Monday, May 9, 2011

The Elegant 1834 House at No. 203 Prince Street

photo by Gryffinder
John P. Haff was man of many interests. While his official professional was inspector of sole leather, he was also an authority on agricultural techniques and a speculative builder both in New York and New Jersey.

In 1833 Haff began building three handsome Federal style residences on Prince Street where well-to-do merchants had begun settling. Among these was No. 203, a Flemish bond brick home two stories tall with a dormered attic that would have housed one or two female servants.

A tall, brownstone basement served as a base below the high, wide stoop. The elaborate doorway announced to passers-by the financial status of the residents within. A deep, arched entranceway was framed by incised brownstone capped by a prominent keystone. Within the archway the paneled door was flanked by Ionic, fluted columns and elegant side-lights; above which a fanlight was surrounded by egg-and-dart molding.

Rather than sell the house, Haff leased it -- first to the widow Eliza Scudder in 1834, the year it was completed.  In 1850 Margaret Felt was living here and, a year later, the prominent attorney Robert Ebbets rented the house.

By 1859 Haff was also the proprietor of The Elm Park Hotel on Bloomingdale Road. As the Civil War came to a close, the neighborhood around No. 203 Prince had dramatically changed. No longer an enclave of the wealthy merchant class, the Eighth Ward had a growing population of poor immigrants.  It was around this time the Haff family sold the house.

In 1877 the Episcopal Church of Saint Ambrose, at Thompson and Prince Streets, opened a mission house in No. 203, headed by the Rev. D. G. Gunn and managed by Mrs. Mary Laidlaw. Its purpose, according to The Churchman on October 13 of that year was “to give assistance to the worthy poor, to visit the sick and needy, to relieve the distressed, to feed the hungry, and to give employment to those out of work.”

And indeed it did. Within the first month of operation the Journal of the Proceedings of the Annual Convention of the Diocese of New York reported that “already about 30 persons have been given employment, while as many more have been sent to hospitals and homes for care and treatment”

The mission house was still going strong five years later when Frank Leslie’s Sunday Magazine remarked that “It has little to rely upon in the shape of contributions from [the church’s] regular members, who are poor, and for some years it has had a hard struggle.”

The change in the brickwork testifies to the added third story -- photo GSVHP
In 1888 the attic floor was removed and a full third story was added. The architect carefully lined up the windows with those below and designed nearly-identical sills and lintels. Only the robust Victorian cornice with scrolled brackets updated the structure.

Albert J. F. Sibberns, Vice President and Director of Charlton Realty Company, was living here during World War I, but by the Great Depression, the parlor floor of the home was being used for commercial purposes. Throughout the 20th century, however, the dignified exterior details of No. 203 Prince remained essentially unaltered.
In 1933 No. 203 Prince Street is painted white and awnings shelter the parlor floor windows.  The long awning to the sidewalk suggests there was a funeral parlor here at the time.  -- photo NYPL Collection
A sensitive restoration, which the "AIA Guide to New York City" called “almost-perfection” was completed during the last quarter of the 20th century and the handsome building was returned to residential use.

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