Friday, December 22, 2023

The 1857 Jacob Smith House - 330 West 20th Street


In 1857 broker Jacob Smith erected a home at 216 West 20th Street (renumbered 330 in 1866), between Eighth and Ninth Avenues.  He seems to have worked closely with H. Secor and J. W. Clark, whose houses went up simultaneously on either side.  Obviously the product of the same builder, the three houses were identical.  Three stories tall and two bays wide, they were clad in red brick above the brownstone-faced English basements.  The architrave frames of the double-doored entrance were unusually geometric for the Italianate style.  The floor-to-ceiling parlor windows and handsome bracketed and paneled cornices, on the other hand, were more typical.

Smith, who lived nearby on West 19th Street, initially leased the house to John and Annie J. Kirby.  Three years after moving in, Annie gave birth to a son, named Edward Mortimer.  Tragically he died soon after on May 30.  His funeral was held in the parlor on June 1.

In March 1861, a year before the Kirbys left, they looked for a family to share the house with them.  Their ad read:

To Let--To a small family, the upper part of a large three story House, containing the modern improvements, consisting of the second floor, room on the third floor, and front basement; has abundant pantry room, a fine wardrobe, closet, large bath room and wash tubs &c.

By 1867, Jacob Smith and his wife, the former Caroline Doremus Mead, moved into the house he had rented for a decade.  The couple had five children.  Living with them were their teenaged son Jacob Oscar; their married daughter Caroline Virginia, her husband John Roome, and the couple's two sons, John Benjamin and Howard S. (two years old and one year old, respectively).

The population of the house increased by one on June 30, 1872 when Jacob Oscar married Clara Elizabeth Inness.  Tragically, less than two months later, on August 25, the bride, who was just 19 years old, died.  Clara's funeral was held in the house on August 27.

Jacob and Caroline Smith's house was filled with the sounds of children throughout the coming years.  Caroline and John Roome would eventually have seven children.  (Sadly, two of them would die in infancy.  William H. was born in 1871 and died in 1872, and Mary Florence was born in 1872 and died in 1873.)

The Roome's first daughter to be born was Caroline Francis, in 1869.  Twenty years later, on October 16, 1889, the girl known as Carrie to her family was married to Louis Berhens in the parlor of the house in which she was born.

Caroline Mead Smith died on June 3, 1890 at the age of 75.  Jacob Smith lived to the astonishing age of 94, dying here on February 1, 1896.  His funeral was held in the parlor on February 4.

Caroline Virginia Smith Roome inherited the family home and continued to live here with her family.  As the children married and left, the Roomes leased extra space.  On November 17, 1907, an advertisement in the New York Herald read, "20th St, third floor, private house, five rooms and bath, for two adults.  330 West 20th st."

There would be two more Roome funerals at 330 West 20th Street.  Caroline died on October 19, 1908 at the age of 66, and John Roome died the following year at the age of 76.  On January 28, 1911, the Real Estate Record & Guide reported that the estate had sold the property.  The buyer was real estate operator Maurice Mandelbaum of Mandelbaum & Lewine.

The new owners operated 330 West 20th Street as a rooming house.  Living here in 1921 was James Pheneuf who was looking for a job.  His decidedly non-specific ad in the New York Herald on July 8 read, "College man, single, 25, Christian, with varied business experience wants position."

A renovation completed in 1965 resulted in two-family home--with a duplex apartment in the basement and parlor levels, and another on the second and third floors.  Somewhat surprisingly, the lower level became home to the Apple Corps Theater by 1987.  On December 13 that year, Anna Kisselgoff of The New York Times reviewed Marleen Pennison's dance piece Nightlight, which was being performed here.

By 2001 the space had become home to the Atlantic Theater Company.  In September that year An Evening of Shel Silverstein was staged here, ten short plays by the children's book author.

Opening nights came to an end in 2014 when a renovation returned the Smith house to a single family residence.

photographs by the author
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1 comment:

  1. The Atlantic has also been in the former parish hall of St. Peter's Episcopal Church on that same block for decades.