Friday, July 5, 2019

A Careworn Building with a Venerable Past - 361 Greenwich Street

In 1807 the 25-foot wide house at No. 361 Greenwich Street was erected by Isaiah Rodgers.  Three and a half stories tall it was faced in red Flemish bond brick.  It's peaked roof would have been pierced by one or two dormers.  Handsome splayed brownstone lintels featured layered keystones.

As the city expanded well-to-do homeowners moved away from the encroaching commercial district.  In 1844 an advertisement appeared in The New York Herald:

J. F. R. Blesson, Coppersmith, from Paris, has the honor to inform the public that he has just opened a store at 361 Greenwich street, where he manufactures and has for sale Kitchen Ranges and Tackle, &c. in a style altogether new.

The announcement described his "first class" metal ware (including "bathing tubs") as perfect for hotels and boarding houses. Blesson was adept at metal repair, as well, offering to fix wrought iron, tin or copper items "as good as new."  His ad mentioned that he was also looking for a "first class journeyman tinman, and a young man who can speak French and English."

By the 1850's the upper floors were operated as a boarding house.  Juliet Bush lived here in the summer of 1859 when she dropped her bankbook on August 29.  She offered a $2 reward for its return.

One four-legged resident lost its way in 1861.  An advertisement in The New York Herald on June 4 read:

Dog Lost--Kind of Terrier; light chestnut color; has the ears cut in halves, making four points; had on a leather collar; answers to the name of Finot; understands French.

Blesson's copper shop had been converted to a saloon by now.  Its owner, N. Muller, ran an advertisement about a dog that same year.  But in this case the dog had been found (and most likely did not speak French).  Described in the "Lost and Found" section of The New York Herald as "a hunting dog," it had been found near Bergen, New Jersey on November 12.  The notice announced "The dog can be got at N. Muller's place, 361 Greenwich street, New York city, for three days."  It is unclear what he might have done with the dog after the deadline.

While dogs were lost and found that year, the boarding house was being operated by "Mrs. Taylor."  She advertised that "A few gentlemen can be accommodated with good Board at Mrs. Taylor's; terms $5 per week."  The rate would translate to just under $150 a week today.

The following year Mullin offered his business for sale, describing it on June 11, 1862 as "An Oyster and Liquor Saloon, in lower and business part of the city, with large and growing custom[ers] and convenient to all the principal steamship landings.  Inquire at 361 Greenwich street, where satisfactory reasons will be given for selling."  

Mrs. Taylor's boarders continued to have problems keeping track of their pets.  On August 22, 1863 a notice in The New York Herald read: "Lost--On the 21st Inst., A bull and terrier dog; black spot at the but [sic] of the tail, one black ear, and weights 21 lbs."

Edward Cashman, who lived here in 1866, was probably typical of the blue-collar boarders.  A "cartman," or driver of a horse-drawn dray or delivery truck, he was also a volunteer firefighter with the Hudson River Engine Company No. 53 on Washington Street.

The lure of the West seems to have overtaken the owner of the former Mullin saloon that year.  He offered for sale the "first class liquor store downtown, doing a good business" in September 1866.  His ad explained "Must be sold as the owner is going to California."

The neighborhood around No. 361 was undergoing major change at the time.  That year produce, egg and butter merchant Edwin M. Harrison purchased the former house, eventually adding other properties to his holdings.  For a while, however, he made no changes.

Then, in 1872, he added two full stories to the structure.  While his architect, whose name is lost, did not go to the unnecessary expense of matching the Flemish bond brickwork, he closely copied the Federal period lintels--a unexpected effort at architectural continuity.  A cornice and a new storefront were included in the renovations.

Somewhat surprisingly, Harrison did not make the renovations to accommodate commercial tenants.  Instead it was now used as a residential building for twelve families.

The saloon was offered for sale in September 1874, "as the owner is sickly."

Harrison's upstairs tenants were working class, like Michael Gallagher who died in January 1875.  He was from County Cork, Ireland, and his family held his wake and funeral in their rooms here.

Another Irish-born tenant was Maurice E. McNamara.  He was sitting in front of the fruit stand at Washington and Vesey Streets at around 4:00 on the afternoon of  June 30, 1876 when a young man darted past, running into some boys and knocking them to the pavement, and then fled along Vesey towards Greenwich Street.  A few seconds later a woman rushed up and said the man had just stabbed another.

McNamara's afternoon was about to become even more eventful.  About ten minutes later the injured man stumbled along the sidewalk and collapsed in front of a bootblack stand.  A boy, later identified as "Rockson," finished the initial attack by stabbing John Dolan to death.  McNamara (who did not seem to do anything else on behalf of the victim) was later called to testify against Rockson. 

Before long McNamara and the other tenants would have to find other accommodations.  By 1885 William Herron was leasing the entire building, which had been altered for the "office and salesroom" of his firm.  William Herron & Co. dealt in "cocoanuts, fruits and confectioners' supplies." 

That year New York's Great Industries said "Mr. Herron occupies large and extensive premises at No. 361 Greenwich street...with an additional warehouse at No. 354 Greenwich street."  Born in Ireland, Herron had established his business in 1876 and was by now, according to the article, "a strictly first-class firm."  It added, Mr. William Herron is an importer and dealer in San Blas cocoanuts (which are universally conceded to be the best brought into this market), shelled nuts, and confectioners' supplies."

In April 1890 Harrison renewed Herron's lease, along with Nos. 24 and 26 Harrison Street.  A state inspection in 1901 showed 14 employees working in No. 361 doing "nut sorting and picking."  The two men and 12 women worked 59 hours during a five-day work week.

In 1903 the estate of Edwin M. Harrison sold No. 361 along with Nos. 355-359 Greenwich Street to millionaire Eldridge T. Gerry.  He continued to lease No. 361 to William Herron & Co.

William Herron died of a stroke in September 1907.  The New-York Tribune called him "one of the oldest importers and dealers in shelled nuts and confectioners' supplies in this city.  Five years later an advertisement appeared in the April 24, 1912 issue of the New York Produce Review & American Creamery, offering "Entire Building to Let," rent low and possession at once.

The firm of Seckel & Kiernan signed a lease and the interiors were altered to accommodate the firm's butter and egg business.  It subleased space in the spring of 1916.  Chicago Dairy Produce announced on March 7 "W. P. Hentze has moved from Harrison street to 361 Greenwich street, where he shares store room with Seckel & Kiernan."

Both firms would remain in the building for years.  In 1922 New York Produce Review said of Seckel & Kiernan, "The house specialized in eggs and there is no branch of the business that the individual members are not thoroughly familiar with."  And in January 1930 W. P. Hentz listed itself as "receiver, distributor and wholesaler of "white and brown eggs" and promised farmers "top prices for graded eggs."

The building continued to house butter and egg merchants for decades.  That all changed, however, in 1982 when the it was joined internally with No. 355-359 Greenwich Street and converted to ten sprawling loft apartments.  The ground floor, once home to N. Mullin's oyster and liquor saloon, became a restaurant in 1997.   The February 10 issue of New York Magazine reported "TriBeCa's newest Mediterranean contender is Flor de Sol."

The cornice was lost sometime in the 20th century, replaced by a stiff parapet.

Today the space is home to the Italian restaurant Il Mulino.  Only the astute observer notices the venerable brickwork and Federal style lintels of the second and third floors--the only hints that the building is nearly 185 years old.

photographs by the author


  1. I assume Isaiah Rodgers was the noted architect Isaiah Rogers, who was working in New York at the time, and designed the Astor House hotel? He also designed the Middle Dutch,or Middle Collegiate, church in Lafayette Place, which interests me particularly as Rogers's diaries for 1839 describe a trip to the village where I live in Maine, where he procured the granite for the Church.

    1. Surprisingly, the "D" in Isaiah Rodgers's last name makes a big difference. Rodgers was a builder, responsible for several such brick-faced homes in the downtown area. He may or may not have designed his structures, that information has been lost. However he was not the same D-less Isaiah Rogers who created those magnificent structures you mentioned.

    2. What a difference a letter makes. Fascinating indeed. Thanks for clarification.