Friday, October 23, 2020

No. 303 West 18th Street

photo via

Erected around 1840, the house at No. 225 West 18th Street (renumbered 303 in 1868), was designed in the relatively recent Italianate style.  Its rusticated brownstone basement upheld four stories of red brick.  Paneled and beautifully-carved entrance doors sat within an elliptically arched frame and cornice.  Similar arched lintels most likely originally adorned the windows.  A cast iron balcony almost assuredly connected the floor-to-ceiling parlor windows.  An Italianate style cornice with paired scrolled brackets completed the design.

The beautifully-carved double entrance doors survive.

The Wallace family lived in the house in 1845 when tragedy occurred.  Curious toddlers require constant attention and on January 8 little Matilda managed to avoid detection.  The following day the Marine Journal reported "The coroner was called this morning to hold an inquest at No. 225 West Eighteenth street, upon the body of a girl three years old, named Matilda Wallace, who came to her death in consequent of eating a small quantity of opium, which she obtained from the cupboard without being observed."  

Within the decade the owners were taking in boarders.  An advertisement in the New York Herald offered "Board-- Gentleman and Wife, and Two Single Gentlemen, can obtain pleasant rooms and board on very reasonable terms at No. 225 West Eighteenth street, near Eighth avenue.  References given and required."

Despite the few boarders, the house continued to be primarily a private home through the summer of 1868.  On September 8 that year an auction was held of "the entire Furnishings of the house," according to the announcement.  The listing revealed the high-end appointments that the family and their boarders had enjoyed.  Included were "velvet, Brussels, three-ply and ingrain carpets," along with marble top tables, black walnut bedroom furniture, and "parlor suits."  The announcement used the term "genteel" to describe the items.

The house now became a full-fledged boarding house for middle class residents.  Living here for at least two years in the mid-1870's was Edward S. Moore, an assistant foreman at Hook & Ladder Company No. 10.  In 1882 George P. Freeman boarded in the house.  He was a captain with the 22nd Regiment of the National Guard.   

There were small family groups here, as well.  James Kent and his son William H. were here by 1884 when William was appointed a patrolman with the New York Police Department.  James Kent died in the house on August 12, 1890 at the age of 70.

It was around this time that the brownstone trim of the openings were updated with pressed metal cornices.

Charles E. Lu Gar and his wife celebrated their fifth wedding anniversary in their rooms on May 16, 1888.  The Evening World reported "Prof. F. P. Messina played 'The Evening World' waltz, which was received by a storm of applause."

Young Henry M. Yoemans applied to the College of the City of New York in 1895.  Of the 1,669 applicants 822 were accepted, one of whom was Henry (who was known as Harry).  The Pennsylvania-born boy would remain in the house throughout his studies and for years afterward.

Harry's field of study was somewhat surprising for the period--interior decorating.  He studied under three well-known designers--Miss Swift, Jacques Seligman and Karl Freund.  Upon graduation he launched his own interior design concern.  An advertisement in the February 1906 issue of Country Life in American read:

Harry Martin Yeomans

Color schemes and artistic decorations for the furnishing of houses and apartments.  Fee, one dollar for each room.  Wall papers and stuffs purchased for out-of-town patrons.


Yeomans was still living here in 1912 when he fired off a long Letter to the Editor of The New York Times defending the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  Charles Anderson Dana, Jr. had written an article attacking art museums as "palaces" which made the artworks nearly inaccessible to the common man.  Yeoman insisted that the Metropolitan Museum "is quite accessible to all who are desirous of visiting the collection of works of art, and from most sections of the city the Museum can be reached for a five-cent fare."

At the time of his fiery letter, Yeomans was well known in the decorating community.  He routinely supplied articles to magazines.  He wrote a monthly article for American Homes and Gardens entitled "Within The House."  In January 1912, for instance, the topic was "Within The House--Unity in Interior Decoration" and the following month it was "Within The House--Concerning Draperies."  

Yeoman left No. 303 in 1913 to travel throughout Europe, "for the purpose of studying the old palaces and museums," according to a newspaper.  Upon his return he joined the John Wanamaker store in its Decorating and Furnishing Department.

In the meantime, by 1914 John Winkler had moved into No. 303.   The young waiter found himself in deep trouble on March 30 that year.   On March 6 Mrs. Washington A. Roebling, the wife of the builder of the Brooklyn Bridge, had dinner with friends at the Ritz-Carlton.  When she returned home she realized she had lost her necklace, valued at $1,000--more in the neighborhood of $26,400 today.

The Sun reported "She notified the police, who, with private detectives, searched the pawnshops for the missing necklace.  The search led to Winkler."  He had pawned the jewels for $25.  When he was arrested, Winkler had the pawn ticket for the necklace in his pocket.  The 21-year old was held in $2,000 bail on a charge of grand larceny.

By the end of World War I the tenants were working class.  Joseph Kinney, a construction worker, lived here in 1923.  He was involved in building the Erie Railroad tunnels that connected New Jersey and New York that summer.  The workers were called "sand hogs," and theirs was a dangerous job.  Kinney was injured on August 18 and removed to a hospital where, happily, his condition proved temporary.  The Standard Union reported that he had been "temporarily blinded by sand."

The house is essentially unchanged since this 1941 photograph.  via the NYC Dept of Records & Information Services

Resident Robert Emmett McCracken had been drinking on the afternoon of May 4, 1937.  At about 3:00 the proprietors of a West 14th Street restaurant called police alleging he had "created a disturbance."   Detective Frank Campbell responded and began walking the 35-year old to the Charles Street police station."

The New York Times reported "Suddenly McCracken pulled an army bayonet from a leather scabbard under his coat and made a vicious lunge at Campbell."  The detective fended off the attack with his right hand, suffering a deep cut across the palm.  "With his left hand he landed a solid punch on McCracken's jaw, knocking him to the sidewalk."  Within about a minute police radio cars were on the scene.  They transported McCracken to the police station and Detective Campbell to St. Vincent's Hospital.

The consequences of McCracken's early afternoon drinking spree only worsened.  Once in custody, he was suspected of possible involvement in the recent murder of Municipal Court Justice John Francis O'Neil.  He was questioned for hours before finally being eliminated as a suspect.

Two days later The New York Times followed up on the story, saying that McCracken was being held in $1,000 bail awaiting his hearing on May 7.  "McCracken said he had been drinking and that he had no recollection of his fight with the detective."

At least one of the Italianate marble mantels survives.  photo via

A renovation completed in 1969 resulted in one apartment per floor, a configuration that remains today.  Despite its long history much of the 1840's appearance of the exterior survives, including the remarkable entrance doors.

photographs by the author

1 comment:

  1. The doors are magnificent. Looking at a glimpse of the paneling inside through the transom, I suspect they were the type that fold back and catch against the side walls of a small foyer, exposing a more delicate pair of glazed doors inside.