Saturday, November 2, 2013

Enrico & Paglieri's -- No. 64 West 11th Street

For seven decades Village patrons were greeted by Josephine Paglieri beyond much less brassy basement doors.

When Wall Street broker James N. Gifford inherited four wide plots of land from his brother, Andrew, the block of West 11th Street from fashionable Fifth Avenue to Sixth Avenue was already a mix of architecture.  The modest two-and-a-half story Federal-style brick homes of the 1830s shared the block with handsome Greek Revival houses of the following decade.

Now Gifford would erect four identical speculative residences in the newest trend:  Italianate.  Construction began in 1853 and was completed the following year.   The impressive proportions and details of the homes reflected the upper class purchasers whom Gifford targeted.   Up-to-the-minute arched doorways harbored deeply recessed double doors.  The red brick facades gently contrasted with the brownstone trim.

The somewhat grand homes enjoyed their highly-respectable status for only a few decades before becoming boarding houses—as was the fate of No. 64.  In 1880 Edward J. Ring and his wife arrived in New York from London with a theatrical troupe.    Mrs. Ring was an actress, known on stage as Maud Summerville, and in 1891 the couple was living here.

Another theatrical boarder was musical composer and director Fred W. Zaulig.  His broad background began in France when, as a teen, he fought in the Crimean War.  In 1863 he saw battle in Mexico under Maximilian; then settled in New York where he took up composing.

He was responsible for much of the music for the then-famous Kiralfy Brothers’ epic productions; working with the pair for over a decade.  He died in the house on West 11th Street on Saturday morning May 19, 1894.

Fred Zaulig composed music for the Kiralfy Brothers who were famous for their gala musicals -- image from the collection of the Library of Congress
In February 1895 Edward Holland sold the house to John McCabe for the considerable sum of $19,500—almost half a million dollars today.  Annie Chase ran the boarding house at the time and on October 21 she rented a room to “a refined-looking man,” as she described him.  He spent one night in the house and by the time the other boarders arose the next morning he had disappeared.  “So also had everything valuable that could be carried away—in all about $500 worth,” reported The New York Times.

Mrs. Chase was understandably upset—the items stolen would amount to nearly $12,000 in today’s money.  When she looked over the photographs in the Mercer Street Police Station’s rogue’s gallery, she focused on John Ford, alias Botts.  She pointed him out as her lodger turned thief.

Two days later Ford was arrested.  He vehemently denied that he was the culprit and offered to provide an alibi.  Annie Chase, however, “on seeing him, unhesitatingly identified him as the man to whom she had rented a room,” reported The Times.  He was indicted and held in The Tombs on $1000 bail awaiting trial for grand larceny in the first degree.

As Ford sulked behind bars for over a week, detectives Doran and Tinker noticed a man and woman frequenting the west side pawn shops.   Their behavior aroused the suspicions of the cops.  The female would take an item into a pawn shop; then deliver the money and pawn ticket to the man who waited in the shadows of doorways or in halls.

The detectives followed the pair to their residence at No. 336 West 22nd Street and questioned them.  They claimed they were John G. Smaling and his wife Lena.  Their explanation for the long list of pawned valuables was so fantastic that they were taken into custody and an inventory of the items in their rooms was taken.  Among the pricey goods was a silver hair brush, stolen from the boarding house of Mrs. R. J. Fagan on Seventh Avenue; a silver card case (with calling cards) of architect Stewart Barney which had been stolen along with $600 worth of jewelry; and a clock listed by Annie Chase as missing.

Annie was called back, and after seeing John Smaling, admitted “she had made a mistake in her previous identification, and had testified against the wrong man.”   A much-annoyed John Ford was released after a week behind bars.

After John McCabe’s death his estate sold the house to an investor on January 24, 1907.  Change was about to come to No. 64 West 11th Street.

By now Greenwich Village had become New York’s own Bohemia—luring artists, musicians, poets and writers.  They brought with them an avante garde lifestyle alien to the staid brick and brownstone homes of a generation earlier.  In 1908 the English basement of No. 64 was converted to an Italian restaurant, Enrico & Paglieri.  Above the entrance a wrought iron balcony was installed with the restaurant’s entwined monogram.

A postcard captured the cozy Edwardian atmosphere of bentwood chairs and trailing vines.
Enrico & Paglieri quickly established itself as a Village favorite; and many of its uptown patrons perhaps did not notice that the quaint atmosphere also drew another clientele: homosexuals.   While Julius’ bar and restaurant not far away at No. 159 West 10th Street would forever claim the distinction of New York City’s oldest gay meeting spot—gays began drifting in around the 1930s—writers took notice of Enrico & Paglieri as early as 1916.
The beautiful wrought iron balcony railing incorporates the restaurant's initials.

Djuna Barnes, in her “Greenwich Village As It Is,” published that year, frankly addressed the gay culture of the Village.  Saying that “The greater part of New York is soulless as a department store,” she denounced the uptown “slummers” who visited the Village where “women smoke and men make love.”  Nevertheless, she precisely noted the establishments where gays and lesbians gathered.  Without mentioning the restaurant’s name, she printed its address “64 West Eleventh Street.”

The gay patronage of the restaurant was mostly discreet; yet it drew the attention of the notorious “Committee of Fourteen” around the same time as Barnes’ article (and possibly because of it).    The group was formed in 1905 by the New York Anti-Saloon League and originally conducted inspections to distinguish legitimate hotels from saloons, and in the process, root out brothels.   By the end of World War I it was involved in a wider scope of “vices.”

Receiving word that Enrico & Paglieri had “a reputation of being a hangout for perverts,” the Committee sent a female agent under cover to the restaurant.    After one visit she reported on two men who were “extremely effeminate.”   Another trip resulted in her report of “several girls whom I suspected of being this type but they made no definite motions or signs that they were such.” 

The agent was in untested waters.   Covert investigation of this type--expressly conducted to ferret out homosexuality--was new ground and she was frustrated in her attempts.  Eventually she gave up, reporting that there was no conclusive evidence to brand patrons of Enrico & Paglieri “as perverts” and the investigation was discontinued.

Paulo Paglieri and his wife Josephine lived upstairs while running the restaurant.   As other residents came and went, they stayed on.   When Paulo died in 1950, Josephine remained, operating the restaurant for another quarter of a century.    In 1975 Enrico & Paglieri Restaurant finally closed its doors for good after nearly 70 years of business.  The following year Josephine Paglieri died upstairs at the age of 95. 

Her passing coincided with the imminent conversation of the house to apartments—one per floor.  Mrs. Paglieri’s things, accumulated in the apartment over three quarters of a century, were unceremoniously tossed onto the curb.  On February 7, 1976 The New York Times printed a heart-wrenching description of strangers pawing through her life.

“People picked over Josephine Oliengo Paglieri’s belongings Thursday night.  Her books, furniture and clothes were strewn about the sidewalk and street, lying in the snow.”  One man, described by the newspaper as “a young hippie,” stuffed her old books into one of her suitcases—he focused on the leather-bound ones.   A woman gathered some of Mrs. Paglieri’s dresses.  “These are great for old clothes,” she muttered.

When a sanitation truck arrived, the old couple’s furniture crackled loudly as it was crushed.  “The desk fell apart when the sanitationmen tried to pick it up.  A lifetime of personal papers, letters, souvenirs and stationery swirled all over the sidewalk outside the restaurant that Mrs. Paglieri used to own.

“The sanitationmen shoveled and swept, and threw them inside the truck.  But one photograph remained on the street behind the vehicle.  It was a picture of Mrs. Paglieri as a young girl, with her family.”

The journalist watched from a few steps away.  “The driver of the sanitation truck picked it up.  He glanced at it while the desk was splintering under the weight of the garbage machine, and then tossed it inside with the other garbage.  He hopped into the cab and roared off, leaving behind a few papers fluttering in the wind.”

Three quarters of a century of Paglieri history at No. 64 West 11th Street was over.
The handsome paneled entrance doors, deeply recessed, survive after more than a century and a half.

Another renovation to the house came in 1990 when the second and third floors were divided into two apartments each; and the former restaurant was converted to the foyer and lounge for The New School’s student center.  The walls to the basements of the flanking houses – Nos. 62 and 66—were broken through to create an expansive space for the student body.

The exterior appearance of No. 64, along with its three 1854 sisters, is nearly unaltered above the basement level.  And the ornate iron balcony with the initials E and P survives—a relic of a long-lived restaurant now mostly forgotten.

photographs taken by the author


  1. Eric Stott here - That superficially sympathetic NY Times story at the end irritated me- if the writer was so saddened by the loss of papers and pictures why didn't he rescue some? Oh no.....having everything destroyed makes it much more poignant- right?

    1. So sad. My father worked at Enrico and Paglieri, and my granddaughter goes to The New School.

  2. Beautiful building with a fascinating history!