In a little district west of Washington Square the streets have run crazy and broken themselves into small strips called “places.”

O. Henry begins his story by establishing its setting. The collection in which “The Last Leaf” was first published tells stories of ordinary New Yorkers. So, for this story, O. Henry establishes that this New York story takes place in Greenwich Village. Readers who were familiar with New York City would have instantly understood the reference to the “little district west of Washington Square.” They would also have recognized the “crazy and broken” streets of the area, including the “places,” which refers to short streets like Waverly Place.

At the top of a squatty, three-story brick Sue and Johnsy had their studio. “Johnsy” was familiar for Joanna. One was from Maine; the other from California. They had met at the table d'hote of an Eighth street “Delmonico's,” and found their tastes in art, chicory salad and bishop sleeves so congenial that the joint studio resulted.

O. Henry narrows the scope of his setting from Greenwich Village down to a specific apartment building, “a squatty, three-story brick.” The Village has many brick apartment buildings. Like many artists in the neighborhood, Sue and Johnsy had moved there from out of state to pursue their dreams. The author sets Sue and Johnsy’s friendship firmly in Greenwich Village, too. They first met at Delmonico’s, an iconic New York restaurant. By the time O. Henry lived in New York, Delmonico’s had been around for over sixty years. It had expanded from its original 1837 restaurant to multiple locations, including Greenwich Village.

Sue looked solicitously out the window. What was there to count? There was only a bare, dreary yard to be seen, and the blank side of the brick house twenty feet away. An old, old ivy vine, gnarled and decayed at the roots, climbed half way up the brick wall. The cold breath of autumn had stricken its leaves from the vine until its skeleton branches clung, almost bare, to the crumbling bricks.

With a few sentences, O. Henry tells readers what Sue sees outside the women’s apartment window. A “bare, dreary yard” and “the blank side of the brick house twenty feet away.” It is hardly the romantic room with a view that readers would expect outside an artist’s window. The only vegetation is an “old, old ivy vine, gnarled and decayed at the roots.” With the colder season, the vine has lost most of its leaves. The “skeleton branches” reinforce the death imagery associated with the vine. The “crumbling bricks” further suggest that the neighboring building is old and decrepit.