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House of Genius

House of Genius

Also known as Red Row and Genius Row

Greenwich Village’s House of Genius was the iconic home of many writers and artists. Despite a preservation struggle, it was demolished in 1948.

Location: 61 Washington Square South, New York, NY  |  Google Maps
Neighborhood: Greenwich Village
People: Madame Blanchard, Anthony Campagna, Willa Cather, Stephen Crane, Henry H. Curvan, William T. Manning, A. G. Mezerik, Robert Moses, Frank Norris, Alan Seeger, John Sloan, James Speyer, Carl Van Doran
Organizations: Committee for the Washington Square Living Art Center, New York University, Washington Square Tenants Committee
Places: Greenwich Village, Washington Square Park
Above: A view of 61 Washington Square South shortly before demolition, c. 1930s; Courtesy of New York University

The House of Genius once stood at 61 Washington Square South overlooking Washington Square Park. The four-story red brick rowhouse stood among several red brick rowhouses 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 Speyer.2 She converted the single family dwelling into a boarding house for writers, artists, and musicians.3 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 guests.5

Some of the more notable residents included Willa Cather, Stephen Crane, Frank Norris, and Alan Seeger. Mme. Blanchard was known in the Village by her guests as a generous landlord because she exclusively rented 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; it’s an aquarium.”6 Mme. Blanchard passed away 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 inhabitants.7 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 University.8

The House of Genius in Greenwich Village never received landmark designation. It was demolished in 1948 and replaced by NYU housing.

1948: The House of Genius is demolished

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.


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 dwellings.9 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 Village.10


Bishop William T. Manning spearheaded the campaign to save Genius Row by proposing to convert the buildings into an art center.11 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 New York City Landmarks Law, A. G. Mezerik, chairman of the Washington Square Tenants Committee, encouraged the designation of the row as a National Historic Landmark.13

In 1948, Anthony Campagna was granted eviction certificates from the City.14 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 center.15

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 University.16 
This further fueled the fire for Village activists who feared New York University's buildings would overtake the Village and destroy its historic charm.17 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,” The New York Times, 13 December 1947.
  2. 
”Mme Blanchard of ‘Village’ Dead,” The New York Times, 10 January 1937.
  3. 
Michele H. Bogart and William R. Taylor Et al. Painting the Town: Cityscapes of New York: Paintings from the Museum of the City of New York (New Haven: Yale University Press, May 2000).
  4. 
”Mme Blanchard of ‘Village’ Dead,” The New York Times, 10 January 1937.
  5. 
”Wreckers Start on ‘Genius Row,'” The New York Times, 18 March 1948.
  6. 
”Mme Blanchard of ‘Village’ Dead,” The New York Times, 10 January 1937.
  7. 
”Villagers Strive to Save Landmark,” The New York Times, 13 December 1947.
  8. 
Lee E. Cooper, “‘Genius Row’ Sale to N.Y.U. By Builder Arouses Village,” The New York Times, 16 July 1948.
  9. 
”Villagers Strive to Save Landmark,” The New York Times, 13 December 1947.
  10. 
Ibid.
  11. 
”Art Center Lost, Bishop Announces,” The New York Times, 28 June 1948.
  12. 
Ibid.
  13. 
”Villagers Strive to Save Landmark,” The New York Times, 13 December 1947.
  14. 
”Evictions Upheld on Washington SQ,” The New York Times, 7 January 1948.
  15. 
”Art Center Lost, Bishop Announces,” The New York Times, 28 June 1948.
  16. 
Lee E. Cooper, “‘Genius Row’ Sale to N.Y.U. By Builder Arouses Village,” The New York Times, 16 July 1948; “Moses Faces Sales Query,” The New York Times, 20 July 1948.
  17. 
Ibid.