Thursday, September 3, 2020

The 1885 Make-Over of 30 Downing Street

In 1835 the 21-foot wide house at No. 30 Downing Street was shared by the families of Charles McDevitt, a printer, and James Scott, a carpenter.   Two and a half stories tall, its peaked roof most likely had one or two dormers.  In 1855 Ann Weeks moved into the house.  Her husband, Gilbert, a city marshal, had died the year before.   It appears she lived here alone until 1863 when Ann E. McCullagh, the widow of John McCullagh, is listed here as well.

Francis Neppert purchased the house around 1865.  He used it solely for rental income.  A furniture maker who lived and worked at No. 390 Canal Street, he specialized in piano stools.  In 1865 his tenants in the Downing Street house were George W. Banta, seaman, and William Miller, a cartman (or delivery driver).  And in 1868 they were John Cornell, an expressman, and William E. Lewis, a printer of "cards."

Neppert continued to lease rooms in the house to working class tenants.  In 1871 the roomers were Hugh Casey and James Hanlon, both masons; and Thomas Golding, a druggist.   

James Hanlon offered a wide variety of contracting jobs.  Real Estate Record January 6, 1872 (copyright expired)
Hanlon operated two shops so it is possible that Casey was an employee.  Casey remained in the house at least through 1873 and Hanlon stayed through 1877.  Among the other residents over the years were Michael Mallon, who owned a saloon at No. 24 Bedford street, here in 1873, and the widowed Mary Kingsley, in 1880.

On October 17, 1885 The Real Estate Record & Guide reported that Neppert had hired architect Andrew Spence to design a replacement, "four-story and basement dwelling" on the site.  The cost of construction was just $10,000, or around $269,000 today.

Spence produced an attractive neo-Grec residence faced in red brick and trimmed in brownstone.  A stone stoop led to the entrance.  The line-carved window lintels--typical of the style--sat on prominent brackets.  Above it all was a pressed metal cornice.

The carved flower and its stylized vines are typical of neo-Grec decoration.
The new building was designed to accommodate two families.  One of the tenants in 1893 suffered a horrific accident.  On November 28 the New York Herald flatly reported "John Hunt, who fell down an air shaft at No. 30 Downing street, last Sunday, and was removed to St. Vincent's Hospital, will die."

In 1894 Neppert sold the building to Peter Roberts, a contractor who lived nearby at No. 37 Sullivan Street.  Their working class status was evidenced in their job searches.  In 1898 Mrs. Mulrant described herself as a "good French cook" willing to "do laundry work;" and two years later Mrs. Roberts advertised "a respectable woman will go out to wash and iron or to do housecleaning by the day."   And in 1911 one resident was trained in an up-and-coming profession.  "Chauffeur, mechanic, wide experience, most careful, honest, attentive, wishes position, city or country.  Tibone, 30 Downing st."

Peter Roberts made improvements on the house in 1911.  Because he did the work himself and acted as his own architect he saved considerable costs.  The alterations, which included new stairways, "iron sinks," and a fire escape, cost only about $8,420 in today's money.

Roberts sold the house in 1921 to Michael Nicotini.  He held on to the property only five years, selling it to Cesare and Emilia Pirro in 1926.  They made significant changes to the appearance in 1930 when they hired architect Ferdinand Savignano to remove the stoop and lower the entrance to the sidewalk level.  Neither the Pirros nor Savignano were interested in stylistic continuity.  The new Colonial Revival doorway was noticeably out of touch with the rest of the building.

Savignano replaced the double-hung windows of the first floor with French windows.  via the NYC Department of  Records & Information Services
In 1986 another renovation was begun.  Completed two years later, it resulted in two duplex apartments--essentially the vision Francis Neppert originally had for the interior configuration.

photographs by the author

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