Proofed and corrected from the original magazine edition for enjoyable reading. (Worth every penny spent!)
From the opening of "Fragments From Greenwich Village" (published in 1921):
ONLY six years ago Greenwich Village was a quiet idyllic part of old New York. Lovers of history would come and view curiously its time-honored historical houses, squares and burial places. Some of the oldest and most exclusive families lived in the mansions on the north side of Washington Square and its by-streets. Artists and writers had taken possession of the south side of the square. Here they lived in dilapidated dwellings used as studio buildings, a quiet life among themselves. They worked, frequented the near-by restaurants in little Italy, unmolested by the gruesome commercialism' of a New York that seemed so far away, quite outside of their own retired world.
There were hardly any stores in this vicinity, the streets desolate in daytime, dead at night. And now Greenwich Village has become a strange and mysterious community. Newspapers, especially the Sunday supplements, have told you a lot about Greenwich Village, about its peculiar restaurants, with bizarre colored furniture, about tea-rooms where a peculiar sort of people assemble, the kind of humans you are accustomed to call Bohemians; where impossible things are being sold in almost unreal shops. You have heard about women here wearing bobbed hair and smoking cigarettes, sitting around tables without table-cloths, talking of art, matrimony and social problems in quite a peculiar way; about men who let their bait grow long, prefer flowing neckties, and who are ever ready to serve you their theories of life—quite a tickling sensation after your family dinner in a Harlem elevator apartment.
Publicity has done it all, and I have the sad honor to have brought it about.
But for a French pastry-cook, a proprietor of an ice cream parlor and an Italian printer journeyman, who owned a handful of type and an old fashioned hand press, there would never have been a "Bruno's Garret," never a "Greenwich Village Gazette" which became later "Bruno's Weekly." Charles Edison, Thomas A. Edison's son, would have never come to Greenwich Village to start here his Thimble Theatre, his dancing on Washington Square, his musicals, and New York would not now have its famous Latin Quarter.
Greenwich Village had ever been more than a geographical conception to me, something quite different from merely an old part of the city. True, there are old quaint houses and crooked, funny streets, Italian restaurants in imitation of Europe with red ink and French table d'hôte, but I could tell you of at least a dozen neighborhoods in New York and perhaps a hundred in the United States which are quite as quaint and quite as old and perhaps more picturesque than Greenwich Village... but...
There is a "but" and it hovers above the roofs of the houses, rustles through the leaves of the trees and seems to form a rare and scarce patina over the stones of its graveyards and the iron of its house gates.
Did you know that houses have souls and that you who are living in steam-heated, electric-lighted elevator apartments, are living in houses with dead souls?
Your telephone wires pierced their hearts. Your steam pipes put them upon a bed of Procrustes and your tapestries muzzled them. On bleak nights you can hear the wind moaning outside your roof asking in vain for admission. He cannot deliver his message for neighboring souls. It is on such nights that you turn restlessly in your bed listening to strange noises; you switch on your light and reopen your book which you laid away in the evening....
Greenwich Village seems to be the mysterious link between the great past of the big spirits who lived here and the unknown future of those who worship them. The old time-worn houses seem to have voices which you do not hear but which you will feel if you are one of the chosen few. And then the trees in its parks will look different to you from every other tree in the world. Its old dilapidated mansions, its cottages and frame houses now occupied by the humblest tenement population will regain for you the by-gone splendor. The deserted streets on rainy and stormy nights will bring you in close communication with the souls of men who made life worth living for everybody who can read or feel.