20th May 2011
The Gotham Book Mart
Forget CBGBs, if we ever make it to New York it’ll be Gotham Book Mart‘s sad demise that we’ll be sobbing over. A Manhattan institution from 1920 to 2007,this weekend is the anniversary of its untimely closure.
Although all the other places we’ve featured in this series (such as Swan & Edgar, The Library Hotel and La Belle Juliette) have been ones you can snoop around for yourselves, we couldn’t resist the opportunity to pay tribute to such an iconic literary landmark.
Founded by Fanny Steloff, the independent bookstore was home to several cats and a warren of labryinthine cellars of bookshelves known as ‘the catacombs‘. Before long, it was also home to all sorts of literary salons and societies, and a reputation as a treasure trove of rare, out-of-print and avant-garde titles, as well as several books that had been banned (such as Lady Chatterley’s Lover and Anaïs Nin‘s scandalous diaries).
Similar to the infamous Chelsea Hotel, Gotham Book Mart was a hub for authors, artists, bohemians, beatniks and assorted other iconoclasts. Allen Ginsberg and Tennessee Williams both worked there (although the latter lasted less than a day), and Patti Smith wrote about reading her poetry there in her brilliant autobiography Just Kids. Other famous patrons and customers included Charlie Chaplin, Andy Warhol, Gertrude Stein and Katherine Hepburn.
But after a change in ownership, relocation and an eventual lapse into debt, by the beginning of the 21st century, it was no longer feasible for it to remain open. On May 22nd 2007, the city auctioned off the inventory. The following year, more than 200,000 items from that inventory were donated to the University of Pennsylvania as an anonymous gift.
Did you ever get to visit Gotham Book Mart? What was it like? Which other literary landmarks would you like to see featured in this series? Tell us your ideas in the comments!