Friday, June 27, 2014

The 1826 House at No. 250 W 10th Street

Unlike its near mirror image neighbor at No. 246, it appears that No. 250 always had a full attic floor, rather than the more expected Federal dormers.

In 1826 Isaac A. Hatfield began construction of a string of brick-faced homes on West 10th Street, just east of Hudson Street.  His brothers, Jonathan and Charles were, like him, carpenter-builders and the three men had purchased the building plots that ran from No. 246 West 10th around the corner to No. 510 Hudson Street.

Nos. 246 and 250 were the first to be built.  The gap in their addresses was due to the small building erected in the yard behind, No. 248, and accessed by a “horse walk” between the two homes.  Because No. 250 enjoyed what were essentially air rights over the horse walk, it stretched four bays wide on the upper stories.  The two houses shared matching Federal-style doorways and mirror-image sideways stoops; but along with being wider that its next door neighbor it appears that No. 250 was always a full floor higher than No. 246 as well.  Careful inspection of the Flemish bond brickwork reveals no interruption in the fa├žade one would expect if the floor was heightened subsequently; and the handsome paneled lintels at the top level suggest they are original.
No. 250 retains its original doorway.  The once-opened horsewalk now has a doorway.  The basement entrance is below the stoop. 
The little house and its residents brought little undue attention to themselves over the decades.  It would not be for a century and a half that the focus of New York, and the nation in general, turned to No. 250 West 10th Street.

Until then Mrs. Tamar Reynolds would be the most interesting resident.  The aging widow moved in with her daughter and son-in-law, Christopher Shuart.  Shuart was in the boot and shoe business and was highly active in politics.  The New York Times later remembered that he “was one of the earliest Sachems of Tammany.”  Tammany Hall not only took its name from Chief Tammany, or Tammamend, but named its district halls after Native American tribes—such as the Pequod and Nameoki Clubs.  District leaders were Sachems, or chiefs.

Mrs. Reynolds was born in Sing Sing, New York in 1789 and her family moved to Manhattan when she was eight years old.  The Times said “In 1804 she was living with her parents at Richmond Hill, and among her favorite recitals of the past was her story of how, in that year, her residence was opposite that of Aaron  Burr, whom she remembered well, and how, on the morning of the day upon which he slew Alexander Hamilton, she opened the gate for him as he rode out from home to the fatal meeting.”

Tamar Reynolds delighted in sitting in her daughter’s parlor and retelling stories of the past and the modern technology she had seen come to pass.  She told of the time she was riding in a sloop on the Hudson River when a newfangled steamboat chugged its way up stream.  No one on the sloop had seen such a contraption and she described “with zest” the terror of the passengers and crew as the steamboat drew nearer.

By the 1880s Christopher Shuart had died and the two women lived alone in the 10th Street house.  Her mind still sharp and her memory vivid, Tamar Reynolds would reminisce to visitors, telling them of the Greenwich Village she remember as a child, a country place “with villas, gardens and orchards, which one by one disappeared as the years of her life rolled by,” said The New York Times.

On Friday December 3, 1886, the 97-year old woman went about her normal routine, going up and down the stairs and performing her day-to-day tasks.  As evening approached, she complained that she felt weak and within the hour she was dead.

In florid Victorian prose, The Times reported “In the front room of the old brick residence No. 250 West Tenth-street lay yesterday the body of Mrs. Tamar Reynolds…On a chair beside the wasted body hung a dress of Italian silk, a fabric of rare delicacy and of a fresh and glossy black, that would seem to question the statement that it was made 40 years ago did not the unfamiliar tucks and gathers in its skirt and the pieces of whalebone sewed into the body—the forerunners of the modern corset—sustain its claims to antiquity.”

At the time of the funeral, held in the house on the evening of December 6, Mrs. Shuart was 73-years old and a grandmother herself. 

By the end of World War I William C. Anoes lived in the house.  Concerned about the rampant unemployment as troops returned from war and tried to reenter the workplace, Anoes pushed to have the United States Employment Service made a permanent bureau of the Department of Labor.

Over the next half century Greenwich Village and West 10th Street would see drastic change.  In 1946 the old house was converted to “furnished rooms.”  The Village was, by now, the epicenter of New York City’s artistic community as artists, musicians, writers and poets were drawn to its winding streets and cheap rents.

In the second half of the century Greenwich Village was also the center of the Gay community.  It was nearby at the Stonewall Inn that, on June 28, 1969, the first stand in the Gay Rights Movement was taken.  At the time the West 10th Street house where Tamar Reynolds had entertained lady friends had become a gay rooming house with the tongue-in-cheek nickname “Boystown.”

Here in December 1971 Vietnam veteran John Stanley Wojtowicz “married” Liz Eden.  In fact, Liz was Ernest Aron, a pre-operation transsexual.  Among the witnesses to the mock Roman Catholic ceremony were the groom’s mother.

The main problem in the couple’s relationship was their lack of money for the highly-expensive operation that Ernest so desperately wanted.  On August 20, 1970 he attempted suicide by overdosing on sleeping pills, reportedly no longer psychologically able to live his life as a man.

In a not-so-well-planned act of desperation, the 27-year old Wojtowicz attempted to get the money they needed by robbing a bank.  He would later explain to The New York Times “I did what a man has to do in order to save the life of someone I loved a great deal.”

At 3:00 on the afternoon of August 22 he and two accomplices entered a Chase Manhattan Bank branch in Gravesend, Brooklyn.  The heist fell apart nearly before the doors closed behind them.  Speaking on the telephone to a WCBS reporter from inside the bank he explained “Well, we’re holding up a bank and we were on our way out when a stupid cop car pulled up.”  One of Wojtowicz’s accomplices had bolted at the appearance of police.

Calling him a “young mop-haired gunman” The New York Times later explained “It was a crime of passion for Mr. Wojtowicz, who intended to use the stolen money to pay for a $3,000 sex-change operation for the man he called his wife.

“Mr. Wojtowicz was separated from his wife, Carmen, with whom he had two children, Sean and Dawn, but was involved with a tall, wispy man named Ernest Aron, whom he had married in a lavish ceremony with several bridesmaids.”

Wojtowicz offered to trade a hostage for a chance to see Ernest.  He “was brought to the scene wearing a robe from Kings County Hospital, where he had been admitted after a failed suicide attempt,” said The Times.

The day-long siege, the motivation of which was heart-breaking, was featured in a human interest photospread by Life magazine a month later titled “The Boys in the Bank.”  It became the basis for the 1975 Al Pacino film Dog Day Afternoon directed by Sidney Lumet.

The judge and jury were less moved than Life readers and Wojtowicz received a 20-year sentence.  Of the $7500 he received for the movie rights, most went to his legal costs.  The other $2500 he gave to Ernest for the operation.

Two decades after the failed bank robbery that dragged No. 250 West 10th Street into the headlines, the house was converted to three luxury apartments.  Then, in 2009, it was restored as a single family home by interior designer Steven Gambrel. 
Neither Tamar Reynolds nor John Wojtowicz would recognize the interiors today.    photo http://www.stribling.com/properties/4003363

photographs by the author

1 comment:

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