Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Northern Dispensary, Founded 1827

My favorite thing about not working full-time for one person or company is that I can work where ever I want to. This means picking which cafe I want to work from in the East Village or West Village, the truth being that with a couple of rare exceptions I always head west. Coffee shops that cater to freelancers are like pop-up art exhibits: here one day, gone tomorrow. I've fallen for, and lost, a small handful of little communities who would gather to work outside of their apartments, usually because the rents are too high for these generous spirited cafe owners to support themselves from cups of coffee sold.

My latest find is a bakery called Corrado Bakery, on Stonewall Place where Christopher Street meets Waverly Place. In other words, I find myself smack in front of a giant picture window that overlooks the Northern Dispensary building, an old clinic that was founded to serve the poor in 1827, but which stands empty and neglected today, its future quite uncertain despite the sounding of drums from the Greenwich Village Historical Society. I've walked past this building for years and years, and always marvel at what a rarity it is to stumble into such a diminutive corner building, made from red brick. The streets that it finds itself woven in between create one of the more confusing parts of the Village, in large part because of this triangular plot of land which intersects three different streets into a cacophony of traffic patterns, the like of which I'm sure gave a few Urban Engineers quite a headache.

The lore of this building can't be underestimated: young doctors cut their chops by healing impoverished factory workers, most of them women who worked in the nearby factories. In fact, I just read and learned that Waverly Place used to be called Factory Street, which you can see in the old illustration above. Edgar Allen Poe was allegedly treated here while he was living on the block with his 13 year old wife. Click [here] to read more history about the building.

If I could close my eyes and go back in time, I'm sure I'd be astonished at how different the edges of the streets are now from what they were then, but also how very much the same they are with the tenement style apartment buildings surrounding the still-standing Dispensary. Most different would be the way the people look, milling about among horses and buggies and unpaved and squalid streets. It's possible that life was much simpler back then; maybe the factory workers wore optimistic expressions as they kissed their kids goodbye and left for their long shifts, leaving them to play in the streets and fend for themselves. There was certainly no PS 41 around the corner, the public school with the largest PTA coffers in the city. I think I'll come back to this window often, and hopefully not to the shock of large cranes and bulldozers, a site not uncommon under Bloomberg.

1 comment:

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