A pre-war building in the West Village

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Garden at 396 BLEECKER STREET. Photos by Franck Veilson.

By Gordon Hughes

It’s very glamorous for people on the Upper East Side or for that matter on the Upper West Side to say they live in a pre-war building. They are rather arrogant about this fact. This means that the building was erected before World War II. Well, I live in a pre-war building in the West Village. It is also pre-war. Real pre-war.

Yes, pre-WWII, WWI, Spanish-American War, or a number of incursions, mostly south of the border, and yes pre-Civil War. This is what I call the pre-war period.

New York records place the date of construction of the first two houses that make up the cooperative buildings on Bleecker Street and West 11th Street at 1852/3.

Now, for those of you who read WestView News, it’s not a newsletter that the Village has gone through a demographic shift over the past ten years. There are brownstones that are bought and turned into McMansions. Just look at West 11th Street to see that. That said, the Village still maintains its eclectic profile. The buildings that make up our co-op are a great profile of the people living in the village and the story that I want to share.

Located on Bleecker between Perry and 11th Streets, this unique set of structures boasts both a rich history and today a remarkable artistic group of owners. The houses were originally built for Charles Schultz who owned other properties on Bleecker St. Mr. Schultz’s buildings were notable. Both had pointed roofs with gables which, together with their chimneys, made these buildings unique. When they were built, both buildings had storefronts. This changed at the beginning of the 20th century when the shops were converted into apartments. In 1988, the building became a co-op, and in 2013 the co-op’s board of directors that oversees the two buildings at 11th Street and Bleecker converted one of Bleecker’s apartments back into a store. Particular care has been taken to ensure both the architectural integrity and the historical aspect of the building. The other co-op building is located on W. 11th Street between Bleecker and Hudson; four stories built in 1860. Originally with a storefront, which was converted into an apartment in the mid-20th century, remarkable lintels that remain today and skylights were added in the 1950s to create a line spectacular rooftop, not to mention the spectacular top floor apartments, many of which are duplex apartments.

EXTERIOR OF 396 BLEECKER STREET with Christofle window display.

All that said about the two buildings brings us to the real gem of this co-op which is the backyard. Now, rumor has it that about a hundred and fifty years ago horses were housed there. Today there is a tiered landscaped garden with a fountain and a variety of seating areas; an oasis in the city. During the Gilded Age, people like Mrs. Astor moved to the Upper East Side. In terms of social climbing and all that goes with it, the Upper East Side hasn’t changed that much. People still wear Belgians. In the West Village, little has changed in terms of natives since the days when Sinclair Lewis lived there in what is now the headquarters of WestView News. The Bleecker/11th Street Co-op reflects this to a T. Over a third of the residents are French. One of the most popular French actors lives between Paris and the Village. A French antique dealer whose store is in the Village (Le Fanion) travels between the West Village and Provence, a French columnist lives between Paris and the Village. There are others too and that makes gatherings of cheese and wine on early summer nights in the garden a lot of fun, especially when joined by a mid-century antique dealer, a film director, two producers of movies, a Broadway producer, talent agency owner, actor, actress, renowned Princeton professor, expert Greenwich Village historian/estate agent, and even a surgeon! An incredible gathering of talented and interesting people. Sometimes the garden is reserved by our retail store Christofle (also of French origin) for cocktails when launching a new line or simply as a special “thank you” to their best customers. Fortunately, we are also invited to these! No Belgians but there are plenty of espadrilles. It’s a nice place to visit and I’m sure I’m happy to be able to live here too!

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