13 OCTOBER 1961, Page 5

Village Hampdens



oR years Greenwich Village was the home of Italian immigrants, who worked on the near-by Chelsea docks as longshoremen, ran restaurants and shops, and joined the local Political club to unseat the Irish, who had run Tammany in the early part of the century. Gradually the Italian residents were joined by artists attracted by the narrow, tree-lined streets and tranquil atmosphere. Each group kept itself lc itself during the week, meeting only as cus- tomer and vendor; but at weekends their tran- quillity came to be interrupted by automobiles, la \is and subways disgorging hordes of visitors, intent on 'doing the Village,' having a meal at that divine place in Bleecker Street' and going °n to 'that marvellous avant-garde thing' at the Novincetown Playhouse. And gradually, as the housing shortage 'uptown' became more acute 121arlY of the visitors began to look for apartments in the Village.

At first these were people who felt aligned the arts in spirit, if not in income. Flats in the side streets off lower Fifth Avenue began to fill up with advertising copywriters, pub- lishers and groups of girls who 'researched' the articles in the large news magazines. But later, they were joined by young married couples, law- 'cl.s—and brokers: advertisements noted the Vil- 'age was 'only ten minutes from Wall Street.' Real-estate agents knew they were on to a good thing, and rents rose accordingly. A bed- sitter on a tree-lined street that a few years ago rented for $40 a month now pulls in $125. The illage became so fashionable, so expensive, that the artists had to move. taking up residence on the Lower East Side—what the estate agents refer to as The East Village.' There, they have °Pened coffee shops—one is called 'The Deux egots' (sic)—and are free to walk the sidewalks "1. bearded, sandalled ease. And eventually the rllage proper became so popular that many of the charming town houses which had drawn people there in the first place were ripped down make way for large blocks of standardised f,14tS' Typical of these aluminium and glass Bunkers is one on West Ninth Street featuring a 'Dorothy Lamour Beauty Shoppe' on the street n kt/c)r. Across the road is a stand where a man has been selling firewood for thirty years; the new block of flats has no fireplaces.

During this period, the Italians, now a min- °ritY, and living in what the estate agents depre- cated as the South Village, held the political by through the local Democrat club—run °Y Carmine De Sapio, prototype of the Big City I3 c's. But though the artists had always been bohemians' to let the Italians run politics, the `upper oehemians' were not. After the 1956 Presidential election a group of them formed a rival club called the Village Independent Democrats- vID. Most of the organisers were diehard sup- Porters of Adlai Stevenson; even today, a pic- ttire of Stevenson hangs next to the inevitable Pictures of FDR, Truman and Kennedy in their ()IIIce. Unlike the Italians, who had been born or at least brought up in the Village, many of the members of the VID came from other sec- tions of the city or the country, were college- educated and either Protestant or Jewish.

The VID's main complaint was that De Sapio paid too much attention to city, state and national affairs and not enough to the Village— particularly on narcotics, housing and schools. They promised the electorate that if they were elected, automatic patronage would cease. As their chief candidate the VID selected James Lanigan, an articulate lawyer and corporation executive from Nebraska, President Ken- nedy's classmate at Harvard. Lanigan conducted his campaign mostly on the question of bossism and absentee rule, and it worked : as a result of the election De Sapio ceased to be an elected official. VID had won, and a New York Post commentator wrote: 'I walked in the streets and noticed that there were no slums any more, and no landlords, and the Age of Pericles had begun because we were rid of Carmine De Sapio. One had to walk carefully to avoid being stabbed by the lilies bursting in the pavements.'

Since then, the VID, born out of discontent and seemingly devoted to throwing the rascals out rather than to any positive programme, has had its internal upheavals, notably when it voted three to one against Mr. Lanigan's own choice for county leader. The Village, too, is heading for a colour problem. Although VID numbers Negroes among its members, it seems to be a case of, as one old Village resident put it, `wanting the Negro as their brother but not as their brother-in-law.' Besides, a large number of Puerto Ricans are moving to the Village, and both these groups will soon challenge the leader- ship of VID's 'upper bohemians.'

As for Carmine De Sapio, suave and freshly marcelled, when he gave up his office at a tumul- tous all-night meeting, there was no valediction. As he left the platform he said quietly that he was not through with politics. Of course he is not, because in America politics is a pro- fessional's game.