I live in Greenwich Village and I have for the past twenty-six years. Whenever people from other parts of the world hear ‘Greenwich Village’ they often see visions of beatniks dressed in black, reciting poems to the beat of a bongo drumor long-haired hippies with guitars singing in cafes about revolution. But today with so many luxury high-rises where the cafes and bars used to be, it’s hard to whip up a good revolt.
I frequently use the historical settings that surround me to tell of the LGBT’s struggle for visibility and equality. There’s probably nothing more subversive than the queer movement that took place here.
My Juliana series, which is about LGBT history, begins in Greenwich Village, so I thought I would use this space to take you on a short tour of the Village that was.
If we take the IRT #1 and get off at Christopher Street,and thenclimb to the top of the subway steps we’ll be at Sheridan Square. Across the street where West 4th Street and Seventh Avenue, South intersect you would see the Life Cafeteria, but it’s not there anymore. The Life Cafeteria, as one district attorney explained, was “used as a rendezvous for perverts, degenerates, homosexuals and other evil-disposed persons. (1935)” Here’s how Al (Alice), newly arrived from rural Long Island, explains it to her friends: “There are these people standing outside of it with their faces pressed up against the large windows, laughing at the people on the inside. We pressed our own noses against the glass to see what was going on. Inside there were real homosexuals eating breakfast.”
If we walk down Seventh Avenue, South to 1 Sheridan Square we come to Café Society Downtown, “The Right Place for the Wrong People.” Café Societywas the first nightclub to allow African Americans and Jews to sit in the seats as paying customers. Both groups had always been entertainers in the clubs, but this was the first timethey were permitted to sit at a table to enjoy the show. Some New York restaurants and cafés did not serve African Americans until 1964 with the passage of the Civil Rights act.
If we walk to Sixth Avenue and 10thwe come to the Jefferson Market Library. This beautiful building used to hold a court house and behind it the Women’s House of Detention. In the thirties it was considered one of the most progressive prisons for women. By the sixties it was called a ‘Hellhole’. The House of D was where they brought prostitutes and the lesbians who were arrested in the bars.
If there were more space I’d take you down 8th Street, the most important street in the Village from the thirties to seventies. It’s looking pretty shabby these days. With the outrageous rents all the cool shops are gone. Most windows are covered with ‘For Rent’ signs. It’s just not the Village anymore.
Juliana (Book 1) 1941-1944
Olympus Nights on the Square (Book 2) 1945 – 1955
Paris, Adrift (Book 3) 1955