Monday, November 6, 2023

The Lost Striker's Cottages - West 52nd Street


The houses were somewhat bedraggled when this photograph was taken in the late 19th century.  from the collection of the New-York Historical Society.

John Hopper the Elder acquired an estate north of New York City in 1667, known as Hopper Farm.  It comprised 80 acres and spread approximately from today's Sixth Avenue to the Hudson River, and from 48th to 55th Streets.  He built a house on the land for each of his sons.  His own house, Rosevale, sat near what is now 53rd Street.  

When Mary Hopper married James Garret Striker in 1780, they moved into the house built in 1752 for John Hopper, Jr.  James's first American ancestor, Jacobus Van Strycker arrived in New Amsterdam in 1651.   The couple would have nine children.  

Upon James Garret Striker's death on December 15, 1831, the Hopper Farm passed to his son Garrit Hopper Striker.  Born in 1784, he would live in the John Hopper, Jr. house until his death in 1868.  

In 1850, Garrit Striker made a somewhat surprising move, given the remoteness of the Hopper Farm.  He erected a row of eight, two-story frame houses along the north side of 52nd Street between Tenth and Eleventh Avenues.  He christened the block Striker's Row and the houses the Striker Cottages.  (A similar row would follow on the south side, and while no photograph survives of those, they were most likely carbon copies.)

The design of the houses was almost assuredly the product of the builder rather than a trained architect.  Best termed vernacular, they borrowed elements from several current styles.  Sitting back from the dirt road with commodious front yards, they shared a common veranda supported by delicate wooden railings that smacked of Chinese Chippendale.  Floor-to-ceiling French windows at the ground floor offered fresh air in warm months, and transoms over the single-doored entrances supplied additional light.

Striker erected the houses as rental income, and an advertisement in the New York Sun in 1850 offered, "To Let: Eight entire[ly] new two-story cottages, piazza and verandah fronts, courtyards 35 feet deep, filled with elegant forest trees."  The ad boasted, "four bedrooms, two parlors and kitchen" in each house, and "hard finished walls with cornices and centre piece."  (The "centre piece" was, most likely, the elaborate plaster ceiling medallion in the parlors and dining rooms.)

The Kyle family lived in 7 Striker's Row in 1861.  They placed what today might be viewed as a somewhat bizarre ad in the New York Herald on March 2 that year:

A Private Family will receive a little girl to Board and educate.  She will be kindly treated, and carefully instructed in the English branches, Drawing and Flower Painting.  Terms $15 per month in advance.  Apply to Mrs. Kyle, No. 7 Striker's row, West Fifty-second street, near Eleventh avenue.

The monthly fee the Kyles were charging to essentially foster the child would translate to about $514 in 2023.

Amos Colt was an agent of Colt's Patent Fire-Arms Manufacturing Company, founded by his cousin, Samuel Colt.  As tensions between North and South intensified, Sam Colt sent Amos to the Deep South "to reap his share of the gun orders that came flooding in to the North," according to James L. Mitchell in his 1959 Colt, A Collection of Letters and Photographs About The Man--The Arms--The Company.  The Yankee agent managed to return to New York before war erupted.  Mitchell writes,

It is apparent that Amos Colt while in Mississippi did not express his sentiments concerning the natives of that state aloud for he lived to return to his native New York City...a check of the New York directory shows that as late as 1866 he was living at 5 Striker's Row, and his occupation was shown as "Agent."

The residents of 7 Striker's Row (possibly still the Kyle family) took in a boarder in 1866, offering three rooms for $15.  

By the 1870s, the houses were being engulfed by the neighborhood that would become known as Hell's Kitchen--one tainted with poverty and crime.  But for the time being, their middle-class residents continued to be respectable.  Most had at least one servant.  One of them was looking for a new position in 1872.  Her advertisement on June 25 in the New York Herald read:

1 Striker's Row, between West 52d and 53d streets--A respectable young girl (lately landed) as chambermaid and to do washing and ironing, and willing to do according to orders.  Call for two days.

In 1882 Henry Steinberg and his family occupied No. 1.  He was in the "waters" business.  Two widows, Rose Everhardt and Alice McPhilips, lived at 11 and 5 Striker's Row respectively, possibly operating them as boarding houses.  Charles Meyer, who worked as a weaver, occupied No. 9, and notary John McDonald and his family lived at 7 Striker's Row.  The McDonalds took in a boarder for extra money.  In 1882 James F. Degnan, a butcher, lived with the family.

John McDonald was a recently arrived immigrant.  He was born in Baillborry, County Cavan, Ireland.  Unfortunately, his life in America would not be a long one.  He died in his Striker's Row home in 1884 at the age of 45.

Alice McPhillips, Rose Everhard, and Charles Meyer were all still living on Striker's Row in 1886.  Other occupants included Irish immigrants Thomas F. McCauley, a driver, at No. 11; Patrick Clawsey, who worked as a cutter in a garment factory and lived at 9 Striker's Row; and George Ferguson at No. 1, who worked in an ice business.  All of them would have to find different accommodations before long. 

In 1890 the houses had suffered noticeable neglect.  Elsworth L. Striker demolished the row.  On December 20, 1890, the Real Estate Record & Guide began an article saying, "The Striker family have been in possession since 1640, directly or by heritage, of the property they have improved in the neighborhood of 52d street and the Hudson River."  The article said that Striker was in the process of constructing "three five-story brick and brown stone front apartment houses...on the north side of 52d street, between 10th and 11th avenues."

Many thanks to reader Douglas B. Kearley for suggesting this post
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