A love letter to Greenwich Village by luminaries who have called it home

BY ALBERT AMATEAU  |  Greenwich Village Stories: A Collection of Memories,” a 102-page book by 67 artists, writers, musicians, photographers, actors and entrepreneurs, had a coming-out party last week.

The April 8 event drew about 100 friends of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation — co-publisher with Universal, a division of Rizzoli International — to Morandi, Keith McNally’s restaurant on Waverly Place.

“This is really a gathering to thank the contributors to the book,” said Andrew Berman, executive director of the society. Judith Stonehill, a longtime board member and former president of G.V.S.H.P. came up with the concept of the book more than a year ago and edited contributions from creative people who came to the West and East Village to achieve their dreams.

Not all the contributors are current residents.

“Dona Ann McAdams, the photographer, lives in Vermont now and couldn’t make the party because it’s spring and the goats are birthing,” Stonehill said.

Some of the contributors are relative newcomers to the Village, like the comedian Dave Hill, and some are natives, like Peter Longo, proprietor of Porto Rico Importing Co., who was born on Bleecker St. where his coffee and tea store is located.

Two contributors, former Mayor Ed Koch and musician Lou Reed, have died since submitting their entries.

As befits a Rizzoli book, there are dozens of illustrations, including photos and artwork reproductions, a few of which were submitted by the contributors. So, be prepared to see a baby picture or two from celebrities.

The cover of “Greenwich Village Stories: A Collection of Memories,” features a photo taken outside of the famed Le Figaro Cafe, at Bleecker and MacDougal Sts.
The cover of “Greenwich Village Stories: A Collection of Memories,” features a photo taken outside of the famed Le Figaro Cafe, at Bleecker and MacDougal Sts.

In the middle of the book, for example, there is a photo of a heroic-size bronze statue of Cervantes that is tucked into a niche on Fifth Ave. behind a Washington Square North building. Turn a page or two for a photo of the facade of a three-story East Village synagogue dating from the first decade of the 20th century.

Several photos of the Village in the 1960s by the late Robert Otter were submitted by Otter’s son, Ned.

In her foreword, Stonehill recounts the 1916 (or was it 1917?) proclamation of the Free and Independent Republic of Greenwich Village by Marcel Duchamp, John Sloan and four others who found a door leading to a stairway to the top of the Washington Square Arch.

The memories of Henry James on Washington Square and W.H. Auden on Stuyvesant St. and other Village luminaries, like Eugene O’Neill, James Baldwin, Bob Dylan, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Jack Kerouac and Djuna Barnes, persist.

“The place still casts a spell, as is evident in ‘Greenwich Village Stories,’ ” Stonehill says.

Berman’s introduction declares the architectural and historic preservation aims of G.V.S.H.P.

“We work to protect the independently owned businesses and the small theaters, arts spaces and performance venues that help define our communities,” he writes.

The book’s 67 contributors include newcomers as well as lifelong residents.

The jazz writer Nat Hentoff, a Villager for more than 60 years, recalls first hearing Cannonball Adderley and John Coltrane playing in neighborhood venues.

Dave Hill, the comedian, a Villager for the past six years, wonders how anyone can understand a neighborhood where W. Fourth St. crosses Eighth Ave. north of where W. 12th St. crosses the avenue.

Bob Holman, poet and founder of the Bowery Poetry Club, made his contribution in verse, of course, beginning, “Where does the City/Become a Village.”

The poet Hettie Jones contributed “Sacred Ground,” a poem that celebrates a rose blooming in December in the dooryard of an E. Sixth St. synagogue that was once a Lutheran church.

Ed Koch’s entry lists the different places in the Village where he resided since 1956 and laments the closings of his favorite restaurants.

Mimi Sheraton, the food writer, a Village resident for 69 years “and counting,” recalls moving into the neighborhood in 1945 when she was a junior at New York University.

Matt Umanov, whose guitar shop has been on Bleecker St. for decades, recalls a young man coming into the store, picking up a guitar and playing it very badly. Umanov was about to eject the youth when Bob Dylan walked in and joined the kid, who was a complete stranger, both playing equally badly. Umanov said he was relieved when Dylan walked out.

Calvin Trillin, the writer and longtime Villager, wrote about his fondness for Tiro a Segno, the Italian-American club on MacDougal St., where his friend Wally Popolizio, a neighborhood lawyer and former city official, was a member.

Wynton Marsalis remembers moving to Bleecker St. at age 18 with his brother Bradford, 19, to a building where Art Blakey also lived.

The actress Patricia Clarkson recalls walking her dog Beaux, whom she had rescued from a shelter 23 years ago, and exploring every street in the Village. When the dog, now 15 years dead, lost the use of his rear legs, Clarkson would walk him by supporting his rear with a cloth sling.

“If you want to be young forever, move to the Village,” the designer Isaac Mizrahi remembers his mother saying when the family lived in Brooklyn.

Readings from “Greenwich Village Stories” are scheduled for various venues around Manhattan: Wed., April 16, 7 p.m., at the Writers Room, 740 Broadway, 12th floor, for G.V.S.H.P. only; Wed., April 23, 7:30 p.m., at Symphony Space, Broadway at W. 95th St.; and Tues., April 29, 6:30 p.m. at Three Lives & Company, W. 10th St. at Waverly Place, where the book is for sale.