Thursday, July 11, 2019

The 1831 Jacob P. Roome House - 7 Weehawken Street

The Weehawken Market opened on West Street between Christopher and Amos (later West 10th) Streets in 1834.  On the riverfront directly opposite were three commercial docks.  The little, one-block long street behind the Market was named Weehawken Street. 

About three years earlier Jacob P. Roome had erected a substantial two-story and attic brick-faced house at No. 7 Weehawken Street.   The Greek Revival home was trimmed with simple brownstone sills and lintels.   It is unclear whether Roome ever lived in the residence, or if he simply built it as an investment.

In either case he offered it for sale at a property auction in February 1845.  The announcement described it succinctly as "The lot and two story brick house, No. 7 Weehawken, between Christopher and Amos streets."

It was purchased by Cornelius Van Schaack Roosevelt, the very wealthy patriarch of the old Roosevelt family and the grandfather of President Theodore Roosevelt.  The family would retain ownership for decades.

On January 10, 1859 The New York Herald reported "A fire broke out on Monday night in the house No. 7 Weehawken street.  Damage trifling."  The Evening Post added that the fire was "soon extinguished by the citizens."

No. 7 was operated as a rooming house which catered to the working class men in the neighborhood.  In 1851 carpenters J. de Hondt and Laurence Rilley were listed here, and boat builder George M. Munson was here around the same time.  The location was convenient for Munson, who owned the building directly across the street at Nos. 392-393 West Street.  

Cornelius Roosevelt died in 1871.  Between then and 1875 the Roosevelt family raised the attic level to a full third floor and added a bracketed pressed metal cornice.  The ground floor was gutted and a carriage bay broken into the facade to accommodate a stables.

On February 1, 1876 an announcement in The New York Herald read "Stable To Let--7 Weehawken St; eight stalls and room for trucks; also two Floors for dwellings in same building; together or separate.  Inquire of Roosevelt & Son."

The tenants in the rooms upstairs reflected the district of docks and stables.  By 1887 John Haag, a driver, was listed here and would stay on at least through 1892.  In the meantime Thomas Rudden and his son, Philip, ran the stables beginning around 1882.  

Luckily for the Ruddens and Roosevelts, the sidewalk was public property.  So when James Markey tripped, he sued the City rather than either of them.  His action, begun on November 25, 1884 claimed "Personal injuries, falling on alleged defective sidewalk at No. 7 Weehawken street."  Markey felt a fair restitution would be $10,000--more in the neighborhood of $264,000 today.

In 1890 John Murtha, a "laborer," was living here, as was the Lent family.  Unlike his blue collar neighbors, Sidney Lent listed himself as "jeweler" in 1890.  His store was just around the corner, at No. 394 West Street.  The family was still at No. 7 in 1895 when Solomon Lent, presumably his son, joined him in the business, now described as a "variety" store.  

The building continued to be popular among "drivers," who navigated horse drawn drays or "trucks" through Manhattan streets.  Drivers Henry McGrath, Charles Selpke and Charles Schwab all rented rooms in the 1890's.

On August 26, 1890 the Ruddens placed an advertisement in the New York Herald:  "Private Stable, good business for sale, No. 7 Weehawken near West 10th."  It was purchased by Thomas Kelly who leased it to J. Wilson in August 1892.  Wilson listed his business as "Horses, &c."

Horsepower gave way to motorized vehicles in the early years of the 20th century.  In 1920 George and Mary V. Cline purchased No. 7 from the Roosevelt Estate.   A for-sale advertisement that year reflected the stark change in the times.  "Packard: 12-48 limousine, A1 condition; 6 shoes.  Westinghouse shock absorbers."

The title to the building was in Mary's name.  In 1921 renovations were completed which resulted in a "one family residence above garage," as listed by the Department of Buildings.  Five years later another alteration converted the garage to an auto repair shop.

A tax photo from around 1940 shows double wooden bay doors and what appears to be the mostly-intact Greek Revival entrance.  The figure in the doorway may be Mary Cline.  photo via NYC Department of Records & Information Services.

The Clines lived upstairs until the mid-1930's.  It was at least briefly home to John Haggerty by 1936.  An incident on April 8 that year reflected the still-gritty nature of the riverfront neighborhood.  That night Haggerty and longshoreman Robert Vaughan were walking along Christopher Street near Greenwich Street when "Vaughan fell to the sidewalk," according to the New York Post.  Haggerty hailed a taxicab and rushed his 35-year old friend to Bellevue Hospital with a bullet wound to the leg.  The newspaper reported that Vaughan refused "to say how he was shot."

The Clines returned to No. 7 in the early 1950's, and then sold it in 1956 to the Oelhaf family.  The buyers operated the Meier & Oelhaf Co. marine repair business around the corner at No. 177 Christopher Street.

An aggressive project begun in 1971 and completed the following year connected No. 7 internally with Nos. 9-11 Weehawken and No. 177 Christopher.  The combined properties were sold in 1984 to William Gottlieb, a well-known real estate operator in the Greenwich Village district.

Despite its various transformations and uses, the 190-year old structure still displays its domestic origin.

photograph by the author

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