Where exactly was 33 MacDougal Alley, Isamu Noguchi's studio in Greenwich Village from 1942-1950?
Noguchi in his 33 MacDougal Alley studio.
According to many books, Isamu Noguchi lived and worked at 33 MacDougal Alley for eight years between 1942 and 1950. His "studio" consisted of a ground floor room and a large back outside studio with a large workbench.
But those books never really point out where that location was. In fact, most maps only show numbers on MacDougal Alley going up to 24. No maps show a 33.
This is a Bromley fire insurance map from 1916. The Bromley maps of MacDougal Alley did not include street numbers. So I took these numbers from a Sanborn fire insurance map from 1904 that I will add after this.
You can see that the street numbers only go up to #24. There is no #33. (Those italisized "25"'s that you see along the alley are the widts of the lots, not building numbers).
(All the "X's" by the way, indicate that the buildings were built as stables. Most would be converted into artist working spaces or homes.)
This is the 1904 Sanborn map that I took the numbers from for the map above.
The 1947 telephone book shows that #33 was an outlier amoung the other addresses on MacDougal Alley.
The 1945 New York City voting roll also has Noguchi down as #33 MacDougal Alley.
Several books and articles indicate that 33 MacDougal Alley was located inside and in back of #4 West 8th Street, a former stable that had been renovated into the Clay Club, a sculpting organization.
The Clay Club at 4 West 8th Street were the former stables of the house at #8 FIfth Avenue, which was at the southwest corner of 5th Ave and 8th Street..
#4 West 8th Street (The Clay Club) can be seen circled in the map below - near the top right corner. It was formerly a stable and part of the backlot property of #8 FIfth Avenue. Between it and the east end of MacDougal Alley are the backlots of three private residences: #2A, #4 , and #6 Fifth Avenue.
From what I gather, the books that say that 33 MacDougal Alley was located behind #4 West 8th Street use as a source a 1950 article in the New York Times about the Clay Club (#4 West 8th Street) that said that Noguchi "had a studio behind the club." I believe this article to be inaccurate for several reasons that I will discuss later.
Furthermore, it does not make sense that Noguchi's studio would be located "behind the Clay Club" because Noguchi's backyard studio would have had to occupy the back yard spaces of three private townhouses along 5th Avenue.
My research indicates that Noguchi's studio - which was composed of an inside room where he lived and worked, and an outside space where he also worked, was located behind #6 West 8th Street.
The facts, elaborated below, include:
1) A sublease agreement written by Oliver Williams, a real estate broker with an office in 6 West 8th Street, that contains the phrase "the studio at 6 West 8th Street (33 MacDougal Alley)." (source: Noguchi Archives)
2) Photographs that show Noguchi standing in front of the door entrance to his backyard studio, which is part of a brick wall that is connected 10 feet away with the building at 17+1/2 MacDougal Alley which is a building in the rear of the former Whitney Museum and directly behind 8 West 8th Street.
3) A letter from Noguchi entitled "On MacDougal Alley" where he writes that the backyard of his studio was next door to the Whitney Museum (8 West 8th Street). To wit: "The Whitney Museum for instance represented a certain reward for and continuity in art which I valued, and I was next door to its rear on the Alley." (Noguchi Museum) .
4) A photograph of the eastern wall of Noguchi's backyard space that indicated that his studio stopped there and did not occupy any of the lot space behind #4, #6, or #8 Fifth Avenue.
Exhibit #1) Here's is a copy of a sublease indicating that 33 MacDougal Alley was part of the property of 6 West 8th Street.
Exhibit #2a) This is a picture of Noguchi in front of the entrance to 33 MacDougal Alley. Note the grill in front of the brick wall to his left in the picture. It will be referenced in the picture below.
Exhibit #2b) This shows where the wall continues behind Noguchi. You can see the horizontal grill that I pointed out in the last photo in the shadow below the tree . Noguchi's wall runs into the back of The Whitney Museun at 8 West 8th Street.
photo source: NYU Archives
Exhibit #2c) This photo shows Noguchi in the doorway of his outdoor studio at 33 MacDougal Alley.
(photo by Berenice Abbott)
Exhibit #2d) In this closeup, you can read the "3" of 33 MacDougal Alley above his mailbox door..
photo source: Berenice Abbott
Exhibit #2e) This is a picture from modern day MacDougal Alley. The building in the photo, 17+1/2 MacDougal Alley, is the same one pictured above as being next door to Noguchi's studio. It's part of what once was the Whitney Museum.
The wall to the right of the building marks the present end of MacDougal Alley as well as the rear wall of #2 FIfth Avenue, a large residential building. Noguchi's outdoor studio would have been right behind the wall next to 17+1/2.
Noguchi's indoor studio and outoor studio were demolished along with about 10 other buildings to make way for #2 Fifth Avenue.
photo source: Berenice Abbott
Exhibit #3) In this letter written in 1972 Noguchi writes about "The Whitney Museum" . . . saying "I was next door to its rear in the Alley" indicating that his studio was behind #6 West 8th Street.
source: Noguchi Museum Archives
Exhibit #4a) WIth the next several photos, I want to show you the East and West walls of Noguchi's outdoor studio, so you can see that it did not extend in back of The Clay Club building at #4 West 8th Street.
We have seen this photo before. This time, note the "ladder"-type wall through the door. Also take another look at where the mailbox slot is.
Exhibit #4b) In this photo we have stepped into space. You can ses the "ladder" like wall behind Noguchi. And you can see Noguchi's primary working area, which was in front of the door leading into his inner studio.
Exhibit #4c) This is an overhead shot of Noguchi at his work bench. You can see the eastern wall of Noguchi's space (a brick wall) in the top left of the photo. This indicates that Noguchi's space was behind #6 West 8th street and did not extend into the area behind #4 West 8th Street.
Exhibit #4d) Here's Noguchi at his workbench from the opposite angle of when we came in. You can see the mailbox on the door in the background. You can also see that this space was lower than MacDougal Alley.
Exhibit #4e) This combination of shots is taken from the east side of the outdoor sudio, looking west. On the right is the outer wall leading of Noguchi's indoor studio. In the center is a spiral staircase leading to his roof.
The sculpture to the left is in front of the wall shared with the Whitney Museum (at 8 West 8th Street/17+1/2 MacDougal Alley) and at far left is the inner face of the wall along MacDougal Alley.
Exhibit #4f) This combination of three photographs shows the width of Noguchi's backyard studio. The left wall is next to the spiral staircase and the right wall is under the wooden storage space to Noguchi's right. (click to enlarge for details)
Exhibit #4g) Looking in the door from outside.
Exhibit #4h) Now, having gone into the studio, we are looking back out the door.
Exhibit #4i) And finally, we looking east in the studio. Noguchi's tools are on the eastern wall and his bed/couch is off to the left.
This rough diagram will show you where Noguchi's studio at 33 MacDougal Alley was in relation to #4, #6, and #8 West 8th Street.
The illustration below gathers up what I have discussed visually. You can click to enlarge it.
At the center is Noguchi's "inside studio" and his "outside studio" which faces MacDougal Alley. It is located behind #6 West 4th Street, a real estate office (pictured.)
It seems like Noguchi's "Inside studio" was located in a one-story extention from the back of #6 West 8th Street which is a two-story building. The fire insurance map shows two skylights on the roof of Noguchi's studio. The side of one of the skylights can be seen in one of Noguchi on the spiral staircase.. Noguchi could walk up to the roof via the spiral staircase in his backyard.
To the left of Noguci's outdoor studio is what is presently 17+1/2 MacDougal Alley - formerly part of the Whitney Museum when Noguchi was there - now part of the New York Studio School of Drawing, Painting, and Sculpture at 8 West 8th Street.
In the top right of the photo is a picture of three four-story buildings that were on the corner of FIfth Avenue and West 8th Street. They are #4, #6, and #8 FIfth Avenue. #2 FIfth Avenue, a smaller building, is behind them to the left.
Their backyards are depicted in yellow. Because they are private lots, I do not believe that Noguchi's studios extended across them, behind the Clay Club at #4 FIfth Avene.
On the picture on the right side, one from the bottom, of Noguchi over his work table, we can see the wall which is the east wall of his space. That wall backs up with the backyeard walls of #4 and #2 FIfth Avenue.
At the center of this group of photos is a picture of Noguchi standing near the top of the spiral staircase that was in the back left of his outdoor space.
Above Noguchi is a slanted roof, actually a large window, marked in red. That is the same window that can still be found today on the back building of 8 West 8th Street. The back building also goes by the name 17+1/2 MacDougal Alley.
Found below is a before-and-after map, showing where Noguchi's studio - 33 MacDougal Alley - was before and after #2 FIfth Avenue - a large residential building - was built in 1952.
All the buildings inside the yellow lines were demolished to make way for #2 FIfth Avenue.
The yellow wall between the numbers 19 and 24 indicates the present end of MacDougal Alley, which lost about 25 feet in lenght to accomodate #2 Fifth Avenue.
If you stood in the alley now and looked at the wall at the end of the alley, Noguchi's studio would be just behind the wall to the left.
There does not seem to be any particular reason that Noguchi's studio space was given the number 33. Prior to Noguchi, the highest number was #26, with the exception of - for three short years - a door at the end of the alley was given the number 30.
This door, #30 MacDougal Alley, was the back entrance to an experimental school for children (Play School - later renamed City and Country School) that was built in two former stables, #2 and #2A FIfth Avenue. When the school moved, the number went unused. The two buildings that made up the school were later turned into a house for the Chancellor of NYU in 1931.
(The school may have been given the number 30 based on an old map which showed #2 and #4 MacDougal (later combined into an apartment house) to be numbered #27 and #28 - the number of the main house along Washington Square North. If this was so, the next logical number at a later date would have been #29 or #30.
This is the article in the New York Times from 1950, in which the author writes that Noguchi's studio was in "the rear of the club" - i.e. the rear of the Clay Club at #4 West 8th Street.
There are several inaccuracies in the article and for this reason, I do not think that the author fact checked the exact location of Noguchi's studio.
I would say it was more like the author was interviewing someone on West 8th Street, across from the club, and the person being interviewed pointed at the Club and saiid "Noguchi's studio is out back" without being more specific that Noguchi was not behind #4 - the Clay Club - but behind #6 - the Real Estate office.
This is the south side of West 8th Street, just west of Fifth Aveue. At the time, MacDougal Alley extended to behind 6 West 8th Street. Both buildings were originally stables. Building #4 was the very back of a lot that extended from FIfth Aveue. #6 was on its own lot.
This shows that #6, in the back of which Noguchi had his studio, was directly next door to #8 West 8th Street. #8, 10, 12, and 14 were all part of the Whitney Museum.
#4 West 8th Street was on the lot of 8 FIfth Avenue, the building on the left.
The three townhouses show are #4, #6, and #8 FIfth Avenue.
# 4 West 8th Street is at the far right, just behind the truck. On the left of the picture you can make out part of #2 FIfth Avenue, a shorter building.
This picture shows the two buildings at #2 and #2A FIfth Avenue. I'm not sure which was which, though I assume #2A is uptown from #2. The building used to be stables for the building at far left. They were later transformed into a school for kids, and then later transformed into a home for the Chancellor of New York University.
These are the same building, but up closer.
MacDougal Alley was located behind the center of the two buildings, behind a wall. There was a door in the wall that, for several years when the builldings were a play school, was labelled #30 MacDougal Alley.
I have pointed out Noguchi's studio at 33 MacDougal Alley in this ovehead photo from 1924.
The large red area of the map on the below shows the large residential apartment building called #2 FIfth Avenue that was built in 1952. It replaced about 9 buildings that were there, including #6 West 8th Street which Noguchi lived behind at 33 MacDougal Alley. I have marked where Noguchi's studio (top) and outdoor studio (bottom) were located.
THIS IS THE END OF THE ARTICLE. BUT PLEASE SEE THE ADDENDUMS BELOW FOR MORE PHOTOGRAPHS.
ADDENDUM #1-Noguchi's 2-year studio rental at 18 MacDougal Alley.
Toward the end of his stay at MacDougal Alley, Noguchi rented a second-floor apartment at #18 MacDougal Alley - across the alley from his studio ay #33 MacDougal Alley - to use as a showroom. You can see the address in top left of the letter below. I will show you three pictures from inside this studio below.
The letter below is bacially a "notice to vacate" the premises from Rudin Management, who was about to demolish several buildings to make way for the large #2 FIfth Avenue apartment complex he was making.
The "premises" listed include #2 - #8 FIfth Avenue. #2 was the home of the Chancellor of NYU. #4, #6, and #8 were townhouses.
#4-6 (West) Eighth Street included #4 West 8th, the Clay Club, and #6 West 8th St. which was the real estate office Noguchi lived behind.
#17 and #18 MacDougal Alley were the small buildings along the alley in back of #17 and #18 Washington Square North, townhouses which were also to be demolished.
#18 MacDougal Alley was a small 2-story garage. Noguchi's showroom was on the 2nd floor. (Older maps from around 1900 label these buildings as #20 and #22 MacDougal Alley.)
Noguchi shows a woman his sculptures in his showroom at #18 MacDougal Alley, 2nd floor.
Noguchi in his showroom at 18 MacDougal Alley. (The next pictures continues this photo to the right)
This is another photo of Noguchi's 18 MacDougal Alley showroom taken just to the right of the last photo. In the photo it is labelled as a "storage room."
This shows the second window at 18 MacDougal Alley, 2nd floor. (1944)
ADDENDUM #2- The Clay Club
The Clay Club - from LIFE MAGAZINE.
The Clay Club - from LIFE MAGAZINE.
The Clay Club - from LIFE MAGAZINE.
The Clay Club - from the book NEW YORK'S LEFT BANK.
The Clay Club - from the book NEW YORK'S LEFT BANK.
The Clay Club - from the NEW YORK TIMES - October 4, 1950. - Page 1 pf 2
The Clay Club - from the NEW YORK TIMES - October 4, 1950. - Page 2 pf 2
Re: The Clay Club/Noguchi Studio - from the NEW YORK TIMES - January 5, 1950. - Page 1 pf 2
Re: The Clay Club/Noguchi Studio - from the NEW YORK TIMES - January 5, 1950. - Page 2 pf 2
ADDENDUM #3 - Reference photos of the OUTSIDE of Noguchi's studio at 33 MacDougal Alley.
1947 by Berenice Abbott
A combination of 2 shots; west wide of outdoor studio.
At the workbench.
Grinding a piece.
Looking up from his work.
Sawing a board
Another from above. This shows the east wall of the backyard studio.
Noguchi at the bottom of the spiral staircase.
Noguchi on the spiral staircase.
Another staircase shot probably taken at the same time.
Noguchi at the top of the staircase. The wall of the back building at 8 West 8th Street is behind him.
Noguchi at the west wall near the wall along MacDougal Alley.
An artwork on display in the backyard studio.
ADDENDUM #4 - ADDITIONAL PHOTOS OF THE INSIDE OF THE STUDIO.
Wall of tools.
Noguchi's inside studio.
Another inside studio shot. ( I don't know where this door leads).
ADDENDUM - ADDITIONAL SHOTS OF THE END OF MacDOUGAL ALLEY
You can see the entrance to what would be come Noguchi's studio at #33 MacDougal Alley in the bottom right of this photo from 1917.
Note in this photo that neither #1 FIfth Ave or #2 Fifth Ave have been built yet. Also that there is a doorway at the far end of the Alley.
Here's a shot from that same time period from Brown Brothers.
Here's a close up view of the end of the Alley after #1 Fifth Avenue was built, and before #2 Fifth Avenue would block this view. Noguchi's studio (#33) would be at the far left, before the wall. You can see the top of the tree in his outdoor studio space.
The short buildings behind the wall are #2 and #2A FIfth Avenue.
A similar photo from the same angle.
Below: A photo from 1928 soon after One FIfth Avenue was finished. Photographed by Jesse Tarbox Beals, who lived in the Village.
A close-up from a larger Berenice Abbott picture from March 20, 1936. Berenice Abbott was also a Village resident.
A color shot of the Alley probably from the 1940's. One FIfth Avenue is in the background. Two FIfth Avenue, which will block One FIfth Avenue from being seen from the Alley has not been built yet.
In this photo from the 1950's #2 FIfth Avenue now looms over the end of the alley. Noguchi's studio at #33 would have in back of the wall to the left.
Here's a color shot from the 1950's. Two FIfth Avenue looms large in the background.
Finally, here's a contemporary shot of the alley.
1893 - Robinson Map
1895 - Sanborn Map. Note that on this map the numbers on MacDougal Alley go up to 26. That is because the wide building near the middle of the alley is labelled 18 AND 20. In subsequent Sanborn maps, like the following Sanborn map from 1904 that building would just be labelled 18.
1904 - Sanborn Map
1916 Bromley Map
1922 Bromley Map
1924 aeriel view
1927 Bromley Map
1930 Bromley Map
1955 Bromley Map
Sources:While I have given the sources of most of the information I found in the text, I want to mention another major source that I used. That is an out-of-print book published in 2006 to go along with an art exhibit about artists in the Washington Square area.
Here's the entire title and where I found it at the New York Public Library.
New York's Left Bank: Art and Artists off Washington Square North / 1900 - 1950 by Virginia Bundy (published by the author in 2006) via NYPL Room 300, call no. JQZ 12-2411. Published in conjunction with the exhibition Left Bank New York: Artists off Washington Square North, 1900-1950, curated and organized by Virginia Bundy for La Maison Francaise of New York University, New York City. The exhibition was on view from October 27 to December 15, 2006 and at the Snug Harbor Cultural Center, Staten Island, New York in Spring 2007.
I photographed the entire short book so I could print it out and underline it, and my photographs are here for my fellow Greenwich Village researchers and historians.
It has great pictures and text and a very extensive series of footnotes that go into great detail about many of the properties and artists along MacDougal Alley and Washington Mews.
A special thanks to Monte Conner, a huge Stumptown Coffee fan (8th and MacDougal), for getting me interested in the mysteries of MacDougal Alley.