Thursday, December 30, 2010

Nos. 183-185 West Fourth Street

Nos. 185-183 W. 4th Street -- photo Fairfax & Sammons Architecture

The streets of Greenwich Village, essentially unaffected by the grid plan of 1811, wander this way and that, often creating a tangle of angles and intersections only the veteran Villagers can easily maneuver. On the triangular-shaped block where West 4th Street angles sharply northwest from 6th Avenue towards Sheridan Square a charming row of Federal style houses terminates with two surprising and unexpected buildings.

Here in Manhattan sit two quaint Georgian-looking houses, like a slice of old London transplanted into New York. Their cozy, antique appearance exudes the romance of a Currier & Ives lithograph of 18th Century domesticity.

They are in reality only about half that age and their beginnings are not so romantic.

The little two story house at No. 185, which deftly appears to be a single story, started out life as the carriage house for the owners of a townhouse on Washington Place. In 1917, as horse-drawn carriages gave way to motorcars and Greenwich Village saw the beginnings of its Bohemian attraction, it was converted into a residence.

The architect, reportedly named Fayerwhether, embraced the Colonial Revival style that had become trendy with the 1876 Centennial and would last for another few years. A simple arched doorway topped by a fanlight and two multipaned windows with paneled shutters gave the little house a Revolutionary period flavor.

As the renovation was being completed, Annette Hoyt Flanders was serving with the American Red Cross in France, during World War I. Flanders earned her B.S. degree in botany at Smith College in 1918 before leaving and would go on to study landscape architecture at the University of Illinois, civil engineering at Marquette University, and design, architecture and architectural history at the Sorbonne.

She became famous through landscape architecture and opened her own office in New York in 1922. Around this time she moved into No. 185 West 4th Street.

In 1936 the little house got another facelift when it acquired its modified mansard roof with Chinese Chippendale railing. Grills set into the broad cornice board disguise the small windows of the second story and echo the railing’s motif.

In 1917 the Buildings Department documented the construction of No. 183, next door, noting a “one floor studio with mezzanine.” The artist’s studio was architecturally compatible with its little next door neighbor and as the decades passed, both served a succession of artistic owners and tenants.

By 1962 when wealthy art dealer Armand Hammer discovered the two buildings, No. 185 had “two one-half apartments on each floor.” Hammer purchased both structures on October 15, 1962 and set about converting them into a single home (on the same day he purchased three contingent Federal houses on Washington Place).

photo Fairfax & Sammons Architecture
Jazz-loving Hammer used the home as his downtown getaway, within walking distance of jazz clubs, for nearly four decades. In 2000 his estate sold the property to esteemed architect and designer couple Anne Fairfax and Richard Sammons. The peculiar pie-shaped form, the odd angles and unintended joined interior spaces created a challenge.

photo Fairfax & Sammons Architecture
Fairfax worked with decorator Marina Killery to create a sophisticated residence that respects the history of the buildings and the Village. Extra charm was effected by shrubberies and flowering plants, designed by landscape architect Charles Stick.

photo Fairfax & Sammons Architecture
Nos. 183-185 West Fourth Street are indisputably two of the most charismatic and unique buildings in Manhattan and the surprising residence behind the front doors is matchless.


  1. I recently read an article on the Fairfax/Sammons residence...kinda broken up interview telling a little history of the place, sorta, but not very well...thanks for giving a better, yet concise version of the history of the building...always a pleasure reading your posts.. maureen

  2. Just found your blog via eclectic revisited. So pleased to subscribe.
    Hours and hours and hours of interesting historical posts for me to explore!

  3. My aunt was married to Armand Hammer. I stayed at the house on numerous times before the 1960’s. It was my understanding that he had owned the house many, many years prior.
    A.H. Was no jazz lover. He loved Russian music. There was an organ in the living room which was never played. A large Lawrence portrait above the fireplace.
    I loved that property but the neighborhood was really dicey when I visited
    Iron bars were put on all the windows after a few breaki ins.
    The building had been a carriage house. It was so damp. The small kitchen was renovated, very badly, in the 80’s.

  4. This is wonderful. I’ve lived in Jones Street for 3 years and have always been charmed by 183 West 4th. Thank you for these little insightful gems.