New York University has consistently recognized and celebrated its connection to the historic literary culture of Greenwich Village. How uncharacteristic of this great university that it now wants to raze the small house on West Third Street in which Edgar Allan Poe lived and worked so that it can build a new facility for its law school.
There is no denying the law school's need for a new building. But the Poe house is one of the few still remaining of a literary cultural parcel that exists more in time than in space: Herman Melville roamed these precincts. Henry James was born just east of Washington Square. John Dos Passos, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Thomas Wolfe and E. E. Cummings all lived at one time or another near the university. Mark Twain had rooms for a while on 10th Street just west of Fifth Avenue, and Walt Whitman's favorite saloon was on Broadway just north of Bleecker Street.
The Poe house is quite small and very suggestive of the writer's perpetually straitened circumstances. I wonder why plans can't be drawn to build the school around, above and behind it. This sort of thing has been done elsewhere when architects have been faced with a historic but inconvenient structure. In fact, such a plan might include restoring the house to the state it was in when Poe was in residence. The university would not only have its fine new law building, but the honor as well of having served the national memory.E. L. Doctorow, New York, July 21, 2000