Wednesday, October 3, 2018

The 1828 House and Store at 705 Greenwich Street

A subtle change in brick color testifies to the addition of the third floor.
Brothers Warren and Joseph B. Harriot were busy men.  They operated the grocery business of W. & J. B. Harriot at No. 717 Greenwich Street, at the corner of Charles Street, while simultaneously buying Greenwich Village real estate and erecting houses and shops.  The brothers lived near their business; Warren at No. 720 Greenwich Street and Joseph at No. 711.  Their brother, Samuel, was a mason who shared the Greenwich Street business address. It was no doubt he who was responsible for his brothers' construction projects.

In 1828, using the firm name W. & J. B. Harriot, the brothers erected two 24-foot wide houses on the same block as their business, Nos. 703 and 705.  Two-and-a-half stories tall, they were handsome examples of Federal architecture.  Orange-red Flemish bond brick was trimmed in brownstone.  No. 703 was erected as the home and drugstore of Benjamin Quackenbush.  It is most likely that the houses were identical, each with a store at ground level.

No. 705 most likely originally matched No. 703, seen above.  The door at the left led to the upper floors.  By now a full third floor had been added to No. 705 (left) and a permanent awning erected over the sidewalk.  (The pile of bricks and the pulled-up curbstone suggest the street was being paved.).  photograph by Alfred Tennyson Beals from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York

It would seem that rooms were rented in No. 705 by mid-century.  Mrs. Nott lived here in 1856 when she submitted her hand-fashioned wax fruit in the category of "Needlework, Embroidery and Fancy Articles" in the annual exhibition of the American Institute of the City of New York.  She won first prize for wax fruit, earning her a bronze medal.

Two years later the unmarried Matilda Vesey was living here.  She taught in Primary School No. 11 at No. 461 Greenwich Street.

In 1859 merchant H. M. Scoble ran the store.  His family lived upstairs, as well.  Both he and his son, Andrew W. Scoble, who was a, plumber, were volunteer firefighters.  Oddly enough they worked out of different companies--Andrew was a member of Mohawk Engine Company, No. 16 at No. 126 West Broadway, and his father was a member of Empire Engine Company, No. 42 on Murray Street.

After 190 years and numerous alterations to the house, the Federal-style doorway amazingly survives.
It is unclear if Scoble owned No. 703; but in 1860 it was lost to foreclosure after the $3,000 mortgage remained unpaid.  The Assembly of the State of New York appraised the property at $5,000--around $152,000 today.

The building was purchased by and became home to William S. Wood.  Given his visible public position, his moving into the humble structure is somewhat surprising.   He was re-appointed as the New York Commissioner of Public Buildings by the newly-elected President Abraham Lincoln in 1861.  But it appears that political infighting prompted Wood to rethink the honor.

On September 7, 1861 The New York Herald reported "He accepted the new appointment, but has now resigned, because he felt he could not in honor hold the office and at the same time comply with the requirement made upon him by those who assumed to control him and the business of his department."  The article noted "the President of the United States did not know it last night."

Like the Scobles, Wood volunteered his spare time to the Metropolitan Hook and Ladder Company No. 5, at No. 96 Charles Street.  And in the meantime he took the less impressive post of Special Inspector for the City.  He was caught up in a administrative housecleaning by the State Legislature in 1864.  A committee of three senators was charged with investigating the questionable activities of five city departments, including the City Inspector's Department.  Heads rolled.  Among the first to lose his job was Wood's supervisor, F. I. A. Boole.  Wood was not far behind.  He was discharged on December 8, 1864.

No. 705 was soon owned by Florent Feltz, who sold it on February 28, 1871 to builder Nicholas Hemerich.  He paid a handsome price for the property.  The $16,000 price tag would top $330,000 today.  It was doubtlessly Hemerich who raised the attic to full floor and added an up-to-date Italianate cornice.  It was also about this time that a broad elliptical arched opening replaced the storefront.  It accommodated Hemerich's vehicles and supplies until around 1898.  His yearly permit "for trucks" cost him $180 by 1891.

It may have been  their business connections with Hemerich which resulted in T. F. and Benjamin W. Jenkins living upstairs by 1893.  Both were real estate developers.  In January that year they separately hired architect W. H. Hoover, Jr. to design frame houses, only yards apart, on Valentine Avenue in the Bronx.

Sarah A. Blackwood was another of Hemerich's tenants around the same time.  The widow of hero police officer Sylvester Blackwood, she had lived on his $300 per year pension since January 17, 1886.  Blackwood was best remembered for breaking a sensational mail robbery case in 1877.

For at least a decade D. O'Farrell's furniture store was located on 10th Avenue.  Now, in 1898, he leased the store at No. 705.  His yearly rent of $139 would be equal to only $350 a month today.  When F. Donnatin took the space for his own furniture store here just two years later the rent was lower--$117.  It suggests that the Greenwich Street neighborhood was in decline.

The Hemerich family still owned the building in 1917 when the Manhattan Railway Co. sought to add a third track to the elevated railroad that now ran in front of the property.  In December John G. Hemerick gave the family's consent.

The ground floor and basement were leased in February 1919 to the Argo Manufacturing Co., makers of corn starch.

By the Depression years the Greenwich Street block was gritty and at lease one of the upstairs tenants of No. 705 was shady.  Joseph Fletcher was just 20 years old in 1935, but he had already established a criminal reputation.  He was a suspect of the hold-up of Swift & Co. on August 20.  So when he skipped town shortly afterwards he violated his parole from the Elmira Reformatory.

Fletcher and his cohort, 25-year old Stanley Wescott, traveled to the mining town of St. Michael's Pennsylvania.  They raised the suspicions of the town's postmaster after they came into the post office several times asking for mail addressed to general delivery.  The woman knew that the mine payroll was due to arrive any day, so she notified the Pennsylvania State Police.

Troopers waited in the tiny post office until the pair showed up again.  When their hotel room was searched loaded pistols were found.  Now charged with being a fugitive, a parole violator, and a suspect of attempted robbery, Fletcher would not be returning to his room on Greenwich Street.

In 1940 the newly-formed 705 Greenwich St. Corp. purchased the building.  Before the year's end it was converted to one apartment each on the upper floors and a remodeled store on the first.   In 1982 a commendable renovation updated the storefront

Close inspection reveals the arched brickwork of Nicholas Hemerich's shop.  
The starkly improved neighborhood was evidenced in 2008 when Donna Karan's Urban Zen boutique opened in the store.

photographs by the author


  1. The photograph of number 703 is absolutely gobsmacking

    1. I gasped when I found that photograph. If you examine it closely, the individuals and the details pictured are fascinating.