Monday, June 24, 2019

The Lost Central Park House - Central Park West and 84th Street

Two children in their Sunday best pose on the steps.  The gas street light was installed in 1865.  The sign on the side of the building advertises beer from The Lion Brewery.  from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York

When construction began on Central Park in 1857 the city had taken care of a problem.  Although there was scant development on the Upper West Side, a small settlement called Seneca Village, composed mostly of free Blacks, had been established in 1825 directly in the path of construction.  The community of about five acres engulfed an area approximately from what would become 82nd and 89th Streets, between Seventh and Eighth Avenues.  With a population topping 350 persons, it already had two cemeteries, three churches and two schools when construction of the park began.

The city compensated the residents for their property, acquiring the village through eminent domain.  On October 1, 1857 an announcement declared that the last of the holdouts had been evicted and before the end of the year the village was eradicated.

One remnant seems to have been the clapboard house and store on the southwest corner of Eighth Avenue (later Central Park West) and 84th Street.  It and a few scattered wooden buildings sat on the westernmost edge of the former community.  The original two-story and attic structure was clad in wide clapboards on the northern elevation and narrower boards on the front.  The six-over-six pane windows suggest that the vernacular-style structure was built years before the village disappeared.

Although the eventual completion of Central Park promised increased business, the proprietor of the store may not have been able to wait that long given that his present customers had all been moved away.  On September 7, 1859 an advertisement appeared in The New York Herald:

For Sale--A Two Story Frame Building and five lots adjoining, situated on Eighth avenue and Eighty-fourth street, at present occupied as a grocery and liquor store; stock and fixtures also for sale; it is well situated for business, being opposite Central park.

It was probably the purchaser who renamed the tavern The Central Park House, a well-thought marketing angle.   He sought improvements from the city, as well.  In November 1865 he petitioned the Board of Aldermen to "light Eighty-fourth street at Eighth avenue with gas, and to construct slips at the junction of Eighth-avenue and Eighty-fourth street."  ("Slips" would have been wooden crossings to protect feminine shoes and dress hems from the mud of the unpaved roads.)

The city rapidly brought other modern improvements to the area, as evidenced in the owner's advertisement on February 18, 1866.  "For Sale--Central Park--The Southwest Corner of Eighth avenue and Eighty-fourth street; the street is curbed and guttered, and has gas and Croton water."  He seems to have taken more than a bit of poetic license by exaggerating the views, saying "fine view across the Park, of the Sound and of the High Bridge."  Even considering the sparse development on either side of the park, it is more than doubtful that while standing on the long porch of The Central Park House one could see the High Bridge 50 blocks to the north on the opposite side of Manhattan.

The sale may have been prompted by the conversion of the Academy and Convent of Mount St. Vincents that year to a "refreshment house for Park visitors."  Its elegant dining rooms and upscale amenities were far more alluring to well-heeled citizens than the wooden tavern.

As the 1868 Presidential Election neared, The Central Park House became the meeting spot of supporters of Ulysses S. Grant and his running-mate, Schuyler Colfax.  On July 22,  the New York Herald reported "A regular meeting of the Nineteenth Assembly district Grand and Colfax Campaign Club was held yesterday evening at its headquarters, Central Park House, corner of Eighth avenue and Eighty-fourth street, when some two hundred names were added to the roll of working members."

But quaint wooden structures could not stem the tide of development as fashionable apartment buildings inched up Central Park West.  By the early 1890's The Central Park House was gone, replaced by the Lilita apartment house.  The site today is occupied by the 16-floor apartment building designed by Sugarman & Berger and completed in 1926.

photo via Landmarkwest!

No comments:

Post a Comment