|photo by Alice Lum
On December 16, 1835 fire broke out at 25 Merchant Street in downtown Manhattan. Firefighters struggled in the sub-freezing temperatures, cutting holes in the East River to get water, only to have it freeze in their hoses.
By the next day, when the blaze was finally extinguished, 17 blocks of the city were in ruins with between 500 and 700 buildings destroyed. Included in the devastation was the little winding South William Street.
The area was rebuilt that year with nearly identical Greek Revival commercial buildings going up. As the turn of the century neared, real estate values soared in the active Financial District and the old structures were razed for new office buildings.
But somehow South William Street remained untouched.
|Nos. 13 and 15 (street numbers on the columns) as they appeared in 1866, four decades before Amos Eno would make his "extensive alterations" -- NYPL Collection
On April 3, 1903 Amos F. Eno purchased the four-story brick and stone building at No. 13 South William Street which extended through the block to Stone Street. Eno was a major player in New York City real estate – it was his land at 23rd Street and Broadway that would become the site of the Flatiron Building before long – and an amateur Manhattan historian. Eno intended to establish his offices on the ground floor of No. 13 “after extensive alterations have been made.”
Perhaps Eno was inspired by the hoopla surrounding the renewed interest in the Colonial period Fraunces Tavern nearby. Or perhaps it was simply his awareness of the city’s Dutch roots. Whatever the case, his “extensive alterations” were remarkable.
Eno commissioned C.P.H. Gilbert to redesign the old façade. Gilbert normally busied himself with designing opulent mansions along Fifth Avenue. But in this case he created a quaint, Flemish Revival façade with a steep stepped gable, S-scrolls, diamond-paned windows and decorative copper masonry supports. Beneath a circular attic window the date of the renovation was proudly announced in copper numerals.
One year later, on April 27, Eno took title to the property next door at No. 15. Within a year Gilbert was called back to redesign this one as well. The architect produced a harmonious structure completed in 1909. As with No. 13 the windows were given with stone, keyed surrounds and diamond panes. Stone lions head water spouts projected below the shorter stepped gable.
While Eno kept his offices at No. 13, he leased No. 15 to Siegfried, Gruner & Co., importers of coffee. In 1910 Ratje Siedenburg, a partner in the coffee business, died and the firm of La Montagne Sons took over the lease.
Six years later the building was leased to cigarette manufacturers George A. Georgopulo.
In the meantime the quaint charm of Nos. 13 and 15 was apparently infectious. Before the Depression the little street saw a half-timbered Tudor at Nos. 21-23 and a neo-Gothic structure at Nos. 9-11. The overall impression is one of a tiny European enclave, certainly far from the bustling Wall Street district with its Art Deco skyscrapers.
|Gothic and Tudor facades join Gilbert's neo-Flemish designs to create a charming streetscape -- photo by Alice Lum
In 1996 Amos Eno’s delightful Dutch buildings at Nos. 13 and 15 South William Street became part of the Stone Street Historic District. By an unexplainable miracle, these wonderful and picturesque buildings survived the 20th Century intact, creating a remarkable storybook lane nestled in the soaring skyscrapers of Wall Street.