Although Charles Oakley was educated as an attorney, he listed his occupation as "merchant" in 1810 when he married Margaret Roome. But it was his real estate dealings for which he would be remembered. By the 1830's Oakley had become perhaps the most prolific developer in Greenwich Village.
He was making his mark well before the population explosion caused by the 1823 yellow fever epidemic to the south in New York City and a cholera epidemic two years later. On the March 9, 1829 agenda of the Common Council was "a Petition of Charles Oakley and others to have the name of Herring street altered to that of Bleecker street." By then Oakley was responsible for the construction of scores of houses and shops in the district with no end in sight.
In 1835 he built two identical houses at Nos. 251 and 253 Bleecker Street (renumbered 265 and 267 in 1859). Like all of his Bleecker Street structures, they would be three stories tall with a peaked roof and dormer. A store quite likely always occupied the ground level with residential space above.
|The houses would most likely have sprouted a single dormer, like Oakley's nearby 1833 house at No 262 Bleecker Street.|
Charles Oakley retained ownership of the two buildings until 1839, when title was transferred to John R. Oakley. No Oakleys ever lived in the homes, but used them as rental properties. John Oakley inherited two tenants in No. 251, Mary Tinniswood, and the family of William Gering. Gering was in the "washing tubs" business at No. 183 Fourth Avenue.
Next door there were also two tenants that year. John Pethic rented rooms here and ran his piano making business nearby at No. 234 Bleecker. Charles Tousley lived above his hardware store, Outcalt & Tousley. That partnership did not last and the following year the business had been renamed Tousley & Dusenbery." William G. Dusenbery was now living in the upper floors, as was the widow of Samuel Clark, Catharine.
By 1842 the hardware store was gone, replaced by E. L. Cotton's drugstore. He listed himself as "chemist and apothecary." Among the patent medicines he sold were Parr's Life Pills. They were touted as "an excellent Family medicine, and to persons of sedentary occupations and habits, will be found invaluable...in removing the complicated and subtle diseases common to this class of the community."
By 1846 that store was replaced by Henry Lamy's dying shop. Directories listed it as "the oldest French establishment." Lamy lived above his main shop at No. 9 Barclay Street. The upper floors of No. 253 were being operated as a boarding house by Dorcas Weeks. Her boarders in 1846 were Edgar Wright, a "carman," carpenter Joseph Ballard, and Charles Rochfort Mayne who operated hosiery store.
In 1843 Joseph Soria and Pearce Percival purchased the two buildings as a package. Five years later Soria sold his interest to Percival who, around 1868, made significant alterations to the two houses. It was most likely at this time that the peaked roofs were removed and the third floor raised. A bracketed cornice would have been included in the alterations.
In the meantime, around 1859, Percival's former partner had founded J. Soria & Co.'s dye shop which, like Henry Lamy's, was marked as a "French dyeing establishment." From 1874 through 1879 his daughter Anna L. Soria operated her own dying shop from No. 265 (formerly 251). She ran other shops on Wooster Street, Grand Street and Third Avenue.
By now many New Yorkers were enjoying indoor running water, made possible by the erection of the massive Croton Reservoir. Henry Striker, Jr. and his wife, Rachel, moved into the upper section of No. 267 by 1871 and he opened a surprising business in the storefront. An advertisement in the New-York Daily Tribune on June 27 that year touted:
Water Filters--Stone Water Filters, 50 years in use, purifying all waters--rain, river, or cistern; the only purifier of water in pure carbon or bone dust, which is used in these filters; 3 sizes, 5, 8 and 10 gallons. Price $8, $12, and $15 each.
The filters were not inexpensive; the 10 gallon size costing the consumer the equivalent of $318 today. Nevertheless, they apparently sold well. Striker was still selling them in 1875, titling his ad in The New York Herald "Filter the Croton."
In the meantime, the Strikers had suffered a horrid tragedy on May 18, 1872. Their son, William Albert, died of scarlet fever one month before before his second birthday. The toddler's funeral was held in the Bleecker Street house two days later.
Henry and Rachel remained at No. 267 at least through 1881. The ambitious and multi-faceted entrepreneur kept on selling his water filters, but by 1875 he additionally listed himself as "barber," and his store as a "gents' furnishings" shop. By 1878 he had opened an additional "fancy goods" store down the street at No. 344 Bleecker Street.
Following the Strikers at No. 267 were the extended family of Emil Schuman, who operated his hat store here. The third floor was occupied by Shuman's brother-in-law, George Geist, and his wife and child. The Schumans lived on the second floor with their five children. An adult son, Emil, Jr., slept in the store, most likely because his severe disability made climbing the stairs difficult. He was described by The New York Times as "an almost helpless paralytic."
On the night of November 8, 1886 Geist awoke to the smell of smoke, "which had almost stifled him," according to The Times. He jumped out of bed, woke his wife and grabbed up their child. The family descended the smoke-filled staircase, wakening the Schumans on the way down.
The Geists reached the sidewalk first, where they saw the hat store engulfed in flames. Geist could hear Emil Jr.'s cries for help coming from inside. "He ran back through the hallway and kicked in the rear door of the store." The young man had been sleeping on a lounge which was on fire, but he was unable to rise. "Geist made his way through the suffocating smoke and dragged his nephew out into the street uninjured," reported The Times. The store was completely gutted and Schuman's loss was recorded at $1,500; more than $41,000 today.
By 1890 Pedersen & Milmaster had taken over the store next door. Listed as "stationers," the shop also did a brisk business in "seegars." On July 25, 1891 an advertisement in The Evening World showed that they had branched into cigarettes as well. "Don't Smoke Paper and thus injure your lungs, but smoke The Nickel-In All-Tobacco Cigarettes." Pederson & Milmaster remained in the store at least through 1898.
By then Amelia Harnett ran her "liquor store," next door. She lived nearby at No. 37 Cornelia Street and the upper floors of No. 267 were occupied by grocer Emil Olbrecht, and Otto Pflug. Pflug who operated two express (or delivery) businesses in Tribeca.
The term "liquor store" was a polite term in city directories for "saloon." And like many such businesses Amelia Harnett's was not always the most upstanding. On November 11, 1898 The New York Press entitled an article "Knockout Drops Back To Town" and reported that "'knockout drops' were instrumental in separating James Alexander of Arbroth, Scotland, from $425 in money and jewelry on Wednesday night." Alexander had arrived in the city that afternoon to settle the estate of his father. After checking into his hotel, he "started to look over the town."
He was befriended by a uniformed policeman, Henry Kreckel, and the two had a drink at Flannery's saloon at Leroy and Hudson Street. Then, according to Alexander, Kreckel (still in uniform) "took him to No. 267 Bleecker street, into a side room. He left the room a moment and when he returned Kreckel and the bartender were standing by a table on which were two glasses containing what seemed to be whisky."
Alexander drank the contents of one glass and remembered nothing else. When he awoke on the sidewalk at 3 a.m. he had been robbed of two gold watches, $135 and all his jewelry.
The saloon was replaced by a much milder enterprise. In 1905 Ehrich A. Zimmerman was issued a license "to sell milk." Next door Matteo Fedale ran his butcher store by 1909.
The immediate Greenwich Village neighborhood had filled with Italian immigrants in the last decades of the 19th century. The demographics were evidenced in 1922 when Paul and Concetta Giamanco and Rosolino and Mary Riccobono purchased the two Bleecker Street properties. Then, for the first time, in 1926 one of the houses was sold separately. Fortunata Piperno purchased No 265 and the Giamancos retained possession of No. 267. In 1940 Paul and Concetta Giamanco's son Paul lived at No. 267 with his wife, Concatta, and their two adult children, Mary, who was 26, and 21-year old Angelo.
Piperno returned No. 265 to Rosolino and Mary Riccobono in 1928. In 1947 the two properties came back under one owner when the Riccobanos purchased No. 267 from the Giamancos.
The second half of the 20th century saw tremendous change come to Bleecker Street. On September 30, 1968 The New York Times journalist Michael T. Kaufman began his article "For all its length of 22 blocks Bleecker Street cuts through differences of age, race, nationality, sexuality and outlook, mixing urban sophisticates and heartland rustics, derelicts and the chauffeur-driven in a frenzied distillate of city life." He noted "The Italians are being squeezed from both sides...The younger generation is moving out, the older one is dying."
Evidence of that change was the House of Oldies, opened six years earlier by "Record Richie" Clothier at No. 267. A sign in the window read "Turn back the hands of Time to your favorite year and listen to the records that were popular then, 1959, 1951, etc."
|A striking contrast in generations is represented by the old Italian woman sitting next to the vintage record shop. photo by Richard Clothier, from his Ebay posting|
The same year that Michael T. Kauffman wrote about the changing Bleecker Street, Jimi Hendrix strolled into the House of Oldies. According to Richard Clothier, "I was not working that day, but my employee, Ann, took a picture of Jimi with my camera." He had the black-and-white photo transformed to a poster.
|Jimi Hendrix was captured on film by a House of Oldies clerk in 1968. photo via Ebay listing by Richard Clothier,|
In 1970 Clothier sold the business to Bob Abramson. On January 3, 1972 New York Magazine noted that the store "buys records published after 1950, from Rock Around the Clock and Earth Angel to rock records of the seventies. They pay from five cents per record to $100 (for, say, a mint-condition Elvis Presley recording on the Sun Records label.)"
Abramson moved the House of Oldies to Carmine Street in the mid-1970's. In the 1980's the store next door was home to the Greenwich Village Fish market, run by Anthony Gurrera. His rival-in-business brother, Vincent, operated the Bleecker Street Fish Market at No. 253 Bleecker. New York Magazine said on February 1, 1988 "Between customers, the two brother would step out onto the busy sidewalk and glare at each other."
It was at about this time that the owner of the two buildings, the 265-267 Bleecker Realty Corp. erased any surviving remnants of the 19th century architecture, leaving us with a featureless brick wall and renovated storefronts.
The former House of Oldies space became the California-based Yogurtland in 2008. Only a year later it was replaced another yogurt store, the Philadelphia-based Phileo. Yogurt made way for candy when the London Candy Co. took over the store in 2013.
Sadly nothing of architectural interest survives in the venerable buildings. They nevertheless hold nearly 190 years of fascinating history and change.
photographs by the author
many thanks to reader CJ Grant for requesting this post