Years ago Alphabet City was considered dangerous but today it is a mix of affluent New Yorkers, NYU students, artists, musicians and free spirits.
Alphabet City is the area from 14th Street to Houston Street, and from Avenue A to Avenue D in New York’s East Village. Before it was bustling with buildings, this area was marsh. In the 1800’s developers began building apartments and a large German community sprang up. By the early 20th century the area became more diverse with Jewish, Irish and Italian immigrants making this area their home.
During the 1980s, Alphabet City was home to a mix of Puerto Rican and African American families living alongside struggling artists and musicians The Broadway musical Rent portrays some of the positive and negative aspects of this time and place.
The fact that Alphabet City is off the subway line keeps some of its charm intact. As this neighborhood is a bit of a trek for many it is not packed with tourists like other areas. This has helped some local restaurants and shops maintain their integrity and their following.
The tour begins at Tompkins Square Park
The park was originally owned by Peter Stuyvesant, the Director General of the colony of New Amsterdam. Since its beginnings in the 19th century, Tompkins Square Park has served as a place to voice dissent. Demonstrations in 1857 and 1875 about the lack of jobs and the poor economy gave way to local residents’ protests about gentrification in the 1980s and 1990s.
From the park we will explore other neighborhood fixtures including:
- Museum of Reclaimed Urban Space – This museum showcases the local activists who transformed abandoned spaces into vibrant community spaces and gardens.
- Community Gardens – Alphabet City has many green spaces that are maintained by local volunteers. These gardens were once vacant lots that have been transformed by community efforts.
- The Nuyorican Poets Cafe – This is a home for playwrights, painters, poets, musicians and artists of all kinds. There are weekly poetry slams, visual art installations and evenings of jazz.
- Obscura Antiques – This antique shop is filled with quirky furniture & paintings, knick-knacks, taxidermy and other oddities.
- St. Nicholas of Myra Church – This gothic Russian Orthodox church was built in 1883. It was designed by James Renwick who is also responsible for Grace Church in Greenwich Village and St. Patrick’s Cathedral on Fifth Avenue.
- Eleventh Street Bath House – The neo-Italian Renaissance building at 538 East 11th Street was originally constructed in 1904-1905 as a public bath house for poor immigrants living in the East Village. The building is now used as a film studio.
- Congregation Beth Hamedrash Hagadol Ansche Ungarn – This former synagogue’s name translates to the Great House of Study of the People of Hungary. The building is a designated New York City landmark which dates back to 1908.
- Congregation Mezritch Synagogue – This 1910 Orthodox synagogue was built by a congregation of Polish immigrants. Part of the building has been converted to apartments but the congregation still gathers here.
Tour is approximately two hours.
Fee: $30 per person.