St. Mark's Place is considered a main cultural street for the East Village. Vehicular traffic runs east along both one-way streets. St. Mark's Place features a wide variety of retailers. Venerable institutions lining St. Mark's Place include Gem Spa and the St. Mark's Hotel. There are several open front markets that sell sunglasses, clothing and jewelry. In her 400-year history of St. Mark's Place (St. Marks Is Dead), Ada Calhoun called the street "like superglue for fragmented identities" and wrote that "the street is not for people who have chosen their lives ... [it] is for the wanderer, the undecided, the lonely, and the promiscuous."
After the Commissioners' Plan was laid out, property along the street's right of way quickly developed. By 1835, the New York University opened its first building, the Silver Center, along Eighth Street near the Washington Square Park. Row houses were also built on Eighth Street. The street ran between the Jefferson Market, built in 1832 at the west end, and the Tompkins Market, built in 1836, at the east end. These were factors in the street's commercialization in later years.
Eighth Street was supposed to extend to a market place at Avenue C, but since that idea never came to fruition. Capitalizing on the high-class status of Bond, Bleecker, Great Jones, and Lafayette Streets in NoHo, developer Thomas E. Davis developed the east end of the street and renamed it "St. Mark's Place". Davis built up St. Mark's Place between Third and Second Avenues between 1831 and 1832. Although the original plan was for Federal homes, only three such houses remained in 2014.
Meanwhile, Eighth Street became home to a literary scene. At Astor Place and Eighth Street, the Astor Opera House was built by wealthy men and opened in 1847. Publisher Evert Augustus Duyckinck founded a private library at his 50 East Eighth Street home. Ann Lynch started a famous literary salon at 116 Waverly Place and relocated to 37 West Eighth Street in 1848. Around this time and up until the 1890s, Eighth Street was co-named Clinton Place in memory of politician DeWitt Clinton, whose widow lived along nearby University Place.
At the same time, German immigrants moved into the area around Tompkins Square Park. The area around St. Mark's Place was nicknamed Kleindeutschland, or "Little Germany", because of a huge influx of German immigrants in the 1840s and 1850s. Many of the homes turned into boarding houses, as the area had 50,000 residents but not a lot of real estate. Tenement housing was also built on St. Mark's Place.
By the 1870s, apartments replaced stables and houses along the stretch of Eighth Street west of MacDougal Street. The elevated Third and Sixth Avenue Lines were also built during that time, with stops along the former at Ninth Street and along the latter at Eighth Street.
At the southwest corner of Broadway and Eighth Street, the street's first commercial building was built. By the 1890s, buildings on the stretch from Bowery to Fifth Avenue were used for trade. In 1904, the Wanamaker's Department Store opened at the former A.T. Stewart store along Broadway between 9th and 10th Streets, with an annex built at Eighth Street.
In the early 1900s, Little Germany was shrinking. At the same time, Jews, Hungarians, Poles, Ukrainians, and Russians from Eastern Europe started moving in. At this point, St. Mark's Place was considered a part of the Lower East Side.
On the western stretch of Eighth Street, an art scene was growing. Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney, Daniel Chester French, and other artists moved in the stables at Macdougal Alley at this time. By 1916, a studio complex for artists replaced most of these stables, making the areas around Eighth Street popular for bohemians. Whitney, a patron for other American painters, combined four houses on West Eighth Street houses into the Whitney Museum in 1931.
The 1927 construction of the skyscraper at One Fifth Avenue, as well as the Eighth Street Playhouse movie theater, helped influence development on the Sixth Avenue end of the street, where construction of the IND Eighth Avenue Line had required destruction of many buildings there. On an adjoining block, the Women's House of Detention was built in Jefferson Market complex in 1929–1932 and existed through the 1970s.
In the 1930s, after Prohibition ended, West Eighth Street became an entertainment area. Around that time, the New York School movement for abstract expressionist painters was centered around Eighth Street, with many such painters moving to Eighth Street.
After World War II, property along 8th Street was converted to apartment houses. The Rhinelander Estate, one of the major landowners on Eighth Street, erected a building between Washington Square North, Fifth Avenue, West Eighth Street, and the Whitney Museum site. Sailor's Snug Harbor, the other major land owner, demolished the blocks from Fifth Avenue to Broadway on the north side of Eighth and Ninth Streets, including the popular Brevoort Hotel. It replaced these blocks mainly with low-rise apartment buildings and stores, as well as two high-rises. Around this time, West Eighth Street was also becoming the location of neighborhood commerce.
After the elevated train lines were demolished in the 1940s and 1950s, the real estate industry tried to entice residents to the St. Mark's Place area, describing the neighborhood as "East Village". This area became home to an underground scene, and as it was far from public transportation, it became rundown. A 1965 Newsweek article described the East Village by telling readers to "head east from Greenwich Village, and when it starts to look squalid, around the Bowery and Third Avenue, you know you're there."
In the 1960s, Macdougal and West Eighth Streets, as well as St. Mark's Place, became a popular area for hippies. A women's clothing store, a pharmacy, and bookstores were replaced by fast food restaurants and other shops, directed toward the area's tourism base. By 1968, St, Mark's Place became a stopping point for tour buses, which formerly skipped the area.
In 1977, St. Marks Place became the epicenter of all things Punk Rock, when Manic Panic opened its doors on July 7, 1977 (7/7/77). The shop quickly attracted musicians from Cyndi Lauper to the Ramones.
In 1980, hot dog company Nathan's Famous moved into the location of a former bookstore on Eighth Street, to the anger of some Greenwich Village residents. However, other establishments, such as the B. Dalton bookstore, clothing stores, and shoe stores, started to attract tourists to the area. By the 1990s, the areas around both Eighth Street and St. Mark's Place were becoming rapidly gentrified, with new buildings and establishments being developed along both streets. The Village Alliance Business Improvement District was formed in 1993 to care for the area around Eighth Street.
Notable buildings and sites
The entrance to 295 East 8th Street, with "Talmud Torah Darchei Noam" above the door
The stucco-faced apartment building at 4–26 East 8th Street between Fifth Avenue and University Place was built in 1834–36 and remodeled in 1916. It was designed by Harvey Wiley Corbett, and has been described as a "stage set, symbolic of the 'village' of a bohemian artist.'
The residential apartment building at One Fifth Avenue, on the southeast corner of East 8th Street, was built in 1929 and was designed by Helme, Corbett & Harrison and Sugarman & Berger. The brown brick building features numerous step-backs, battlements, buttresses and other suggestions of medieval architecture.
The full-block building on 8th Street bordered by Lafayette Street, 9th Street and Broadway, which carries the addresses 499 Lafayette Avenue and 770 Broadway, was built in 1902 to be the Annex for the giant John Wanamaker's Department Store located one block north between 9th and 10th Streets. The two buildings were connected by a skybridge over 9th Street which was dubbed the "Bridge of Progress". The main store was destroyed by fire in 1955, but the Annex building remains, and currently houses a Kmart and a GAP retail stores, as well as offices.
Across the street, also between Lafayette Street and Broadway, 8th Street runs behind Clinton Hall at 13 Astor Place, also known as 21 Astor Place. This was once the site of the Astor Opera House outside of which the Astor Place Riot occurred. The Opera House opened in 1847 and closed in 1890 to be replaced by the current building, designed by George E. Harney, which became the site of the New York Mercantile Library. The library left the 11-story building in 1932, and it has since been a union headquarters (District 65 of the Distributive Workers of America), the Astor Place Hotel, and, as of 1995, condominiums.
The three former 1838 row houses at 8–12 West 8th Street between Fifth Avenue and Macdougal Street in Greenwich Village were converted in 1931 by Auguste L. Noel of Noel & Miller into the first home of the Whitney Museum of American Art, which sculptor and heiress Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney had established in 1929, after the Metropolitan Museum of Art rejected the donation of her extensive collection of contemporary and avant-garde artworks. In 1914, Whitney had started the Whitney Studio at 8 West 8th Street, just behind her own studio on MacDougal Alley. The museum was located here until 1954, when it moved uptown. The building is currently, along with 14 West 8th Street (built in 1900), the New York Studio School of Drawing, Painting and Sculpture.
Hamilton-Holly House (#4) was part of the same 1830's development as...
#4 – The Hamilton-Holly House was built in 1831 by Thomas E. Davis and sold to Colonel Alexander Hamilton, the son of Alexander Hamilton, first Secretary of the Treasury, in 1833. From 1843 to 1863 it was owned by Isaac C. Van Wyck, the candle and oil merchant. The building was owned from 1863 to 1903 by butter merchant John W. Miller, who added a two-story addition and a meeting hall on the first floor. From 1901 until 1952 the building was owned by the C. Meisel company, a manufacturer of musical instruments. Between 1955 and 1967 it housed the Tempo Playhouse, New Bowery Theatre, and Bridge Theatre, noted for experimental theater, music, dance, and independent film. In 1964 it housed the New Bowery Theatre, a showcase for the American Theatre of Poets. From 1967 it housed Limbo, which in 1975 became Trash and Vaudeville, a punk clothing store that operated in that location until 2016. The building was designated a New York City landmark in 2004.
#6 – The Modern School, founded in 1901 in Barcelona by Francesco Ferrer, opened a New York branch here in January 1911. It was led by anarchists Emma Goldman and Alexander Berkman, who founded the Francisco Ferrer Association in 1910, "to perpetuate the work and memory of Francisco Ferrer", who had been executed in October 1909 for plotting to kill Alfonso XIII, the King of Spain, and masterminding the events of Tragic Week, a mass riot in and around Barcelona. Beginning in 1913 the building housed the Saint Marks Russian and Turkish Baths. In 1979 the building was renovated and renamed the New Saint Marks Baths, a gay bath house. The New Saint Marks Baths was closed by the New York City Department of Health in 1985, due to concerns of HIV transmission. The building subsequently housed a Kim's Video and Music location, until early 2009. Since 2014, the building has been home to one of six Barcade locations.
#8 – The New York Cooking School, founded by Juliet Corson in 1876, was the country's first cooking school. It figured prominently in the city's first known Mafiahit in Manhattan, the 1888 killing of Antonio Flaccomio, when it was La Triniria Italian Restaurant. The killer dined there with his victim, then stabbed him a few blocks away.
#12 – Designed by William C. Frohne and built in 1885, as the clubhouse for the Deutsch-Amerikanische Schützen Gesellschaft (German-American Shooting Society). The facade says Einigkeit macht stark (Unity is strength). The building is a remnant of Kleindeutschland (Little Germany), the home of many German immigrants from the mid-19th Century until the General Slocum disaster of June 15, 1904. The building was designated as a landmark in 2001. This was the original location of the St. Mark's Bookshop, before it moved across the street. In the late seventies it housed The New Cinema, featuring film and video by independent filmmakers, including Eric Mitchell, Anders Grafstrom, Scott and Beth B, Jim Jarmusch, Charles Ahearn and Amos Poe.
#13 – Home to Lenny Bruce in the mid-1960s.Sylvain Sylvain, guitarist for the New York Dolls, lived in the basement apartment in the mid 70s. The main floor and basement of the building were for many years St. Mark's Bookshop, now around the corner, at 31 3rd Avenue.
#28 – From 1967–1971, this storefront housed Underground Uplift Unlimited (UUU), which created and sold some of the most noteworthy protest buttons and posters of era, including "Make Love Not War."
#96 – Once the home of the Anarchist Switchboard, a 1980s punk activist group.
#97 – the home of Yaffa Café — a favorite of artists, writers, and NYU students — for 32 years, from 1982 to 2014.
#101 – From the mid-1970s to 1983, the poets Ted Berrigan and Alice Notley, who were married to each other, lived here. In Berrigan's "The Last Poem", he wrote: "101 St. Mark's Place, apt. 12A, NYC 10009/ New York. Friends appeared & disappeared, or wigged out/ Or stayed; inspiring strangers sadly died; everyone/ I ever knew aged tremendously, except me."
#105 – Early 1860s home of Uriah P. Levy, the first Jewish commodore of the U.S. Navy and who was also known for purchasing Monticello to work toward its restoration and preservation.
#122 – This building used to be the location of Sin-é, a neighborhood café where Jeff Buckley performed a regular spot on Monday nights. Other musicians such as David Gray and Katell Keineg also performed there. Sin-é closed in the mid-1990s.
On the southwest corner of St. Mark's Place and Second Avenue, at 131 Second Avenue, is Gem Spa, a newspaper, magazine and tobacco store, which is known for its fountain egg creams. On the back cover of the first, eponymous New York Dolls LP, the band is pictured standing in front of Gem Spa.
The narrator of Tom Paxton's "Talking Vietnam Potluck Blues", upon smelling marijuana on someone's breath during the Vietnam War remarks, "He smelled like midnight on St. Mark's Place."
The Holy Modal Rounders mentioned the street in their song "Bad Boy" in the lyric "he'll sell your heart on St. Mark's Place in glassine envelopes/he'll cut it with a pig's heart, and burn the chumps and dopes".
Earl Slick's 2003 solo album Zig-Zag features a song called "Saint Marks Place".
In Lou Reed's song "Sally Can't Dance", Sally walks down and lives on St. Mark's Place (in a rent controlled apartment).
In the King Missile song "Detachable Penis" the search for the missing member ends when the singer states, "Then, as I walked down Second Avenue towards St. Mark's Place / Where all those people sell used books and other junk on the street / I saw my penis lying on a blanket next to a broken toaster oven."
Moe's song "New York City" contains the line, "Hits his brakes and points out the freaks on St. Mark's Place."
Kirsty McGee's Frost album (2004) contains a song called "Saint Marks Place".
The Tom Waits song "Potter's Field" from his Foreign Affairs album contains the line "You'll learn why liquor makes a stool pigeon rat on every face that ever left his shadow down on St. Mark's Place."
The Rank and File song "I Went Walking", on their 1982 album Sundown, presents a cynical look at the St. Mark's Place of that time, containing the lines: "Have you ever seen a sheep in a porkpie hat? Ever see a lemming dressed all in black? Well, you might have been there, but I'll tell you just in case: Just take a walk down St. Mark's Place."
The Sharp Things album, Foxes and Hounds, features a song called "95 Saint Marks Place".
In the opening credits to Saturday Night Live (c. 2010), a shot of Cherries adult entertainment store's neon signage is featured in the opening credits.
In the season 3 Sex and the City episode "Hot Child In The City", Sarah Jessica Parker's character Carrie goes to get her shoe fixed on St. Mark's Place and ends up dating a man who works at a comic book store on the block. Part of the episode is filmed at the actual St. Mark's Comics.
^What to See in New York. John Wanamaker, New York. 1912. pp. 22, 31. Retrieved 27 April 2013. The Wanamaker business occupies two buildings—the fine old structure erected by A. T. Stewart, with its eight floors, and the new Wanamaker Building, occupying the entire block south of the Stewart Building, with sixteen floors. Combined area of the two buildings, about 32 acres. Two large tunnels under and a double-deck bridge over Ninth Street connect the two buildings.
^Durniak, Drew. "East 9th Street Then and now". The Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation. Retrieved 27 April 2013. By 1955, Wanamaker's sold its northern store property between East 9th and 10th Streets. Before the planned demolition of the building, a fire broke out in 1956 and gutted the structure. In its place was built a huge white-brick-clad residential building called Stewart House in 1960.