Friday, March 29, 2013

Nos. 704-706 Greenwich Street




photo by Alice Lum
On the first day of July in 1885 Julius Munckwitz resigned his position as Architect of the Department of Public Parks.  Born in Leipzig, Germany, he had spent several years working with Parks Commissioner and co-designer of Central Park Frederick Law Olmsted in designing useful and pleasing public parks buildings.  Perhaps his salary cut in 1881—from $3,000 to $1,500—contributed to his decision; but he now turned his attention to individual commissions, several of them in Greenwich Village.

By the last decade of the century the neighborhood from the Hudson River to Hudson Street was almost entirely industrial.  In 1892 Munckwitz was hired by Simon Adler and Henry S. Herrman to design an expansive stables building at Nos. 704 and 706 Greenwich Street.  The men had been partners in an insurance company, Adler & Herrman, since 1887, but they were familiar with speculative real estate development.  The highly-active Herrman was not only President of the Union Exchange Bank of New York and a Director of the Montefiore Home for Chronic Invalids, he was a vice-president of the Hudson Realty Company.

The resulting four-story building was intended for use by a commercial delivery firm with additional income provided by cheap housing or offices on the upper floors.  Completed in 1893, it was an attractive while undeniably utilitarian structure.  Munckwitz sat the structure on a base of rough-cut stone trimmed in dressed brownstone.  Two massive sets of double carriage doors were separated by long, slender square-headed windows and flanked on either side by arched openings.

The upper three brick stories were neatly separated by brownstone bandcourses, and continuous stone lintels—treated differently at each level—ran the width of the structure.

Shortly after the building’s completion the Real Estate Record and Builders’ Guide reported that, on December 27, 1893, the stables was sold by “Simon Adler and Henry S. Herrman to Mary J. Edwards,” for $60,000.  A wealthy widow, Mary Edwards was a member of the Colonial Dames of America and held real estate throughout the city.

Her first commercial tenant here was the Baker Transfer Co., owned by Jessie F. Baker.  The delivery firm operated here for five years before falling into financial problems.  In 1901 the Crosby Transfer Co. moved its operation into the building.  The rough neighborhood caused the company headaches in the form of horse thieves.

In June 1907 the problem had become epidemic, overwhelming the police force.  The manager of Crosby Transfer told a reporter from The New York Times “In the last six months there has been such an amount of horse stealing that the police records of the last six years cannot measure up to it.”

The latest incident involved a shipment of decorative Asian household goods headed for Vantine & Co. on Broadway.  “In this case horse, truck, and goods were stolen, and our hope is that the goods on the truck—two cases of Japanese umbrellas and bamboo porch shades belonging to Vantine & Co.—were sufficient to appease the thieves, and that they turned the horse and truck adrift,” he said.

The manager expressed his frustration at the ineptitude of the police.  “They hang ‘em out West, but we don’t even catch ‘em here…The old custom was to drive off a truck, dispose of the contents, and then let the horse prowl about until the police picked it up or some one brought it back for a reward.  But of late the thieves have not been content with disposing of the goods in the stolen trucks.  They have repainted the trucks, sold them, and sold the horses also.  They seem to have ‘fences’ in the suburbs, where they can manage to dispose of horse, truck, and contents.”

The bold thefts were taking place in broad daylight at the crowded Hudson River piers.  “The business is so heavy at these points that frequently the drivers have to leave their teams outside and walk up the piers to get their consignments rather than wait in line, tiring out their horse and themselves by long stretches of inactivity,” explained The Times.  When the driver would return, his entire rig was often missing.

The newspaper advised the trucking firms like Crosby Transfer to buy insurance.  “It is not only usual, but safe, to insure your teams against depredators of the wild and wooly Western type.”

The elevated train of the Manhattan Railway Company had been running up Greenwich Street since 1891; and the noisy overhead contraptions and the skittish horses below were not always a happy mix.  On the night of March 22, 1909 little 8-year old Nora Dacey and her 3-year old brother were standing on the sidewalk near the corner of West 10th and Greenwich Streets when a train passed overhead.  The children lived nearby at No. 273 West 10th.

Down the block at Crosby Transfer a horse which was standing harnessed to a truck was spooked by the train.  The frightened steed galloped down the sidewalk towards the children with the heavy truck in tow.  A neighbor, Minnie Kelly of No. 169 Perry Street, saw the impending catastrophe and snatched the little boy just as the runaway horse approached.  Although she tried to grab Nora, the horse knocked the girl to the ground and the heavy truck wheel ran over her ankle, crushing it.

Policeman Gallagher from the Charles Street Station managed to stop the out-of-control horse a block away.  The boy and girl were treated at St. Vincent’s Hospital and sent home; but Nora was taken back later that night suffering from shock.

The following year Crosby Transfer left the Greenwich Street building and on March 12, 1910 The New York Times reported that it had been leased.  David Walsh, Inc., operated by brothers David and James Walsh took the space.   Another trucking company, it ran successfully from the building for years—so successfully that in 1918 Laura Jay Edwards, Mary’s daughter, sold the building to David Walsh.

In 1921 Walsh bought an additional property at No. 271 West 10th Street and moved its operations there.  By now automobiles outnumbered horses but the noble steeds were not entirely gone.

John Ochse was leasing the building in 1926 when Department of Buildings records recorded a conversion to “stable.”  After three decades of commercial trucking use, it was now a boarding stables for private horses.  It was no doubt at this time that the black-lettered “Boarding Stable” signs were painted on the brick fa├žade.

Still legible above street level are the quaint signs of nearly a century ago -- photo by Alice Lum
David Walsh died in the 1960s and his brother died by 1976.  In 1978 the building was sold by the Walsh estate and two years later was converted into apartments.  The wide carriage doors were filled in with glass blocks; the only major alteration to Julius Munckwitz's handsome facade.

And, amazingly, the Boarding Stable signs still survive at the second floor—a reminder of a time when horses (and horse thieves) populated the Greenwich Street neighborhood.

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