Thursday, January 30, 2020

A Brutal Renovation - 162 Eighth Avenue

Frederick Van Axte's 1871 stable, directly behind, has received the same vinyl siding as the main building.

In January 1847 the four new houses at Nos. 158 through 162 Eighth Avenue were offered for sale.  The wood frame house and store at No. 162, at the northeast corner of 18th Street, was three bays wide on the avenue.  Its prim wooden cornice was in the relatively new Italianate style.  The ample living space within the two upper floors were intended to be home to the proprietor of the ground floor shop.  (The structure sneaked in just under the wire.  In 1849 the city banned wood-frame construction below 32nd Street.)

No. 162 was purchased by John P. Hamilton who moved his hardware business into the store.  That month he joined 53 other hardware merchants to announce what must have seemed a generous employee benefit:

We, the undersigned, Hardware Merchants, desirous to allow our Clerks time for mental improvements after the employments of the day, have concluded to close our stores at 8 o'clock, P.M., except on Saturday evenings, for 3 months from the 4th January, 1847.

The Hamiltons had scarcely settled into their new home before it was the scene of a funeral.   James H. Weed died on May 21 at the age of 37.  The New-York Tribune reported that his funeral would take place "from the residence of his brother-in-law, Mr. John P. Hamilton, 162 Eighth-avenue."

Hamilton was apparently financially comfortable.  In 1848 the State of New York began fund raising for the enlargement of the Erie Canal and the completion of the Genesee Valley and Black River Canals.  Bids for loans to the state were advertised on June 28, with Hamilton offering $10,000 with proposed interest ranging from $2.50 to $3.03.   The principal would equal more than $325,000 today.

Around 1850 Hamilton retired.  Directories listed his profession as "late hardware" and his address at No. 139 West 21st Street in 1853.  The Eighth Avenue store was being run by William Johnson at least from 1850 to 1851.  He is listed only as "merchant" with no description of the business.

In 1855 William P. A. Stranahan and his brother, Henry, Jr., ran their grocery store, Stranahan & Brother, in the space.  They moved on by 1859 when the grocery store of Charles D. Mathews was here.   He remained longer, staying until 1868 when another grocer, Frederick Van Axte (sometimes spelled Vanaxte), purchased the building.

Van Axte and his wife, the former Anna Kruse, would own the property for decades.  In 1871 Frederick hired architect W. H. Hart to design a two-story brick stable directly behind the store.  It was possibly at this time that the pressed metal lintels were installed over the upper windows of No. 162.

from the Directory of Eighteenth Street Methodist Episcopal Church, 1876 (copyright expired)

In his off time Van Axte was a member of the State National Guard Third Regiment of Cavalry.  On February 10, 1875 he was promoted to the rank of First Lieutenant.

Van Axte considered selling the store in 1878.  His advertisement on May 13 offered "For Sale--A First Class Corner Grocery Store, in one of the best avenues in the city.  Inquire of Van Axte, corner 18th st. and 8th av."  But he either changed his mind or there were no serious takers and he would continue to run the store for several more years.

It appears that he attempted to attract more customers by adding wine or spirits to the stock.  On June 30, 1880 he paid $30 for his excise (or liquor) licence.

Earlier, in 1853, New York State investigators had discovered a despicable practice among dairy farmers outside of Manhattan.  They found that some dairymen were diluting the milk with water, then adding flour, molasses or even plaster of paris to restore its consistency.  

Unbelievably, the problem was ongoing three decades later.  And on September 16, 1881 The New York World reported that Frederick Van Axte was among three grocers charged by the Board of Health "with selling adulterated milk."

A significant change to the corner store came after Van Axte moved his home and business to West 125th Street.  He retained possession of the property, but the decades of its being home to a grocery store came to an end.  William Woodward converted the space to a saloon, subleasing it to the brewery P. Ballantine & Sons.

By 1893 McCrocken Bros. took over the lease.  The brothers ran three saloons in the neighborhood, the others on Seventh and Ninth Avenues.  The Eighth Avenue bar was run by Owen McCrocken.  They sold the lease in 1898 after which Ernst and William H. Meyer operated the saloon.

In the meantime, the upper floors were run as a rooming house.  Francis Grand, a coal dealer, was here in 1898, as was Ella Adams.  She was arrested by officer Lenihan on September 29 that year after she robbed William Brown of $6 in cash at the corner of Seventh Avenue and 16th Street.

William Muro set up his bootblack stand outside the saloon in 1901.  He shared the sidewalk with Peter Manatos the following year when the latter obtained a license for a fruit stand.

A novelty introduced around 1900 was the "nickle-in-the-slot" machine.  Customers inserted their coin, then viewed a series of quickly flipping photographs that nearly approximated a motion picture.  The vignettes were sometimes risque, at least by early 20th century standards.

T. M. Moeller was operating the saloon in 1911.  He apparently felt that a nickle-operated peep show was just the thing to attract patrons.  The police disagreed.  On November 22 the New York Morning Telegram headed an article "Indecent Pictures In Court" and advised that Moeller had been arrested for keeping a picture machine and was being held for trial.

Frederick Van Axte died at the age of 75 on October 28, 1913.  He left the bulk of his estate, valued at more than $3.3 million in today's dollars, to his wife, including No. 162 Eighth Avenue.

Leonard Heffernan was most likely the last proprietor of the saloon.  The space was converted to a restaurant in the early years of Prohibition.  The upper floors continued to be rented to tenants of moderate means.  Frank McDonald was listed here in July 1919 when word arrived that he had been severely wounded in battle overseas.

In 1932 Walter's Food Shoppe & Restaurant occupied the former saloon space.  Frederick Van Axte's stable building directly behind has been converted to a store.  photo by Charles Von Urban from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York
William B. Callaghan, a grain merchant, was here in 1923; and by 1926 Patricia Woods rented an apartment.  An actress and amateur artist, she took her own life on April 21 that year.  The New York Evening Post reported that she drank poison in her living room.  "Collapsing as she drained the bottle, the young woman fell across a picture of her sister, Hazel, on a desk.  She had painted the picture some time before from a photograph."

In 1959 a renovation resulted in three stores at ground level (including the former Van Axte stable), four apartments on the second floor and three on the third.  An alteration in 1964 was most likely responsible for the removal of the historic architectural detailing and the installation of vinyl siding.

For years in the late 20th and early 21st centuries the ground floor was home to a wine and liquor store, recalling a long tradition of the space.  In 2015 the Eighth Avenue space became home to France-based gelato and chocolates shop, Amorino, now closed.  

The old neon blade sign survives as a reminder of the liquor store that was here in the late 20th and early 21st centuries.
The rare wooden building no longer exhibits any trace of its architectural past, nor does it exhibit any redeemable design that might excuse the callous make-over.

photographs by the author


  1. Horrible example of why vinyl siding is forbidden in any historic district in NYC.

  2. If I'm not mistaken, that was my liquor store when I lived on 20th near 8th Avenue from around 1977-79. The neighborhood sure has changed, but the vinyl siding was definitely there back then!