A Long History of a Short Block: The Greene S
BY — January 21, 2022

Want to go to the Soho Apple Store? The Ralph Lauren and Dior stores? Sure you do. Like many streets in Manhattan, Greene Street has a long history—one that has changed with each quarter century. And Greene Street was not always the shopping mecca that it is today. As the interactive web documentary A Long History of a Short Block demonstrates, the street, like Manhattan itself, has played host to a wide range of infrastructure, communities, businesses, and people.

A Long History of a Short Block explores the 486 feet of present-day Greene Street between Prince and Houston Streets in New York City. William Easterly, Laura Freschi, and Steven Pennings at the NYU Development Research Institute spearheaded the research, production, and writing of the Greene Street Project, with further research and web production done by Madeline Blount, Marina Kosyachenko, Lauren Hanson, and Fred Rossoff. The web doc visually details the history of the street in seven different chapters. You’ll begin in the lush and green Manhattan of the 1500s and transition swiftly through time into the colonial era. Soon, you’ll be exploring the rise of the garment industry and immigrant class in the 1800s. Finally, you’ll find yourself back again in the Soho of today.

By using a combination of graphic data maps, vintage photographs, radio excerpts, newspaper clippings, videos, era-appropriate songs, book clippings, and panoramic images snagged from Google satellite, the Greene Street Project has pulled out from the woodwork, and essentially resurrected, not only the block between Prince and Houston, but the history of the surrounding neighborhood.

In 1870, there were fourteen brothels on Greene Street, making the block home to the highest concentration of sex workers in the city. Evidence of this can be seen in archival materials, including 1880 Federal Census, in which the young women of Greene Street list their occupation as “none,” and a page from 1870 edition of The Gentleman’s Companion. In the 1890s, the garment industry took root, as seen in the periodical Fur Trade Review, which advertised four different fur shops selling “London Dyed Seal Skins” on Greene Street. During the Great Depression, the street experienced declining profits—not to be reclaimed until artists began opening galleries in the 1980s.

Thanks to the Greene Street Project, you can explore a pin-pointed map that visually represents accurate then-and-now portraits of certain buildings on the block, examine cartography of Manhattan, and even read a working paper on the economic development of the street during its four centuries of existence—all while listening to the sounds of horse-drawn carriages clopping down the street or, if you prefer, cars honking their horns in an attempt to move on to another block—one with an undoubtedly equally illustrious history.