Wednesday, October 11, 2023

The 1861 William J. Van Arsdale House - 10 Bank Street


When an employee of the Bank of New York contracted yellow fever in 1798, its offices purchased eight vacant lots on a still unnamed lane in Greenwich Village and erected a branch there as a safeguard against future emergencies.  The street became known as Bank Street.  (The Bank of New York's forethought proved judicious in 1822 when an even more devastating yellow fever epidemic swept the city, triggering an exodus to Greenwich Village.)

In 1860 James Haight, Jr. purchased a parcel of land from John Lozier on the south side of Bank Street between Factory Street (later West Fourth) and Greenwich Avenue.  He constructed five Anglo-Italianate houses on the site, their narrow proportions made up for by their five-story heights.  Each of the brownstone-fronted homes had prominent entrances above a two-step stoop.  Scrolled brackets upheld segmentally arched pediments.  The sills of the upper story windows sat upon miniature brackets.

image via the NYC Dept of Records & Information Services.

From the beginning, 10 Bank Street was operated as a boarding house, home to white collar residents.  In 1862, they included the families of Archibald G. Armour, who ran a livery stable on University Place; Thomas Pelham, a real estate agent; engraver Fred F. Ziegler; and Samuel Vallieu, a meat merchant in the Clinton Market.  Because there were rarely more than five residents listed at a time, it appears that each of the boarders' families occupied a full floor.

The respectable tenants came and went for a decade without drawing unwanted attention to the address.  Then, on June 22, 1872 David A. Gazia was arrested.  He worked as an advertising salesman for a weekly pictorial newspaper published by James Sutton & Co. and was paid on commission.  Gazia submitted an order and received his $15 payment, about $370 in 2023 terms.  When his employers discovered that he had faked the order, he was arrested.

Around the time of Gazia's legal troubles, George H. Foster, the grandson of James Haight, Jr., inherited all five of the Bank Street houses, as well as another around the corner at 249 Waverley Place.  Like his grandfather, he continued to lease the properties.

In 1879 two civil servants lived among the businessmen within 10 Bank Street.  John G. Vannandall was a policeman and William H. Craft a firefighter.  The other boarders were James Morris, a printer; Daniel B. Olds, who ran a blacksmith shop; and Titus W. Sheldon, who was a clerk.

Like David A. Gazia, Sheldon found himself behind bars for forgery in July 1881.  He had cashed a $35 check in the Eighth Avenue tavern of George A. Clark.  When Clark took the check to the Ninth National Bank, he was told that there was no such account there.  Almost simultaneously, Michael Brennan discovered that a check he had cashed for Sheldon was worthless.  The New York Times reported, "Brennan's complaint was of a similar tenor, except that the check which he had accepted was on the Citizens' Bank."  Describing Titus W. Sheldon as "a well-dressed man," the article said he appeared in the Jefferson Market Police Court on July 30, noting, "On the prisoner's person when arrested was found a spurious check for $25 on the National Broadway Bank."  Sheldon pleaded guilty and was jailed.

By the early 1890s, 10 Bank Street was finally a single-family residence, home to William J. Van Arsdale and his wife.  Van Arsdale was born in 1834 in Plattekill, New York, and when he was two years old his parents brought him to New York City.  According to The New York Times, "At the age of fourteen he left school and went to work as an office boy.  A few years later he secured employment in that capacity in the New York Central Railroad offices."  Little by little he moved up until, as explained by The Sun decades later, "There he attracted the notice of Commodore Vanderbilt, and his promotion was rapid."

Van Arsdale amassed significant responsibility within the New York Central Railroad.  He was the confidential clerk of Cornelius Vanderbilt I, became the firm's general counsel, and in 1872 was put in charge of overseeing all the railroad's real estate transactions.  Following the death of his close ally Cornelius Vanderbilt I in 1877, Van Arsdale "was held in high esteem by the present generation of Vanderbilts, and also by all the officers of the New York Central system," said The New York Times in 1897.

A product of New York City's public school system, William J. Van Arsdale was highly involved in the institution.  He had run for the position of Commissioner of the Common Schools of the Ninth Ward as early as 1859, and on June 24, 1895, The Evening World reported that he had been appointed president of the Board of Education by Mayor William L. Strong.  In reporting on his appointment, the newspaper commented, "He is not a Tammany man."

That detail most likely came as a relief to the newspaper's readers.  Van Arsdale was replacing Charles H. Knox, whose corrupt Tammany leadership had led to the headline "Knox Is Out At Last."  The new president now had to deal with the massive problem of over-crowded schools which resulted in, according to the New York Journal on September 20, 1896, "more than 54,000 children" being unable to attend public school.  Among his first efforts was the establishment of the Sites Committee (of which he was chairman) to determine the best locations for new schools and to acquire those properties.  Van Arsdale sounded as frustrated at the inaction of his predecessor as were parents and journalists.  The New York Journal quoted him as saying, "There is no lack of money."

On April 30, 1897, Van Arsdale was at his office in Grand Central Terminal "and attended business as usual," according to The New York Times.  "He appeared to be in good health."  The following morning he was about to leave the Bank Street house to go to the office when he "was stricken with apoplexy," as reported by The Sun.  He died within three hours.  

Perhaps because of the narrow proportions of 10 Bank Street and the subsequent tightness of the parlor, Van Arsdale's funeral was not held here, but at the Bedford Street Methodist Episcopal Church.  His dedication to the school system was more visible in the ceremony than were his 40 years of service to the New York Central Railroad.  On May 4, 1897, The New York Times reported, "There were no pall bearers, but the casket was escorted into the church by four companies of boys from Grammar School No. 3, led by the Principal, B. D. L. Sutherland, and School Inspector Thomas Fitzgerald."  Somewhat surprisingly, while there "was a large representation of the Board of Education," only two representatives of the railroad were present, Chauncey M. Depew and John M. Toucey.  No Vanderbilt made an appearance.

By the turn of the century, 10 Bank Street was again being operated as a boarding house.  Then, on November 4, 1922, the Real Estate Record & Builders' Guide reported that the George  H. Foster estate had sold "the five old-fashioned 5-story flats at the southeast corner of Bank st. and Waverley pl." to real estate operators Harris and Maurice Mandelbaum, and Fisher and Irving I. Lewine.  The article said, "The buyers announced their intentions of altering the houses into apartments with suites of 2 rooms and bath."

All but one of the houses (6 Bank Street, at left) was given vast studio windows on the fifth floor.  image via the NYC Dept of Records & Information Services.

Greenwich Village had become the epicenter of Manhattan's artistic community.  As part of the renovation to apartments, four of the five houses, including 10 Bank Street, were given studio windows on the top floor.  They flooded the interiors with northern light, so sought after by artists.

At some point around mid-century 10 Bank Street lost the Italianate framing around the entrance.  Although it still retains its 20th century apartment house door, the property was reconverted to a single family home in 2021.  While the exterior is little changed since the 1922 renovations, nothing remains of the 1861 interiors.

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


  1. My research showed that Factory Street at the junction of Bank Street was formerly called Mary Street and then Catherine Street and then Factory Street and finally Waverly Place ( The early records I found for the 1860 James Haight, Jr. building showed that it was an “L” shaped “tenement” building at the corner of Bank Street and Factory Street, which was divided by party walls into 6 sections, each with its own entrance. Heat and hot water was supplied to all via plumbing from the cellar of 12 Bank Street. 249 Waverly Place, a separate address with its own entrance, was listed as being part of the lot and block of 14 Bank Street until a few years ago. It along with 10 & 12 & 14 Bank Street were under common ownership from 1922 until 1986.
    I would be happy to have some one do the social history of 12 Bank Street, where I have an interest.
    C.J. Scheiner, MD, PhD

  2. Nice article. Very interesting.