Between Waverly and Christopher just west of 6th Avenue is a short dogleg called Gay Street, which contains a number of handsome Federal-style buildings and has a varied lore. The name of the street predates Greenwich Village’s gay community by several decades, but the derivation is in dispute. In Naming New York, Sanna Feirstein claims it was named for Sidney Howard Gay (1814-1888), editor of the Chicago and New York Tribunes and a prominent abolitionist, but in The Street Book, the late Henry Moscow says the name ‘Gay Street’ appears in the Common Council minutes of 4/12/1827 — when Sidney Howard Gay was thirteen. The short lane is probably named for a local landowner in the mid-1820s, the years in which the street was first established.
Unlike other Greenwich Village streets, it is a part of neither the “east-west” groupings of streets like Christopher, Charles, Perry, etc. nor the “north-south” streets like Bleecker or West 4th (which was originally Factory Street). Rather, it connects two streets, one from each group.
Though it is narrow now, for its first decade, Gay Street was even narrower. It was widened in the 1830s which necessitated the razing of some buildings on its east side and the construction of new buildings. That’s why the houses on the west side of the street date to the 1820s and 1830s, while most of the buildings on the east side are in the Greek Revival style popular a couple of decades later.
Over the years, Gay Street has been rich with showbiz and literary figures and has been the subject of plenty of movie shoots, as you might imagine. I discuss some of the addresses on Gay Street on this FNY page.