Barry Lewis talks about the ‘real’ Greenwich


Casei La Touche

Barry Lewis showed students the formation of Washington Square Park during his Greenwich lecture on Thursday.

Barry Lewis, an internationally acclaimed historian, spoke about how Greenwich Village transformed from  a “slum” in the 1800s to an exclusive living area today during an hour-long seminar as part of the Academic
Lecture Series.

The lecture, which ran in conjunction with St. John’s Student Affairs, featured Lewis detailing the evolution of Greenwich Village since it was a collection of farms in post-Civil War years. Formally known as the Lower West Side, Greenwich
Village became the attraction of artists and the community of the poor during the 18th and 19th centuries.

According to Lewis, it was initially seen as a “slum” by those of the upper class during the 1800s and because of that, the Village’s infrastructure barely went beyond Wall Street.

At the time, he said, the wealthy began the movement of implementing a grid system throughout the housing plans and streets, but this was strongly rejected by the people of Greenwich Village.

Lewis said the 1820s brought about an increased interest in the grid system and the middle class began moving because of the wide living spaces it provided. This, however, did not increase their tolerance of immigrants living in the area, according to Lewis.

It was then in the 19th century that they created the Washington Square. Lewis noted that this area was filled with lavish houses and those of high stature, but was flanked on its south and west sides by the people of the Lower West Side. With the increased population of the middle and upper classes, the first ever New York University was constructed on the east side of the Square.

Lewis said that this school was built with the intention of providing “practical and modern education” for the children of the wealthy. However, with the crash of the stock market, they were forced to rent the institution out to other sources.

The origins of the term ‘studio building’ was also introduced during the seminar as originating from the first-ever building dedicated to artists, called ‘studio.’ The students within the auditorium broke into laughter at the mention of studio, today, only referring to a room with a walk-in closet and a rent of $5,000.

From the 1910s onward, artistic and personal expression began to flourish with the growing population of feminists, folk and jazz music and restaurants dedicated to the “misfits” of the Village.

This seedy nature became more and more appealing and it soon became a tourist site for people hoping to experience the “true Greenwich Village,”according to Lewis.

Lewis reminded the audience that not everyone appreciated the direction the community was taking during these years, but to this day, no one can deny Greenwich Village’s ability to unify people from all walls of life.