The area that is today known as the East Village was originally a farm owned by Dutch Governor-General Wouter van Twiller. Petrus 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 largest urban populations of Germans outside of Vienna and Berlin, and was 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-American died.
Later waves of immigration also brough 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, where Avenue C
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.
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.
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.'"
Newcomers and real estate brokers popularized the new name, and the term was adopted by the popular media by the mid-1960s. 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.
Some of the individual sites that are already protected by landmark status are: PS 64/Old Charas Cultural Center,the former Yiddish Art Theater,Webster Hall, which was designated a New York City landmark on March 18, 2008, and Stuyvesant Polyclinic, one of the East Village's earliest designated landmarks. Some specific sites that are still in need of landmark designation are: the Russian Orthodox Cathedral, 101 Avenue A, the current home of the Pyramid Club, 128 East 13th Street, a former horse auction market and home to Frank Stella's studio, the 170-year old rowhouses at 326-328 East 4th Street, and the Congregation Mezritch Synagogue, the East Village's last operating tenement synagogue.
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.
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.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.
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.
"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.
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