Monday, October 23, 2017

The Lost White Conduit House - Broadway and Leonard Street

When Abraham Hosier created this charming water color in 1782, the Tribeca neighborhood was mostly rural.  For some reason only the rear of the house was depicted.  from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York

Before the Revolution, the neighborhood that what would become know as Tribeca two centuries later was mostly pastureland dotted with farms and summer estates.  Among them were mansions of Alderman Bayard and Captain Randall and a large wooden Georgian-style house.  The latter was described by historian Hugh Macatamney in his 1918 Cradle Days of New York as standing "on the top of the Kalckhook hill before Broadway was cut through, with an extensive view from its high stoop of the surrounding country."

It was located near what would eventually become the corner of Broadway and Leonard Street.  Sometime before the war erupted, it was converted to a road house named after the well-known public house near London, the White Conduit House.

Macatamney quoted a June 24, 1779 account of one event here.   Following a service for the Freemasons in St. Paul's Chapel, "from thence they proceeded, accompanied by the clergy and band of music to the White Conduit House, where there was an elegant dinner prepared, and the day was celebrated with great harmony and brotherly love."

In 1797 Broadway was cut through the bucolic environment and the rolling hills leveled.  Half a century later, William Alexander Duer grumbled in his 1848 book New-York As it Was, During the Latter Part of the Last Century, "the levelling system was adopted which has since reduced the superficial aspect of the city to an equality corresponding with the political condition of its inhabitants."  He noted that the "scythe of equality" destroyed the "variety and undulation of surface," and leveled the topography.  

In 1857 Valentine's Manual commented that the grading of the hill following the extension of Broadway resulted in the necessity of the high "stoop."  (copyright expired)

The leveling of the area directly around the White-Conduit House exposed its foundations, giving it an odd propped-up appearance.  William Harrison Bayles, in his Old Taverns of New York in 1915 wrote "The cutting through of the street left the house high above the level, and it was reached by a flight of steps."

By now William Byram had enhanced the roadhouse to a "public garden and pleasure resort."   Pleasure gardens were popular destinations where food, drinks and entertainments were offered in outdoor settings--affording patrons an open-air venue during the stifling summer heat of the city to the south.

Hugh Macatamney remarked "It was the scene of many quiet gatherings of the middle class citizens, it appears, until near the beginning of the year 1800."   That was when the operation was taken over by Joseph Corre, the former owner of the City Tavern downtown.  Valentine's Manual of the Corporation of the City of New York in 1860 mentioned that Corre "commenced his vocation in New York by selling mead and cakes on the Battery, where he was allowed to give additional attraction to his stand by illuminating with colored lamps."

Corre changed the name to the Mt. Vernon Garden and added a theater.  Now, according to William Harrison Bayle, "Flying horses and other like amusements were the attractions of the place.  Corre opened here a Summer Theater, in which members of the Park Theater company played during the time their own theater was closed."  And nearly a century later The Circus magazine recalled "in May and June of 1800, concerts were given in which Mr. and Mrs. Hodgkinson and others took part, appearing the subsequent two months in such light pieces and pantomimes as were suitable for a summer theatre."

Another well-known pleasure garden proprietor, John H. Contoit, took control in 1809.  He too changed the name, now calling it the New York Garden.   But by now the city was inching into the the once-remote neighborhood.  Valentine's Manual noted in 1860 "The most marked improvement of Broadway in this vicinity, was the erection, about 1807, of a row of first class residences between Anthony [now Thomas] and Leonard Streets."

The relentless march of development eventually signaled the end of the pleasure garden.  In April 1847 an auction was held of the contents of the New York Garden.  The announcement gives a hint of the scope of the entertaining and the substantial patronage of the resort:

The furniture and contents of the New York Garden, consisting of Summer Houses, tables, benches, large lamps and posts, about 40 in number, trees and bushes, trays, 60 doz, small tumblers of the best manufacture, &c. &c.  The Summer Houses, both open and enclosed, were made of the best material, and in the most substantial manner, and would probably accommodate about 1000 persons.

The venerable White Conduit House was demolished to be replaced with Tuttle's Emporium, now numbered 355 Broadway.  In 2017 the property is a vacant lot as Toll Brothers City Living prepares to erect a 19-floor residential condominium engulfing the plots at 351 through 355 Broadway.

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