Saturday, February 8, 2020

The 1829 No. 298 Bleecker Street

In 1828 a project was begun to widen Herring Street in Greenwich Village and connect it with Bleecker Street, which ran from the Bowery to Sixth Avenue, originally through of the farm of Anthony Bleecker.   The venture was completed in 1829 and on March 9 that year the agenda of the Common Council included "a Petition of Charles Oakley and others to have the name of Herring street altered to that of Bleecker street." 

Oakley had a vested interest in the street where he had been erecting brick-faced structures for a few years.  In 1829 he completed another row on the west side of Bleecker between Barrow and Grove Streets.   Like its nearly identical neighbors, No. 284 was three-and-a-half stories tall, faced in red Flemish bond brick.  It almost certainly always held a store on the ground floor.  Simple brownstone sills and lintels trimmed the openings and a single dormer punched through the peaked roof.

The shop soon became home to John Passenbronder's dry goods store.  He and his wife, Elizabeth, had a boarder, Samuel Martine.  The store was gone around 1833, possibly because of Passenbronder's death.  Elizabeth, now widowed, was still running the business in 1842, but had moved further down Bleecker Street.

The store saw a succession of businesses come and go.  A "fancy hardware store" was here by 1834, and in 1841 Charles C. Smith's jewelry store is listed at the address.  In 1850 and '51 E. & H. Hart's millinery store was in the space and John D. Hart, Jr. and his family lived upstairs.  And in 1852 Mary A. Graham opened her fancy goods store here.  The boarders upstairs that year were Otto Kirchoff, a teacher, and Otto Corseplus, whose cutlery store was on Hester Street.

By 1855 the property was owned by William Egington who ran a livery stable business downtown at No. 149 Fulton Street.  He and his wife, the former Olivia Maria Handcock, apparently kept small animals in the building in the rear yard.  On October 4, 1855 an advertisement in The New York Herald read: "For Sale--Two beautiful milk goats in good condition, and giving a good supply of milk.  Will be sold singly if desired.  Apply at 284 Bleecker street, where they can be seen."

Mary Graham moved her business out that year.  Eginton placed an ad in May offering "To Let--Store and back room, in Bleecker street, 284, one door from Barrow; has been occupied for the fancy business for years, and suitable for any business.  Rent $400."  That amount would translate to about $1,000 per month today.

Olivia Eginton left the house one day in May 1856 and walked to Sixth Avenue.  After going north a few blocks, she realized she had lost two precious keepsakes--a gold locket containing the hair of a deceased child, and a larger one with the likeness of an elderly man, also dead.  Eginton offered a $5 reward (nearly $155 today) for their return.  He said they were "of no value to the finder, but considerable to the loser."  How beloved they were to his wife was evident.  "If the above reward is not satisfactory, the full value will be given."

In 1859 Bleecker Street was renumbered giving Eginton's property the new address of No. 298.   The couple continued to take in boarders.  Stephen Norris, who made his living as a machinist, was here that year.  He was gone in 1860 when Ann Hare, the widow of William Hare, lived here with her grown sons Joseph, a draftsman, and Joshua, a clerk; along with painter James Galway.

On Sunday afternoon, October 20, 1861 Olivia Maria Eginton died of consumption, known today as tuberculosis.  She was 33-years old.  Her funeral was held in the Bleecker Street house on October 23.

Around this time William Church was running his ladies' hat store in the shop space.  He happened to be downtown in front of the Tribune Building on July 13, 1863 when what would be known as the infamous Draft Riots broke out.  It was the start of three days of anarchy, rioting, pillaging and murder.  By the time the riots were finally squelched millions of dollars in property had been destroyed, thousands of innocent persons injured and more than a hundred were dead (one estimate puts that figure at a disputed 2,000).

Investigators tracked down some of the rioters and brought them to trial.  On August 12 William Church was called to testify against James H. Whitten, alias Whitter, accused of rioting and of burglarizing of the Tribune Building.  Church was confident on the stand.  The New York Times reported that he "saw the crowd in front of the Tribune office on the 13th of July; identifies the prisoner as the leader of the crowd; took particular notice of him; recognized him as soon as I came into Court; have no doubt he is the man I saw on that day."

The ground floor of No. 298 was once again a fancy goods store by 1870.  Fancy goods stores were slightly different from dry goods stores in that they also offered ribbons, stationery, inkstands, and such.   Rooms upstairs continued to be rented, with preference to long-term tenants.  An advertisement on April 8, 1874 offered "A front hall bedroom, neatly furnished, to a gentlemen" and stressed "$1.75 per week to a permanent resident."  Another room was available "to two gentlemen."  The rent would equal around $140 a week today.  That the house was respectable was evidenced in the exclusion of single women in the ad.  Most reputable unmarried women lived with their families.

Another millinery shop was in the ground floor space by 1881.  Agnes Fleming ran the business here for several years; then in 1886 it was home to the men's furnishing store of Eugene A. and Frederick Eckardt.

By the turn of the century the Bleecker Street neighborhood had filled with Italian immigrants.  Alfred Rinaldi ran his drugstore here in the World War I years and would remain into the 1920's.

During the World War II years the shop had a modern arcade entrance.  The store is named Lafayette, coincidentally the same as the bakery which would occupy the space for years starting around 1975.  via the NYC Department of Records & Information Services
The area continued to be part of the fringe of Manhattan's Little Italy throughout most of the century.  But as the Second World War broke out, there was one immigrant living at No. 298 who was decidedly not Italian.  Spiros Androuldakis lived here in 1943 while working in what The New York Sun called a "war factory."  He had an unexpected and happy reunion with his brother Lambros in October that year when the the Greek Navy's submarine chaser King George pulled into New York Harbor.  Lambros was a chief petty officer on the vessel.

The house was the scene of a heroic rescue attempt on January 16, 1947.   A kitten became trapped between a wall and the commercial refrigerator.  The large unit could not be moved; so the NYPD "employed the mother cat in an attempt to lure out the young one," according to The New York Sun.  When that did not succeed, the department's emergency squad broke through the ten-inch thick wall.  "Finally a policeman was able to reach in and as he lifted the kitten, it died."

By the last quarter of the century Bleecker Street was lined with a variety of shops--record stores, restaurants, t-shirt shops, and such.   It was also a mecca to food lovers.  Food stores with Italian names--Faicco's, Zampognaro's, Rocco's, and A. Zito & Sons, for instance--offered Italian cheeses, sausages, and breads.   A noticeable exception was the Lafayette French Pastry store, at No. 298 by 1976 which offered "strudel and custom-made pies from morning to night."  (Interestingly, although the pastries were French, the owners were Greek.)

The Lafayette bakery would survive at the address for decades.  In the early 1990's its description in Fodor's was nearly apologetic, given the neighborhood.  "It's French, rather than Italian, but the treats are luscious all the same."  A Bleecker Street staple, the bakery was evicted in 2012.

Unlike the other survivors of Charles Oakley's 1829 row, No. 298 retains a semblance of its domestic appearance.  An updating in the 1870's resulted in pressed metal cornices above the windows and at some point the dormer was altered to its current boxy appearance.

photographs by the author

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