NYU vs. Edgar Allan Poe, Part 2

Chatterbox’s fears  that Edgar Allan Poe’s former residence at 85 West Third St. would be demolished by the current landlord, New York University, turn out to be well-founded. The worry was stirred by a Feb. 15 piece by Debra Jo Immergut on the “Leisure and Arts” page of Wall Street Journal and by a follow-up in NYU’s student newspaper, Washington Square News. Now Gabriel Ross reports in the April 12 issue of  NYU Law School’s the Commentator:

The Law School intends to tear it down, says Associate Dean Judith Alpert. Plans for the site, currently occupied by Fuchsberg Hall, Poe, and a building the Law School recently acquired from Judson Memorial Church, are far from complete. The new building will house classrooms, offices for the Lawyering and Clinical Programs, student space to complement the crowded Golding Lounge, and other facilities yet to be determined.According to Alpert, plans may be final as early as next winter, and she hopes to have the building complete some time during the 2003-2004 school year. Its design may incorporate Fuchsberg Hall, but the Law School does not think that the Poe building can be useful nor is it historically significant enough to preserve.

Not historically significant enough to preserve? Clearly, Alpert is unaware that Chatterbox lived at 85 West Third St. during the summer of 1979, when the Poe building was a Psi Upsilon fraternity house from which Chatterbox, then an intern at The Nation, sublet a very dingy first-floor room. (For further reminiscences, read “Chatterbox Slept Here.”) But we’ll let that pass. Edgar Allan Poe lived there! Yes, he lived a lot of other places, too, including the Bronx, Baltimore, Philadelphia, and Richmond, but Manhattan hasn’t preserved so many literary (or architectural) monuments of the early 19th century that it can afford to be blasé about tearing one down. Baltimore’s Edgar Allan Poe Society, which has issued an all-points bulletin about the threatened demolition, says that the eight months in 1845 that Poe lived at 85 West Third St. (then “85 Amity St.”) were an enormously important period. While living at 85 West Third, Poe ran a literary magazine called the Broadway Journal (Poe later called editing “the one great purpose of my literary life”), revised his recently published poem “The Raven,” and probably began writing “The Cask of Amontillado.” Rather tantalizingly, the Poe Society says that “The Cask of Amontillado” was possibly inspired by a fistfight Poe had with a rival editor after an “indiscreet letter to Poe” was seen lying open at 85 West Third.

The Commentator, though, is not impressed. An editorial (“Quoth the Raven: Tear It Down”) calls 85 West Third “a rather ugly and functionless building” that is “about as much a landmark as Gray’s Papaya“:

Everyone who has ever been inside the Poe Building can attest to its ugliness. No, that’s not the telltale heart beating beneath those floorboards; those are bugs that occasionally swarm out of the walls and disrupt classes. The stairway is reminiscent of a haunted house, and one should climb it carefully lest he fall to his death in a manner befitting one of Poe’s protagonists.

But the building’s poor maintenance is a problem that of course can and ought to be righted. True, the façade has been altered since 1845, and, architecturally, as Alpert points out in the Commentator news story, “It isn’t a distinctive Village building.” But it’s hardly an eyesore, and it’s hard to see how the landscape will be improved by adding yet another gigantic building south of Washington Square Park, where NYU has been on a building binge for several decades.