Thursday, November 9, 2023

The Much-Altered 1836 Johnson Bakery - 6 Morton Street


Although Charles Oakley was educated as an attorney, he listed his occupation as "merchant" in 1810 when he married Margaret Roome.  But it was his real estate dealings for which he would be remembered.  By the 1830's Oakley had become, perhaps, the most prolific developer in Greenwich Village.  In 1836 he completed construction of a Federal style store-and-house at 6 Morton Street, just west of Bleecker Street.  It would originally have had a peaked roof with one or two dormers.  In the rear yard, as was common, was a smaller structure, used as a workshop.

That year the building became home to John Johnson's bakery.  Presumably, his family lived in the upper section.  The bakery initially saw a quick succession of proprietors.  By 1840 it was being operated by Nicholas Beekman, and the following year an advertisement in the New-York Tribune read, "To let or lease--The bakery and work-shops No. 6 Morton-st. near Bleecker, separate if wanted."  The lease was taken over by Samuel Decou.

Patrons woke up to startling news on September 30, 1846, when they read in the New York Mourning Courier, "On Sunday afternoon, at 3 o'clock, the bakery of Mr. Decoes [sic], No. 6 Morton street, near Bleecker, was destroyed by fire."  Happily, however, the journalist was a bit dramatic in his reporting.  

The Evening Post was more detailed and accurate, saying, "About 9 o'clock last evening the bells sounded the alarm of fire, and the firemen were soon at No. 6 Morton street, from whence the alarm proceeded."  The fire fighters discovered that a hand-held glass lamp, called a spirit gas lamp, had exploded.  "It appears that a young girl had the lamp in her hands doing something to it when it bursted," said the article, "and the spirit gas was thrown over her hands and arms which were severely burnt."  The fire was extinguished by the firemen, who deemed the damage "trifling."

Also listed at the address in 1849 was Franklin G. Bragg, presumably a boarder.  Bragg was arrested on May 14 that year on extremely serious charges.

William Backhouse Astor, the son of John Jacob Astor I, had received several letters at his home at 32 Lafayette Place, demanding $50,000 in cash.  They warned "that if he failed to meet the demand, they would carry out their determination of sacrificing his property and life."  The letters explained that the "sacrificing" of his property meant the burning of various Astor buildings.  The demanded ransom would translate to about $1.97 million in 2023.

The letters had been written by Bragg and Isaac A. Biggs, who lived nearby at 31 Morton Street.  Working with police, Astor filled a package with "spurious bills," then waited for it to be retrieved.  On the morning of May 13, Franklin G. Bragg knocked on the door of the Astor residence and received the package.  He was followed by undercover officers who later arrested both extortionists.

In 1853, the bakery was run by Louis Cantel, but by 1858 it had been converted to a butcher shop, run by Louis Hart.  He would remain in the space through 1862.  Ann M. Hill, the widow of Cornelius Hill, operated the upper floors as a boarding house.  Living here in 1858 were Henry Bradley, a gasfitter on Canal Street; and broker Joseph Harker.  Harker would continue to rent a room through 1862.

In the meantime, the property was offered for sale in February 1860, for $2,800 (about $102,000 today).  It was purchased by the Herz family.  Moses Herz ran a butcher store at 60 Barrow Street, but Lewis Herz (presumably a son) would not open his butcher shop and grocery at 6 Morton Street until Hart's lease ran out in 1863.

It appears that the Herzes converted the workshop in the rear to a residence.  In 1863 Samuel Darry, a waiter, and Levin Polk, a "carpetshaker," lived there.  Both were listed in city directories as "colored."

Although the family still owned the property, in 1867 the Herz butcher shop closed.  An ad in the New York Herald on March 13 offered, "For Sale--$250, a small grocery in the Ninth ward, near Bleecker street, Stock and Fixtures or Fixtures alone; Store to let; rooms back of store; low rent."

Eliza Janet Vanamringe, the widow of James L. Vanamringe, took over the operation of the upper floors.  She was, as well, a dressmaker.  Eliza had one listed boarder in 1867, William F. Williams, who was a machinist.

It appears Eliza Vanamringe depended mostly on her dressmaking skills for her livelihood.  An advertisement in December 1868 read, "6 Morton St.--A dressmaker, having ten years' experience in the city, desires a few more customers by the day or week."  Two years later she advertised, "6 Morton St., near Bleecker--An experienced dressmaker, many years in private families in the city, desires a few more engagements by the day; does first class fitting and trimming."

In 1877, Lewis Herz's widow, Kretchen, sold 6 Morton Street to Morris Herz, presumably a relative, for $4,000 (about $115,000 in 2023).  The shop continued as a butcher shop, run by John Collins.  In 1878 there were eight roomers in the upper floors and rear building.

The name of one resident, Alexander Davidson, appeared in newspapers for the wrong reasons in 1884.  It began on April 24, 1884 when the New York Herald reported he had been the victim of Daniel McDonald, who passed a "worthless check for $25" to Davidson.  But eight months later, Davidson was not the victim, but the perpetrator.  On December 12, the New York Daily Graphic reported the shocking news, "Caroline Richter, a Bavarian emigrant girl, was taken to a house of prostitution and offered for sale for $6 by a wretch named Alexander Davidson of No. 6 Morton street."

In 1889 Morris Herz sold the property to William Eisenberg, who modernized the building and raised the third floor to a full floor.  He sold the remodeled structure in 1890 to Patrick Sullivan.

One of Sullivan's sons, Eugene, was an "expressman," or delivery driver.  On November 8, 1899, The World reported that a man had attempted suicide in Central Park "at the east drive and Sixty-fifth street" by drinking carbolic acid.  He was taken to the Presbyterian Hospital, but he died there in an hour."  In his pocket was found a notebook with the name of Eugene Sullivan.  "The book was full of musical terms and the names of popular airs," said the article.

Police went to 6 Morton Street to notify the family of Eugene's death.  To their astonishment, Eugene "was found very much alive."  The article noted, "He was surprised when told that a notebook bearing his name was found on the body of the suicide."

Another son, Steve, learned a trade in the garment industry.  On January 27, 1904, he was looking for a job, advertising, "Bias cutter, at anything; best references.  Steve Sullivan, 6 Morton-st."

When The New York Times reported that Patrick Sullivan had sold 6 Morton Street to James L. Van Sant on January 19, 1923, it gave a colorful and inaccurate history.  The article said the house "was formerly owned by Aaron Burr, former Vice-President of the United States, who operated extensively in old Greenwich Village.  This is the first sale of property in 33 years."  (Technically, Burr had owned the property as part of his summer estate Richmond Hill, but never the existing building.)

Only a month later, Louise A. Cobb purchased the "business and dwelling apartment house," as described by The New York Times from Van Sant.  The article said she "intends to make extensive alterations and improvements and will hold the property for investment purposes."  It would be five years before the "alterations and improvements were made."  In 1928 the building, now owned by Alphonsus A. Brugnoli, was described as a store and residence for one family.

The building had been given what one architectural historian calls a Utilitarian style facade.  The decorative elements of its tan brick facade were executed in brick--red brick bandcourses, a faux cornice with brick corbels, and a stepped parapet ornamented with creative brick designs.

A large show window engulfed the ground floor space in 1941.  image via the NYC Dept of Records & Information Services.

In the third quarter of the 20th century, the store was home to the Leather & Suede Doc, where jackets, belts and handbags were repaired.  It was supplanted by 1979 by Fantasies, a vintage clothing store that touted, "Fine antique apparels."

The Villager, December 23, 1976

Major change came in 2013 when C-Three Architecture & Design converted the building to a single-family dwelling.  The store window has been replaced with a glass-block opening.

photographs by the author has no authorization to reuse the content of this blog


  1. This is an awesome blog - I live on Morton St and it's so cool to read up on the deep history here! Thanks for researching and putting these pieces together!

    1. I used to live on Morton Street, as well. So glad you're enjoying the blog.

  2. Also currently for sale: