Wednesday, September 13, 2017

The 1836 William Huyler House - 42 Bedford Street


The original roof line is evidence in the change of brick color.
In 1835 William Huyler began construction on a neat two-and-a-half story brick house at No. 42  Bedford Street.  A master mason, Huyler was responsible for erecting several other homes in the immediate neighborhood.  He likely acted as his own architect, drawing from the trends of the day.

Completed in 1836, the house was faced in red Flemish bond brick.  The doorway above a short stone stoop was almost at sidewalk level and the openings were trimmed in brownstone.  The peaked roof would have been punctured by one or two dormers.

The house was most likely an investment project from the beginning.  At least by 1842 boarders were living here, like Mary M. Griffin, a school teacher.  The residents, like Mary, were respectable but by no means affluent.   The renter of the "front room, second floor" placed an advertisement in The New York Herald on March 26, 1851 that exemplified the boarders' financial and social class:

Wanted--By a Neat Young Woman, a situation as a Children's Nurse, in a respectable private family, and to do Plain Sewing, or a Chambermaid's place and to assist in sewing; has no objection in going with a family to the country in summer.

William Huyler died in 1860 and by the 1890s his heirs had moved to New Jersey.  It is possible that John T. Clarke was managing No. 42 for the family when on January 9, 1892 the Real Estate Record & Guide reported that they had sold him the building.  But something fell through and the title was never transferred.

At the turn of the century the family of Fred C. Burckhart had lived at No. 42 for several years, possibly leasing the entire house.  Daughter Anna grew up in the neighborhood and was inseparable friends with Sophie Haverman who lived nearby.  The girls had attended school together and were both members of the Alexander Chapel choir on King Street.

In 1903 Anna was 18 years old and was described by The Evening World as "of a bright and cheerful disposition, and because of her exceptional good looks and unfailing good nature was regarded as the belle of the neighborhood."  The newspaper added that "with her parents she lived in a cozy home at No. 42 Bedford street."

Anna's happy life was terribly upset when her friend Sophie underwent an operation in the fall of 1903.  During the surgery the teen girl died.  Anna was thrown into deep depression.  "She wept considerably and frequently complained of headaches," reported The Evening World.

On the cold morning of January 15, 1904 Anna told her mother that she was suffering from a headache and was going to the corner drugstore to "get a powder."  Her mother told her to hurry back.

Only 15 minutes later Anna stumbled into the doorway of a family friend, Daniel Martin, who lived directly across the street at No. 41 Bedford.  "As she opened the door she attempted to speak, but fell unconscious before she could formulate a word."

Martin picked up the girl and immediately recognized the smell of carbolic acid--a frequent method of suicide--and noticed that her lips were burned by the acid.  He rushed the girl across the street to her home and an ambulance was summoned, but Anna had died almost instantly.

Where she had obtained the poison was a mystery.  She had never gone to the drugstore as she purported and there was no bottle in her pocket nor anywhere on the ground.  Describing the dead girl as "heartbroken with grief," The Evening World ran the dramatic headline: Joins Her Girl Chum In Death.

The Burckhart family remained in the house through 1910.  On November 29 that year Fred C. Burckhart died here, one month after the Huyler family did finally sell the house to John T. Clarke.

Oddly enough, Clarke sold the house to Frederick Rabbe within a week of buying it.  The $7,010 Rabbe paid would equal about $183,000 today.

When Rabbe sold No. 42 to the Evangelical Lutheran Church of St. Matthew in 1918, Mrs. A. Nunan was living in the house.  She was enraged when she opened her gas bill in December that year.   She headed to the office of the Consolidated Gas Company at 15th Street and Irving Place and vented her complaint.

The Evening World reported on December 27, "Her bill for October was $2.72 and that for November $7.36."  The gas company had a good excuse for the mistake--they had hired women to read the meters.  The newspaper reported "For some time the company has employed women as meter readers, but they are being dispensed with."

The ownership of the house was turned over three times in 1925, finally being sold to Jenny (sometimes spelled Jennie) Fongaroli in 1925.   In October 1930 she leased the property to Dorsey West who changed its personality forever, converting it to a restaurant.

Architect Ferdinand Savignano was commissioned to transform the nearly century-old building.  Rather than restore the its quaint 1836 appearance, Savignano was, ironically, instructed to make it appear colonial.  Following the contemporary "bohemian" trend in Greenwich Village, the attic was raised to a full third floor, the entrance received a "colonial" double door with a fanlight, topped with a charming triptych window.  Although Savignano carried on the Flemish bond brickwork, he did not bother to match the color, since the facade was covered in stucco.

Beginning in 1935 Mary's Restaurant operated from the quaint building.  Sitting squarely in the Little Italy section of the Village, it originally served Italian cuisine.  Owners Mary and Pasquale D'Agosto lived in the building.  By the 1950s they had two children, also named Mary and Pasquale, enrolled in the public schools.

Mary's Restaurant was a landmark of sorts in the neighborhood.  On February 5, 1971 reknowned food critic Craig Claiborne glowed "We had one of the best pasta dishes at this small restaurant we've ever encountered outside Italy...As a matter of fact, most of the dishes we've eaten here are above the New York average."  Claiborne described the layout, saying "Mary's is on two levels, with a kitchen downstairs that opens onto a small dining room with only four or five tables.  The dining room above is not much larger."

But as the character of the neighborhood changed--with Italian families leaving and yuppies moving in--Mary's Restaurant attempted to adapt.   It was remodeled in 1994 and reopened with little or nothing left of the old ristorante.    In its opening review, The New York Times seemed to lament the changes.

"This historic town house restaurant underwent a major facelift...and emerged the slightly more serious brother of Universal Grill, the boisterous party restaurant next door that is owned by the same team."  The new incarnation made a stab at camp (there was a private room decorated as a tribute to Angie Dickinson) and the menu no longer offered authentic Italian fare, but American, with items like pork loin and calf's liver.

It was the beginning of the end of Mary's Restaurant.  Following its close, a conversion to a private home was initiated by the architectural firm of Edelman Sultan Knox Wood.  The stucco was removed from the facade and an artist studio space installed on the roof.

The little hallway window above the doorway was designed originally to include a window box.

While William Huyler's 1836 design is unrecognizable, the charm of the eccentric little house is undeniable.

photographs by the author

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