|The four cast iron piers are the only surviving remnants of the original storefronts.|
Well-heeled homeowners fled from the noise and dirt of the rail yards. In 1869 William E. Waring purchased the 30-foot wide house at No. 117 and in December filed plans to replace it with a "5 story tenement." The term tenement at the time covered all multi-family buildings other than hotels.
Ware was a well-known architect of commercial and tenement buildings. This time he acted as the developer as well. Completed the following year, his five-story brick building was designed in the highly-popular Italianate style. The centered entrance was flanked by two shops. The segmentally-arched openings of the identical upper floors sat on bracketed sills and wore graceful molded cornices. The elaborate cast metal cornice could have as easily sat upon a commercial building. Its arched pediment announced "WARING'S BUILDING 1870."
|Rust is seriously attacking the northern end of the handsome cornice.|
Adler opened his store on the morning of Friday morning February 24, 1871 to a shocking scene. The New York Times reported "The premises had been feloniously entered during Thursday night, and the entire stock of the occupant carried off." The perpetrator did not get far.
That afternoon Isaac Payor, whom the newspaper deemed "a man of suspicious character," was arrested six blocks away on Clarkson Street. He still had $300 worth of goods stolen from Adler's store with him at the time--a haul worth a little more than $6,200 today.
At least two of the tenants used their apartments to make extra income. The occupant of apartment 6 seems to have been running a small apparel shop. An advertisement in The New York Herald on July 22, 1872 sought "Two First Class Operators on Wheeler & Wilson or Elliptic Sewing Machines." And to years later, on May 15, 1874, an advertisement appeared in The Sun. The occupant of apartment 9 looked to rent her spare bedrooms. "A respectable woman will furnish board to a few young ladies."
|A gas street light sits in front of the building in this undated photo. Note the exterior shutters on the windows. William Elling, the tailor, lived next door to the right. original source unknown|
Meantime, the baker's neighbors in the building represented a variety of blue collar professions. In 1878 the tenant list included John Bennett and James Collins, both bartenders; policeman Martin Cooper; Christopher Kevin, a horseshoer; printer John T. Hushman; and Henry Farley, a "driver."
William E. Waring died in October 1882. He left his widow, Fredericka, a massive estate valued at nearly $12.5 million by today's standards. Included was No. 117 Varick Street. But Fredericka wanted one more thing, her husband's married cousin William H. Harrison. Shortly after the funeral he moved in to her mansion at No. 273 Lexington Avenue.
Scurrilous details of the scandalous romance were spread in the newspapers after Sarah B. Harrison appeared in Fredericka's parlor in 1884 demanding her husband back. When the wronged wife was ejected from the house without her husband, she filed for divorce.
On February 19, 1892, following Fredericka Ware's death, her estate sold No. 117 to Katharine G. Secor for $42,000--about $1.17 million today. Amazingly William Elling's tailor shop was still here, as was the bakery which was now owned by George Zoeller. For years, at least through 1898, the tailor shop was used as a polling location on election day.
The modest means of the tenants was clearly exemplified by Nora Nethercott. The widow of a policeman, she lived here with her 20-year old son in 1900. She received $100 per year from her husband's pension, and another $100 as guardian of her son. It made for a meager existence, equaling about $6,000 today. Things got worse the following year when her son became 21 and was no longer eligible for his $100.
Katharine G. Secor had lived less than two years after purchasing No. 117. Her estate sold it at a loss in April 1895 to Emma C. Bodhe. Emma, too, would not survive many years after the purchase. In the summer of 1907 the Bodhe estate hired architect William S. Boyd to upgrade the aging building. The renovations, costing nearly $11,000 in today's money, included replacement windows and some new interior walls.
The renovations, while no doubt improving the living conditions of the tenants, did not change their economic status. James G. Cotter, for instance, who was living here in 1916 was making $600 a year as a junior clerk with the State Civil Service Commission. His salary would translate to about $1,150 per month today.
The 1867 upheaval in the neighborhood caused by the construction of the freight terminal was more than equaled in 1920 when the massive Hudson River Vehicular Tunnel (later renamed the Holland Tunnel) project was begun. The entire St. John's Park Terminal was demolished and replaced by a nearly-seven block configuration of ramps and accesses, the northern point of which was Freeman Plaza. The plaza, which nearly edged up to the southern wall of No. 117, brought with it traffic congestion and honking car horns.
But William E. Waring's venerable tenement building continued to be home to blue collar families. In 1977 the two stores were bricked up in a rather brutish remodeling and converted to three apartments. There are still two apartments per floor above.
Other than the slapdash renovation of the ground floor and a coat of paint, little has changed to the nearly 150-year old tenement building.
photographs by the author