Thursday, August 29, 2019

William Widmayer's 1875 No. 319 Church Street

Charles E. Appleby and Aaron H. Rathbone were professionals--Appleby an attorney and Rathbone and insurance broker.  But they recognized the potential profits in the rampant development taking place in Manhattan following the Civil War.  In 1875 the men commissioned architect William Widmayer to replace the old structures at No. 36 Lispenard and 319 Church Streets with a modern five-story loft and store building.

At the time George F. Dodd ran his store at No. 36 Lispenard Street.  Erected around 1825, the now-converted residence had been home to staunch abolitionist David Ruggles by the mid-1830's.  A reported 600 runaway slaves found temporary haven in the house, including Frederick Douglass who recalled in an 1882 article in The Century “With Mr. Ruggles, on the corner of Lispenard and Church Streets, I was hidden several days."

Ruggles died in 1849 before seeing the emancipation of slaves.  By then his neighborhood showed signs decline and by the mid-1850's his former home was a low-rate rooming house.  An article in the New-York Daily Times on June 22, 1857, began "A young woman, giving her name as Emma Jewett, and her residence No. 36 Lispenard Street, applied yesterday morning, at the Lower Police Court, for a warrant for the arrest of John Moore, whom she charged with committing a felonious assault upon her.  Her face was much blackened and bruised, and her head was covered with deep wounds from which the blood yet oozed."

Now that storied house and the property at No. 319 Church Street were demolished.  Widmayer gave their replacement building with little ornamentation.  The openings of the upper floors sat on simple stone sills upheld by tiny brackets, and were capped by molded cornices.  The architect gave the building an up-to-date neo-Grec style storefront facing Church Street.  Unlike so many other commercial buildings going up in the neighborhood, there were no Corinthian capitals nor pretentious ornamentation; just the no-nonsense geometric lines of the neo-Grec style.  The entrance to the upper floors was around the corner and took the address of No. 36 Lispenard.  

Appleby and Rathbone quickly filled their new building.  In 1876 Henry W. and Clarence Perine's woolen goods firm, Perine & Co. was here; as was Isaac Shackman, "clothing."  Berliner & Strause were another initial tenant, manufacturers of ties.

The location continued to attract apparel and accessory manufacturers.  In the early 1880's it was home to three necktie makers--Weil & Ahronson, Isaac L. Reizenstein, and Henry Lasch--as well as Herbst & Goldstein Brothers, hosiery manufacturers.

One business owner suffered what was diplomatically termed "a reversal" at the end of the decade.  The Evening Star of Washington D.C. reported on October 11, 1890 that Max Wolff, "a manufacturer of cloaks at No. 36 Lispenard Street, New York, has failed."  The article added "Wolf has disappeared."

A day earlier the New York Herald had also reported on the situation, one which his creditors were not taking lightly.  "His numerous creditors have been taking all the means within their power to protect them.  They are all looking for Mr. Wolff with diligence.  Mr. Wolff, however, has disappeared, and not even his wife seems to know where he is.  It is supposed that he has cleared out to escape the consequences of his acts."  Disappearing along with Wolff was almost all of his stock.

In the meantime, the Church Street store was operated as a saloon-restaurant.  By 1897 it was owned by Samuel Goldman, who listed it as an "eatinghouse" in directories.  Goldman's restaurant would give way to Charles Weisner's "soda water stand" in 1901.

Camelia, Inc., dealers in linens, moved in around the end of World War I and would remain for several years.  The fortunes many dry goods business owners reaped was evidenced when J. S. Camelia offered his 16-room home in the "high class residential section in Williamsburg" for sale in May 1922.  It engulfed a full block front and Camelia described it as "A palatial home at a reasonable price."

A tax photograph from around 1940 shows the original storefront and neo-Grec style cornice.  photo via the NYC Department of  Records & Information Services

At some point the cornice was removed, leaving an unsightly scar along the upper rim of the building.  Change in the Tribeca neighborhood in the last quarter of the 20th century was noticeable in at least one tenant by 1978--the New York School for the Circus Arts.  It remained at least through 1983.

The storefront where Samuel Goldman had run his eating-house was home to the Spring Corner Coffee Shop by the mid-1980's.  The restaurant was slapped with repeated health code violations in 1987.  That all changed in 2007 when Philadelphia coffee importer and roaster Jean-Phillippe Iberti and his partners opened La Colombe Torrefaction.  The New York Times food critic Florence Fabricant described it on August 21 as "a relaxed but very focused brick-walled cafe...where well-made espresso, cappuccino, latte, American coffee and some teas are served, properly, in china cups."

In 2015 a renovation was completed which resulted in office space on the second floor, and one residential unit on each of the upper floors.  La Colombe remains at street level.  And despite the lost cornice, an unnecessary coat of red paint and the altered cast iron store front, William Widmayer's structure retains its staid 1875 personality.

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