Thursday, March 21, 2019

Steele & Costigan's 1877 228 West 10th Street

Real estate agents E. S. & B. F. Burnham advertised the "three story high stoop brick House...and shop Property" at 228 West 10th Street for sale on February 2, 1873.    At the time the "shop property" in the rear was being rented to builders Steele & Costigan.

Adam Steele and Edward R. Costigan had reason to be concerned over the change in landlords.  They had just moved from their previous premises on West 18th Street less than six months earlier.   But things worked out well between them and Isaac Parmly.  Not only did they stay on as tenants (an advertisement in The New York Herald on August 9, 1874 announced "Carpenter work, by Steele & Costigan, 228 West Tenth street); but on December 29, 1874, Parmly sold them the property for $10,000--just under a quarter of a million today.

The first improvement they made was to demolish the old shop in the rear and erect a new one.  In September 1875 architect J. I. Howard filed plans for a "two-story wood and glass shop."  (The building was not composed of wood and glass; it was intended for carpentry and glazing.)

In January 1877 Adam Steele and his wife, Hanna, took out a $5,000 mortgage on their half of the property.  It was a hint of things to come.  Before the year was up Steele & Costigan had demolished the old house and erected a four-story flathouse.   Faced in red brick an trimmed in brownstone, there would have been little to draw attention to the building were it not for the aggressive neo-Grec cornice and superb doorway--a beautiful, if overstated touch for a working class apartment building.  Beefy cast iron newels fronted the one-step stoop.

With only slight damage, the carved stone entrance survives beautifully, albeit painted.  The single step originally extended several feet, protected by iron railings which terminated in heavy newels.

Steele & Costigan continued to operate from the shop in the rear yard into the 1890's.  At some point Edward Costigan sold his half of the property to his partner.  While Adam and Hanna Steele continued to live in their apartment here, Costigan's home was listed far north on West 156th Street by 1897.

Steele had a close call on Friday night, March 22, 1902, when he was driving on Fifth Avenue near 13th Street.  Automobiles were making their debut in the city at the time and few horses were accustomed to the alien contraptions.  When one approached, Steele's horse was spooked and ran.

A bicycle policeman named How chased the runaway and overtook it at 15th Street.  He grabbed the bridle and stopped the horse short.  The New-York Tribune reported "The sudden jolt threw Steele from his seat to the ground, rendering him unconscious.  An ambulance was called from the New-York Hospital, and Steele was taken there suffering from severe scalp wounds and shock."

Just two years later Steele was dead.  His estate sold No. 228 in January 1906.  The change in ownership in no way altered things within the building.  

Seen (at left) in 1932, the glazier's shop advertises "Plate Glass."  The muscular iron newels and railing of the stoop still survived.  photo by Charles Von Urban, from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York

Then, in 1931 the ground floor was converted to a "glazier's shop" with an industrial, concrete floor.  Steele & Costigan's old shop in the rear had not only survived, but was still being used for its original purpose.  As late as 1941 it was described in Department of Buildings documents as "storage and carpenter's shop."  At that time there were two apartments per floor in the main building.

For decades blue collar families came and went, their meager incomes often prompted them to find other sources of money--and sometimes that got them into trouble.  Daniel Power lived here during the Great Depression and worked for the City as a subway station agent.  Early in 1939 the 34-year old was promoted to train dispatcher.  The promotion was not only a personal accomplishment, but meant a raise.  But it was all about to come crashing down.

In February 1939, only days after Powers's promotion District Attorney Thomas E. Dewey launched an investigation "into the looting of nickels from station turnstiles."   While nickels seem to be a petty amount today, Dewey told reporters that "the city had been victimized of $1,500,000 in nickels."

The ten-week probe resulted on 26 city employees being indicted on charges of "forgery, grand larceny or conspiracy charges," as reported by The New York Times on March 31.   Powers was one of the group who pleaded guilty.  Although there was a possibility he could escape jail time--Assistant District Attorney Robert H. Thayer said "possibly some of them would testify under waivers of immunity"--his reputation and chances of new employment were devastated.

The tenant list reflected, at least in part, the changing face of the neighborhood.  In the late 1940's Harold P. Preston moved in with his wife, Edna.  Preston had begun his career as an actor, touring with country in the Blaney Stock company and later operating his own stock company in Buffalo.  Although he turned to publishing--working in the circulation department of McGraw-Hill Publishing Company and later becoming president of the H. P. Preston Advertising Company--he had acting in his blood.  He formed the H. P. Preston Production company, which staged off-Broadway shows.  He was working on Greenwich Village Varieties in November 1953, when he died in his apartment at the age of 53.

The building's quiet existence ended in 1969 when the ground floor was not-so-attractively altered for a bar-restaurant.  The Yellow Brick Road was a neighborhood favorite for decades. Its $3.50 Sunday brunch (about $15 today), included a glass of champagne, a bloody Mary, or "a red shoe."

The restaurant's Peter Max-esque menu exemplified 1970's pop art.  from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York
The Yellow Brick Road's owner Robert Santopietro had closed up on the night of May 16 1976 when he allowed a man to come in.  Police said the man used "a ruse" to gain entrance.  Once inside he pulled a gun and forced Santopietro into the basement where he was handcuffed to an overhead pipe.  The robber made off with $1,587 from the register.

The space would see a succession of subsequent clubs and restaurants.  In 1986 it became home to the Jupiter Cafe, described by The Times's Andrew L. Yarrow as a "sleek" new restaurant that "turns into an informal jazz club on Sunday nights."  It was followed by the Eighty Eights, a cabaret that featured live acts.  The  highly-popular nightclub was a Village destination for years; until on May 4, 1999 Playbill announced "Eighty-Eights, the venerable Greenwich Village cabaret spot where show tunes have been celebrated and performers have tested new material for the past decade, is likely to close May 31, due to economics."  On December 3, 2008 L'Artusi opened, serving "rustic Italian cuisine."  A decade later it continues in the space.

No. 228 West 10th Street, a brave venture into real estate development by two carpenter-builders, has been repointed and its masonry repaired, unfortunately with mismatched brick.  But overall the upper floors retain their 1877 appearance, and the marvelous entrance survives.  Now about that storefront...

photographs by the author

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