The "blue Spanish door" of Perry Street

Is this a pretty blue door or is it a portal into another world? West Village is full of these nice surprises that sneak up on you.



At 88 Perry Street, just off the corner of Bleecker, there is a blue and white tile installation elegantly flanked by two carriage lamps. The colors and motifs of the mural are typical of ceramics in southern Spain, and the tilework contrasts beautifully with the red brick wall of the building in which it is set. The piece bears the inscription “Año 1868,” the year in which Spain’s First Republic was proclaimed. The origin and history of this ceramic tile installation remain shrouded in mystery.


This building, on the southeast corner of Bleecker Street, was built between 1866 and 1868. The plumbing firm, Brien & Adams, built it to designs of the architect Robert Griffin Hatfield (1815–1878); the company built it as an investment property. Five stories in height, this apartment house was built of brick in the style of the time.


Uncorroborated reports on the internet claim that in 1972, when renovating the restaurant located at 88 Perry Street, the building owners commissioned a Spanish artist from Seville named Rodriguez to install the mural in a recessed section of the wall, where, it seems, there had once been an arched door.


The attribution to a “Rodríguez” might be a misunderstanding, as a small inscription on the lower right-hand corner of the mural reveals that the tiles were created at the Fca (Fábrica) Mensaque Rodríguez y Compañía SA, in Seville, Spain, a prestigious factory of bricks and ceramic tiles that opened it doors in 1917 and went out of business in 2006.


Another version instead explains the following.

Manuel Jimenez bought 88 Perry Street on February 3rd 1970, nine months after NYC’s Landmarks Preservation Commission designated Greenwich Village a Historic District on April 29th 1969. He opened a Spanish antique shop in the ground floor store front; he called it El Rastro, for the market in Madrid. Señor Jimenez renovated the building, which included adding the blue and white tile mural within the blind archway on the building’s Perry Street façade.


What about the blue tiles?

These tiles are known as azulejo. “Azulejo” comes from the Arabic “al zulaycha,” meaning little polished stone; the term is used in Spain and Portugal to refer to terracotta tiles that have an opaque glaze. Walls, fountains, walkways, ceilings, baths, fireplaces and other surfaces in Spain and Portugal have been covered and decorated with azulejo extensively since the 13th century. Tile mosaics had their origins in the Middle East and North Africa; the Romans spread their use through Europe. And the Moors reinforced their use during their 700-year-long dominance of the Iberian Peninsula. A mosaic is created not by assembling small pieces of polished marble, known as tesserae, but with fragments of glazed colored tiles. Tile murals, such as the one at 88 Perry Street, are created by assembling whole tiles, each with a part of the picture on it, like a puzzle.


Although the mural is a beloved work of art and a local landmark, since 2009 the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) of New York and the residents around 88 Perry Street have had an on-going dispute about removing the mural. The tenement building stands in a registered historic district. When the mosaic was commissioned and installed in 1972, approval was never asked for from the Commission. The Landmarks Commission wants the mural removed and the wall restored what it looked like in 1972. It is not easy to understand why the LPC is suddenly fussing about the artwork, and insisting that it be removed. It is a beautiful addition to the neighborhood, and deserves to be grandfathered into the area. The mural has become a meeting point for folks in the West Village. It is a happy reminder of Little Spain and the Spanish immigrants who were once a vibrant part of Greenwich Village. We say, let it stay!


I hope you guys enjoyed this post and learned something new!


Ciao for now,


Andrea

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