Friday, December 2, 2016

The 1828 No. 30 Water Street

At high tide during the 18th century, the East River washed over the roadway that ran along its banks; earning Water Street its name.  Subsequent land fill would push the riverfront more than a block away.  But in 1747 when Hendrick Remsen purchased most of the block front from  Broad Street to Coenties Slip from the Van Horne family, he was buying waterfront property.

In 1828 Edward Remsen, Hendrick’s great grandson, partnered with Obadiah Holmes to construct three matching Federal style buildings at Nos. 26 through 30 Water Street.  The four-story commercial structures were faced in Flemish bond red brick with brownstone trim.  The plain fascia boards and cornices of Federal buildings were commonly made of wood.  Here, however, they were executed in brick.  Before not very long, most likely in the 1840s, a granite Greek Revival storefront was added. 

Michael Viola was doing business from No. 30 Water Street around that time.  The river front neighborhood was a rough one.  When Viola was walking past the corner of Dover Street, a few blocks north of his business, on Sunday November 3, 1845, he ran into serious trouble.

The New York Herald reported later that day that “about noon today, he was grossly insulted by some boys who made use of the most abusive language to him, and on taking hold of one of them, the young rowdy immediately drew and knife and stabbed Viola in the lower part of the left groin, severing an artery.” 

The street toughs escaped while Michael Viola lay bleeding profusely on the sidewalk.  Deputy Coroner “Mr. Milliken” was summoned and he had Viola transported to the City Hospital.  The Herald reported “His life however is despaired of, in consequent of the great loss of blood which he sustained before he was taken to the Hospital.”

The following day, however, the New-York Tribune reported heartening news.  “We learned yesterday afternoon by inquiring at the Hospital that Michael Viola, who was stabbed Sunday in a quarrel with some boys in Water-street and who was reported to have died yesterday morning, is still alive with every prospect of recovery.”  By the time of the Tribune’s report, Frederick May, who went by the street name “Flukes,” had been arrested as an accessory to the assault.

In 1869 James McCombie ran his wholesale produce business at No. 30.  He had full trust in his bookkeeper, David F. Wright.  But in the spring of that year he discovered his trust had been ill-advised.  It all started on March 12 when he left two signed, blank checks with Wright.  One was to pay a cartman’s bill of $10, and the other to pay supplier Van Bokkelsen’s open invoice of $56.  David Wright, instead, made the first check out payable to “cash” in the amount of $1,100; and the next day did the same with the second check, this time in the amount of $363.  The total amount of the fraudulent checks the bookkeeper cashed would amount to more than $26,000 in 2016.

But he was not done yet.  The following day, March 14, James McCombie was absent from the office.  He complained in court that while he was gone Wright “procured a cartman and took and stole from him 106 packages of butter, valued at $3,000, which he secreted in a store, on West and Washington streets.”

Wright was arrested at his home and “denied each and every general allegation.”  Nevertheless, he was able to pay his $7,500 bail, around $135,000 today, supposedly on his bookkeeper’s salary.

Hardware dealers Reilly & Guy Company were listed in the building at least by 1894.  Various tenants in the upper floors through the coming years included architect John V. Knoth whose office was here by 1910.

Reilly & Guy Company moved to White Hall Street in the first years of the 20th century; but the firm would be back in 1921 when it shared a lease on the entire building with the recently-formed W. D. Blood & Co.  Incorporated in 1918, W. D. Blood & Co. was formed to export “American manufactures in foreign fields, especially automotive and hardware manufactures,” as reported by Automotive Industries on May 22, 1919.

Wilfred D. Blood in 1919.  Automotive Journal, June 1919 (copyright expired)
W. D. Blood & Co. was still at No. 30 Water Street in 1931, when it took over the export business of the Motor Wheel Corporation.  In the 1930s the firm was no longer exporting merely automotive hardware, but “automotive vehicles,” as mentioned by The New York Times in 1938.  The increased growth had forced the company to move to larger quarters on Whitehall Street by then.

In 1943 ship chandlers I. K. General Marine Contracting Corporation took over the building.  But change was coming to Water Street in the second half of the century as the Financial District edged closer to the waterfront.  The gritty blocks around the docks slowly became the lunchtime haunts of tie-wearing brokers rather than merchant mariners.  In 1969 No. 30 was converted to an “eating and drinking” establishment on the first through third floors.  City documents noted “fourth and attic floors to remain vacant.”

Despite the noticeable change to Water Street, and to the other two of Remsen’s and Holmes’s 1828 buildings, No. 30 retains much of its original flavor.

photograph by the author