Wednesday, June 29, 2011

The Oft-Converted No. 40 West 10th Street

Only the large carriage door -- now a garage door -- gives any hint of the building's former use -- photo by Alice Lum

By the middle of the 19th Century the West 10th Street between Fifth and Sixth Avenues had become an eclectic mix of buildings.  Earlier Federal style homes sat along newly-built broad brownstone or brick mansions nearer Fifth Avenue.  And interspersed among them were the livery and boarding stables of Moses Devoe at No. 50, built in 1863, and the private carriage house at No. 40, which dated back to 1833.
Although at least one present-day real estate broker insists it No. 40 was designed by architect James Renwick, Jr., it seems unlikely that the esteemed Renwick would have been bothered with so small a commission.  The architect, by now, was already responsible for several substantial churches and was busy designing the great Gothic municipal buildings on Blackwell’s Island.

But whoever designed it, the carriage house was purchased by James Franklin Doughty Lanier, a wealthy banker and member of Winslow, Lanier & Co.  Lanier and his wife, Mary McClure Lanier, lived just down the block at No. 16 West 10th Street.
In 1888, after the couple died within seven years of one another, the estate sold the stable to the dry goods merchant Howard Gibb for $25,000.  Gibb, who owned a department store in Brooklyn, lived on nearby Fifth Avenue.   Unfortunately, he died in France only two months after buying the carriage house.

At some point before 1894 the building was renovated to residential space.  C. W. Lawson was apparently renting here when he left on a cold night during Christmas week to meet friends for dinner.  Dressed in his evening clothes, he came upon Police Officer Moore attempting to rouse the drunk and unconscious John McDonald by rubbing the man’s ears.
Rubbing ears, it seems, was a favorite method of the police in awakening passed-out drunks.

Lawson, a member of the Good Government Club, was dressed in silk hat and white kid gloves and was annoyed at the officer’s methods.

According to the New York Times report a few days later, Lawson accosted the officer saying “My good man you have no right to maltreat a man because he is drunk.”
When the officer insisted he was not hurting McDonald, Lawson pressed on.  “I know better—you are.  What you should do in a case of this sort is to call on some citizen to help you.”

So Officer Moore did.  “I call on you,” he answered.
Lawson regretted that he was on his way to dinner and could not pause or he would be late.  The officer explained that if he did not pause he would be arrested for refusing to help a police officer.  Lawson looked at McDonald who was covered with dirt and mud and begged to be allowed to leave.

But instead, the officer and the gentleman lugged the staggering drunk to the Charles Street police Station.  Upon reaching the steps Lawson begged to be allowed to leave.
“Very sorry, Sir,” replied the officer, “but I couldn’t possibly get this fellow into the station house without your help.”

Eventually Lawson rushed off to dinner, very late.  After he left Officer Moore scoffed “If I had been left alone I would have had that man able to walk inside of five minutes.”

The drunken McDonald was fined $5.00.

On December 27, 1911 the Brooklyn Trust Company, as trustee for the Howard Gibb estate, sold the No. 40 to Charles Keck.  Newspaper reports said that Keck intended to “alter extensively for studios.”

Charles Keck was a sculptor and until 1898 was assistant to Augustus Saint-Gaudens.  Although at the time of the purchase he was still relatively unknown, he would go on to sculpt monuments and memorials nation-wide.  As reported he initiated a major renovation of the building, including the facade, into a residence and studio.
There were two floors of living space and his studio soared 30 feet high to glass skylights. 

The house was the scene of glittering entertainment, such as the reception the Kecks gave for Charles R. Albin before the annual ball of the Kit Kat Club.  The hostess for the evening was the artist Miss Jack Wilbur.
The terra cotta bas relief of Bacchus seems somewhat appropriate given the later history of the house -- photo by Alice Lum

At this time Keck was sharing his studio with N. B. Stearns; however the oncoming Great Depression would cause him to lose his beloved home and workplace.  Although he managed to keep the property, he could not afford to live there.  In 1937 the sculptor rented it to an executive with General Motors.
In 1952, the year after Charles Keck died, author Charlotte Clough purchased No. 40 for $40,000.  She lived here only two years before selling it to printing business executive Samuel Franklin Chernoble.   The wealthy Chernoble leased part of the building to the Republic Club while retaining the residential portion for his own use.

After his retirement in 1970, he sold the house to yard goods executive Frank Weinstein for $236,200.  Weinstein and his partner, Zeus Goldbert, commissioned architect Charles Boxenbaum to completely renovate the structure.  The interior was gutting, opening a two-story atrium and producing a sleek and modern space.  The stark makeover earned an extensive spread in House Beautiful magazine.  Weinstein and his partner lived here until 1989 when they moved to the West Coast.
With a shaky real estate market casting a dark shadow over Manhattan, the house sat unoccupied for two years before liquor mogul Enrico Marone Cinzano purchased it for $2.05 million in January 1991 and started his own major renovation.

Cinzano produced sleek, soaring spaces throughout.
The space was updated with a swimming pool, servants rooms below ground, spa, and a top level bedroom.  The main rooms looked onto a 40-foot atrium filled with mature bamboo trees.  There were six bedrooms.   Charles Boxenbaum lamented the undoing of his striking renovation.  In an email (to me) he said in part, "each subsequent renovation reduced the special quality of the Weinstein renovation by completely missing the point special to this house."

All traces of the carriage house or Keck's original renovations were stripped out to produce minimalistic interiors.
The house was notorious with neighbors as an all-night party venue.  But, eventually, the partying cooled down and Cinzano moved to India. 
Napster co-founder Sean Parker rented the house at $45,000 a month, throwing his own legendary all night parties.  Finally in January 2011 he bought the carriage house with its copper cornice, graceful arched second-story windows and the terra cotta swagged panels and bas relief of Bacchus.

The price tag was $20 million. 
The remarkable block on which the converted carriage house sits has been home to artists and writers like Mark Twain, Jerry Herman, Edward Albee, Kahlil Gibran, and  Kikishi Yama and No. 40 promises to continue to enhance the street’s colorful history.

photographs by


  1. I'd always wondered about that one. It's origins as a carriage house seemed plain, but the rest of the building's history certainly wasn't. Thanks, Tom.

  2. This single block has to be one of the most fascinating in Manhattan. There is a wealth of architecture and history here.

  3. And a remarkably eclectic variety as well.

  4. It was leased to the 1st Assembly District Republican Club in the 50s and early 60s for use as a political clubhouse and meeting place.

  5. I worked on this home as a carpenter in the early 1990s