Saturday, October 12, 2019

61 Grove Street and Its Remarkably Re-Built Corner

A seam running up the corner of the building testifies to the amazing plastic surgery performed in 1914.

In 1890 brothers John and Philip Goerlitz contracted architect Franklin Baylies to design a flat house on Grove Street in Greenwich Village between Bleecker and West 4th Streets.  The five story building would extend through the block, having entrances at both No. 61 Grove and No. 76 Christopher Street.  John Goerlitz was a contractor as well as a developer, so it is most likely that he was responsible for the construction.

Baylies's completed building was clad in red brick and trimmed in brownstone and terra cotta on the main, Grove Street elevation.  The openings of the top floor top floor were embellished with terra cotta tympana and fanciful carved portrait keystones.  Terra cotta panels were inserted within the ambitious tin cornice.  The Christopher Street side was similarly treated, although the brick here was beige--creating an even more striking color contrast between the materials.

The cost of construction was significant.  In April 1891 the brothers took out a $100,000 mortgage from The German Savings Bank--around $2.85 million today.

Tenants in the new building were a mixed bag--from blue collar workers like Edwin S. Payne, a seaman to professionals like Abraham Webb, an attorney. 

The fifteen families living at No. 61 were panicked on the evening of July 21, 1895 when a fire broke out in the basement.  The New York Herald explained "A match, thrown by some one into the front apartment of Janitor David Rinoler, had set some drapery ablaze and Rinoler, finding that he could not master the flames with buckets of water, caused an alarm to be turned in.  The tenants became frightened and rushed out on the fire escapes.  This caused some one in the vicinity to believe that the whole building was on fire and another alarm was sent in."  The fire was quickly extinguished and the damage was estimated at about $15,400 in today's dollars.

The Christopher Street elevation wears beige rather than red brick.
One resident at the turn of the century seems to have had a hard time retaining a job.  William T. Engesser placed a position wanted at in the New-York Tribune on December 30, 1900 for "Collector--Young man, 21, as collector with reliable firm; at present employed with jewelry house."  A month later he was looking for a position with a "reliable firm, with change for advancement; good penman, figurer, neat, quick, trustworthy."  No mention was made of his collector job.  And then on December 18, 1902 his advertisement read "Young Man, 22, at anything; neat, quick, trustworthy; business experience; references, bond; good education; no cavassing."  Possibly thinking his youth was working against him, his ad a month later added three years to his life and greatly broadened his background:  "Young Man, 25; neat appearance; good education and character...experienced selling and collection, shipping receiving and stock; trustworthy, a hustler."

An ugly feud between two families erupted around the time of Engesser's latest advertisement.  According to The Sun on March 1, 1905 "Social rivalry, it is alleged, had much to do with discord that prevailed."  It started when the Dugan family purchased a piano--an expensive item at the time--around 1903.  Their neighbors, the McCormicks responded by buying a piano too.

The Sun reported "The Dugans at first seemed to have rather the better of it.  Then the McCormicks added a fiddle to the family equipment and every one felt that they had gained a distinct lead."  But, said the article, "It was not for long."

"In May, 1904, the Dugans went to a concert in Tammany Hall.  They not only went to it; but Mrs. Dugan sang at it.  Further, there is the authority of Mrs. Dugan herself for saying that she frequently went to the theatre and that carriages drew up to take her there and in bringing her home.  But when the Dugans made a trip to Europe last summer—then it was, according to Mrs. Dugan, that the relations, already strained, snapped, and war in real earnest began."

In retaliation, according to the Dugans, the McCormicks "operated on their piano morning, noon and night" and "cooked fried liver and onions and boiled cabbage with their dumbwater shaft open."  The McCormicks retorted "that the Dugans caused small boys to ring their doorbell, and that an effort has been made to kidnap the family fiddle."

Edward Dugan was a special policeman and B. McCormick worked in a boiler factory.  Neither husband seemed much interested in their wives' feud until Dugan began receiving anonymous letters described as "very offensive in tone."  Mrs. Dugan had her neighbor arrested and the two women aired their grievances against one another in court.  The Sun noted "The husbands were there, too, but no one paid any attention to them."

Far more significant upheaval than piano music and fried liver was on the horizon.  At the time real estate agent Charles C. Hickok was lobbying to have Seventh Avenue, which began at 11th Street, extended south to Varick Street.  The project would necessitate the demolition of scores of buildings and portions of others.  Years of pressure paid off an in 1913 the extension began in concert with the construction of the 7th Avenue subway.  The project annihilated No. 63 Grove Street and shaved off a triangular corner section of No. 61.

When the dust had settled owner Jennie Messing hired architects Wortmann & Braun to fix the problem.   Their plans, filed in May 1914, were unexpectedly sensitive to the original designs.  In fact, during demolition the carved elements were salvaged to be incorporated into the rebuilding.  The result was seamless (other than the still-visible seam).   A three-sided bay included in the renovations projected over the new corner store.

In 1914 repairs were being made to the cut-off corner.  from the collection of the New-York Historical Society
Among the tenants in 1947 were Anthony Hintz, his wife Maisie, and their two-year-old son, Edward.  Hintz worked on the docks as a "boss stevedore."  The industry was controlled by the mob, making his job potentially dangerous if he stepped on the wrong toes.  And he did.

When Hintz answered his door on January 8, 1947 a barrage of shots rang out.  He fell to the hallway floor, struck by six bullets.  Neighbors, alerted by the gunshots, heard Maisie scream "Who shot you?" and Hintz answer "Johnny did it."

Despite the close-range wounds, Hintz lingered in the hospital for 25 days--more than long enough for him to make "death-bed declarations" against his attackers.  He identified John M. "Cockeye" Dunn as "the man who shot me," and Andrew Sheridan and Daniel Gentile as accomplices.

The individual trials went on for a year before all three were convicted of first degree murder and sentenced to the electric chair early in 1949.

Maisie remained in the Grove Street apartment, remarrying not too long afterward.  Around 3:00 on the afternoon of March 17, 1953 she went upstairs, leaving Edward, now eight years old, playing on the street.  In retrospect, it was a cavalier move, considering that she told investigators "she had received telephone calls threatening violence to her son."

The following day The New York Times reported that Edward "disappeared yesterday from the street in front of his home."  The article said Maisie "was near collapse when she reported his disappearance to detectives at 11:40 P. M."  A 13-state alarm was issued for the "chunky seventy-pound youngster" as described by The Times.

The terrifying situation had a happy ending--at least for Maisie.  The following morning just before 8:00 police found the boy sleeping in the cab of a truck around the corner.  "The boy said he had spent the night in the truck cab because he was afraid of being punished for staying out late," explained The New York Times.   It is more than possible that he was punished anyway.

For years during the second half of the century the corner store was Grove Drugs; and in 1974 the retail space on Christopher Street became home to Boots & Saddle, a gay bar.  

Around 1997 Taka, a "tiny sushi bar," opened at No. 61 Grove Street.  On November 21 that year The New York Times praised chef Taka Yoneyama's presentation.  "She will decorate tuna with leaves of edible gold, and stuff squid with spiced cod roe and cut it into pinwheels."

After decades on Christopher Street Boots and Saddle was replaced by Hakata Tonton, an Asian restaurant which stretched through to the Grove Street space formerly occupied by Taka.

Wortmann & Braun's 1914 rebuilding of the lost corner was so perfectly done that it fooled even the Landmarks Preservation Commission.  In its 1969 Greenwich Village Historic District Designation Report, the commission stated "The building was specifically designed for an oddly shaped corner lot."

photographs by the author

1 comment: