Tuesday, April 6, 2010

The Skinniest House in New York -- No. 75-1/2 Bedford St

When my nieces were small, they treasured a children's book entitled "Mr. Skinner's Skinny House."  Then one day while walking down Bedford Street I stopped short -- there was Mr. Skinner's House! -- a quirky red brick house with a Dutch stepped roofline, squashed between No. 75 Bedford and the 18th Century Isaacs-Henricks House at No. 77.

In the middle of the 19th Century the 9-1/2 foot wide space between the two homes served as a drive to the carriage houses in the rear.  At some point No. 75-1/2 Bedford filled the void.  Most historians date the building from 1873, when the property is first listed as being owned by Horatio Gomez.  However the original architectural style is listed as "Italianate," more in keeping with the fashion of the 1850s and property values did not change in the 1873 documents, leading to the suspicion that the little house is probably older.

When built, the first floor of the emaciated little building was used as commercial space and living quarters were above.  At one point it was a cobbler's shop and, in 1880, a candy shop.  Then in the 1920s 75-1/2 Bedford began a long history of famous residents, including writer Ann McGovern who wrote "Mr. Skinner's Skinny House" while living there.

Edna St. Vincent Millay moved in in 1923 with husband Eugen Jan Boissevain.  She hired Ferdinand Savignano to redesign the house.  In deference to Boissevain's Dutch heritage the architect added the stepped Flemish roofline.  The casement windows evident today were installed and a studio for the poet was created on the top floor.  From the street little has changed since Millay's 1923 re-do.

photo NYPL Collection

A decade later the house -- only 8' 7"wide inside -- was home to anthropoligist Margaret Mead, her brother-in-law cartoonist William Steig and her sister.  Within the next twenty years actors Cary Grant and John Barrymore would call it home.

Millay in the backyard -- photo NYPL Collection
Trouble came in 1952 when the Bedford Street corner was slated for development.  Long before historic preservation efforts, the historic buildings were in imminent danger of demolition.  In order to save the skinny house, lawyer Kenneth Carroad purchased it and moved his family in.  By 1996, however, when a Carroad family member sold the house for $270,000 it had sat empty and neglected.  The staircase was dangerously unstable and repairs were urgently needed.

Nearly matching in repairs what they spent on the building, new owners Christopher Dubs and Cedric Wilson brought the narrow house back to life.  Because the house is in the Greenwich Village Historic District, even replacement bricks had to be of the period or indistinguishable from the originals.  But the unique character of the house made the trouble worthwhile.

A 2010 renovation resulted in sleek, ultra-modern interiors -- photo curbed new york

That unique character also makes it a special property to potential buyers.  Dubs sold the house in 2000 for $1.6 million and it sold again in January 2010 for $2.7 million -- an impressive jump in value for the little house that originally plugged a carriage drive.

After a one-year renovation, the house was relisted in 2011 for $4.3 million.

The skinny little house at 75-1/2 Bedford, the narrowest house in New York, is a favorite camera target for tourists and New Yorkers alike.

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