James Votey was born in 1805 in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Having relocated to New York City, he married the former Martha Coe in 1831. By now he was now a vice-president in the New-York and Schuylkill Coal Company .
Votey had owned the plot of late at No. 15 Downing Street in Greenwich Village singe 1825, possibly with the intentions of someday erecting his home there. Instead, around the time of his marriage, he erected a brick-faced three-story stable on the lot. The location was inconvenient to both his office, which was far downtown at No. 48 Wall Street, and his home on Grove Street. Votey sold the newly-completed structure in 1832.
Many of the stables erected later in the decade would feature a central bay door flanked by openings. But at just 19-feet wide the modest building made do with one bay door to the left with a pedestrian doorway next to it. Storage on the second floor would have held tack, hay and other supplies, while rooms for at least one stable employee were on the top floor. Behind the building were the necessary manure pits.
No. 15 became a boarding stables, known as the Club Stables, operated by a man named Sawyer. Here neighborhood residents kept their vehicles and horses. At least one of Sawyer's clients was financially comfortable enough to travel abroad. An advertisement in The New York Herald on April 12 1854 sought a buyer for "Two superior light wagons, built to order." It noted "will be sold cheap, as the owner is about leaving for Europe. Apply at the club stables."
Similar ads appeared throughout the coming years. George Carpenter, whose offices were at No. 13 Chambers Street, advertised a "light trotting wagon, and one top wagon" for sale in 1855. He made special note that the latter was "nearly new, with a shifting top, and fit for city use." And the following year a "fine bay horse" was offered for sale. It "would make a lady's saddle horse."
In 1861 the Club Stables got a new next door neighbor. William Martin and George Kinnier had run John Harrison's Brewery on Sullivan Street for seven years. Now they acquired the New York Steam Brewery and renamed it the United States Brewery. The operation ran through the block from Nos. 38 and 40 Carmine Street to No. 17 Downing Street. The partners' announcement of the take-over in December 1861 noted "they will manufacture the choicest brands of Pale and Amber Ales, X. and XX Porter."
It was not long before Sawyer's Club Stables was absorbed into the brewery complex, which at least by 1868 was owned by John Boyd and William Kirk. It appears that the former stable building continued to be used to house trucks and horses, as well as the offices of the firm. Boyd and Kirk ran saloons throughout the city as well.
The partners leased the buildings from the widowed Ellen Wilson who lived in Brooklyn. In January 1887 she transferred title to Joseph Wilson, presumably a relative, for $4,582.00, or about a quarter of a million in today's dollars.
By the time William Kirk died in 1889 he had purchased No. 15, title to which was now transferred to his children, John L. Kirk, Emma Kirk, Margaret J. Ruth and Mary E. Clelland. In March the following year they sublet the building to Rudolph Kraft and Adolf Lucker, owners of the Champion Brewing Company.
John L. Kirk hired architect J. B. Franklin to make alterations for the new tenants in July that year. His plans included "interior alterations and walls altered." But the Kirks apparently changed their minds. Just a year later, on January 24, 1891, the Record & Guide announced the Kirks had cancelled the lease. Seven days later an advertisement in The New York Herald offered "Ale Brewery In This City" for sale with "immediate possession."
In July 1892 Kirk hired architect A. T. Norris to convert the building back to a stable. The renovations, which cost about $57,000 in today's dollars, were mostly on the inside, although they included widening the truck bay.
In October Kirk advertised "New Stable, 15 Downing St. To Lease" and touted "three stories high, 17 stalls, carriage hoist and wash stand, ample rein storage and new floors."
Kirk continued to make updates to the building and on August 18, 1912 he advertised in the New York Herald: "To Let--Stable, 20 large stalls, newly refitted, wagon elevator, immediate possession." A nearly identical advertisement appeared in the newspaper four years later.
It may have been the phasing out of horses in favor of motorcars following World War I that ended the operation of No. 15 Downing Street as a stable. By the 1920's it was being operated as a junk shop operated by the De Vito family.
|A sign reads "Junk Shop in this 1927 photograph. Second-hand clothes are displayed in front of the old carriage bay doors. from the collection of the New York Public Library|
He had even larger problems to deal with, however. "De Vito is wanted by Baltimore authorities for breaking parole in connection with a homicide case. He has been sentenced to from six years to life imprisonment."
|As mid-century approached, the upper floors were painted. Little else, including the sign, had changed. photo via the NYC Department of Records & Information Services.|
Now nearly 190 years old, the little stable-turned brewery-turned junk shop is disguised by a cumbersome fire escape and a coat of blue paint that prompts a "what were they thinking?" moment. That and its location on the quiet side street make it easily overlooked.
photographs by the author