Street in Greenwich Village is a quiet, slow street in a fast
city. PHOTO: Andy
New York minute on Commerce Street is filled only with the sound of a
woman's heels clicking against the pavement and the distant barking of
a neighborhood dog. The horns, the sirens, the purr of engines and the
whoosh of the subway below that permeate the bordering Seventh Avenue
South are all but muted on this one-and-a-half-block Greenwich Village
street. A plaque affixed to the brick wall of one home during the
19th century could apply to the street today: "On this site in 1897
commerce is transacted on Commerce Street these days, unless you count
the walking tours that bring tourists down the quaint street lined with
trees and Federal-style houses. Almost all of the business, which
was never much more than a wood workshop, a brewery and a factory, left
in the late 1800's along with the wealthy landowners who erected the houses
and planted the cherry trees.
and the movement of the city did not remove all of the commerce off this
backwater street. Still prominent among the old brick houses are
two restaurants, Casa and The Grange Hall, a real estate office and The
Cherry Lane Theatre, the oldest continuously running Off-Broadway theater
in New York City. People who do find their way down the curved street
between Barrow and Seventh Avenue, whether on purpose or by happenstance,
will feel as though they have arrived in a different era-save a few cars
and the quick exit back into a 21st-century New York.
twins, as numbers 39 and 41 Commerce are called, offer a picturesque
life in New York. PHOTO:
Street, like the rest of Greenwich Village, grew during the early 1800's
when a series of cholera and yellow fever epidemics hit the city center,
in what is now called Lower Manhattan.
As people moved north, banks and businesses flourished in the area.
was paved in 1826 after a wealthy and prominent attorney, Charles Oakley,
petitioned the Common Council to pave Commerce Street in front of the
houses he owned. The paving was officially extended to Barrow Street
the following year, according the Greenwich Village Historical District
designation report. Although the history of the street's name is
still debated among residents and scholars alike, no one disputes its
origins as an affluent Manhattan address.
everything in New York City, what had seemed firmly established changed.
By the turn of the century, immigrants working along the Hudson River
and bohemians, writers and artists, drawn by cheap rents and large apartments,
had moved into the area and changed the makeup of the Village and Commerce
Street, where people like the writer Washington Irving and photographer
Berenice Abbott lived. While New York has changed and grown up around
it, Commerce Street has not lost the quiet charm or sleepy and established
repose that continues to make it a rare place in a city that supposedly
plaque, near number 13 Commerce Street, reveals that even in 1897,
the street was slow and quiet. PHOTO: Beth
historians maintain that Commerce Street was once called "Cherry
Lane," after the cherry tree-lined cow path that once ran
through the Gomez farm, which later became part of Greenwich Village.
Cherry Lane Theatre, armed with a stack of historical documents
and newspaper articles, is in the process of asking the local
community board to have the honorary name "Cherry Lane"
added to street signs, to recognize what they believe to be the
street's first name.
from the Greenwich Village Society on Historic Preservation say
the name Cherry Lane originated more from imagination than history.
show that "In answer to a reporter's question that momentarily
caught him off guard, William Rainey (one of the original directors)
said the new theater would be called the 'Cherry Lane,' and then
went on to justify the selection by outlining a totally imaginary
Cherry Lane that passed through the neighborhood in colonial days."