Wednesday, April 30, 2014

The 1842 Wm. Burrell House -- No. 76 Bank Street

In the 1830s and ‘40s Andrew Lockwood was a busy man.  The builder operated his business, Lockwood & Company, from 17 10th Street and erected rows of speculative houses in Greenwich Village.  Among his projects were four fine residences—70 through 76 Bank Street—to be built on the four plots he purchased in 1835.

Lockwood teamed with Baldwin & Mills, a firm composed of carpenters Gabriel M. Baldwin and John Mills, and mason Amos Woodruff in constructing the Bank Street row.  The men today would be termed contractors. 

Construction began in 1839 and continued for three years.  The completed homes, two and a half stories above a brownstone English basement, were designed in the highly-popular Greek Revival style.  Faced in red brick and trimmed in brownstone, they discarded the peaked and dormered roofs of the Federal style in favor of a short attic level with small windows cut into the fascia board below the cornice.  Lockwood ornamented these with carved and applied wreaths which gave the square openings the charming illusion of round oeil-de-boeuf, or ox-eye, windows.

The carved wreaths around the attic windows were an elegant detail.

The fashionable house at 76 Bank Street was sold to pharmacist William Burrell.  It is unclear how long the Burrell family lived here.

In 1855, a carpenter named Henry Springsteen lived nearby at 83 Perry Street.  Like many young men, he volunteered as a firefighter in his spare time.  He worked out of Guardian Engine Company at 29 Amos Street (later renamed West 10th Street), almost directly across the street from Andrew Lockwood’s shop.

Ten years later New York City’s disjointed collection of volunteer companies was done away with and the professional Metropolitan District Fire Department was organized.  Springsteen apparently chose firefighting over carpentry as a career and was listed in directories thereafter as “fireman.”

By 1878 the Springsteen family had moved into 76 Bank Street.  Henry was earning $100.92 a month as a firefighter—an annual salary of about $30,000 today.  Raises in the Fire Department did not come quickly, it would appear, for in 1883 he was still earning the same amount.  Henry was now assigned to Engine Company No. 19 at 355 West 25th Street.

Springsteen died in 1889 and his widow received $1,000 in death benefits from the City.

No. 76 Bank Street was sold at auction on March 3, 1910 and became home to Henry Glauder.  The family would not live here long; Glauder had died by 1915 when his heirs sold the house to Jacinto Costa.  The Cuban-born Costa was a principal in the J. Costa & Co. importing company which brought Cuban tobacco to New York.

It would seem that the new owner never lived in the Bank Street house; but either leased it or operated it as a boarding house for a time.  In 1917 artist Virginia Hale lived here.  That year she exhibited her work at the Society of Independent Artists.  Hale’s decision to live in Greenwich Village is not surprising.  It had become by now New York’s Bohemia—the center of artists, musicians and Manhattan’s intelligentsia.

Novelist and short story writer John William Cheever lived in the house in the late 1930s.  In 1938 he landed a job with the Federal Writers’ Project as an editor for the WPA Guide to New York City.  He would later go on to write fiction, much of it based in the Upper East Side of Manhattan, that earned him the nickname “the Chekhov of the suburbs.”
Writer John William Cheever lived in the house until his marriage in 1941 -- photo Library of Congress

Cheever married in 1941 and left 76 Bank Street.  The following year the house was converted to apartments—a duplex in the basement and parlor floor, and two apartments on each floor above.  The spacious duplex was divided into two separate apartments in 1955.

Although someone had the not-so-advisable idea to paint the brownstone entrance; the house remains in nearly pristine condition almost 175 years after construction.  The original, simple iron railings survive as do the entrance doors and the wonderful wreathed attic windows.  The three houses built simultaneously still stand; but only this one looks much as it did when William Burrell moved in in 1842.

photographs by the author

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