Wednesday, March 24, 2010

64 E. 7th

As Grieve pointed out, folks are wondering what will go into the former Tokio 7 spot at 64 East 7th St. What used to be there is an interesting story.

In 1889, the building began serving as the parsonage for St. Mark's Evangelical Lutheran Church, now the Community Synagogue on East 6th Street. Here lived the family of Reverend George Haas. Tragically, Haas' wife and daughter perished in 1904's General Slocum disaster, in the steamboat that Haas chartered to take his congregation on a church picnic. With 1,021 dead, it was known as the worst disaster in New York's history until 9/11.

After the Slocum fire, many Germans left the East Village for Yorkville, unable to bear the sorrows the neighborhood brought to mind.

1904: Haas funeral procession at 64 E. 7th

Sometime in the early 1900s, the newspaper Russky Golos ("Russian Voice") moved in to the first floor of #64. It's possible that this was the first business to occupy what had been purely a residence.

At this point in time, the invaluable New York Songlines sums up #64's history quite nicely, explaining that Russky Golos was "a left-wing newspaper reportedly associated with Soviet intelligence." It was also here in 1920 that suspected terrorist Alexander Brailovsky was found by police after being spotted at a Wall Street bombing that killed 33 people.

Russky Golos, 1930s

Writes Songlines: "Later it was Les Deux Megots coffeehouse ("The Two Cigar Butts"--a pun on the Parisian cafe Les Deux Magots); the poetry reading series here, which included such poets as Allen Ginsberg, Paul Blackburn and Carol Berge, eventually became the Poetry Project at St. Marks-in-the-Bowery. There were also current events speakers, who ranged from Paul Krassner and Tuli Kupferberg to William F. Buckley."

Author Daniel Kane writes about Les Deux Megots in his book All Poets Welcome, saying it was a "poetry scene based on inclusiveness or what might romantically be termed a gathering of the avant-garde tribes."

Bergie Lustig remembers many details of life at Les Deux Megots in her blog memoir Drop In the Bucket. It was the early 1960s and, as Lustig recalls, "Coffee houses were very popular at the time, but not on the Lower East side. Les Deux Megots was the only one of its kind in the area. The Lower East side was still predominantly Jewish and eastern European and blue collar. Various Slavic groups lived alongside Italians and a few 'others' in relative harmony. The shops and restaurants reflected the makeup of the neighborhood."

Songlines continues: "Then it was The Paradox, said to be the world's first macrobiotic restaurant; Yoko Ono and folksinger Loudon Wainwright III both worked here, and Abbie Hoffman described it as 'a neat cheap health joint that will give you a free meal if you help peel shrimp or do the dishes.'"

Paul Krassner recalls one of Yoko Ono's conceptual pieces at The Paradox, "People would climb inside these huge black burlap bags, singly, or with a partner, and then do whatever they wanted, providing a floor show for patrons while they ate their brown rice and sprout salad."

Here's a snippet of a typical scene at The Paradox from the New York Times in 1971:

After Paradox, it became the final home of Books 'N Things, according to the wonderful history Book Row, by Mondlin and Meador. The bookstore opened in 1940 on 4th Avenue and closed in the 1990s on 7th Street. In its many years, it became a landmark destination for book lovers, intellectuals, and radicals.

In 1988, the bookstore proprietor remarked to the Times that the East Village was "still a place where you can be free. For a lot of kids, coming here is way to get away from the choking atmosphere of suburbia." One of her customers described the shop, saying, "The flyers, the posters, the cracking peeling walls--it's a glimpse of Old Amsterdam, of Old New York."

Trotskyites, agitators, bohemian poets, radical macrobioticists, conceptual artists, Allen Ginsberg, Yoko Ono, Abbie Hoffman. This was the history of 64 East 7th Street for 100 years. You might say it encapsulates the way the neighborhood has always changed, and yet the spirit remained the same. Anarchists gave way to punks, lefty Jewish actors made room for queer performance artists, beatniks became hippies.

And then the century came to an end.

#64 was recently sold as a single-family townhouse for $5,700,000. It's being gutted now. My guess is that there won't be a business on the first floor, and it will go back to being part of the residence, as it was in 1889. It won't be housing for a clergyman, either. It will be a luxury, 13-room mansion, and it won't be nearly as interesting as all that came before.

Read about other interesting histories:
35 Cooper Square
169 Bowery
185-191 Bowery
111 2nd Avenue
1551 Broadway
Doyers Street


EV Grieve said...

So, no Fro-Yo then at the former Tokio 7?

Seriously, wow... an impressive and exhaustive history of this address, Jeremiah. I'd love to have the history of every building here. So get crackin'...

I double that invaluable comment about New York Songlines.

Mark said...

When I was in high school, a rather splendid afternoon could be for almost for almost no money by taking in a couple of classic films at the St. Mark's Cinema ($1.00 during the day!)and then heading around the corner to the Paradox for a bowl of, well, everything: Oats,
beans, grains, tempeh and seaweed, among other items, tossed in a bowl, at the cost of 99 cents! With some herbal tea on the side.

ShatteredMonocle said...

Pockmarks from that bombing can still be seen in the limestone of 23 Wall Street, which is of course now a condo.

Laura Goggin Photography said...

That top photo of the funeral procession is great - the buildings still look pretty much the same, so you know exactly where that is. To see that awful event in progress really personalizes it.

I once started a research project to see if anyone in my building died in the General Slocum disaster (the answer being no). In going through all the names and addresses, it was so sad to see so many from the same families and from such a small geographical area...I can only imagine the devastation of those left in the neighborhood.

Jill said...

What a colorful history of a single building, with a tragic ending.

Jeremiah Moss said...

amazing, isn't it, how a single, seemingly anonymous address can contain so much? i love digging this stuff up.

Roberta said...

Thanks for a really interesting article! I wonder if the Paradox is the model for the Total Assault Cantina in Sanders' Tales of Beatnik Glory.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for once again demonstrating how interesting New York *used* to be, before the Great Douchefication turned it into a sterile playground for the rich.

chris flash said...

I loved that well-researched history! Moving down to the LES in 1980, I enjoyed a taste of everything as it was disappearing (the St. Marks Theater, the Cauldron on East Sixth, the funky bookshop on St. Marks now occupied by an Afghan restaurant, cheap retro clothing stores, Free Being Records on Second Ave now occupied by Paul's hamburgers....) -- those were the days before the hyper-gentrification of the early-mid 1980s that started pushing everyone out.

So, now we have more monied-douche bags, this time paying almost $6 million to be a part of a neighborhood and scene that their very presence is killing off!!

Why don't the uber-wealthy buy in wealthy neighborhoods and live with their own kind? With all their money, why can't they just leave the less-affluent areas alone so that normal folks can live, work and shop affordably?

These are obviously rhetorical questions....

Anonymous said...

It is disappointing to see that with no knowledge of the new owner, some of you supposedly "open minded and liberal" people are as narrow minded and judgmental as the worst of the worst. You should be pleased that a family is moving into the neighborhood, taking great pains to do a historical renovation, keeping original details and rescuing the facade of a building while the inside was crumbling and completely un-inhabitable. You should be thanking the new owner not vilifying her.

Im sure the literary inhabitants of the past had equally smirked at a new arrival who's best adjective is "douche bag" If you arrived in the 80s then guess what? You are part of the gentrification.

Anonymous said...

Great news for the pessimistic few!
Everyone should have a chance to dream!Don't you know that history tends to repeat itself?
Not only is the new owner passionate about retaining the integrity of this wonderful building with such a colourful history but they are eerily connected to sharing alot of traits of previous owners.
They had to have "big balls" to take this project on and I say go for it!
Instead of this building which was collapsing ,or going to God or back to the Lutherans for that matter, it should now exist for yet another 100 years to come!
May it bring great joy to all that inhabit it!As they say "The Gods worship the brave!!!!"

Jeremiah Moss said...

since you Anonymous folks are clearly the owners, or the friends of the owners, and you want to get your side of the story across, feel free to write to me at my email and fill us in: jeremoss (at) yahoo (dot com).

Anonymous said...

I do happen to know the new owner - and know that she is a gatherer - and supporter - of many - including those involved in the arts, fashion, photography, culinary arts, indigenous culture and charitable institutions. This person is a necessary conduit for people to meet people. If only you knew this person - you would very quickly realize she is so much more 'East Village' than uptown! I'm so glad she has landed at 64 East 7th to carry on it's rich history!

Unknown said...

I love the article and the history of the building as Mickey Ruskin who had the Cafe Deux Megots, before my time in NYC is the father of my children. We were together through the Max's years. I am completing a documentary on Max's and would like to get a copy of that photograph of the Deux Megots. Do you know who the photographer was.
Yvonne R Sewall

Jeremiah Moss said...

sorry, Yvonne, i don't know the photographer's name. found it uncredited online. but please keep us posted about your documentary.

Chef Juke said...

Hey there,

Great history of the building there. The info from Songlines was written by me (My Dad, Bill Mackey, was one of the owners of "Les Deux Megots" in the 1960s and it's where he and my Mom, Bergie Lustig, who you aslo quote) met.

You found a wee bit more history than I was able to in my digging and the pics are a great!

-Patrice Mackey

Jeremiah Moss said...

Patrice, thanks for writing. it's always great when family members of these vanished places put in their two cents. any chance you've got some photos of the place? they are hard to come by.

Karen said...

I'm confused by great-grandparents were married at St. Mark's Lutheran Church in 1902, and the marriage certificate has a stamp on it that says 64 7th Str. I always thought this was the address of the church. This was actually the address of the parsonage? Where is/was the actual church? Thanks.

Anonymous said...

My dad was the owner the Paradox restaurant on east 7th street. after the restaurant closed he opened the Paradox bakery with his rice bread recipes, which he still bakes today. the breads were sold at a number of local places like Montana Palace on east 9th street. I remember east 7th street so clearly, it's wonderful to read this history of the address. Carrie

Pat said...

I was a friend of Gertrude Briggs, the proprietor of Books 'N Things. She had the store at another location on East 7th Street and moved to 64 because they raised the rent. Before, when she had the store on 4th Avenue it was with her husband Harold who passed away. 64 was owned by a guy named Jerry and he lived upstairs in the building with another guy. Together they had a business supplying photos, they had a photo archive. If Gertrude's store had "cracking peeling walls" it wasn't to give the joint atmosphere. It was most probably because Jerry was too cheap to provide maintenance of his rental property. Gertrude complained about Jerry constantly. Looking back on it I wonder how anyone could treat a woman that way, much less someone well into her senior years. I had a run-in with Jerry myself. I had a job in the area and we all took turns walking the boss's dog on our lunch breaks. I used to visit the store with the dog on the leash. One day Jerry was outside with his dog off the leash. His dog went after mine, and I stood between them. He accused me of kicking his dog and he was so ridiculous he started off by asking me "do you speak English?" Ridiculous, my family has lived in this country for centuries. Eventually the rent on the store was raised to where Gertrude could no longer maintain the store and she closed. The time came when she mentioned to me that someone in the neighborhood told her Jerry had passed away. She did not gloat, she just mentioned it. She was a very classy lady.

Molly said...

Pat, Gertrude was my grandmother. Thank you very much for your memories of her.

ShadeSeeker said...

This property is currently listed on Zillow for $18m. At first I didn't think they were the same but then realized the owner had added a 4th floor (part rec room and part terrace). Anyway, if you hadn't seen the listing, thought you might find the pics interesting.,-new-york_rb/