Thursday, April 14, 2022

The John Hoban House - 259 West 21st Street


photo via

Around 1847 John Hoban erected a handsome Anglo-Italianate house on West 21st Street just west of Eighth Avenue at a time when the block was filling with upscale homes.  A two-step porch with Italianate ironwork replaced the prevalent high stoops of the period.

Although he was listed as a blacksmith, it appears that Hoban's  business was more encompassing.  He seems to have manufactured interior detailing for builders.  Living in the house with the Hoban family was cabinetmaker John Hitchcock, possibly an employee.  The house extended over a passage, or "horsewalk," at the west side of the house, which led to Hoban's shop in the rear yard.

The Hoban family left 187 West 21st Street (renumbered 259 in 1868) in 1851.  The house was purchased by Henry V. Mead and his wife, the former Mary Ann Mandeville.  Newlyweds, they had been married on February 5, that year.  Their first child, Ida, would be born here on February 24, 1856, and the couple would have three more daughters by 1868.

Mead quite likely knew John Hoban professionally.  He was a stairbuilder and now operated his business from the rear building.  He leased space in that shop to Elbert L. Burnham and Aaron Miller, whose carpentry business was named Miller & Burnham.

The businesses and the house itself were threatened on the night of November 10, 1855 when fire broke out in the stable in the rear of 187 West 21st Street.  The New York Herald reported, "Mr. Henry V. Mead, staircase builder, next door, had the rear part of his dwelling house damaged by fire.  The rear windows were burned out, and some of his lumber damaged.  Mr. Mead has an insurance of $1,000 on his stock and tools, in the Pacific Insurance Co., and $3,000 on his dwelling house."

Miller & Burnham moved out in the spring of 1856, prompting Mead to place an advertisement in the New York Herald on May 30:

Shop to Let--Part of a brick shop to let, 187 West Twenty-first street, only 100 feet from Eighth avenue; is a good location for business, and is a fine place for some light manufacturing; rent $13 per month.  Apply to H. V. Mead, on the premises.

Beginning in 1855 a relative, Henry C. Mead, lived with the couple.  He ran three clothing stores, on Chambers, Greenwich and Cherry Streets.  The Meads took in a boarder, as well, physician John B. Williams.

Henry and Mary Ann Mead suffered heartbreak in their West 21st Street home.  On February 14, 1858, ten days before her second birthday, Ida died.  Their second daughter, Sarah Elizabeth, was born on March 3, 1860, but died ten months later, on January 21, 1861.

Henry V. Mead changed occupations in 1861.  Now listed as a real estate broker with an office at 400 Eighth Avenue, he leased the rear building to William Haggerty, a carpenter, and builder Lyman B. Howard.  

A respected member of the community, in 1868 Henry V. Mead was a Board of Education trustee for the Sixteenth Ward.  That year he leased the rear building to a surprising tenant, organ builder James M. Mandeville.

The Jewish Messenger, 1868 (copyright expired)

In 1870 the Mead family moved to West 29th Street.  Henry retained possession of 259 West 21st Street, leasing it to Mary A. Smith, the widow of Philip Smith.  Living with her was her son Walter W. Smith and his wife, Eugenia.  Walter carried on the long tradition of carpenters in the house.  His business was at 208 Bleecker Street.  Renting a room from the Smiths that year was Kate E. Chatman, who taught in the Primary Department of Public School No. 38 on Clarke Street near Broome.

James Mandeville left the rear building in 1873.  Henry V. Mead listed it for rent on February 26 in the New York Herald:

Workshop to Let--259 West Twenty-First street, three story and basement brick Building, suitable for light manufacturing; rent $700.

The monthly rent would equal about $1,300 in today's money.  It was initially leased to Albert N. Gatchell, a builder, and then, in 1876, to roofer John Fyfe.  He advertised "Slate and Metal Roofing done in any part of the U.S."

While the Smiths remained in the house, Henry Mead started leasing space to other tenants in 1879.  One advertisement offered "Basement, first and Parlor Floors; has all conveniences, range, bath, washtubs, water closets &c., nine rooms; will accommodate a family of six or eight; rent only $60."  Another, on March 20, 1884, offered a smaller space.  "Desirable Floor, 5 rooms, 259 West 21st, to two of three adults, $28."  (The rent for the five-rooms would equal about $750 per month today.)

It is possible that a relative was among Henry's tenants.  On June 11, 1885 Rebecca Mead died in the house at the age of 90.  Her funeral was held here two days later.  Another funeral took place nine years later, following Eugenia A. Smith's death on September 20, 1894.

Henry V. Mead died in his West 29th Street house on November 8, 1898 at the age of 72.  His estate retained possession of 259 West 21st Street.

By now the rear building was shared by Frank Extrom's carpentry shop and Frank J. Tyler's metal working shop.  Both would remain for years.  The Tammany Times reported on July 15, 1901, "Frank Extrom, carpenter and builder, 259 West Twenty-first street, has a number of contracts in course of completion," and in the same issue said, "Frank J. Tyler, 259 West Twenty-first street, does all kinds of slate and metal roofing, furnace, range and sheet iron work at short notice."

The post World War I years saw the once elegant house being operated as a rooming house.  Among the tenants in 1924 was William Schneider.  Two years earlier, in October 1922, while he was a Justice of the Peace in Passaic, New Jersey, Schneider had been given $3,000 by a bonding company as security for a prisoner's release.  Schneider took off with the cash.

But then, on March 18, 1924 the New York Evening Post reported, "A traced telephone call resulted in the arrest today at 259 West Twenty-first street of William Schneider."  He was held in $5,000 bail at the Jefferson Market Court pending extradition.

Another roomer charged with embezzlement was George Shields, who worked as an Interborough Rapid Transit ticket agent.  On Saturday night, April 4, 1925, he disappeared from his booth "just before the arrival of the collection crew to take up the day's receipts," reported The Standard Union.  When the crew arrived, they found the safe empty.

The building in the rear yard is partially visible in this shot.  The old horsewalk appears to still be in use.  photo via the NYC Dept of Records & Information Services

It was around this time that the ground floor of the house was altered to accommodate a commercial space, home to a laundry in the Depression years.  In 1953 the house received a second renovation.  The commercial space was returned to residential, the horsewalk filled in, and a second entrance installed.   It was most likely at this time that the brownstone lintels were, inexplicably, removed.  Today there is one apartment on each floor, including the basement level, in the house.

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