Architecture Images-Greenwich Village
127-131 MacDougal Street
|built for Aaron Burr|
|127-131 MacDougal Street|
Iron pineapples on railings are a symbol of
hospitality; traditionally a returning seaman would set one on his stoop
to show that he was home and receiving visitors.
127, 129, and 131 MacDougal Street (l. to r.) are slightly altered but clearly recognizable federal-era rowhouses built around 1829. The only major alterations include the insertion of a large picture window in the ground floor of #’s 129 and 131 (note the preservation of the original lintels for the two separate windows), and the replacement of the smaller original dormers with one larger one on all three. #125 (the red house on the corner) probably originally had a similar appearance, but had a full third story plus mansard roof added in the late 19th century. (Please see also report on individual designation of federal rowhouses.)
The Provincetown Playhouse next door at #133 opened in 1918 and was at the vanguard of experimental theater, serving as a home to Eugene O’Neil and the Provincetown Players. Experimental Theater thrived in this section of the Village, largely in converted venues carved out of tenements, stables, rowhouses, garages, and other structures, testifying to the area’s history of adaptive re-use of buildings and prescient, experimental approaches to culture and the built environment. The Provincetown Playhouse continued to host cutting edge theater productions through the 1990’s, when it was taken over by NYU’s Theater Department. The current building is the result of several renovations and combinations of pre-existing buildings on the site, finally evolving into roughly its current form in the late 1930s.
Streetscapes/13 Federal Row Houses
Recommended as Landmarks; Glimpses Into the 19th Century
By CHRISTOPHER GRAY
Published: March 21, 2004, Sunday
LAST summer the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation singled out 13 Federal-style row houses in lower Manhattan to recommend for designation by the Landmarks Preservation Commission, which is considering the matter. Spread out in different neighborhoods, the houses seem almost out of place among much later architecture, but taken as a group they offer fascinating glimpses into 19th century -- and even 20th century -- New York.
A Federal-style dwelling is the prototypical ''cute old house'' of Greenwich Village; ''Federal'' refers to the earlier years of the Republic, when such houses were built. Usually two stories high with a pair of dormers projecting from a peaked roof, the house is typically brick, with flat lintels bearing panel-type decoration above the window and main door; it often has a side doorway over a low stoop.
The Greenwich Village group's proposal includes 67, 94, 94 1/2, 96, 486 and 488 Greenwich Street; 57 Sullivan Street; 2 Oliver Street; 127, 129 and 131 Macdougal Street; 7 Leroy Street; and 4 St. Marks Place. These were winnowed down by Susan De Vries, a preservationist, who began the initial survey of nearly 300 early downtown buildings in 1995.
One of the grandest houses is 4 St. Marks Place, just off Third Avenue, one of several on St. Marks built by the prolific English-born developer Thomas E. Davis, this one around 1831. The four-story height and grander stoop bespeaks not only the late Federal period of a more prosperous city, but also the prestige of St. Marks as a residential address; the 1839 tax assessment notes the presence of a ''cupola'' on the building. It was first occupied by Alexander Hamilton, occupation unknown (not the first secretary of the Treasury, who died in 1804), but his family lost it in foreclosure in 1841.
The Van Wyck family owned 4 St. Marks in 1855 when a classified ad appeared in The New York Times reading, ''Respectable middle-aged Scotch or German Protestant woman wanted to do the general work of a small family; apply immediately at No. 4 St. Marks Place.'' But the log of the 1870 census obviously records a boarding or lodging house there, listing 10 unrelated people, with occupations like engineer, auctioneer and chairmaker.
Much farther west, the smaller 7 Leroy Street, just west of Bleecker Street, was built around 1830, with a passageway to a rear structure. Such buildings are now perceived to have been upmarket private residences, but many were used as communal dwellings: only 10 years later, an 1840 directory lists four men (and, presumably, their families) at what was then called 7 Burton Street, listing their occupations as ''carter.'' Other households on the block in that period are listed as being occupied by grocers, boatmen and carpenters.
The 1860 census shows how solidly these buildings could be packed: 12 people, aged 11 months to 53 years, in the front building, and a washerwoman and her sister in the back.
The 1900 census recorded two heads of household at 7 Leroy: Henry Kingsley, 49, a lamplighter, and Josephine Hutchinson, 44, a buttonhole maker; Hugh Mack, 48, a junkman, lived in the rear building.
By the 1940's, Greenwich Village was in a full scale bohemian revival, and 7 Leroy was occupied by Brobury Ellis, a theater director, and Randolph Echols, stage manager for ''The Glass Menagerie'' on Broadway in 1945.
THE set of three small and now ragged-looking two-story houses at 127-131 Macdougal Street, north of Third Street, were first recorded in 1832. The earliest identifiable tenants appear to have been relatively prosperous, including Nathaniel McChesney, a coachmaker with a store on Broadway, who lived at No. 127.
The area south of Washington Square developed into a black enclave later in the 19th century. The 1870 census records John Duffy, 32, actor, and Charles Williams, 30, also an actor, at No. 127 and John Jackson, 35, laborer, at No. 131. All three -- along with their families and assorted lodgers -- were American-born blacks. The 1915 census records Italian-American residents, including Maria Compucea, an opera singer, who lived at No. 127. She had arrived in the United States in 1904.
The bohemian invasion was documented in the 1925 census, with architects, writers, actors and editors in the row. The residents also included the restaurant keeper Li Chang Chung, who emigrated from China in 1917 and lived at No. 127. Perhaps it was he who added a small pagoda-style wooden shelter over the front door, now gone but shown in a 1938 photograph.
George Chauncey's ''Gay New York'' (Basic Books, 1994) says that in 1925 Eve Addams opened a lesbian tearoom, ''Eve's Hangout,'' at No. 129 -- ''where the ladies prefer each other,'' according to a 1926 issue of The Greenwich Village Quill, a magazine. Chauncey says that her club was soon padlocked and Addams deported; she wound up in France.
Jan Seidler Ramirez's essay ''The Tourist Trade Takes Hold'' in the 1993 ''Greenwich Village Culture and Counterculture'' (Rick Beard and Leslie Cohen Berlowitz, editors; Rutgers University Press) says that around this time the photographer Nickolas Muray had Wednesday evening parties at No. 129, highlighted by fencing demonstrations by Muray, twice on the American Olympic team.
Now approaching two centuries old, the Federal houses of downtown Manhattan have varied aspects. The house at 7 Leroy looks immaculate and would be a picture-perfect real estate listing.
But despite a facade cleaning and other repairs, the house at 4 St. Marks Place -- with punk-clothing stores on the basement and parlor floors -- still looks fairly downscale, like much of this end of St. Marks Place.
The three houses on Macdougal Street are also pretty worn, but their age works for them. The Ionic columns at the doorway of No. 129 -- where Eve's patrons once entered -- are almost submerged in velvety layers of paint, the outlines of their ridges and details barely breaking the smooth, mottled surface, as if coming up for air.
The columns at No. 131 were at some point turned 90 degrees, so that only one side of the Ionic capital is visible. The houses are painted a pleasingly differing palette of gray (No. 127), green (No. 129) and cream (No. 131). No amount of work could duplicate their wonderfully soft contrasts; perhaps they do need protection -- from restoration.
Under the paint, the Macdougal Street lintels seem to be spotted with rust -- apparently they are cast iron, early for such a use but not impossibly so. Many things are not known about construction techniques in this period.
The preservation society has been joined in its proposal by the New York Landmarks Conservancy. Robert Tierney, chairman of the Landmarks Preservation Commission, said, ''I have personally seen them all, and several are under active consideration.''
The various owners differ on regulation. Rodrigo R. Fernandez has owned 131 Macdougal -- the one with the quarter-turned Ionic capitals -- since 1974 and lives upstairs. ''I am willing to go along with it without complaint,'' he said. ''We bought it to live in and not to gamble with, although I know that one of my neighbors does not like the idea.''
But the owner of the impeccably maintained house at 7 Leroy, Laurie Korobkin, said she is not keen on designation, although she has no thought of demolition. The front structure is divided into apartments; she and her husband, David, who died two years ago, used to occupy the rear building.
Mrs. Korobkin, who now lives in New Canaan, Conn., also owns 333 West 11th Street, which is in a landmark district. ''The red tape, the checking back and forth, hiring someone to do all the paperwork -- it's been nothing but a headache,'' she said.
She said she felt that the building at 7 Leroy ''is my children's legacy, that their father left them.''
''I have to maintain that legacy,'' she said, ''and I have to think, 'What's in it for me?' ''
Published: 03 - 21 - 2004 , Late Edition - Final , Section 11 , Column 2 , Page 1
Copyright New York Times.
For Immediate Release Contact: Andrew Berman 212/475-9585 x38
June 8, 2004 or 917/533-1767
GREENWICH VILLAGE SOCIETY FOR HISTORIC PRESERVATION HAILS
LANDMARKING OF THREE EARLY 19th CENTURY HOUSES IT FOUGHT TO PROTECT;
MacDougal Street Houses Were Part of List of 13 ‘Federal-Era’ Houses
Proposed For Preservation By GVSHP and NY Landmarks Conservancy
Manhattan – The Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation today hailed the designation of three early 19th century ‘federal-era’ houses at 127, 129, and 131 MacDougal Street as landmarks by the City’s Landmarks Preservation Commission. For over a year, GVSHP and the NY Landmarks Conservancy had campaigned to have these three houses, along with ten other federal-era houses in Lower Manhattan, landmarked to ensure their continued survival (for copy of landmarking proposal, CLICK HERE or HERE. Landmark designation will prevent demolition or any attempts to significantly alter these three 175-year old houses, located just south of Washington Square Park. “Federal-era’ houses were built between 1790 and approx. 1830, and represent the first architectural style of the newly unified United States of America.
The Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation has long worked to protect undesignated federal houses in Lower Manhattan, and unprotected historic properties in Greenwich Village. 127, 129, and 131 MacDougal Street were first heard by the Landmarks Preservation Commission for landmarking in 1966, but were never acted upon. In 1995, GVSHP first embarked upon documenting and advocating for the protection of all of the 150 surviving unprotected federal era houses in Lower Manhattan (another 150 such houses were already protected by landmarking) with the assistance of a grant from Preserve New York (a grant program of the Preservation League of NY State and the NY State Council on the Arts); the study was subsequently continued and greatly expanded by former GVSHP staffer Susan DeVries.
In 2003, GVSHP joined with the NY Landmarks Conservancy in calling for the designation of 13 prime examples of the types of unprotected federal houses of Lower Manhattan examined in the study; in addition to 127-131 MacDougal Street, this included 4 St. Mark’s Place; 67, 94, 94 ½, 96, 486, and 488 Greenwich Street; 57 Sullivan Street; 2 Oliver Street; and 7 Leroy Street. In 2002, when there was speculation that NYU might try to purchase all or some of the houses for development along Washington Square, GVSHP was joined by several elected officials in calling for the University not to take any action which would result in the destruction or compromise of the houses (for text of letter CLICK HERE); NYU subsequently declined to purchase the property. GVSHP was particularly concerned that the three houses, possibly along with the neighboring NYU-owned Provincetown Playhouse, would make a very large and attractive development parcel, and highlighted the effort to save it as a cover story in its Fall 2003 newsletter (CLICK HERE (PDF) or HERE (HTML)). GVSHP launched a letter-writing and e-mail campaign by its members to encourage the Landmarks Preservation Commission to save these and other federal rowhouses (CLICK HERE). GVSHP was also particularly interested in the survival of these houses as they are part of a tour of Washington Square Park given to more than 1,000 school children a year by GVSHP as part of its Children’s Education Program ‘History and Historic Preservation,’ offered to school children throughout New York City (for more information about the program, CLICK HERE).
The Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation has also been building a proposal for the landmark designation of the South Village neighborhood, an area that includes 127-131 MacDougal Street. To do this, GVSHP is conducting in-depth historic research on every building in the South Village, and has constructed a “virtual tour” of the area to build interest in the effort (CLICK HERE or HERE). GVSHP is also currently engaged in a campaign to secure landmark protections for the gravely endangered and unprotected Far West Village and Greenwich Village waterfront (CLICK HERE); GVSHP has urged supporters to write to the Landmarks Preservation Commission to thank them for protecting 127-131 MacDougal Street, but to also urge them to similarly protect the other 10 proposed federal rowhouses, the Far West Village, and the South Village (CLICK HERE for sample letter).
“We are all the better today for the Commission’s actions protecting these three great reminders of our City’s storied past. I hope the Commission will continue with this work, and protect the other 10 federal houses we have identified, as well as the endangered historic areas of the Far West and South Village, which lack landmark protections but face tremendous threat to their wonderful historic buildings,” said GVSHP Executive Director Andrew Berman.
State Senator Tom Duane, City Council Member Christine Quinn, Assembly Member Deborah Glick, and the Historic Districts Council, among others, also supported designation of 127, 129, and 131 MacDougal Street.