Solomon Froeligh Banta had amassed a significant fortune by the end of the Civil War. A former alderman, he owned a carriage making operation at 609 Hudson Street and erected speculative housing in Greenwich Village. In 1867 he completed a brownstone-faced residence for his own family's use on the south side of Perry Street, between West 4th and Bleecker Streets.
Designed by architect William Naugle in the new French Second Empire style, its short stoop was protected by beefy iron railings and newels. The parlor windows within the rusticated base were fully rounded, while the doorway was segmentally arched. It wore an arched pediment supported on scrolled brackets. At the second floor, graceful molded lintels sat above the floor-to-ceiling windows . The fourth floor took the form of a stylish, slate-shingled mansard.
In 1941 the Banta house retained its entry pediment and handsome mansard. image via the NYC Dept of Records & Information Services.
Solomon's wife, Maria Roome, came from an old Greenwich Village family. Of the couple's eight children, only three--Matthias, Sarah Froeligh, and Eliza Jane--were still alive when the Perry Street house was completed. The Bantas' country home was in Englewood, New Jersey.
Matthias and his family lived at 58 Perry Street (renumbered 68 in 1879) with his parents. An attorney, he and his wife, Eliza Ann Gedney, had four children (a fifth had died in infancy).
Sadly, Solomon Banta would not enjoy his opulent new home for long. On August 6, 1868 he died "after a lingering illness," according to The New York Times, two months before his 67th birthday. Unexpectedly, his funeral was not held in the house, but at the True Dutch Reformed Church, steps away at the corner of West 4th and Perry streets.
Maria was at the New Jersey home when she died at the age of 64 on September 9, 1870. Her body was brought back to the Perry Street house for her funeral on September 12.
Matthias and his family remained in the Perry Street house. Three months after his mother's funeral, on the afternoon of New Year's Eve, it was the scene of a frightening accident. A servant, Elizabeth Coleman, was washing windows and, despite the cold weather, leaned far out of the second floor to reach the outside of the panes. The New York Dispatch reported that she "lost her hold, and fell a distance of twelve feet, fracturing her collar bone."
In 1874 Banta sold the Perry Street house to Joseph P. DeNeufville, a sashmaker whose shop was on West 20th Street near Seventh Avenue. Moving in with him and his wife Anna were their two grown sons, Joseph Jr., who worked as a clerk; Solomon B., and his wife Jennie. Solomon listed his profession simply as "merchant."
The family would remain in the house for years. Around the turn of the century it was purchased by Dr. Burnett C. McIntyre. It does not appear that McIntyre ever lived in the house, but used it for rental income. He signed leases with Annie Wallace in 1909, Paolo Costa in 1911, and Ralph Alberton in 1917.
By 1920 68 Perry Street was operated as a rooming house. In January newlyweds Frank and Nancy Best moved in. Their honeymoon period would be short. The New York Herald explained, "eleven days later [she] found Best was not a prosperous advertising man, as he had told her. She then started suit for separation."
Best had not seen the last of his wife. Two years later, she had him arrested at 14th Street and Fifth Avenue on a charge of disorderly conduct. She claimed "he had followed her from a restaurant in Greenwich Village and had annoyed her," according to the New York Herald.
In night court, Best's version was starkly different. "Best said he was seated in the Greenwich Village restaurant when his wife entered and called him outside," said the article. While Best testified, Nancy continually interrupted despite the magistrate's repeated warnings. Finally he ordered her from the courtroom.
Nancy's outbursts annoyed Magistrate Oberwager to the point that he dismissed the charges against Best. With a sexist bent typical of the period, he said, "Even if a woman sues a man for separation, she must not forget that she is still that man's wife, and he has a right to speak to her until the court legally grants her a separation."
Another set of newlyweds moved into 68 Perry Street in 1924. Isaiah "Cy" Oggins had graduated from Columbia College in 1917 with a degree in history. In 1923 he joined the Communist Workers Party of American, and the following year married Communist activist Nerma Berman. Among the couple's revolutionary friends was anarchist Emma Goldman, who lived nearby at 36 Grove Street.
The couple became members of the Soviet underground by 1926, recruited to spy abroad for the Soviet Union. They went to Germany in 1928 to establish a safe house. Oggins would never to return to the United States. In 1938 he was arrested, a victim of the Stalin purges.
Burnett G. MacIntyre hired architect Robert Techman to officially convert the house to furnished rooms in 1937. Following MacIntyre's death, his estate sold the property to Charles E. Lent in March 1944 for $12,000--about $185,000 in 2023.
Another renovation, completed in 1960, resulted in two apartments per floor. The exterior was pillaged with the removal of the entrance pediment and window lintels, a slathering of a stucco-like substance over the brownstone, and, most egregious, the replacing of the mansard with a flat-faced fourth floor and parapet.
The 1960 alterations were architecturally heartless. image via the NYC Dept of Records & Information Services.
A years-long renovation begun in 2000 laudably brought the exterior of 68 Perry Street back to a 19th century appearance. The stucco was removed and the brownstone restored, the parapet replaced with a period appropriate cornice, and refabricated stoop ironwork, lintels and entrance details installed.
photographs by the author
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