Historic, but not famous

Romany Marie, Bohemian Cafe proprietor

Marie Marchand (May 17, 1885—February 20, 1961), known as Romany Marie, was a Greenwich Village restaurateur who played a key role in bohemianism from the early 1900s (decade) through the late 1950s in Manhattan. She arrived in New York City in 1901 from Romania. Her cafés were considered among the most interesting in New York’s Bohemia and had an extensive following. More salons than taverns, they were places for the interchange and pollination of ideas and compared to the cafes of Paris.

 

Marie’s “centers” for her “circle of thinking people” began in 1912 in a three-room apartment on St. Mark’s Place in the East Village and later in a rented house in The Bronx, before opening in Greenwich Village in 1914. The first location, rented in 1914 near Sheridan Square at 133 Washington Place on the third floor of a four-story building,  reached by climbing one outside staircase and two inside staircases. The Cafe had eleven locations over the years, all located in Greenwich and the West Village of Manhattan.

One of those locations was 49 Grove Street, next to the Thomas Paine building at 59 Grove home of Marie’s Crisis restaurant, now a piano bar, named for its owner Marie Du Mont and Paine’s Crisis pamphlet.

 

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Historic, but not famous

David Hess, owner of smallest private property in NYC

David Hess was a landlord who owned The Vorhiss, a 5 story apartment building at Christopher Street and Seventh Avenue in the early 1900s. In 1910, the city was widening Seventh Avenue and putting in the 1 and 9 subway lines and a subway station at that corner. The city used eminent domain to seize the property.

Upon examination, the Hess family discovered that the city survey had missed a small corner of the plot and they set up a notice of possession. The plaque is an isosceles triangle, with a 25 12-inch (65 cm) base and 27 12-inch (70 cm) legs (sides). The city asked the family to donate the diminutive property to the public, but they chose to holdout and installed the present, defiant mosaic on July 27, 1922.

In 1938 the property, reported to be the smallest plot in New York City, was sold to the adjacent Village Cigars store for $1,000 (approximately $17,000 adjusted for inflation in 2016), approximately $2 per square inch. The cigar store, which still remains, left the plaque in place.

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Historic, but not famous

Samuel Cocks, grocer, builder of Grove Court
Grove Court

One of my favorite places to show visitors to NYC is tiny beautiful Grove Court. First laid out in 1848, Grove Court is set off of Grove Street between Bedford and Hudson Streets in the West Village.  It is entered through an iron gate and its garden is decorated for every season.

In 1848, the merchant Samuel Stryker, who had been leasing the land from Trinity Church, sold to Samuel Cocks the backyards of numbers 6 and 8 Grove Street along with all of number 10.

Cocks was a partner in the law firm of Cocks & Brown, located nearby at 18 Grove Street.  At the time of the transaction, Cocks already owned a small strip of land to the East of 10 Grove Street, providing for the perfect passageway to his newly acquired lot.  According to the designation report for the Greenwich Village Historic District, “The present six connected houses on the rear of this lot were built for Cocks and finished in 1854;  It was not until 1921, when the lot was subdivided by Alentaur Realty and the six houses sold and altered individually, that Grove Court took on its present delightful appearance and name.”

Mr. Cocks left law practice and became a grocer in the area. The three-story Federal houses  were for the working class.  Mr. Cocks felt that by populating this enclave with working class people he would be guaranteed patronage of his store.  The alley was first known as “Pig’s Alley” or “Mixed Ale Alley,” a reference to the drinking habits of those living there.

It wasn’t until the 1920s that the homes were converted to 2 family homes and “spruced up” that the area began to change. The hope was that it would become an artists homestead. Instead, it became an enclave of single women who were teachers, office workers and widows.

Mr. Cocks could never have imagined the homes he built for tradesmen and laborers becoming some of the most sought after property in the West Village with one selling for $4.2million.

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Historic, but not famous

Lucy Sprague Mitchell, educator, advocate for children’s education

Lucy Sprague Mitchell (1878–1967) was an American educator and the founder of Bank Street College of Education.

A Radcliffe graduate, Mitchell was the first dean of women at the University of California at Berkeley, where she lectured in the English Department and promoted educational and career opportunities for women students from 1903–1912.  In 1916, influenced by the work of John Dewey, Mitchell founded the Bureau of Educational Experiments (BEE) in New York City to study and develop optimal learning environments for children. Mitchell sought to create a group of thinkers from different fields to study child development and to advocate for fundamental educational reform.

Bank Street College of Education is a private, nonprofit educational institution located in New York City. The College includes a Graduate School, an on-site independent School for Children, professional development and social programs, and partnerships with school districts, colleges, museums and cultural institutions, hospitals, community service organizations, and educational media corporations. Though Mitchell founded the Bureau of Educational Experiments, she served only as the “acting president” of the college, choosing not to fully assume the title. During her extensive tenure at Bank Street, Mitchell defined the college’s mission with a credo still used by faculty and students today.

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