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Around Washington Square: An Illustrated History of Greenwich Village Hardcover – October 9, 2003
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A sprawling, comprehensive account of the neighborhood's history from 1797 to the present day... It is a treasure trove for both the historian and the lover of the Village.(Harry Siegel New York Sun)
One cannot begin to summarize the number of connections made by Harris, but the entangled associations of artists and intellectuals with groups and places that he elaborates reveal how the Village works... Harris's strategy of combining an account of the architecture and the physical layout of the Village with the history of its literary and artistic figures becomes an explanation [of how] the area feeds on the power and energy of New York, but provides space―a necessary space―for invention of self as well as art.(Thomas Bender Times Literary Supplement)
Every page has a surprising gem or an issue that makes you think about what goes on in Washington Square today.(Albert Amateau The Villager)
I have lived in Greenwich Village since 1956 and thought I knew everything about it. Let me tell you, I learned a lot from reading Luther Harris's book, Around Washington Square. It is superbly written and accompanied by fascinating photographs. Readers will learn how the Village was formed and how it is today. Mr. Harris is a great writer: his vignettes of the many famous and infamous people who are synonymous with Village life are beautifully drawn. I urge those living in Greenwich Village and those who would like to live there to read this book. It provides much joyous information.(Edward I. Koch)
A model of research, writing and vision―this is a key work in the history of New York City.(Christopher Gray "Streetscapes" columnist for The New York Times)
Harris's control of detail is impressive. Not only is the detail about particular places and people associated with the Central Village consistently rich and vivid, but the work it required to collect that information is to be commended. His careful portraits of the district in each of its many incarnations are accurate and incisive. His work reflects exceedingly diligent research, and the fruit of this effort is not only an extraordinary amount of accurate information but a rich assortment of contemporary pictures, few of which have appeared in books on the topic.(Gerald W. McFarlandUniversity of MassachusettsAmherstand, author of Inside Greenwich Village: A New York City Neighborhood, 1898―1918)
About the Author
Luther S. Harris is an independent scholar who has lived in Greenwich Village since the mid-1970s.
Top customer reviews
Luther Harris' book, "Around Washington Square: An Illustrated History of Greenwich Village" is an excellent introduction to the history, myths, lies, and unknown truths about this magnet for the students, the homeless, the artists, and the real estate agents who each value Greenwich Village for their own reasons. The text is very informative, and the illustrations are lush and generous. Broken down into easy-to-handle sections, Harris nonetheless is comprehensive. (He apologies to his readers if any particular individual, group, or building was omitted but he needn't have: just about all the bases were covered.) This is an exhaustive and wonderful book.
"The village has a kind of established repose which is rare in other quarters of a long, shrill city; it has a riper, richer, more honourable look than any of the upper ramifications of the great longitudinal thoroughfare, the look of having had something of a social history." James has it right and so does Harris. The Village is the northernmost point of the old medieval Street pattern of colonial New York, and it marks the beginning of the modem grid. That doubled physical character is perhaps an apt symbol of the combination of historical presences and avant-garde creativity that has marked the cultural life of this part of the city.
Harris appropriately begins his story with the creation of Washington Square and goes beyond the usual accounts. He emphasizes the complexity of its birth, revealing that its creation required a modification to the recently established 1811 grid plan. That posed a political problem that was managed with patience, persistence, and astuteness by the then Mayor, Philip Hone, a merchant, one of New York's two great nineteenth-century diarists, and the father of the square. By starting at that point, however. Harris omits the separate history of Greenwich, from which the mixed-up street pattern of the West Village derives, and he neglects a longer and important social history that played itself out a couple of blocks from the square. South and west of the square was Manhattan's longest-established African American neighborhood; it dated from the seventeenth century, having been enabled by the Dutch, who allowed slaves to buy land there and use their income from that land to purchase their own freedom. The British authorities were less accommodating to the community, but it persisted into the nineteenth century until the infamous Civil War Draft Riots, when it was devastated by a series of savage attacks on blacks.
He subjects many of the myths of the Village to the test of documentation, sometimes enriching the myth, sometimes undercutting it. While most urban studies of this genre tend to repeat each other, with no one seeking solid evidence for the well-cultivated memories of the place, Harris has dug deep into the holdings of the Municipal Reference Library and Archives, into newspapers and city directories, and, with special success, the visual record of the neighborhood. The book is subtitled An illustrated History of Greenwich Village, and that it is indeed. It has over 200 illustrations, and a very high proportion of them are uncommon, not the usual suspects which-like the myths-get reused from one history to the next.
If Harris offers no thesis, he does have a point to make. Although Manhattan is marked by constant change or, as one historian recently it, "creative destruction", there is remarkable continuity in the Village. Even with the recent intrusion of Starbucks, book- and drugstore chains, and overbearing buildings recently erected on the square by New York University, the neighborhood's appeal to creative people persists, particularly creative people in the arts literature. His point is made by the multiplicity of individuals who populate his history from Whitman, Melville, Poe, and Anne Lynch's salon in the middle of the nineteenth century up until the present. These individuals-some well remembered, others less so-have provided a crucial density to the world of culture-making.
One cannot begin to summarize the number of connections made by Harris, but the entangled associations of artists and intellectuals with groups and places that he elaborates reveal how the Village works. Harris points to the allure of the history of the place and its inhabitants. The most ambitious and talented pursue the challenge and the glory of association with the ghosts of giants. But part of what is unique about the Village are its many physical and cultural nooks and crannies. Harris's strategy of combining an account of the architecture the physical layout of the Village with the history of its literary and artistic figures becomes an explanation. The area feeds on the power and energy of New York, but it provides space-a necessary space-for invention of self well as art.
Still, the maintenance of the Village has required vigilance. Le Corbusier's views were not unique, and Robert Moses, the power planner who reshaped New York during the middle third of the twentieth century, saw little to save around Washington Square. His plan to run expressways through the park and SoHo, just south of the Village, threatened both the history and the social texture of the neighborhood. One Village mother, worried that her child's swings in Washington Square Park were at risk, took up her pen. The result, writes Harris, was not only a successful political mobilization that stopped Moses, but also The Death and Life of American Cities (1961), perhaps the most influential book on cities, planning, and architecture to be published in the twentieth century.