Eighth Street has lost some of its bohemian cred in recent years, but a group of residents have a plan to help revive the Greenwich Village thoroughfare: rename it after Jimi Hendrix.
According to the New York Times, a group of activists spearheaded by Rob Key, an “internet entrepreneur” who lives in the Eighth Street rental cottage where the musician is thought to have lived toward the end of his life and adjacent, are hoping to get the block of Eighth Street between Fifth and Sixth avenues co-named for Hendrix, who they say represents the now-fading artistic energy of the street.
There are still vestiges of the block’s counterculture roots: Hendrix’s Electric Lady Studios is still there, as are “some scrappy, independent stores,” including the boutique run by artist Storm Ritter, who is another advocate of the Hendrix plan. The rest of the block, though is a mashup of restaurants, nail salons, coffee shops, and vacant storefronts that’s missing any kind of “cohesive spirit,” Ritter said. Nor is the current makeup doing much to lure in tourists.
“Gentrification is killing us,” Richard Geist, who runs Uncle Sam Army/Navy on the block, told the paper. “Eighth Street has lost the magic and we want to bring that magic back, and bring traffic back to help business.” Hendrix’s name on the street sign, they hope, might help “rekindle” his spirit and reclaim the artistic legacy of the block.
And the block does have quite a legacy, as the Times recounts:
In 1931, Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney established the Whitney Museum of American Art on the block, and even before that, the block’s Bohemian vibe was sewn by actors like Lillian Gish and John Barrymore who lived in the Hotel Marlton, an affordable single-room occupancy hotel that later housed many other prominent actors, as well as the comedian Lenny Bruce during his widely publicized six-month trial for obscenity in 1964.
By the 1950s, the block was lined with cabarets, including the Bon Soir, which helped give Barbra Streisand her start. There was the Eighth Street Bookshop, a favorite of the Beat writers and poets, including Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg.
By the 70s, the artistic character of the block had begun to fade. The 80s were dicy, and by the 90s, Kmart had arrived. Today, after a stint as a dorm, The Marlton is now a modern hotel.
To get the street co-name, the Hendrix crew will have to file a proposal with the local Community Board 2 outlining the nominee’s relationship and contributions to the block. If that’s approved, then a local Council member takes the proposal before the full City Council for a vote.
One potential issue is that Key doesn’t have any documentation proving Hendrix actually lived in the cottage, but he’s “confident he can make the case for Hendrix” anyway: there’s the Electric Lady, for one thing, and his legacy still permeates the block. Plus, he and others have already collected more than 1,000 signatures on the street-naming petition and are focused on building even more community support before starting the official submission process.