Friday, March 23, 2018

William S. Hunt's 1861 327 and 329 West 20th Street

As the Chelsea district developed around him, William S. Hunt lived in a narrow house at No. 211 West 20th Street, just west of Eighth Avenue, and operated his shop next door at No. 213.
Hunt advertised his finish carpentry and construction business in the 1851 edition of New-York; Past Present, and Future.  (copyright expired)
In 1860 he demolished both buildings in order to erect two private dwellings.  Somewhat surprisingly, at a time when some upscale homes in the neighborhood topped 30 feet in width, Hunt chose not to combine his 12.6-foot wide plots.   Instead he erected two handsome but unusually skinny houses.

There is little doubt that Hunt acted not only as the builder, but the designer.  The sometimes-architect was responsible for designing the nearby Eighteenth Street Methodist Episcopal Church, built in 1835-36 in the popular Greek Revival style.

Completed in 1861, the matching homes were clad in brownstone and were his own take on the Italianate style.  The upper three floors wore expected Italianate details, like the elliptical arched openings and foliate-bracketed cornice.  The parlor floor drew its in inspiration from the recently popular Anglo-Italianate style, doing away with the fussy entrance enframements in favor of keystoned arches and deep rustication.

Anglo-Italianate homes routinely were entered nearly at sidewalk level; their doorways sitting above two or three shallow steps.  But Hunt continued his hybridization by placing the parlor floors above a deep English basement and utilizing the Italianate high stoop.

No. 213 became the parsonage of the Eighteenth Street Methodist Episcopal Church, home to Rev. J. F. Richmond.  The family who moved in next door, like so many homeowners in the neighborhood, rented their extra space in the house.  An advertisement in September 1865 announced "A private family can accommodate a gentleman and wife with a large pleasant Room and Bedroom and Closet adjoining, with Board."

In 1865 West 20th Street was renumbered.  The houses received their new addresses of 327 and 329 West 20th Street.  Throughout the rest of the century residents came and went, drawing no unwanted attention to themselves.  By the 1870s No. 329, no longer a parsonage, was home to the Denman family.  Asahel Homes Denman attended New York City College beginning in 1877.

No. 327 was lost in foreclosure in May 1905, and purchased by Susan H. Cudner for $8,000--about a quarter of a million dollars today.  She rented rooms in the house, which was home to architect G. R. Joslin by 1907.  Michael Duanno lived here in 1921, earning a living as a "painter and decorator."

Duanno was headed home on the 9th Avenue elevated train on the night of December 30 that year when disaster occurred.   At around 7:05 a local train was stalled with motor trouble between stations at 40th Street.   The next southbound train rammed into the stationary train, the two telescoping into one another.

"The impact was terrific," wrote The New York Times.   Passengers were "thrown in heaps, the floor, ceiling, walls, seats and parts of the metal work shattered and twisted into a continuous mass of wreckage."  One passenger was killed and at least 40 were injured, one losing a foot.  Among the dead was 27-year old Michael Duanno.

Another roomer in No. 327 was James Nelson, who rented a furnished room in the late 1930s.  A retired longshoreman, the 70-year old died in his room in June 1939.  A policeman went to the scene and searched Nelson's pockets.  He found two worn leather tobacco pouches containing "$3,300 in old, large size, gold-back treasury notes, mostly of $10 and $20 denomination," according to authorities.  The surprising hoard would be equal to about $57,000 today.

In the meantime No. 329 saw renters come and go as well.  Raymond Rufino Huna, who was a member of the United States Merchant Marines, left the West 20th Street house to fight in World War II.  His wife received the terrifying news on April 17, 1943 that he was missing in action.

Perhaps because of their narrow proportions, neither house was significantly altered.  In 1965 No. 329 was converted to a duplex at the basement and parlor level with a triplex above; and the following year No. 327 was altered to a single family home with one apartment in the basement.

Throughout their more than 150 year histories, both of William S. Hunt's hybrid homes retained their 1861 personalities--even retaining their elegant entrance doors.

photograph by the author

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