St. Marks Is Dead: The Many Lives of America's Hippest Street: The Many Lives of America's Hippest Street
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A vibrant narrative history of three hallowed Manhattan blocks—the epicenter of American cool.
St. Marks Place in New York City has spawned countless artistic and political movements. Here Frank O’Hara caroused, Emma Goldman plotted, and the Velvet Underground wailed. But every generation of miscreant denizens believes that their era, and no other, marked the street’s apex. This idiosyncratic work of reportage tells the many layered history of the street—from its beginnings as Colonial Dutch Director-General Peter Stuyvesant’s pear orchard to today’s hipster playground—organized around those pivotal moments when critics declared “St. Marks is dead.”
In a narrative enriched by hundreds of interviews and dozens of rare images, St. Marks native Ada Calhoun profiles iconic characters from W. H. Auden to Abbie Hoffman, from Keith Haring to the Beastie Boys, among many others. She argues that St. Marks has variously been an elite address, an immigrants’ haven, a mafia warzone, a hippie paradise, and a backdrop to the film Kids—but it has always been a place that outsiders call home.
older guy came in to look at the tile”: Interview of Pete Langway and Kevin Beard by the author, October 27, 2014. 328 People continue to order egg creams: In 1972, Gem Spa briefly closed, prompting the Village Voice to write an obit: “Bye, Bye Miss American Egg Cream.” Also in 1972, around the corner from St. Marks at the deli on Third Avenue, Leonard Marsh, Hyman Golden, and Arnold Greenberg started making juices to sell to health-food stores. This became Snapple. 329 “‘What would Sara
You’d just run like crazy. Once my brother came home from a fight with a kid named Walter covered in bruises. Because I was the big brother, I went and found Walter and beat him up. I remember I was pounding his head into the sidewalk when he said to me, “You dirty Jew.” I froze. I didn’t even know until that moment what religion Walter was. That kind of anti-Semitism came out every once in a while. After Christmas, my grandmother would tell me not to go near the Christmas trees. The other kids
Another group, Gay Men’s Health Crisis, paired those dying of AIDS with “buddies” who volunteered to take care of them. One of the most public victims of AIDS was the New Jersey–born artist David Wojnarowicz, who lived at 189 Second Avenue. A former hustler, Wojnarowicz made work largely about alienation, but he also had a sense of humor. Once the artist collected an army of East Village cockroaches, pasted little triangle ears on their heads and cotton tails on their backs, and dropped them off
and Brownsville kid working as a Bronx McDonald’s night manager, started a nonprofit, volunteer neighborhood watch group called the Guardian Angels. Sliwa had decided the police weren’t doing a good enough job protecting average citizens. Not short on ego, he offered to personally take up the slack. He gave his patrollers red berets and jackets, making them look a little like a tribe in The Warriors, Walter Hill’s 1979 cult film about a city run by gangs. Mayor Koch, who had been elected largely
opened there, bringing the indigent and wealthy into daily contact. Women working, the poor studying, unions organizing—by the 1870s, little was left of the Stuyvesants’ elegant St. Marks Place. At Juliet Corson’s New York Cooking School (no. 8) in 1875, a new wife could learn how to feed a family of six for fifteen cents. “Before the cook stove all women are equals,” proclaimed a Corson profile. In the mornings, young women from prominent families would take classes, and in the afternoons,