Saturday, October 1, 2022

The 1842 George W. Soule House - 70 Bank Street


In the early 1830's, Andrew Lockwood established the building firm Lockwood & Company at 17 Tenth Street.  Over the next two decades he would erect rows of speculative houses in Greenwich Village.  Lockwood purchased plots on Bank Street, between West 4th and Bleecker Streets, in 1835.  Four years later, in partnership with builders Baldwin & Mills, he began construction of four Greek Revival residences.
Progress was slow.  The homes were not completed until 1842.  The Greek Revival style homes were 25-feet-wide and two-and-a-half stories tall above a brownstone English basement.  Faced in red brick and trimmed in brownstone, unlike the peaked and dormered roofs of the earlier Federal style, they had short attic levels with small windows cut into the fascia board below the cornice.  Carved and applied wreaths gave the square openings the charming illusion of round oeil-de-boeuf, or ox-eye, windows.  

70 Bank Street was originally identical to its neighbor at 76 Bank Street.

The easternmost house, 60 Bank Street (renumbered 70 Bank Street in 1866), became home to George W. Soulé and his wife Ellen W.  The couple was recently married.  Soulé would testify in 1861, "I was married in 1831 or '32, I believe; I don't now recollect which."  He was a broker and a partner with J. C. Miles in a grocery business at Broome and Centre Streets.  It was the beginning of a long tradition of well-to-do grocers in the house.

Around 1853 Martin Y. Bunn purchased the house.  Born around 1818, he and his wife, Rebecca Williams, had two children, Angelina, born in 1838, and Christina, born in 1841.  Bunn was the head of the grocery firm Martin Y. Bunn & Co. at 335 Greenwich Street. 

The Bunns took in three boarders, Claus Bulwinkel, another grocer (and possibly an employee); accountant William T. Hall; and Christina Williams, the widow of Daniel Williams.

Martin Y. Bunn and William T. Hall were allied in their political views.  On October 29, 1864 The New York Times published an open letter to "The the business men of New-York" signed by dozens of merchants, including Bunn and Hall.  It warned against the reelection of the President Abraham Lincoln, and urged readers to vote instead for George B. McClellan.  It read in part:

The results of four years of the administration of Mr. Lincoln must convince all men of property, all men whose fortunes are dependent on the Banking and Mercantile interests of the country that a change is demanded in the conduct of the War, as well as in our public policy if we would avert impending ruin.

In 1867 William P. Roome moved in with the Bunn family.  Roome worked closely with Bunn in Martin Y. Bunn & Co., and by 1871 would become a partner in the firm.  

The Bunns' daughter was married in 1870.  While the newlyweds were off on their honeymoon, Martin Bunn stored their valuable wedding gifts at his office.  Three men, including William Howard, alias James Smith, alias William Johnson, broke into the building and made off with the presents.  Following Howard's arrest, according to The New York Times,  he "wrote repeatedly to the daughter of Mr. Bunn, saying that if she would only exert herself to procure his release, he would secure her the restoration of the valuable property which had been stolen."

The letters sparked compassion in Bunn's daughter and she asked Judge Bedford to suspend Howard's sentence.  Howard then arranged to meet her at a pawn shop on Grand Street where he said the items had been taken.  The New York Times reported that as the two approached the pawn shop, Howard "persuaded her not to lower her reputation by entering a questionable pawn office, and induced her to give him the money to release the goods, and await his return on the street corner."  She handed him $170 (about $3,640 in 2022) and waited.  The article said, "after waiting for over an hour, the lady realized the fact that she had been deceived."

In 1873, 70 Bank Street was briefly occupied by Samuel T. Knapp.  He most likely rented the furnished house from Martin Bunn, and was no doubt very familiar with both Bunn and William Roome.  As they did, he ran a grocery business in the Washington Market.

The following year, on April 17, 1874, an auction was held in the house of all the furnishings.  Included were "handsome Parlor Suits, in rosewood and crimson rep, mahogany and scarlet plush; marble top Centre Tables, mantel Mirrors," and similar high-end items.  

Bunn's sale of the house and his furniture may have had to do with business problems.  Like the Great Depression of 1929, the Financial Panic of 1871 ruined businessmen throughout the country.  On April 25, 1876, the New York Herald reported that Martin Y. Bunn & Co. was on the brink of bankruptcy.

The house became home to Nathaniel J. Ackerman, a builder in partnership with Alexander Steel.  Ackerman enlarged the house by raising the height to four full floors.  The renovations included a handsome Italianate cornice.  Like the Bunns, Ackerman and his wife, Mary, took in boarders.  Living with the family in 1876 were Amelia Strange, the widow of Samuel Strange; and the Schureman family.  Melancthon F. Schureman was woodworker, and Henry H. Schureman made his living as a clerk.

In 1879, the Ackermans' son, Gilbert, now a young adult, landed a job as a clerk. (The position, quite possibly, was in his father's business.)

Ackerman made another renovation in 1886.  He hired architect C. T. Galloway to design a nine-foot-wide extension to the rear "for dumb-waiter."  The work cost Ackerman the equivalent of about $9,000 in today's money.

Nathaniel J. Ackerman died of a heart attack on September 17, 1896 at the age of 69.  In reporting his death, The Yonkers Statesman noted, "He was a builder by trade, and erected several fine school-houses."  His funeral was held in the Bank Street house at 8:00 on the evening of September 18.

Attorney Edward J. Tinsdale boarded in the house by 1898.  He was the head of the law firm of Tinsdale, Young & Stephens.  On the afternoon of July 10 that year, Daniel Gibbons entered the offices and asked for an attorney named Young.  Gibbons then accused Young of "betraying his trust," according to the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, and striking the 75-year-old attorney in the face.  Hearing the commotion, Tinsdale rushed from his office and "attempted the part of peacemaker."  

Gibbons, instead, "struck him with his left hand between the eyes, at the same time burying the blade of a pocket knife in Tinsdale's left arm."  Despite his wound, Tinsdale managed to wrestle Gibbons into an unoccupied office and lock the door, trapping him.  Gibbons was arrested and charged with felonious assault.  Oddly enough, the reason behind the original assault remained a mystery.  None of the parties would divulge anything about the dealings between Gibbons and Young.

Before the turn of the century, Mary E. Ackerman moved to Yonkers.  She retained possession of the Bank Street house and made minor renovations in July 1900.

In March 1927, 70 Bank Street was purchased by Lawrence U. Bertini, described by The New York Sun as "theater man and builder, who will alter the property into studio apartments."

Living in one of those apartments in 1933 were producer Howard Benedict and his wife.  During the 1920's he had been press agent for entertainment figures like George Gershwin and Noel Coward.  He also wrote humorous stage material for the New York stage.  In his "Broadway After Dark" column on September 23, 1933, The New York Sun journalist Ward Morehouse commented, "The Howard Benedicts are entertaining these evenings at 70 Bank street."  Within a few years the couple would move to Hollywood where Benedict became a producer at RKO and Universal Studios.

A remodeling completed before 1940 resulted in two apartments in the basement level, one on the first floor, and two each on the upper floors.  The modernization including the removal of the molded lintels and the stoop.  The entrance, now at the former English basement level, was given a Gothic, pointed arched doorway.

A tax photograph of 1941 shows the new entrance and the shaved lintels.  The image reveals the various changes to the houses along the row.  via the NYC Dept. of Records & Information Services.

Living in the first floor apartment in 1984 was 46-year-old real estate broker Jerry Schwartz.  He worked for the firm William B. May & Company.  On the evening of January 16 that year, Schwartz had arranged to meet a nephew and a cousin for dinner at 6:00, but he never showed up.

Around 9:00 the two men went to Schwartz's apartment to check on him and found the door ajar.  Schwartz was dead on the living room floor, stabbed to death.  The murder weapon was near his body.  According to a police spokesperson, "the apartment had been ransacked, but there were no signs of a break-in."

The house was put on the market in 2013 for $14.65 million.  A major renovation/restoration by Steven Harris Architects was begun two years later.  Completed in 2019, the single-family house shows no evidence of the 1930's architectural vandalism.  The stoop and Greek Revival entrance were meticulously refabricated and the window lintels restored.

photographs by the author
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