Wednesday, August 9, 2023

The 1856 James W. Elliot House - 11 Abingdon Square


The once-handsome residence suffered abuse in the 20th century.

The extension of Eighth Avenue northward through Greenwich Village created a trapezoidal plot of ground between it and Bank, Hudson and Troy (later West 12th) Streets.  On March 4, 1812, the Common Council declared the otherwise useless space a park.  Because it sat within the former 300-acre estate of Sir Peter Warren, whose eldest daughter had married the Earl of Abingdon, it was named Abingdon Square.   The blocks of Hudson Street and Eighth Avenue fronting the park were, likewise, named Abingdon Square.

By the 1850s, both sides of the park were filling with upscale residences, and in 1855 James Woodward Elliot and his wife Mary began construction of another at 11 Abingdon Square.  Their five-story, brownstone-faced home was three bays wide.  Its Anglo-Italianate design included a rusticated base above a short stoop.  The architrave frames of the upper floor, segmentally arched windows wore corniced lintels.  Between the scrolled brackets of the terminal cornice were ornamental panels.

Born in England in 1824, James Woodward Elliot was brought to America as a boy.  In 1850 he graduated from the New York College of Physicians.  He and Mary had a son, Henry T.  Living with the family was James's brother, Frederic.  The two men had earned their medical degrees simultaneously.

Perhaps fearing confusion on the part of visitors or patients, the family used the addresses 2 Eighth Avenue and 11 Abingdon Square interchangeably.  James Elliot listed his office hours as 8 a.m. to 10 a.m.  The bulk of his day was spent away from the house, visiting patients and tending to his charitable works.  He was, for instance, the vice-president of the St. Barnabas's Free Reading Room of the New-York Protestant Episcopal City Mission Society.

Sadly, two years after moving in the new house, Mary Elliot died on October 25, 1858.  She was 40 years old.  Within a few years, Elliot remarried.  He and his wife Carrie J. welcomed a baby girl named Carrie Augustine on August 14, 1863.  The parlor of 11 Abingdon Square was again the scene of a funeral when the little girl died one day after her first birthday on August 15, 1864.

Other than a fire escape, as late as 1940, the house was perfectly intact.  image via the NYC Dept of Records & Information Services.

In April 1870 the family advertised their house for rent.  James Elliot's ad read:

I will let my five story brown stone (English basement) House, No. 2 Eighth avenue (11 Abingdon square), for $2,000; put in complete order; been occupied by two first class physicians for ten years.

The Elliots' decision to move may have had to do with Henry's now being a physician like his father and uncle.  The family moved to 34th Street where all three doctors shared an office.

No. 11 Abingdon Square was leased to real estate operator R. Walton, who ran his business from the house.  The Elliots' office was leased to Dr. Stephen W. Roof.  Walton, as well, leased rooms in the commodious residence.  Among his roomers in 1873 were George W. and J. L. Sherman.  Mrs. Sherman had a baby girl, Lavinia J., in November that year.  The infant died at eight weeks old two days before Christmas.

It may have been the Shermans' rooms that were advertised for rent in October the following year.  The ad read:

Abingdon Square, near West Twelfth street--Third Floor, five rooms; all improvements; rent to suit if party is right; possession immediately.  Apply at 11 Abingdon square.

The Elliot family returned to 11 Abingdon Square around 1877.  Renting space in the house and possibly working with Elliot, Frederic and Henry was Dr. Bernhard Grunhut.  Also renting a room was Sarah Faulds, a school teacher.

Aside from his medical practice, Bernhard Grunhut invested in real estate.  In November 1877, for example, he erected a four-story brick apartment building at 236 Spring Street.  He would remain with the family through 1880.

That year policeman William T. R. Lowe rented a room (possibly Grunhut's former space).  Unexpectedly, the 34-year-old died on October 26.  His funeral was held in the parlor two days later.

James W. Elliot had continued his charitable works.  In 1876 he became involved with the City Mission and, in addition to his work with the St. Barnabas's Reading Room, he became superintendent of the Sunday School of St. Barnabas's Chapel.

All three of the Elliot doctors were practicing from 11 Abington Square in 1883, according to The Medical Register.  Within two years, however, that all changed.  On May 1, 1884, James and Carrie Elliot signed a lease on a house at 160 West 14th Street, and in 1885 Henry T. was the only Elliot still listed at 11 Abingdon Square.

Sharing the house with Henry and his family were the Gallaghers.  Dr. Edward J. Gallagher was a police surgeon, and William C. Gallagher was a physician, as well.  Presumably the three doctors shared the office.

Dr. James Woodward Elliot did at the age of 72 on February 28, 1896.  By then his former home on Abingdon Square had been sold for several years.  Living here at the time was the Stoddart family, who suffered public humiliation later that year.

On May 7, 1896, The New York Press reported, "Mrs. Jennie V. O'Connor, private detective in a Sixth avenue dry goods shop, caused the arrest yesterday of two well-dressed women, mother and daughter, for shoplifting."  Those women were Anna L. Stoddart and her daughter, Louise.  The detective accused them of stealing two parasols.  In court they insisted they had bought them in Boston.  The standoff resulted in their being held in jail awaiting trial.

By 1899 George B. and Eleanor Otten owned 11 Abingdon Square.  He was the owner of Otten's Express, a delivery service.  The family remained in the house through the early 1910s.

Little by little throughout the first half of the 20th century, the once fashionable Greek Revival and Italianate houses along the block were demolished, replaced by apartment buildings.  By the 1940s, 11 Abingdon Square was the last surviving house on the block.

Then, a renovation completed in 1948 resulted in furnished rooms on the upper floors.  It was most likely at this time that the stoop was removed, the floor-to-ceiling second floor windows were partially bricked up, and an Art Moderne metal storefront installed for a restaurant.

In the early 1980s, the space was home to the Alamo Cafe bar and grill, described by The New York Times food critic Mimi Sheraton on October 23, 1981 as "friendly, if seedy."  She was tepid in her assessment of the cuisine, a blend of Texas and Mexican dishes. 

In April 1992, the ground floor became home to  the Italian restaurant Mappamondo.  It was apparently the first stage of a renovation to the building that was still ongoing upstairs.  In 1993 what had been furnished rooms were now Class A apartments.

Mappamondo was replaced by Shag in July 2003, so named for the white shag carpeting that covered the walls.  The restaurant served "small plates, like mini-hamburgers," according to Florence Fabricant of The New York Times shortly after its opening.  More recently, the Ethopian restaurant Injera was in the space, and in 2023 Cappone's, an Italian sandwich shop, signed a lease.

The pressed metal storefront has been badly abused.

Easily passed by, today the former Elliot house struggles to suggest its former refinement or the gentility of the Abingdon Square neighborhood.

many thanks to reader Mar Fitzgerald for prompting this post
photographs by the author has no authorization to reuse the content of this blog


  1. I wonder if the ceilings in the second floor interiors were dropped to match those crummy windows.

    1. A good question. They are the sort of renovation that prompts the question, "why?"