Friday, January 5, 2024

The 1827 Isaac C. Blauvelt House - 531 Hudson Street


Thousands of citizens fled New York City to Greenwich Village following the outbreak of yellow fever in 1822.  The population explosion necessitated a flurry of construction.  Established builders were soon joined by unexpected speculators like bakers, hat makers and other businessmen.  In 1826 two carmen--drivers of horse-drawn delivery drays--purchased plots on the west side of Hudson Street, just south of Charles Street.

Tunis Banta and Isaac C. Blauvelt erected two-and-a-half story, Federal style homes on the sites, completed in 1827.  Isaac C. Blauvelt's house, 531 Hudson Street, had handsome Federal details like the delicate, openwork stoop newels with pineapple finials, and paneled brownstone lintels.  Originally, one or two dormers pierced the peaked roof.

Blauvelt originally leased the property to James Chamberlain and his family.  They left in 1833, and a hint of their comfortable lifestyle can be gleaned from the auction notice on April 9.  It included items like "Brussels, Ingrain and Venetian carpets, stair carpets and rods, mahogany chairs, high post mahogany carved bedsteads," a "pillar and claw table," and "fancy cane seat chairs."

The family of Jacob Cole lived here by the mid-1840s, and in 1851 the George A. Steele family was leasing the house.  George was a typefounder.  Living with him and his wife were their adult sons, Manning, John H., and James and their families.  John was a printer of "blankbooks" and Manning was a clerk.  What James did for a living is unclear.

Despite what must have been snug conditions, the Steeles rented a room.  In 1853, their tenant was Lockwood K. Campbell, an inspector at the New York Custom House; and the following year F. B. Marvin, an officer in the Croton Aqueduct Department lived with the family.  An advertisement in the New York Herald that year offered "partial board," meaning that only one meal was provided.

In 1856, many New Yorkers still recalled the horrors of the 1822 yellow fever epidemic.  Those memories were no doubt awakened that spring.  On April 30, The New York Times reported on the arrival of the ship Empire State with 516 passengers.  The article said it "had on board during her passage 33 cases of small-pox, eight of whom died on the passage, and 235 of whom were sent by the Health Officer to the Marine Hospital."  The article added that two days earlier, the brig General Taylor had arrived from Port au Prince with half of her crew dead of yellow fever.

By fall, it appears, one of the deadly diseases had reached Greenwich Village.  On November 9, 1856, John and Mary Steele's four-year-old son William Henry died "after a short and severe illness."  His funeral was held in the house two days later.  The following year, on August 5, James and Margaret's only child, five-month-old Julia Maria died; and three months later, on November 13 John and Mary's two-year-old daughter Mary Augusta succumbed. 

After having leased the house for decades, around 1861 Isaac C. Blauvelt and his family moved into 531 Hudson Street.  Living with him and his wife, the former Rachel Powels, were James H. Blauvelt, who was a clerk; and John who worked as a driver.

The Blauvelts, too, leased rooms.  In 1861 Frank D. Karr, his wife, Sarah J., and their son Frank Jr. boarded with the family.  Frank was a clerk in a Broadway firm.  Sadly, as had been the case so many times before, the parlor was the scene of Frank Jr.'s funeral on August 24, 1862.

Tragedy continued to visit 531 Hudson Street.  In 1864 the family of Edward S. and Sarah C. Allaire boarded with the Blauvelts.  On April 2, the couple's five-month-old daughter Margaret Christie died of scarlet fever.  Her tiny casket was placed in the parlor and her funeral was announced for April 5.  It would be delayed by one day, however.  On April 4, three-year-old Edward Parkes Allaire died.  The children's double funeral was held here on April 6.  (In 1865, Edward and Susan Allaire purchased 534 Hudson Street, almost directly across the street.)  

Around 1870 Isaac Blauvelt converted the basement level to a commercial space.  On May 2, 1871, an announcement in the New York Herald read, "James Cagney, auctioneer, real estate and loan broker, has removed from his late business place (194 Broadway) to 531 Hudson street, where he will carry on the above business as usual."  Cagney remained at least through 1875, advertising properties like "an excellent corner liquor store," and "a most desirably located long and well patronized down town wholesale and retail grocery."

Isaac C. Blauvelt died on April 15, 1878.  The Hudson Street house was sold to Jeremiah W. Dimmick in June 1881 for $20,943 (about $618,000 in 2024 terms).  He hired architect John H. Whitensch to modernize the building.  Completed in 1882, the renovations raised the attic to a full-height third floor, and converted the basement and parlor levels for business.  While the Federal ironwork and second story lintels were preserved, modern Italianate entrance doors were installed.  The new cornice was surprisingly understated, with simple brackets and dentils. 

Dimmick rented space on the upper floors to several families, including (somewhat surprisingly) that of John Blauvelt in 1884.  Other tenants that year were Charles Kerr, a "fitter" (a person who assembled pieces of machinery), and Charles Keech, a driver.  John Pesham lived here on February 23, 1888 when he was arrested as one of the proprietors of a gambling house on West 30th Street.

At the time of Pesham's arrest, a woman named Armstrong operated the upper portion of the house.  In December that year she took pity on a woman from Hoboken, New Jersey who had suffered horrific domestic abuse.  On December 15, 1888, according to The Adirondack News, Sadie Burd was "terribly beaten by her husband," Edward Burd, the captain of  the excursion barge Caledonia.  The article said, "Then taking her little Lizzie, she left home and found refuge with Mrs. Armstrong in Hudson Street."  Although she was now safe from her abusive husband, she had no means by which to take care of herself and her daughter.  

On January 5, 1889, said the article, Sadie Burd "was found by the police of the Charles street station recently, in a room at 531 Hudson street, New York city, suffering from cold and hunger and from a broken rib that she said was the result of her husband's brutality."  The article noted, "The child had been well cared for by the neighbors, but Mrs. Burd said that for four days she had not tasted food, had no fire in her room and had had no medical attendance since she received her injuries.  The little one was taken charge of by Agent Gleason of Mr. Gerry's society."

Dimmick made interior alterations in the summer of 1891.  The plans filed by builders Ryan & Sons included "walls altered."

The family of Fred (most likely an anglicization of Frederico) Lorenzo, a barber, lived in the building by 1892.  Living with him and his wife was their son, Lecurgo, who was also a barber.  Another son, David Lorenz, lived nearby at 121 Christopher Street.  (Both sons had dropped the "o" from their surnames.)  

On the afternoon of Sunday, March 18, 1894, Lecurgo and David paid a call on a young woman.  To their displeasure, another man, street car conductor James Early, had the same idea.  The adage of "three's a crowd" turned violent.  On March 21, The Evening World reported that a fistfight occurred during which Early "got the better of a fight over a woman whom the three men had called to see."

Things got worse when police were called.  The Evening World reported, "Lecurgo was arrested after threatening the officers with a razor.  David turned out to be a man whom the police have been after for some time, for assaulting a woman."

At the time, the real estate office of Hammond & Gruet had operated from 531 Hudson Street for several years.  In an interesting turn of events, among their agents in 1895 was F. D. Lorenzo, quite possibly the former barber, Fred Lorenzo.  In the meantime, another Italian-born barber, Rafael Decresenzi, lived in the building. 

Real estate firms continued to operate in the commercial spaces for decades.   In 1896 King & Co. occupied the parlor floor, while G. Funk's printing shop was in the basement level.  In 1901, he employed 15 men in what must have been tight quarters.

In February 1906, Engineering Review reported that Maurice W. Lewis "has opened a plumbing business" at 531 Hudson Street, taking over the former printing shop.  He would remain throughout the World War I years, with Kanavan Real Estate occupying the second floor space by 1910.

In 1941, the paneled lintels at the second floor and the handsome Italianate entrance doors survived.  image via the NYC Dept of Records & Information Services.

The post-World War I years saw a grocery store in the building through, at least, 1922.  The basement and parlor floors remained distinct commercial spaces until 1970, when The Wine Cellar restaurant opened.  The New York Times journalist Jean Hewitt wrote on November 27, "This informal, split level dining-pub gets its name from the wine rack décor against bare brick, old wood and antiques rather than from any outstanding offerings on its wine list."

It was most likely at this time that the building was given a pseudo-Tudor facade, with a coating of stucco and pretend half-timbering, and a cedar shake awning over the parlor floor.

The space became the Village Green in 1977.  It was described by New York Magazine on January 14, 1980.  "It would be difficult to imagine a firelit setting of refined rusticity more beautiful than at Village Green."  It was replaced in December 1992 by Mesa Verde, which rapidly gave way to Rubyfruit Bar & Grill.  On November 30, 1994, Newsday called it "a bar and restaurant with a focus on women.  Women run it, lots of women meet at the bar, and there's chardonnay and merlot from Bonverre, a California winery run by gay women."

There would be two more restaurants in the space--RF Lounge and Swine--before the Japanese bar-restaurant Katana Kitten, opened.

In the meantime, the last visible vestiges of Isaac C. Blauvelt's design--the delicate iron stoop railings and newels somehow survive.  And, most likely, beneath the 20th century Tudor facing, are the paneled second floor lintels.

photographs by the author
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