Saturday, July 4, 2020

The 1814 Isaac Lawrence House - 19 Howard Street

Above the ground floor, the house retains much of its appearance following the update of around 1844.

William Houstoun was a lawyer and statesman, and a delegate to the Continental Congress.  He and his wife, the former Mary Bayard, owned a large amount of land in what would eventually be known as Soho.  (William's father-in-law, Nicholas Bayard would name a street on his own property for Houstoun, the spelling of which was corrupted to Houston Street sometime after 1811.)

In 1809, four years before his death in Savannah, Georgia, Houstoun divided the rural land among his children and relatives.  At least one plot on Hester Street (renamed Howard Street in 1820) went to Mary's sister, Margaret Sarah, who had married Gerard Rutgers.

By 1814 a Federal-style house had appeared on the plot, now owned by Isaac Lawrence.  By the time his son, James Lawrence, died in 1843 the house had the address of No. 19 Howard Street.  Lawrence owned a large amount of Manhattan property, including 11 other houses and 315 lots in the Turtle Bay district.  It was all liquidated at auction on November 22, 1843 with William N. Gilbert spending $5,500 for the the Howard Street house--in the neighborhood of $196,000 today.

Gilbert purchased the property as an investment.  It was undoubtedly he who gave it a makeover to the more up-to-date Greek Revival style.  The attic level was raised to a full story under a simple wooden cornice.  The recessed entrance sat above a short stone stoop.

The remodeled house became home to John Igram, Jr. and his wife, the former Jane Edmiston.  They took in a boarder in 1846.  Edward Maturin was an Irish author, poet and professor languages.  He would move permanently to New York in 1848; but in the meantime, on February 6, 1846 he placed an advertisement in the New York Herald that read:

ELOCUTION:  Edward Maturin, A. M., informs those gentlemen desirous of instruction in the above accomplishment, that he is prepared to receive Evening Classes at his residence, No. 19 Howard street.

John Ingram's parents had moved to Philadelphia where John Ingram, Sr. died.  His mother, Susannah, died there at the age of 52 on September 21, 1846.  Her body was brought to New York where the funeral was held in the Howard Street house two days later.

Just over a year later the residence would be the scene of another funeral.  John and Jane's eldest son, Charles, died at just one-and-a-half years old on December 18, 1847.  

The Ingrams sold the house to David T. Valentine and moved to No. 315 Bowery.  There on August 25, 1849, Jane Ingram died at the age of 31 of consumption.

Valentine was a highly-respected figure in local government, the clerk of the Common Council (known as the City Council today) and a passionate New York City historian.  He amassed a remarkable collection of materials on the city, including Dutch manuscripts, maps and the like.  But he is best remembered today for his annual Valentine's Manual of the Corporation of the City of New York, or Valentine's Manual.

Matthew Brady photographed David T. Valentine in the mid-to-late 1850's.  via
Valentine would not remain long in the Howard Street house, and for good reason.  The neighborhood was noticeably degrading as fashionable New York moved further north and a seedier element moved in.  

In 1853 Trow's Directory listed No. 19 as a "boarding house" under the proprietorship of Ferdinand Kruger.   Within three years the parlor level had been converted to a saloon owned by William Weinke.  And things continued to go downhill.

James Connolly ran the saloon in 1859, while a brothel operated from the upper floors.  On August 17 that year the New-York Tribune reported that police had "made a descent upon the premises of James Connolly, No. 19 Howard street, which, it is alleged, is a disorderly house and the resort for the vicious and vile of both sexes."  Connolly, his bartender, "two or three other men, and some females" were arrested.

Seven months later there was trouble again.  On March 26, 1860 the Tribune reported that at around 2:00 on the previous Saturday morning "a quarrel which was in progress at No. 19 Howard street, between Ellen Smith and Alfred Watson, was hastily ended by the latter plunging a knife into the woman's breast."

It appears that former policeman Charles H. Bunt was working as a bouncer in the brothel in the spring of 1862.  Bendix Thorson was a sailor who, according to The New York Times, "was very much intoxicated when he went into the house" on April 22.  While there, said the article, "a difficulty occurred between him and the woman who kept the house, in regard to some drinks which had not been paid for."

It was only "after much resistance" that Bunt was able to remove the drunken sailor, but the affray did not end there.  The New York Herald reported "Thorson was kicked in the stomach, and in falling to the sidewalk fractured his skull, which resulted in his death."  Bunt was held in the Tombs awaiting a Grand Jury decision on a murder charge.

The highly publicized incident may have been the last straw for reformers.  Within the year a carpentry shop operated from the former saloon space and in 1867 the entire building had been converted for business.  That year Crow & Son, a window glass business, operated from the lower level and Louis Hallen, maker of dusters, was upstairs.  (Dusters were long, light overcoats that prevented road dust from soiling women's garments while traveling in open coaches or carriages.)

A. & S. Machinery Co. was in the building in 1941.  The ground floor still had the Greek Revival entrance, although the stoop had been removed and a side-wise replacement installed.  A relic of earlier times, a horse drawn dray, stands at the curb.  photo via the NYC Dept of Records & Information Services.

In the 1870's C. M. Foster & Co., "upholstery goods," was in the building; along with Cornelius M. Finch, trimmings merchant; Lahey & Dubord, importers of laces and embroideries; Terry & Downs, "imports," and Finlay, Gourlay & Finch, trimmings.

Small manufacturers continued to operate from the converted house throughout the 20th century as loft buildings crowded in around it.  In the late 1930's and early '40's No. 19 was home to R. & S. Machine Co.  It building was owned by William H. Roberts in 1944 when architect Ferdinand Savignano stripped off the ground floor facade and installed a new doorway, steps and a show window.

The new ground floor had a relocated entrance and show window.  from the collection of the New York Public Library

For decades beginning in 1970 and well into the 21st century book maker E. Vogel, Inc. operated here, with its retail store on the ground floor.  Then in June 2019 UZ 19 Howard opened here.  The Japanese based beauty brand, founded in 2011, embarked on a subtle renovation.

According to Cision PR Newswire, "It was important to the founders to honor the building's history.  The exterior has all but remained true to its original form, and the interior is ultra modern."  Indeed, even the 1944 entrance door was preserved and the facade merely cleaned up.

photographs by the author


  1. Isaac had a partner and brother named John Lawrence, who was the administrator of his estate including 19 Howard Street. (See the ad in the Evening Post from 14 Nov 1843.)

  2. From Chapter VI of the 1885 book "The Old Merchants of New York City: Volume 2" by Joseph Alfred Scoville (pen name Walter Barrett)

    "There have been many merchants of great celebrity in this city , named Lawrence , but among all the Lawrence race , none have been more remarkable than the brothers John and Isaac Lawrence. John was in business during the [Revolutionary] war , and lived and did business at 162 Queen street (Pearl) In 1795 he took in his younger brother Isaac , who had been clerk with him for two years previous , and the new sign was placed over the store 154 Water , corner of Fly market . Isaac had received a collegiate education at Princeton College , and intended to become a lawyer , but his health was poor , and he went into business with his brother John . The firm of John & Isaac Lawrence continued until 1803 , when the brothers separated after doing a very prosper ous and extended commerce . They were owners of vessels , shippers of goods abroad , and importers . They did a very heavy West India business . This was owing to their having relations established in the West India Islands. [...]

    "When the house of J . & I . Lawrence dissolved , the store was at 208 Pearl, and Isaac lived at 40 Courtlandt street [which were both properties that were auctioned off in the same estate sale as 19 Howard Street]. Isaac continued on with the business at the same place, 208 Pearl, until 1814. He was out of business until 1817, when he became President of the United States Branch Bank, that had been established in this city. The office was then kept at 65 Broadway. His residence at that time was at 480 Broadway. He afterwards moved into a handsome house he had built at 498 Broadway , above Broome [...]

    "They did not succeed in making the Bank of America take the place of the United States Bank ; and in 1816 , Congress chartered that institution with a capital of $ 35,000,000, to last twenty years. It did last that time , and then General Jackson crushed it. The branch in the city had its office at No. 65 Broadway , and its cashier was Lynda Catlin. Its president and principal man was Mr. Isaac Lawrence, who until 1836 , presided over its destiny. He only lived four years afterwards , and died July 12, 1841 . [...]

    "From one of these brothers, John and Isaac Lawrence were descended — a good old New York stock, by the English breed . Isaac Lawrence married Miss Cornelia Beach. She was a daughter of the Rev. Abraham Beach, one of the ministers of Trinity church, and a man of note in his day. Mrs. Lawrence was a very remarkable wo man — an exemplary Christian , and a perfect lady. She was charitable to all that came in her way. She had many children — one son and several daughters . [...]

    Isaac Lawrence had but one son , William Beach Lawrence. [...]"

    William Lawrence became a diplomat, Lt. Governor of Rhode Island, married a daughter of Archibald Gracie, and developed real estate, including demolishing his father's home (which had become by then a commercial use building) at 498-500 Broadway and building on the site a 5-story cast iron storefront and Tuckahoe marble building in 1859.

    1. Thank you for the additional information. I had seen these references, but am always tasked with keeping the entries concise as possible. Again, thanks for adding.