Friday, November 1, 2019

The John R. Murray House - 375 Canal Street

In 1823, four years after the drainage channel that gave Canal Street is name was covered over, merchant John R. Murray began construction of his fine brick-faced home at No. 124 Canal Street at the corner of West Broadway.  Completed the following year, it almost assuredly featured dormers and a peaked roof.  Murray had bad timing.  The Financial Panic of 1825 which started with the near collapse of the Bank of England was likely responsible for Murray's ruin.  A meeting of the creditors of "John R. Murray, insolvent debtor" was held on May 30, 1825.

Murray nonetheless retained ownership of the property; leasing it.  By the 1840's the ground floor had been converted to a shop, home to the dry goods store of James Cropsey.  In an advertisement entitled "Silks and Shawls" on January 20, 1853, he touted his "very extensive stock of Rich Dress Silks, comprising the most splendid Brocades in all colors," the "splendid and costly qualities of shawls," and a long list of "blankets, linens, sheetings," and other dry goods items.

On August 29, 1856 Cropsey placed an announcement in the New-York Daily Tribune "to inform the Ladies that he has Removed to his new store, No. 481 Broadway."  The Canal Street shop was taken over by Robert F. Smith, who was also in the dry goods business.  

Well-heeled female shoppers were not expected to wrestle with bundles and stores like Smith's provided errand boys to deliver packages.  Edward F. Downey worked for Smith in 1858 when he attempted to augment his salary by stealing small goods.  Unfortunately for him, he picked the wrong potential buyer.

The New York Mourning Courier reported that Officer Baldwin of the 8th Precinct was in street clothes when Downey approached him.  "The boy, it appears, met the officer in citizen's dress and wanted to sell him some hose for 23 cents.  The officer bought them and asked him if he had anymore.  The boy answered he had not, but he could get plenty.  Mr. Baldwin then arrested him and the boy confessed."

In 1859 false teeth dealers Durkin & Young operated from the building, possibly on an upper floor.  The partners would remain for years.  In 1865 they advertised "A full set of teeth inserted for $8 and $10."

At the time the ground floor still housed an apparel store, now run by Richard Green.  Unusual for the times, he catered to both men and women.  An advertisement in December 1866 offered "silk undergarments for Ladies, Gentlemen, and Children."  Another ad that month touted custom shirts and and "an endless variety of winter gloves."

The following year a help wanted ad in The New York Herald announced "Clerk Wanted--At Richard Green's Hosiery store; must have a knowledge of the business and good recommendations."  By now Canal Street had been renumbered, giving the structure the new address of No. 375.  

A major change came in 1870 when Dennis Lyons, "liquor dealer," raised the attic to a full floor in the form of a stately mansard roof with dormers.  Architects Hubert & Pirsson edged the roof with lacy ironwork--the height of fencing--worthy of the finest homes of the period.  "Liquor dealer" almost undoubtedly translated to saloon owner, indicating that the former dry goods and apparel store was now a tavern.

One of the upstairs tenants may have patronized Lyons's saloon on June 25, 1876.  The following day the Evening Telegram reported "While Patrick A. Ryng, of 375 Canal street, who was rather under the influence of drink, was going through Grand street yesterday, he was met by Michael Fallon, who took him into a hallway and robbed him of $25."  It was a substantial amount, worth more than $600 today.  But Fallon was quickly apprehended and held in The Tombs on $1,000 bail.

James Mahoney was leasing not only the saloon, but the entire building in December 1882 when it was declared an unsafe structure.  Mahoney hired architect F. W. Klemt to do the equivalent of $12,700 today in repairs.  He renewed his lease annually at least through 1885.

Builder John F. Dour owned the property in December 1919 when he hired L. E. Denslow to design alterations for what the Real Estate Record & Builders' Guide now termed a "four-story brick tenement."  The renovations included a new store front and may well have been connected the coming store of Irving Glassberg.  Irving's Men's Wear store became a fixture on the corner for more than 40 years.

Irving's store windows were packed with merchandise in this 1938 photograph.  from the collection of the New York Public Library
In 1973 No. 375 Canal Street was deservedly included in the Landmark Preservation Commission's SoHo-Cast Iron Historic District.   Two decades later that organization was more than displeased with the building's owner.  It told reporters on January 30, 1992 that "375 Canal Street has more landmark violations than any building in the city."  The commission's attorney's announced suits seeking penalties of $5,000 for each of the 15 violations and $1,000 for each day of noncompliance.

The owners, 60 Equities Associates, began renovations to comply under the leadership of architect Thomas Savino.  Two years later only the ground floor had been completed; but the shop--a pornographic video store--now had a tasteful, compliant storefront.   Eventually the upper floors would be converted to apartments.

The brick facade at some point was painted the color of Alfredo sauce; yet through it all the striking cast iron cresting along the roof has survived intact, giving the building its unique personality.

photographs by the author

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