Notable New York
The West Side & Greenwich Village
A Walking Guide to the Historic Homes of Famous (and Infamous) New Yorkers
by Stephen W. Plumb
"New York is the concentrate of art and commerce and sport and religion and entertainment and finance, bringing to a single arena the gladiator, the evangelist, the promoter, the actor, the trader and the merchant. It carries on its lapel the unexpungeable odor of the long past, so that no matter where you sit…you feel the vibrations of great times and tall deeds, of queer people and events and undertakings."
---E.B. White, “Here Is New York,” 1949.
No other American city has such a rich past—and present—as New York City. This is true, in part, because it has been the home of so many notable and amazing people. A visitor or resident can stand on practically any street in Manhattan and feel engulfed by its colorful history.
This book, the first volume of a two-volume set, is an attempt to capture some of that history by focusing on a large number of the notable people who have inhabited the city’s many buildings. Specifically, it is a record of the places in New York City where these famous people have lived in the last one hundred and fifty years. It aims to guide the reader in a series of short walking tours, street by street, to the actual houses, apartment buildings, hotels, and public places where they stayed. It offers brief descriptions of the events that took place during each person’s residency at a particular address. This volume covers the neighborhoods on the west side of Manhattan. A forthcoming volume will cover the east side.
I have selected my group of people from various walks of life. The reader will find on the following pages individuals who were politicians, artists, musicians, playwrights, poets, actors, comedians, novelists, criminals, journalists, and businessmen. Most of them lived in New York during the last century. All were individuals who were made famous by New York and, in turn, helped to make New York famous.
In presenting this list of New Yorkers, I must emphasize that it is very much a selective one. The more than seven hundred people and six hundred addresses in this guide represent one person’s choices made from a vast number of possibilities. Those choices obviously reflect my personal interests, but I have made no attempt to be comprehensive. My aim, instead, has been to give the reader a flavor of the history of a selected number of Manhattan neighborhoods.
The terrible events of September 11th, 2001 are a reminder not only of the fragile nature of our day-to-day existence but also of the fragility of our physical surroundings—our very streets and homes and treasured landmarks—which we sometimes take for granted. In addition to their beauty and utility, these structures seem to have the power to evoke time and place and often embody the characters of those who erect and inhabit them. Edward Hopper, who during a long career captured New York life so memorably in his paintings and etchings, spent many hours observing people in their homes as he walked the city’s streets and rode its elevated trains. “I like to look in windows and see people standing there in the light at night,” he once said in an interview. In this act of voyeurism, he was doing what many of us do—consciously or not—as we too walk the streets of Manhattan. We look up at all those windows and imagine what has gone on behind them. What would these buildings say if their walls could talk?
This guidebook will provide you with a number of answers to that question. With it you can find the places where Edward Hopper and Willem de Kooning created their paintings, where the Gershwin brothers and Irving Berlin composed their songs, where Brando, Fonda, and Stewart hung out as young actors, where Edna St. Vincent Millay and Marianne Moore wrote many of their poems, where Berenice Abbott developed her wonderful photographs of the city, where Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt spent their wedding night, and where Babe Ruth and Joe DiMaggio relaxed after hitting a long one at Yankee Stadium.
Most of the people described on the following pages have died or moved on. A number of their former residences have disappeared—victims of the wrecking ball. Yet, on block after block, you can still find, standing as memorials, many of the places they inhabited. Their spirits remain as a presence. I hope you manage to meet a few of those spirits as you walk these streets.