Wednesday, March 27, 2013

The 1833 Blauvelt House -- No. 232 W. 10th St.

Alterations in the second half of the 19th century resulted in a full third floor and handsome cornice.  The former stable next door has had a face lift of its own, more recently --photo by Alice Lum

By 1833 the population and building boom in Greenwich Village was going strong.  John C. Blauvelt was earning a living as a cartman, but he had greater aspirations.  That year he not only applied to the Board of Aldermen “to be appointed a Wood Inspector” according to board minutes; but he built a brick home at No. 232 West 10th Street.

Blauvelt’s brick house was typical of the Federal-style homes being built at the time.  Two and a half stories tall, it sat above an English basement below street level.  Plain brownstone lintels and sills and an unadorned door frame reflected the owner’s financial status—comfortable enough to build a brick home; but without unnecessary embellishments.  The pitched roof would have been punctured by one or two neat dormers.

It appears that Blauvelt’s application to be Wood Inspector was denied, for a year later he sold the new house to John Kohler along with the empty lot next door at No. 230.  John Blauvelt moved on and his name appears soon after as a resident of Rockland County.

Construction continued along the block and in 1848 Richar Dongan built a Greek Revival style home next door at No. 234.  A narrow horse walk separated the houses, which lead to a one-story wooden stable in the rear.  On the empty lot that Kohler purchased with No. 230 a brick-fronted stable was erected.

A horse walk, now closed by a stylish fence and gate, separated No. 232 from its slightly younger neighbor to the right -- photo by Alice Lum
Around the time that the Civil War drew to a close, a full third story was added to No. 232.  An up-to-date Italianate cornice with handsome scrolled brackets and new iron railings and newels for the stoop completed the makeover.

William G. Warren, whose father was a policeman in the Steamboat Squad, was living here in 1889.  The 21-year old ran into trouble on his way home on May 18 that year as he was walking along Bleecker Street, near West 10th.  Suddenly, apparently without provocation, he was struck on the shoulder by James G. Anderson.

The Evening World reported that “when he resented the blow he was set upon by Anderson’s friends.  He struck Anderson in the face, which caused him to fall to the ground and he died from his injuries.”  Warren was indicted for manslaughter, but he was discharged on his own recognizance by Judge Fitzgerald “on the ground that he acted in self-defense.”

Nine years later, on Saturday night February 27, 1898, Warren and a group of friends went to the Lafayette Place Baths.  “The young men enjoyed themselves playing leapfrog and in otherwise skylarking about the place for a time,” reported The New York Times.  “Then Warren left his friends and went into the room where the plunge is situated.”

The Victorian term “plunge” translates into the modern equivalent of a swimming pool.  Unknown the Warren, the water had been drained to only a foot deep.  He leaped over the railing and dived into the pool head first.  “His head struck the bottom of the plunge with great force and he lay motionless.  Two men who were in the room at the time lifted the man from the tank,” said the newspaper. 

Warren, now 30 years old, suffered a compound fracture of the skull and died in the hospital three hours later without recovering consciousness.

By 1908 both the stable and the house were owned by F. Egler who leased both buildings.  Within four years No. 232 was owned by Mrs. Mary Peddie who lived here with her 11-year old daughter, Kate, and rented the basement to Mrs. Josephine Brooks.  The women had a friendly relationship and when Mrs. Brooks was away, Mrs. Peddie often fed her tenant’s two dogs, Tom and Tony.  On April 1, 1912 things went horribly wrong.

Mary Peddie went into the basement that afternoon around 4:00 and found Tony tied up and Tom “running about the rooms.”  As she stooped down with a pan of meat scraps for the dogs, “Tom leaped at her and bit a big piece out of her upper lip,” according to The Sun.  The newspaper then said “Mrs. Peddie is a strong woman and she grabbed the dog and tried to master it…It sank its teeth in over her right eye, tore a deep wound down her right cheek, bit her on the right side of the nose and also scratched the left temple.  Its first bite took away all of her upper lip, from the corners of the mouth in a triangular piece to the bottom of the nose.”

A small boy heard Mary Peddie’s screams and ran to the corner of Charles and Bleecker Streets where Reverend Philip J. Magrath was talking to Policeman Manning.  Magrath was the director of St. Peter’s Union for Catholic Seamen at No. 422 West Street and was known along the gritty waterfront as the “Fighting Priest.”  The Sun described him as “short and very thick set.  He handles men without gloves.”

The priest who had a reputation for combating drunken sailors now set off to battle mad dogs.

When the pair rushed into the front room of the basement, the saw the Irish terrier leap at Mrs. Peddie again and sink its teeth into her face.  The policeman was poised to shoot the dog, but Father Magrath shoved him aside.  “He seized the dog by the hind legs and lifted.  The dog released its grip and Father Magrath tossed it into the next room.  Manning pulled the door shut.”

Mrs. Peddie, hysterical, ran upstairs and screamed from  a window for Kate.  Father Magrath instructed the girl to run for a doctor.  When the ambulance came a surgeon cauterized the woman’s wounds; however The Sun opined that “She will be disfigured for life.”

It was apparently the last straw for Mary Peddie.  The following year the house had become the Home of the Sons and Daughters of Israel.  Organized four years earlier, its purpose was to “maintain a home for aged male and female Hebrews.”  The home limited the number of elderly residents at 70.

The Home of the Sons and Daughters of Israel would remain here for decades.  By 1931 it was using part of the old stable building next door and its capacity had greatly increased.  150 of the residents enjoyed a day at Edgemere, Long Island on July 28, 1931 in the home’s annual outing.  For those who cared to dance, an orchestra was organized among residents.

A young boy loiters at the Machine Works next door to the Home of the Sons and Daughters of Israel in 1932 -- photo from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York
“At the head of the musicians is Hyman Brucker, 85, who plays the violin,” reported The Times.  “The youngest of the players in the group he will lead is Josel Schulman, 80-year-old drummer.  The oldest are Tobia Wildstein and Moses Moskowitz, both 92.  Of these, the first is a violinist, the second a singer.  The soloist include Jacob Abramowitz, 85, whose specialty is the ukulele, and Mary Wolf, also 85, who will sing.”

Flower boxes made the Home a bit cozier -- photo from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York
By the middle of the century the Home moved to updated, modern facilities uptown.  In 1951 the house was converted to two apartments, one on the first floor and a duplex above.   Today the house looks much as it did in the late 19th century.   Despite minor alterations like replacement windows it is a charming and intact survivor.

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