New York Architecture Images-Greenwich Village

The Ear Inn (James Brown House)




326 Spring Street 


ca. 1800


Federal Style




Inn, former House




The James Brown House in 1973.


Ear Inn has colorful history and uncertain future

By Albert Amateau

Keeping a 186-year-old wooden beach house standing and functioning as living quarters, office and pub is no easy task. Especially one condemned as unfit for use back in 1906.

But Rip Hayman, owner of the James Brown House at 326 Spring St. gets along, with a little help from friends.

The house, built before 1817, is a designated landmark and the Ear Inn, a pub on the ground floor, is a favorite neighborhood destination. Recently, the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation joined with Hayman and Andy Coe — author of “Ear Inn Virons,” a book (as its punning title indicates) about the history of the property and neighborhood — in a guided tour of the building.

The three-story house, originally the home of an African-American Revolutionary War veteran who ran a tobacco shop on the ground floor, has uneven floors, stairs that slant at an odd angle and a unique ambiance. 
“This is sand from the foundation of the building,” said Hayman, holding a beer stein full of grayish sand. The house, now a block and a half from the Hudson River, was right on the riverbank in the early decades of the 19th century. “There was a sand spit in the river at Canal St. at that time,” said Hayman. “We have to pump out the tide from the basement twice a day.”

Hayman first rented a room in the house in 1973 when he was a Columbia University student. He paid $100 a month rent to Harry Jacobs who ran the unnamed pub known to neighbors as “The Green Door.” In 1977, Hayman and friends bought the house and the pub.

“We were publishing ‘The Ear,’ a new music journal, at the time and we decided to name the pub after it,” said Hayman. The city landmarks commission didn’t allow new signage, so a coat of black paint covering the curved neon tubes of the “B” in the pub’s BAR sign was sufficient for EAR.

Although James Brown sold tobacco on the first floor, the shop has been a pub for at least 150 years, said Hayman, who has a collection of whiskey jugs found in the basement of the place. The records show there was a bar in the building in 1835 and it was likely there for some years before. 

Hayman keeps a revolver, which he found several years ago tucked in the flue of the second floor fireplace. “It’s a five-shot revolver made around 1900,” he said. “I can imagine the circumstances when it was hidden.” 

Hayman, who is a principal in Odyssey Publications, a publishing firm with offices in the James Brown House, is no longer active in the Ear Inn, where he used to tend bar. Nevertheless, Martin Sheridan, who runs the Ear, helps maintain the old house. It takes a lot of maintenance.

“We have crack gauges all over the walls,” Hayman said. “Whenever we have engineers inspect the place they go, ‘Oh boy,’ and shake their heads.”

Hayman says he is worried most about the proposed redevelopment by Nino Vendome of the adjacent property which shares a party wall with the old house. Vendome first planned to build a 36-story tower designed by Philip Johnson that would have cantilevered eight feet over the James Brown House. The developer had a tentative agreement to replace plumbing in the old house and provide space for a new exit and a kitchen expansion for the Ear Inn as part of the redevelopment.

But Vendome failed to get a zoning variance for the building and now plans an 11-story environmentally efficient building. 

“When he builds it we’ll have to close and bring the whole building up to code,” said Hayman. But help from the developer is not certain. “We may not survive the construction unless we get help,” he said.

Andrew Berman, director of the G.V.S.H.P., agreed that the Vendome project might threaten the James Brown house at 326 Spring St.

In a letter last week addressed jointly to Robert Tierney, Landmarks Preservation Commission chairperson, and Patricia Lancaster, Department of Buildings commissioner, Berman said, “The impending construction next door at 328 Spring St. could easily pose a threat. Construction of this planned 11-story building if not done with extreme care and regard for the fragile state of the neighboring Ear Inn might easily damage or undermine the landmark’s structural integrity.”

Berman called on the two agencies to work with Vendome and Hayman to ensure that construction does not jeopardize survival of the house. “After the building’s improbable and inspiring story of survival at this location for almost 200 years, it would be tragic to see this historic structure unnecessarily threatened now,” Berman said.


(Adapted from “A Short History of Hudson Square” by the Friends of Hudson Square.)

If you head south of Greenwich Village, west of SoHo, and north of TriBeCa, you will find Hudson Square, the newest district in New York City. This eclectic area is bordered by the Hudson River to the west, Morton Street to the north, Canal Street to the south, and Avenue of the Americas to the east. Although the district is considered new, the community has a very rich history.

In 1705, Queen Anne of England made a land grant of 215 acres to Trinity Church. The Church Farm, to the north of the city proper, stretched from Fulton Street to Christopher Street along the Hudson River, and was mostly farmland and swamp. Although most of the farm was eventually sold, Trinity is still the largest individual landowner in the Hudson Square area.

By 1800, the community centering on Spring and Greenwich Streets was a thriving market area known as Lower Greenwich. It was a working class, racially mixed neighborhood south of the more affluent Greenwich Village. Most of the buildings were Federal style single-family homes with storefronts on the ground floor. Several buildings still survive from this era, including the James Brown House at 326 Spring Street (now home to the Ear Inn) as well as 486 and 488 Greenwich Street.

In the late 18th century, the area’s streets were named for now historic figures such as the Dutch Governor Rip VanDam, then-mayor of New York Colonel Varick, and William Houston, a delegate to the Continental Congress. Richmond Hill, an elegant mansion that stood at Charlton and Varick Streets, served as the headquarters for General George Washington when he planned his battles in Long Island during the Revolutionary War. It was later the home of John Adams, Aaron Burr, and eventually John Jacob Astor, who subdivided the estate and sold it for residential development in 1817.

Around this time, Trinity Church financed what is considered to be New York’s first planned residential development surrounding a park called Hudson Square, later known as St. John’s Park. The park stood at what is now the entrance to the Holland Tunnel. The development was similar in design to the Gramercy Park area. From the 1820s to the 1830s, Hudson Square was the most desirable residential area in the city.

With New York’s rapid expansion in the 19th century, the area was completely connected to the city by the 1850s. Multiple dwellings began to appear among the modest row houses in the working-class neighborhood. Some of these tenements remain along Charlton, Broome, and Spring Streets. Commerce grew in the area as well, with an active market area blossoming and ships docking at the piers on Canal and Clarkson Streets. Towards the end of the century, there was an extensive trolley system along West Street, and New York’s first elevated train ran up Greenwich Street.

By 1900, however the area was rapidly becoming a slum. Tenements had replaced many single-family homes. Trinity Church sold some of the land it owned in the area, and began turning much of it’s remaining holdings to commercial and manufacturing space.

In the 1920s, printers moved into Hudson Square because of the lower rents. At their peak, the printers in the area produced about a quarter of all the printing in the country. Around this time, the neighborhood was dug up for the installation of the Holland Tunnel. The tunnel brought a significant amount of automobile and commercial traffic to the area, which is now home to United Parcel Service, Federal Express, and Wall Street Mail.

Today, the Hudson Square neighborhood has a mixture of high-rise commercial offices, loft industrial buildings mostly converted to office use, and low-rise residential buildings. Building sizes range from a few quaint two-story structures to twenty-plus story monoliths. An eclectic mix of ad agencies, architects, filmmakers, publishers, printers, software developers, and web designers populate the business district, along with interesting shops, restaurants, nightclubs, and art galleries.

Within the last twenty years, the area has renewed its residential flavor. Numerous buildings have been converted from industrial to residential use. In addition, the Charlton King Vandam Historic District between Sixth Avenue and Varick Street contain the Federal-style row houses that were once common throughout the area. They are the remnants of the subdivision of the Richmond Hill estate, a memento of Hudson Square’s storied past.


One of the most intriguing and evanescent legends about the Lower Greenwich neighborhood is the tale of the Jackson Whites. When the British occupied New York during the American Revolution, they had to keep satisfied the thousands of British and Hessian troops billeted here. The story goes that military authorities turned to a man named Jackson, who sailed for England where he either enticed or kidnaped 3,500 British prostitutes. He then packed them in 20 leaky old boats and sailed for the American Colonies. One vessel sank in mid-ocean, so Jackson sent another boat to the West Indies where it picked up a load of replacements, all of African origin. When the prostitutes landed in New York, they were marched to Lispenard's Meadows, where they found a large stockade encircling a group of crude huts that would be their home. When soldiers were ready for fun, they repaired to Lispenard's Meadows and knocked on the stockade door for a few hours with the "Jackson Whites" or the "Jackson Blacks". In 1783, when the British hurriedly evacuated New York, somebody ran to Lispenard's Meadows and unlatched the stockade door, releasing the unfortunate women. About 500 of the prostitutes trekked north up the Hudson, while the remainder somehow crossed the river and, three-thousandstrong, marched west into New Jersey, finally settling in the nearby Ramapo Mountains. They were supposedly the ancestors of a group still living in those hills known as the Jackson Whites or the Ramapo Mountain People.

  A Johnston building that was proposed for the site next door (unfortunately not built!)