. NoHo-History

The elegant 418 through 426 Lafayette Place in its formerly intact state. Click for full image.



The elegant
418 through 426 Lafayette Place. Click for full image.




Arts & Culture

Maps & Plans





In 1748, what is now Lafayette and Astor Place, was New York’s first botanical garden, established by a Swiss physician, Jacob Sperry, who farmed flowers and hothouse plants. A mile from what was then the edge of the city, Sperry's gardens became the destination of weekend strollers up Broad Way from Wall St and the City’s Common (at Chambers St.).  Fifty-six years later, Sperry sold his gardens to John Jacob Astor, who then leased the property to a Frenchman named Delacroix. Delacroix transformed Sperry's property into the fashionable Vauxhall Garden, where New Yorkers could also eat, drink, socialize, and be entertained by band music and, in the evenings, by fireworks and theatrical events.

But, by 1825, with real estate values skyrocketing on nearby Bond, Bleecker, and Great Jones streets, Astor cut a broad street reducing the garden to half its size, whenEntrance to Seabury Tredwell House, 1831.  Photographer:  Stan Ries Delacroix’s lease was up.  This created Lafayette Place, christened by the Marquis de Lafayette himself on his last visit to New York in July of 1825, from a platform raised at the corner of Great Jones and Lafayette.  (Visit Historic Districts Council for background on efforts to Landmark these very blocks)  Astor realized a great profit for the lots on Lafayette Place, named La Grange Terrace after Lafayette’s country home in France.  The four northernmost “mansions” remain as Colonnade Row.[1]  The five southern most houses were destroyed in 1902 to make way for an annex to Wanamaker’s Department Store.

What is now Washington Square Park (two blocks from the current northern portion of NoHo) functioned, from the early 1780s, as an eight acre potter’s field and public gallows.  But, the comparative seclusion of the area began to erode when outbreaks of yellow fever and cholera ravaged the core city to the south at City Hall, in 1799, 1803, 1805, and
1821 and those seeking refuge fled north to the wholesome backwaters of the West Village.  The population increased fourfold between 1825 and 1840.  More shrewd speculators, like Astor, subdivided farms, leveled hills, rerouted Minetta Brook, and undertook landfill projects. In addition to the fashionable Astor Place, Washington Square Park, still a potter’s field in1826, at the foot of Fifth Avenue, became a military parade grounds and a spacious pedestrian commons.  On the perimeter of Washington Square, stately red brick townhouses built in Greek Revival style drew wealthy members of society. The crowning addition to this urban plaza was the triumphal marble arch designed by Stanford White, erected in 1892.

The University of the City of New York (now New York University), established itself on the northeastern corner of Washington Square in a building completed in 1837.  At the time it was a nondenominational, private university, established in 1831 by Presbyterian and Dutch Reformed ministers in response to the conservative curriculum and Episcopalian control of Columbia College. The original building stood at this site until 1894.[2] 

As this transpired, a wave of revolutions convulsing Europe precipitated a growing American disdain for monarchies, fueling tensions between working-class immigrants. The Astor Place Opera House, on the present site of the District 65 Building (UAW), became the site of the Astor Riot on May 10 1849, when vitriolAstor Riots, NY Historical Society Archive between British thespian W.C. Macready, American actor Edwin Forrest and Sixth Ward Boss Isiah Rynders, a knife-fighting, English-hating Tammany politician, inspired anti-English mobs who stormed the Theater in the second act of MacBeth setting it on fire[3]. The disturbance brought out the militia and the police, who killed 22 (more by some accounts) and wounded 48; some 50 to 70 policemen were injured. .[4]

Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art, a private tuition-free college provided by Peter Cooper to educate workers, opened in Astor Place in 1859, having also incorporated the Female School of Design founded to provide women with an alternative to menial labor.  Public debates, lectures and speeches were held in the Great Hall, not the least of which was one delivered by Abraham Lincoln in 1860.[5]

In the aftermath of the Draft Riots of 1863, when Irish immigrants fearing their jobs would be taken by Black laborers if they were conscripted to fight in the Civil War, and during which 11 Black men were murdered with horrid brutality, the southeastern edge of the Village (NoHo and Nolita)) became “little Africa.[6]In the late 1800s to early 1900s the East Village (NoHo's neighbor to the east) grew as the working class marched northward from the South St. Seaport (post Revolutionary War) and the Lower East Side (Civil War).  This area pioneered social services including still extant institutions:  Boys Club Headquarters (founded in 1876 1901) and a Young Women's Settlement House (1897).  These institutions for immigrants and poor Americans provided free birth control, educational classes, libraries, and dental and health services. From the1850s the area north of Houston and east of Bowery was called Kleindeutschland for the throngs of German immigrants who lived in its tenements and worked the ironworks, piano factories, gas works and breweries south of 14th St.  When these immigrants moved to Yorkville, it became “Bohemia” accommodating Eastern Europeans.  Hundreds of tenement apartments became cigar factories; storefronts showcased milliners and cobblers, cabinetmakers and upholsterers.

Throughout, greater Greenwich Village steadfastly marched to its diverse destiny as the spiritual, educational, and cultural avant guarde of the City. It's sub neighborhoods-- NoHo, SoViLa, East Village, West Village--became the site of art clubs, private picture galleries, learned societies, literary salons, theaters and libraries.  Interspersed in this fabric, fine hotels and shopping emporia also proliferated through the 1860’s.  As the poor and working class poured into the East Village, older residences were subdivided into cheap lodging hotels and multiple-family dwellings, or demolished for higher-density tenements. Plummeting real estate values prompted nervous retailers and genteel property along the Village’s Broadway corridor to move north to Union Square.

[1] http://www.nypl.org/research/chss/spe/art/print/exhibits/movingup/labeliv.htm

[2] ibid

[3] The Epic of New York City, Edward Robb Ellis, Kodansha America, Inc., New York, 1997, p 263

[4] http://www.nypl.org/research/chss/spe/art/print/exhibits/movingup/labelv.htm

[5] Encyclopedia of NYC, Dr. Kenneth Jackson, ed., Yale University Press, New Haven, 1998. p. 282

[6] The Historical Atlas of New York City, Eric Homberger.  Henry Holt & Co., New York, 1994, p. 134.



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