The Honor of Co-Named Streets—Ruth Wittenberg Triangle
People have been honored in Greenwich Village with co-naming of streets or places for them. Look for the special green signs below the regular street signs.
Usually, designations are found on the website nycstreets.info/honorstreets. However, this one was established and is maintained by the Village Alliance, in the shape of a triangular plaza adjacent to the Jefferson Courthouse Square on 6th Avenue and Christopher Street. It was named for Ruth E. Wittenberg (née Budinoff 1899-1990), an American activist and historic preservationist. The Brooklyn born native was a leading figure in the movement to designate Greenwich Village a historic district.
Wittenberg attended Hunter College and Barnard College but was forced to drop out because of financial hardship. She began a lifelong commitment to activism when she became involved in suffragist and women’s rights movements in the early 20th century. She later walked along side Martin Luther King, Jr. in Selma, Alabama.
After moving to the Village, Wittenberg became concerned about rapid change in the neighborhood and joined community efforts to advocate for preservation of buildings and against destructive real estate projects. She served as co-chair of the Save Our Square Committee, a coalition of 22 community organizations, dedicated to preserving and rehabilitating the Washington Square Park area.
She was part of an effort, led by Margot Gayle, to preserve the Jefferson Market Courthouse building on 10th Street, which now houses a branch of the New York Public Library. Thanks to her, many well-known Greenwich Village artists and residents joined the cause, among them e.e. cummings, Morris Ernst, Maurice Evans and Edward Hopper. Wittenberg also led an affiliated movement to demolish the adjacent Women’s House of Detention. The then-empty jail building, which she described as “aesthetically grim,” was torn down in 1971. She also campaigned against plans to build apartments or a community center in its place, advocating instead for the preservation of open space, where the Jefferson Market Garden stands today. Ironically, apartments and a community center could have been more in keeping with the block’s historic character.
Wittenberg served on Community Board 2 for 40 years. She was chair of the Landmarks Committee and played a major role in the movement to acquire a Landmark Historical District designation for much of Greenwich Village in 1969. During her tenure Wittenberg was vocal in challenging development plans that would adversely affect the historic neighborhood. She also campaigned for tasteful street signage, working to reduce advertising with “flashing lights, open store fronts, shiny plastic materials and logos.” When Wittenberg broke her hip, Community Board 2 held meetings in her hospital room until she recovered enough to attend board meetings.
As a result of her dedication to public service, the Ruth E. Wittenberg Triangle public plaza was named in her honor in 1990 by the Village Alliance. This Business Improvement District has been a leading advocate for the community for over 30 years, stretching from St. Mark’s Place on the east end, to the Ruth E. Wittenberg Triangle on the west end. Michael Levine remembers when the triangle was just a paved parking spot in the tangle of street-crossings, before the Village Alliance petitioned the city Department of Transportation (DOT), raised money and promoted the benefits of a small, protected plaza. Shirley Secunda recalled how the small area was then enlarged by DOT to its current size, when Village Alliance showed DOT how it could be done.
The Village Alliance has sponsored many dramatic temporary public art installations in the Triangle over the years. Stop by to enjoy the current display.