Friday, March 13, 2015

The Wooden Pringle House -- No. 36 East 29th St.

In 1871 the Pringle family purchased the property at No. 36 East 29th Street.   The block between Madison and Park Avenues was lined with brick-faced Greek Revival style homes constructed in the years just before the outbreak of the Civil War.  But the Pringle house was decidedly different.

Four stories tall over an English basement, its Italianate style set it apart from its neighbors.  But its clapboard cladding made it even more conspicuous.  Wooden residences, once rather common, could no longer be built.  The entire city of New York had twice nearly been destroyed by fire.  A law enacted in 1866 prohibited the further construction of wooden buildings. 

If the Pringles lived in the rather charming house at all; by 1895 it was being operated as a rooming house.  The elderly Dr. J. Whitney Barstow was here that year.  He had graduated from Dartmouth in 1846 and was still a member of the New York County Medical Association.  Also boarding in the house at the time was J. Penny.  On September 5 that year Penny complained (along with several other residents of the block) that the Republicans had fraudulently used his name on election enrollments.

Once a fashionable neighborhood, the 29th Street block was changing by the turn of the century.  It still housed respectable boarders—in 1903 wholesale wallpaper merchant C. R. Hanlon lived here, as did David Mulholland, a mining operator, in 1909—but commerce would soon take over the neighborhood.

Hester A. Booth purchased the house early in 1919.  The Real Estate Record & Builders’ Guide referred to it as “the old Pringle residence” and reminded readers “it had been in the Pringle family since 1871.”  She quickly leased it to D. Wortmann, who announced his plans to alter the house “into bachelor apartments, with stores on the first floor.”  Wortman estimated the cost of conversion at $15,000 (about $202,000 in today’s dollars).

The metamorphosis of the block was evidenced in the Record & Guide’s comment on Hester’s real estate agent’s recent business.  “This is the fifth house in this block disposed of and improved by Mr. Turner in the past year.”

Bachelor apartments had been an increasing trend since about 1879.  Respectable unmarried men had difficulty finding appropriate housing.  Many boarding houses refused to accept bachelors and the bachelor hotel or bachelor apartment house solved the problem.

Within three months the conversation was completed.   The stoop was removed and a projecting two-story wooden storefront installed.   A store and related offices were now in the lower floors with bachelor apartments on the upper floors.

The Edwardian storefront survives at the second floor.  

The Atlas Label Co. took the store and office space.  Its catchy slogan was “If it’s worth labeling at all, it’s worth labeling well.”  In 1920 the firm proudly announced it had imported “a new seal and label press which prints in one and two colors, embosses, and dye cuts all in one operation.”  An article in The American Perfumer said “This, the company announces, is the only machine of its kind in this country.”

East 29th Street was in the center of the Silk District and by 1922 the Atlas Label Co. had moved to No. 119 Lafayette Street and in its place was silk dealer Adolph Meirowitz.  His employees were terrorized on January 16, 1925 when three men burst into the shop.

At 6:30 that night there were eight workers in the store.  The three bandits tied them to chairs with wire, then rifled through the stock.  As the frightened employees looked on, the men loaded $5,000 worth of silk into a large touring car as a look-out kept watch.

In 1929 I. S. Rossiter had an office in the building.  He administered the A-BAR-A Ranch in Wyoming from here.  Advertisements called it “unique among ranches, beautifully located in the Heart of the Cool Rockies.”  The amenities of the ranch were obviously upscale.  “Cabins with private baths; electricity; exceptional food.”  Guests could participate in swimming, trout fishing, horseback riding, tennis, and hunting.  References were required and  modern readers might be taken aback by the ads' admonishment that only Christians could apply.

The Ranch also offered a “separately conducted” month-long pack trip for boys aged 14 to 18. 

In 1935 “The New Student Theatre” briefly operated from the building.

Although the street level has been eradicated, the 1919 storefront at the second floor is remarkably intact.  Above, the wooden house with its handsome cornice with scrolled brackets, is a delightful surprise.

photographs taken by the author

1 comment:

  1. Every neighborhood has its own history that often started off with plenty of houses which eventually got transformed to a commercial spot. It has almost become a norm for such a situation as the era evolves into a more economical style of living. However, there are also other locations that might still sustain their dwelling development projects but every house is now modern.