12th STREET in brief

This past Sunday I was heading towards Union Square, taking 12th Street. The east-west numbered streets of Greenwich Village are old enough to have preserved some architectural archaisms, attached townhouses from the early 19th Century, and those that purchased them before property values increased as the neighborhood improved are sitting on gold mines. There are also some buildings that went up in a more modern era, before the blocks were safely landmarked and couldn’t be built upon anymore, at least with out of context structures. But the contrast between old and new makes these blocks visually interesting.

I have always liked these blocks and in February 2013 I did a page on 10th, 11th and 12th Streets. I just thought I would include some stuff I missed on that page here.


The Mark Twain Apartments, 100 West 12th near 6th Avenue. Why is the Sagebrush Philosopher remembered here?

Mark Twain was a NYC enthusiast, and a frequent visitor and resident from the first time he came here in 1853 at age 17, explaining he was out of the work at the time and bored with Missouri. Twain visited many NYC landmarks still standing today: Cooper Union on Astor Place; Plymouth Church in Brooklyn Heights; the Players Club he helped found in Gramercy Park; Delmonico’s on 5th Avenue; the Century Club on West 43rd Street.

Twain lived at the Gilsey House, a magnificent old pile at Broadway and West 29th; a townhouse at 14 West 10th Street, much later the site of Joel Steinberg’s murder of his daughter;  and Wave Hill, the magnificent mansion and grounds in Riverdale up in the Bronx.

Twain’s signature is seen in one of the notebooks preserved by the Bigelow Pharmacy on 6th Avenue and West 8th Street. His spirit seems to pervade NYC, even though he was more of an ironic observer than  a resident. Because of that quality (I hate to compare myself to a writer of his caliber) he was like me in this — in NYC, but not completely of it.

Historian Peter Salwen periodically does tours highlighting Twain’s New York.


#78 and 80 West 12th, a pair of surviving townhouses from 1850 or even earlier. #80, in particular, may have its original door still intact, and the stenciled address has been there a long time as well. #78 was on sale earlier in 2013 for the bargain price of nearly $11 million.


Directly to the townhouses’ east is the New School complex. The school was “new” when founded in 1919, and when the streamlined building on the left went up in 1930, this was outré avant-garde architecture, to be sure.

Several of the university buildings are certified by New York City as historical landmarks. Prominent among these is the egg-shaped Tishman Auditorium, considered by many to be the first building to employ modern architecture. It was designed by architect Joseph Urban, along with the entirety of The New School’s historic 66 West 12th Street building. Thousands of writer’s forums, author visits, political debates, award ceremonies, academic lectures, performances, and public hearings are held for both the academic community and general public throughout the year in Tishman. wikipedia


43 West 12th Street is a brick townhouse on a handsome block full of them on both sides. But a closer look reveals one difference — the west side of the building has an oblique angle. When the building was constructed in the early to mid 1800s, Minetta Brook (or Creek) still ran along the surface, and the building ran along the brook. As this map shows, two streams converged just south of 12th Street and ran down to the Hudson River in Washington Square and  along Minetta and Downing Streets. The brook was redirected underground decades ago.


There are a couple of rows of handsome brownstones on the south side of West 12th Street, According to NY Songlines’ Jim Naureckas, David Byrne once lived in one of the brownstones seen on the right, while Joan Holloway of Mad Men (the TV series set in the world of advertising in 1960s Manhattan) lived in #42, in the center.


Among 12th Street’s multifamily buildings, #31-33, the Ardea Apartments, stands out, with its rough cut brownstone, balconies and awning. It was built in 1891 by  dry goods magnate George Hearn (Hearn’s would go on to dominate as a department store chain until the latter part of the 20th Century); by legend, it was given the name Ardea, or Latin for heron, which sounds like “Hearn.”

Throughout the 20th Century an amazing thing happened to the Ardea apartment building—almost nothing.  The exterior remains unchanged as does much of the interior.  The original staircase and newel post survive, the oaken built-in ice boxes in the tile-lined back halls, and the marble stair landings. Daytonian in Manhattan (which has some amazing interior photos)

Among its list of distinguised residents over the years was the great physicist, Madame Marie Curie.


I don’t recall the last picture I saw at Cinema Village, at #22 East 12th between 5th Avenue and University Place, and you can never assume that places like this will always be there — but I’m glad its classic neon sign and plastic lettered marquee are still around. It sure doesn’t look like it, but it was built as a firehouse in 1900 and remained one until 1957, when it was converted to a theater.


#34 1/2 East 12th, now the Police Athletic League headquarters, was built as a school for girls in 1855 and, except for the air conditioners in the otherwise original windows, must look very much the same as it did then. Even the sidewalk scaffold has been there for years.


Categorized in: Forgotten Slices Tagged with:

9 Responses to 12th STREET in brief

  1. NY2AZ says:

    Re: 12 W 12 St – “Joan Holloway” is a character in the “Mad Men” series portrayed by Christina Hendricks. In the series Joan, now divorced from an Army doctor, lives with her mother & son who was sired by Roger Sterling, a fellow Sterling-Cooper partner. I think that Joan & family live further uptown. Do you mean that Christina Hendricks lived on W 12th St?

  2. Chieflou says:

    Why is there so much scaffolding in NYC? In my city it generally means that work is being done on the building.

  3. therealguyfaux says:

    Mark Twain’s signature– as “Mark Twain,” or as Samuel Clemens? Seeing as how he had to file for bankruptcy at one point, as Clemens, he’d HAVE to use his real name for any credit transactions– or was it just a “Mark Twain” autograph?

  4. Tal Barzilai says:

    My brother was thinking of taking graduate classes over at New School University, though I still think that’s a weird name for a college.

  5. Pearl says:

    The Police athletic building, according to my neighbor who was born and raised on this block, was a hospital during the Civil War and was painted cream originally. It is now landmarked. The reason for the scaffolding is because the City does not have money to fix its facade after some brick fell from the building several years back. So they put up the scaffolding to prevent further accident. It is an eye sore to the neighbors. The building cross the street, 35 E. 12th St., is historic and used to be the H.O. of the American communist party in the first part of the 20th century. There are FBI surveillance photos and I saw someone selling one of those photo on EBay once.

  6. I am doing some family history with very little information. My mom was placed in NY Foundling Hospital in 1914 at two years old.

    I have the address 549 E. 12th Street, NY It would be great to find out something about the building or any information on tenants living there. The names Mary Pyrombridca & Paul Macca were on the Foundling Home records. They stated they were from Austria, not citizens, not married. Any tips or information on this matter would be great. Thanks

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.