New York Songlines: Commerce Street

Barrow Street | Bedford Street | 7th Avenue South | Bleecker Street
Commerce Street I by mo husseini, on Flickr

Commerce was one of a handful of streets in the vicinity that were named for French revolutionary virtues; others included Art Street (now part of 8th Street), Science Street (which became Waverly Place) and Reason Street (renamed Barrow). Art, Science and Reason are gone; only Commerce remains. Sounds like a parable, doesn't it?

Despite the name, the street has never been much of a business district; the story about banks moving here from downtown to escape an 1822 smallpox epidemic is apparently a just-so story made up to explain the sleepy street's inappropriate name. And it was never really named Cherry Lane; that was a story invented by William Rainey, co-founder of the theater, to explain its name, which is actually a pun on London's Drury Lane.








W <===           BARROW STREET           ===> E

West/South:

50: Commerce, the restaurant in this 1912 building, has been known variously as the Blue Mill Tavern and The Grange Hall. It appears in The Brothers McMullen, Woody Allen's Anything Else and the final episode of Sex in the City. Supposedly Eugene O'Neill and the Rosenbergs used to hang out here.

Pie Houses

46-48: Commerce Street takes a right-angle turn here--becoming an east/west street. The houses that face each other in the corner--one of which was owned by department store tycoon A.T. Stewart-- have been dubbed the Pie Houses, from the fancy that they are one house with a slice taken out of it. They housed a Thieves' Court in Arthur Train's novel The Man Hunt.

Cherry Lane Theater

by raynach, on Flickr

38-42: Founded by Edna St. Vincent Millay and others in 1924 as a more surreal alternative to the Provincetown Playhouse, in a former silo built in 1817. Has premiered plays by F. Scott Fitzgerald, John Dos Passos, Gertrude Stein, Samuel Beckett, Edward Albee, etc. James Dean appeared onstage in 1954. The theater appears in such films as Reds (standing in for the Provincetown Playhouse), Godspell, Woody Allen's Another Woman and Spike Lee's Mo' Better Blues (as the Beneath the Underdog club)--not to mention Tina Turner's "What's Love Got to Do With It?" video.

Isaacs-Hendricks House

NYC - West Village: Isaacs-Hendricks House by wallyg, on Flickr

Corner (77 Bedford): The oldest in the Village, dating to 1799--though the Greek Revival brick facade is newer, dating to 1836. Owner Harmon Hendricks teamed up with Paul Revere to corner the copper market.

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East/North:

Twin Houses

39-41 (corner): Legend has it that they were built by a sea captain for his feuding daughters, with a garden between them in hopes they would reconcile. Sadly, they were actually built in 1831 by milkman Peter Huyler; history does not record how his children got along. The mansard roofs date to 1873.

NYC - West Village: 39 and 41 Commerce Street by wallyg, on Flickr























Corner (81 Bedford): An apartment in 81 Bedford was used by the CIA as a safe house for LSD experiments from 1952-54-- sometimes administered by prostitutes on unwitting non-volunteers.


S <===             BEDFORD STREET             ===> N

South:

Barrow Street by jwannie, on Flickr

Corner (72 Bed- ford): Casa, Brazilian



24-28: Federal-style houses built 1821.














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North:

19: Note attorney/antiquary sign.

17: Built 1830--on a site where Aaron Burr lived in 1800.

11: Built 1826. Said to be the home of Washington Irving's sister, where he allegedly wrote Sleepy Hollow. ( Other sources say he is thought to have written it at his sister's place in Birmingham, England.)

9 (corner): Corner knocked off by Seventh Avenue extension (1911-1917).

1-7: These addresses are now underneath Seventh Avenue South.


S <===           7TH AVE S / BLEECKER ST           ===> N

S <===           BLEECKER ST / 7TH AVE S           ===> N










Is your favorite Commerce Street spot missing? Write to Jim Naureckas and tell him about it.

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