Friday, January 10, 2020

A Century of Eggs and Butter - 11 Harrison Street

The neighborhood around the house at No. 11 Harrison Street, between Hudson and Greenwich Streets, had declined by 1855.  Gabriel Dolsen lived here that year when the city tried valiantly to collect the $11.83 in personal taxes he had owed since 1849.  Operated as a rooming house in 1868 it was the scene of a horrifying tragedy.  On August 26 that year The New York Herald reported that three-year old Frederick C. Eberling had been scalded to death after he "fell into a tub of hot water left in the hallway."

By the third quarter of the century most of the houses along the block had already been replaced with loft buildings.  In April 1868 Delia Connelly hired architect William Graul to remodel No. 11 into a commercial structure by adding two and a half stories and a flat roof.

But only five years later owner Mary Clarkson had bigger plans for the property.  She demolished the old building and in June 1893 commissioned architect T. R. Jackson to design a seven-story loft and store on the site.  Mary was confident that the construction would be rapid.  The following month she advertised in The Evening World:

TO LET--The new, large 7-story warehouse, 11 Harrison st.; suitable for any business; will be completed Nov. 1.

The structure was, indeed, completed prior to the end of the year.  Above the cast iron storefront Jackson had successfully blended Romanesque Revival with Renaissance Revival to create an eye-catching design.  The second through fourth floors were visually unified by three-story piers capped with Corinthian capitals.  Incised lines at the fourth floor level imitated fluting.  Each floor was delineated by a rough cut stone bandcourse; and between the second and third floors an intricately carved Renaissance Revival panel overflowed with swirling vines, cornucopia, flowers and a female face.

The fifth through seventh floors were likewise flanked by brick piers and separated by bandcourses.  Jackson may have decided that since the topmost floor was so far above street level money could be saved by executing the decorations in brick rather than stone.  The eyebrows of the arched openings, the inset designs within their spandrels, and the recessed panels above which simulated a cornice were all of brick.  The cost of the structure was $25,000--about $720,000 in today's terms.

The neighborhood was becoming the "butter and egg" district and No. 11 attracted two such businesses, Henry B. White and John K. Lasher & Bro.  How long White remained it unclear; but John K. Lasher & Bro. would operated from the building for decades.

New York Produce Review and American Creamery, 1904 (copyright expired)
In the first years following World War I butter and egg merchant William S. Yearick & Co. joined John K. Lasher & Bro. in the building.  They and nearly every other supplier in Manhattan were crippled by massive union strikes in the spring of 1920.  Labor uprisings at the time were often violent and this one, involving approximately 1,600 men, was no different.

On April 13, 1920 The Evening Telegram ran a banner headline that reflected that severity of the situation:


While strikers and police battled--the former hurling rocks and the latter wielding their clubs--"scores of butter and egg merchants held a meeting" at No. 11 Harrison Street, according to the newspaper.

The crisis may have dealt a fatal blow to John K. Lasher & Bro., Inc.  On February 19, 1921 the New-York Tribune reported that the firm had been placed in receivership.  After nearly three decades in the building, the company closed.

William S. Yarick & Co. survived for about a year more.  And then on December 31 that year The New York Herald reported that it, too, was in receivership.  The firm was still listed here in 1922, now sharing the building with Chester E. Saxton Co., Inc, another butter and egg merchant.  But it does not appear after that.

Following the Depression years yet another butter and egg firm, William Faehndrich, Inc. purchased No. 11.   Despite an ugly court battle among the family members in 1956, the firm survived and was still in the building as late as 1981.  But changes in the Tribeca neighborhood soon forced it out.

In 1986 a renovation resulted in an art studio on the ground floor, an office on the second and one residential loft each on the upper floors.  Where once horse-drawn drays were loaded with crates of eggs and and cases of butter, Orior, an Irish furniture maker, opened its showroom in May 2019.

photographs by the author

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