by Kevin Walsh

At the conclusion of my recent jaunt eastward on 13th Street, I finsished the march on Avenue B, the heart of the rapidly “improving” East Village. Your webmaster never experienced the East Village when it was truly dangerous. Before Forgottening began in earnest I knew the East Village only as the home of a college and post-college dive, the Holiday Lounge, on St. Mark’s Place across from the old Theatre 80 and its East Village Walk of Fame; Stromboli Pizza; my late friend Steve Graziano’s apartment on East 4th. I came along a little late for the heyday of the Fillmore East and Anderson Theatre.

I discovered that Avenue B has its own brand and identity that will likely never be scoured out by whatever hip hop mogul or trust fundster moves in. We can all likely be grateful.

Quirky shops line Avenue B between East 13th on south to the eastern edge of Tompkins Square Park. The Collector’s Toy Den (which has things like the Blues Brothers Talking Keychain, the Donald Trump Apprentice Wacky Wobbler, and John Lennon action figures), the hand scripted sign of Raúl Candy Store, Bodywork Station a couple of doors away from a lingerie place (you can work on the inside and outside).

The East Village has dozens of impromptu gardens wedged between buildings, while larger ones can be found on corners; I have meant to do a FNY page on them, but their histories are sketchy. The NYC Parks Department dutifully marks them all but in the 1990s the Giuliani administration was seemingly bent on eliminating them all. With real estate scarce, I imagine the gardens’ time is numbered. Many of the gardens have their origins in the teardowns, or even burndowns, of unwanted buildings by their owners in the 1970s.

These don’t look particularly inviting in January when I shot them, but they are well cared for in growng season.

Here’s list of all of the Manhattan gardens.

We have of course paid a great deal of attention to the plight of histroic St. Saviour’s Church in Maspeth, which has been in the crosshairs of a developer for years and stands on the edge of the precipice in March 2008, but St. Brigid’s at Avenue B and East 8th is in the same boat.

St. Brigid’s may in fact be the oldest Patrick Keely church still standing. Its corner stone was laid on September 10th, 1848, and construction was completed in a somewhat astonishing fifteen months. Designed in the Carpenter’s Gothic style, the building is without transepts or apse (that is to say, it is rectilinear rather than crossshaped), and features a nave (center seating area) flanked by a north and south aisle, each with a second-story seating gallery fronted by elaborate wainscoting. The vaulted ceiling above the nave is said to have been fashioned by shipbuilders as an upside-down boat; and indeed, one student of architecture sees this theory borne out in the “extraordinary flattening of the nave vaulting,” which resembles the hull of a ship. Sculpted faces that abut the corbels supporting the roof are said to honor the shipwrights who built the church. [Save St. Brigid]

The archdiocese says the church needs to be torn down because the structure is in danger of collapsing.

Basilio Scientific School, a private church it seems; above: ad palimpsest on East 7th and B: a catering hall and a funeral parlor. The Horseshoe Bar on the ground floor has seen scenes from “The Godfather: Part II”, “Crocodile Dundee”, “Cocktail” and “Rent” shot there.

Tributes to Hector LavoeCelia CruzTito Puente and John Lennon, both by the same muralist, the Alphabet City legend Chico.

1000 years ago, I remember a band called Major Thinkers and their semi-hit, “Avenue B.” The Thinkers’ Larry Kirwan went on to greater fame in Black 47.

Black 47’s CD Iraq came out in March 2008

Soon after completing the page I heard from Larry Kirwan himself, who writes,

I used to live on Ave. B and 3rd Street and take my word for it, the neighborhood was quite dangerous. Still, it was home and I loved it. Should you want more information on the area, take a read of my “memoir”, Green Suede Shoes. It’s available in most big book stores or on line. I think it gives one of the most thorough and unsensational accounts of the old East Village.

The song Ave B is the Place to Be was actually written in a rehearsal studio on Ave. B (roughly around 6th St.) Amazingly, the studio is still there. The NY Times did a piece on it some months back. It came from a jam between Pierce Turner, Thomas Hamlin and myself and was somewhat tongue in cheek. We released it in Ireland and went over there to promote the album, Major Thinkers. We had just returned (penniless as ever). Unbeknownst to us, someone had sent a copy to WLIR on Long Island. They played it on a Sunday night. It was immediately a hit with their listeners. We received a phone call from Lenny Petze of Epic/Portrait Records. I actually told him to fuck off, as I thought it was a friend playing games. But we signed with Portrait eventually. I still get letters from people about the song… oh well, another part of New York history.

Photographed January 2008; page completed March 18.

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.