As the East Village sits poised on the precipice of another transformation, it’s worth taking time to look back at the history of this storied and iconic Manhattan neighborhood. From immigrants to artists to luxury home fronts, the East Village has always been at the forefront of the city’s cultural waves. Here’s how it got its start.
From Farmland to Townhouse
For much of its history, the East Village was nearly entirely owned by a single wealthy landowner: first by Dutch Governor-General Wouter van Dwiller, then by Dutch Director-General, Peter Stuyvesant, who bought what was then a single farmstead in 1651.
The entire neighborhood would stay in Stuyvesant’s family for the next two centuries until his descendants slowly began parceling out lots in the early 19th century. By the 1840s, the neighborhood was well on its way to becoming the hearth and homestead for immigrants from Germany and Poland, leading to a construction boom as single-family lots were converted to the iconic multi-unit dwellings that would become the city’s hallmark.
The end of World War II would see another wave of immigration as former Ukrainian citizens began making their homes in the area. Local landmarks like St. George’s Catholic Church arose alongside in the following decades, and the neighborhood’s immigrant past continues to inform its character and charm.
The Bohemian(ish) Revolution
While the very creation of the sobriquet “East Village” was an attempt to distance the neighborhood from the grittier and more volatile Lower East Side, it still became a landmark for the avante garde and modern arts and music scene.
From the beatniks of the ‘50s to the punks of the ‘80s, the East Village is home to a variety of counter-culture landmarks. The Polish Ballroom on St. Mark’s Street hosted a variety of now-legendary shows, including Andy Warhol’s 1966 “The Exploding Plastic Inevitable,” which featured The Velvet Underground. In later years, the establishment of CBGB hosted names like Madonna, Patti Smith, The Beastie Boys and The Smiths.
In the last decade, local government and citizen advocates have strived to ensure the neighborhood’s future as a quieter upscale neighborhood. With new zonings laws prohibiting high-rise construction, the East Village’s luxury brownstones are now guaranteed to continue providing comfortable living into the future. As new cultural landmarks take their side along historic favorites, like the Yiddish Art Theater, Webster Hall and Cooper Union Square, this neighborhood is sure to remain an oasis amid the hustle and bustle of Manhattan’s urban jungle.