This Sunday is Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation’s 13th Annual House Tour Benefit and it will offer exceptional access into seven of the Village’s finest and most exclusive homes.
This year’s tour highlights include a stately Italianate home with an elaborately-paneled entrance and intricate, original moldings; an artist’s townhouse and studio with an unexpected layout and surprising hidden features, including a backyard treehouse; a 350-square foot apartment with anything but a small sense of style accessed by a splendid shared courtyard; an art collector’s two-floor retreat featuring a life-sized mosaic tile tree; an extra-wide townhouse with Victorian-era details, once the home of Emily Post; and a traditional townhouse featuring a restored stoop and façade and an interior rich with period detail, some salvaged from other Village residences.
Advance tickets may be purchased online before April 30 and will be available for pick up on May 1st after 12:30 pm at Greenwich House Music School. The tour is completely self-guided, rain or shine, from 1 – 5:30 pm, and a cocktail reception will follow the tour at a private townhouse in the neighborhood atop a stunning roof deck.
I can’t think of a better way to spend a Sunday afternoon in The Village and support a very worthy cause while you’re at it. GVSHP is at the forefront of the fight to protect still un-designated portions of Greenwich Village and a leader against NYU’s massive 2031 expansion plan. While NYU seems determined to take over the Village for their megolithic purposes, GVSHP is thankfully one of the only organizations to continuously hold NYU accountable for the promises they’ve made to the neighborhood, and serve as community watchdog to make sure the university responsibly rehabs its existing properties. They are invested in the push to move NYU’s future expansion plans to the Financial District, so that the spirit and integrity of Greenwich Village may be preserved for future generations. Be sure to take a look at their website to see the all myraid community causes they’re involved in, and if these issues speak to you as well, please buy a tour ticket in support or make a donation. Every little bit helps!
The weather promises to be lovely (fingers crossed), so if you’re interested in making a whole weekend of it, consider also attending the OHNY and Fourth Arts Block (FAB) Tour of East 4th Street on Saturday, April 30 at 1pm.
FAB is rooted in the Lower East Side’s long history of hosting community and cultural spaces that served marginalized immigrants, artists, and activists. In the 1960s and ‘70s, East 4th Street coalesced as a center for experimental theater and film. Four decades later, the block’s cultural groups founded FAB to preserve and develop these historic arts spaces.
The tour grants you access to many of the East 4th Street theaters, promoting an opportunity for discussion and awareness of how FAB weaves the arts with neighboring small businesses to strengthen a distinctive East Village cultural and community identity. To buy tickets, click here.
*Sidenote: The fact that I’m mentioning any of this at all, makes it official. I’m turning into my mother.
I jest, but seriously, I’m such a preservation/architecture/design nerd in my own right that GVSHP made me a docent captain for their House Tour Benefit this year. I’ve volunteered as a docent for the last 3 years running and it’s definitely one of the events I most look forward to every spring. I’m a freelance artist, and tickets aren’t cheap, so volunteering my time is an ideal way to participate. I love meandering through the Village with a map, exploring those yet undiscovered nooks and crannies of my neighborhood, and gaining unprecendented access to the crème de la crème of NYC residences. It is a rare treat to actually enter these homes that I walk by every day, and oogle the impeccable design, art collections, and impressive restorations. The tour always inspires to me to dream big about what I’ll create in my own future West Village rowhouse and secret garden (after I make my first couple of millions!) I also meet the nicest people every year and really look forward to the fascinating conversations I have with other die-hard Village lovers who are always chock full of interesting lore about these buildings and the illustrious residents who’ve inhabited them in the past.
You must understand that I find this passion of mine more than a little ironic because as a child, I was constantly dragged, with varying degrees of enthusiasm, to many a home and urban walking tour by my mother, Christy Johnson McAvoy, an esteemed historic preservation and architectural consultant in Los Angeles. She’s one of the founding members of Hollywood Heritage, multi-term President of the Los Angeles Conservancy and the California Preservation Foundation, among other notable credits.
I was affectionately known in these circles as “the preservation kid” growing up, undoubtedly attending more tours and conferences than many of the adult members of these organizations. I developed a well-earned reputation for being that incredibly well-behaved child who sat quietly in the corner entertaining myself with coloring books during Hollywood Heritage board meetings at Wattles Mansion. And I was probably one of the only people under the age of 30 to witness Cecil B. DeMille’s Barn crawl slowly through the streets of Hollywood on a flatbed truck in the wee hours of the morning as it made it’s 1983 pilgrimage from it’s original location (where it was in danger of succombing to the wrecking ball), to it’s now permanent resting place in the parking lot across from the Hollywood Bowl on Highland Avenue. When my Mom worked on the city surveys of Beverly Hills and West Hollywood, I’d accompany her as she drove every block, and call out each home’s architectural style from the back seat, like it was a fun game. “Colonial Revival! Tudor! Craftsman!”
It was clear to me as a young girl, people in the preservation community admired my mother tremendously. She was extremely beloved and a singular wealth of knowledge on topic of historic preservation. Everyone wanted her involvement and advice. She was leagues ahead of her time, crafting her own niche and starting up her own consulting business, in a relatively unpopular field by Los Angeles standards. She was, and remains to this day, a human encyclopedia of architectural information, with a mind-boggling personal library and memorabilia archive to boot, that is virtually impossible to rival.
And while I recollect that it was sometimes fun to check out an infinite array of exclusive Hollywood landmarks and feel privy to rather sophicated circles at such a young age, I also remember wanting to just stay home and play with my toys, and thinking that other kid’s parents didn’t do this weird kind of stuff on the weekends. (“Awww, Mom. Can we go now?”)
As proud as I am of my mother, it became important to me to chart a different course and pursue my own interests as a grew older. Being the Hollywood chick that I am, it seemed a natural path to explore acting and filmmaking. I had an talent agent in my teens, and attended UCLA’s School of Theatre, Film, and TV, though I never quite felt 100% comfortable in front of the camera. As I realized I was more suited to creating behind the lens, I attended Art Center College of Design and majored in Film Directing.
Despite my best laid plans though, my mother’s passion for preservation and architecture did in fact rub off on me, and when presented with the opportunity to photograph a series of landmark buildings for the National Register of Historic Places and CA State Office of Historic Preservation after I graduated from film school, I was happy to oblige. I justified this because A) I needed the work and B) “it was more about photography than architecture”. Surprisingly, I found myself quite enjoying the work of photo documenting historic preservation and rehabilitation projects, and over the course of the next decade, I ended up photographing over 60 historic building projects in Los Angeles and California. (Read more “backstory” here)
So, I have to chuckle a little at myself now, when I attend these type of events – of my own volition and with great enthusiasm. Now that I live here in New York City, it’s actually become a way for me to stay connected to my mother and continue sharing our mutual passions. It’s impossible for me not to think of her during the GVHSP tour and I always end up calling her afterwards and sharing every little detail. I have great hope she’ll make it out one spring and join me for the tour. That will be one full circle moment, to be sure.
In the meantime, I hope you’ll think about taking your son or daughter on the tour with you! They might protest, want to touch stuff, and intermittenly act bored, but you might just plant a seed about the value of preserving the places of the past, for the future kids of Greenwich Village, and that IS actually pretty cool…
Happy Mother’s Day, Mom. I love you!