Thursday, February 9, 2012

The Beaux Arts 1905 Flats at Nos. 14-16 Bedford Street

photo Laub Realty
In the last half of the 19th century poor immigrants crowded into unsanitary tenement buildings, giving multifamily buildings a decidedly poor reputation.   To counter this, developers used creative language.  Fashionable “resident hotels” and “French flats” were designed for respectable families who wished to avoid the cost or inconvenience of maintaining a private home.

But by the turn of the century apartment living had, for the most part, lost the stigma of “living on a shelf,” as Caroline Astor referred to it.  Architects were designing what were unapologetically termed “apartment buildings” as more and more residents demanded the economically-sensible alternative to private homes.
On February 6, 1903 William and Julius Bachrach purchased the two small buildings at Nos. 14 and 16 Bedford Street.   The brothers were partners in the real estate development firm W & J Bachrach at 35 Nassau Street.   On sleepy Bedford Street in Greenwich Village they intended to erect an up-to-date, attractive apartment building unlike anything nearby.

By the end of the year architects Bernstein & Bernstein, whose offices were at 72 Trinity Place, filed plans for a “six-story brick flat.”  Their commission came at a time when reformers sought to improve apartment living conditions by urging architects to turn their attention to increased sunlight, better ventilation and fire safety.

The resulting apartment building proved that families living side-by-side could retain their dignity and style.  The entrance was centered between two retail spaces within the cast iron base; an innovation that provided extra income to the owners and, theoretically, helped reduce rents.  Inside, the foyer was paneled in white marble--a reminder to visitors that this was no tenement. 

Carved window frames and lintels and a robust cornice added class to the apartment building.

Above, five stories of red brick and limestone trim drew inspiration from the wildly popular Beaux Arts style that was washing over the city.  The brick was highlighted by contrasting courses of stone and elaborately-carved keystones capped the windows.  Above it all was a handsome pressed metal cornice with wreathed, scrolled brackets.

Although the Bachrach brothers leased the completed building on November 8, 1905 for a term of five years; they quickly turned it over within eight months, selling it to Antonio Bagorazy.  The new owner opted for a quick profit, as well, reselling it on December 28, 1906.

Greenwich Village in the early 1900s was a rich mixture of cultural and ethnic backgrounds.  Nos. 14 and 16 Bedford Street provided a microcosm of the neighborhood, its apartments filling with German, Italian and Irish names.

Sixteen year old Anthony Fusch was living here in July 1911 when he went swimming in the Harlem River with Robert Antenucci and several other boys.  When Fusch was seized with cramps and went under, Antenucci valiantly tried to save him, diving under the water repeatedly until he, himself, was exhausted.

The other boys returned with help from a nearby boathouse just in time to save Antenucci but it was too late for Anthony Fusch who died during attempts to resuscitate him.

Tragedy would return as World War I raged throughout Europe.  The family of John Figoli lived here and son Florian Figoli enlisted in the U.S. Army to fight for his country.  Private Figoli became a member of the U.S. Expeditionary Forces and then, on October 8, 1918, The Sun listed the soldier missing in action.

Six months later the New York Tribune reported that Private Florian Figoli had been declared killed in action.

Throughout the 20th century Nos. 14-16 Bedford Street remained relatively unchanged.  In July 1960 the Kempner Corporation sold the 22-unit building to H. J. Gucker who resold it the following month.  On the whole its residents came and went with little fanfare or notoriety.

The original paneled oak double entrance doors survive.
One exception was 19-year old Carlos Boutureira who, in 1976, joined ten other gang members in attacking blacks and Hispanics in Washington Square Park with clubs, bats, pipes and chains.  Fourteen people were injured, four of them hospitalized and one died four days later.   Because the case was mishandled by the District Attorney’s office, State Supreme Court Justice Robert M. Haft “regrettably” later dismissed the charges.

Bulbous-shaped fire escapes make them visually less offensive.
The strikingly handsome façade of Nos. 14-16 Bedford Street is often overlooked by busy pedestrians who rarely look above street level.  But the building represents a wonderful example of the transition of multifamily residences at the turn of the last century; a time when apartment dwellers were gaining dignity and when architects began infusing improved living conditions into their designs.

Many thanks to reader Keith Taillon for requesting this post.   Non-credited photographs taken by the author.

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