landmarks.[30] Some specific sites that are still in need of landmark designation are: the Russian Orthodox Cathedral,[31] 101 Avenue A, the current home of the Pyramid Club,[32] 128 East 13th Street, a former horse auction market and home to Frank Stella's studio,[33] the 170-year old rowhouses at 326-328 East 4th Street,[34] and the Congregation Mezritch Synagogue, the East Village's last operating tenement synagogue.[35]


New York University

Along with gentrification, the East Village has seen an increase in the number of buildings owned and maintained by New York University, particularly dormitories for undergraduate students, and this influx has given rise to conflict between the community and the university.[36]

St. Ann's Church, a rusticated-stone structure with a Romanesque tower on East 12th Street that dated to 1847, was sold to NYU to make way for a 26-story, 700 bed dormitory. After community protest about the destruction of the church, the university promised to protect and maintain the original facade, which it did, literally, by having it stand alone in front of the new building, which is the tallest structure in the area.[36] NYU's destruction or purchasing of many historic buildings, such as the Peter Cooper Post Office, have made it symbolic of change that many long-time residents fear is destroying what made the neighborhood interesting and attractive.[37]

NYU has often been at odds with residents of both the East and West Villages; urban preservationist Jane Jacobs battled the school in the 1960s.[38] "She spoke of how universities and hospitals often had a special kind of hubris reflected in the fact that they often thought it was OK to destroy a neighborhood to suit their needs," said Andrew Berman of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation.[39]

Cooper Union

The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art, founded in 1859 by entrepreneur and philanthropist Peter Cooper and located on Cooper Square, is one of the most selective colleges in the world, with tuition-free programs in engineering, art and architecture. Its Great Hall is famous as a platform for historic speeches, notably Abraham Lincoln's Cooper Union speech and its New Academic Building is the first in New York City to achieve LEED Platinum Status.


The East Village contains several smaller vibrant communities, each with their own character.

Alphabet City

Alphabet City comprises nearly two-thirds of the East Village, and was once the archetype of a dangerous New York City neighborhood. Its turn-around was cause for The New York Times to observe in 2005 that Alphabet City went "from a drug-infested no man's land to the epicenter of downtown cool."[40] Its name comes from Avenues A, B, C, and D, the only avenues in Manhattan to have single-letter names. It is bordered by Houston Street to the south and 14th Street to the north. Some landmarks with Alphabet City include Tompkins Square Park and the Nuyorican Poets Cafe.


Main article: Loisaida

Loisaida is a term derived from the Latino, and especially Nuyorican, pronunciation of "Lower East Side". The term was originally coined by poet/activist, Bittman "Bimbo" Rivas in his 1974 poem "Loisaida". Loisaida Avenue is now an alternative name for Avenue C in the Alphabet City neighborhood of New York City, whose population has largely been Hispanic (mainly Nuyorican) since the late 1960s. During the 1980s many of the old, vacant, tenement buildings in this area became inhabited by squatters.[41]

St. Mark's Place

Main article: St. Marks Place (Manhattan)

Eighth Street becomes St. Marks Place east of Third Avenue. It once had the cachet of Sutton Place, and was known as a secluded rich enclave in Manhattan, but by the 1850s had become a place for boarding houses and a German immigrant community.[42] It is named after St. Mark's Church in-the-Bowery, which was built on Stuyvesant Street but is now on 10th Street. St. Marks Place once began at the intersection of the Bowery and Stuyvesant Street, but today the street runs from Third Avenue to Avenue A. Japanese street culture and a Japanese expatriate scene forms in the noodle shops and bars that line the street, also home to an aged punk culture and CBGB's new store. It is home to one of the only Automats in New York City (it has since closed).[43]

St. Marks Place is along the "Mosaic Trail", a trail of 80 mosaic-encrusted lampposts that runs from Broadway down Eighth Street to Avenue A, to Fourth Street and then back to Eighth Street. The project was undertaken by East Village public artist Jim Power, known as the "Mosaic Man".[44]

The Bowery

Main article: The Bowery

Bowery – former home to the punk-rock nightclub CBGB, which closed in 2006 – was once known for its many homeless shelters, drug rehabilitation centers and bars. The phrase "On The Bowery", which has since fallen into disuse, was a generic way to say one was down-and-out.[45]

The Bow’ry, The Bow’ry!
They say such things,
and they do strange things
on the Bow’ry
—From the musical A Trip to Chinatown, 1891

Today, Bowery has become a boulevard of new luxury condominiums, and is the location of the Bowery Poetry Club, contributing to the neighborhood's reputation as a place for artistic pursuit. Artists Amiri Baraka and Taylor Mead hold regular readings and performances in the space.

The redevelopment of the avenue from flophouses to luxury condominiums has met with resistance from long-term residents, who agree the neighborhood has improved, but that its unique, gritty character is also disappearing.[46]

Parks and gardens

Tompkins Square Park

Main article: Tompkins Square Park

Tompkins Square Park is a 10.5 acre (42,000 m²) public park in the Alphabet City section of the East Village neighborhood in the borough of Manhattan in New York City. It is square in shape, and is bounded on the north by East 10th Street, on the east by Avenue B, on the south by East 7th Street, and on the west by Avenue A. St. Marks Place abuts the park to the west.

Tompkins Square Park Communist Rally

Main article: Tompkins Square Park Communist Rally (1877)

In July 1877, railroad workers received their second wage cut of the year by the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad. On July 14, railroad employees in Martinsburg, West Virginia, began what came to be known as the Great Railroad Strike of 1877. On July 25, 1877, twenty thousand people gathered in Tompkins Square Park to hear communist orators speak about revolution, the strike, and the policies of President Hayes. All speeches were repeated in German at a second stand, as the neighborhood had such a large German population at that time. David Conroy, Chairman of the Working Man's Organization in NYC and organizer of the rally, stated that the purpose of the meeting was to harmonize the differences between the strikers and the railroad companies, and to urge the citizen soldiery to refrain from acting against the strikers. Although the rally did not get out of hand, New York City police and National Guardsmen eventually charged the crowd with billy clubs, later claiming that the rally was not being held in a peaceful manner. In the wake of this “riot,” the City, in conjunction with the War Department, established an official city armory program led by the 7th Regiment.[47]

Tompkins Square Park Police Riot

The Tompkins Square Park Police Riot was a defining moment for the neighborhood. In the late hours of August 6 into the morning hours of August 7, 1988 a riot broke out in Alphabet City's Tompkins Square Park. Groups of "drug pushers, homeless people and young people known as 'skinheads'" had largely taken over the East Village park, but the neighborhood was divided about what, if anything, should be done about it.[48] The local governing body, Manhattan Community Board 3, adopted a 1 am curfew for the previously 24-hour park, in an attempt to bring it under control.[49] On July 31, a rally against the curfew resulted in several clashes between protesters and police.[50]

East River Park

Main article: East River Park

The park is 57 acres (230,000 m2) and runs between the Franklin D. Roosevelt Drive and the East River from Montgomery Street to East 12th Street.[51] It was designed in the 1930s by Robert Moses, who wanted to ensure there was parkland on the Lower East Side.[51] In 2010, construction was completed on the East River Promenade, which now runs from East 12th Street to Grand Street and continues to be expanded south.[52]

Community gardens

There are reportedly over 640 community gardens in New York City—gardens run by local collectives within the neighborhood who are responsible for the gardens' upkeep—and an estimated 10 percent of those are located on the Lower East Side and East Village alone.[53]

Tower of Toys on Avenue B

The Avenue B and 6th Street Community Garden is one of the neighborhood's more notable for a now removed outdoor sculpture, the Tower of Toys, designed by artist and long-time garden gate-keeper, Eddie Boros. Boros died April 27, 2007.[54] The Tower was controversial in the neighborhood; some viewed it as a masterpiece, others as an eyesore.[54][55] It was a makeshift tower, 65-feet in height, assembled out of wood planks. The suspended, hanging toys were an amalgamation of fanciful objects found on the street (Boros was a strong voice for reusing and recycling). The fantastical, childlike feeling of this installation was quite fitting considering that the garden boasts a children’s adventure playground and children’s garden.[56] The tower appeared in the opening credits for the television show NYPD Blue and also appears in the musical Rent.[54] In May 2008, it was dismantled. According to NYC Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe, the tower was rotting in sections that made it a safety hazard.[57] Its removal was seen as another symbol of the fading past of the neighborhood.[57]

Toyota Children's Learning Garden

Located at 603 East 11th Street, the Toyota Children's Learning Garden is not technically a community garden, but it also fails to fit in the park category. Designed by landscape architect Michael Van Valkenburgh, the garden opened in May 2008 as part of the New York Restoration Project and is designed to teach children about plants.[58]

La Plaza Cultural

La Plaza Cultural de Armando Perez (La Plaza Cultural) is a community garden and open green space located in the Lower East Side/East Village of New York City.

La Plaza Cultural is a unique open-air theater and green space, combining the functions of a community garden, a park and play area, wildlife refuge and performance venue. Thousands of people from diverse cultures use our space every year. We are a vital arena for theater, dance, music, art and social gatherings. La Plaza Cultural is also utilized by local day-care centers, after-school programs and a growing number of parents with small children who rely on us for environmental learning and recreation.

La Plaza Cultural was founded in 1976 by local residents and greening activists who took over what were then a series of vacant city lots piled high with rubble and trash. Determined to reclaim the neighborhood from a downward spiral of arson, drugs and abandonment, members of the Latino group CHARAS cleared out truckloads of refuse.

Working with maverick architect Buckminster Fuller, they built a geodesic dome in the open “plaza” and began staging cultural events. Green Guerillas pioneer Liz Christy seeded the turf with “seed bombs” and planted what are now our towering weeping willows and linden trees. Artist Gordon Matta-Clark helped construct La Plaza’s amphitheater using railroad ties and materials reclaimed from abandoned buildings. Later, block residents tilled the western portion and planted vegetables, flowers and fruit trees.

During the 1980s, the garden came under attack by developers seeking to build on the space. After numerous court battles, La Plaza was finally preserved in 2002 as part of a landmark legal settlement that saved scores of gardens across New York City. In 2003, La Plaza was renamed after Armando Perez, a CHARAS founder and former District Leader of the Lower East Side who was brutally murdered in 1999. Armando recognized the power of gardens to bring communities together. We are honored to bear his name.

Marble Cemeteries

The New York City Marble Cemetery is located on 2nd Street between First Avenue and Second Avenue, and is the second oldest non-sectarian cemetery in New York City. The cemetery was opened in 1831 and at one point contained ex-U.S. President James Monroe.[59] Among those interred there are Stephen Allen, mayor (1821–1824); James Lenox, whose personal library became a part of the New York Public Library; Isaac Varian, mayor (1839–1841); Marinus Willet, Revolutionary War hero; and Preserved Fish, a well-known New York merchant.[59]

Nearby, on Second Avenue between 2nd and 3rd Streets, is the oldest public cemetery in New York City not affiliated with any religion, the New York Marble Cemetery.[60] It is open the fourth Sunday of every month.[61]


Ethnicity and religion

According to 2000 census figures provided by the New York City Department of City Planning, which includes the Lower East Side in its calculation, the neighborhood was 35% Asian, 28% non-Hispanic white, 27% Hispanic and 7% black.[62]

On October 9, 1966, A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, founder of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, held the first recorded outdoor chanting session of the Hare Krishna mantra outside of the Indian subcontinent at Tompkins Square Park.[63] This is considered the founding of the Hare Krishna religion in the United States, and the large tree close to the center of the Park is demarcated as a special religious site for Krishna adherents.[63] The late poet Allen Ginsberg, who lived and died in the East Village, attended the ceremony.

There are several Roman Catholic churches in the East Village that have fallen victim to financial hardship particularly in the past decade. Unable to maintain their properties, the Roman Catholic Church has shuttered many of them—including St. Mary's Help of Christians on East 12th Street, as well as St. Ann's. There has recently been much controversy over St. Brigid's, the historical parish on Tompkins Square Park. One of the mainstays that remains active is St. Stanislaus, just steps from Tompkins Square Park.

Cultural institutions

Neighborhood festivals

  • Mayday Festival - May 1; yearly.
  • Charlie Parker Jazz Festival - August; yearly.[69]
  • HOWL! Festival - Summer; yearly.[70][71]
  • Dance Parade - Summer; yearly.
  • East Village Radio Festival - September 6, 2008.[72]
  • Tompkins Square Halloween Dog Parade - October; yearly.[73]
  • East Village Theater Festival - August 3–23, 2009.[74]
  • FAB! Festival & Block Party - Last weekend in September annually, September 25, 2010.[75]


Notable residents

See also

New York City portal



External links

  • East Village Parks Conservancy
  • East Village Visitors Center
  • East Village TripAdvisor
  • Lower East Side Preservation Initiative
Union Square




East Village

Lower East Side

Stuy Town-Cooper Village

FDR Drive

Coop Village

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