Thursday, September 5, 2019

Rentz & Lange's 1889 257 West 10th Street

In 1889 Frank Schaefler commissioned architects Rentz & Lange to design a sprawling flat project at Nos. 519 through 525 Hudson Street.  Simultaneously, he gave them an additional job--designing a fifth, separate tenement around the corner at No. 257 West 10th Street.  Separated from by a narrow light well, its architectural DNA proved it was a near relative of the Hudson Street flats; but Rentz & Lange gave it special touches and its own personality.

Five stories tall above a basement level, it was faced in beige brick and trimmed in limestone, brownstone and terra cotta.  Renaissance Revival style elements--tympani carved in stone above the third floor openings and molded in terra cotta above the fourth, for instance--coexisted with Queen Anne details, most notably the aggressive pressed metal cornice with its sunburst design.

Snarling faces stare out from the fourth floor tympani.  A pretty terra cotta bandcourse runs below the third floor.  The intricately-carved half-bowls may have once included small cast iron railings
The handsome architectural details did not hide the fact that No. 257 was, in fact, a tenement.  The residents of this section of Greenwich Village were for the most part blue collar workers and increasingly immigrant newcomers.  The crowded conditions of tenement buildings were breeding grounds for communicable diseases like tuberculosis and small pox.  There mere rumor of the dreaded diseases sent neighbors into panic and the health department into action.

On December 15, 1900 The New York Times ran the headline "Smallpox Still Spreading" and reported on two new cases.  One was 53-year old Louise Temple who lived at No. 257 West 10th Street.  "Disinfectors and vaccinators were at once sent into the neighborhood," said the article.

Like all other victims, Louise was taken away to the Smallpox Hospital on North Brother Island.  Her apartment was fumigated and her family received vaccinations.  A team of "vaccinators" went door-to-door.  Their challenge was that immigrant families, confused and wary about what was going on, distrusted the shots.  The Chief of the Bureau of Contagious Diseases, Dr. Blauvelt, however, did not make them mandatory.  The Times said, nonetheless, "The department keeps right on vaccinating at the rate of something more than 1,000 a day."

Just over a week later, on Christmas Eve, the Health Department reported that another smallpox case had been discovered in No. 257--Louise Temple's seven-year-old daughter, Jennie.  By now Dr. Blavelt, while still insisting that the vaccinations were voluntary, had stepped up his game.  In the past 48 hours his crew had vaccinated an estimated 4500 persons.

"He naively admitted that the sight of the policemen's night sticks might have been something of a persuader, but still, when it comes to the point, nobody need be vaccinated unless he or she wises," said The New York Times.

Well executed portrait keystones grace the first floor openings.

By 1922 the Keating family lived in the building.  At the time The Evening World ran a full-page contest every day entitled "What Did You See To-Day?"  Promoted as the "Evening World Page of Bright, Unusual Happenings," readers vied for cash prizes.  The First Prize was $25, Second was $10, and Third Prize earned the winner $5.  The top daily prize in 1922 was attractive--equal to about $365 today.

And Timothy Keating set out to land one of those prizes.  On August 31 1922 his submission appeared.

I saw more than 2,000 Help Wanted advertisements in the morning edition of The World.  Males, 1353; females, 653.

Two weeks later he tried again:

One of my friends gave my four-year-old son a small sailboat last night and I promised to take him to Central Park to sail it.  Aroused by a noise at 3 o'clock this morning, I found Junior clad in his pajamas and sailor hat and carrying the boat.  'Come on, daddy,' said he.  'Ain't you going to take me to the park?'  It took some persuasion to convince him it was too early, but presently he was asleep again in his crib, the boat hugged to his breast.

Timothy Keating did not give up.  He tried another story the following month:

The street is being paved at Bank and Hudson Streets and the stones are piled on the edge of the sidewalk alongside a post on which there is a letter box.  I saw a little girl with a letter in her hand stand a minute under the box, gazing at the mail slot, which was far above her head.  Then she began taking stones from the pile and arranging them in a pile of her own against the post.  When she had made a sufficiently high mound she climbed up on it, put her letter in the box and climbed down.  What was more remarkable was that she afterward demolished one pile she had built, returning to their original places the stones she had used.

Finally Keating was sent one of the $2 checks for the "ten next best stories."  Apparently satisfied, Keating's stories abruptly stopped.

The ferocity of the lions' heads within the foliate-carved entrance brackets is lightened by the fruit--possibly pears--they hold in their mouths.  The arched transom once allowed sunlight into the entrance hall.

No. 257 played a role in a terrifying hold-up on September 24, 1937.  Workers were paid in cash in the first half of the 20th century, making the employee who carried the payroll from the bank to the office once a week a target for criminals.  That afternoon 31-year old Henry Margolin headed back to the Benrus Watch Company on Hudson Street with $8,600 in a black zippered bag.  He took a cab to reduce the risk of being robbed.

But he was followed.  When the taxi stopped at a red light at Houston and Hudson Streets, two gunmen commandeered the vehicle.  One jumped into the back seat and pointed his gun at Margolin.  The other forced the 25-year-old driver Anthony Santora, to the floor and took over the controls.

The driver pulled up at No. 257 West 10th Street.  Margolin was taken to the second floor at gunpoint. The New York Times reported that the gunman "left him there after warning him not to move for five minutes."   The bandits then drove three blocks east, to Seventh Avenue, where they jumped out "after warning the taxi drive not to follow them as they dashed around a corner."  The two made off with a considerable haul--in the neighborhood of $147,000 today.

The layout of this apartment hints at its tenement roots. via streeteasy. com  

Perhaps because of its unusual and narrow proportions, the building retains the same 18 apartments and floor plans it did in 1889.  The interior details were, for the most part, lost during 20th century updating of the apartments.

An unfortunate replacement doorway fills the original, arched opening under a paneled keystone.

photographs by the author

1 comment:

  1. Here is a link showing some interior photographs: