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House of Genius (Greenwich Village)

Location

61 Washington Square South
New York City, NY
United States

Sometimes listed as Red Row, Genius Row.

Description

The House of Genius once stood at 61 Washington Square South overlooking Washington Square Park. The 4-story red brick row house stood among several red brick row houses between West Broadway and Thompson Street, and was referred to by Greenwich Village residents as the "Red Row" or "Genius Row"1. Madame Blanchard, a Swiss native, began leasing the house in 1886 from Banker James Speyer2. She converted the single family dwelling into a boarding house for writers, artists and musicians3. The interior of her second floor apartment featured walls "covered with paintings of artists, some now famous, others gone"4. The third and fourth floors were also emblazoned with artistic murals and poetry etched by the former guests5.

Some of the more notable residents included Willa Cather, Stephen Crane, Frank Norris, and Alan Seeger. Mme. Blanchard was known in the Village as a generous landlord to her guests by exclusively renting to artists even though they were often late on rent. On her 80th birthday, Village residents arranged for a procession around Washington Square Park in a horse drawn buggy. At the birthday celebration, Blanchard comically remarked, "Art is grand and literature is wonderful. But what a pity it is that it takes so many barrels of liquor to produce them. Why this is not a house; its an aquarium"6. Mme. Blanchard died in 1937.

The "House of Genius" quickly became known as a haven for artistic bohemia in Greenwich Village even after Blanchard's death. It further served as an "artistic landmark" for Greenwich Village inhabitants7. Developer and builder Anthony Campagna bought the row of houses and evicted the tenants in order to build a high rise apartment building. However, after the buildings were demolished he rescinded his plan to build the apartment building and sold the property to New York University8.

Current Status

Demolished in 1948. Replaced by NYU housing.

Preservation Campaigns

  • The campaign to save the House of Genius was one of the early preservation battles prior to the passing of the New York City Landmarks Law. Local Greenwich Village residents along with community organizers fought for its protection based on its cultural and artistic significance.

    House of Genius Preservation Campaign

    When developer Anthony Campagna bought the row houses on Washington Square South between Thompson Street and West Broadway, he planned to demolish the houses in order to build a large apartment building for 302 dwellings9. The row houses, also referred to as the "Red Row" and "Genius Row," had been the home of many successful artists and writers, serving as a literary and artistic epicenter in Greenwich Village10.

    Art Center

    Bishop William T. Manning spearheaded the campaign to save Genius Row by proposing to convert the buildings into an art center11. He formed the Committee for the Washington Square Living Art Center which included John Sloan, Justice Henry H. Curvan, and Carl Van Doran. The art center would have functioned as a work/residential spot for artists and writers.

    Bishop T. Manning hoped that preserving the buildings for an art center would help "preserve the historic, cultural, and architectural charm of Washington Square Park"12. Prior to the passing of the landmarks law, A. G. Mezerik, chairman of the Washington Square Tenants Committee, encouraged the designation of the row as a National Historic Landmark13.

    Demolition

    In 1948, Anthony Campagna was granted eviction certificates from the city14. He demolished the first row house at 64 Washington Square South in March of 1948.

    During an interim period while the tenants living in the three remaining houses battled with Campagna in court, Bishop T. Manning sought more funds to adaptively reuse the row houses as an art center.

    However, by the summer of 1948 the tenants had reached an agreement with Campagna to evacuate their homes. Bishop T. Manning had failed to secure enough funds to convert the houses into an art center15. However, after the buildings were demolished, the proposed apartment building was never built. Robert Moses encouraged Anthony Campagna to sell the property to New York University16.

    This further fueled the fire for Village activists who feared New York University's buildings would overtake the Village and destroy its historic charm17. The loss of this battle served as an impetus, motivating Villagers to fight to preserve their neighborhood. This fight would eventually lead to the designation of the neighborhood as a New York City Historic District.

  • 1. "Villagers Strive to Save Landmark." New York Times December 13, 1947.
  • 2. "Mmme Blanchard of 'Village' Dead." New York Times, Jan 10, 1937.
  • 3. Bogart, Michele H. and William R. Taylor Et al. Painting the Town: Cityscapes of New York (Paintings from the Museum of the City of New York ) Yale University Press May 2000.
  • 4. "Mme Blanchard of 'Village' Dead." New York Times, Jan 10, 1937.
  • 5. "Wreckers Start on 'Genius Row.'" New York Times March 18, 1948.
  • 6. "Mme Blanchard of 'Village' Dead." New York Times, Jan 10, 1937.
  • 7. "Villagers Strive to Save Landmark." New York Times December 13, 1947.
  • 8. Cooper, Lee E. "'Genius Row' Sale to N.Y.U. By Builder Arouses Village." New York Times. July 16, 1948.
  • 9. "Villagers Strive to Save Landmark." New York Times December 13, 1947.
  • 10. Ibid.
  • 11. "Art Center Lost, Bishop Announces." New York Times June 28, 1948.
  • 12. Ibid.
  • 13. "Villagers Strive to Save Landmark." New York Times December 13, 1947.
  • 14. "Evictions Upheld on Washington SQ." New York Times January 7, 1948.
  • 15. "Art Center Lost, Bishop Announces." New York Times June 28, 1948.
  • 16. Cooper, Lee E. "'Genius Row' Sale to N.Y.U. By Builder Arouses Village." New York Times. July 16, 1948; "Moses Faces Sales Query," New York Times, July 20, 1948.
  • 17. Ibid.
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