Saturday, January 22, 2011

No. 499 Broome Street (363 West Broadway) Kenn's Broome Street Bar

On Christmas Eve in 1867, as New York was recovering from the troubles of the Civil War, black New Yorkers were welcomed into the parlor of the house at 499 Broome Street where the city’s first Sunday school for non-white adults was held. “The institution of this school is the praiseworthy result of the labors of a widow lady during the past four years,” reported The New York Times. “Much has yet to be done to render it efficient to the extent desired and needed among a population of 2,000 colored people who surround it.” The “widow lady” recruited the services of Rev. T. P. Wilds as superintendent of the school.

The handsome brick house had stood on the corner of Broome and Laurens Streets since around 1825, when the neighborhood was first plotted out and developed. As the population of the city jumped from 100,000 in 1810 to 160,000 in 1825, comfortable homes for the successful merchant class began lining the blocks north of City Hall. Among them was No. 499 Broome Street, a roomy 3-1/2 story Federal building with a dormered attic. The dignified dwelling would have been entered through an elegant doorway, mostly likely flanked by twin ionic painted pillars, narrow sidelights and a leaded overlight. Wrought iron fencing would have surrounded the basement and led up the brownstone steps.

As the 19th century progressed, the residential tone of the neighborhood changed. Families moved northward and their distinguished residences were renovated for commercial purposes, the parlor floors becoming workshops or stores, with warehouse or factory space in the upper stories.  Such was the case with No. 499 Broome Street.

No. 499 Broome (363 West Broadway) in 1939 - photo NYPL Collection
In the late 1870s or early 1880s, an addition was built to the rear of No. 499 Broome Street on what was now West Broadway (the name being changed in 1868 when Laurens Street and West Broadway were connected). Although the interiors were stripped out of the main house and the first floor was altered beyond recognition, the architectural integrity of the Federal building was, overall, preserved.

By 1917 there was a cafĂ© on the first floor of what had been the "widow lady’s" house with “factory lofts” on the second and third floors; and this was essentially how the quaint structure would be used throughout the 20th century. In 1972 Kenn’s Broome Street Bar, a tavern serving “bar food,” opened with the side-door address of 363 West Broadway. More than 30 years later the bar remains a familiar meeting place in Soho on a street much changed since 1825.

Although the house is now dwarfed by the tall buildings crowding around it, it is still easy to imagine a time when similar houses lined the streets and a widow lady shared Christmas carols in her parlor.

photo by Axel Holzinger

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