Wednesday, April 7, 2021

The Charles S. Holt House - 58 Downing Street


In the first years of the 1840's Charles S. Holt lived in the brick-faced house at No. 58 Downing Street.  Just 16-feet wide and two-and-a-half stories tall, it reflected the owner's moderate income.  The enterprising Holt sat out to make soap, most likely in a smaller building in the rear yard, but his ambitious venture led to his arrest.  

On October 22, 1842 the Mourning Courier reported that he "was tried for a public nuisance, in boiling stinking and rotten meats on the premises occupied by him, No. 58 Downing street, for the purpose of extracting the grease therefrom, he being engaged in the business of a tallow chandler."  Neighbors complained that the odors were so foul that they were forced to vacate their homes.  Holt got off easily, as it turned out.  The New York Herald reported two days later that his sentence was suspended because the judges "presumed that he would abate the nuisance."

Holt apparently did so and, in fact, his business seems to have succeeded.  By 1847 he was living almost directly behind the Downing Street house, at No. 53 Hamersley Street (later renamed West Houston Street) and operated a soap factory next door at No. 51.

No. 58 Downing Street became home to Charles Skinner, a porter, and his wife Christina.  To supplement their incomes the couple took in a boarder, James McIntyre, in 1855.  Interestingly, McIntyre had been renting a room in Charles Holt's Hamersley Street house previous to this.

Charles Skinner died in 1856.  Christina stayed on in the house and continued to take in boarders.  That year her renters were John Gilmore, a carman, and Charles H. Heartfield, a painter.  Christina no longer appears at the address after 1868.  It is unclear if she merely moved away, but it is more likely that she
died in the house.

The beautifully paneled sides of the entrance and wooden transom are intact.

Close inspection shows that the brass escutcheon of the door bell pull (right) on one of the pencil-thin colonettes survives.  

It became the property of Jonathan and Jane Nichols.  The couple actively bought and sold real estate as investments.  In 1878 they hired architect Jonathan Wheeler, Jr. to raise the attic level to a full story at a cost of just over $66,000 today.  The renovation was seamlessly executed, the perfectly matching brick leaving no telltale scar.  A modern Italianate cornice and matching lintels were installed.

The Nichols retained possession for years, leasing the house to two families at a time.  Policeman David Harvey and his family were initial tenants of the renovated house, living here from 1879 through 1886.  They shared it over the years with the families of Samuel M. Housley, a clerk, and printer Charles Healy.

Jane and Jonathan Nichols sold No. 58 to the wealthy Ebenezer Bailey in 1886 (probably not coincidentally the same year the Harvey family left).   Like the Nichols, the purchase was purely for investment and he leased it to no more than two families at a time.

Among his tenants in 1897 were the family of William Altie, a fireman with Engine Company No. 13.  The family received a scare on the night of June 7.  Altie's company responded to a fire and as the galloping horses pulled the engine through the streets, Altie was thrown off at the corner of Canal and Wooster Streets.  An ambulance surgeon treated him on the site for face and leg injuries, after which he was taken home.

Ebenezer Bailey died in March 1914 and the following year his estate sold his several investment properties.  The auction listing described No. 58 Downing Street as having 11 rooms.  It was purchased by Charles and Elizabeth Hanson who, once again, leased it.

The surnames of their tenants reflected the changing demographics of the Greenwich Village neighborhood.  In 1917 they leased the house to a Mrs. Cantalupo, and in 1919 to Gaetano and Josephine La Spina.  

No. 58 saw two more owners during the next decade.  David I. Christie (who owned the stables next door) purchased it from the Hansons, and resold it in 1922 to Samuel Mitchell, who announced it would be used as a private resident--although he did not say it was he who would be living there.  In 1931 it was purchased by Luigi Bacigalupo.

Khuda Boket lived in the house in 1941 when he joined a long list of members of the India Welfare League, Inc. in sending a letter to the Secretary of War pledging "our utmost support to the Government of the United States of America and to give all aid and assistance of which we are capable which may be requested of us in the present crisis."

What seemed the inevitable finally came in 1960 when a conversion resulted in one apartment per floor.  But that was reversed when in a subsequent renovation brought No. 58 back to a single family home.  

The Downing Street neighborhood had markedly changed from one of immigrants and stables.  When author and political scientist Ian Bremmer put the house on the market in August 2013, it was described as including "a landscaped garden, English basement, [and] wood-beamed ceilings."

It was eventually purchased by Food Network's Chef Michael Symon, co-host of "The Chew" in April 2015 for $5.14 million.  Only a year-and-a-half later he relisted it.  Other than the double parlor window, the house is remarkably intact since the top floor was raised in 1878.

photographs by the author

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