Things you dont know about NYU and Greenwich Village Washington Mews
Entrance to Washington Mews: photo from Wikipedia

Ask any local, and they'll tell you that New York University is synonymous with Greenwich Village. The Washington Square Arch is now the unofficial symbol of the university for both students and professors...but it wasn’t always this way.

These 6 tidbits about NYU and Greenwich Village show how the ever-growing university has become an integral part of our local history:

1. The NYU Commencement used to be held in Washington Square Park.

The first NYU graduation held in the park was sometime in the mid-1970s, around the time NYU moved its main campus to Washington Square. The last full-class ceremony held in Washington Square Park was in 2007. (The university’s commencement has been held at Yankee Stadium ever since.) Unfortunately, the redesign of Washington Square Park resulted in a loss of space; that coupled with the continued growth of the university means that a full-class commencement will probably never be held in the park again. (Bummer!)

2. In 1924, Thomas Wolfe taught English at NYU.

Wolfe is said to be one of the most influential writers of his generation, and we agree. The Greenwich Village resident taught on-and-off again for seven years after accepting the gig. His pay for his first seven-month teaching contract? $1,800--a decent haul for the day. It was during Wolfe’s time in Greenwich Village that he completed the first draft of O, Lost which would later become Look Homeward, Angel

3. The very first NYU class was not held in Greenwich Village.

The very first classes at NYU were held in Clinton Hall, located further downtown near City Hall. The Washington Square campus, however, has been a part of the University since it was first established, though it has only more recently become the main campus that so many people associate with NYU today.

4. The Washington Mews, a Greenwich Village historic staple, is NYU housing and offices.

This historic landmark row of housing is located between University Place and Fifth Avenue between 8th Street and Washington Square North. You might walk right by it if you are not looking for it! It was first established as horse stables for prominent families in the area. In the early 1900s, they were renovated into artists’ studios. It wasn’t until the 1950s that NYU started to lease the properties and convert them into offices and housing for the University. To this day, The Mews remains partitioned off from the surrounding area by beautiful iron gates which open like a doorway into the past, onto early 1900s style buildings and a quaint cobblestone street. 

5. You can find the façade of Edgar Allan Poe’s Greenwich Village house on the side of NYU’s Furman Hall.

Edgar Allen Poe moved into his house at 85 West Third Street in 1844. It was during this time that he wrote probably his most famous work, The Raven. ("Quoth the Raven, Nevermore'.") He was a regular guest at New York University’s Eucleian Society, which hosted open forums on the "important topics of the day". In 2000, NYU wanted to demolish the building to expand the law school. Thank God there was an uproar. It was the last Poe house standing, for chrissakes! (Poe lived in multiple locations across the city.) As a compromise, NYU agreed to preserve the façade of Poe’s house. now named  Furman Hall.

6. The Provincetown Playhouse, famous for putting on plays by Eugene O’Neill, is now part of the University.

This historic off-Broadway theater located at 133 MacDougal Street has been a Greenwich Village artistic staple since its opening in 1918. Eugene O’Neill, a Greenwich Village regular and master of American drama, had many of his early plays produced by the Playhouse. The building is now part of the NYU Steinhardt programs and was restored to its old glory in 2010. Today you can still catch readings, music, storytelling evenings, and performances, as well as other events.

Image via Courtney Walker/Flickr