Modern amateur historians might wonder why, with anti-British bitterness over the recent Revolutionary War still fresh, developers gave the new four-block roadway between Macdougal and Greenwich Streets the name of King Street. In fact, the name was a tribute to Revolutionary War soldier and member of the Continental Congress, Rufus King.
Around 1838 two matching houses were erected on land owned by Trinity Church, Nos. 47 and 49 King Street, just east of Varick Street. Two and a half stories tall and three bays wide, they were faced in red Flemish bond brick. Dormers would, most likely, have pierced their peaked roofs. The elegant but simple doorways, with flanking free-standing columns and leaded transoms, announced that these were erected for comfortable, but not wealthy, families. A horsewalk--or narrow passage--separated the two buildings and led to two small frame houses in the rear yards.
|William Cleary's metal lintel, installed around 1865, was a somewhat awkward addition.|
By the first years of the 1850s both houses were leasing rooms. No. 47 was home to James Hendrickson family, and he retained little space for himself. An advertisement in The New York Herald on August 25, 1852 offered "To Let--part of a house in King Street, between Varick and Macdougal streets, consisting of a front basement, front and bank parlor and bed room, on first floor; two attic bed rooms, with several good closets, and large wood house; all in good condition, and respectable locality."
A similar ad the following March noted that the "respectable locality" was conveniently "within ten minutes ride of the City Hall.
The tenants seem to have been upstanding, like Isaac Robinson Edmonds and his wife, Elizabeth. Edmonds was the General Passenger Agent for the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, and was politically active. In 1858 had been elected secretary of the Walbridge Democratic Association. The couple had a baby boy in February 1860, but little Isaac Robinson Edmonds did not survive. His funeral was held in the house on the afternoon of February 16.
It appears Hendrickson gave up the property two months later. In April 1860 he began clearing out the house. An advertisement in The New York Herald noted "Furniture for sale -- Suitable for a newly married couple about to commence housekeeping. Will be sold cheap. Parlor, bedroom and kitchen Furniture. No dealer need answer this."
In the meantime, real estate operator William H. Cleary, whose offices were at No. 55 Hamersly Street (later renamed West Houston Street) had represented the owner of No. 49 for years. As early as July 1853 he was advertising "Part of House No. 49 King Street, consisting of front parlor, two bedrooms on the first floor, and back basement. Rent $17 a month." (That rent would equal about $550 a month today.)
Among the tenants in the house in 1855 was another real estate man, John Wilson, who was a member of the Suburban Home Association. The group of agents sold land and building plots, like the "highly desirable building site, convenient to the City and easy of access at all times, at a low price and on easy terms," available in May that year.
The wooden house behind No. 49 filled with several working class families. In June 1855 one tenant placed an "Situation wanted--by a smart young protestant girl, to do plain housework, or attend to children; has no objection to go a short distance in the country. Can be seen at 49 King st., in the rear." Similar advertisements appeared repeatedly for years, testifying to the sometimes desperate straits of the unskilled occupants.
The couple living in the "front basement" in the spring of 1856 apparently lost their infant baby. The mother placed an advertisement in The New York Herald on April 22 saying "Wanted--A situation as wet nurse, by a respectable young married woman, with a fresh breast of milk; is an excellent plain sewer."
In 1865 Trinity Church sold both properties to William Cleary. Not long afterward he remodeled the houses, raising their attic floors to full-height and adding modern Italianate elements, like the handsome shared bracketed cornice. No. 47 was widened by extending it over the horsewalk, which now became a tunnel of sorts. Pressed metal lintels were installed over the openings. The delicate Federal-style iron stoop railings and newels of both homes were salvaged.
|No. 47 gained an extra bay as well as an additional story in the renovations.|
Cleary demolished the back building of No. 47 in 1870 and erected a "three-story brick tenement" on the site. Five years later, in January, he turned his attention to the back building next door. He filed plans to add an additional story, build a 25-foot wide extension, and alter the front at a cost of $2,000.
He continued to operate both properties as rooming houses. In August 1872 he offered the "first floor, five rooms, of nice three story house 47 King street, with gas and Croton water."
Among the tenants in No. 47 at the time was 27-year old George V. Queripel, Jr. Henry was a trustee in the American Honduras Company, of which his father was President. Somewhat shockingly, the young man died suddenly on October 23, 1872 and his funeral was held in the King Street house the following Saturday.
Less upstanding tenants in 1878 were John C. Richardson, alias Taylor, and Charles H. Tisher, alias Fisher, alias Herman. Detectives broke into their rooms in February that year and arrested them on forgery and counterfeiting charges. The New York Times reported that Tisher and Rirchardson "occupied apartments at No. 47 King-street. There they had type, small presses, dies, engravers' tools, and every instrument necessary to carry on their operations."
The pair printed bank checks "so well executed that it would have been difficult to detect them." Detectives were gleeful that they had caught them crooks before they were able to do more damage to local merchants. They told reporters the men were prepared to fraudulently reap a "vast amount."
Richardson was described as being between 50 and 60 years old, "5 feet 8 inches tall, with grey hair." But newspapers were more fascinated by Tisher, "a man evidently of German descent, good-looking, well educated, and possessing great ability to deceive. He is about 5 feet 10 inches, tall, has dark hair and whiskers, dark-brown eyes, and a prominent, well-shaped nose."
It was not Tischer's "great ability to deceive," which captivated The New York Times, but his "adventures as a 'lady-killer.'" The newspaper wrote "Tisher seems to have been wonderfully successful with ladies of very good social standing, and his papers show that he was mean enough to leave behind him several victims in many parts of the country in which he acted the adventurer."
Edward McLaughlin lived in No. 47 by 1890. A skilled laborer, he was known as a "grainer," an artisan who made plaster appear to be marble with his dexterous manipulation of paint and brush. In September that year he headed the movement to organize New York City grainers into a trade union.
McLaughlin was successful. In November 1892 he represented the Progressive Painters, No. 6, in the "labor mass meeting" held in Webster Hall to endorse Grover Cleveland for Democratic candidate for President. The Times noted "These men have found out the utter uselessness of the McKinley high tariff for wage workers."
A rather colorful resident of No. 49 in 1897 was 28-year old Mrs. Ann Pierce. She was arrested in November that year in Schipper's saloon on the corner of Third Avenue and 35th Street. Highly-respected Assistant District Attorney Philip had been drinking there; when around 9:00 that night Police Officer Emil Geisler was attracted by "a disturbance."
The Times reported on November 20, "He found Carpenter throwing beer glasses about and fighting with the bartender, while two loudly dressed women were shrieking and screaming in a corner." One of them was Ann Pierce.
Carpenter insisted that the women had stolen his gold watch and slipped it to the bartender. The bartender, in turn, demanded that he pay the several dollars worth of drinks he owed. Carpenter was arrested for the disturbance and the two women were arrested for the robbery.
"Their story did not agree with Carpenter's as to how they got acquainted," said The Times. "He says he met them in the saloon and invited them to take a drink. They claim that he accosted them on the street and invited them in." Although Annie and her accomplice were searched and no watch found, they were both held on suspicion.
William H. Cleary still owned the properties when in May 1910 he commissioned architect O. Reissmann to do minor updates, replacing the windows and changing interior walls. The renovations cost him about $5,200 in today's dollars.
By now the neighborhood had filled with immigrant families; many from Ireland and Italy. The Garibaldi family were living in No. 47 following the end of World War I. On the hot night of August 31, 1922 their 18-year old son, Angelo, became involved in a deadly confrontation.
Angelo and a friend, 17-year old Andrew Dana, were walking along Broadway near Houston Street when, according to Garibaldi, Samuel Cohen approached. The 18-year old errand boy was a stranger, but according to their stories, he struck Garibaldi. They started to cross Broadway, but he followed. Angelo then turned and punched him in the chest with his fist. Cohen fell to the street and died in St. Vincent's Hospital a few hours later.
The following day Assistant Medical Examiner Vance preliminarily called the cause of death "shock." He said there were "no marks on the body and no fracture of the skull. He was of delicate build" and suggested that he may have had a weak heart.
When Angelo Garibaldi and his friend had first walked onto Broadway that night, he could not have imagined the following events would change his life forever. On September 2 The New York Herald reported he was being held without bail on the charge of homicide.
Louis Capone lived in No. 47 in 1925. Although listed as a "wood caulking contractor," his obvious wealth and choice of address made his actual source of income suspicious. Also living in the house was his chauffeur, 20-year old Frank Russo.
On the night of April 5 Russo drove Capone's touring car to the pier at Vestry and West Streets where the steamship Hamilton had just arrived from Norfolk, Virginia. Russo sat in the car while his boss went on board. Suddenly two gunmen appeared. Russo was forced into the passenger seat "while one of them pressed a pistol against his body," according to The New York Times, "and the other drove to the battery." There Russo was thrown out of the car and the men sped away.
In January 1948 the two "three-story apartment buildings and two three-story rear studio structures" were sold to the Kingwood Estates, Inc. Little change occurred until 13 shareholders joined together in 1972 to combine the properties into a cooperative. The apartments in the four buildings were initially offered at prices between $13,000 and $28,000 and included the costs of renovating each to the buyers' designs. As was popular in the 1970s, "almost everyone exposed the brick surrounding their fireplaces," said freelance writer Mary Cantwell in an article for The New York Times.
Among the initial owners were Roger Schoening, the art director of Vogue magazine, his wife Carol, a real estate agent, and their two children. They were challenged with squeezing accommodations for all four into the 1,100 square foot third floor apartment.
"The Schoenings put a galley kitchen and their living and dining areas into one 20- by 20-foot plant-filled space," said Cantwell. "The children's bedrooms, each only 6 by 8 feet, are separated by an even more minute bathroom, next to which is squirreled a washer and dryer. Although there's not an inch left empty--the housing complex for the children's gerbil, in fact, is a prominent feature of the living area--that's fine with the Schoenings. In their lexicon, small is cozy."
Eight years later the couple sprung into action when a detention center of illegal aliens was proposed at No. 201 Varick Street, steps away at the corner of King Street. They fired off letters to authorities like Paul W. Grover of the General Services Administration and Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan.
Carol Schoening's letter to the senator said in part "King Street, and the whole Vandam-Charlton-King Streets historical area, have become strong family, child-oriented blocks. It would be disastrous to have the disruption which must follow the establishment of a detention center in the area."
Outwardly the twin houses appear today much as they did at the end of the Civil War when William Cleary gave them a substantial make-over.
photographs by the author