Thursday, March 16, 2006

21 East 9th Street

Manhattan > Greenwich Village > East 9th Street

Built during the 19th century for America's royalty, the 30-feet-wide rowhouse at 21 East 9th Street [between Fifth Avenue & University Place] has fallen on hard times. Chopped up into chicken-coop sameness, the interior has a sliver of an elevator that services twenty studio apartments under a penthouse - - and Arte, a street-level eatery with a "no stars" rating and a vista that overlooks the ramp of The Brevoort's parking garage.

• • Tailpipe-fanciers from the Bronx dine here. The urban al fresco seeker can choose from not one but TWO tables poised along the narrow 9th Street sidewalk. If the wind is right, odors from the pet clinic next door will remind your nostrils of Rover or Fido as Tony serves your minestrone.

• • But speaking of 21 East 9th's FALLING from grace, James Robb, a dashing waiter at CRU [where the executive chef is Shea Gallante, and the wine portfolio could serve Madison Square Garden] heard and saw a 6-foot-long shutter snap off the facade, and plunge to the pavement on the windy afternoon of March 15, 2006.
• • "I couldn't tell if this projectile was made of iron or wood," said Robb, "but I could see that the woman carrying a hefty Gristede's shopping bag didn't see it coming. As I crossed 9th Street, I began dialing 911 on my cellphone."
• • "We were waist-deep in a ditch," explained Con Ed worker Joseph Putney, "when something clattered against the side of a building. A waiter was on the sidewalk, smoking. I told my buddy, 'Looks like somebody threw a table-top off the roof!' That lady's going to get clobbered."

• • Aftermath: shaken and stirred - - but not broken.
• • Department of Buildings complaint # 1161883.
• • Sixth Precinct Aided Report # 254 by Police Officer Taylor.
• • This house had a history of colorful residents before it was reconfigured into a sardine-can cellblock.
• • For many years, banker Aquila G. Stout lived here with his hearty socially-active wife Ann Morris Stout [1806-1900] and their daughter Sarah Morris Stout [1834-1904], who married a Baron A. deVaugrigneuse, but never had children. Mrs. Aquila G. Stout hosted many meetings of The Society of Colonial Dames (an organization founded on West 9th St.). When the French baron died, Sarah returned to the mother-ship, and inherited this house and holdings worth $500,000+ "in trust" when mama died in 1900 - - since Sarah was quite senile and required a legal loop-de-loop spun around her funds. Sadly, the trustees of the Baroness's inheritance were untrustworthy and lawsuits were hurled at them by assorted blue-blooded relatives.
• • Arthur Garfield Hays [1881-1954] bought the leasehold to this property and held it until it was sold by his estate in 1957. Intent on income, Hays had this once-gracious rowhouse stripped of its stoop, and carved into 19 measly apartments and a store. Named after three presidents, the short and stock attorney made his living from a corporate practice in New York, but was most drawn to defending society's underdogs - - usually without charge. Described as a person of "genuine sympathy and understanding," Arthur Garfield Hays was active in many cases concerned with civil liberties. He distinguished himself as a defender in the Scopes Case (1925) in Tennessee, and in the Sacco-Vanzetti Case (1927). He was counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union and conducted the investigation of civil liberties in Puerto Rico (1937). He wrote Let Freedom Ring (1928, rev. ed. 1937), Democracy Works (1939), and an autobiography City Lawyer (1942). Working on the Scopes trial with Clarence Darrow and William Jennings Bryan, Hays saw this as an opportunity to educate the public about evolution. At the close of the trial, Hays sent Judge Raulston a copy of The Origin of the Species.
• • In 1939, Juanita Medbury [1901-1939], who illustrated for McCall's Magazine, committed suicide in her tiny apartment at 21 E. 9th by taking an overdose of sleeping pills.
• • In 1946, 21 E. 9th resident Jesse R. Sprague, 74, an author of books and magazine fiction died. His work had been published in Harper's, Scribner's, The Saturday Evening Post, The American Mercury, etc.
• • In 1988, a restaurant opened on the ground-floor.
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• • Photos: 21 East 9th Street • St. Vincent's Hospital

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