SAVING AND PRESERVING THE
GREENWICH VILLAGE COMMUNITY
Instigator of and planner for West Village Houses, low-rise affordable residences from Bank Street along Washington Street down to Morton Street, 1962, replacing expensive, destructive city plan while providing more units
Garden in 1970s on vacant lot within 7th Avenue, 12th Street, and Greenwich Avenue owned by St. Vincent’s Hospital; eventually taken over for the hospital’s garage and plant; in 2015, becoming a park open to the public
Joining in the fight, and suppport of the lawsuit, against Westway, a proposed two additional blocks of landfill and new construction in the Hudson River over a widened West Side Highway, from 1969 to 1985, when Judge Thomas Griesa deemed the project potentially harmful to the striped bass population, thus preventing this city- and state-sponsored real-estate boondoggle.
Jefferson Market parking area along 10th Street (now the library’s garden)
Administering and maintaining Jane Street Garden, from 1987; on May 1, 2012, it was transferred to the NYC Parks Department and is in the GreenThumb program.
Sponsoring one of the first NYC greenmarkets, Gansevoort Street
Instigating the creation of Bleecker playground and sitting area in 1966, paying for the plans by Bob Nichols, and, on later occasions up to 2002, fighting to keep the sitting area from being surrounded by chain-link fencing, physically blocking such work in 1991
In Abingdon Park, paying for tree trimming, bench-slat replacement, and fence repair (1984) and for years conducting cleanups and sponsoring a community planting area
1993, helping to win court victory (with others) to preserve the Naumburg Bandshell in Central Park from destruction
Installation of iron or stone guards around numerous treepits, plus plantings, supplying materials, labor, and plaques
The West Village Committee has been proud to work with the following organizations:
Greenwich Village Block Associations
Friends of the Earth
Clean Air Campaign
Historic Districts Council
Society for the Architecture of the City
Federation to Preserve the Greenwich Village Waterfront & Great Port, Inc.
Jane Street Block Association
Perry Street Block Association
Waverly-Bank Block Association
Neighborhood Open Space Coalition
When 14 blocks, between Hudson Street and the Hudson River, were designated as a slum to be replaced with new towers in a pricey “urban renewal” scheme, Jane Jacobs, then living on Hudson Street and writing about architectural issues, joined with neighbors, as the Committee to Save the West Village, to defeat the designation and, through brilliant tactics, succeeded. They immediately re-formed themselves as the West Village Committee, in 1962, to propose infill housing on the site of a disused rail line in that area (the lower part of the High Line), without displacing any residents, commercial or private. They commissioned the architect Perkins + Will to draw up plans for West Village Houses—low-rise walkup apartment buildings with shared and individual gardens—which still exist as affordable housing, running from Bank Street south to Morton Street between Washington and West streets. No one was evicted in this process, and older buildings were retained. The housing is often referred to as “the Jane Jacobs houses” because of the role she played. (She first worked as an activist with fellow Villagers starting in 1955, to prevent the routing of traffic through Washington Square.)
Character of the West Village
In those days the West Village was an area of warehouses, factories, rowhouses, and tenements, close to the working waterfront. The residential population west of Hudson was largely Puerto Rican by the early ‘60s, in Jacobs’s account of the WVC founding. Bohemians and artists began moving into the low-rent apartments or renovating the old merchants’ houses. There were hotels primarily for seamen, longshoreman’s bars, and many piers, which informally, by the ‘70s, became the local places of outdoor recreation.
St. Vincent’s triangle and Jane Street Garden
Because there was so little park area in the neighborhood—the lowest proportion in the city—the WVC began gardening as well as advocating for public open space and the neighborhood preservation that was already its established purpose. Bill Bowser and Pamela Burdan began a much celebrated garden opposite the former St. Vincent’s Hospital, until the hospital plant and garage displaced it. (Burdan is memorialized by a viewing garden at Sheridan Square.) It was one of the first community gardens, and a major one. In 1987, the WVC became the keeper of the garden begun in 1973 by the Jane Street Block Association on a burnt-out site on the corner with Hudson Street, the Jane Street Garden; it is still administered and maintained on this city-owned land by the WVC, under the auspices of the city Parks Department’s GreenThumb program.
The WVC has been responsible for many tree guards and the planting of tree pits in the area in recent years. In pre-renovation Abingdon Square., volunteers from the WVC did upkeep, paying for tree-trimming, bench-slat replacement, and fence repair, conducting cleanups and sponsoring a community planting area. A number of the small triangle gardens at intersections began as WVC projects.
Preservation, Farmers Market, and Waterfront
The WVC has joined with other groups to preserve and extend the Greenwich Village historic district, which does not extend to the waterfront and includes only individual buildings or blocks to the west. The WVC has prevented or mitigated new high-rise construction and fought to keep the waterfront free of encroachment by commercial and residential uses or public-authority administration. Its members have spoken out at countless public hearings, picketed City Hall, and worked with city and state officials to further the interests of this community and the wider city. One of the first Greenmarkets was sponsored by the WVC, on Gansevoort Street.
The West Village Committee was incorporated as a 501c-3 nonprofit in 1977.
In 1992, its newsletter was winner of the Village Award from the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation.
JANE STREET GARDEN
The garden at 40 Jane Street was begun in 1973 on a burned lot by members of the Jane Street Block Association, inspired in part by the big temporary garden created by the West Village Committee on what was then a vacant site owned by St. Vincent’s Hospital on 7th Avenue. The original design of the Jane Street Garden was contributed by landscape architect Dan Stewart. Phyllis Katz and Jean Verral provided much of the leadership, together with Gerard Mutsaers, who did most of the heavy work.
By 1974, the garden had won a Mollie Parnis Dress Up Your Neighborhood award. In 1975, it was needlessly ransacked by a developer who bought the site. He was denied permission to build by the Landmarks Commission following organized objections from the community.
The New York City Division of Real Property took over the site, on which it charged a substantial rent to the Jane Street association. The block association asked the West Village Committee to take over the garden. WVC was able to negotiate a new lease. It has cultivated and cared for the garden through volunteer labor and contributions ever since. We use all natural or organic materials. We also pay for a twice-monthly contract with an exterminator who tends to the rodent stations.
The garden is open on weekends and whenever a volunteer is available to keep it open. Keys to the gate are available to community members.
The garden maintenance and administration and negotiations with the city were implemented by Bill Bowser as president of the WVC for many years, and taken over by later president Peter Falk in the 2000s. The plantings are currently selected and maintained by Susan Sipos, who has also played a crucial role in bringing the garden under the umbrella of the city’s GreenThumb program.
Trees and shrubs: Crabapple, dogwood, firethorn, crape myrtle, yew, hydrangea, smokebush, rose of sharon, box, jasmne nudiflorum, redbud, Chinese and American holly, roses
Violets, narcissus, tulip, bleeding heart, columbine, peony, alyssum, lily, foxglove, mint, astilbe, iris, hosta, dahlia, hollyhock, aster
A birdbath is kept filled. Birdseed is prohibited as attracting rodents and sprouting as weeds. All the natural food the birds need grows in the garden.
Jane Street Garden Plans
The WVC has worked with the NYC Parks Department so that new steel picket fence can replace the chain link that has enclosed the space since its early days. The fence design is by NYC Parks Department Landscape Architect George Vellonakis. The gate will be moved to a more public-friendly location at the 8th Avenue corner, and both gate and fence will be in keeping with the historic ironwork railings found throughout the neighborhood.
With the relocation of the gate, new hardscaping will be laid on paths and seating areas, based on a plan by Barry Benepe. There will be no radical change, just refurbishing of a space the community has loved and valued for decades. The paths will be ADA-compliant.
The West Village Committee, and the whole neighborhood, is grateful to City Councilmember Corey Johnson for a generous allocation for the fence.
The West Village Committee is funding the new hardscaping, plantings, and irrigation system, designed by horticulturalist and landscape designer Susan Sipos, around new benches and enhanced seating areas.
Susan Sipos will design plantings around the new benches and enhanced seating areas. There will be a system of irrigation.
Efforts are being made to address the uneven sidewalks surrounding the garden outside the fence.
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