Tuesday, February 1, 2011

The Little House at No. 183 9th Avenue

At the corner of West 21st Street and 9th Avenue sits a quaint café in a venerable red brick Federal house. Three astonishing little two-story wooden structures line up next to it going northward, creating a fantastic glimpse of old Chelsea.

The handsome, broad home with Flemish-bond brickwork at No. 183 9th Avenue was built between 1831 and 1832, as the great Gothic Revival General Seminary was rising on the plot across 19th Street to the south. The steep pitched roof has two prominent, narrow dormers and a simple wooden bead board under the cornice. Brownstone lentils cap the windows.

In 1833 James N. Wells was living here, running his real estate business from offices on the second floor, accessed by a separate side door on 21st Street. Wells was a prodigious agent and was instrumental in the creation of the Chelsea area through the many deals he orchestrated.

By the second half of the 19th Century the house was owned by Levi L. Livingston, who also owned the little house next door at No. 185. Livingston was a decorative painter, responsible for murals and painted interior decorations of public and private buildings, including the Masonic Temple on 23rd Street and 6th Avenue. Instrumental in organizing the Association of Master Painters, of which he was president several times, Livingston had “heavy contracts for painting the North River steamers and the elevated railroads,” according to The New York Times.

After his death in 1882, his estate continued to maintain the property until finally selling it in 1910; advertising the house as a “three story tenement and store.”

The second oldest house in Chelsea, No. 183 9th Avenue has managed to survive, along with its three little wooden neighbors, despite change and progress. The small back yard protected by a plank fence still exists. Today it is home to a French café that Frommer’s says has a “vintage Parisian look” and which contributes to a charming antique vignette just steps from the popular High Line park.

uncredited photographs were taken by the author


  1. Hi Tom..
    this is on my itinerary when I visit...I gotta check out the cafe..and get a cup of coffee...and photos...interesting the the owner was a painter..
    have a great day..

  2. I was thrilled to find this page since I lived on the top floor of this wonderful house in the garret from 1975 to 1977. I was a photography student at the School of Visual Arts and my rent for the whole top floor 2 bedroom attic was $250/month! They were happy days of a bygone era of affordable housing with charm. I left there for a more spacious loft on Greene St. in SoHo -- 2500 sq ft, 18 windows, and just $500/month with a 5 year lease! Hard to believe...

  3. The storefront housed a coffee shop back in the mid 80s and 90s,a very homey type of place.all of us NYC Sanitation workers would stop in every morning for break, 15 minutes of fun.
    A wonderful memory!!

  4. Was that Coffee Shop in the mid 80s and 90s called Frank's bodega ?

    1. Frank's was actually a block south on 20th st. Loved that little place and the people there, I used to get breakfast there almost every morning and often lunch too.

  5. Very interesting, and delighted the buildings have survived! Levi L. Livingston and his wife, the former Carolyn A. Low are my 5th great uncle & aunt. Your research matches mine, and it's a delight to see what my ancestors did in their lifetime. Thank you for sharing!!

  6. I saw the two story houses when I visited New York in October, 2018.
    I was very impressed by the three wooden houses because they were Dutch style and I thought 'They must be very old.'