In 1844 William P. Furniss, a financier, completed construction of five 23-foot-wide homes along the north wide of Clinton Place between Fifth and Sixth Avenues. (The section of 8th Street, between Fourth and Sixth Avenues, had been given the name in 1832, to honor former Govern De Witt Clinton.) The identical Greek Revival residences rose three stories above an English basement. That they were designed for well-heeled residents was evident in the auction listing of the homes on March 22, 1844. Included in the amenities were a marble mantle in the "basement room." This was the informal family dining room--the parlor floor dining room used only for entertaining. There were "two fire places in the kitchen," which was "fitted with patent kitchen range." The mention of "Croton boilers and pipe for baths in the second story" revealed that the houses had running hot and cold water.
The parlor floor woodwork was mahogany. On that level was also the "butler room and closet." There were four bedrooms, each with a marble mantel, and a bathroom on the second floor, and four more bedrooms on the third. The bedrooms were "conveniently arranged with closets, clothes presses, &c." The short, attic level was intended "for clothes, &c."
Among the row was 113 Clinton Place (renumbered 41 West 8th Street around 1900), which became home to broker Alfred Colvill. Living with the family in 1848 was Jonathan McKeon, a former District Attorney, who worked at "New City Hall."
The Covills left Clinton Place in 1852 and their home became an upscale boarding house. Interestingly, Jonathan McKeon remained, at least through 1854. And advertisement in the New York Herald on October 13, 1853 offered:
Board--Several gentlemen may have pleasant and well furnished rooms at 113 Clinton place, between Fifth and Sixth avenues. Those who desire to locate permanently, may find here, at a comparatively low price, the comforts of a first class hotel, without its inconvenience.
The affluent nature of the boarders was evidenced in the assessed values of the properties owned by two of them, William D. Hart and Stephen Laselle, in 1856. Hart paid taxes on property assessed at $10,000 (about $315,000 today), and Laselle on real estate worth $15,000.
A macabre story played out here in 1867. Mrs. Sophia Heinzelman ran the boarding house, and among her boarders in 1860 were John Hartel and his wife. On November 30, Mrs. Hartel gave birth to a baby girl, Katy, and Sophia Heinzelman was made its godmother. Seven days after giving birth, Mrs. Hartel died. John Hartel, according to The New York Times later, "sought the assistance of Mrs. Heinzelman, who was engaged to take care of the girl and bring her up."
The trouble was that Hartel was convinced that the baby was not his. And as time passed, his animosity towards Katy grew worse, and his thoughts darker. On May 7, 1867 The New York Times said, "For reasons best known to himself, the unnatural father determined upon destroying his child."
Hartel repeatedly enlisted Sophia's help to murder the little girl. The New York Times related, "He frequently told her that he wished her to expose the child to the cold and damp air with insufficient clothing, so that she would take cold and die." Sophia refused.
A one point, when Katy became ill, Dr. Henry F. Topping, a friend of Hartel, made up a mixture "which he said would effect a cure," said Sophia. According to The New York Times, "Suspecting something wrong, the woman did not administer the medicine to the child, but carried it to a chemist [i.e., a pharmacist], who, upon careful examination, discovered that it contained a large quantity of prussic acid."
Another time when Katy was not well, her father attempted to give her the entire contents of a bottle of "sleeping potion," the suggested dose being four drops. Once again, the vigilant Sophia Heinzelman intervened in in time.
Apparently realizing his plans would never be realized as long as Katy was protected by her godmother, on April 30, 1867 Hartel "abducted the girl from the house." Sophia rushed to the police station to report the incident, but a week later there was still no sign of Hartel and Katy. On May 7, The New York Times reported that Sophia believed "that the father has at last succeeded in taking the life of his little one, and she prayed for his arrest upon such a charge, in order that the trust might be ascertained."
Supporting Sophia's story was Mary Heuk, a domestic in the Clinton Place house. She told a judge "that she heard Hartel say at one time that the child would surely die on the succeeding Friday, and that all the arrangements had been made for the funeral."
John Hartel was found and he and Dr. Henry Topping were both arrested "upon the charge of being implicated in the supposed murder of a child...named Katy, aged 7 years." Both pleaded innocent.
During the trial several witnesses testified that Hartel had talked about murdering his daughter. Then, on May 11, Hartel's lawyer produced a paper that said Katy was "living and under the care" of the Child's Nursery and Hospital on Lexington Avenue at 51st Street. The judge did not, apparently, consider that Hartel had never brought up this significant detail in his own defense, nor did he order that the child be brought to court as proof. Instead, he simply acquitted both John Hartel and Dr. Topping. (One assumes that John Hartel was required to find new lodgings.)
Sophia Heinzelman's other boarders at the time were less newsworthy. Grace Griffith, a widow, made extra money by taking in sewing, and Dr. Silas Lounsberry was a dentist.
In the fall of 1872 the Heinzelmans left New York. The auction sale of their furnishings reflected the comfortable surroundings in which their boarders had lived. Among the items were a "Marie Antoinette style Parlor Suit in crimson satin," "paintings, mirrors, bronzes," and a "magnificent rosewood grand scale patent agraffe Pianoforte."
The house, once again, became a private home. But not for long. It was purchased by Albert A. Vandenhoff, who filled it with costly furnishings and artwork. An inventory included "Grand Duchess" parlor furniture, a rosewood piano that cost $900 (more than $20,000 today), and "fine oil paintings."
It was possibly Vandenhoff who raised the attic to full height, gave the house an updated neo-Grec style cornice, and matching sheet metal cornices above the windows. Unfortunately, Vandenhoff died only months after moving in.
In 1873, the basement level was converted to a store, home to Julius Lechman's hat shop. The upper floors were leased as apartments. An advertisement in April 1874 offered, "To Let--Third floor, four rooms, and two rooms on fourth floor." The ad stressed "to adults only" and touted "gas, hot and cold water." Rent was $42 per month (about $985 today).
The house was now owned by John Sullivan, who lived here with his wife, Honora and their son James. Their tenants continued to be professional. Living here in 1879 were Edward L. and William F. Kellogg, of the E. L. Kellog & Co. publishing firm; real estate agent Thomas Miller and his wife; jeweler Emile Waldt; and Bernard Lynch, a journalist.
Mrs. Miller lost what was apparently a very pampered pet in November 1879. She offered a $5 reward for the return of a "small black and tan Bitch; had on red blanket, trimmed with blue; celluloid collar."
James Sullivan had moved to East 85th Street around the time of his father's death in 1886. For some reason, his 14 year old daughter, Julie Theresa, remained with Honora in the Clinton Place house in 1887. By the time the house was sold in 1906, the street was known as West 8th Street and the tenants were less affluent.
Living here in 1907, for instance, was Charles Deebach. The 40-year-old worked in a paper box factory on Washington Street. He suffered a skull fracture at work on October 16 when he "was struck by an iron roller."
At the time, the basement commercial space was home to G. D. Doykos's fur store. An advertisement that year offered, "Mink, squirrel, Persian paw and blue lynx, pieces, sets. Squirrel, mink and ermine tails. Sable ears and Mink heads." A decade later the commercial space was home to Bertha M. Will's Do Drop Inn.
The estate of John Sullivan sold the house on June 16, 1919. By then Greenwich Village, especially the area surrounding Washington Square, was the center of Manhattan's artistic community. The building was renovated into a "studio apartment house," its upper floor spaces intended for artists.
In 1923 Anne Sprague McDonald, the American representative of Italian author Luigi Pirandello lived here. On the third floor was the studio of artist Burton Rice. Other tenants were Mrs. Emma von Zeitler, who lived in the rear apartment on the second floor; and the French puppeteer and marionette maker, Jean Gros. Gros was famous for his transforming popular plays--like Huckleberry Finn and Alice in Wonderland--into puppet shows. His productions involved as many as 150 different characters, controlled by 2,000 strings.
On November 17, 1923, The New York Times reported, "Three spectacular rescues were made at a fire which destroyed the studio apartment house at 41 West Eight street yesterday." Emme von Zeitler had smelled the odor of burning rubber. When she opened her door she was nearly overcome by a cloud of smoke. The New York Times said, "She slammed the door and ran through the apartment to the front, shouting 'Fire!"
The flames spread rapidly through the upper floors, trapping some occupants. Emma von Zeitler climbed onto the window sill and was about to jump, until a neighbor from another building inched along the ledge above the entrance and held onto her until fire fighters could arrive.
Burton Rice was teaching H. L. Graf, Gertrude Euphrate and Edith de Tackas in his third floor studio. He opened his window and "climbed out on the ledge and swung over to a fire-escape." The fire escape was not connected to the building. A man rushed up the escape to help. "Graf, with the man holding him around the waist, leaned over and assisted the girls to the fire-escape and then led them to the street," said the article.
Jean Gros was not at home. The fire swept through his studio, destroying 200 marionettes. The blaze spread so rapidly that Anne Sprague McDonald had no time to gather anything, including "valuable manuscripts owned by Luigi Pirandello." The New York Times reported that McDonald "said she had the papers in her room, but could not stop to get them."
In repairing the fire damage, the stoop was removed and the commercial space enlarged to two floors. It became home to Helen Cramp's Kraftwoven Shop. By 1924 it was being run by Mollie Belcher Chambers.
With Prohibition ended, the commercial space became the New Trocadero restaurant. On New Year's Eve 1935, patrons paid a flat charge of $5 for the evening. The eatery remained until 1941 when Christos Bastis opened the Sea Fare restaurant in the space.
On January 13, 1942 food critic Charlotte Adams wrote in the newspaper PM, "A number of people have been telling us for several weeks that there is a wonderful little new seafood restaurant on Eighth St., and we ought to go down to try it." And so she did.
The menu said it provided "delicacies from the blue deep for sophisticated epicures." Adams was impressed. "While you will find listed all the usual things for such a place and we're sure they've done well, you will also find dishes of fish in unusual sauces which are beautifully cooked. This is not usual."
In one of the upstairs studios painter, muralist and sculptor Stepan Lazarev lived and worked for years. Born in France, he taught art in Paris before coming to New York and establishing his studio here.
The Sea Fare restaurant remained here until 1957, when it moved across the street to 44 West 8th Street. William Grimes, writing in The New York Times years later recalled, "At a time when the typical American seafood restaurant was a lobster shanty decorated with nets and cork, Mr. Bastis saw an opportunity to serve traditional Mediterranean seafood dishes in elegant surroundings and to broaden the taste of his customers by presenting them with new kinds of fish."
The new tenant of the store space could not have been more different. Record Centre was among the only stores in Manhattan to offer imported LP discs of classical music. Writing in the February 1961 issue of HiFi/Stereo Review, David Hill said, "Side by side with the familiar RCA Victor, Columbia, Mercury Capitol and Vanguard labels we find such exotic trademarks as Erato, Harmonia Mundi, Pye, Triola, Metronome, Danish Odeon, Cante, Lumen, Musica Sacra, and Fona--to name only a few."
A renovation completed in 1989 resulted in a restaurant on the ground floor, and a single apartment on the fifth. The Department of Buildings noted that the second through fourth floors were "to remain vacant." That changed in 2016 when a another remodeling produced a retail space on the ground floor, offices on the second, and one apartment each on the upper floors.
photograph by the author
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