Monday, September 5, 2016

The Lost 1801 No. 114 Hudson Street

Pictured here in 1932, No. 114 was a surviving slice of the first days of Hudson Street.  from the collection of the New York Public Library
In 1796 Hudson Street had only recently been laid from Chambers Street into the undeveloped land to the north.  That year John Ferris purchased a 21-foot wide plot of land from Effinghan Embree and his wife Mary.  Ferris paid the couple 185 pounds “lawful money of New York to them in hand,” according to the court papers.

At the time Ferris listed his occupation as “mason,” so it is possible that he personally built—or at least helped with the construction of—his two-and-a-half story house at what would be No. 114 Hudson Street between Franklin and North Moore Streets.  The frame residence was faced in brick and featured the details of the currently-popular Federal Style: a peaked roof with, in this case, a single dormer, and handsome splayed stone lintels above the openings.

By the time Ferris’s new house was completed in 1801 he was listed in directories as “cartman,” or a delivery wagon driver.  Despite the flurry of construction going on at the time, it is possible that financial difficulties forced him to abandon his career as a mason. 

His tight budget was reflected in the Minutes of a meeting of the Common Council on September 22, 1817.  As Hudson Street was extended northward, the property owners were taxed.  At the Council meeting “A Petition of John Ferris for extension of time for payment of Assessment for opening Hudson Street, was read, and referred to the Street Commissioner.”

By 1837 Robert Adams was living at No. 114 Hudson Street.  He took out a loan on the house from the Mercantile Library Association’s “Demilt Fund.”  The Library’s Annual Report noted that the Board “finally decided to loan to Robert Adams the sum of $2,500, on the house and lot No. 114 Hudson-street, in this city—property that was deemed by competent judges, to be worth double the amount loaned upon it.”

If those “competent judges” were correct, the brick-fronted house was worth about $128,000 in today’s dollars.

By the time Civil War erupted in the South, the ground floor of No. 114 Hudson Street had been converted to a shop.  Mrs. Ann S. Larkin ran her dry goods store here by 1860, most likely living upstairs.  On January 6 that year she left the store for only a few moments.  Apparently seeing her leave, sneak thief George Robertson slipped in.  But Ann’s absence was short and when Robertson realized she was returning, he hid beneath the counter.

The following day The New York Times reported “Upon Mrs. Larkin’s return she discovered the intruder, who immediately grasped her by the throat, threw her down, and then ran off.”  Ann’s screams alerted Police Officer Slater who “pursued and finally captured the fugitive.”  Robertson was locked up on charges of assault and attempted burglary.

George Robertson was tried on February 21 and sentenced to two and a half years in the Penitentiary.

Ann Larkin’s respectable dry goods store underwent a transformation to a saloon sometime after the end of the war.  On May 21, 1876 Frederick W. Meyer was arrested for selling liquor on a Sunday here.  Meyer was most likely the bartender; for the business was owned by R. O’Connor, who sold it to M. O’Connor in 1878.

In April 1887 R. F. Smith and his wife, Leonora, purchased No. 114 for $19,750.  Three years later in May the couple, who lived in Newark, sold half of the property to Martha Jauncey for $10,500.  It may have been Martha’s influence that resulted in the building being immediately leased to Mary and Michael Von Dohren.  If O’Connor’s saloon was not already gone, it soon would be.

The Hudson Street neighborhood was now the center of the Produce District, and the Von Dohrens opened their “butter business” here.   Business was apparently good for the couple.  They renewed the lease in 1898.  The four-year renewal totaled $1,350—a monthly rental of about $850 today.  They had at least one employee, John D. Haar, who listed his occupation here at the turn of the century as the “butter and egg” business.

By now the 1801 house was a stark anachronism, hemmed in by tall business buildings.  When their lease expired Mary and Michael Von Dohren moved their operation, now known as the Phenix Cheese Co., to No. 345 Greenwich Street.   In 1905 the ground floor was home to the Fincher & Bochner Restaurant.  Leopold Bochner and his partner would run the small café here at least through 1910.

In the meantime the upper floor continued to be occupied by produce companies.  A. H. Schultz Co. was here in 1911, followed by Wood & Stevens “wholesale fruit and produce dealers” who moved into the building in 1912.  The firm dealt in canned goods and was here for a few years before moving to No. 97 Hudson Street.

The next upstairs tenant was J. Blaustein & Company, Inc.; which also went by the name The Servus Trading Co.  Wholesale cereal dealers, Joseph Blaustein’s partner, Ovie J. de Vellier had formerly been associated with The Quaker Oats Company.

Serious problems arrived at No. 114 Hudson Street with the country’s entry into World War I.  Stringent rationing was implemented on certain commodities, including cereal grains like wheat.  Bakeries, restaurants and even housewives were obligated by law to use wheat substitutes.  When inspectors repeatedly caught bakers ignoring the prohibition, the Federal Food Board cut off their sources.

On May 10, 1918 the New-York Tribune reported “The Servus Trading Company, 114 Hudson Street, is also to be closed for the period of the war, it was announced last night.  Its officers, Joseph Blaustein, Ovie J. de Vellier, Alex Bernstein and Jesse Markel, are forbidden to trade in groceries and grocers’ sundries at wholesale.”

The wartime shutdown resulted in the end of The Servus Trading Company.  It was replaced in No. 114 Hudson Street by the Duvey Tea & Coffee Company.  The wholesale firm was still here in April 1920 when it advertised for an errand boy “age 16.”  The advertisement promised a “chance for advancement” and offered a starting salary of $8 per week.

Following Prohibition the former restaurant space once again operated as a barroom.  It was the scene of a vicious quarrel on July 23, 1933.  Twenty-eight year old John Hess, who lived in Brooklyn, was drinking here late that night when a man “entered the beer garden with two women companions,” according to witnesses.   Hess apparently made “remarks” which inflamed the stranger.   A heated argument resulted in the men going outside.

If John Hess expected that the dispute would be resolved in a fist fight, he was fatally mistaken.  His opponent pulled out a .25-calibre pistol and shot Hess just above the heart.  The assailant tossed the gun into the street and fled as a group of men rushed from the bar and flagged down a taxi for the victim.

John Hess died in St. Vincent’s Hospital later that morning.

photo via New York City Department of Records, Taxation Department

It was probably the narrow width of the venerable structure that saved it from demolition throughout the subsequent decades.  It would seem that only the razing of buildings around it for a substantial replacement would make financial sense.  No. 114 Hudson Street still survived in the 1980s as the Lo-Jan Coffee Shop operated (and repeatedly failed health inspections) within the ground floor space.  Then in the spring of 1989 the 188-year old house was bulldozed by a developer.

Preservationists were astonished.  The building was on the Landmarks Preservation Commission’s list of structures "highly worthy of saving."   But because it had not yet been calendared by the LPC for a hearing regarding potential landmark designation, the New York City Department of Buildings could not withhold approval of the demolition application.

Ironically, the lot sat vacant until 2004 when a new glass and steel apartment building was designed by the BKSK Architects.  The new structure is combined internally with the vintage building next door at No. 116.  The architectural firm’s website explains, “In historic TriBeCa, the design of a new, modern seven-story residential building honors the specific history of the neighborhood.”  

photo via

There are some who disagree.

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