Tuesday, April 6, 2010

The Skinniest House in New York -- No. 75-1/2 Bedford St

In the middle of the 19th century the 9-1/2-foot-wide space between the 75 and 77 Bedford Street was known as a horsewalk--a drive to the carriage houses in the rear.  At some point, it was filled in by a narrow house given the address of 75-1/2 Bedford.  Most historians date the building from 1873, when the property is first listed as being owned by Horatio Gomez.  However the original architectural style was listed as Italianate, more in keeping with the fashion of the 1850s, and property values did not change in the 1873 documents, leading to the suspicion that the little house is probably a bit earlier.

When built, the first floor of the emaciated little building was used as commercial space with living quarters were above.  At one point it was a cobbler's shop and, in 1880, a candy shop.  The romantic transformation of the house came following its purchase by poet Edna St. Vincent Millay and her husband Eugen Jan Boissevain in 1923.  The couple hired Ferdinand Savignano to redesign the house.  Perhaps in deference to his Dutch heritage, Boissevain's added a stepped Flemish gable.  Casement windows were installed and a studio space for the poet was created on the top floor. 

from the collection of the New York Public Library

A decade later the house--only 8 feet, 7 inches wide inside--was home to anthropologist Margaret Mead; her brother-in-law, cartoonist William Steig; and her sister Joan.  Within the next twenty years actors Cary Grant and John Barrymore would call it home.

Millay in the backyard -- from the collection of the New York Public Library

Trouble came in 1952 when the Bedford Street corner was slated for development.  Long before historic preservation efforts, the historic buildings were in imminent danger of demolition.  In order to save the skinny house, lawyer Kenneth Carroad purchased it and moved his family in.  By 1996, however, when a Carroad family member sold the house for $270,000 it had sat empty and neglected.  The staircase was dangerously unstable and repairs were urgently needed.

Nearly matching in repairs what they spent on the property, new owners Christopher Dubs and Cedric Wilson brought the narrow house back to life.  Because the house sits within the Greenwich Village Historic District, even replacement bricks had to be of the period or indistinguishable from the originals.  But the unique character of the house made the trouble worthwhile.

A 2010 renovation resulted in sleek, ultra-modern interiors -- photo curbed new york

That unique character also makes it a special property to potential buyers.  Dubs sold the house in 2000 for $1.6 million, and it sold again in January 2010 for $2.7 million--an impressive jump in value for the little house that originally plugged a carriage drive.  After a one-year renovation, the house was relisted in 2011 for $4.3 million.

The narrowest house in New York and the inspiration for 
Ann McGovern's 1980 children's book Mr. Skinner's Skinny House, 75-1/2 Bedford is a favorite camera target for tourists and New Yorkers alike. 

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