In working on a map of Greenwich Village related to my work with the Eugenia Hughes Collection at the NYPL, I encountered an issue with mapping the past – mapping somewhere that no longer exists. Of course, the physical mapping of the place is simple, as it can still be plotted as a location. However, it got me thinking about what was at the address, if it did not exist today?
Letters in Hughes’ collection suggest that she and her father lived at 44 Washington Square South in the 1940s. Most people familiar with Washington Square Park know the south side of the park is largely NYU buildings– but none of the addresses are listed as 44. It got me wondering what was at this address that would fall somewhere in between the King Juan Carlos building and the NYU Law building. I found my answer in the collection itself; Hughes had saved a 1947 clipping from the New York Herald Tribune recounting a protest that was held against the construction of Vanderbilt Hall – otherwise known as the NYU Law Center. The building currently resides at 40 Washington Square South and spans the entire block between Sullivan and MacDougal streets.
Further searching in the New York Times revealed that Villagers, who lived on this block specifically, did in fact protest; and the Greenwich Village Association formed a committee against the building’s construction. Many of the objectors were cited as living in apartments at 46 Washington Square South, and as one article claims, they were able to raise the support of nearly 8,000 community members. Although the protests were ultimately unsuccessful- as the Vanderbilt building stands there today- this united protest is representative of the character of the Village. Large scale community efforts became more popular in Greenwich Village in the early 1900s with the creation of community groups like the Washington Square Association and the Greenwich Village Improvement Society. Nearly 40 years after the creation of such groups, the strong sense of community and desire to preserve the neighborhood that is such a part of the Village personality was still apparent.