Wednesday, October 18, 2017

The 1828 Seba Bogart House - 44 Carmine Street

As Greenwich Village experienced a population and building boom in the 1820s unexpected investors got into the speculative development trend.  One of these seems to have been Seba Bogart, a farmer from New Jersey.  He purchased the building plot at No. 44 Carmine Street in 1827 for $950 and sold the property the following year to John Wellslager for a significant profit, $3,300.  The sale price--about $86,200 today--strongly suggests that he had built the three and a half story brick house. there.

The modest home, three bays wide, was little different from dozens of other Federal-style houses appearing in the neighborhood at the time.  A single dormer pierced the peaked roof and the entrance was positioned above a low stone stoop,  Simple brownstone lintels and sills trimmed the windows.  As was often the case, there was a smaller house in the rear yard.

Wellslager did not live in the house for long.  He sold it in 1830 to auctioneer Mordecai Myers.  Myers seems to have always leased the house, never living here.  By 1840 the house was occupied by Frederick Basham, listed in Groce and Wallace's Dictionary of American Artists as "modeller, plaster worker, architect, draftsman." 

The Great Fire of New York in 1835 had destroyed the 1827 Merchants' Exchange building on Wall Street.  Its handsome Greek Revival replacement, designed by Isaiah Rogers, was nearing completion in 1840 when Basham made a detailed architectural plaster model of the building.  He entered the model, along with examples of plaster ornaments into the American Institute's annual exhibition that year.  Basham won the gold medal for "the best specimen of modelling" for his Merchants' Exchange model, and second place for his ornaments.  (Coincidentally, his landlord, Mordecai Myers, moved his offices into the newly completed Merchants' Exchange building.)

Whether No. 44 originally had a shop on the ground floor is unclear; but if not, it soon would have one.  In 1843 the space was an apothecary or notions store and among the items sold was Winn's Irish Vegetable Relief Candy.  An advertisement on September 20 that year called it "The most wonderful remedy in the world" and promised it would cure "bowel complaints, cholera morbus, rheumatism, pain in the head, side and breast, scurvey, dyspepsia, spitting of blood, asthma, whopping cough, influenza, coughs, colds and consumption."

The rear house was occupied in 1845 by someone who identified himself in a real estate advertisement only as M. W.  His ad offered "a rare opportunity" for someone wishing to go into the hotel business.  Oddly enough, the hotel offered for sale, Military Hall, was located in Philadelphia.  Whether M. W. owned the business or was simply acting as the owner's agent is unclear.

Frederick Basham left New York in 1852.  In 1859 August 1858 the owner of the store, along with a newsstand steps away at the corner, was looking to sell.  His ad read "For Sale--the news, stationery and segar store No. 44 Carmine street; also, the news depot corner of Bleecker and Carmine streets; doing a good business."

Mulford Butts was living upstairs at the time.   A few months later he fell ill and the 35-year old never recovered.  He died in the house on April 8 and his funeral was held here two days later.   Before long Myers leased the house to the Dillon family.

Edward C. Dillon was one of six children in the house.  He was diagnosed with amaurosis, an optic nerve disease.  The future for people with disabilities like blindness was bleak in the 19th century.  In 1861 Mrs. Dillon was left to handle her large family alone when her husband left to serve in the Civil War as a hospital steward.   Edward was sent to the New York Institute for the Blind that year in hopes his condition could be treated or, at least, he could be taught a trade.

But Edward's stay in the facility would be little less than a nightmare.  Hearing rumors of bad treatment and horrid conditions, the State Senate initiated an investigation in 1864.  Among the boys interviewed under oath was Edward.

He explained that, initially, he had not complained to his parents because "I did not want to give my father or mother any anxiety about the matter, and so I pushed it through."  He pointed out the number of children at home and his father's military service as reason not to add to his parents' worries.  But eventually he did confided to his mother on a visit. 

On the stand he testified that his sight had only grown worse since being at the Institute and, while "I am trying to learn the mat trade," he was not allowed to attend those shop classes.  He described having to leave the dining room without eating because of the foul smell of the tainted fish or corned beef.   Several times a week the children were fed only rice and molasses.  And leaking dormitory rooms meant they had to sleep in wet or damp beds.

The Dillon family was the last to lease the entire house.  In 1867 Myers sold the property to Anthony Schmitt, who immediately leased furnished rooms.  He rented the attic floor, at least briefly, to a small garment business.  On May 15, 1870 an advertisement appeared in The New York Herald seeking "First Class Operators on Wheeler & Wilson machine, for tucking and hemming; two apprentices, good sewers."

The house changed hands again in 1873 when Charles Greiner purchased it.  He moved his family into the house, as well, and it appears he operated his business from the store.   His original tenants were, for the most part, respectable.  Emma Frances and John Collins lived in the building when he bought it.  Emma died here on June 6, 1874.   Within two years policeman Leopold F. Zirkell rented a room.  He worked in the 15th Precinct and earned a salary of $1,200 per year--about $27,700 by today's calculations.

By the 1880s Carmine Street neighborhood sat on the edge of a much sketchier area.   Minetta Street, about a block to the east, was lined with what reformer Jacob Riis would call "vile rookeries" and Bleecker Street was notorious for its brothels and dives.

Charles Maguire, who lived in No. 44 in 1880, exemplified the change.  On March 22 that year The New York Times reported that early on the previous morning he "while acting as door-keeper for the low dance-house No. 102 Prince-street, kept by 'Box' Hefferman, was shot in the side by one of a gang of men to whom he refused admission, and was dangerously wounded."

The problem started when Maguire recognized one of the men as James Campbell, described by the newspaper as "a disreputable fellow."  When he refused to let the men in, Campbell struck him.  "Maguire then called on 'Deafy' Price, a pickpocket, to lock the outer door, whereupon Campbell drew a pistol and fire three shots."  Campbell and his crew escaped, and Maguire was in serious condition.  The surgeon at St. Vincent's Hospital reported that one bullet had penetrated the liver, and could not be removed.

Charles Greiner applied to the city in 1888 and was granted a permit to "keep a truck on the street" outside of No. 44.  He lived on in the house until his death on August 16, 1902.  His family would retain ownership for another two decades. 

The three similar houses were constructed simultaneously.

In the meantime, Samuel Windt ran his drugstore from the shop space by 1906.  Upstairs blue-collar residents included John W. Dwyer.  He earned 25 cents per hour as a watchman for the city's Department of Docks in 1903.

By the time little Lillian Griener joined the Evening World's Art Club for Boys and Girls in 1908, the neighborhood was filling with Italian immigrants.  In 1909 D. Maddolois sold olive oil from the former drugstore.

The Spinoza family leased rooms in 1911 when unrequited love proved a serious problem.  Jennie Spinoza worked in a garment factory.  Among her co-workers was another Italian immigrant, Joseph Nuzzio, who was smitten with her.  The fact that Nuzzio was a dwarf posed a problem.  The Evening World explained "But nature cheated Nuzzio out of nearly two feet of the height" and that Jennie "could not see in the diminutive fellow a fitting frame for the romantic word-picture of love that he daily painted."

Undaunted, Nuzzio showed up at No. 44 Carmine Street and asked Jennie's widowed mother for her hand in marriage.  "He got no encouragement," said the newspaper.  Nuzzio's temperament changed from romance to violence. 

Jennie, her mother and her sister and her brother-in-law appeared in the Tombs Court on August 1.  They told Magistrate Breen that Nuzzio "promised to blow up the house, threatened death by pistol and by knife and told the family that the Black Hand to which he belonged, would get them if they separated him from his sweetheart."

Joseph Nuzzio appeared thunderstruck.  "I did not tell them those things," he declared.  "I love Jennie too much to harm her.  I cannot live without her."

The judge was unmoved.  "You'll have to give a bond of $500 that you can live without her, and keep entirely away from the family."  The Evening World reported that Nuzzio paid the $500 bond not to disturb the family's peace, "while he cherished his love in solitary seclusion."

By 1915 Charles Casazza moved his family into the building.  He was a founder, along with Anthony Cuneo and Emanuele Ronzoni, of the Atlantic Macaroni Company; and was an officer and director in the Nectar Co., Inc.  In 1925 he and his wife, Annie, would purchase the property from the Griener family.

Five years before that transaction tragedy visited No. 44.  On December 8, 1920 The New York Times reported on a wave of violent crimes that had swept the Italian neighborhood.  Several of the 52 murders committed that year took place in the district.  Among those incidents was the death on September 6 of Frederick Ennis, who lived at No. 44 Carmine.

That afternoon a large group of men--estimated by neighbors at between 50 and 100--gathered in the schoolyard of the old Downing Street School to shoot craps.  An "altercation of the game," according to the New York Herald resulted in a shot being fired.  When neighbors heard the shot and rushed to the schoolyard, they found Ennis "lying on the flagging with a bullet through his abdomen."

The injured man was taken to a drugstore at the corner of Carmine and Bedford Streets, but he died before he could be taken to a hospital.  The newspaper reported "Ennis never regained consciousness and was unable to tell the detectives who killed him."  Apparently none of the other dice players was talking either.

In the early Depression years Emile Raffo worked as the chauffeur for the famous stage actress Bertha Galland.   While she remained visible in theater circles, Bertha no longer appeared on stage by now.  She spent much of her time traveling with her mother.

On November 20, 1932 Raffo was driving the women, along with another passenger, in White Plains, New York, when a car suddenly pulled out from a side street.  While witnesses claimed that the other driver ran a stop sign, they also said that Raffo was driving at "excessive speed."  There was a horrendous crash that resulted in several people waiting at a bus stop were injured, and both Bertha Galland and her mother being killed.  Raffo was seriously injured.

When Bertha's will was probated in April the following year, Raffo was the beneficiary of a fully-furnished house at Lake Mahopac and "certain jewelry."  The value of the real estate would equal nearly $75,000 today.

Anna Casazza died on June 28, 1938 and Charles died at the age of 79 on December 19, 1951.  The house saw a quick turnover of owners.  The Casazza family sold it to Joseph J. Gardella in 1953, who sold it the same year to Thomas McBride and Dan Brown.  They resold it to Benjamin and Patricia Cunningham two years later.

The Cunninghams converted No. 44 to one apartment on the second floor and a duplex above.  Behind the ground floor store was another small apartment.  It was most likely at this time that a second dormer, at the tip of the peaked roof, was added.

That configuration remains today.  While the brick has been painted red and the windows, understandably, have been replaced, the house retains much of its 1828 appearance.

photograph by the author

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