Thursday, September 14, 2023

The 1831 William Laird Porterhouse - 106 Greenwich Ave


In the 17th century, the diagonally-running Sand Hill Road, sometimes called Monument Lane, followed an earlier Native American trail.  Towards the end of the 18th century, its name was changed to Old Greenwich Lane (or simply Greenwich Lane), and in 1843 finally renamed Greenwich Avenue.  By then, the expansion of Greenwich Village had overtaken the roadway, which was now lined with homes and shops.

Thirteen years earlier, Dr. James Cameron had purchased building lots on Greenwich Lane from John Harris.  Cameron, who lived nearby on Hudson Street, erected an unassuming, vernacular style house-and-store at 106 Greenwich Lane, completed in 1831.  Above the ground floor shop were two floors of brick.  The six-0ver-six paned windows wore flat lintels and sills, and a delicately dentiled cornice crowned the design.

As early as 1840, William Laird's porterhouse occupied the store level while he and his family lived upstairs.  (A porterhouse was a tavern and restaurant where malt liquor, such as porter, was sold.)  As was common, in the rear yard was a smaller house, which was rented to Joseph Thompson, a gardener, that year.

Laird was described by the New-York Tribune in 1842 as "an old man, and has been been afflicted for years with a paralytic stroke."  For some reason, on December 1, 1841 he was in the notorious Five Points section downtown, when John O'Connor became convinced that Laird had thrown a brickbat through his window.

The following day, the New York Herald reported that O'Conner had been "charged with an outrageous assault and battery on William Laird whom he struck a violent blow on the side of the head with a huge club, knocking him down and placing his life in danger."  When Police Officer McComb came upon the scene, Laird was lying in a snowbank and O'Connor was "beating him over his head with a large hickory club," according to the New-York Tribune.  

O'Connor's trial was held on January 7.  The New-York Tribune reported, "It was proved by officer McComb, as well as Wm. Laird, that the assault was of the most outrageous character, so much so that in all probability the man would have been killed if it had not been for the interference of the officer."  John O'Connor was sentenced to 30 days in jail and a $25 fine (about $925 in 2023).

Before 1845, Laird's porterhouse was renovated for Peter B. Marks's butcher store.  The Laird family may have still lived upstairs, since Marks's home was at Seventh Avenue and 17th Street.

Eli C. Thompkins ran the butcher store in 1851.  By now the upper floors were home to three working class families.  Peter McBride was a carman, or delivery driver; James Mooney was a mason; and Janet McGarrett, presumably a widow, sold toys.

The butcher store changed hands again by 1853, when John Rudman, who lived across the street at 89 Greenwich Avenue, ran the business.   The families of two brewers, Miles Kneeland and Thomas Marrigan, shared in the upper floors.

The wives and daughters of the families who lived at 106 Greenwich Avenue necessarily worked, as well.  An advertisement in the New York Herald on February 27, 1855 read, "Wanted--By a Protestant girl, a situation in some small family, to do general housework."  And the following year in October an advertisement was placed by two women who appear to be sisters:

Wanted--Situations, by two young women; one as first rate cook, and to assist in washing and ironing; the other as chambermaid and waiter; has no objection to assist in washing.  The best of city reference given from their last place, where they lived the last four years.  Apply at 106 Greenwich avenue, between 12th and 13th sts.

By 1857 Henry Schlegel ran the butcher shop.  The upper floors were occupied by a single family again in 1865, when the occupants advertised a furnished room for rent.  Noting it was "handsomely furnished" in "the house of a private family," the advertisement described the room as "suitable for a single gentleman, without board."  (The last caveat made it clear that the renter would have to find his meals elsewhere.)

Peter Carroll lived in the house in the summer of 1870 when a confrontation with Thomas McFadden resulted in a gruesome injury.  McFadden operated a saloon on West Houston Street.  On June 20, the New York Herald reported that he had been charged "with assaulting Peter Carroll...biting out a portion of his lip."

Both 106 and 108 Greenwich Avenue were owned by Christian Wolf by the 1880s.  In 1882 he leased 106 Greenwich Avenue to German-born Louis Koelsch, who appears to have continued running the butcher store.  He was still here in 1890 when Wolf's estate sold both properties to Friedrich Knubel for a total of $19,500.  That price would translate to just under $650,000 today.

Thomas J. Fallon operated the butcher shop in 1896.  At least two tenants lived upstairs: John Froelich was a saloon keeper, and Augustus F. Urben did not list a profession.  Whatever his business, the 23-year-old found himself in trouble on May 22, 1896 when he was arrested while riding a bicycle at 110th Street and Lenox Avenue.  According to the New York Herald he was charged with stealing Walter R. Greville's $100 bicycle from 36 Barrow Street on May 16.  The article said, "Urben said he could prove that he bought the wheel in good faith, without knowing that it had been stolen."  He was held in $1,000 bail awaiting trial.

Another tenant to land in jail was William Connors, who lived here in 1903.  He was arrested in a raid on six poolrooms (illegal betting operations) on June 26.  The New York Press reported that officers had used "axes, ladders and the usual methods of forcible entry."  The article said that eight patrol wagons were necessary to haul away 592 prisoners.  According to police, of the five "alleged principals" arrested was William Connors.

After having been a butcher shop for more than half a century, in 1907 the H. T. F. & O. Hartemann fish market occupied the store.  Harry Hartemann received a summons from the Department of Labor in 1912 for "employing children under 14 years of age."

In the meantime, the Ezaqul family rented rooms upstairs in 1908.  As with all working class families, their 16-year-0ld son Reginald worked.  He rode his bicycle back and forth to his job at the Conlin Brothers store at 40 Tenth Avenue.  But on Saturday, July 11, he never returned home.

The Brooklyn Daily Eagle reported that he was working on the third floor that day when he was told he could go home.  Instead of going straight home, he took his bike to the second floor.  The article said he "was riding his wheel around when he fell from the bicycle and plunged down the [elevator] shaft."  The teen was killed instantly.

In 1916 the city was struck by a devastating epidemic--poliomyletis, or infantile paralysis, better known as polio.  The disease caught doctors unaware, giving it a foothold.  Dr. Abraham Zingher of the Willard Parker Hospital explained on September 3 that "so little did the average practitioner know about poliomyelitis at the beginning of the present sweep of the scourge that many cases were treated as summer complaint or other common illness for several days before unmistakable symptoms of paralysis began to manifest themselves."

By November that year there were 8,197 cases reported in New York City and 1,988 deaths.  Among those affected was little Amelia Enrich, who lived at 106 Greenwich Avenue.

The upper floors of 106 Greenwich Avenue were converted to "non-housekeeping apartments" in 1928.  The term meant that there were no kitchens, and the Department of Buildings flatly noted, "no cooking permitted on these premises."  It may have been at this time that a coating of stucco was applied to the brick facade.

The stucco was in evidence as early as 1941.  image via the NYC Dept of Records & Information Services.

In the 1960's the ground floor was home to The Rastro, an antiques store "known for its extensive stock of wrought iron, antique brass, old faience, oak furniture--including stools and chairs--carved wood figures and lighting fixtures," according to Interior Design in 1964.  It was replaced in the 1970 by Victoria Galleries, another antiques and collectibles shop, called by the 1982 New York Art Guide a "small house which is often good for jewelry and orientalia."

A renovation completed in 2011 resulted four apartments on each of the upper floors.  The men's clothing store Odin moved into "a glamorous new space at 106 Greenwich Avenue," according to Alexis Mainland of The New York Times on January 11, 2012.

After nearly 200 years, 106 Greenwich Avenue appears more than a bit battered.  Amazingly, its six-over-six upper floor windows survive.  

photographs by the author
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