The Parsonage

An unprepossessing townhouse in the East Village has been central to a series of distinctive events in New York City history.

Leafy block of brick buildings in East Village, New York.
64 East 7th Street, New York City, 2022. [Google Street View]

The spirit life of old urban buildings works like an inversion of the transmigration of souls. A spectral essence is not the constant, as it is with a soul that drifts out of one body to be reincarnated in another. The constant is the containing vessel, the structure on the city street, and the spirit of the place is what changes over time.

Trendy storefronts shutter when the trends pass. The fabric-and-pattern shop where your grandmother got the material to sew her parlor curtains became the hi-fi store where your mom bought the stereo she took to college, and that was converted to a video outlet before the tattoo salon moved in. The rental apartments on the residential floors above, where two generations in a family could once live together, were subdivided into studios for young singles, then sold as condos. Old buildings stand, if they’re not razed for redevelopment, while their functions come and go, and the character of their repurposing provides a connection to the world changing around them — a kind of transient newness that, in its transience, is perpetually renewable.

Old buildings stand, if they’re not razed for redevelopment, while their functions come and go: a transient newness that is perpetually renewable.

This cycle of ever-altering uses within a fixed architectural framework — and with it, ever-shifting meanings and associations, as well as fluctuating use value — is a commonplace in cities everywhere, but embodied to an uncommon degree in a singular location in the east half of Greenwich Village in New York City. A four-story townhouse at 64 East 7th Street has the distinction of being central to an unlikely string of important moments in New York history. From the first wave of immigration from Europe to lower Manhattan, through the rise of the Beats and avant-garde performance art in the mid 20th century, to the gentrification of recent years, the same building on East 7th Street has encapsulated one era after another after another.

I had been at the site four or five times before I began to realize its importance. As an undergraduate at New York University in the mid 1970’s, I lived on MacDougal Street and liked to imagine myself as a bohemian intellectual by browsing around what was left of the antiquarian book district, in what then was becoming known as the East Village. I had heard from a musician friend that Patti Smith was spotted in a shop called Books ’N Things on East 7th Street between 1st and 2nd Avenues, a few blocks from CBGB, the punk club. One of the first times I went, I was flipping through a well-preserved old novel — I can’t remember the title — and noticed that it had the name Marguerite Young written neatly on the inside cover: it had come from the personal library of the author of Miss MacIntosh, My Darling, who, I learned from the owner, Gertrude Briggs, was a regular at the store. So were the poets Allen Ginsberg and Marianne Moore, Briggs said, and “Lou, the singer in that band” — the Velvet Underground. Unaware that Marianne Moore had died a couple years earlier, I was smitten with the dubious hope of seeing old lions of the Village literati hobnobbing with punks and art-rock stars, and I kept coming back to Books ’N Things looking for Patti Smith and Marguerite Young.

It wasn’t until 2001, in the days after September 11, that I began to learn something of the larger history of the building. Journalists writing about the World Trade Center attacks would sometimes describe 9/11 as the worst loss of life seen in New York City since “the Slocum disaster.” I looked it up and learned that the sinking of the steamboat PS General Slocum in 1904, a signal event of the early 20th century, was directly connected to 64 East 7th Street.

The outwardly unassuming Greek Revival brownstone was built in 1840, in an area then known as Kleindeutschland.

The outwardly unassuming Greek Revival brownstone was built (with three stories) in 1840, when residential construction was sprouting all around Greenwich Village to support the city’s boom as a mercantile port and textile-manufacturing center. As immigrants arrived from Europe to work on the docks and in the sweatshops, Germans settled in an area between Bond Street and Astor Place that came to be called Kleindeutschland. The organization of United German Lutherans built the Evangelical Lutheran Church of St. Mark on 6th Street, and in 1882, its young pastor, the Rev. George C. F. Haas, made 64 East 7th Street the parsonage. Haas and his extended family — his wife, the former Anna Hansen, along with her mother, his sister, and George and Anna’s two young children — were living in the parsonage when Haas decided to have the church charter an excursion liner to take his congregation on a summer day trip to the North Shore of Long Island for a picnic.

Newspaper front page with headline "Horror in East River," photograph of sidewheel steamer with dense crowd on rickety pier.
The General Slocum disaster on the front page of the New York Tribune, June 16, 1904 [Library of Congress]; the General Slocum loading passengers. [National Archives]

Black-and-white photograph of crowd gathered on the street, people hanging out tenement windows, and horse-drawn hearses in the street.
Funeral procession for the Haas family, East 7th Street, 1904. [Via Gare Maritime]

The ship, a sidewheel steamboat named for a general in the Union Army, had three decks constructed of oil-polished pine and white oak, and was large enough to accommodate the nearly 1,400 passengers on board — most of them women and children, because the trip took place on Wednesday, a work day. The Slocum launched off a pier on East 3rd Street and churned up the East River until it reached the point called Hell Gate (after the old Dutch word for the river, Hellegat) at around 90th Street. There it caught fire, probably from an errant match or cigarette. Fire hoses onboard had rotted, and the cork in the life preservers had fossilized. Passengers who didn’t burn to death drowned, laden with high-laced shoes and layers of Victorian clothing. The Coast Guard estimated that 1,388 people died. Among the casualties were the pastor’s wife Anna, their daughter, and Mrs. Haas’s mother. (The Haases’ son had not gone on the trip.)

A photograph taken outside No. 64 on the day of the funeral for the perished Haases shows oglers craning out windows on East 7th Street and cramming onto the stoops of neighboring buildings. Horse-drawn hearses queue along the block — symbols of the spiritual death of Kleindeutschland and the coming migration of German immigrants from lower Manhattan. A great many of those who suffered through the Slocum disaster moved to a neighborhood about four miles north: Yorkville, on the Upper East Side, close to the point in the East River where the ship caught fire.

Black-and-white photograph with four-story townhouse and number 448-16 M on stand in foreground.
64 East 7th Street documented for property taxes by the New York City Municipal Archives, ca. 1939. [New York Department of Records & Information Services]

When the townhouse was sold, in 1913, the buyer converted the lower level for commercial use and added a storefront entrance. The first renter, in 1919, was Alexander Brailovsky, a Russian-born journalist and printer who supported the Communist movement that was just beginning to spread beyond his native country. He set up a stationery store with a print shop in back, and published a broadsheet, Russky Golos (Voice of Russia). Two years after the Russian Revolution and three years before the Soviet Union was formalized as a state, Communism was an unfamiliar political abstraction to most Americans, though one appealing to the growing number of freethinkers and nonconformists who were joining the extant Village population of immigrant laborers.

The tenant in 1919 was a journalist and printer, publisher of a Communist broadsheet and accused bomber of J.P. Morgan Bank on Wall Street.

At one minute past noon on September 16, 1920, an explosion in front of the J.P. Morgan Bank on Wall Street killed 30 people and injured hundreds more in the crowded financial district at lunchtime. (Six of the wounded died soon after.) Investigators would determine that a horse-drawn cart had been carrying about a hundred pounds of dynamite packed with five times that weight in chunks of metal, set with a timer to detonate and hurl destruction. The lethal assault on the seat of the American economy was widely presumed to have been perpetrated by one of the many anticapitalist groups in the news at the time: radical Trotskyites or anarchists or Wobblies or Bolsheviks …. It was the most devastating act of terrorism yet to occur in the U.S.

Black-and-white photograph of crowd surrounding site of wrecked car on Wall Street.
Aftermath of the bombing of J.P. Morgan Bank on Wall Street, September 16, 1920. [Via]

The combined forces of the New York City police, the Justice Department’s Bureau of Investigation (not yet called the FBI), and private investigators hired by J.P. Morgan had little luck determining who had been behind the explosion. They followed an anonymous tip from someone claiming to have seen a man standing in the vicinity of the Morgan Bank half an hour after the explosion. The man was laughing, the tipster said, and he looked a lot like Alexander Brailovsky. On September 18, agents of New York City bomb squad raided the print shop at 64 East 7th Street and arrested the proprietor. Charged with being an undesirable alien and held without bail, Brailovsky admitted under questioning that he had been in the Wall Street area on the day of the explosion, but denied having anything to do with it. There was no evidence to the contrary, and Brailovsky was released. No one was ever proved to be responsible for the bombing.

Brailovsky eventually handed off Russky Golos to an ardent American Communist, Theodore Bayer, who ran it from 64 East 7th Street until 1939. With financial support from the Comintern (the international Communist organization led by the Soviets), Russky Golos continued to promote a radical anticapitalism easy to read as anti-Americanism. If the presence of a Soviet-backed propaganda operation in the East Village raised some eyebrows, however, it no doubt prompted just as many shrugs in an area where ideas unwelcome elsewhere — even in New York — could find a home.


The record of occupants in the townhouse and its storefront is patchy until the postwar years, when 64 East 7th Street housed a string of coffeehouses that, with their old-world offerings of espresso and sweets, interior austerity, and overall atmosphere of existential ennui, came to define Greenwich Village as a hostel of bohemian cool. The first Village coffeeshop I can find a record of, the Four Steps, operated out of 64 East 7th Street as a cafe and an art gallery, sometimes called the Four Steps Coffee Gallery. At some point, the owners sold the business to an entrepreneur with a diversified portfolio, Barron Bruchlos, who renamed it the Cart Wheel and offered a menu of Mediterranean coffees, teas, and peyote.

In the postwar years, the building at 64 East 7th Street housed a string of coffeehouses that defined Greenwich Village as a hostel of bohemian cool.

Bruchlos openly promoted and sold the potent hallucinogen, derived from a cactus rich in the psychoactive alkaloid mescaline, years before psychedelics became known in the counterculture as vehicles of transcendence and good times. He bought pads of cactus by mail order from Texas and chopped them up them for resale, operating successfully until the summer of 1960, when inspectors from the FDA seized more than 311 pounds of his supply. (Grounds for the seizure are unclear, since peyote was not illegal at the time.) In December of that year, The New York Times reported that Bruchlos had been found dead at age 28, “apparently of natural causes,” in a back room at the Cart Wheel. A frequent peyote customer, musician Peter Stampfel, told me he had heard that Bruchlos had committed suicide by jamming a pencil up his nose into his brain, which would have been a highly unnatural cause of death. 1

In its final incarnation as a coffeehouse, 64 East 7th Street became a nexus of the volatile, eclectic Village poetry scene as it took form in the postwar years. The new proprietors were a hustling moneyman with a keen sense of the cool, Mickey Ruskin, and a bookish manager, William Mackey, Jr.; the latter, in co-owning the new operation, became one of the few, if not the first, Black businesspeople on the Lower East Side. They renamed the space Les Deux Mégots, French for “the two cigar butts” — an arch play on Les Deux Magots, the Parisian cafe named for a pair of decorative china mandarins on display over the little tables where Sartre and de Beauvoir sipped cordials and shared bon mots with Joyce and Picasso.

Black-and-white photograph of cafe sign shaped like a coffee cup, reading LES DEUX MÉGOTS.
Sign for Les Deux Mégots. [Via Bergie Lustig]

Not long after it opened in June, 1961, Les Deux Mégots instituted a weekly series of poetry readings. “All poets welcome to come and read every Wed.,” a sign announced, and the first word, “All,” was a strategic declaration of inclusivity, a challenge to the cliquish sectionalism that divided “schools” of poets and assigned them hierarchical ranking. “The Deux Mégots had tremendous energy. The reason it had tremendous energy, though, was there were so many different types of poetry. Deep Image, Black Mountain, Beat, 1920’s,” recalled poet Allen Katzman. 2 Hundreds of poets read in the Wednesday series, among them Howard Ant, Carol Bergé, Paul Blackburn, Denise Levertov, and Robert Lima, in addition to the Beat stars invited to do special readings on occasional Sundays, such as Gregory Corso, Allen Ginsberg, and LeRoi Jones (later to become Amiri Baraka). Poets used the open readings “as hidden zones outside of academics’ or publishers’ scrutiny or care,” notes John Melillo, a scholar of the New York avant-garde. “As such, a sense of ephemerality and fun pervaded the scene.” 3

The essayist Jane Kramer, a young writer for The Village Voice at the time, found what she described as “a stimulating, even an historic conversation” at the little round tables in the cafe. In a piece titled “Dialectic at the Deux Mégots,” Kramer wrote, “In Greece, it was the walk around town with Socrates. In Rome, for a while, it was the bath.” Now, Kramer argued, the “grass roots of ideology” were to be found on East 7th Street. 4

Les Deux Mégots influenced a cavalcade of venues for spoken-language literature that were to follow, such as Le Metro, another coffeehouse on 2nd Avenue, and the Poetry Project at St. Mark’s (an Episcopal church on East 10th Street, unrelated to the Lutheran St. Mark’s that Pastor Haas once led — which, after the exodus from what had been Kleindeutschland, became the Sixth Street Community Synagogue). In addition, Les Deux Mégots spun off its own publishing project, an insurgent literary magazine. After the readings every Wednesday, poet Dan Saxon would collect the papers participants had read from: typescripts, handwritten pages torn from spiral notebooks, scrawls on napkins and placemats. He printed the work in purple type with a ditto machine and stapled the shiny, slippery sheets together as a D.I.Y. weekly, Poems Collected at Les Deux Mégots. The magazine brought material continuity to an art that was elementally erratic and ephemeral, and, as Melillo points out, “actively established a fluctuating poetic community.”


In 1961, a series of more formal anthologies were published in three volumes as Seventh Street: Poems from Les Deux Megots [sic], edited by poet Don Katzman. “It was hoped the readings could retain the turbulence, the vitality, the intimacy, of the coffeehouse milieu without abandoning the alertness, the thread of artist-audience reciprocal participation, the essential respect for art, without which art and artist become hermit and/or freak,” wrote Katzman in his foreword. 5 The poems assemble a vivid document, pulsing with images of cloud weevils molted open, blood, strychnine, urine, and flowers on the floor pretending to be dice.

Poems from the coffeehouse reading series pulse with images of  blood, strychnine, cloud weevils, and flowers on the floor pretending to be dice.

After a couple years, William Mackey bought out Mickey Ruskin’s interest and ran Les Deux Mégots himself. “Being a black businessman in the predominantly white area had its interesting moments,” a regular customer, Bergie Lustig, has recalled. “Sometimes an unwitting salesman would come into the coffeeshop … [and] walk back to the cash register where Bill sat waiting like the spider for the fly. ‘The boss in?’ the poor salesman would ask. ‘The Bossman? No, suh, ah surely don’ know wheah he is,’ Bill would reply in his deepest Georgia dialect …. It didn’t pay to assume anything about Bill.” 6 Lustig and Mackey would marry and have their wedding reception at Les Deux Mégots. Not long after, Mackey would give up the business and turn full time to education, eventually becoming a revered professor of Black Studies at City College. Ruskin, for his part, would go on to open a chic steakhouse in the West Village called the Ninth Circle, as well as Max’s Kansas City, a steakhouse on Park Avenue South that became hip (something different than chic and, by downtown standards, superior) because it presented live rock acts. Ruskin had a knack for showcasing performers at Max’s — the ones insiders were starting to buzz about and nobody else had heard of yet, the ones everyone in the world would know the next day, such as Bruce Springsteen, Aerosmith, and Patti Smith.

Black-and-white photograph of young Black man in a suit and tie, smoking a pipe.
William Mackey in the 1960s. [Courtesy Professor William Henry Mackey, Jr. Facebook page]

After the assassination of John F. Kennedy, the Japanese health advocate George Ohsawa asserted that he had been able to foresee Kennedy’s death through the presence of “yin sanpaku” in photos showing the President’s eyes — a whiteness below and on both sides of the pupil, which Ohsawa interpreted as indicating fatigue, thus rendering Kennedy susceptible to harm. Ohsawa held the antidote to sanpaku, the solution to many other problems, he said: a macrobiotic diet. The term was practically unknown in most Western societies, but word spread quickly as young people raised on canned goods and processed foods turned to natural ingredients and alternative diets. Interest in an entwined set of living practices from Eastern cultures — yoga, Zen Buddhism, and macrobiotics, which applied the Zen concept of yin and yang to nutrition — expanded in the U.S. The locus of this activity in New York was a restaurant called the Paradox. Recognized as the first place in the city to specialize in macrobiotic food, it opened at 64 East 7th Street in 1964.

The owners, Aramita and Richard O’Kane, a married couple, set up an open-seating plan and a loose approach to doing business that mirrored the all-poets-welcome philosophy of Les Deux Mégots. Patrons sat around a single, enormous pine table. Dining and food preparation took place in the same room, which was divided only by a counter the cooks used for chopping and mixing things. Prices were preposterously low: 25 cents for a bowl of rice; 95 cents for full meal of rice, vegetables, seaweed, and a salad. Tea was free and, in fact, so was the food for those who didn’t bring 25 cents and were willing to help in the kitchen. As Abbie Hoffman noted in his hippie survival guide, Steal This Book: “A neat cheap health joint that will give you a free meal if you peel shrimp or do the dishes.” The cash register was habitually broken and usually open, with a few dollars exposed in the drawer. In its philosophy of business, the Paradox was as anticapitalist as an issue of Russky Golos.

Black-and-white photograph of East Village street, with restaurant in foreground and couple embracing in midground; child's drawing of a woman in a long dress, with long hair, surrounded by the words EAT AT THE Paradoxs [sic]!
Exterior of the Paradox; “EAT AT The Paradoxs!,” drawing by Carrie Puchkoff. [Courtesy David Puchkoff]

Black-and-white photograph of crowded hippie cafe.
Interior of the Paradox. [David Puchkoff]

The East Village, once a refuge for poor immigrants hoping to improve their lot through industry and virtue, had become a place where the conspicuous rejection of wealth, material goods, and established propriety had a voguish allure. Young people from all walks of life gravitated to the Paradox for its shabby, unpretentious warmth, and the status of iconoclasm it conferred. “I dropped out of college and fell into the scene in the Sixties, which was a lot of psychedelic drugs and alternative lifestyles — a lot of Eastern philosophy, swamis and gurus, yoga, brown rice, and that brought me to the Paradox,” recalled Loudon Wainwright III, the scion of Northeast intellectuals who was a would-be songwriter when he took a job washing dishes and working the not-working cash register.

Both Yoko Ono and Loudon Wainwright III worked at the macrobiotic restaurant called the Paradox. Abbie Hoffman touted it. Leonard Cohen was a regular.

During his downtime as a dishwasher, Wainwright liked to pick at his guitar or sing a bit, trying out one of the quirky songs he had started writing. Leonard Cohen, another young songwriter with an interest in Eastern thought and a fondness for shrimp, came in from time to time, and the two would share their latest songs. “It was very relaxed, and people would just kind of hang out there. You didn’t have to eat anything or spend any money. It was the center of the whole Eastern scene in the Village. It was all about hanging out and looking like you’re having a transcendent experience,” Wainwright said. 7

Another member of the service staff exploited the laissez-faire atmosphere to try some acutely creative experimentation. Yoko Ono, a waitress and part-time chef at the restaurant, cleared out a small area in front of the common table, by the entrance, and presented ad hoc doings of a kind that would later be recognized as performance art. She called them Happenings (though she didn’t invent the term). In one case that drew attention in the Village Voice, Ono and her husband at the time, artist and filmmaker Anthony Cox, presented a performance they called The Stone, during which they entered a large black bag together and improvised interaction — or inaction — inside. As the writer and editor Paul Krassner told Ono’s biographer Jerry Hopkins, “I’d been to the Paradox and I’d met Yoko and Tony. There was this tiny, tiny stage … and they’d get into these big black bags and fuck, or not fuck. It was a very strange phenomenon. I was intrigued.” Krassner’s fascination led him to help fund Ono’s ongoing work. 8

Lithograph poster with a drawing of a large rock in a box.
Poster for performance by Anthony Cox and Yoko Ono at the Paradox, 1966. Though the title Eye Bags also appears here, the collaborative performance is typically referred to as The Stone. [Via Boo-Hooray]

“Is it psychedelic? Is it avant-garde? Is it Zen?” asked The Village Voice. “Whatever you think about it, you will have something to talk about. Everybody else is.” Or everybody who anybody thought of as somebody in outré circles. Jonas Mekas, the filmmaker and critic, went to the Paradox with Ronna Page, the performer, who acted in Warhol’s just-released Chelsea Girls; they bumped into the cult musician Mel Lyman. Yoko Ono first met Warhol there; as she would recall, “Andy often came alone.” It wasn’t a place where he could stay alone for long, however. Photos of the interior show the restaurant as patrons remember it: bustling, overcrowded, happy. Psychedelic or avant-garde, categorizable or undefinable, creative experimentation was happening all around Greenwich Village and beyond its perimeters: La Mama and Caffe Cino were staging experimental theater; the Judson Memorial Church was hosting modern dance; the Living Theater was using the streets as a stage. But the Paradox was the only place with good, cheap seaweed, free tea, and Loudon Wainwright III singing in the corner, along with Yoko Ono having sex in a bag: yin and yang and the uncategorizable in delirious imbalance.

Richard O’Kane’s interests drifted from Eastern thought to Scientology, and he started giving lectures on the subject at the Paradox. Regulars grew uncomfortable with the mounting number of newcomers drawn to the cultish futurism of L. Ron Hubbard. With O’Kane’s dedication to the restaurant waning, two Paradox loyalists, David Simon and David Puchkoff, pooled their resources to buy it. Simon had made a bit of money, working under the pseudonym Bruno Wolfe, as a singer and harmonica player for the Jim Kweskin Jug Band, a virtuoso novelty act of proto-hippies. And so, when Wainwright sought to capture the Paradox’s atmosphere of abandon, he called the song “Bruno’s Place.” It concludes his self-titled debut album:

Bruno has a lovely place

It’s down on Seventh Street

Bruno has a lovely place

I go there and I eat

But I don’t eat meat

It’s bad for my feet

“I loved the social scene there,” Puchkoff told me. “We were into psychedelics. Drugs were a part of it, but not the main thing.” 9

Group picture of young White hippies, including several kids and one Black man.
Staff of the Paradox. [David Puchkoff]

By 1970, having run the Paradox for half a decade, Simon and Puchkoff found the community they relished dissipating. “The drugs changed, and everything changed. Heroin and crack cocaine came in, the East Village got really nasty. It was scary, really. I got out of there. A lot of different people started to leave,” said Puchkoff. He and Simon rented the space to a commune, the Rainbow Family of Living Light: a determinedly decentralized assemblage of people united by unfixed ideas about the importance of personal independence and suspicion of authority in all forms. A fluctuating membership associated with the Rainbow Family came and went in and out of 64 East 7th Street for about two years, asserting their independent spirit by rejecting policies regarding garbage removal and the bills for electricity and rent. In 1972, the storefront at 64 East 7th Street changed hands once more.

Books ’N Things was a refugee from Book Row, one of a handful of shops that survived by finding cheaper quarters further east: the secondhand-book diaspora.

A few blocks west of 2nd Avenue, the historical New York district of secondhand bookstores was struggling to survive. Once home to dozens of shops selling used books, rare books, and overstock from other bookstores, the third-of-a-mile stretch of 4th Avenue from 14th Street to Astor Place was succumbing to consumers’ changing habits. The enormous Wanamaker’s department store that had once brought street traffic to the area burned down, and television was eating up leisure hours. As Marvin Mondlin and Roy Meador note in their history, Book Row, “The secondhand book business was beset by a pervasive cultural change that saw the reading population itself steadily reduced as other media became more ubiquitous, seductive, and demanding.” 10

Color photograph of a woman in a headscarf, carrying a lighted cigarette, walking past a bookstore window in a snowstorm. Shop sign reading BOOKS N THINGS is legible.
Saul Leiter, Smoking, ca. 1953. [Courtesy Saul Leiter Foundation]

The place I knew as Books ’N Things was a refugee from Book Row, one of a handful of shops that survived by finding cheaper quarters further east: the secondhand-book diaspora. By the time I discovered it and met Gertrude Briggs, she and her husband Harold (who died before I came on the scene) had taken the store from 73 4th Avenue to 82 East 10th Street (around the corner) to 34 East 7th Street (across the street from McSorley’s Old Ale House), and then to 64 East 7th. The place I knew was a musty, shrunken remnant of its earlier selves, but I did not yet realize that it represented 64 East 7th Street in a severely diminished state. So much of New York City in the 1970s was a crumbling relic of what used to be, and this store in this building felt like any and every other wonderful dump in the city. “Most of the creative people have been displaced,” Gertrude Briggs told a New York Times reporter for a story on the East Village published in August, 1988. “Of course, [the area] still attracts a lot of freaks, because it’s still a place you can be free. For a lot of kids, coming here is a way to get away from the choking atmosphere of suburbia.” 11

I moved around the Village myself, from MacDougal Street to Perry Street for a while and East 11th Street briefly, before settling on the Upper West Side, where I still live with my family. By the 1990s, I wasn’t getting to the East Village much anymore; my life had changed, and so had the Village, yet again. The rah-rah economy of the 1980s had spurred development all over New York, and the aggressive policing policies of the new mayor, former criminal prosecutor Rudy Giuliani, fed a narrative of the city as a safer, cleaner, richer, Whiter place. In 1997, the year Gertrude Briggs died, the storefront at 64 East 7th Street reopened as a consignment shop called Tokio 7. The merchandise was luxurious — high-end fashions by designers such as Helmut Lang, Anna Sui, and Vivienne Westwood, albeit previously worn and now discounted. It was an elegant dissolve from the secondhand legacy of Books ’N Things.

Heated floors, central air, elevator, media room. Price: $18.6 million. The realtor’s listing made no mention of the building’s other lives.

In the spring of 2010, Tokio 7 moved across the street to larger quarters, and the owners of 64 East 7th Street began a full-scale overhaul: fourth story added, with roof garden; commercial space on lower level removed; windows, cornices, and gates replaced; new sidewalk poured. The exterior was restored to a glistening replica of the facade as it had been when the building was originally constructed (plus the additional floor). The interior was broken apart and rebuilt to luxury residential specifications — “gutted for modern use,” as Sotheby’s boasted in the listing: heated floors, central air conditioning, an elevator, media room, pizza oven in the roof garden. The listing described “an architectural masterpiece in one of New York’s most dynamic and creative neighborhoods …. Meticulously renovated to the highest standards, this Village home offers an ideal backdrop for modern downtown living.” Price: $18.6 million. There was no mention of the lives the building had led.

Two color photographs of the same red-brick townhouse, one derelict and the other expensively renovated.
Left: The closed Tokio 7 storefront, with the building vacant, 2010 [courtesy Jeremiah Moss]; right: 64 East 7th Street in Sotheby’s real-estate listing, 2020. [Via Sotheby’s]

I wasn’t able to tour it before the place was sold in August, 2021, at an undisclosed price. The buyer was Bill Joy, the 1980s tech mogul who cofounded Sun Microsystems, who has multiple homes in the United States and Germany, and uses 64 East 7th Street as his New York crash pad. Until learning he had purchased the building, the last thing I knew about Joy was that he had written a dystopian essay about the dangers of 21st century technologies like AI and genetic engineering. Published in Wired in April, 2000, it was titled “Why the Future Doesn’t Need Us.”

I like to walk by and check out East 7th Street every now and then, gazing through the front gate of No. 64 from the public sidewalk. I’m not sure what I have been going there to find — unseeable shadows or unhearable echoes of the things I’ve read and heard about but can never know first-hand? I suppose so, though I know how silly that seems.

I went by early this year and loitered around for a while. I was leaning on a signpost, holding a notepad I wasn’t writing in, when a woman walking by stopped to stare at me as I stared at the building. I thought I should explain myself, and told her I was working on a writing project. As if to demonstrate my credentials as a journalist, I asked if she lived in the neighborhood and what she remembered about the building from the time when she moved in. She said it had been a used bookstore — Books ’N Things.

I asked if she knew anything about the history of the building before that.

She said, “Well, everything was something, wasn’t it? Unless it was nothing, like it is now.” She walked away, and I opened my notebook to write that down.

Editors’ Note

A group of contemporary composers have collaborated with David Hajdu on a song cycle about the 7th Street building, each contributing a piece about one of its varied lives. The Parsonage: True Tales of Love and Anarchy at 64 East 7th Street was recorded for release on CD by Sunnyside Records, with a premiere concert at the Museum of the City of New York. Vocalists Theo Bleckmann and Alicia Olatuja sing music by Bleckmann, Darcy James Argue, Regina Carter, Ted Hearne, Kirk Nurock, Renee Rosnes, Dan Tepfer, and Sarah Kirkland Snider. Libretto by David Hajdu. For more information, see The Parsonage at Sunnyside Records, and visit the events page at MCNY.

  1. Peter Stampfel, telephone interview with David Hajdu, April 25, 2021.
  2. Daniel Kane, All Poets Welcome: The Lower East Side Poetry Scene in the 1960s (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003), 35. Kane cites Katzman as quoted in Ronald Sukenick, Down and In: Life in the Underground (New York: Beech Tree Books, 1987), 148.
  3. John Melillo, “Secret Locations in the Lower East Side: Downtown Poetics 1960-1980,” in Lost New York: An Exhibition Sponsored by Fales Library, the Department of English and the Humanities Initiative at New York University (New York University, 2009), 60.
  4. Jane Kramer, Off Washington Square: A Reporter Looks at Greenwich Village, N.Y. (New York: Van Rees Press, 1963), 33. Articles collected in this volume first appeared in The Village Voice.
  5. Don Katzman, “Les Deux Megots,” [sic] Seventh Street: Poems from Les Deux Megots (New York: Hesperidian Press, 1961).
  6. Bergie Lustig, “Les Deux Megots” [sic], Drop in the Bucket (blog), n.d.
  7. Loudon Wainwright, telephone interview with David Hajdu, April 27, 2021.
  8. Paul Krassner quoted in Jerry Hopkins, Yoko Ono (New York: Macmillan 1987), 52.
  9. David Puchkoff, telephone interview with David Hajdu, April 13, 2021.
  10. Marvin Mondlin and Roy Meador, Book Row: An Anecdotal and Pictorial History of the Antiquarian Book Trade (New York: Skyhorse/Simon and Schuster, 2019), 232.
  11. Kirk Johnson, “The Talk of the East Village: A Neighborhood of Vigorous Opinions,” The New York Times, August 13, 1988).
David Hajdu, “The Parsonage,” Places Journal, April 2023. Accessed 01 Oct 2023. <>

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