Monday, March 13, 2023

The Lost Beekman Tavern - 64 Beekman Street


Arthur Hosking photographed the venerable building on June 27, 1921, simultaneously capturing a modern automobile and a horse-drawn delivery truck.  from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York

On June 28, 1832 Thomas T. Storm advertised, "For Sale, Lease or To Let:  The three-story brick House and Lot, No. 64 Beekman, corner Gold street.  Store occupied as a Grocery, all in complete order."  Storm's house-and-store building had been built five years earlier, its brick-faced facade trimmed in brownstone.  A high staircase led to the residential portion above the store.

Robert O. Thompson now took over the grocery store.  Living with his family upstairs in 1836 were two working class boarders, Gurden Halsey, a mason; and carpenter Andrew Carlton.  

John H. Schwarte purchased the building and moved his grocery business in by 1845.  He and his family lived above the store, along with an employee, Philip Johnson.   The John H. Schwarte & Co. grocery doubled, in fact, as a saloon, as reflected in an advertisement on May 18, 1853:

For Sale--A Grocery and Liquor Store, down town, in a good situation for business.  Persons calling immediately at the grocery, 64 Beekman street, will be treated with on liberal terms.  If not sold on or before Tuesday, 24th inst., will be sold by public auction.

In fact, Schwarte did not sell the business.  Instead, Jurgen H. Schwarte, presumably his son, took it over.  And by 1857 he had a second store at 17 Roosevelt Street.  The family continued to take in a boarder, and that year it was John Donnelly, a carman (or dray driver) and volunteer fireman.

It appears the Schwarte family sold 64 Beekman Street around 1859 to Laura M. Emmet.  That year Luke Otten took over the business, who continued to list it as "grocery" and "liquor store."  But when John Budelman rented the building around 1870, he focused on the "beer saloon" business.

Budelman was born in Bremen, Germany in 1837.  He had served with the 14th and 23rd Infantries as a commissary sergeant.  After the war, in 1867, he became a naturalized citizen and married Anna Margaretha Doscher.  The tradition of boarders stopped with the Budelmans, no doubt because they had seven children.  It was possibly Budelman who named the saloon the Old Beekman Halfway House.

John Budelman renewed his lease on the building for another five years in 1886.  Three years into that lease, however, in October 1889 he died.  

Another German immigrant, Gustav Adolph Lillienthal took over the lease and would remain here for decades.  Born in Otterndorf, Germany in March 1858, Lillienthal had come to America in 1872.  In 1884 he had become a naturalized citizen.  Like the Budelmans', his was a large family.  He and his wife, the former Sarah Christine Hennessy had eight children.

Lillienthal tweaked the name of the saloon to The Old Beekman.  In 1893, A Souvenir of New York's Liquor Interests noted it had "been directed by him with the most substantial success."  The article said:

The store occupied is excellently fitted up, the bar fixtures being of walnut in neat design, and chairs, tables, free-lunch counter, and all conveniences have been provided for the benefit of customers.  Lager from the Consumers' Brewing Co.'s brewery is kept on draught, also Beadelston & Woerz' ales and porter, and the finest wines, liquors and cigars are served to patrons.

Stefano Dondero received a permit to operate a fruit stand on the sidewalk in 1897.  from the collection of the New-York Historical Society.

Three decades after he signed his first lease, Lillienthal was still in charge.  Prohibition had prompted another name change--to the Old Beekman Luncheonette.  It was described by Christopher Morley in his 1922 Plum Pudding.  Saying that he was originally on his way to Hanover Square, he was waylaid "on viewing the agreeable old house at the corner of Gold Street--'The Old Beekman, Erected 1827,' once called the Old Beekman Halfway House, but now the Old Beekman Luncheonette--no hungry man in his senses could pass without tarrying."  He continued:

A flavour of comely and respectable romance was apparent in this pleasant place, with its neat and tight-waisted white curtains in the upstairs windows and an outdoor stairway leading up to the second floor.  Inside, at a table in a cool, dark corner, we dealt with hot dogs and cloudy cider in a manner beyond criticism.  The name Luncheonette does this fine tavern serious injustice: there is nothing of the feminine or the soda fountain about it: it is robust, and we could see by the assured bearing of some well-satisfied habitués that it is an old landmark in that section.

Prohibition turned the tavern into a luncheonette, hawking sandwiches and pies.  (The exquisite Federal doorway of the former house next door survived.)  from the collection of the New-York Historical Society

Following the repeal of Prohibition, The Old Beekman took back its old name, now operating as a bar and lunchroom.  After running the business for half a century, Gustav Adolph Lillienthal died at the age of 81 on October 3, 1939.

Once again a tavern in 1939, the staircase to the upper floors was removed.  photograph by Beecher Ogden, from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York

While the familiar Old Beekman Tavern continued serving brokers and businessmen, in 1958 David Rockefeller helped form the Downtown-Lower Manhattan Association, Inc.  The group's goal was to rehabilitate the Financial District.  The "physical redevelopment" the group endorsed was essentially urban renewal.

The association endorsed seven major projects in November 1963, including the Southbridge Towers that would erase blocks of buildings, including the 136-year-old Old Beekman Tavern.  The massive, five-building project was completed in 1971.  The corner where the old landmark stood no longer exists.

many thanks to historian Anthony Bellov for suggesting this post.
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  1. Thank you for writing your story on the old Beekmen Gustav Adolph Lilienthal was my Great Grandfather .

    1. Adelaide Lilienthal was my grandmother! She was one of Gustav’s daughters. We are related! Would love to touch base.