Friday, March 4, 2011

The 1868 Irwin Building - No. 316 Bowery

photo by Preserv
By the time the Civil War ended, the Bowery had drastically changed from rows of brick Federal-style homes to a busy commercial area. The houses that still survived now had stores or saloons in their street levels. Others were being replaced by commercial structures.

In 1868 banker Robert Irwin commissioned architect Nicholas Whyte to design a four-story brick “store and dwelling” at Nos. 316-318 Bowery, on the corner of Bleecker Street. Known as the Irwin Building, this would be one of Whyte’s first commissions.  He produced a strikingly handsome brick and sandstone building in the very latest Italianate style. A corner tower nestles within the steep mansard roof with its slightly-projecting arched dormers. Two paneled chimneys on the Bleecker Street side are banded with sandstone. Originally, ornate cast iron cresting would have finished the roofline. Elegant arched limestone lentils accentuate the tall windows .

The Bowery area at this time was part of  Kleindeutschland, or Little Germany. Between 1864 and 1874 a million and a half German immigrants settled in New York, most on the streets and avenues east of the Bowery. Although the Bowery had already earned a reputation as a center of vice and crime, the Germans opened many respectable music halls and beer gardens.

“The larger German music halls have the only respectable audiences to be found in the Bowery,” said James M. McCabe, Jr. in 1882. Nevertheless, as he continued in his “New York by Gaslight,” “Men and women in all stages of intoxication stagger along the pavements, and here and there is a sturdy policeman with some offender in his grasp, hastening on to the station-house. Vice offers every inducement to its votaries, and the devil’s work is done nightly upon a grand scale in the Bowery.”

Amid the mixed flavor of the neighborhood, the Irwin Building retained its respectability.  During the period McCabe described, the upper floors were being rented by both the Atlas Lodge #316 and the Neptune Lodge #317.

Troubles came for Irwin when in 1878 his Bond Street Savings Bank failed and he was personally sued by the receiver for $89,500. By 1880 John Boyd had briefly taken ownership of the building, selling it in 1883 to Abraham Ettinger.

Ettinger was leasing the building to Frank B. McCracken in 1893 when architects Kurtzer & Rohl were called in to renovate the ground-floor store. McCraken used the upper stories as a warehouse above the new store front until 1894.  Then, that year, he looked to take advantage of the financial potential of the space, hiring architect Walter H. C. Harnum to renovate the upper floors into a hotel.

The declining quality of the neighborhood around the turn of the century was reflected in the rapid-fire turnover in commercial tenants. Max Ungar leased the building in 1897, followed by Joseph Emrich and Louis Stajer in quick succession in 1900, David Mayer Brewing Co. and James J. Brown one after another in 1902, and Jaretsky Brothers in 1905.

Ettinger lost the property to foreclosure in 1913 when Eugene H. Paul took over. Paul quickly sold the building to millionaire banker Jacob H. Schiff who added a new storefront on Bleecker Street, designed by E. H. Janes & A. W. Cordes. The former hotel areas upstairs were now being used as a factory.

Throughout the first three decades of the 20th Century the building was sold and resold until Marpearl Realty Corp. purchased it in 1934. When important photographer Berenice Abbot shot the ground floor of the Irwin Building in 1938, it housed a hardware store that flawlessly portrayed the surrounding Bowery area.

No. 316 Bowery in 1938 -- NYPL Collection
Marpearl held on to the Irwin Building until 1977. Having suffered through decades of grime, derelicts, and neglect, the Bowery was experiencing a slow rebirth. Artists now lived in the upper floors and one-by-one music clubs and theaters cropped up along the thoroughfare.

In the Spring of 2004 architects Preserv completed a restoration initiated by the Taub family, owners, that including reinstalling the natural slate on the mansard, rebuilding of the decorative brick chimneys, cleaning and restoring the brickwork fa├žade, and fabricating and installing fiberglass replications of the original cast iron ornamentation that had been lost.
photo by Preserv
Today the space where the 1938 hardware store spilled bins of nails and screws onto the street is occupied by the trendy Double Crown restaurant and upstairs 2-bedroom apartments are selling for $2.6 million.

The Irwin Building has survived a century and a half of change to emerge a striking presence on the Bowery.

1 comment:

  1. so many fascinating stories these buildings possess.....