Edgar Allan Poe House
The retained portion of the facade of the Edgar Allan Poe house, now attached to NYU's Furman Hall facing West 3rd Street. Photo by Flickr user edenpictures. Licensed under CC-BY 2.0.
Edgar Allan Poe lived at 85 West Third Street in Greenwich Village from 1844 to the early months of 18461 before moving to a cottage in Fordham with his wife and mother-in-law when his wife's health began to deteriorate.Poe wrote "The Cask of Amontillado2," and revised and published "The Raven3" during his time on Third Street. According to a petition signed by over 70 scholars to save the house, he also "achieved his lifelong dream of acquiring his own literary magazine and worked on at least three important short stories” while living there4.
The construction of Furman Hall required the demolition of Poe's former residence, but a compromise was struck in which NYU agreed to preserve the façade of the house. However, the façade was moved half a block away from the original location and now stands surrounded by nine-stories of 170,000-square-foot modernist architecture. None of the original salmon-colored bricks were used in the new structure5."Walking by, you would never know this was supposed to be the actual remnant of a 19th-century house," said Executive Director of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation Andrew Berman. "It looks tacked on. It's a facade, literally and figuratively"6. However, the new bricks were set in a running bond pattern, using the size, pointing and the thin mortar joints of an 1899 design. According to the settlement reached between the two sides, NYU promised to make "a good faith effort to match the color, dimension, character and texture of the 1899 bricks"7 while conserving and reusing as many other elements in the new facade as were present in the old one. Judith Alpert, an associate dean for real estate planning and capital projects for the law school responded to criticism of the facade."Unfortunately, there was not enough of the original bricks to use on the full facade. What we did instead was save a portion of them, and put a panel inside the room of the original bricks," she said8. The NYU Law School permits access to the building's interior space for programs, local schools, and community organizations and to the public on a regular, scheduled basis9.
Key Dates in Preservation Activity
2000 - A furor arises after NYU says they might tear down the building to expand their law school.
March 17, 2000 - A proposal for individual landmark designation for the Edgar Allan Poe House is submitted to the Landmarks Preservation Commission10.
July 31, 2000 - With the threat of imminent demolition, a temporary restraining order is obtained.
August 2, 2000 - A rally at the house is held, attracting approximately 300 participants11.
September 29, 2000 - The retraining order that protects the Poe house is lifted by Judge Robert D. Lippmann. In his decision, the Judge admits that there is sufficient merit to warrant preservation of the buildings, stating, "From a historical, cultural and literary point of view, the Poe House should stand." However, he also finds that there is no compelling legal ground to force NYU to change its plans12.
December 2000 - using a microphone, a speaker at one rally reads Poe’s “The Raven” to over 100 village residents. The speaker was arrested for violating the city’s noise permit system13.
January 24, 2001 - a settlement is reached between NYU and the lawyers representing interests to preserve Poe house. The agreement calls for changes in the design of the proposed Law School building. Poe House is dismantled, but its facade is rebuilt and incorporated into the new structure along the lines of its appearance in 1845. Inside the Poe facade, a room is dedicated to Poe and made available, through NYU, for readings and lectures. Historical markers, detailing the significance of each building, are added to the exteriors14.
September 28, 2001 - NYU School of Law broke ground for the 98 million dollar Furman Hall.
The Daily News reported that "NYU officials say there's nothing special about the three-story brick structure, which they've owned for years, and that Poe didn't do any significant writing there" 15.
NYU's plan to expand their law school into the building immediately sparked an outcry from residents, Poe aficionados, and preservationists alike.
Jeffrey Savoye of the Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore said "it is still essentially the building Poe lived in. Of the several places where Poe lived in Manhattan, this house is the last survivor" 16.
E.L. Doctorow wrote in a letter to The New York Times: “The Poe house is quite small and very suggestive of the writer's perpetually straitened circumstances. I wonder why plans can't be drawn to build the school around, above and behind it. This sort of thing has been done elsewhere when architects have been faced with a historic but inconvenient structure” 17. Woody Allen also published a letter supporting the Poe House's preservation.
New York City preservation groups, such as the Municipal Art Society and the New York Landmarks Conservancy, as well as the Mystery Writers of America, wrote to the law school, “pleading with administrators to reconsider their plans” 18. The Municipal Art Society further stated that NYU’s plans “would radically alter the area” 19.
Poe scholars asked the city's Landmarks Preservation Commission to designate the Poe house as a landmark, but after considering the documentation, the agency declined to hold a hearing. The New York State Office of Historic Preservation announced that designation would not necessarily protect the house from demolition20. A lawsuit was filed against NYU by the Historic Districts Council, the Committee to Save Washington Square, Luther Harris, Brad Hoylman, and Suzanne H. Dickerson. Because of this, NYU, which was ready to begin building in August, was hit with a court-ordered restraining order temporarily preventing the destruction of the site. The restraining order was later lifted in September. A compromise was reached between the sides in January 2001, which saved part of the facade but saw it moved a half a block down the street.
- 1. Nadine Brozan. “Furman Hall, Nine Stories on Sullivan Street; New Law Building Opens at N.Y.U.,” New York Times, Jan. 18, 2004.
- 2. Denny Lee. “The Poe House, and its Mask of Red Bricks,” New York Times, October 19, 2003.
- 3. Nadine Brozan. “Furman Hall, Nine Stories on Sullivan Street; New Law Building Opens at N.Y.U.,” New York Times, Jan. 18, 2004.
- 4. Denny Lee. “Neighborhood Report: Greenwich Village – Update; the Fall of the Poe House (Unless scholars Prevail),” New York Times, July 2, 2000.
- 5. Denny Lee. “The Poe House, and its Mask of Red Bricks,” New York Times, October 19, 2003.
- 6. Ibid.
- 7. Supreme Court of the State of New York Appellate Division: First Department. "Stipulation of Discontinuance and Settlement," January 23, 2001 (Historic Districts Council Archives)
- 8. Denny Lee. “The Poe House, and its Mask of Red Bricks,” New York Times, October 19, 2003
- 9. Press Release: "NYU Law School, Historic Districts Council and the Committee to Save Washington Square Reach Accord on Design of New Law School Building," January 25, 2001 (Historic Districts Council Archives)
- 10. John S. Jurayj. "Proposal for Individual Landmark Designation of the Edgar Allan Poe House at 85 West 3rd Street, NYC," March 17, 2000 (Historic Districts Council Archives)
- 11. The Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore
- 12. Ibid.
- 13. Steve Strunsky. “Metro Briefing,” The New York Times, Dec. 18, 2000.
- 14. The Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore
- 15. Bill Hutchinson. "Poe Fans to NYU: Have a (Telltale) Heart," The Daily News, February 23, 2000
- 16. Ibid.
- 17. E.L. Doctorow. “Letter to the Editor,” The New York Times, July 25, 2000.
- 18. Nina Siegal. “Rapping on Poe’s Door, A Hint of Nevermore; Anger in the Village Over NYU Tower Plan,” The New York Times, July 19, 2000.
- 19. Ibid.
- 20. Ibid.