Thursday, February 14, 2019

1850's Yorkville Charm - 450 East 78th Street

photo by Beyond My Ken
After the New York and Harlem Railroad was extended along Fourth Avenue in the 1830's a hamlet grew up around the 86th Street station.   In the 1850's an influx of German and Irish immigrants settled in the village, many of them hired to build the Croton Aqueduct.   At some point around the time of the Civil War it became known as Yorkville.  Eventually Yorkville would rival, then overtake the Lower East Side as the center of the German immigrant community.

Around 1855 a two-story wooden shop and house was erected at what would be later numbered 450 East 78th Street.   The simple clapboard front, three bays wide, wore a simple bracketed wooden cornice.

The store was a neighborhood grocery by the last quarter of the century.  The names of two of its proprietors reflected the German population of the Yorkville area.  In the 1880's and early '90's Richard Meyerdierk ran the grocery store; and by 1896 it had been taken over by Frederick Brockhoff.  He had arrived in New York on the Harzburg on April 10, 1873.

In 1905 the owner of the grocery store was awarded a permit "to sell milk."  That same year alterations were done and it could be at that at this time that the ground floor was divided into two shops.  The owner may have had a difficult time paying for the improvements.  On June 7, 1910 B. E. Theo Wolleson & Mechanics Construction Co., Inc. were awarded a mechanics' lien on the property for $35.00.

One of the upstairs tenants in 1912 was 35-year-old Edward Wodenhold.  That summer was scorching, making work brutal for laborers like him.  July 8 was, according to The New York Times, the hottest since 1878.  At 2 p.m. the temperature climbed to 93 degrees, a dangerous level at a time when there was no relief in the form of air conditioning or even electric fans.

Before heading home to his insufferably hot rooms, Wodenhold stopped to get a drink.  But unfortunately, the heat had already taken its toll.  The Times reported that he "died from heart failure inducted by heat in a saloon last night at 860 First Avenue."

Rather amazingly, as the old wooden and brick buildings on the block were razed to be replaced by modern apartment buildings around the turn of the century, the little wooden store had survived.  In the Depression years it was home to a "Ladies & Gents tailor" and Heller Bros. electricians.

Laundry dries on lines behind and above the building on September 25 1935.  An electrician and tailor occupy the store fronts. . from the collection of the New York Public Library
By the last quarter of the 20th century the century-old ethnic personality of Yorkville was changing as younger generations of Germans and Hungarians moved away.   By 1973 Toto Mundi Gallery was here, called by New York Magazine the "most inexpensive quality framing in town."   Around the same time Ages Past Antiques occupied the eastern shop.

Edmund Vincent Gillon captured the building around 1975.  Ages Past Antiques is in the nearer shop.  from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York
The 1980's saw the accessories boutique Flights of Fancy move into a space.  It sold items like the "clay boudoir jar with potpourri" available in 1984 for $14.50.

The little wooden building sold around 2016 for $2.5 million.  Amazingly there are three apartments in the upper floor.  Even more amazing is that the charming structure survives.

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