The term East Village first appeared in the early 1960s when artists from Greenwich Village started moving east to escape the rising cost of rent. This move to the Lower East Side was partly tied to the destruction of the Third Avenue El in 1956 that had served as a physical and social divide between the two neighborhoods. As the artist community spread east, real estate brokers followed closely behind hoping to cash in on the areas’ growing connection to the bohemian scene. Relators began referring to the neighborhood as “East of the Village” or the “Village East” and hippies began flocking to the area. Indeed, the first mention of the East Village in The New York Times came on Feb 7, 1960, and even at this early stage the article remarked upon real estate interests in the neighborhood.
At the same time East Village had begun experiencing other serious demographic changes. The older immigrant community largely of Eastern European descent was being replaced by the city’s rapidly growing Puerto Rican population. Between 1940 and 1970 the city’s Puerto Rican population exploded, growing from a minority of about 100,000 to over a million. Many of the new immigrants settled in the Lower East Side, and by the time the hippies arrived there was a large Puerto Rican presence in the neighborhood.
Through the influence of hippies, artists, and real estate agents the name East Village had become common among New Yorkers by the late 1960s. In a June 5, 1967 article titled “The 2 Worlds of the East Village” the Times pointed to the general acceptance of the term noting that the area had already “come to be known” as the East Village, but it also hinted that some New Yorkers were uneasy with the changes in the neighborhood. Referencing clash between city police and about 200 hippies, the article claimed that there was a large divide between the officers and residents of the “seething streets”. The author, which tellingly only interviewed police officers, declared that cops in their “trim, blue uniforms and highly polished shoes find it difficult to understand the world of the unkempt, long haired hippies, the Puerto Ricans with their strange language and customs, and the Negroes.” Indeed, for this author and the officers he interviewed, the residents of the East Village did not conform to what he called “middle-class society and values”. One of the officers described hippies saying, “You feel like vomiting,” while another complained of Puerto Ricans that they “like to congregate on the streets,” and “play their guitars at all hours of the night”. These descriptions did not represent everyone’s view of the East Village, but for the author and his clean-cut cops, the neighborhood seemed like an unfriendly place.
Despite the critics, the East Village continued to grow in popularity and became a large draw for tourists in the 60s and 70s. One young hippie described the appeal of the neighborhood the best simply stating, “You go where the action is.”