Saturday, April 1, 2023

The Thorn Walling House - 94 Bank Street


In 1752, Sir Peter Warren died, leaving his 300-acre estate on the outskirts of Greenwich Village to his three daughters.  Charlotte, who was married to the Earl of Abingdon (the namesake of Abingdon Square), inherited Warren's Greenwich Village mansion "with fifty-five acres of land around about it."

While the house survived for decades, the land around it saw streets being laid out as Greenwich Village gradually expanded.   Among them was Bank Street.  It was named for the Bank of New York which bought eight buildings lots in 1798 in case it should have to establish a branch north of the city were an epidemic to break out.

Twenty-four years later, that epidemic hit.  In 1822, yellow fever washed over New York City, killing thousands.  Bank Street saw rapid development as New Yorkers fled north, exploding the population of Greenwich Village.  William Buckland played a role in that development.

Listed as a mason in directories, Buckland was, in fact, a builder and real estate developer.  He purchased vacant land at the corner of Bank and Greenwich Streets in 1838 and began construction of three 18-foot-wide houses.  Completed the following year, the Greek Revival style residences copied the elements of their more upscale contemporaries.

No. 86 (renumbered 94 in 1867), like its identical neighbors, was two-and-a-half stories tall, the short windows of its attic floor replacing the dormers of the outgoing Federal style.  Brownstone drums at the foot of the stoop originally held decorative iron newels.  Because of the slender width of the house, the parlor windows were noticeably narrow, and the pilasters on either side of the doorway appear stilt-like.

The house was home to James Cronkright, a real estate agent, in the mid-1840's.  By 1851, the widow of John Braiden lived here.  Eliza Braiden worked as a nurse and she took in one boarder at a time.  Renting a room from her in 1851 was J. D. Dexter, a lawyer with offices at 76 Nassau Street; followed by Thomas C. Jones, a chemist (or pharmacist), whose drugstore was nearby at 757 Washington Street.  Eliza Braiden remained until about 1866, when Thorn Walling acquired the house.

Born on January 7, 1811, Walling had married Mary Jane James around 1831.  A poultry dealer in the Washington Market, he was highly involved in the butchers' and the grocerymen's organizations.  The Wallings spent their summer months in New Jersey.  Their comfortable financial situation was hinted at on June 15, 1860, when The New York Times reported that Walling had sailed his vessel in the annual regatta of the Jersey City Yacht Club two days earlier.

Mary Jane Walling died on November 3, 1872.  Her funeral was held in the Bank Street house two days later.  Thorn remained in the house, alone, until his own death on May 10, 1880.  Six months later, on November 12, the house was sold in an executor's sale for $6,800 (about $186,000 in 2023).  

The buyer, Patrick Lilly, resold 94 Bank Street in 1886 to Elizabeth and Thomas Fitzpatrick, making a significant profit.  The $7,860 they paid would equal about $234,000 today.  The couple immediately hired builder and architect W. H. Walker to modernize the dwelling.  The attic was raised to a full floor, an Italianate cornice installed, and the windows updated with sheet metal cornices and tiny corbels below the sills.  It may have been at this time that the wrought iron stoop newels were removed.

Thomas was a fire inspector for the city, the foreman of the Exempt Firemen's Association, and a trustee of the Common Schools.  As Eliza Braiden had done, the Fitzpatricks took in one boarder at a time.  In 1891 it was John McVeattie and his family.  That year both families nearly lost their home.

Across the street stood the seven-story Wilson Building, which caught fire at about 11:30 on the night of April 16.  The Evening World reported, "During the first hour after midnight the neighborhood was the scene of a very lively panic."  Firefighters fought the inferno until 4:00 a.m., leaving "a mass of smoking, smouldering ruins" which "tells the story this morning of one of the most disastrous fires that has visited New York in many years," said the newspaper.

The intense heat caused homes in the immediate vicinity to catch fire.  "Numerous tenements and private houses in Bank and Greenwich streets were threatened with destruction when the fire was at its height, and the occupants fled in terror from their homes."  The article said "in several of the buildings all the furniture in the rooms fronting on the street was destroyed, and the houses themselves [were] scorched and burned, and flooded with water."

Among those was 94 Bank Street.  The Evening World said it was "occupied by the families of Thomas Fitzpatrick and John McVeattie.  They were also driven out of the house, which is badly damaged."  The Evening Post added that the house was "burned on the side nearest the fire, but the flames did not work very far into the rooms."  It may have been Fitzpatrick's firefighting background that saved his home.

The Fitzpatricks would remain in the Bank Street house for years, continuing to take in a boarder and his family.  In 1893 Robert J. Lusk, a commissioner of deeds, lived in the house.

After having lived at 94 Bank Street for more than a quarter of a century, Thomas Fitzpatrick died in the house on April 26, 1913 at the age of 72.  In reporting on his death, The Evening Post commented, "He had been a member of the School Board of old Greenwich Village and a member of the general committee of Tammany Hall."

The house next became home to the Massey family.  In October 1917 Walter F. Massey left home to fight in World War I.  He was deployed with Company B, 129th Engineers with the American Expeditionary Forces in France.

When the house was sold seven years later, in July 1924, The Sun mentioned its venerable history.  "The property is a portion of a plot originally conveyed by Sir Peter Warren to his son-in-law, the Duke [sic] of Abingdon."

No. 94 Bank Street was divided into two duplex apartments in 1955, a configuration that remains.  Despite a coat of bubblegum-colored paint, the Walling house looks much as it did when the Fitzpatricks gave it a facelift in 1886.

photographs by the author
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1 comment:

  1. Another well-researched article. The bubble-gum color was an unfortunate choice, imo.