Tuesday, June 14, 2011

No. 50 West 10th Street -- A Carriage House with Broadway History

photo beyond my ken
As the Civil War raged on, West 10th Street between 5th and 6th Avenues was a refined block of polite homes.  Brick Federal-style residences which were built earlier in the century faced newer, broad brownstone Victorian homes.  In the midst of it, somewhat surprisingly, a carriage house was constructed at No. 50.

The handsome three-story brick stable most likely sheltered the carriages and horses of a wealthy Washington Square homeowner.  On the upper floors of the 26-foot wide structure one or two employees – grooms or drivers, for instances – would have lived.

Over a century later the AIA Guide To New York City would be impressed with the architect’s use of the building materials as design elements.  “The upper stories of this former stable use brick in a bold, straightforward fashion to ornament as well as to support and enclose.”

Working only in brick the architect created dentil moldings, attractive window eyebrows and, below the cornice, Romanesque arches before they were truly trendy.
In 1887 the wealthy James Boorman Johnston who lived down the block at No. 14 had the building altered, and thirteen years later it had already been converted into a residence.  In 1900 Margaret Armstrong, a designer, was living here.

Captain Maurice Evans holds a volume of Shakespeare long before he would play Dr. Zaius in The Planet of the Apes -- photo University of Hawaii at Manoa

During World War II, British Shakespearean actor Maurice Evans was living in New York and took charge of an Army Entertainment Section in the Pacific.  His “G.I. version” of Shakespeare’s Hamlet was so successful that in 1945 he staged the modernized adaptation on Broadway.   Afterward, he switched his theatrical focus to modern dramas by writers like Shaw and Tanner.

In 1949 Evans purchased No. 50 West 10th, starting its tradition as the home to celebrated theatrical names.

When Evans sold the house in May 1965 for $120,000, it was the illustrious playwright Edward Albee who moved in.   Albee had recently taken the theatre-going public by storm with his Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf -- his first Broadway production.   Here the author would write Tiny Alice and A Delicate Balance, winning a Pulitzer Prize for the latter.  The often moody, alcoholic Albee was perhaps the most colorful resident on the quiet street at the time.
Albee works in his Greenwich Village apartment two years before purchasing No. 50 -- photo Academy of Achievement

In “Edward Albee: A Single Journal, A Biography” author Mel Gussow tells of a party on 10th Street and 5th Avenue which Albee attended.  Both the actress Tallulah Bankhead and Albee became excessively drunk.

“Two friends of his crossed their arms and carried Albee, as if he were sitting on a chair, down the street to his home.”
Only three years later Albee sold the house to composer and lyricist Jerry Herman for $210,000.   New York Magazine, on February 11, 1968, flippantly commented that Herman was “spending his bonanza from Hello, Dolly! And Mame.”

Jerry Herman was the third in a row of important theatrical figures to live at No. 50 West 10th -- photo Sony Masterworks' Podcasts.
Above the carriage door is a weathered sign that reads “Grosvenor Private Boarding Stable,” a reference to the prominent Washington Square Grosvenor family, no doubt, but poorly documented.  The history of the carriage house, a seeming utilitarian intruder on a street of polite homes, is as interesting as its architecture is handsome.

3 comments:

  1. love the white painted brick with black trim..so classic..nice little carriage house...

    maureen

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  2. I linked this post to a photo on my blog of the same building. My blog is mostly a photo journal of my personal wanderings with family and friends, but I happened upon this carriage house today. Thanks for your very informative article

    bornontheeighteenthofjuly.blogspot.com

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  3. The original Grosvenor Hotel opened on the corner of Fifth Avenue and 10th Street in 1871; my assumption is there's a connection between the stable and hotel, but I haven't been able to prove it.

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