Wednesday, March 6, 2024

The 1829 John Tappin House - 37 Charlton Street


The change in brick color testifies to the 1917 raising of the third floor.

Following his fatal duel with Alexander Hamilton in 1804, Aaron Burr fled Greenwich Village and his opulent country estate Richmond Hill.  John Jacob Astor I purchased the mansion from Burr, and took over a long-term land lease of the sprawling estate from Trinity Church (which was granted the land by Queen Anne in 1714).  By 1817 he had leveled the property and laid out streets, including Charlton Street, named for Dr. John Charlton, the president of the New York Medical Society.

Astor erected scores of prim Federal style homes along the blocks beginning in the mid-1820s.  Things went smoothly until he faced an adversary in 1828.  At 6:00 on the morning of October 13, 1828, two unfinished houses at 32 and 35 Charlton Street were set ablaze by an arsonist.  The Daily Advertiser noted, "The property was insured. A few months ago, several houses were destroyed by fire at the same place, which was the work of an incendiary."

Nearly destroyed in the earlier fire were 37 and 39 Charlton Street.  The damaged buildings were purchased by two carpenter-builders, John Gridley and his partner named Martin, who rebuilt them into fine brick-faced residences.  Twenty-five-feet wide and two-and-a-half-stories tall with two dormers, their marble stoops rose to elegant entranceways.  Here fluted marble columns and half columns on either side of the door flanked the delicately leaded sidelights.  Intricately carved foliate bands outlined the leaded transom, which sat within a frame of panels and rosettes.

photo by Alice Lum

As the homes were nearing completion, New Yorkers were fleeing a devastating yellow fever epidemic in the city.  An advertisement in The Evening Post on May 11, 1829 highlighted the healthfulness and safety of their location:

To Let--two new 2 story houses No. 37 & 39 Charlton street, suitable for genteel families; their location is pleasant, high and healthy, and as good water as in the city; the houses are just finishing and are replete with every modern conveniency of arrangement; marble basement and stoop, marble mantle pieces with grates, an under cellar.  Those who want need only see them to be satisfied.  For particulars enquire on the premises, or of Mssrs. Martin & Gridley, the builders.

photo by Arnold Moses, Historic American Buildings Survey April 2, 1936 from the collection of the Library of Congress

Martin & Gridley's first tenants at 37 Charlton Street did not remain long.  A newspaper notice on March 20, 1830 noted an auction was to be held here "of the furniture of a family leaving the city."

When the house was placed on the market in February 1836, the ad mentioned, "the parlors have handsome pillared marble mantels, folding doors, grates &c., with large closets between the rooms; there are 4 rooms on the second floor, and 3 attic rooms, with garret above.  A large brick cistern in the rear.  The house has 8 rooms with fire places."  It also pointed out, importantly, that the lot was "under lease for 29 years from the 1st [of] May next without ground rent."  John Jacob Astor had paid Trinity Church the ground rent for decades in advance, making the marketing of his properties easier.

By 1840, 37 Charlton Street was owned by wholesale grocer John and Jane L. Tappin (often spelled Tappan in newspapers and other documents).  That year the couple welcomed a baby boy, James Wetzlar.

The Tappins, like their neighbors, had one or two servants.  On September 3, 1841, they acquired Charlotte Black from the Alms-House Department.  Shocking today, children of destitute families sentenced to the Alms-House were sent as indentured servants to work in private homes.  It was, essentially, legalized slavery.  The young girl did not work out, in seems, and the 1847 report of the Almshouse report noted, "Charlotte Black, (col.) bound to John Tappen [sic], No. 37 Charlton street...gave her up again, say 4 or 5 years ago."

photo by Arnold Moses, Historic American Buildings Survey April 2, 1936 from the collection of the Library of Congress

On March 19, 1842, tw0-year-old James Wetzlar Tappin died.  His funeral was held in the house the following day.  Somewhat surprisingly, when a second son was born in 1848, his parents gave him the name of James Wetzlar Tappin.  

The Tappin family remained at 37 Charlton Street through the Civil War years.  In 1865, James was enrolled in the introductory class of the New-York Free Academy.

Two years later, the family of Nelson Griggs occupied the Charlton Street house.  Griggs listed his occupation as clerk, a responsible position that involved the handling of a firm's finances.  

On November 16, 1867, he and his wife Emily J. had a baby boy, Clarence H. Griggs.   The following month, on December 27, Emily placed an advertisement in the New York Herald that read, "Wanted--An American or English girl, 16 to 18 years of age to take care of a baby six weeks old.  Apply at 37 Charlton st."

The girl did not work out and on July 22, 1868, Emily advertised again.  "Wanted--A neat and tidy girl, from 16 to 18 years of age, to take charge of a child and make herself generally useful."  Tragically, that ad would go unanswered.  The next day Clarence died at just eight months old.  His funeral was held in the parlor on July 25.

Peter P. Noe and his wife, the former Mary C. Clawson, moved into 37 Charlton Street in 1871.  The 23-year-old was a member of James H. Noe & Son at 275 Greenwich Street, a brush making business founded by his father James H. Noe.  

As her predecessors in the house had done, Mary advertised for help.  Her ad in May 1873 read, "Wanted--A girl to take care of children and make herself generally useful.  Apply, for two days, at 37 Charlton st."

Peter was unexpectedly elevated within James H. Noe & Son under tragic circumstances in the summer of 1875.  The firm was expanding and a new building was under construction next door at 277 Greenwich Street.  On Sunday morning August 22, James H. Noe entered the building to check on its progress.  When he climbed to the roof, he came upon Johnny Dolan in the process of stealing the lead from the gutters.  

Dolan was well-known to police as a street brawler, burglar and gangster.  A fight ensued during which Noe, reportedly a large man, dragged the crook down the stairs, but Dolan picked up an iron pry bar and struck Noe several times on the skull.  James Noe died of his injuries several days later.

Within months of his father's murder, Peter P. Noe left the Charlton Street house, which next became home to Bernard A. Pohlmann, a liquor dealer on Thomas Street.  Pohlmann's wife was pregnant when they moved in, and in December 1877 their son Elmer B. was born.  But, as had been the case twice before, the parlor was the scene of a child's funeral the following year.  Nine-month-old Elmer contracted cholera infantum and died on August 21, 1878.

photo by Arnold Moses, Historic American Buildings Survey April 2, 1936 from the collection of the Library of Congress

The Pohlmanns moved on soon afterward.  The house appears to have been operated as a boarding house in the 1880s.  Living here in 1884 was deputy sheriff James Fay, and in 1892 unmarried sisters Jane and May Hilderbrand were here.  Giuseppe Jacolucci, who listed his profession as a banker, rented rooms from 1893 through 1895; and in 1895 the Goldberg family lived here.  Their 13-year-old son Max was arrested on December 11 that year with three other Village boys--the youngest only 8 years old--for shoplifting in Newark, New Jersey.

In the meantime, the lower level was leased to Third Assembly District Tammany Club as its clubhouse.  It was the scene of a sensational wedding on election night, November 3, 1897.  The Sun reported,

Maria Barberi, the Italian girl who murdered her lover, Domenico Cataldo, by cutting his throat with a razor and upon a second trial was acquitted on the ground that she was an epileptic, celebrated the election last night by getting married at a Tammany clubhouse…

The marriage took place during the supper hour between 6 and 7 o’clock, when the members of the Third Assembly District Tammany Club stopped celebrating at the clubhouse at 37 Charlton Street long enough to go home for something to eat. When they returned to the clubhouse and learned that the marriage had occurred in their club rooms, they were very indignant.

The Tammany group would remain here into the early 20th century, while the upper floors continued to be operated as a boarding house.  Dr. A. Maroni and lawyer Louis A. Valente lived here in 1910, and the following year Frank Valente, no doubt a relative of Louis, was listed here while he bought property on Seventh Avenue.  

In 1917, architects Henry W. Wilkinson and Max G. Heidelberg were commissioned to renovate 37 Charlton by adding a third story like its neighbor.  (The attic at 39 Charlton Street was raised in 1871.)  In reporting on the renovation, The American Contractor referred to the building as a “Colonial Residence.”

In August 1919, Trinity Church sold 37 Charlton Street along with 39 Charlton Street and 13 other "old dwellings" to William Sloane Coffin, as reported in the New York Tribune.  That same year the American Magazine of Art wrote an extensive article about the vintage homes that still survived in the neighborhood.  Speaking specifically of Charlton Street, it said,

Here can be found beautiful old doorways…and highly picturesque dormer windows.  The roof-lines indeed of many of these venerable houses happily break the monotony of modern office buildings and "skyscrapers," and could ill be dispensed with.

The Coffins continued to rent rooms in 37 Charlton Street for the next eleven years.  On March 11, 1930, The New York Sun, describing the property as "one of the residential landmarks in Greenwich Village," reported that Mrs. William S. Coffin had sold the house to Victor Alleva.

Three years later, the National Park Service and the Library of Congress instituted the Historic American Buildings Survey to capture “America’s built environment.”  Among the first structures to catch the eye of the Survey was 37 Charlton Street, which was carefully preserved on film by photographer Arnold Moses in 1937.

photo by Arnold Moses, Historic American Buildings Survey April 2, 1936 from the collection of the Library of Congress

Wall Street broker Richard Hampton Jenrette heard that 37 Charlton Street was on the market in 1978.  In his Adventures With Old Houses he writes:

The house seemed perfect--it had been virtually untouched in its 150-year history, but structurally was still sound.  All the original black marble mantels, moldings, doors and windows were intact.  Almost miraculously, the house had never been chopped up and subdivided into apartments, a common fate of early New York town houses.

Jenrette spent $250,000 for the house (about $1.12 million in 2024).  Working with architect Edward Vason Jones (who worked on White House renovations under Presidents Nixon, Ford and Carter), he returned the interiors to their original appearance.  Jenrette writes, "Most of the furniture I used in the house had been made in New York by Duncan Phyfe at about the same time the house was constructed."

A corner of the parlor during Jenrette's occupancy.  Adventures With Old Houses, by Richard Hampton Jenrette, 2005. 

Nine years later, Jenrette sold 37 Charlton Street for $2 million (closer to $5.15 million today).

No. 37 came full circle and is again owned by Trinity Church.  In November 2004, Rev. Dr. James H. Cooper and his wife Tay moved in.  According to John Ambrosini, manager of Church and Program Properties, “This house was chosen for its elegance and charm, its historic significance.”  He then added, “and for its value as a real-estate investment.”

photo by beyond my ken

The former Tappin house and 39 Charlton Street have been described by the Landmarks Preservation Commission as "Perhaps the two most important houses [in the district] in age, richness of style, scale and perfection of preservation."

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1 comment:

  1. I used to live across the street from these houses, many years ago.