Friday, October 13, 2023

Peppermints, Leathermen and Art -- 545-547 West 20th Street (120 Eleventh Avenue)


Augustus Meyers ran a stone yard at the southwest corner of 21st street and Eleventh Avenue in 1910, specializing in bluestone.  In 1909 he commissioned architect Joseph Wolf to design two industrial and store buildings that would fill the rest of the Eleventh Avenue blockfront south to 20th Street.  Wolf's plans for the corner structure called for a "five-story brick and stone store, office, and loft."  His steel-frame construction included "fireproof blocks," terra cotta trim, and (not surprisingly) "bluestone coping."

The building, completed in December 1910, was faced in variegated tan brick.  No doubt as a cost savings, the capitals to the rusticated piers of the two-story base and the two intermediate cornices were executed in pink terra cotta.  The Arts & Crafts design featured a chamfered corner where the store entrance was framed in terra cotta tiles and highlighted by a prominent, slender keystone.  Perhaps as another budget savings, Wolf forewent a cornice in favor of a brick parapet.

The pink terra cotta of the entranceways has been given a coat of charcoal colored paint.

In December 1910 Meyers leased the lower three floors to the Drevet Manufacturing Co., "who are the sole proprietors of the famous Charles Marchand Medicinal Preparations," said the Record & Guide on December 24.  It added, "The unusual light, advertising, shipping and transportation facilities were the inducements which led this old established drug concern to leave the regular wholesale druggists' colony for the growing Chelsea district."

Two months later, in February 1911, The Pharmaceutical Era commented on Drevet Manufacturing Co.'s improved venue.  "Motor power is utilized instead of steam, as was formerly the case.  New tanks and other apparatus have been added and a better product is anticipated.  The new location, being right on the river and close to the ferries, has much better transportation facilities, and the employees enjoy better light and air."

The Therapeutic Gazette, June 1911 (copyright expired)

The other two floors were shared by the Dodge Scale Co., Paul E. Cabaret & Co., and another pharmaceutical company, the Neural Remedy Co. in April 1911.

The latter was the maker of EAZ-AKE.  An advertisement promised, "The proper waY to get rid of your headache or neuralgia is to use EAZ-AKE," and explained it "is the formula of a Japanese physician..It acts almost immediately and leaves no strain on the skin."

The firm left in 1913 and two years later, in March 1915, the Mint Products Company leased the second and third floors.  The company manufactured a peppermint candy known as Life Savers.  Originally called Pep-O-Mint and created in 1912, the formula had been purchased by Edward John Nobel in 1913, who changed the name to reflect the candy's shape.

But, like its predecessors in the building, the Mint Products Company's residency was short-lived.  On November 2, 1916, the Daily Star reported that the firm had "moved to Long Island City in August."

In the post-World War I years, Cushman & Dennison Mfg. Co. occupied space.  The maker of stationery goods dealt in items like "paper pins," binder clips, and package twine.  By the mid-1920s, the Graham & Norton Co., which manufactured hardware like the "Reliance ball-bearing hangers and Norton door closers," was here.  The firm advertised for employees help in October 1925.  "Factory Help wanted for light machine work; German or Swedish preferred; wages to start 40 cents per hour.  See Mr. Frey, Graham & Norton Co., 545 West 20th St."  (The hourly wages would translate to about $6.50 in 2023.)

The Depression years saw the River View Cafeteria in the ground floor, and in 1939 Jack's Billiard Academy operated from the building.  An advertisement that year boasted "10 tables" and "cigars and cigarettes."  The Sylver Company moved into an upper floor space in 1957.  Display World commented, "The firm specializes in displays and exhibits."

image via the NYC Dept of Records & Information Services.

The most colorful chapter of the building came in September 1979 when Charles M. Thompson purchased the restaurant space from its proprietors, Railroad Spike, Inc.  Known to his patrons as C. T., Thompson transformed it into The Spike bar, a gay leather bar.

The Spike, with its pool table, dim lights, and live DJ, catered to a beer-drinking clientele in motorcycle jackets and tight t-shirts for years.  Unexpectedly, not long after the bar opened it was the venue for the debut for Doric Wilson's play The West Street Gang.  Calling it "A compelling play about homophobic violence as well as internalized homophobia," in his 2003 Contemporary Gay American Poets and Playwrights, Emmanuel S. Nelson notes:

Staging the play in a gay bar, and a notorious one at that, was a remarkable move.  A gay social/sexual space was transformed into a gay performance arena, melding "real" life and its imaginative reconstruction and collapsing the boundaries among the regular bar patrons, theatergoers, and actors.

Change came to the building when, in 2000, it was acquired by developers Robert Chandler and Gianfranco Chicco.  The ground floor was transformed into art galleries, including the aptly named Spike Gallery.  The upper floors were renovated to a seven-unit residential condominium, including a rooftop addition designed by architect Winka Dubbledam.  As a nod to one of the early tenants, the residences are dubbed the Lifesaver Lofts.

photographs by the author
no permission to reuse the content of this blog has been granted to


  1. The third paragraph for the story about 545-547 West 20th Street begins "In December 2010 Meyers leased the lower three floors...". I suspect December 1910 is intended.

    1. Ha! Yes. You're not the only person who caught that. Thanks!