Friday, November 8, 2019

The 1839 Wm. T. Whittemore House - 181 West 10th Street

The short stone newel bases of the stoop survive after 180 years.

Samuel Whittemore operated a substantial factory in Greenwich Village in the early decades of the 19th century, making machinery for the textile industry.  Whittemore was a politician as well, serving as State Assemblyman in 1816, and owned much property in the district.  The land on which his factory sat  was bounded by Amos Street, Asylum Street, Factory Street (possibly getting its name from Whittemore's operation) and Charles Street.  After the New York Orphan Asylum was demolished in 1833, Asylum Street became West 4th.  Factory Street would become Waverley Place and Amos Street was renamed West 10th Street in 1857.  Only Charles Street (named for Charles Christopher Amos who lent his name to three streets) would retain its original name.

Several changes in the lives of the Whittemores happened in 1830.  That year Samuel Whittemore became the president of the newly-formed Greenwich Bank and the family moved into a lavish mansion at No. 45 Grove Street.  It was not long afterward that the factory was demolished.  

In 1833 Samuel's son, William T. Whittemore, began construction of nine fine Greek Revival-style residences on the site of the factory--five facing West 10th Street and four on West 4th.  Like its fraternal twins, No. 181 West 10th Street was faced in red brick and trimmed in brownstone.   The cast iron stoop railings terminated in curved, near basket newels atop stocky stone pedestals.  The monolithic pilasters and heavy entablature of the entrance were typical of the style, as were the modest molded cornices of the window lintels and the unpretentious dentiled terminal cornice.

The original appearance of the stoop and entrance can be seen in another of the Whittemore houses on West 4th Street.

Whittemore, of course, never lived in any of his speculative houses.  The owner of No. 181 was renting out a room in the house in the first years after the Civil War.   An advertisement in The New York Herald on May 10, 1866 offered:

Back Parlor on First Floor, elegantly furnished, for one or two gentlemen, without board; no other boarders in house; neighborhood first class.

The succinct ad said much in few words.  The owner was avoiding the possibility of scandal by accepting only male roomers; and other than "gas and ice," the amenities available at a boarding house were not included.  

The following year on Wednesday October 30 everything in the house was sold at auction, suggesting that the owner had died.  The announcement listed carved black walnut settees, center table, and bedstead, along with lace curtains and Brussels carpets--all evidence of a well-to-do household.

The house was purchased by the well-known theatrical figure James E. Hayes.  Hayes had begun his career in 1863 as a scenic artist at the Olympic Theatre.  The New York Herald said of him "Among the members of his profession he ranked high, especially as a painter of interior scenes, where skillfulness in perspective is necessary.  He was also remarkably successful in delineating statuary."   He married the daughter of the Olympic Theatre's manager, John Duff.

It may have been Hayes who update the house with a modern neo-Grec cornice, pressed metal cornices above the openings, and a classical pediment above the doorway.

By now Hayes had taken over the lease and management of the Olympic from his father-in-law.  Like their predecessors, Hayes and his wife rented a room.  Living here in 1870 was Eliza Henrietta Fay, who taught in the Primary Department of School No. 17 on 47th Street between Eighth and Ninth Avenues.   She listed her address here through 1871.

The following summer Hayes and his wife took an extended trip, possibly to Europe.  He placed an advertisement in The New York Herald in April 1872 offering the house for rent, furnished.  In his absence the Olympic Theatre was updated.

On April 5, 1873 Hayes placed a "Special Announcement" in the newspapers.  He claimed that "No theatre hitherto open to stars has had either the scenic and mechanical advantages of the capacity for public accommodations which belongs to the Olympic."  And now, with "the recent additions and improvements made in it will be comparatively a new house."

Sadly, Hayes would never see the opening of the renovated space.  Once month later, almost to the day, he died in the West 10th Street house on May 7 at the age of 47.  The New York Herald explained "His disease was brain fever, and the period of his illness was very brief."  (The Victorian term covered disorders like encephalitis and meningitis.)

It is unclear now long Hayes's widow and child remained in the house.  But an advertisement in the fall of 1874 was most likely placed by her.  It was uncannily similar to the one nearly a decade earlier:

A handsomely furnished room, with large closets and bath attached, to gentlemen only, without board; neighborhood first class; no other lodgers.

The family of George W. Fechner was here in in the 1880's.   The wedding of Mrs. Fechner's sister, Sarah Lorones, to Harry Cortisso, a writer for the Dramatic News, was held in their drawing room in May 1887.   

In 1896 Thomas Donohue and his wife purchased the house.  They lived here only five years before selling it on October 16, 1901 to William V. Burke and his wife, Josephine.  And like several of the previous owners, they rented a room.

Their roomer in the winter of 1905-06 was Mary Clanchie, whom the Brooklyn Daily Eagle described as "35 years old, a good looking and hard-working seamstress."  Mary's room was on the top floor.  On February 26, 1906 the newspaper reported that "suffering from religious mania" Mary had "either jumped or fell from a window in her room, on the third floor of 181 West Tenth street, Manhattan, at 9 o'clock this morning."  Mary was instantly killed in the fall.  The article mentioned that she "left no word of any kind that showed whether of not her act was premeditated."

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 and in 1913 the extension began in concert with the construction of the 7th Avenue subway.  The project annihilated most of William Whittemore's West 10th Street row, and shaved off the corner of No. 181.

The damaged necessitated Burke's hiring of architect Roland I. Markwith to make repairs.  His plans, filed in June 1914, called for $500 worth of masonry work, about $13,000 in today's dollars.   It was not a significant renovation, but left the house with a surprising chamfered corner.

No. 181 escaped the 7th Avenue extension with only a cut-off corner.  The newly formed triangular plot next door became--like so many similar lots along the avenue--a gas station.  photo from the collection of the New York Public Library

William V. Burke made more significant changes in 1920 when he converted the former house to bachelor apartments.  Bachelor apartments were popular in the post World War I period when the city was flooded with returning doughboys who needed affordable accommodations.  There were no kitchens in the rooms and The Department of Buildings stressed "cooking in more than two of the apartments will render this building liable to immediate vacation."  It was most likely at this time that the lintels and doorway enframement were shaved off.

Only two years later Burke made another renovation by converting the ground floor and basement for a new tenant, the Sheridan Square Inn.  It was the first of a long tradition of restaurants at No. 181.

The Evening Telegram, December 16, 1922
Featuring Italian and American food, the Sheridan Square Inn was affordable, a full dinner costing about $15 in today's money.  It increased its attraction in 1923 when architect Frank J. McCabe was hired to install a dance floor.

In the meantime, the rooms upstairs were now being rented to both men and women.  At the outbreak of the Great Depression Ellen Irving Crosby took a room here.  She was the widow of General Motors executive Walter Floyd Crosby and the great-great-granddaughter of Washington Irving.  She died in her room at the age of 63 on March 10, 1932.

At the time of her death Julius Lombardi lived in the building.  He was a partner with John Reneganeschi in the downstairs restaurant "Julius and Renganeshi."  Problems were on the horizon for the business, however, and on March 1, 1939 Renganeschi terminated the partnership.  Lombardi continued operating the "bar, restaurant and grill," as described in court papers.   But he changed the name to "Julius," had a "prominently illuminated electric sign" with that name on it attached to the building and a new canopy over the entrance that read "Julius."

The problem was that Renganeshi had opened his own bar and restaurant just a block away on West 10th Street and he also called his place Julius.  He sued, claiming that Julius Lombardi was using the name Julius "with the intention to deceive and mislead the general public."  The case ended up in the State Supreme Court eventually with Lombardi losing.  Renganeschi's Julius bar went on to be a neighborhood landmark, still in operation today.

In 1981 John Clancy's Restaurant opened at No. 181.  The seafood restaurant would be a Greenwich Village destination for years.

New York Magazine October 3, 1988 
The building was remodeled again in 1986, resulting in one apartment per floor above the restaurant.   In 2007 the restaurant became Bobo, self described as "a neighborhood restaurant inspired by nature and by family," and serving what Frank Bruni of The New York Times called "New American" cuisine on November 5, 2008.  Bobo remains in the space today.

No. 181, with its missing detailing and cut-0ff corner, is the sole surviving house from Whittemore's 1839 row on West 10th Street--an improbable relic of a far different time in Greenwich Village.

photographs by the author

1 comment:

  1. Thank you! I just got married here in September and was always looking for an older picture of this building. Thanks so much!!!!!