Around 1827 carpenter Albert Berdan began construction on a three-and-a-half story house at No. 46 Carmine Street. It is nearly doubtless that he worked in concert with another carpenter, James D. Brower, and with Seba Bogart who respectively erected Nos. 42 and 44 Carmine Street at the same time. The completed dwellings were essentially identical.
Like its neighbors, No. 46 was faced in red brick and trimmed in brownstone. Its peak roof was pierced by a single dormer. Further evidence that the three builders had worked together came on February 2, 1828 when auctioneer James Bleecker announced he would be selling the two new houses, Nos. 44 and 46, at a single auction.
The house initially saw a quick succession of owners. It was sold four times between 1828 and 1834 when Kemp Godfrey purchased it. He would retain possession for more than three decades.
Mary Armstrong was leasing the house from Godfrey in the mid-1840's. He may have been unaware of the goings-on here at the time. On July 22, 1846 The New York Herald reported that Mary had been arrested and "indicted for keeping a disorderly house at No. 46 Carmine street. Justice Roome committed her to prison."
After that the dwelling became a rooming house. But the removal of Mary Armstrong's brothel had not eliminated questionable nature of the tenants. On February 25, 1850, for instance, The Evening Post reported "James Price, a boy bout 14 years of age, was found concealed in a house 46 Carmine street, last night. He was arrested by officer Philip Journeux."
The ground floor was converted to a shop around 1855. On May 31 the following year an advertisement in The New York Herald read: "To Let--The store and room adjoining, 46 Carmine street; has gas, counter, cases, &c; suitable for a millinery or other light business; rent $225 a year. Also a neat room to a single lady or gentleman."
The monthly shop rent would be equal to around $575 today. It was low enough to lure Mrs. Melville to relocate her millinery shop from Broadway.
|A cleverly worded ad slightly pretended to be a notice to a friend. The New York Herald, December 4, 1856 (copyright expired)
She touted the low overhead as the reason for her affordable prices in a December 1857 ad:
A Cheap Rent and The First Quality of millinery--Ladies, misses, and children's hats and bonnets of the latest New York and Parisian styles, superbly arranged and beautifully finished...at Mrs. Melville's 46 Carmine street
The tenants' names continued to appear in newspapers for the wrong reasons. Patrick Cassidy lived here in 1864 when he was seriously wounded in a bar fight. On June 3 the New-York Daily Tribune reported "A row occurred late on Wednesday night, in the saloon of Patrick Gilbrire...during which Patrick Cassidy was stabbed three times in the head and once in the arm, by John Burns."
The proprietor of the store where Mrs. Melville had sold hats now dealt in "fancy goods." Fancy goods stores were slightly different from dry goods stores in that they also offered ribbons, stationery, inkstands, and such. The owner remained until the fall of 1871 when he advertised "For sale cheap--the stock and fixtures of a fancy goods store, doing a good business; cheap rent." The shop became home to the roofing office of W. R. Barnett. His business was such that this was one of two locations in Greenwich Village.
|The Commercial Register, 1874 (copyright expired)
In 1881 John Murray, a machinist, landed a job in the Fire Department's repair shop. His salary was $3 per day, or about $1,560 a month in today's dollars.
Francis Davidson was here around the same time. He tended bar at McKeever Brother's saloon a block away at No. 15 Carmine Street. He ran afoul of the law on Sunday night June 15, 1884 when he served a glass of beer to undercover officer George H. Stephenson. Davidson, "who appeared to be in charge," was arrested for selling alcohol on a Sunday and held on $100 bail. Ironically, the New York Herald reported "One [McKeever] brother is an inspector of the Board of Excise, and the other an officer in the Third Civil District Court."
Thomas Wheatley and his wife, Mary, lived here in 1896. The 56-year old made his living as a carpenter. He was physically abusive to Mary, according to other tenants who informed police he struck her. On the morning of July 5 neighbors saw Mary and later reported that she "was well." But she would not survive the day.
Wheatley left their rooms at 2:00. He later told a judge that "he left his wife in the house all right in the afternoon, and went out for half an hour. When he returned, she was dead," according to the New York Evening Telegram. Neighbors suspected murder. Wheatley put the blame on liquor. He told Magistrate Flammer, "She would drink whiskey and eat no food," recounted the newspaper. "He had no doubt she had died of alcoholism." The court was not so certain. The judge remanded Wheatley on suspicion of murder pending the coroner's investigation.
Frederick Conrad, alias Frederick Roberts, and James Andres, alias James Roberts, shared a room the following year when they embarked on a campaign of crime and terror. Posing as brothers, they were 19- and 25-years-old respectively. The burglars avoided apprehension by breaking into homes in Westchester County rather than New York City. On October 25, 1897 The World entitled an article "Booty By Wagon Loads" and detailed their eight-day crime spree in several cities.
|"The Westchester Burglars" operated from No. 46. The World, October 25, 1897 (copyright expired)
Another 19-year old thief was Archibald Costello, whose brother, John, lived here. On Saturday night January 6, 1900 Sarah Connors was walking alone Carmine Street near Bedford when Archibald snatched her bag. According to The New York Press, "After getting the pocketbook Costello ran to his brother's home in No. 46 Carmine street." But he had not anticipated the spunk of his victim.
The Morning Telegraph continued "Miss Connors picked up her skirts and sprinted in hot pursuit of the thief...Policeman Jackson, who had joined in the chase, pursued him into the rooms of John Costello." Costello, according to The New York Press, "refused to open the door for the policeman, saying it was his home and castle." Officer Jackson did not agree with that argument and broke in. The "young robber was dragged, howling, from beneath a bed and placed under arrest," said The Morning Telegraph.
At least from 1902 through 1903 the ground floor held a butcher shop. In 1904 John Elrand and his wife, Mary, moved their second hand furniture shop into the space from a little further up on Carmine Street. The couple and their three children occupied the rooms in the rear of the shop.
According to The Evening Telegram on April 11, 1905, "they were able to make a fairly good living. The man is said to leave the management of the business in the hands of his wife." He also left the preparation of his lunch in her hands and he expected it daily at noon. On Monday, April 10, it was not ready.
Irate, Elrand called Mary into the shop and expressed his displeasure by firing a bullet into her temple. "He then ran to the yard in the rear of the building and turned the weapon on himself, inflicting three wounds in his breast," reported The Telegram. Mary staggered outside to the sidewalk where she collapsed. The youngest son, John, had seen the entire incident and ran for help. The Call reported "They were taken to St. Vincent's hospital, where it is said that both will probably die."
It is unclear whether either or both of the Elrands perished; however John, Jr. who witnessed the tragedy, was still living in No. 46 as late as 1911.
That same year the Spinosa family lived at the address. Their 16-year old daughter, Jennie, worked in a clothing factory at No. 9 Bond Street. Trouble began brewing that year when one of the tailors, Joseph Nuccio, became enchanted with her. Jennie's repeated rebuff of his attentions may have partially had to do with his physical deformity.
The 18-year old Nuccio, however, was not one to take "no" from a female. After asking her to marry him several times over a few months, he finally resorted to her mother. On September 30, 1911, he appeared at their rooms ready to extort a positive response. "With him he had a revolver, a dagger and a bottle of poison, reported The New York Call. Nuccio had underestimated Jennie's mother. The article explained "Mrs. Spinosa lives on the third floor of 46 Carmine street and looks muscular enough to throw Joe downstairs."
The following day Jennie's uncle accompanied her to work "to tell Joe to stop making love to her." Nuccio did not respond well to the advice. "When Joe became belligerent the uncle, who is twice the tailor's size, tucked him under an arm and carried him, kicking and squawking, to the Mulberry police station." Nuccio was held in $500 bail "to keep the peace."
But that peace would not last. Two years later, on November 6, 1913, he was sent to the Tombs in default of $10,000 bail (a staggering $262,000 today). He had attacked Jennie with a knife. "It was said by the police that Nuccio, who is a hunchback, slashed the girl's throat on October 20 because she refused to marry him," reported The New York Call.
|A 1937 renovation resulted in a single residence above what was then a carpenter store. Tied back curtains suggest a well-kept apartment. Note the horse-drawn laundry wagon. via NYC Department of Records & Information Services
Before Jackson Pollock would make his mark on the art world he called No. 46 home from 1932 to 1933. He moved into the two-room apartment of his brother and sister-in-law, Charles and Elizabeth Pollack, "over Elizabeth's acid objections," according to the 1989 biography Jackson Pollock: An American Saga by Steven W. Naifeh and Gregory White Smith. The brothers squeezed their studios into the tight space.
In 1937 architect Federick S. Koeler was hired to renovate the building into a single family home above the store level. That configuration lasted until 1960 when another project resulted in one apartment on each of the upper floors.
The top floor apartment was placed on the market in 2014 for $1.25 million--a figure inconceivable to the shady characters who lived in the building a century earlier. With true real estate agent bravado, the listing noted that it "was once owned by Aaron Burr." Of course, Burr had fled New York more than two decades before the house was erected.
photographs by the author