Adventures in Film: Greenwich Village
Greenwich Village. It has a place in my heart, and several pages of my history. It was the place where my best friend and I would escape to in the mornings when playing hooky from morning classes back in high school. It was where we called up the spirits during Halloween as thousands of revelers marched up Fifth Avenue for the annual parade. It's where we walked along haunted townhouses full of history and imagined our futures all the while familiarizing ourselves with the bookstores, coffee shops and mom-and-pop specialty stores that lined it's blocks. It was a place where it's quaint, bohemian character matched our own, and, in many ways, shaped it.
Today's Greenwich Village is not quite the idyllic neighborhood of yesteryear. Mom-and-Pops and neighborhood coffee shops have been replaced by high-end boutiques and and fancy toiletry stores. Hip restaurants and frou-frou bar/lounges resembling bordellos cater to a more affluent clientele reeking of ersatz bohemianism and dubious artistic propensity. But the original spirit of Greenwich Village still exists within it's physical history, even if it's bohemian character has long been gone.
A Walk Down Memory Lane
Greenwich Village goes back to the 1600's, although it isn't until the 19th Century that it began to morph into an artists' enclave. In mid 20th century (around the 1940's and 50's), "The Village" gained the reputation as to where the "cool chicks" and the "hep cats" began to hang out. Smoky jazz clubs provided the atmosphere. Artists like Jackson Pollock, Franz Klein, Mark Rothko, Joan Mitchell, Helen Frankenthaler, along with poets like William Burroughs, Frank O'Hara, Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac and others were known to frequent it's bars (the local Cedar Bar was a favorite of the Beatniks). On the west side (West Village), much of the townhouses and brownstones from the 19th century still survive beautifully intact, thanks to preservation efforts starting in the mid 1960s. Later the Stonewall Riots would write another chapter in Greenwich Village's storied history, and bring a whole new generation of artists, writers, and performers into it's enclave.
The Day The Artists Died
Since before the days of the Gay Liberation and the Stonewall Riots Greenwich Village had been a haven for LGBTQ people, as well a symbol of community . However, in the 1980's Greenwich Village became ground zero for the AIDS crisis. St. Vincent's Hospital (now condominiums) was one of the first hospitals in the city to have an AIDS triage. The photo below shows where St. Vincent's Hospital was once located. Across the street (not pictured) is the AIDS Memorial, which commemorates the more than 100,000 lives lost to this horrific disease at the hands of a cruel and indifferent presidential administration.
Toward the Future
Today "village-y" aspects survive, but not without it's consequences. Prices have risen far beyond what the normal renter could afford, and gentrification has replaced bohemianism. However, what remains adds to the character of this historic collection of streets, from the bakery with its delicious confections to the silent, deserted bar holding the ghosts of yesteryear. Greenwich Village will undoubtedly survive as it has throughout the centuries, not least due to the love its residents have for its atmosphere and community. The artists are still there, although they may be more affluent filmmakers, actors, photographers or painters. Some may co-inhabit with one another, while others have enough to live with their families. It is the artist for whom The Village holds a special place in it's heart. As for those who long for The Village but cannot afford to be sheltered by it's towering oaks and elms, it often helps to remember that, for all history has tried to eradicate it - it ain't going nowhere, baby.