Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The Little Half House at No. 35 West 12th Street

The little half house at No. 35 West 12th is vised between two large apartment buildings.
Along the quiet block just off 5th Avenue in 1840 a comfortable brick residence was built at No. 35. West 12th Street. By now the Federal style of architecture was melding with the proportions of the wider Greek Revival style –this house being a roomy 25-feet wide. A brownstone stoop rose to the parlor floor over a deep brick English basement.

Within a decade grand Victorian homes were being built as 5th Avenue mansions crept northward from Washington Square. By the time Francis Deery was living here in 1862 the house was out of style.

After the end of the Civil War the owners of No. 35 gave their home a makeover. In 1868 the house was brought up to date with a fish-scale mansard roof with two arched dormers above a vigorous cornice supported by scrolled brackets.

The Second Empire mansard gave the home a full third story, replacing the half-story dormered attic. The owners now had a residence on a par with the new houses on the block.

Then in 1893 the homes to the east at Nos. 33 and 31 were razed for the construction of a mammoth stone apartment building. But the two plots were not wide enough for the project and the developers purchased half of the lot on which No. 35 sat.

One half of the handsome house was demolished and the remainder was renovated to accommodate life in 50 percent of the former floor space. What resulted was a quaint, storybook house of miniature proportions.

Here in the 1930s lived the lyric soprano of the Metropolitan Opera, Minnie Egener, her husband Louis Hasselmans who was the conductor of French opera at the Met, and their daughter Geraldine. The diva died in the house on January 15, 1933.

In the last half of the 20th century a modern apartment building was built on the west side of No. 35. The skinny appearance of the house was suddenly intensified as it became squashed between the two goliaths.

Today the home is still a private house whose dollhouse appearance illicits adjectives like “cute,” “adorable,” and “sweet” from passersby. The AIA Guide to New York City commented that the loss of half the house in 1893 left “a curious but not unpleasing reminder.”

No. 35 West 12th Street is one of New York's delightful architectural oddities that keep urban explorers intrigued.

photograph taken by the author


  1. sweet little house, but makes you wonder about purchasing the former half and demolishing it to put up an oversized apartment building...
    I'm surprised by all the building and razing and building again...not used to it in my neck of the woods...

  2. Thank you for your article. I just forwarded it to my family because my grandmother was Geraldine Hasselmans. I remember her talking about her hous in NYC, and it it amazing to finally see a picture of it with the history you found. Thank you.
    Liane Medley

  3. How great that you stumbled across this! Your grandmother lived in one of my favorite houses in the city!

  4. A piece of the many in the puzzle of my heritage. How could my grandmother not have developed such a vivid, and vocal, imagination in such a magical home. Thank you for this...