Wednesday, December 26, 2018

The 1827 Brouner House at 529 Hudson Street

In July 1822 the first case of yellow fever was reported in New York City.  Within only a few days it became an epidemic.  The death toll reached 140 victims per day, churches and businesses were closed, and those with enough money to do so fled the city, many heading to the healthful environs of Greenwich Village.  The explosion in population required additional homes, churches, banks and shops.

Developers who rushed to erect new buildings were joined by unexpected speculators.  Among them was a cartman--a driver of a horse-drawn delivery drays--Tunis Banta.  In 1827 he erected a 21-foot wide, two-and-a-half story house at 529 Hudson Street between Charles Street and Amos (later renamed West 10th) Street.  Faced in red Flemish bond brick, its parlor floor sat above a brownstone stoop over an English basement.

Banta originally leased the house.  By the late 1840's it was home to the young couple Joseph P. and Phebe Ann Brouner.   Joseph was well-known in the neighborhood for his religious involvements.  His father, Jacob H. Brouner, had been pastor of the North Baptist Church on Christopher Street nearly since its organization in 1827.  Joseph was a deacon and the choir director in the church.  His brother, John J. Brouner, was a Baptist minister, as well.

The couple was plunged into grief when their son, Jacob, died on Tuesday morning, June 11 one month after his sixth birthday.   The little boy's funeral was held in the house the following afternoon.

The Brouners would have three more children--Howard Osgood, Maria Louisa, and Caroline--but sadly would attend the funerals of two of them.   Howard was just over one year old when he died on June 22, 1863, and Caroline was 23 and recently married when she died in October 1879.  When Maria Louisa was married to James L. Smith in her parents house in September 1873, her uncle performed the ceremony.  By then the Brouners had lived on Sixth Avenue for at least a decade.

In the mid-1850's the owner of their former home was offering rented rooms.  An advertisement in The New York Herald on April 25, 1856 read, "A gentleman and his wife and a few single gentlemen can be accommodated with good board and pleasant rooms, at 529 Hudson street, near Charles."

It was possibly Elizabeth (known as Eliza) Blauvelt Froeligh who advertised the rooms.  She was the widow of Solomon Froeligh, Jr., whose father left an indelible mark on the Dutch Church by sparking the "Great Schism" which resulted in the Reformed Dutch Church.  Eliza's husband died in 1861 and certainly by that time she was living at 529 her son, William Blauvelt Froeligh.

The Froelighs' ownership of the house had its roots before its construction.  When Tunis Banta erected 519, another cartman, Isaac C. Blauvelt, simultaneously erected 531 next door.  The two men had purchased the plots from Richard Amos (whose family lent its name to Amos Street) in 1826.   Blauvelt's sister was Eliza Froeligh and their father, Rev. Isaac Blauvelt had been closely involved in the Dutch Reformed secession with Solomon Froeligh.

Another funeral was held in the house on June 23, 1863 after William Froeligh died at the age of 26 two days earlier.

An advertisement in 1869 revealed the home's up-to-the-minute amenities.  "To Let--Two rooms, neatly furnished, suitable for housekeeping; good closets, gas and water; price, $8 per week."  The weekly rent would be equal to about $148 today.

The house saw a variety of residents throughout the rest of the 19th century.  In 1874 Dr. Gilford M. Morse and his wife, Emma, lived here.  That year on July 6 he was appointed Surgeon of the 55th Regiment Infantry.   And the women's activist Carrie Williams was here in 1882.   She made herself a thorn in the side of department stores that February.

Carrie and Emma Gates Conkling, who lived nearby at 160 Waverley Place, embarked on their own undercover investigation of the working conditions of shop girls.  A workplace law demanded that "employers of females in any mercantile or manufacturing business or occupation to provide and maintain suitable seats for use of such female employes."  Carrie and Emma wanted to ensure the rules were being obeyed.

It all started when Emma noticed "with pity that the poor girls who are employed as saleswomen in the large retail dry goods establishments are compelled to stand from an early hour in the morning until late at night behind the counters," as she explained later.  She and Carrie launched their own investigation and after visiting numerous department stores and questioning the women clerks, they headed off to court.

On February 18, 1882 they obtained arrest warrants for executives of John Daniell & Son, on Broadway; R. H. Macy & Co. at 14th Street and Sixth Avenue; and Simpson, Crawford & Simpson on Sixth Avenue.  In court John Daniell asserted that the charges were "inspired by malevolence."  Surprisingly, a group of store employees appeared to support their employers.  The New York Times reported "they said they did not need the interference of any body of ladies in their behalf, and added that the greatest kindness that ladies could do them would be to finish their shopping before 5 o'clock in the afternoon, that they might get the goods back on the shelf and be ready to depart at 6 o'clock."

A contractor, or builder,
 Edward Towner, lived in the house in 1887 at a time when Hudson Street was changing from one of quiet residences to a business thoroughfare.  In the spring of 1899 real estate operator Charles Spear, head of Charles Spear & Co., purchased the house, placing its title in the name of his wife, Emma.  By the time they sold it to John M. Foote in February 1902, they had increased its height to a full three floors above the basement level.

The property was sold at "voluntary auction" in 1910 and purchased by Charles Winter, who soon made significant renovations.  His architect, William S. Boyd filed plans in March 1911 to replace the front and rear walls of the basement and convert that level into a business space.  A new staircase was added, suggesting that it was at this time that the parlor floor was also converted to a shop.

The new store did not become the home of a dress shop or millinery boutique, as some ladies in the neighborhood might have hoped.  Instead, The Potmend Company moved in.  In July 1912 the Inland Storekeeper explained the firm's one product.

There is a constant demand for a cement or adhesive for repairing broken china, bric-a-brac, toys, pots and pans, etc.  "Potment," manufactured by the Potmend Company, 529 Hudson street, New York City, fills every need of this kind.  It is a universal mender--mends anything.  It is a heat, water and acid proof and never deteriorates.

The Island Storekeeper, July 1912 (copyright expired)

A retailer, the Pickering Hardware Company of Cincinnati, Ohio, chimed in, saying "We have sold several thousand cans of Potmend and have yet to hear of a dissatisfied customer, or a single complaint.  We have, however, heard a large number of people sing its praise."

The store was replaced two years later by the newly-organized C. H. & R. C. Peckworth company, a contracting firm.  It was incorporated in January 1914.  Charles H. and Ralph C. Peckworth would not only work from the building, but lived there.   The firm was successful, landing a lucrative contract in June 1916, for instance, for the masonry work on the five-story Floersch Hotel in Perth Amboy, New Jersey.

C. H. & R. C. Peckworth remained in the building through the World War I years, replaced around 1920 by the Shawmut Construction Company on one floor and the National Metal Bead Co. on the other.

Year Book of the New York Society of Architects, 1921-22 (copyright expired)

The commercial tenants continued to be less than glamorous.  The Faber Iron Works was here for years, beginning around the beginning of the Great Depression until mid-century.

A sign reading "Faber Iron Works" hangs from the wall, third building from the corner, in this 1933 photograph.  Note the commercial cornice details added, most likely, by Charles Spear.  from the collection of the New York Public Library

Change in the Greenwich Village neighborhood caught up to 529 in 1978 when Inglenook Antiques took over the store space.  The New York Times said on November 9 that year that it "has examples of nearly all of the Victorian subperiods, and specializes in three of them: American Empire, Renaissance Revival and American Eastlake."  The store was a destination for antiques hunters until around 1988.

That year the upper section was converted to one apartment per floor and the store became home to Crunch Aerobics Studio.  Starting in 2010 chef Joe Ng of the Chinatown Brasserie and restaurant consultant Ed Schoenfeld opened an American-Asian eatery, RedFarm, in the space.  Ng, deemed by The New York Times food critic Florence Fabricant "a dim sum specialist," announced he would serve "some unusual dim sum, including saffron soup dumplings and Peking duck sliders."

The restaurant was a hit and four years later Time Out New York commented that the "high-end ingredients and whimsical plating [of the] interpretive Chinese restaurant have helped pack the narrow contemporary dining room since opening night."

Nearly 195 years after its completion and having survived decades of various uses and remodeling, 529 Hudson Street survives unnoticed by most.

photographs by the author

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