A photographic tour of Bohemian Greenwich Village in the 1920s
Grace Godwin’s Garret, at the corner of 58 Washington Square and Thompson Street, is now the location of New York University’s Global Center for Academic and Spiritual Life. From 1917, this is where Godwin served breakfast, afternoon tea, after-dinner coffee and spaghetti dinners, until the building was demolished at the end of the years 1920.
It’s Grace and her clients in the photo above. It was taken by Jessie Tarbox Beals (1870-1942), the eponymous owner of “Jessie Tarbox Beals Portraiture of Distinction”. Thirteen East Fifty Seven, New York. Plaza 1036.” So went the handwritten business card with the address of the duplex apartment and studio that Jessie Tarbox Beals rented in 1926 at 13 East 57th Street.
Jessie Tarbox Beals (1870-1942), a schoolteacher who taught herself photography, joined the Buffalo Courier and Buffalo Inquirer staff in 1902 and rose to fame as the first female news photographer.
Her life changed in 1888 when she won a camera for selling a magazine subscription. “I started when I was a teacher in Massachusetts, with a small camera that cost me $1.75 for the whole outfit. Within a week I had thrown it away for a bigger one and in five weeks, this one had made me $10.
She moved to New York in 1905 and stayed there most of her life, only leaving to live in Southern California and Chicago for a few years in the late 1920s and early 1930s. work includes portraits, garden photographs, urban street scenes, fashion photography and documentary photography.
And at one point, Beals photographed Dear Grace. In Around Washington Square: An Illustrated History of Greenwich Village, We read:
“Early in 1917, ‘Mother’ Grace Godwin became the next owner to take over the garret at No. 58. Her unconventional restaurant owed its inspiration to Bruno’s demonstration that the downtown atmosphere could be conditioned for profit, although she rejected his giant signs in favor. smaller, more discreet advertisements; the decor was pure Polly Holladay. Word spread quickly, writes Jan Seidler Ramirez in [her book]that “diners could watch local painters scrape graffiti off the restaurant walls, or rub shoulders with poor poets and budding Bolsheviks”.
“In addition to the dining room drama,” the philosophically inclined owner made a habit of engaging customers in “soul chats” while enticing them to buy the painted cigarette cases her cherub daughter Nancy peddled from table to table. Grace Godwin’s Garret, as its place was called, was the most visible, as it was the end of the bus lines in Washington Square, but many other restaurants were already selling the radical chic of the square successfully.
In May 1921, the NY Times reported that Grace “was found guilty of violating the law which forbids refusing to serve Negroes in a restaurant.” Tea and naughtiness were on the menu. But Goodwin was defiant.
“The Garret is a place where I combine the need to earn money with the need to have friends and see them sometimes,” she told the media. “I doubt there was ever anyone as lonely as I was when I arrived in New York many years ago, and I was very pleased to feel that others who are alone have found company as well as chocolate cake and coffee…
“The only necessity I care about is friendship, and I reserve the right to choose my friends, I took down the sign that made the attic a public restaurant in the eyes of the law, and it will be at the future just a club. If I have to fight in court to assert my right to run the place as I please, the last right I reserve to myself is to walk away. I’ll just close the attic and walk away.
Before Grace moved in, No. 58 housed a popular candy and cigar shop on the ground floor and Guido Bruno’s Garret on the second, where local artists exhibit and, for an entrance fee, tourists could observe “true bohemian” artists at work. He produced a series of small magazine publications from there, including Bruno’s Weekly, Bruno’s Monthly, Bruno’s Bohemia, Greenwich Villageand the 15 cents Books by Bruno Chap.
The frame buildings are said to have been badly damaged in a fire in 1916, in which Bruno lost many valuable historical artifacts, including unpublished manuscripts by George Bernard Shaw and Mark Twain. It’s the famous American writer below, in another of Jessie Tarbox Beals’ photos.
Jessie Tarbox Beals took all these photos of Greenwich Village and other New York neighborhoods. Over the years, Beals has photographed several presidents and celebrities, including presidents Calvin Coolidge, Herbert Hoover, and William Taft. As the New York Historical Society, which houses her work, notes: “She practiced many types of commercial photography with the vigor and speed associated with topical work.”