Wednesday, March 18, 2020

From Butter and Eggs to Wine Bar - 24-26 Harrison Street

In the first decade following the end of the Civil War butter and egg merchant Edwin M. Harrison recognized the changes taking place in the area around Greenwich and Harrison Streets.  Where wooden and brick-faced homes from the 1820's and '30's once stood loft buildings were rising.  Harrison scrambled to get in on the action and on one day alone, July 21, 1876, he purchased the properties at Nos. 355 through 359 Greenwich Street, along with Nos. 22 and 24 Harrison Street, paying Julia Gardiner Tyler (the former First Lady and widow of President John Tyler) the equivalent of $1 million.

Harrison would erect several buildings in what was quickly becoming the butter and egg district.  In 1886 architect Edward Simon designed two no-nonsense mirror-image loft buildings at Nos. 24 and 26 Harrison Street.  Four stories high and 32-feet wide, like almost all commercial buildings in the neighborhood, they had a cast iron base with storefronts.  As was the case with the unadorned upper stories, no money was wasted on frills at this level.  There were no elegant Corinthian capitals to the cast iron piers nor other unnecessary decorations.  And atop it all the single pressed metal cornice was no doubt pulled from a catalog.

Among the early tenants were the butter and egg firms of Herrons & Company at No. 24 and Henningson & Company at No. 26.   Handling eggs required a gentle touch and female workers were seemingly preferred in Herrons & Company.  The firm employed about 50 women at the turn of the century.

On the afternoon of February 17, 1899 a fire broke out in Henningson & Company which caused panic next door.  The New York Press reported "Fifty frightened girls, in the employ of Herrons & Company...made a lively scramble for the street yesterday when fire broke out at No. 26 Harrison street...They tumbled upstairs to the roof, and made their way to an extension in Greenwich Street, whence they descended to the street.'  Happily none of the young women was injured.  Not so fortunate was Henningson & Company which suffered $10,000 in damages; more than $310,000 today.

It may have been during those repairs that the buildings were joined internally.  R. H. Peck, "butter, eggs and poultry" merchants, moved in before the end of the year.

New York Produce Review and American Creamery, November 1899 (copyright expired)

The butter and egg district was plagued with a rash of burglaries beginning in December 1904.  Surprisingly, the thieves were not looking for cash--they wanted eggs.  Frustrated representatives from the New York Merchant Exchange petitioned the mayor to do something.  The police commissioner promised increased surveillance.  

The burglaries fell off for a week, but then on January 5 R. H. Peck was victimized.  The Sun reported "Some time between the time when Peck closed up shop at 6 o'clock and 8 o'clock, when the man on post tried the door, eighty cases, each containing thirty dozen eggs, were carted away.  The loot was valued at $720."  The fragile haul was significant, equal to more than $22,000 in today's money.

The butter and egg men were "indignant over the poor police protection," wrote the New York Produce Review, which added "Something is wrong somewhere and must be remedied."  The New-York Tribune chimed in, saying "In each of the robberies, it is said, the police took an active interest for a few days, after which they seemed to tire."

In 1911 the store became home to Kwench-A-Thirst Co., wholesale dealers in powdered "fruit sugars" for soda counter soft drinks.

The Billboard, December 9, 1911 (copyright expired)

R. H. Peck remained in the building until 1915, followed by William Cuttrell, "butter and eggs solicitor."  He would not survive long at the address, filing for bankruptcy in 1917.

Throughout the ensuing decades the building contained to house dairy concerns.  Imperia Foods Company, cheese merchants, was here by the 1970's and remained through the 1980's.

Before long the Tribeca renaissance caught up to the Harrison Street block.  In 1994 Manna Catering was in No. 24 and in 2004 work was done to convert it to a mixed-use building.  The former store space was converted for restaurant use in 2009.  As Terroir Tribeca, a branch of the East Village wine bar with the same name, prepared to opened in April 2010, The New York Times food critic Florence Fabricant commented that it "has sandwiches on the menu and a meatball fixation."

In 2012 the upper floors were converted to apartments, one vast loft dwelling per floor.  Terroir, described in 2019 by Not For Tourists Guide to New York City as a "happening wine bar with funky list and taste eats," continues in the ground floor space.

photographs by the author

1 comment:

  1. "Butter & Eggs District." Who knew?
    Julia Tyler was a Gardiner (of the Gardiner's Island Gardiners), not a Gardner (like the Gardner Museum). In high social circles, the distinction used to be made between the two families as the "one-i" Gardiners and the "blind" Gardner's.