Thursday, March 12, 2020

Horses, Bottles and Movie Memoriabilia - 27 Downing Street

Helen Cossitt Juilliard, the wife of multi-millionaire Augustus D. Julliard, was wealthy in her own right.  Less known for her entertaining than for her philanthropy, for years she managed the Lincoln Hospital and Home and around 1895 gave the St. John’s Guild its first hospital boat, the Helen C. Juilliard, and then another.  A third hospital boat would be launched in Wilmington, Delaware in 1915, also named the Helen C. Juilliard.  Her husband's legacy would be the Juilliard School of Music.

Helen began a less altruistic project in 1893 when she purchased the old house at No. 27 Downing Street in Greenwich Village and hired the well-known architect Alfred Zucker to replace it with a livery stable.  His plans, filed in May, estimated the cost of construction at $20,000--about $617,000 today.

Completed within the year, it was one of several such stables along the short street.  Zucker had turned to a sub-style of Romanesque Revival known as American Round Arch.  It was a style held in disdain by the editors of The Inland Architect and News, who had called it in September 1893, "little short of contemptible."  Their opinions aside, Zucker produced a rather dignified structure, given its utilitarian purposes, faced in beige brick. 

The original configuration of the street level openings, the oval window on the second floor, and the handsome horse head sculpture are seen in this photo taken sometime before World War I.  from the collection of the New-York Historical Society

The balanced arrangement of the ground floor openings--an arched doorway and window of matching proportions flanking the wide carriage bay--contrasted with the asymmetrical plan of the upper floors.   The two-story, slightly projecting bay above the vehicle entrance featured a large, half-round opening at the second floor.  It was juxtaposed with an oval window, hinged at the center.  This section culminated in a peaked gable that held a deep oculus from which the sculpted head of a horse gazed out--the traditional sign that easily identified this as a livery stable.

The top floor contained a living space where, most likely, the stable's proprietor and his family lived.  Helen Juilliard was leasing the building to J. C. James at the end of the century.  His business listing in 1900 read simply "horses &c."  He was followed by the M. Pedrotti Livery Stable & Trucking Co., which later moved to No. 21 Bedford Street.

Helen C. Juilliard died on April 2, 1916; however her estate retained possession of No. 27 Downing Street.  In November 1917 it leased it to A. Costa, "truckman and forwarder."

On January 31, 1920 a full-page advertisement in the Real Estate Record & Builders' Guide listed the "valuable Manhattan investment properties" to be sold at auction by the Helen C. Juilliard estate.  Among them was No. 27 Downing Street.  It was purchased by Louis Barbieri whose $8,400 mortgage was supplied by the Juilliard estate.

Barbieri was not interested in the property as a stable or garage.  He operated the Pioneer Bottling Co. and commissioned architect Charles E. Miller to renovate the structure into a bottling plant in the cellar, a garage for two cars on the first floor, a meeting room (the plans called it a "lodge room") on the second floor and an apartment on the third.

Barbieri stenciled the label onto this siphon bottle.
Prohibition meant, of course, that the Barbieri's firm dealt in non-alcoholic beverages, like bottled soda water.   His business was successful enough that in 1924 he hired architect C. W. Schlusing to enlarge the building, replacing the rear extension.  A year later Schlusing was back to widen the truck bay, eliminating the window.  The oval second floor window was replaced at this time, as well.

No. 27 is half-way down the block.  In this 1932 photograph the horse's head has been removed and the oval window replaced.  from the collection of the New York Public Library.

With Prohibition long in the past, on August 7, 1954 The Advocate announced that the Pioneer Bottling Co., Inc. had been issued a license "to sell Beer at retail...for off-premises consumption."

In 1962 a renovation was completed which resulted in a "repackaging factory" on the first floor and one apartment each on the second and third.   In the spring of 1970 Jeffrey Joerger and Michael Malce opened their Hollywood memorabilia "warehouse" in the ground floor.  

Joerger and Malce show off a dress worn by Jane Powell.  The striped blazer was worn by Mickey Rooney.  photo by Barton Silverman, The New York Times July 18, 1970
Writing in The New York Times on July 18, Virginia Lee Warren explained "This is where costumes worn by Elizabeth Taylor, Judy Garland, Hedy LaMarr, Doris Day, Norma Shearer, Lana Turner, Jean Harlow, Greta Garbo and Ginger Rogers are hung along the rough wall, suspended from make-shift garment racks or draped on a sofa from 'Father of the Bride' and chairs from 'Raintree County.'"

Today that space houses professional offices and the upper floors contain two duplex apartments.  The quirky oval window and the wonderful horse's head have been lost in renovations; however Ernest Flagg's unusual stable building design mostly survives.

photographs by the author

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