A couple of weeks back, EV Grieve posted a bounce piece on the news that Facebook was transferring its base of operations to the old Wannamaker building on Astor Place, saying it had been reported that the move was to "Midtown South." Predictably, this struck a few chords of outrage. Astor Place -- gentrified or not -- is by its very geographical placement downtown. That cannot be changed, regardless of the real estate development and corporate infestation that may occur upon it. But even when applied with relative accuracy, Midtown South (which arguably stretches from 30th Street to 44th Street) seems like a fairly ridiculous distinction. Midtown is midtown. Downtown is downtown. Uptown is uptown. Figure it out.
More to the point, though, people understandably bristle at moves to re-christen neighborhoods. Witness the bile over trying to re-cast Hell's Kitchen -- a neighborhood rich with gritty, violent history -- as the comparatively squeaky-clean "Clinton." Then, of course, there are the cutesy little abbreviations like NoLita (North of Little Italy), MePa (Meat Packing District) and FiDi (Financial District). Real estate developers hell bent on harvesting opportunities in areas of town heretofore considered "undesirable" feel that by re-imagining the monikers of those clusters of streets, they can summarily whitewash and project a new, shiny and arguably more palatable identity upon them. It's happened before.
The other day, though, another seemingly divisive term caught my attention, and it begged some larger questions.
When, again, EV Grieve posted his amazing find earlier this week of Iggy Pop giving a tour of his turf on and around Avenue B in 1993 (which spread to a wide variety of outlets), some comments around social media were quick to point out that the very words "East Village" were never mentioned. Mr. Pop himself refers to his particular area as Alphabet City (itself a term that seems to be used less frequently these days). Fair enough. For some folks, the perceived eastern border of The East Village is on the Avenue A side of Tompkins Square Park. In his celebrated rock n' roll walking tours, erstwhile Cro-Mags lead singer John Joseph firmly asserts that back in the day, no one ever called it "the East Village." To his recollection, it was always simply the Lower East Side. Backing up Joseph's claim, never once in, say, "East Side Beat" by the Toasters from 1987's SkaBoom are the words "East Village" mentioned either.
But, obviously, at some point, someone started calling the neighborhood that -- and it certainly stuck.
I remember interviewing Sonic Youth in the summer of 1990 (just prior to the release of Goo) and a colleague of mine asked them what "EVOL" (the title of their 1986 album) meant. Thurston Moore chuckled and suggested that it was an acronym for "East Village OverLords."
Well predating Thurston's jest, however, there was, of course, the East Village Eye, a credibly hip downtown periodical (i.e. not one orchestrated by entrepreneurial Real Estate conquistadors) that starting publishing as early as 1979.
Personally speaking, as far back as I can remember (or at least as far back as when I started exploring the neighborhood in the 1980s), it was never anything but the East Village, but then -- I was a snot-nosed poser from the Upper East Side (arguably not unlike the Cro-Mags' own Paris Mayhew), so my dilettantish recollections may not count for much.
Beyond that, there seems to be an ongoing, amorphous debate and/or fundamental misunderstanding of where the boundaries of this fabled East Village actually are. Actor/firebrand Alec Baldwin -- who lives on East 10th between Broadway and University Place -- has continually referred to his neighborhood as the East Village. While, yes, University Place is east of Fifth Avenue (which technically situates it on the east side of Manhattan), it is by no means considered by anyone else who lives there the East Village. Why Alec seems to think otherwise is a mystery, although -- let's be honest -- ultimately, he's from Massapequa, Long Island, so why should he be an authority?
As such, I now defer to Wikipedia as to the backstory of the East Village (for whatever that's worth):
The East Village is a neighborhood in the borough of Manhattan in New York City, lying east of Greenwich Village, south of Gramercy and Stuyvesant Town, and north of the Lower East Side...
Definitions vary, but generally the East Village is considered to be the area east of Third Avenue and the Bowery to the East River, between 14th Street and Houston Street.
Until the mid-1960s, the area was simply the northern part of the Lower East Side, with a similar culture of immigrant, working class life. In the 1950s the migration of Beatniks into the neighborhood later attracted hippies, musicians and artists well into 1960s. The area was dubbed the "East Village", to dissociate it from the image of slums evoked by the Lower East Side. According to The New York Times, a 1964 guide called Earl Wilson's New York wrote that "artists, poets and promoters of coffeehouses from Greenwich Village are trying to remelt the neighborhood under the high-sounding name of 'East Village.'"
Newcomers and real estate brokers popularized the new name, and the term was adopted by the popular media by the mid-1960s. In 1966 a weekly newspaper, The East Village Other, appeared and The New York Times declared that the neighborhood "had come to be known" as the East Village in the June 5, 1967 edition.
So, there you have it. Who wants to argue with the New York Times?
Today, of course, no matter how you choose to define, characterize, deride, ignore or reminisce about the area popularly referred to as the East Village, the neighborhood (and its surrounding environs) are in a period of flux. One suspects that in relative short order, no matter what you call those streets, its name will matter less and less moving forward.
What about you? What are your thoughts, associations and borders (if you consider any) of the East Village?