Wednesday, January 15, 2020

A Battered Relic - 225 East 21st Street




Around 1835 a 22-foot wide house appeared at what would be numbered 225 East 21st Street.  Faced in Flemish bond red brick and trimmed in brownstone, its Greek Revival design was the latest in domestic architecture.  There may have always been a shop at ground level.  The wide entrance above a short stoop would have had a pair of exterior doors, now gone, which would have protected entrance hall from cold winds or rain.

By the 1870's the neighborhood was quickly filling with immigrants from Ireland and Germany.  Around this time the ground floor space was converted to a stable, while the rest of the building operated as a rooming or boarding house.  One apparently educated tenant was looking for work in October of 1873.  Her ad read "A young lady desires a position as governess; is willing to make herself useful; either city or country."

In September 1880 A. C. Fransioli was leasing the stable, listing his business simply as "horses."  Upon the expiration of his lease the following September it was taken over by J. Tilney.

Those who rented rooms above the stable were, understandably, not well-to-do and not always law-abiding.  Mrs. Louise Derossle lived here when she went to the Sixth Avenue shopping district on March 27, 1897 to pick up a few things.   Her suspicious movements caught the eye of a store detective who began following her.  According to The Sun, "He says she took a number of small articles from different counters" and when she walked out of the store he arrested her.

Louise had been busy.  "When searched at the station house, two small satchels, one piece of dress goods, and a quantity of lace, neckties, soap, blacking, pins, and collars were found in her possession."  The 37-year old spent the night in jail before appearing in the Jefferson Market Court.

Among the roomers in 1902 was Fletcher Ranson.  When he was called for jury duty he listed his occupation as "artist."  It was perhaps a romantic self-perception; for when the City Record included him in the list of men "fit for jury duty" it described him as "clerk."

F. J. Thoman was running the stable business that year; however it appears that the ground floor may have been converted to a grocery store within four years.  In 1906 Walter Parker received his permit from the city "to sell milk."  Parker's endeavor did not survive past 1911.  On September 29 that year an advertisement offered the store fixtures for sale, including a fireproof safe "in perfect order."

The business was most likely moving out because the Buildings Department deemed the structure unsafe that year.  It was probably during the reparations that one of the top floor windows was converted to a door with access to a fire escape.

Charles Williams rented a room here following the renovations.  A professional pickpocket, he targeted a well-dressed gentleman waiting for a streetcar on January 22, 1913.  But he picked the wrong man.  Lincoln Steffens was a journalist who specialized in what today is known as investigative journalist.  He was well aware of the tactics of sneak thieves.

Steffens had just left The Players on Gramercy Park.  The Evening Telegram reported "As he boarded the car he found himself being jostled, and felt a premonition that he was about to be 'touched' for his 'leather,' as he used to say in his police reporting days."  He swirled around to see Williams bolting away with his wallet and the $40 it held (a significant $1,050 today).

Steffens jumped from the car and ran after Williams, managing to dodge his cohorts who tried to block his way.  Policeman Cahill joined in the chase and Williams was caught.  Ironically, it was not his capture that frustrated Williams at the station house--in the chaos another pickpocket had managed to snatch his own watch.

"Mr. Williams is an ingenious man in many ways," said The Evening Telegram.  "After deep study some time ago he evolved a watchguard which he felt sure would keep his watch in his pocket, no matter how expert might be the fingers which reached for it.  He found it hard, after installing the guard, to get the watch out himself."  But he had met his match.  

"Williams did not appear to be especially aggrieved at Mr. Steffens for causing his arrest, but he did have a deep grievance against some non-union pickpocket who took his $60 gold watch while he was trying to escape."

By the time of the episode motor cars were quickly overtaking horses on the streets of New York.  In 1915 renovations were made to convert the ground floor shop of No. 225 to an automobile repair garage.  Nicholas Morizio opened the New Home Garage here that year.

Morizio not only repaired cars, but he helped sell them as well.  Throughout the next few years advertisements for used cars appeared, like this one in 1915:

Beautiful landaulet, aluminum body, for sale very cheap.  New Home Garage, 225 East 21st.

Dr. Robert L. Irish brought his car into the garage for repairs in the spring of 1919.  Unfortunately for the doctor, once it was fixed two of the mechanics decided to take it for a spin.   On May 20 The Daily Long Island Farmer reported "William Farrell, 28 years old...while operating an automobile at Rockaway road and Kosciusko street, lost control of the machine and ran into a telephone pole."  He was taken unconscious to Jamaica Hospital with internal injuries and a cut lip.


The commercial doors may well date from the 1906 grocery store.  The New Home Garage mechanics apparently worked on the vehicles on the street.
The article continued "Later upon verification of the license number, it was learned that the automobile had been taken from the New Home Garage at 225 East 21st street, Manhattan, where he was employed as a mechanic."  The young man later attempted to explain to a judge why he was behind the wheel of the stolen car.  "Farrell claims that another employee of the garage took the car and became too intoxicated to run it and it was while he was trying to return with it that he met with the accident."

Mozorizio's New Home Garage remained here into the 1920's.  By 1933 the ground floor housed the offices of the Boudin Contracting Corp.   The firm landed a lucrative contract with the military that year to build a ten-ton "forced draft incinerator building" at West Point.

In 1945 the structure was once again deemed unsafe.  The reparations included a full renovation and new plumbing.  The revamping resulted in a dental laboratory on the first floor and "dental assembly factory" above.

The venerable building managed to ignore the drastic changes along the block throughout the rest of the century.  The architectural office of David Ling was here by the first years of the 21st century.  He continues to operate from the space.

With its patchwork of alterations the battered remnant of the early 19th century is a remarkable survivor with a compelling past.

photographs by the author

3 comments:

  1. An architect there now? The appearance of the building is definitely not an advertisement for their services. Way overdue for restoration!

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    Replies
    1. I was a bit surprised at that too. Perhaps he likes the ambiance.

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  2. Architects love old buildings! The more 'characterful' the better.

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