Friday, June 21, 2019

A Remarkable Re-do - No. 230 West 10th Street

A new facade gives no hint of the vintage structure's original appearance.

In 1834, a year after he completed the two-and-a-half story house at No. 126 Amos Street, John C. Blauvelt sold it and the empty lot next door at No. 124 to John Kohler.  Kohler, in turn, erected a similar brick-faced house on the lot.  The two homes shared a stable in the rear yard, accessible by a horse walk, or narrow alley, between No. 126 and 128.

By the mid-1840's No. 126 was home to Thomas Church.  On May 1, 1846 the New-York Daily Tribune reported on a small incident.  "The Stable in the rear of 124 Amos-st., belonging to Thomas Church, was somewhat injured by fire on Wednesday evening."

At the time of the fire architect and builder Abraham Demarest lived nearby on Greenwich Street.  But within six years he had moved into the Amos Street house. 

A member of the firm Onderdonk & Demarest, he was called as an expert witness in a trial in January 1852 which pitted a hotel owner against his architect.  His brief testimony supported the hotelier's claim that his West Point building was poorly constructed. "I don't think the posts were as large as they should have been," he told the court.

Demarest appears to have built several properties on his own.  An advertisement in The New York Herald on February 14, 1853 offered "For Sale--Two three story brick houses" on Warren Place, and "a new house of three stories and attic, with all modern improvements, No. 59 Christopher street."  Interested parties were directed to contact his agent "or at 124 Amos street.  A Demarest."

Highly active in local politics, Demarest was nominated for the office of Assessor by the Reform Party of the Ninth Ward in October 1853.  Within two years he changed affiliations, joining the Ninth Ward Republicans and offering his parlor for meetings.  On September 11, 1855 The New York Times reported "A large meeting of substantial citizens of the Ninth Ward was held on Monday evening, at No. 124 Amos-street."  The article concluded that "Great enthusiasm and the utmost harmony prevailed."

Somehow house burglar Henry Burns acquired a copy of Demarest's front door key.  On February 4, 1855 he quietly unlocked the door and entered the hallway.  Steps inside was the hall tree.  Just as Burns grabbed Demarest's overcoat he was discovered by a servant, Isaac Parmalee, who was able to overpower the thief.  Parmalee dragged him down the street to Officer Hanniper.

On the way to the station house Burns reached into his pocket and tossed the key.  The policeman retrieved it and later tested it on Demarest's door.  It fit perfectly.  Burns was held on charges of having "burglariously entered" the house and stealing the overcoat, valued at the equivalent of $410 today.

In 1857 Amos Street was renamed West 10th and the Demarest house received the new address of No. 230.  By the mid-1870's it was home to Godfrey Detmer and his wife.

In 1874 Detmer was suffering from severe depression.  His health was not good and he had been out of work for some time.  At one point he attempted to commit suicide.

The New York Herald explained on November 25 that he "saw nothing in the future for himself and family but want and extreme destitution.  These facts made Detmer very despondent."    When his wife left the house on Monday November 23, the 65-year-old used the same rope from his earlier attempt to hang himself.  The New York Herald reported "taking advantage of his wife's absence he terminated an existence which had become intolerable to him."

The house may have been operated as a boarding house following the Detmers.  Among the residents in January 1875 was "Mme. Gardner, midwife," as her one-line advertisement described her.

August Widdell purchased Nos. 230 and 232 West 10th Street in 1876.  Before 1880 he raised the attics of both houses to a full floor.  The former stable in the rear was now described by the Real Estate Record & Builders' Guide in 1882 as a "three-story brick shop."

Eugene Neudewitz was a boarder in No. 230 in October 1896 when he was one of two men ordained as a Lutheran minister in St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church on Christopher Street.   He immediately organized a new congregation, the English Evangelical Church of the Holy Trinity in Jersey City.  But the honeymoon between him and the congregation was short-lived.

On March 23, 1903 the New-York Tribune reported that the church "is rent by strife, and a number of the officials and members are arrayed against the pastor, the Rev. Eugene E. Neudewitz.  One of the congregants harshly summed up the dissension:  "It all comes of moving into a hoodoo church." ("Hoodoo" was another term for witchcraft or black magic.)

Interestingly, as they were bought and sold over the next few decades Nos. 230 and 232 were treated as a package (possibly because of the shared building in the rear).  By 1922 the ground floor of No. 230 was converted to for F. V. F. Machine Works.

In 1932, where Abraham Demarest had held political meetings, mechanics now worked on machinery. photo by Charles Von Urban, from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York  
The second half of the 20th century saw West 10th Street rediscovered as its quaint houses were restored.   By 1987 the machine shop had become home to Bob Self's home decor store.  Self, a producer of television commercials, was also a skilled craftsman of folk art pieces.  He was quoted by The New York Times columnist Elaine Louie on October 1, 1987 saying "When I carve my tramp art, I hope that a hundred years down the road somebody will look at my cactus lamp and see it as another kind of folk art, and worth keeping for yet another 100 years."

Dramatic change was about to come to No. 230 in 1996 when it was purchased for $950,000 by Jean Ligel.  The French-born music producer, newspaper publisher and art collector hired architect Jeffrey Flanigan to convert the vintage structure into a single family home and private art gallery.

Flanigan veneered the facade with a  composition material resembling brick.  The ground floor shop became a garage; while the former stable became part of the house by means of a connecting extension.  The Pygmalion-type metamorphosis resulted in a 6,700-square-foot residence which was listed for $14.7 million in 2016.

photographs by the author 

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