The ghost of the replacement auto glass signage from the 1980's can still be seen between the second and third floors.
In the early 19th century, the neighborhood around Tenth Avenue and West 18th Street was gritty at best. The New York Police Department described the area near the riverfront at night as "the resort of outcasts, drunkards, dissolute people, and a dangerous class of depredators and petty highwaymen." With that in mind, Ellen Sheehan, the widow of John Sheehan, must have been a tough, self-reliant woman. Starting around 1851, she ran a rooming house at 132 Tenth Avenue, a three-story, brick-faced house-and-store. Its vernacular style exhibited Italianate elements, like the full-height third floor windows, as well as Greek Revival details, as in the understated wooden cornice.
Because Ellen's roomers were transitory, many of them likely sailors, they rarely appeared in city directories. Those that did were working class. Living here in 1851 was carpenter William Roberts; in 1858 Patrick Hart, a house painter was here; and in 1861 roomer Henry McLaughlin listed his profession simply as "laborer."
At ground level was a grocery store run by Patrick Hart until around 1865, and by Adam Meinhard afterward. Then, in 1869, the personality of the space changed drastically when Francis J. McKeogh converted it to a saloon.
Police now had one more rowdy "resort" to deal with. On May 4 that year, the New York Herald reported, "During a fight which took place last evening in Francis Koegh's liquor store, No. 132 Tenth avenue, Edward Dempsey, of No. 449 West Nineteenth street, was stabbed with a knife in the hand and cheek by a man named John Mann. Dempsey's wounds are not considered dangerous. Mann was arrested."
The incident resulted in a complaint against McKeogh and a hearing was held at the Metropolitan Board of Excise on May 10 to decide whether his excise (or liquor) license would be revoked. The panel judged in his favor--a happy result for McKeogh and a less satisfactory one for the concerned neighbor.
It is impossible to know exactly how many people crowded into the upper floors at any given time. In 1870 Jacob Martz, a cabinetmaker, was the only resident listed at the address. There were far more living here, however. That year small pox broke out in New York City and spread rapidly. On April 1, 1871, the First Annual Report of the Board of Health reported six cases of small pox at 132 Tenth Avenue.
By 1876 another widow, Catherine A. Hofaner, ran the upper portion of the house. The former saloon was now the butcher shop of Henry Hobbs. As might be expected, many of Catherine's roomers were shady. One was Francis Bethel, alias Francis Rooney, a butcher who possibly worked downstairs. Bethel had another source of income as well--forgery. On August 10, 1877 he pleaded guilty to forging a $25 check "purported to be signed by James Goodheart," reported the New York Herald. "The prisoner was sentenced to four years' imprisonment."
A third widow, Jane Peel, ran the rooming house in 1879. With McKeogh's saloon gone, her roomers had to go elsewhere to imbibe. On the night of August 2, 1880, Michael Blassins and John Williams went to the saloon in the nearby boarding house at 284 Tenth Avenue. Three days earlier, Adolph Wangler had arrived in New York from Germany and taken a room there. That night he, too, was in the saloon. Blassins spoke to him, but Wangler, not speaking English, did not respond. The perceived slight did not sit well with Bassins, who "jumped up and struck him in the face," according to the New York Evening Express. As if that were not enough, "then Williams picked up a chair and struck him over the head and in the face, which broke the bridge of his nose." The proprietor called Officer Covert from the street, "who arrested the ruffians."
The unmarried Eliza Rottelersberger found herself pregnant in the spring of 1882. On March 18, Elizabeth Klink performed an abortion on the girl in her room here. She died on April 23. Klink was charged with malpractice. In court on September 27, her attorney alleged, "Eliza Rottelersberger "suffered from a painful abscess and died from the effects of lead poisoning."
When John J. Duffy purchased the building for $3,775 on February 10, 1898, it was described as a "three-story brick tenement." The price would translate to about $127,000 in 2022. Irish-born Mary Moran was likely already living here at the time. She suffered a horrific accident the following year. On September 11, 1899, the 31-year-old was crossing Eighth Avenue when she was struck by a trolley. The New York Times wrote, "her right ear was so badly torn that it will have to be removed."
Duffy's purchase of the building sparked a rapid turnover in owners. It was sold three times before 1903, and the store changed hands that many times, as well.
The Ryder family rented rooms here in 1903. Their son, 10-year-old Frank, and a group of boys stripped down to go swimming at the end of a gas company's pier at 17th Street on the Hudson River. The Sun reported, "the men on the sand schooner Racer, which lay alongside, warned them off." It was good advice, for, as the newspaper explained, "West Seventeenth street touches a point on the shore line which, with Stevens Point in Hoboken, opposite, forms the narrowest spot in the North [i.e., Hudson] River. It gets the full sweep of the tide as it swings around from the Weekawken flats."
Ryder, however, was hard-headed. "He started from the head of the slip and swam toward the schooner to show the men that he wasn't afraid of the tide," said the article. "Swimming back wasn't such easy work, and after a few minutes' hard struggle with the current, he shouted for help." Michael Gleason, the gas company's engineer, threw off his jacket and shoes and plunged off the pier. He, too, was immediately in trouble.
Two more men, David Reilly, the mate from the schooner, and dock laborer Daniel Moriarty, jumped into the swirling waters. Reilly reached the boy "just as he had about given up. Young Ryder was wild with fright and grabbed his rescuer around the neck in a grip that made him helpless," said The Sun. A watchman on the pier had jumped into a rowboat and reached the two "just as both were about done for."
In the meantime, Moriarty who "could scarcely swim a stroke," was also in trouble. Dockworkers threw him a rope and hauled him in. But Michael Gleason had been swept away. The Sun reported, "By the time [the rowboat] got them aboard, Gleason had gone under fifty feet away. The engineer did not come to the surface again."
Frank Ryder and David Reilly were taken unconscious to New York Hospital where they later recovered. But the boy's impetuous bravado had cost one man his life and endangered two others. Michael Gleason left a wife and two children.
By 1917 the ground floor had been converted to Charles Glassman's blacksmith and wheelwright shop. A large carriage bay was installed and the interior gutted. Three years later, with horses giving way to automobiles, he adapted the business. It was now the Glassman-Bartha Welding Corporation.
On July 27, 1939 The New York Sun reported that J. & S. Bear Safety Service, Inc. had leased the building for five years, "for an automobile service station." (It would more accurately be called an auto repair shop, today.)
Garage doors served the automobile repair shop in 1941. via the NYC Dept of Records & Information Services.
A renovation completed in 1956 resulted in a tire shop on the ground floor, an office on the second and storage above. The building was still used as an automobile shop in the 1980's, home to Mr. Glass, Inc. which installed replacement auto glass.
And then, the discovery of this section of Chelsea by artists sparked its refashioning. Former meat packing plants became trendy boutiques, shops and galleries. On September 5, 1997, Carol Vogel, writing in The New York Times, said, "The migration from SoHo to Chelsea continues faster than ever, with some blue-chip uptown galleries now joining the crowd." Among the established SoHo galleries to defect was Alexander & Bonin, which left 59 Wooster Street to move into 132 Tenth Avenue.
The space, where once drunken sailors and dockworkers got into knife fights, now displayed modern art, like the 1997 exhibition of works by Willie Cole, and the October 2003 showing of paintings by Stefan Kurtin. The gallery remains in the space, revealing no hint of the little structure's colorful past.
photograph by the author
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