The four-story brick dwelling at No. 17 East 17th Street was erected around 1853 in a neighborhood that could not have been more fashionable. Half a block to the east was the elegant Union Square and half a block to the west were the mansions of Fifth Avenue. But that was not the case in 1902 when Phillip Pfieffer and his wife, Melanie, purchased the property. The ground floor had been converted to a saloon. Bartender Albert Pfietzenmaier recalled in 1912 that the Pfieffers operated the "saloon and restaurant" while they lived "in the rear rooms, one flight up."
Shortly after her husband's death on February 18, 1910, the 25-year old Melanie sold the property to the J. A. Damsey Construction Company, which wasted little time in removing the old house. On September 13, 1911 The New York Times remarked that Joseph A. Damsey "will erect a seventy-story loft on the site." Ten days later architects George and Edward Blum filed plans for the 25-foot wide building, projected to cost $35,000--or about $972,000 today.
Damsey's costs were reduced by the fact that his firm handled the construction. Blum & Blum created a somewhat surprising blend of Arts & Crafts and neo-Tudor styles. A colorful terra cotta panel with a modified chain motif split the two-story base within a limestone Tudor-style arch. Flemish bond brick piers flanked the grouped windows of the five upper floors. Arts & Crafts appeared in the diamond-shaped tiles of the spandrel panels and in the geometric plaques that flanked the squared Tudor parapet with its profusion of terra cotta tiles and coat of arms.
The building filled with a variety of tenants. Among the first were Oshkosh, makers of "grass matting," and Heymann Bros., umbrella and parasol merchants. Beginning in 1914 the store was home to Grossman & Goldenstein, dealers in dress goods and silks.
The 1920's saw mostly apparel-related firms in the building. Among them were the Stillwol Dress Company, the Regal Dress Company, and Justin Neckwear. As their sewing machines hummed along, another tenant, David Koppleman, was involved in a dastardly scheme.
Koppleman was head of Cordon Products Company, sellers of "toilet articles." He sent Pearl Wenger door-to-door selling the firm's items. She told the housewives that part of the profits were to go to charity. The firm, she explained, donated 25 percent of each sale to the Non-Sectarian Mission at No. 12 Dover Street, run by Father M. de S. Caralt, a Spanish-born priest.
Welfare Department Inspector Ronayne Sullivan was not so sure. On February 5, 1929 Koppleman and Fr. Caralt appeared before Magistrate Gottlieb in Yorkville Court. The New York Times said the case was the first "involving so-called 'weeping racketeers.'"
In his opinion the judge said "The combination of the defendant and this priest was, I believe, conceived by them both in order to reap financial profit and the 25 per cent upon the net profit which the priest alleges was being paid to him by Koppleman was added to the price the consumer paid for the article." Additionally, Judge Gottlieb described the mission building as "thoroughly dilapidated and dangerous," saying "I do not think that this building was ever used for mission purposes and I do not think that Father Caralt is altogether altruistic in his endeavors to help the children."
Koppleman was found guilty and fined the equivalent of $3,750 in today's money. His three-month workhouse term was suspended.
In 1955 America became embroiled in the Vietnam War. A decade later strong anti-war sentiments were being voiced across the country, notably on college campuses and in large city protests. In 1965 a group took space in No. 17 to organize protests and demonstrations like Women Strike for Peace. Its most notable undertaking was coordinating the Fifth Avenue Peace Parade, New York's part in the nationwide demonstrations planned for April 27, 1968.
|The Committee produced promotional posters like this one from its offices at No. 17 East 17th Street. from the collection of the Library of Congress|
The day was not without conflict. "Police attacked the group in Washington Square Park because the group intended to parade without a permit," said the article. "About 800 people attempted to march to the Columbia University campus to support the students there, but they, too, were attacked by police."
The Federal Government took names. Several of the Parade Committee members were called before the four-day Congressional hearings of the Committee of Internal Security in April 1970.
Still calling itself the Vietnam Peace Parade Committee the gruop continued to operate from the East 17th Street building. On August 12, 1970 The New York Times reported that it had lobbied the City Council to "introduce a resolution committing the city to withholding the portion of Federal taxes that go toward financing the Vietnam war. The group's slogan was now "Take New York City Out of the War--Now."
"The committee began a massive petition drive and will hold demonstrations at City Hall on Oct. 15 to urge the City Council to adopt the resolution," said the article. It had already won over four members of the City Council, who announced plans to introduce the resolution which would further require the city "to give legal counsel and sanctuary to draft resisters and those seeking to avoid assignment to Southeast Asia and also to 'give total amnesty' to those imprisoned for antiwar activities."
The 1990's saw the restaurant Daily Soup operating from the ground floor. During a scorching heat wave in the summer of 1997 the store creatively countered with cold soups. On July 23 The Times journalist Suzanne Hamlin reported on the line of patrons waiting to be served. "Outside, the temperature was hovering near a steamy 100 degrees," she said, but "Cold soup, many New Yorkers are discovering, is an icy bowl of revival, instant air-conditioning for body and soul." The store sold around six different cold soups each day, like "chilled avocado and shrimp."
Daily Soup made way for Sushi Jones in 2001, described by The New York Times food critic Florence Fabricant as "a bright new modern takeout spot with "untraditional fare." The owners, Adam Kriger and Adam Diamond took "sushi into pizza territory," as well as offering a kids menu that included "sushi-style rolls made with white bread and filled with cream cheese and bologna or peanut butter and jelly."
The building was converted to apartments--one per floor--in 2019. The store space is home to Dig Inn today, a cafeteria-style chain serving mostly sandwiches and salads.
photographs by the author