26 Cornelia Street is an apartment house on a street that is exactly one block long in the heart of Greenwich Village in New York City. 26 Cornelia is on the right side of the image below and the first of the three green canopies marks the front door. You are seeing the entire length of Cornelia Street in this image:

26 Cornelia Street


We moved there when I finished my Columbia University MFA course work in 1990 and we paid $900 a month for the studio apartment that had been converted to a Co-Op when the building turned — a massive budget-breaker from the $596.00 we were paying for a Columbia-sponsored one bedroom apartment located at 112th Street and Broadway.

Our Columbia apartment was one block away from the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine and four blocks from the main campus. Our old apartment building is right behind the Labyrinth Books sign and the Cathedral is dead center a block away…

The Cathedral of Saint John the Divine

…and in our Columbia apartment we also lived right across the street from Tom’s Restaurant made famous by Seinfeld and by singer/songwriter Suzanne Vega. That crosswalk leads directly from Tom’s to our front door.

Tom's Restaurant

26 Cornelia Street was an old world dwelling with the bathtub in the kitchen. We were renting from a friend who said he could easily get $1,200 a month for the place because of its prime location in the Village and how near it was to NYU and so many subway stations.

We believed him. The apartment was incredibly convenient to everything New
York.

The entirety of the 26 Cornelia Street apartment was less than 200 square feet. You could see a partial view of the Empire State Building out the window if you cranked open the window and craned your neck around the outside of the building and then held out a mirror with your left hand to pinch a view.

There was no shower. There was a small bathroom that hid only a toilet.

The walls felt as if they were made from foam core. There was a large closet we used for storage the previous tenants called a “bedroom.”

Taking a bath in the morning was always an event. There was a large block of wood covering the bathtub — it served as the dining table — and you’d swing up the wood via a hinge and fasten it high above you with a metal hook into an eyelet. The only way to access the bunk bed we’d built to give us more room was to climb up and down by using a step ladder perched on top of the bathtub’s tabletop.

You had to carefully orchestrate bath time with eating and sleeping and napping.
When the building was converted from gas lighting to electric lighting, the gas line in the ceiling was never capped.

We slept in the top bunk with the slight scent of gas filling our noses. Luckily we were able to smell the gas swirling along our ceiling from our high sleeping perch and Consolidated Edison came over and turned off our gas service until our landlord closed the open, ancient, lead pipe.

Con-Ed guessed that pipe had been leaking gas for over 100 years. We were grateful we weren’t smokers or we probably would have blown up the entire building when we lighted a match.

The day we moved in the ceiling fell on us when the tap dancing tenant above dropped a refrigerator during his self-approved Co-Op renovation.

Over a century of muck — horse hair, newsprint, plaster bits, nails, leather latticework — covered the little everything we owned. It took eight months to get the 6×6 foot hole patched.

Rumor had it the great poet W.H. Auden lived in our apartment and that was always a thrill knowing the everlasting echoes of a genius mind were prattling around in the night.

We stayed about a year at 26 Cornelia Street — that was all our Midwestern sensibilities could take — but we wouldn’t give up the experience for anything. I wrote my MFA thesis in that apartment.

We became true New Yorkers for life there.

We felt the real world of New York pulsing all around us 24 hours a day and it was an experience most people only read about in books or watch in movies. We lived it. We
survived it.

Cornelia is a quiet and elegant street where just around each corner perpetual danger and mayhem and idiocy and brilliance all lurk. We shared the brightest of both worlds — the historic and the now — while living in ancient New York with a partial view of the momentary Empire surrounding us.

53 Comments

  1. Wow… what cool pictures, what a cool story. It’s so amazing to see the buildings and views millions of people live with. When Hubby and I were in Chicago in July last year, we were there only four full days, but we left that fifth day craving the scene of our backyard – weeds and all!
    Oh, and you had finished your MFA courses from Columbia Univ. in 1990… I was starting my BA in English at Columbia College in SC in 1990. Hee 😀

  2. Hi Carla!
    New York City is an amazing place. There are so many millions of people packed into such small areas. It’s a wonder everyone gets a long so well. It’s also hard to remember that Manhattan is an island! You can only get there via a tunnel or a bridge. It is completely isolated.
    Amazing! You were starting as I was finishing! What a thrill!

  3. There is energy in New York that is unique. It is the center of the world. Some people get numbed by the vibe and have to take frequent vacations away from the center. One guy in my class at Columbia would fly out to the Midwest every other weekend for a long, four day, decompression session at home with friends.

  4. There is energy in New York that is unique. It is the center of the world. Some people get numbed by the vibe and have to take frequent vacations away from the center. One guy in my class at Columbia would fly out to the Midwest every other weekend for a long, four day, decompression session at home with friends.

  5. It’s always interesting to think about the people who may have lived in your house or apartment. I don’t think I’ve ever lived anywhere where someone famous ever lived, but thinking about the regular folks is also interesting.
    When my wife and I bought our first (and current) house, we saw the title work. The parents of the seller had owned it and had transferred it to their son. The son sold the house sometime later to us so he could move to be closer to his parents. (We spoke to him during closing — he was sad to be selling the house).
    I saw the son’s initials in the concrete driveway shortly after moving in. He made his permanent mark on the property and it will probably remain their until we have to replace it. If we ever replace the driveway, I’ll see if the small section can be saved to preserve the history of the place. I’ll also make sure my kids make their mark on the driveway in a small, but significant way.
    I have a coworker who told me that she grew up in the house down the street from my house and played with the son who sold us the house when she and he were young. These stories give me a connection to “our place.” It has a short history (the house was built in 1964) that is the story of a common family’s life, but it is still heartwarming to think about.
    Houses are popping up all over the place where I live. Former farm fields are giving way to “McMansions.” I always like to think about the first person migrating westward and what he or she thought about the land they would claim and turn into a farm. The question I always ask is why they chose to set up their homestead “here.” Was it their goal, or did they reach the end of their resources and decide to stop? Were they trying to get to California?
    I always think the same thing when I see a ruined old building in Gary. I always wonder about the people who built and used the buildings during the heyday of the Steel industry. There are so many grand old buildings that have seen better days that fell into ruin in the turbulent times of the 1960s and 1970s.
    I always wonder what stories the “ghosts” could tell if they could talk. I remember reading in the paper about a secret passageway that was discovered in an old building during renovation. It was used to access a speakeasy during the Prohibition days.
    Too bad many of the great old buildings have been destroyed by time and neglect or are slated for demolition.

  6. It’s always interesting to think about the people who may have lived in your house or apartment. I don’t think I’ve ever lived anywhere where someone famous ever lived, but thinking about the regular folks is also interesting.
    When my wife and I bought our first (and current) house, we saw the title work. The parents of the seller had owned it and had transferred it to their son. The son sold the house sometime later to us so he could move to be closer to his parents. (We spoke to him during closing — he was sad to be selling the house).
    I saw the son’s initials in the concrete driveway shortly after moving in. He made his permanent mark on the property and it will probably remain their until we have to replace it. If we ever replace the driveway, I’ll see if the small section can be saved to preserve the history of the place. I’ll also make sure my kids make their mark on the driveway in a small, but significant way.
    I have a coworker who told me that she grew up in the house down the street from my house and played with the son who sold us the house when she and he were young. These stories give me a connection to “our place.” It has a short history (the house was built in 1964) that is the story of a common family’s life, but it is still heartwarming to think about.
    Houses are popping up all over the place where I live. Former farm fields are giving way to “McMansions.” I always like to think about the first person migrating westward and what he or she thought about the land they would claim and turn into a farm. The question I always ask is why they chose to set up their homestead “here.” Was it their goal, or did they reach the end of their resources and decide to stop? Were they trying to get to California?
    I always think the same thing when I see a ruined old building in Gary. I always wonder about the people who built and used the buildings during the heyday of the Steel industry. There are so many grand old buildings that have seen better days that fell into ruin in the turbulent times of the 1960s and 1970s.
    I always wonder what stories the “ghosts” could tell if they could talk. I remember reading in the paper about a secret passageway that was discovered in an old building during renovation. It was used to access a speakeasy during the Prohibition days.
    Too bad many of the great old buildings have been destroyed by time and neglect or are slated for demolition.

  7. Life in the city, I enjoy hearing about it, but do not think I would enjoy living it. But I’m sure many there could not stand living in the country side or rural Arkansas as I do and enjoy very much.
    The house I live in was built in 1972. But I have a picture of me that was taken in the front yard where I grew up, which is about 1/8 mile from here, when I was about 11 years of age in 1958, in the background is this hill side where this house sets. But there is nothing but trees, its amazing to see it as it was so many years ago.
    Another neat things, its a long story that I will try and make real short.
    I came here via an orphan home at Texarkana, Ark., about 6 years back I met a woman whose family use to own this place, plus another 80 acres across the highway which their house was on when she was a young girl, that connected to where mother lived and grew up. Which at that time she and mother were very good friends and played together.
    But she was working and living in the orphan home at Texarkana, Ark., when I was put there in 1948 and she care for me. Which I left there to live with another family in early 50, them came to live with the Smith family in 51,
    When we met, I told her who my mother and father was, which they had already passed away at this time. Them she says, yes I knew you many years ago, and tells me about the time I was in the orphan home, where she grew up at, as well as playing with mother when she was very young, and that she had heard that I had come to live with her best friend.
    All of this was so very precious for me to hear, for it was in the 30’s when her and mother were friends and they had not seen one another since, but yet I had crossed paths with her in this orphan home in the 40’s, and now I was getting to meet her some 50 years later and hearing a bit about my life in the orphan home from some one who was there and remember, plus about my mother as a young girl.
    Life is an adventure, when we start talking to some one who seems to be a stranger, we never know what might come of it, we might just get a wonderful surprise, I sure did that day.

  8. Life in the city, I enjoy hearing about it, but do not think I would enjoy living it. But I’m sure many there could not stand living in the country side or rural Arkansas as I do and enjoy very much.
    The house I live in was built in 1972. But I have a picture of me that was taken in the front yard where I grew up, which is about 1/8 mile from here, when I was about 11 years of age in 1958, in the background is this hill side where this house sets. But there is nothing but trees, its amazing to see it as it was so many years ago.
    Another neat things, its a long story that I will try and make real short.
    I came here via an orphan home at Texarkana, Ark., about 6 years back I met a woman whose family use to own this place, plus another 80 acres across the highway which their house was on when she was a young girl, that connected to where mother lived and grew up. Which at that time she and mother were very good friends and played together.
    But she was working and living in the orphan home at Texarkana, Ark., when I was put there in 1948 and she care for me. Which I left there to live with another family in early 50, them came to live with the Smith family in 51,
    When we met, I told her who my mother and father was, which they had already passed away at this time. Them she says, yes I knew you many years ago, and tells me about the time I was in the orphan home, where she grew up at, as well as playing with mother when she was very young, and that she had heard that I had come to live with her best friend.
    All of this was so very precious for me to hear, for it was in the 30’s when her and mother were friends and they had not seen one another since, but yet I had crossed paths with her in this orphan home in the 40’s, and now I was getting to meet her some 50 years later and hearing a bit about my life in the orphan home from some one who was there and remember, plus about my mother as a young girl.
    Life is an adventure, when we start talking to some one who seems to be a stranger, we never know what might come of it, we might just get a wonderful surprise, I sure did that day.

  9. Fascinating stories and pictures. I grew up in Toronto, which I thought was busy until I drove through New York last summer. It was so hard not to stop the car every 5 feet and take a million pictures. Driving was an adventure, for sure. I could definitely spend a year in New York in I had the money…what a life that would be.

  10. Fascinating stories and pictures. I grew up in Toronto, which I thought was busy until I drove through New York last summer. It was so hard not to stop the car every 5 feet and take a million pictures. Driving was an adventure, for sure. I could definitely spend a year in New York in I had the money…what a life that would be.

  11. Hi Karen!
    You are right about New York being a feast for the eye! It is also a rough adventure to maneuver a car in New York.
    The best way to get here is to go to school — even for a wee bit.
    NYU has a great for-credit summer session program where you can live in the dorms. It’s a great way to learn, live a great experience and, even when factoring in the cost of tuition, you are still way ahead on the money you’d spend living on your own for three months.

  12. Hi Karen!
    You are right about New York being a feast for the eye! It is also a rough adventure to maneuver a car in New York.
    The best way to get here is to go to school — even for a wee bit.
    NYU has a great for-credit summer session program where you can live in the dorms. It’s a great way to learn, live a great experience and, even when factoring in the cost of tuition, you are still way ahead on the money you’d spend living on your own for three months.

  13. One of my Italian ancestors lived at 5 Cornelia Street in 1900. How I wish I knew what that street was like then!
    Giovanni Brun from Andreis, Italy, became known as John Brunn there; he lived there for a short time, then in 1903 his wife and 3 children came to America. By then, we think he was already in PA for some time, as they went directly to him there when they arrived.
    I hear No 2 Cornelia Street is known as The Greenwich Flatiron now and the building has been turned into luxury condos. I don’t know what became of No 5. Sigh.
    Thanks for the photo.

  14. One of my Italian ancestors lived at 5 Cornelia Street in 1900. How I wish I knew what that street was like then!
    Giovanni Brun from Andreis, Italy, became known as John Brunn there; he lived there for a short time, then in 1903 his wife and 3 children came to America. By then, we think he was already in PA for some time, as they went directly to him there when they arrived.
    I hear No 2 Cornelia Street is known as The Greenwich Flatiron now and the building has been turned into luxury condos. I don’t know what became of No 5. Sigh.
    Thanks for the photo.

  15. Dear bookratt —
    I thank you for your fine comment and thank you for posting here for the first time!
    You are right Cornelia Street has a great heritage in the city of New York. I will have to check out No 5 Cornelia when I am next in the neighborhood.

  16. Dear bookratt —
    I thank you for your fine comment and thank you for posting here for the first time!
    You are right Cornelia Street has a great heritage in the city of New York. I will have to check out No 5 Cornelia when I am next in the neighborhood.

  17. david, great photos and stories! did you know that the cover of Dylan’s ‘Freewheelin” album was taken in Cornelia Street? at least according to the photographer Don Hunstein. I only came across this information today in Michael Gray’s blog, previously the photo had been identified as Jones Street, I believe. Read about it here:
    http://bobdylanencyclopedia.blogspot.com/ I came across your site when searching for images in google, what a great find, I’ll be back to explore!

  18. david, great photos and stories! did you know that the cover of Dylan’s ‘Freewheelin” album was taken in Cornelia Street? at least according to the photographer Don Hunstein. I only came across this information today in Michael Gray’s blog, previously the photo had been identified as Jones Street, I believe. Read about it here:
    http://bobdylanencyclopedia.blogspot.com/ I came across your site when searching for images in google, what a great find, I’ll be back to explore!

  19. Hi tricia —
    Hey, thanks for the pointer to the cover of the Dylan album! I had no idea about that one. The street on the cover looks wider than the one in the first image in my article. Cornelia is definitely a One Way street now. Dylan and Suze are walking up the opposite end of the street in the image from my article. Interesting…
    Here’s the front cover of the album with Dylan and Suze allegedly on Cornelia Street in New York so people can decide on their own:

  20. Hello
    I never lived at 26 Cornelia Street but I did live at 24 and 22 (sister buildings). Actually, my dad, jazz singer Dave Lambert, had the apartment on the southeast corner of the top floor of 24 for several years – I lived with him there in the late 50’s while I attended junior high school on Christopher and Hudson. My dad moved the tub in that apartment from the wall dividing the kitchen and the livingroom to the fireplace wall in the kitchen. That was before the renovations. He needed the space for his baby grand piano. Before he moved the tub it had a porcelain coated tin lid (not the wooden one you spoke of) which was the standard tub lid in those days. The toilet (we called it a “water closet’) was accessed by a door in the livingroom. You opened that door and were in a tiny tiny hallway (alcove) and your nose just about touched another door that led to the apartment next door.
    Anyway, a sharp turn to the right (for us) and you opened another door that had a toilet. He tore down the wall between the kitchen and the “bedroom” and left the supports to serve as a closet. I slept in the “bedroom” on the other side of the open air closet. A picture of the living room taken from the kitchen is in a Kerouc (I think) book titled “The Beat Generation”.The credit identifies it as my dad’s apartment.Did you know the water to Cornelia St. builidngs came from Minetta Spring (under Minetta Lane)? Never got flouridated or any of that chemical treatment. It was pretty sweet. Then I lived there again in 1964-65 subletting from my dad.
    My daughter Vanessa was born while we lived there. There was a mom’n pop candy/cigarette store where it looks like the laundry sign is in your pic. I could buy a pack of Lucky Strikes there when I was 11 for 23 cents a pack. Just a few doors south was a dairy store where you could buy eggs and milk. The corner store was a drug store. On the other side of the street at the southwest corner was the butcher. The next “store” was in what was probably an old stable. It didnt’ have any windows and only sold canned goods. My dad had a charge account there and I would be sent there to get canned goods like Spam, beans, brown bread. My dad called the guy who owned it “Dingle” and the guy called by dad “Dangle”. Go figure.
    Zampieri’s was further north on that (the west) side of the street. Sunday mornings I would go there at dawn and get hot rolls before they opened – then I’d go around the corner to Fourth Street where there was a newspaper/cigar store (next to Humpty Dumpty’s) and get the Sunday paper. My dad would make a pot of strong “camp” coffee (we didn’t have a coffee pot)- we’d fill our bowls with coffee leaving plenty of room for milk and sugar and dunk the rolls while we read the Sunday paper (the Times). Cornelia Street was mostly Italian immigrants or second generation in those days. There were many people who had baskets on long ropes they would lower for the vegetable hawker who came buy with an old Ford flatbed.
    I had an apartment at 20 Cornelia Street when I first “left home” – I was sixteen – subletted an apartment my mom had. She had gotten the apartment strictly as “income” property – in those days you could get an apartment, renovate it a little, and sell the lease under the table or sublet it. Anyway, my dad had redone the hearth on the fireplace and they had painted it and sanded the floors. That apartment was already landlord renovated with a private bathroom. My childhood buddy Jeremy Steig (who is now the flute player that plays regularly at the Cornelia Street Cafe) helped me decorate the apartment. I bought a bottle of wine and some magic markers and he came over and did his incredible drawings all over the bathroom walls. I imagine that has been painted over many times. Jazz bassist/now author Bill Crow lived at 22 Cornelia Street.
    Last but not least I had two apartments on the top floor of 18 Cornelia Street – in the front. I rented both and got permission from the landlord to break through so I had one huge apartment with two bathrooms. I sanded all the floors – it was pretty awesome. I ran a day care from there for toddlers.
    I can’t remember his name but there was a midget actor who lived in a large apartment building on the west side of the street. He became pretty famous and was in a lot of movies.
    Anyway, Cornelia Street is special – no doubt about it.
    Dee Lambert

  21. i am awash in the feel of cornelia st. i lived at 24 cornelia for 13 years- from 1975 to 1987…first in the front ground floor apt, then in apartment 10 upstairs…which is my spiritual home still. i go there in dreams…really. i can feel the body english of “opening” the front /street door- which was still made of rotting wood, and on which the lock didn’t really lock (and even if the lock was engaged, you could push it open). then going to the mailboxes on the ground floor…double stepping up the first flight of stairs, swinging around as i took a few steps to the next landing …double stepping up those, and key in the door.
    i had lived in much larger apartments in manhattan and in brooklyn, but none was as sweet as this one. lucy sallustro lived across the hall from me, and she became family. her father had made wine in the basement of the building when the whole block was populated by other italian immigrant families. so much to say about the street, the building, the people, the vibe.
    when the buildings (22, 24 and 26), all owned by ben fishbein, went co op, people changed….money and fear of not being able to afford to live there erupted. some bought, some stayed renters. a class system emerged.
    i moved to california…tried to hold onto the apartment long distance, which i had bought- barely…though i could no longer afford to live in it. finally, i sold it.
    it broke my heart to have to leave. i guess i haven’t left in my heart. thanks for this wonderful site and for the PHOTO!!. this is what i saw every day of my life, and never tired of. you explain the private refuge feeling of the block so well. i used to say that i would love to be air lifted onto cornelia street…in the days when 6th ave was so loaded with crack dealers…and despair.
    jane

  22. i am awash in the feel of cornelia st. i lived at 24 cornelia for 13 years- from 1975 to 1987…first in the front ground floor apt, then in apartment 10 upstairs…which is my spiritual home still. i go there in dreams…really. i can feel the body english of “opening” the front /street door- which was still made of rotting wood, and on which the lock didn’t really lock (and even if the lock was engaged, you could push it open). then going to the mailboxes on the ground floor…double stepping up the first flight of stairs, swinging around as i took a few steps to the next landing …double stepping up those, and key in the door.
    i had lived in much larger apartments in manhattan and in brooklyn, but none was as sweet as this one. lucy sallustro lived across the hall from me, and she became family. her father had made wine in the basement of the building when the whole block was populated by other italian immigrant families. so much to say about the street, the building, the people, the vibe.
    when the buildings (22, 24 and 26), all owned by ben fishbein, went co op, people changed….money and fear of not being able to afford to live there erupted. some bought, some stayed renters. a class system emerged.
    i moved to california…tried to hold onto the apartment long distance, which i had bought- barely…though i could no longer afford to live in it. finally, i sold it.
    it broke my heart to have to leave. i guess i haven’t left in my heart. thanks for this wonderful site and for the PHOTO!!. this is what i saw every day of my life, and never tired of. you explain the private refuge feeling of the block so well. i used to say that i would love to be air lifted onto cornelia street…in the days when 6th ave was so loaded with crack dealers…and despair.
    jane

  23. Dear Dee…
    This is obviously years late, but I unwittingly just came upon your piece about Cornelia St. and was touched by it. I don’t know whether you remember me (I was a friend of Gene’s & Steve A’s and worked in the same building as Hortie), and the last I heard tell of you, you had run away with the circus as a bareback rider. I have this vague memory of leaving my basketball at Bill Crow’s place. He was on the road and you were crashing there. And then you and Steve tied the knot and moved up to 17th St. I never got my ball back because everything fell apart with you guys and I never saw you again; Steve went to Alabama to annul the marriage, and I never took kindly to his next amour and quickly drifted apart from him. Oddly, though, he served as my best man, on the day after he himself had tied the knot a second time. Apocryphal or not, my wife and I lived on Cornelia from ’66-70. We’ve remained in the City all these years, despite long work enforced stays in L.A. and S.F. My best to you, Dee.

  24. Dear Dee…
    This is obviously years late, but I unwittingly just came upon your piece about Cornelia St. and was touched by it. I don’t know whether you remember me (I was a friend of Gene’s & Steve A’s and worked in the same building as Hortie), and the last I heard tell of you, you had run away with the circus as a bareback rider. I have this vague memory of leaving my basketball at Bill Crow’s place. He was on the road and you were crashing there. And then you and Steve tied the knot and moved up to 17th St. I never got my ball back because everything fell apart with you guys and I never saw you again; Steve went to Alabama to annul the marriage, and I never took kindly to his next amour and quickly drifted apart from him. Oddly, though, he served as my best man, on the day after he himself had tied the knot a second time. Apocryphal or not, my wife and I lived on Cornelia from ’66-70. We’ve remained in the City all these years, despite long work enforced stays in L.A. and S.F. My best to you, Dee.