Upon Captain Robert Richard Randall's death in 1801, his will (drawn by Alexander Hamilton) provided for the formation of an "Asylum or Marine Hospital, to be called the Sailors' Snug Harbor for the purpose of maintaining and supporting aged, decrepit, and worn-out sailors." He had envisioned what today would be called a retirement community on the grounds of his 24-acre summer estate in what today is the Washington Square area. The organization was formed; however Randall's family established the hospital and grounds on Staten Island, instead. The institution wisely retained ownership of the Manhattan property which multiplied in value as the city moved northward. By the end of the century the Sailors' Snug Harbor properties were garnering the institution vast amounts of income.
By 1899 a modern headquarters was necessary. The double-wide, Greek Revival style house at Nos. 260-262 Greene Street which had been altered to lofts was chosen as the site. Rather then demolish it, Sailors' Snug Harbor opted to remodel it into a modern office and loft structure.
|from the archives of New York University|
The red brick structure was given a Colonial Revival base with dramatic fanlights above the three two-story arches, reminiscent of Georgian-style doorways. Two stone plaques set within the spandrels of the arches identified the building with an anchor and the monogram of Sailors' Snug Harbor.
Always financially astute, Sailors' Snug Harbor allowed for income-producing space in its new headquarters. The three floors above the office levels were lofts which were quickly rented. In 1900 W. Silverman & Son, dealers in fur trimmings; K. Hopke, "embroidery;" and furrier Schnapp & Katzman occupied the the spaces. Schnapp & Katzman's employees, almost all women, worked a grueling 54 hours per week.
The tenants turned over at a surprising rate. In 1903 Aschner & Van Buren, makers of wax figures, was here. (It would be years before department store mannequins would be made of materials other than paper mâché or wax.) And the following year Brownstein & Widerhorn, manufacturers of furs; and Weltman Brothers, makers of "fur tails," moved in.
Philip M. Wagner's cloak factory was in the building in 1912. On the night of November 6 that year Police Lieutenant Glynn and Detective Bottis noticed four men entering and leaving several nearby loft buildings. Unseen, they trailed them to No. 262 Greene Street and after the gang had been inside a while, they entered. The New York Press reported that the officers "caught them in the second floor. The door of Philip M. Wagner's cloak factory had been jimmied."
The Washington Square Association had been founded in 1906 "made up of business men and residents of the neighborhood," as described by The New York Herald. By 1919 it had 350 members and leased space in the Sailors' Snug Harbor building for its headquarters.
On the afternoon of April 2, 1922 five thugs broke into the residence of Albert R. Shattuck at No. 19 Washington Square North. Mr. and Mrs. Shattuck and their five servants were bound and gagged in the wine cellar at gunpoint while the house was robbed. The terrifying ordeal unnerved the neighborhood.
The Washington Square Association blamed the police. It held a meeting on April 7 during which it resolved "to appeal to the Chamber of Commerce to call a mass meeting of representatives of civic bodies and citizens generally for the purpose of making a thorough-going inquiry into the apparent breakdown of the police force of New York." Additionally, it urged the neighborhood residents "to be especially vigilant about locks and bars."
|The original ground floor configuration can be seen in this photograph taken around 1941. photo via the NYC Dept. of Records & Information Services.|
Sailors' Snug Harbor remained in the building for decades. The organization was one of the three largest landholders in Manhattan. And yet, on July 28, 1976, The New York Times entitled an article "Snug Harbor Vexed by Costs Despite Wealth" and reported "the trustees who administer its shelter for retired seamen on Staten Island say they are not earning enough to keep the home afloat." To garner funds, the institution announced it was liquidating properties, including No. 262 Greene Street.
Although the ground floor has been significantly altered, little else has changed--including the wonderful anchor plaques the significance of which are all but forgotten.
photographs by the author