|Born in Canada, Beals was devoted to documenting New York City|
In the first two decades of the 20th century, Greenwich Village became known as a rather eccentric enclave. Artists and writers, anarchists and “liberated” women, inhabited the neighborhood. “Greenwich Village is the American parallel of the Latin Quarter,” The Dial observed in 1914, pointing out that “a member of Greenwich Village is a person of a sort and not too closely of a place: he is a Bohemian.”
Curiosity about the neighborhood filled with restaurants, theater, art, radical politics, and nightlife was high; and the Bohemian crowd itself was willing to instruct the outsider. Anna Alice Chapin’s 1920 Greenwich Village was a perfect guide to all things Greenwich Village.
Photographer Jessie Tarbox Beals (1871-1942) also sought to satisfy the tourist. Beals had first moved to the city in 1905; by 1917, she was living in the Village, taking part in its culture and documenting the neighborhood in which she lived. Her portraits of stores, offices, restaurants, and tea rooms offer detailed, intimate views of life in the Village. Many of her images include her handwritten captions; these were the images that she sold as postcards to the interested tourists who wandered the streets of the Village, below the grid.
Beals photographed Alice Palmer, owner and operator of The Village Store, on Washington Square. Villagers loved the array of goods Palmer made available in her store.
The office of the local newspaper, “Ink Pot”, pictured above, as Beals photographed it in 1917. Beals also photographed one of the Village’s most famous eateries: Polly’s Restaurant, (aka The Village Inn), pictured below. Polly’s was mentioned in numerous publications as “the” Bohemian spot.
By 1919, Guido Bruno, a Greenwich Village resident and writer whose local paper, “Bruno’s Weekly,” offered an account of Village goings-on, declared: “The fad of false Bohemia in Greenwich Village has passed. The purple and orange brand of tearooms and of so-called gift shops where art lovers and artistic people from the Bronx and Flatbush assembled, have gone out of existence. The designers and manufacturers of astounding atrocities who called themselves “modern artists” have disappeared. True there are a few short-haired women left, who parade the streets in their unusual clothes, but they, too, will soon move to other parts of the city with the return of the soldiers, and will reassume their real calling in life.” (From: ‘Way Down in Greenwich Village )
Beals would continue to live and photograph in the Village before she too moved on. In 1928 she moved to California. She later moved to Chicago, before returning to New York in 1935. The 1910s’ “scene” had most certainly passed by the time Beals was back in the city; although Greenwich Village would prove to be re-born as a counter-cultural enclave, Beals’ images captured a specific historical moment in the city, and in the life and habits of the Bohemian crowd.