Wednesday, March 10, 2021

The Renovated Joseph Marshall House - 233 West 16th Street

Joseph Marshall, a plumber, lived in the Greek Revival house at No. 151 West 16th Street by 1853.  Built as one of a row of identical homes around 1842, it was two stories tall with a squat attic level.  A stone stoop led to the entrance above the brownstone basement level.  An advertisement for one of the houses in October 1845 described marble mantelpieces and "Croton water throughout."   The mention of Croton water was significant--meaning that there was running water.

No. 151 (renumbered 233 in 1868) was offered for sale in 1856.  The 20-foot wide house was priced at $4,500--or about $140,000 today.  It became home to Joseph Leviness, a carman (or delivery driver), and his family.  They stayed only until 1860 when the "very substantially built" house was advertised for sale again.  (Leviness still owed $4,000 on his mortgage.)

Now operated as a boarding house, it appears to have briefly catered to Black tenants.  In 1861 and '62 two coachmen and their families, Richard Simmons and Edward Thomas, shared the house.  In the first years of the Civil War the city directories still felt it necessary to describe the men as "colored."

The house changed hands again around 1864.  It was possibly at this time that William Barden, a smith whose shop was two blocks to the west on West 16th Street, purchased it.  He and his wife, Elizabeth, who managed the boarding house, had a son, William, Jr.  

One of their boarders would remain for years.  Richard Wyckoff first appeared in directories here in 1864, listed as a clerk.  But by 1870 he had gone into business for himself, making rowboats.  An advertisement in The New York Herald on May 21, 1870 touted "Three new copper fastened rowboats, 14 and 15 feet long, handsomely finished for sale.  Apply to R. Wyckoff, 151 West Sixteenth street."  (Wyckoff was among the stubborn residents who refused to use the new street address, no doubt causing confusion for his potential customers.)  He would remain with the Bardens at least through 1877.

The Bardens' boarders were most often middle class.  Along with Wyckoff in 1872, for instance, were Elizabeth and John T. Page (she was a milliner and he was an engineer); Henry W. Penoier, a clerk; and Susan Kirkpatrick, a widow.

The Bardens and their boarders were the intended targets of a burglar in the summer of 1878, but he was caught in the act.  The New York Herald reported on July 29 that Patrick McNamara had been charged with having "burglarously entered the premises of Mr. William Barden, No. 233 West Sixteenth street, yesterday morning."

By now William Barden, Jr. was an adult and had a job as a wheelwright.  It is unclear if he worked in his father's shop, although it is probable.   

Around 1884, the same year that the house next door at No. 235 West 16th Street was updated, the Bardens renovated their stylistically outdated residence.  Two additional floors were added and modern neo-Grec details--like the pressed metal entrance lintel, the bracketed cornice and new stoop railings and posts--were installed.

William Barden died around 1896.  Among Elizabeth's boarders in the winter of 1896-97 was Patrick Donahue.  At around 10:00 on the night of January 16, 1897 Donahue was apparently headed home after an evening of heavy drinking.  He was only a block away, at Seventh Avenue and 15th Street, when he was set upon by two "well-known crooks," as described by the New-York Tribune.

A citizen ran up to policeman Patrick J. Kane and told him of the ongoing attack.  The newspaper said Kane "rushed to the place and found the crooks lugging a man, sodden with drink, across the street."  They tried to flee when they saw the policeman, but Kane nabbed them both.  Donahue was no more interested in going to the station house than were the robbers.  The New-York Tribune said he "declined to go quietly with the policeman, and Kane had to club the men into submission.  He broke his nightstick on Jordan."  Donahue's reluctance to go was no doubt because he knew the consequences.  He was fined $10 for intoxication (about $320 today).

On November 30 that year Elizabeth died at the age of 73.  Her funeral was held in the house two days later.  The following year her estate sold the 16th Street residence to Mary E. Udell.

Like Elizabeth, she rented rooms.  Thomas Thompson, a delivery wagon driver for the West Side Transfer Company, was among her tenants.   On August 15 that year he was driving his wagon, loaded with trunks, down Eighth Avenue at around 51st Street when his horse was spooked.  It took off at a full run down the avenue.  The Brooklyn Daily Eagle reported "At Forty-sixth street the animal fell, and Thomas Thompson, the driver, was thrown to the ground with sufficient force to break his right leg."  Thompson was taken to Bellevue Hospital and his driving career was put on hold for a time.

Amos Atkinson had well-rounded interests.  He had organized the Queens-based baseball team, the Knockers Club, and was active in the Odd Fellows and the Foresters of America.  A widower, he died in his room here at the age of 47 in August 1910.

Less respectable, or perhaps just less lucky, was Omer Gravenhise who lived here in 1927.  On July 27 that year The Yonkers Statesman reported "A colored man, describing himself as Omer Gravenhise of 233 West 16th Street, New York, was arrested today on suspicion of a felony."  Gravenhise had been involved in an accident in Yonkers.   Police found a second pair of license plates in the car, leading to "the suspicion that it had been stolen."  

In 1951 the building was converted to apartments, two per floor.  In the mid-1950's one of them was home to a clerical employee of the Indian Consulate.  Venketachalam Parameswarn was a "secretary-stenographer."

There are still two apartments per floor in the building, each boasting "three true bedrooms" as described by a realtor.  While most of the interior details have been lost, the exterior is relatively unchanged since the massive make-over in the 1880's.

photographs by the author

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