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The West Village: A Pause, and a Reset, for a Coveted Area


Store owners have barricaded their shops. West Fourth Street is missing its brunch-hour crowds. And shouting about masks occasionally erupts in packed Hudson River Park.

But despite a war-torn air from guarding against damage during recent anti-police-brutality protests and from the lingering effects of the coronavirus, residents of the West Village, one of New York’s oldest and most-coveted enclaves, say it is too soon to count out their home.

“I have hope,” said Mary Phillips, whose rent-stabilized one-bedroom rental is her fourth address since she moved to the neighborhood with her then-husband, Al Goldstein, the porn-magazine publisher, in 1969. “There’s still no other place that has the same sense of community.”

Of course, since those days, the neighborhood — a quieter and quainter version of next-door Greenwich Village — has become less bohemian and much more expensive: The 12 market-rate units in Ms. Phillips’s 15-unit walk-up can each rent for over $4,000 a month.

There have been small silver linings among the upheaval of the past few months, said Ms. Phillips, 75, a retired criminology researcher — less horn-honking, neighbors introducing themselves, and a seeming resetting of nature. As Ms. Phillips spoke, a mourning dove alighted on her fire escape, continuing an uptick in bird visits. If the Covid-19 era presents opportunities for improvement, some hope for a revived retail scene along streets like Bleecker, which was hammered by closures even before the coronavirus hit.

“You feel a little sorry for the stores that have been kicked out because of ridiculously high rents,” said Stefano Bonini, 48, an associate professor of finance at the Stevens Institute of Technology and a neighborhood resident.

Mr. Bonini lives in a three-bedroom duplex with his wife, Daniela, 45, a marketing executive for an eyeglasses company, and their three children, ages 10, 7 and 3. The apartment, which cost $1.68 million in 2019, is his fourth home in the neighborhood in 12 years.

“The vibe here is so completely different,” he said, fondly recalling a male neighbor he once had who would occasionally dress up as a female nurse and hit the town. “There are just a lot of genuine people.”

Enjoying their company has been easier since outdoor dining resumed in late June. Mr. Bonini, who had been baking bread at home, decided to let somebody else handle the cooking by eating dinner at Fiaschetteria Pistoia, a cozy spot on Christopher Street that in many ways distills the West Village’s low-key, small-scale charms. “When you go out, you feel like you are with friends all the time,” he said.

Skinny tree-lined sidewalks are often thick with tourists, who can be observed snapping pictures of blooming pear trees on West 11th Street and a Perry Street townhouse that stood in as the home of Carrie Bradshaw on the “Sex and the City.” (On Google Earth, its facade is blurred, an apparent bid by the building’s owners for privacy.)

Walking in a straight line has been easier since the mid-March lockdown, although some blocks have seemed “quite eerie,” said Resa Tylim, a retired rehab counselor who owns a three-bedroom, two-bath co-op in a former pharmaceutical supplies building.

When Ms. Tylim bought the apartment in 1988, for $420,000, she was drawn to the area’s low density. With a limited number of high-rises, light and air can seem more abundant. Those qualities could be a saving grace once the coronavirus crisis ends.

“I think people will realize they shouldn’t be living in such close quarters,” she said. “Our new reality will be different.”

“The quality of its architecture, the nature of the artistic life within its boundaries and the feeling of history that permeates its streets” give the West Village an unequaled distinction, according to the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission, which fought to preserve the trapped-in-time look.

Indeed, it took four years, from 1965 to 1969, to formalize the area’s landmark status, in part because property owners were opposed to limits on exterior renovation. Other districts followed, and today almost all of the West Village is a landmark.

“Prewar” could easily mean pre-Civil War. The oldest house, a red-brick gem at 77 Bedford Street, was built in 1801. With a waterfront that hummed with shipping and other industrial activities, the West Village was once considered gritty. Now conversions have made homes of warehouses, factories and stables, as well as the 19th-century Renaissance Revival police station at 133 Charles Street, now Le Gendarme Apartments. Westbeth, the artists’ complex at West and Bethune Streets, was once Bell Telephone Labs.

Buildings hug streets that boomerang, dogleg and terminate, adding quirkiness. Six- and even seven-story walk-ups are not uncommon.

Townhouses built for a single family and subdivided years later as rooming houses have gradually come back to their original function, and then some. In recent years, moguls have assembled mega-mansions of side-by-side properties.

In early July, there were 133 co-ops and condos for sale at an average price of $3.8 million, according to StreetEasy. The least expensive was a studio co-op with a nonworking fireplace, listed for $449,000; the priciest was a six-bedroom triplex at shimmering 165 Charles Street, a rare new addition, for $53 million.

In addition, 18 townhouses were for sale for an average of $15.1 million, including a brick-and-brownstone former firehouse with a four-car garage.

New condos are few and far between, and small. Examples are 111 Leroy Street, a 13-unit complex with five five-story townhouses, and 90 Morton Street, a converted printing plant with 35 two- to five-bedrooms.

Pre-pandemic, the market was soft. There were 255 sales of co-ops and condos in 2019, for an average of $2.43 million, versus 333 in 2018, at $2.88 million, according to StreetEasy. But the bottom seemed to collapse this spring, when in-person showings were banned. In the second quarter (based on preliminary data, as not all June closings were yet recorded), there were 43 sales at an average of $2.75 million — a 22 percent plunge in prices from the same period in 2019, when 75 units sold at an average of $3.54 million.

Less commercial than Greenwich Village, the West Village still offers a lively mix of dive bars and upscale restaurants, including along Hudson Street, home to the 31-year-old Cowgirl restaurant, whose sidewalk tables have been a hit this summer. In all, there are 237 restaurants in the neighborhood with outdoor dining, 209 of which serve alcohol, according to a recent snapshot of the 10014 ZIP code using city data.

Hudson River Park, with its shaded lawns, refurbished piers and busy bike path, is popular at all hours of the day. For a mellower escape, duck into the lush gardens next to the Church of Saint Luke in the Fields.

Zoned public school options include the top-notch P.S. 41, Greenwich Village School, which offers prekindergarten to fifth grade for 640 students. On state exams in the 2018-19 school year, 75 percent met standards in English, versus 45 percent statewide; on the math exam, 88 percent met standards, versus 47 percent statewide.

Also highly ranked is P.S. 3, the Charrette School, with 680 students. On last year’s state exams, 75 met standards in English and 79 percent did in math.

For sixth to eighth grade, there is M.S. 297, a three-year-old school where 66 percent of students met standards in English last year and 61 percent did in math.

Students are not constrained by neighborhoods for high school, but a nearby possibility is the Clinton School on East 15th Street, which awards International Baccalaureate diplomas.

Public transportation is abundant. The 1, 2 and 3 subway lines run along Seventh Avenue South, and all stop at West 14th Street, while the 1 train serves Christopher and West Houston Streets. The A, C and E trains stop at West 14th Street, at Eighth Avenue, as does the L.

The High Line, the train-line-turned-park in the next-door meatpacking district, once continued along Washington Street to St. John’s Park Freight Terminal at West Houston, where the tech giant Google is now at work on a new headquarters. Much of that track was razed in the 1960s; more came down in the early 1990s to allow apartment buildings. A train-size open area on Westbeth’s third floor is a vestige.

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