The Commissioners Plan of 1811 laid out Sixth Avenue beginning at the already-existing Carman Street in Greenwich Village, extending northward. Carman Street was named for Trinity Church vestryman Thomas Carman, but, as happened with several other Greenwich Village street names, it became Carmine Street through consistent mispronunciation.
Around 1829 Henry K. Campbell erected a handsome brick house at No. 3 Sixth Avenue. Its paneled lintels suggested the added expense Campbell lavished on the home. Three years later John Parr built two wooden dwellings at No. 1 Sixth Avenue and next door at No. 5 Carmine Street. The rapid growth of the formerly rural hamlet resulted in the homes along the wide avenue to be converted to business by the 1850's.
|As the 19th century drew to a close, Henry Campbell's 1829 house still reflected its upscale past. No. 301 to the left has been given a brick veneer by now. from the collection of the New York Public Library|
Thomas Turner ran his bakery in the ground floor of No. 5 Carmine Street. In the rear yard, as was often the case, was a small brick house which was rented out to one or more families. A tenant placed an ad in The New York Herald on December 23, 1852: "Wanted--A situation by an American woman, as competent cook; no objection to assist in washing in a small family."
It may have been the same woman who placed another ad a year later, almost to the day, on December 22, 1853. "A respectable young woman wants a situation in a small respectable private family; she can cook, wash, and iron, and can do general housework."
For several years daring families had struck off for California in hopes of a better life. One of the rear tenants of No. 5 Carmine hoped to get free passage there in 1854. Her advertisement read: "Wanted--by a highly respectable young Protestant lady, a situation as lady's maid of childrens' nurse with a family going to California."
|A 1857 advertisement promised the best ingredients. The Jewish Messenger, (copyright expired)|
Archibald Davis and his wife, Catherine, lived with their children either on an upper floor of the main building or in the back house in the latter years of the decade. On May 20, 1868 their youngest son, Archibald, Jr. died just before his third birthday. The toddler's funeral was held in the house two days later.
Two of the tenants of No. 5 in 1871 were Joanna Walmer and August Sturteman. For whatever reason both of them boarded the ferryboat Westfield at the Whitehall Street terminal on the afternoon of July 30 that year. At around 1:30, just as the boat was about to pull away from the dock, its immense boiler exploded. The horrific incident which would be remembered as the Westfield Disaster left, according to The World, 91 dead and 208 wounded.
Newspapers ran updated lists of the victims for days as bodies were recovered from the river or badly burned corpses were identified. On August 2 The New York Herald listed Joanna Walmer among the dead, and the following day added August Sturteman to the list.
Later that year, on November 26, a position wanted ad appeared in The New York Herald that read "5 Carmine St., in the Bakery--a middle-aged woman as a child's nurse." Her decision to change careers came at a time when the bakery owner was contemplating a similar same move.
On September 24, 1872 an advertisement announced:
For Sale Cheap--Five years' lease of Whole or Part of House and Fixtures for bakery and confectionery; old established place; on one of the best thoroughfares in the city.
The new proprietor did not last long. Nine months later, on June 25, 1873, The New York Herald ran an advertisement "Bakery For Sale--Doing a good business. Reason for selling, sickness in the family."
By now the immediate neighborhood around the three buildings had declined. Following the end of the Civil War Minetta Lane and Minetta Street, directly across the avenue, house the city's densest population of Blacks, earning it the nickname Little Africa. The residents lived in squalor, prompting reformer Jacob Riis to rank Little Africa as the social “bottom” of the West Side of Manhattan. He described the homes where the impoverished Blacks lived as "vile rookeries."
On January 4, 1878 Mina Morrell was arrested "on a charge of passing a number of forged checks or false tokens," reported The New York Herald. The young woman was held on $1,000 for trial--a substantial $26,000 in today's money.
Mina's story, however, was not simply one of a woman gone bad. No doubt shocking to the readers of the newspaper, she had lived at No. 5 Carmine Street with Philip Hoffmeister for about a year without the formalities of marriage. When she met him she was a widow with a three-year old child and living in a boarding house on Eldridge Street.
"I was working hard in a restaurant nearby," she told a reporter. "Hoffmeister was from the same place in Germany as myself, and he told me that he loved me and would take care of me. Since I have been with him I have suffered nothing but abuse at his hands and my child has suffered also."
Mina explained to the judge that Hoffmeister would occasionally gave her a check to cash. Having done so she brought all the money back to him. The New York Herald explained "So far as she herself was concerned, she did not know whether the checks were good or bad. She did know, however, that Hoffmeister always had a large quantity of blank checks in the house, and whenever he was short of money he filled out one for some small amount and sent her out with it."
With Mina's arrest, Philip Hoffmeister disappeared. She told a reporter "I hope they will find him."
Henry Simmons was renting a room in No. 5 Carmine Street in 1884. According to the New York World the old man wore a full set of false teeth--the same set that his grandfather had work for 30 years. "He is naturally proud of them," said the newspaper. But on the night of December 17 "they did not rest easy on his gums and Mr. Simmons did not sleep peacefully." The following morning he had head and stomach pains, and then realized his teeth were missing.
"I have swallowed my teeth!" he exclaimed. The World reported that he "ran as fast as he could to St. Vincent's Hospital for assistance. The doctor procured his grasping irons, and was about to search for the molars when Mr. Simmons cried out again. "This time he exclaimed: 'why, here they are in my vest pocket.' And so they were. Then the old gentleman trotted home again relieved of all pain and anxiety."
By the turn of the century Nos. 5 Carmine Street and No. 1 Sixth Avenue had been combined. On February 27, 1902 Angelo Ortolano purchased the properties from Virginia Coyne. In reporting on the sale the Real Estate Record & Builders' Guide described the matching structures as "3-story frame tenement with store with three 3-story brick tenements on rear." In June the following year he commissioned architect Henry Regelman to install new windows and rearrange the interior walls. The renovations cost him the equivalent of about $24,000 today.
Ortolano added No. 3 Sixth Avenue to the group in 1914. He renovated that building in September 1918. Architect Anthony V. Bourke make extensive changes. The plans called for the roof to be removed, an extension added to the rear, new windows, stairs and fire escapes.
|The 1902 renovations of No. 3 Sixth Avenue erased any hint of the Federal style original. from the collection of the New York Public Library|
Beginning in 1926 as construction on the Holland Tunnel commenced, Sixth Avenue was extended to the south. As had been the case with Seventh Avenue twelve years earlier, the city seized by eminent domain the properties in its path. The extension necessitated the renumbering of the avenue. Nos. 1 and 3 Sixth Avenue now became Nos. 301 and 303.
The three properties continued to house ground floor shops while tenants of moderate means lived upstairs. At the time of the address change S. F. Valentes ran his shop from No. 5 Carmine, selling imported egg timers. Next door the seafood market of L. Ortolano had operated since before the turn of the century, while at No. 3 was H. Tesio's variety store.
By 1942 Abraham Tankleff's poultry store operated from No. 5 Carmine Street. It was still here in 1946 he formed Glen Acre Farms Poultry & Eggs, Inc.
In 1965 owners Vito and Gilbert DeLucia hired architect Fedinand Innocenti to remodel the three buildings. The project, completed the following year, resulted in a new facade, reconfigured windows and the replacement of the cornices and roof line of No. 303 Sixth Avenue. Two years later an interior renovation resulted in one apartment per floor above the store at No 5. Carmine-301 Sixth Avenue, and one per floor at No. 303 Sixth Avenue.
The venerable complex, approaching 200 years old, is understandably overlooked today. The 1965 make-over, while clean and attractive, successfully hides the remarkable history of the three connected properties.
photographs by the author