In 1845 builder Abraham Frazee completed construction on a three-story house at 46 Perry Street in Greenwich Village. Faced in red brick, its Greek Revival design included delicate iron stoop railings, a narrow, transomed entranceway flanked by pilasters and a dentiled cornice. To the right of the stoop, a horsewalk provided access to the rear yard. It was most likely originally protected by an iron gate. As was common at the time, the rear yard held a second structure, in this case a three-story-and-basement shop.
A "builder" like Frazee would be more accurately be described today as a real estate developer or general contractor. Affluent and successful, he was a trustee in the Irving Savings Institution, as well. It is unclear whether the Frazee family ever lived in the Perry Street house, although the expansive shop in the rear would have been suitable for his uses. What is certain is that by 1853 he was leasing the house to Thomas Smith and his family, while living nearby at 42 Charles Street.
Thomas Smith was a retired "tinman," in 1853. It is possible he had operated his tin smith business from the shop. Smith and his wife had three grown sons, Daniel P., Robert L. and Thomas, Jr. Living with them was Smith's unmarried sister-in-law Mary Logan. She died at the age of 64 on March 3, 1854 and her funeral was held in the parlor two days later.
In 1855, an advertisement appeared in the New York Herald offering, "To let cheap--A shop in the rear of 46 Perry street. It is 25 by 25, cellar and three stories above." It was rented by David A. Demarest and William L. McDermut for their carpentry business, McDermut & Demarest.
While the carpenters plied their trade in the rear during the late 1850's, the residence was being operated as a boarding house, apparently by Phoebe Frazee. Her boarders were mostly widowed women--Elizabeth Allen, Elizabeth Kinsey (who listed herself as a "vestmaker"), and Eliza Vanblarcum. Her one male boarder was a plumber, William Allen.
At the end of the Civil War, the rear building was converted for residential purposes. Hugh Murray, who ran a cap business on Grand Street, occupied the main house in 1867. His family rented extra space that year, offering "to a small respectable family only, a floor, with water and gas." Murray filled the rear house with a host of working class tenants--William Avery, who was in the ice business; carman (or cab driver) Louis Blanchard; Francis J. Burns, a carpenter; the appropriately named tailor Henry Cloth; and painter William C. Strong.
Henry W. Thode and his wife, the former Marie Elise Lohman, purchased 46 Perry Street around 1872. Born in Germany around 1828, Thode had come to America as a boy. He was a grocer, his store being at 203 West 4th Street. The couple had two sons, John and William, and a daughter. The family took in a single boarder in 1873, carpenter Frank Burns.
And like Hugh Murray, the Thodes rented space in the rear building to surprising number of working class tenants. That year their six tenants (and their families in some cases), included two laborers, three widows, and a carman. All were Irish immigrants except for Alice McGown. It was likely she who placed a position wanted ad in the New York Herald on December 17, 1878 that read, "46 Perry St, Rear--A Scotch Protestant woman as cook. city reference."
In 1884 the Common Council granted a franchise to the Broadway Surface Railroad, a deal that quickly came under suspicion. Alderman Arthur J. McQuade was accused of accepting bribes and was tried twice. The first trial ended with a hung jury, but he was convicted at the second. When his attorneys brought the case back to court on appeal in 1886, they faced a daunting task in selecting a jury. And they would not find a member in Henry W. Thode.
On December 7, 1886, The Evening Post reported, "The weary process of endeavoring to obtain a jury to try ex-Alderman Arthur J. McQuade was continued to-day [and] at half-past eleven o'clock the examination of Henry W. Thode, 'gentleman, 46 Perry Street,' was conducted by Col. Fellows. It took only a few minute to develop the fact that Mr. Thode had a very strong opinion on the case, and he was therefore excused."
Henry Thode retired in 1885. It appears he sold his business to Charles A. Bohlen, who rented the Perry Street house in 1889 and ran his grocery on West 4th Street. Henry and Marie moved to the home of their married daughter in Brooklyn Heights, while continuing to rent 46 Perry Street.
Thode caught a cold in May 1904, which worsened into bronchial pneumonia. He died a week later on May 25 at the age of 76. Seven months later, on December 3, the Record & Guide reported that his estate had sold "46 Perry st., a front and rear tenement" to Alexander Steel.
The catch-all term "tenement" at the turn of the last century covered all multi-family structures, and, in fact, the house proper still had only one tenant, Charles A. Bohlen. In 1906 Steel sold the property. His buyer was his long-term tenant, Charles Bohlen, whose family remained in the house well into the 1920's. By then, Bohlen's son-in-law, Charles B. Lowe, was a partner in the investment firm of Stillwell, Leffler & Lowe.
The accommodations in the rear house had greatly improved since the days of Irish workers. An ad in The New York Times on November 18, 1926 read:
Greenwich Village (46 Perry St., rear)--3 rooms with bath, complete housekeeping, quiet, convenient location; suitable for business woman; $50 monthly.
The term "complete housekeeping" meant there was a kitchen, or a kitchenette. The rent would convert to about $765 per month today.
In 1948 the main house was converted to apartments, one per floor. It was the setting of the television series "Apartment 3-C" with real-life residents John and Barbara Gay in 1949. The series ran for just one season.
A renovation to both buildings, completed in 1958, resulted in two duplex apartments in each. It was most likely at this time that the horsewalk was closed in and given a laudable simulation of the original entrance.
The lower duplex of the main house was a tempting target f0r burglars Mandel Amos and Darrell Hunt in the night of April 39, 1993. But they had already raised the suspicions of undercover policemen Clifford Allen and Daniel Gardner and two uniformed officers, Sgt. William Abramo and William Bastone. According to Abramo later, they "had spotted the pair moving in and out of doorways" and began following them.
They were able to do so unnoticed because the undercover cops were riding in an Anti-Crime Unit taxi. As one of the crooks stood watch on the sidewalk, the other pushed an air conditioner through a ground floor window and climbed in. Then the second thief followed. After about 30 minutes, they emerged, "carrying several duffle bags and knapsacks packed with two VCRs, camera equipment and a television set wrapped in a sheet," according to Sgt. Abramo. It was too much to carry, and so Hung and Amos looked up and down the street for a cab. Clifford Allen drove the cab up, and officer Gardner, posing as a casual passerby, stopped to open the cab door for the overly-laden men. Once in the cab, they were transported to the police station.
In 2006 the front house was re-converted to a single family home, and the rear house to a triplex and one apartment.
photographs by the author
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