Monday, March 14, 2011

Henry Congdon's Delightful 1890 Survivor at No. 46 W. 17th Street

As the 19th Century wound down, the Union Square area saw broad brownstone mansions being replaced with elegant emporiums like Lord & Taylor, Tiffany & Co. and Arnold, Constable Dry Goods. Concurrently, wealthy residents abandoned their mansions on Fifth Avenue and the side streets as the fashionable residential area moved north ahead of the encroaching business district.

Except for No. 46 West 17th Street.

Here in 1890 architect Henry Congdon designed a stylish home in an up-to-the minute Romanesque Revival style with chic Queen Anne details. A rusticated stone base with an arched entranceway and parlor window over an English basement supported a variegated second floor. Using terra cotta detailing and molded brick, Congdon produced an eye-catching structure on the slim lot – only 16.5 feet wide. A two-story, tri-part projecting bay window topped by a picturesque Juliette balcony formed the center of a robust arch flanked by three narrow pillars. Finishing it off, a corbelled brick cornice mimicked the arched motif below.

Although it appears the house was built as a private residence, only four years later it was home to more than one family. Here in 1894 John Foord, former Secretary of the New York State World Fair Commission, was living when he was appointed by Mayor Gilroy as examiner in the Civil Service Board – earning $10 a day when in session. At the same time A. J. Van Opstreen resided at No. 46.  It was that year that Opstreen’s London-tailored clothing was stolen from on board the steamer Lucania by the ship's storekeeper, John Jones.

Next door at No. 48 lived the Ward family.  The Wards had purchased their house in 1890, the same year No. 46 was built.  In May of 1934 wealthy philanthropist and real estate operator Joseph L. Buttenwieser purchased both homes – No. 48 still in the possession of Miss A. Luisa Ward . Buttenwieser immediately filed for alteration permits and before long the buildings were converted to rooming houses.

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By 1940 there was a store in the cellar of No. 46, with furnished rooms leased above – one on the first floor, two on the second, and four each on the upper floors. For the next half-century the quaint little house would continue this way; all the rooms above the first floor being rented as single occupancy in 1968.

In 1995 No. 46 W. 17th Street, which the AIA Guide to New York City called “a charming survivor,” became The Chelsea Inn, coupled with its next door neighbor, No. 48. The innkeepers made sensitive renovations and Congdon’s late-bloomer near Union Square remains delightful remnant.

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