Saturday, November 15, 2014

The Unexpected No. 43 Perry Street

The stepped gable, vehicle bay and white marble facade create an architectural riddle at first glance.

On the quiet Greenwich Village block of Perry Street between Waverly Place and West Fourth Street stands No. 43—an out-of-place structure clad in white marble and touting a carved heraldic emblem, stepped parapet, stained and leaded glass windows and a wide vehicle bay.   It gives the appearance of a former upscale carriage house or perhaps a religious society clubhouse.  Its history is more surprising.

The devious façade pretends to be from the 1840s; but it put on the wrong dress.  An early Victorian neo-Gothic structure in this neighborhood would have been clad in a far less imposing material than marble.  In fact, the rather eye-catching façade was installed in the 1960s; when most architects were looking to Modernism, Brutalism and other streamlined styles.

In the decade prior to the Civil War, No. 43 Perry Street was a rooming house filled with immigrant families.  On Sunday morning, March 7, 1852 Police Officer Westerfield was walking his rounds when he noticed smoke coming from “the second story of a dwelling-house at No. 43 Perry-st., occupied by a large number of poor families,” said The New York Times the following day.

“The inmates being suddenly aroused; great excitement and confusion took place.  Fortunately, the fire was speedily extinguished with a few buckets of water.”

The daughter of one of the families here was looking for work later that year.  An advertisement appeared in the New-York Daily Tribune on June 22, 1852 that read “A respectable girl wants a situation as Cook, Washer and Ironer.”  She said that prospective employers could call “in the rear, first floor, front room, for two days.”

Another boarder living here that year was Thomas Murray.  The Irishman was a construction worker and on November 18 was working on putting a new foundation to an existing frame building at the corner of Hammond (later renamed West 11th) and Bleecker Streets nearby.  At around 2:30 that afternoon Fire Warden Hays inspected the site and, according to the New-York Daily Tribune, “at once saw that it was in a very precarious condition”  He warned the workers not to remove certain stones in the existing foundation wall because of the danger of collapse.  “This prediction, unfortunately, proved too true,” said the newspaper.

About 20 minutes later another worker, Timothy Collins, heard a crack and warned his boss, Daniel Linn.  No one took his warning seriously, including Thomas Murray who was in the excavation.  “The cautious laborer was in the act of ascending upon the cellar wall to the street when the building fell,” reported The New York Times, “and he barely escaped with his life.”

The other men were not so lucky.  Daniel Linn was crushed to death, and Murray “was severely injured, he having received several contusive wounds on different parts of his person,” reported the Tribune.  Timbers had fallen on him; but a police officer, Taylor, “discovering the great danger in which Murray was placed, with an almost superhuman effort, removed the heavy mass of timbers from his body, and this probably saved his life.”

The Times was less optimistic about Murray’s chances.  “Mr. Murray is an aged man residing at No. 43 Perry-street, and it is feared his injuries will terminate fatally.”

Eight years later another tenant named Murray, possibly a relative, suffered a bizarre accident.  In May 1860 John Murray “died in consequent of injuries received by falling from the stoop of his house, No. 43 Perry-street, while laboring under an attack of dizziness,” said The Times on May 8.

The rooming house would not last much longer.  Builder Linus Scudder was busy in the neighborhood, erecting high-end homes.  By 1866 he had constructed two upscale residences for Jeremiah Pangburn at Nos. 54 and 58 Perry Street; and two houses for Walter W. Price at Nos. 61 and 63 Charles Street.  The arrival of merchant class families meant the need for stables.

Scudder first erected a two-story stable in the rear yard of No. 43 Perry; then replaced the old house with a three-story carriage house.  The carriage bay accessed a passage to the rear stables.   The upper floors were apparently leased as residential space.  In 1872 John Rooney listed No. 43 as his address.

In 1885 The New York Times remarked that “Hudson, West Thirteenth, and Gansevoort streets form a triangle which is covered with one and two story stables, produce stores, a coal yard, and E. H. Adickes’s store of willowware, hardware, &c.”   Adicke also ran a coal and wood business from No. 43 Perry, which was no longer being operated as a stable.

When her husband died, Fredericka R. Adickes continued to run the coal and wood business here; as well as another at No. 18 Seventh Avenue.    The businesses went slowly downhill and by October 1898 Fredericka was in trouble.  Knowing that her creditors were closing in, she sold the business to her sons, Eibe, Edward and Frederick; and transferred all her property and possessions to her daughters, Mathilda and Annie, “for a nominal consideration.”  The business name was changed to “the name of Eibe H. Adickes, and the same appears on their wagons and remains thereon at president,” said court documents in 1900.  Fredericka Adicke was certain she could relax because she was now legally insolvent.

Her creditors felt differently.   The entire family was taken to court and the decision was that they “in concert, did, by connivance, conspiracy, and combination, cheat and defraud the plaintiff.”   It was the end of the Adicke wood and coal operation at No. 43 Perry Street.

The fanciful architecture with its heraldic decoration is far removed from the structure Fredericka Adickes knew.
The building was taken over by Albert C. Jetter and Albert S. Longwell for not only their “stable and office;”  but The City Record in 1906 documented Jetter’s office was for his business “to sell milk,” and that his licensed wagon was also “to sell milk.”  Longwell’s listing was the same.

An advertisement appeared a year late in The Tammany Times for “I C Jetter Wholesale and Retail Dealer in Milk.”  The operation would remain in the building for years and in 1917 was incorporated as the Jetter Dairy Company.

In 1918 “The Milk Fight” broke out between the Dairymen’s League and the Milk Conference Board of Retailers.   The Conference Board realized that by importing milk from the Midwest they could save money.  Early in January 1919 Governor A. E. Smith convened a meeting to hear both sides of the fight.

On January 8 the Dairymen’s League placed a long advertisement in The Evening World saying that while in Albany, “They will endeavor, however, to save the 700,000 cows owned by their 62,000 members from destruction, which must surely come if the dairy farmers cannot get the Conference Board Retailers to pay the cost of production prices for milk.  They will also continue, as best they can, every endeavor to bring in free milk for the benefit of children, invalids and others who must have it.”

The ad listed Jetter Dairy Company as among the “fair-minded retailers and wholesalers in and about New York who are ready to sell you pure, inspected, nutritious, Up-State milk (not stale, Western, long-freighted milk).”

By the beginning of the 1930s Jetter Dairy Company had left Perry Street, moving far upstate to Madison County, New York.  When Jane Wassey purchased No. 43 in 1948, it was described as a “three-story brick dwelling.”  While converted to residential space, the structure itself was not highly valued.  That year the property was assessed at $17,000, only $4,000 of which was the building.

Wassey resold the building in 1951 to Austin Beton.   He installed a store on the first floor with a spacious duplex apartment above.  But his upgrading of No. 43 would be nothing like the two year project initiated by owner B. Doing in 1965.  Architect Simon Zelnick veneered the façade in white marble and created a Gothic inspired fantasy home.   A third renovation was completed in June 1992 that updated the single family house.  Where the carriage bay had been—and later Beton’s store—was now the homeowner’s personal garage.

Leaded panes with stained glass insets add to the charm.

The building that was assessed in 1948 for $17,000 sold relatively recently for $3 million.  It is a refreshing and surprising presence on the Perry Street block—the type of structure around which popular, if inaccurate, Village lore arises.

photos by the author


  1. Thanks for answering some nagging questions about this oddball.

  2. This house was once owned by the Rolling Stones according to a listing for an apartment rental there on Zillow. You can also see some interior photos.

  3. Was once Virgin Records office

  4. what is that coat of arms??? can't find any info about it. Anybody?