Wednesday, January 8, 2020

The Wm. T. Burlingham House - 23 Downing Street

Around 1826 William T. Burlingham erected his comfortable 18-foot wide home at No. 23 Downing Street in Greenwich Village.  The Federal style wooden house boasted a brick face.  Like most of its neighbors, it rose two stories to a peaked roof with one or two dormers.

By 1841 city directories listed the Tasheira family here.  Born in 1796, James L. Tasheira was a cabinetmaker.  His father had been the captain of a Portuguese ship which carried freight between Lisbon and New York.  Despite James's skilled occupation, the family was middle-class.  

Son Antony Lewis Tasheira, born on January 30, 1822, received "only the common school education of the day" according to Washington Lodge, No. 21, F. & A.M. and Some of its Members later.   He was apprenticed to an "iron-moulder" and would rise to the position of foreman in a large foundry on Centre Street by his early 20's.

James was active in Freemasonry.  He first joined in 1824 and became Master of the Manhattan Lodge No. 370 two years later.  On September 1, 1840, around the time he moved into the Downing Street house, he became a member of the Washington Lodge.   Antony followed his father in the Masons, joining the same lodge in April 1843 when he reached 21-years of age.

On April 23, 1847 James L. Tashiera died at the age of 51 of phthisis, better known today as pulmonary tuberculosis.  The following day an announcement appeared in The New York Herald:

The members of Washington Lodge No. 21, and the masonic brethern generally are respectfully invited to attend his funeral from his late residence, No. 23 Downing street, near Bleecker, on Sunday afternoon at 4 o'clock.

Antony only briefly remained in the Downing Street house.  He had earlier married Eliza Kirkland (born Stanley), a widow with one daughter.  By the time of James's funeral the couple had two more children.  

Antony Lewis Tasheira, Washington Lodge, No. 21, F. & A.M. and Some of its members, 1911 (copyright expired) 

In January 1848 gold was discovered in the West, sparking the "California Gold Excitement," or the Gold Rush.  According to Washington Lodge, No. 21, F. & A.M. and Some of its Members, "Eager for the betterment of his social condition and that of his family, and lured by the extravagant tales of easily acquired wealth, he decided to go to California, gather a fortune and return in a year or two to enjoy it."  Tasheira sailed with his family in March 1849.  The long voyage around Cape Horn finally deposited them in San Francisco that fall.  

No. 23 was apparently leased for a few years.  On February 12, 1853 an advertisement in The New York Herald listed the "house and lot" for sale for $3,250--about $109,000 today.  The purchaser would not stay long.  Less than two years later, on January 3, 1855, a household auction was held in the house.  The announcement touted:

The genteel furniture of a family giving up housekeeping, consisting of sofas, rocking and other chairs, window curtains, centre and dining tables, mirrors, three-ply carpets, oil cloths, marble top dressing bureaus and washstands, toilet sets, mahogany French bedsteads, hair mattresses, bedding; cooking and other stoves; china, glass and plated ware, &c, &c.

The little house saw a succession of occupants over the next few decades.  By 1862 Joseph B. and Merriam Albertson lived here.  He was listed in directories as an "expressman," meaning he either owned or drove a delivery wagon.  They leased a room to Mary E. Fowler, the widow of John Fowler.

On June 27, 1862 the Albertson's three-year old son, Frank, died.  The toddler's funeral was held in the house the following morning at 7:00.

Following the Albertsons in the house was the Rhodes family.  Their son's name was pulled in the Civil War Draft Lottery on March 16, 1865.  He was one of no less than four other young men on the block to be inducted that day.

By the mid-1880's Downing Street was changing.  Stables and small businesses had encroached on the block.  On June 29, 1886 Herman Wronkow paid $3,800 (about $105,000 today) for the property.  He made a quick profit by selling it within three weeks to Edwin Holz for $4,250.

Holz immediately hired architects J. Boekell & Son to remodel the old house.  The significant make-over cost Holz $2,000, half the cost of the property itself.  The plans called for "attic raised to full story, front wall taken down and rebuilt."  The completed renovation left no hint of the former Federal-style building.  J. Boekell & Son's Renaissance Revival design featured brownstone sills and lintels and an ambitious bracketed cornice with pediment perhaps more expected in a commercial building.  The house now accommodated two families.

Among Holz's tenants in 1889 was police officer John Finnerty, who worked nearby in the 8th Precinct.  Katie Holz sold the house in 1902 to William S. Patten.  By now it appears that instead of two families, there were multiple roomers living in the house, and part of it was being used for commercial purposes.  An advertisement that year sought a "forewoman for packing room."

Patten's tenants were not all upstanding citizens.  On August 21, 1902 the New-York Tribune reported that Mary Celersteins "was adjudged an habitual vagrant by Magistrate Cornell in Jefferson Market court, and by him committed."

William S. Patten did not retain ownership for long.  It changed hands four times before September 1909, when Joseph W. Moyer purchased it from Giovanni B. Sarti.  As had been the case with Edwin Holz, Moyer had changes in mind.   On May 20, 1910 architect D. Briganti filed plans for massive renovations, including "partitions, toilets, windows, show windows, to 3-story brick tenement."  

A restaurant operated from the former basement level.  photo via NYC Department of Records & Information Services
There was now a shop on the first floor and a restaurant in the basement.  The upper floors continued to be rented as furnished rooms.  Among the first tenants was Michael Picolo, who was arrested on Long Island in 1911 for armed robbery.  The blue collar residents in 1918 included A. Varotto, who needed a job.   Apparently unskilled, the "single man" hoped to find "housework."

Joseph Moyer sold the property in 1922.  The sometimes sketchy personality of the neighborhood was evidenced in 1925 when a customer was attacked and robbed in the restaurant on October 7 while shocked staff and patrons looked on.  The Sun reported that 26-year old Frank Rinona "was arrested about 1 o'clock this morning by a patrolman of the Charles street station, charged with having slugged and robbed a man named Joseph Gimpolino in a restaurant at 23 Downing street."

Rinona, who also went by the name Paul, was no stranger to police.  He had been charged with burglary and grand larceny several times since 1918.  And it seems that he and Gimpolino were no strangers.  "Last night, it is charged, he entered the Downing street restaurant, where Gimpolino and several other men were eating and insisted on frisking Gimpolino for a revolver," reported The Sun.  "When the latter resisted he hit him over the head with a bottle of mineral water."  At the station house Gimpolino claimed that "$30 was missing from his pocket after he had been frisked and struck."

The new owners, Vincent and Gertrude Mangione, also made renovations.  By 1934 the restaurant was gone and the building had been converted to a three-family residence.  The show window was altered again in 1939.

In 2010 the brick facade had been painted.  The picture window would be altered again in 1964.  photo via the Greenwich Village Historic District Extension II Designation Report
In 2013 architects The Turett Collaborative initiated another massive renovation to return No. 23 Downing Street to a private home.  The painted brick was stripped and the facade restored.  Historic preservation stopped at that point.   

photo via
The new interiors are open and sleek, leaving little or no reminder of the building's 195-year history.  A fourth floor addition is set back in order to be invisible from the street. 

photographs by the author

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