Thursday, March 09, 2006

218 Lafayette Street

Manhattan > SoHo > Lafayette Street

In 1868, when this sleepy tumble-down thoroughfare was still called ELM STREET, a group of actors fond of drinking founded a fraternal order - - The Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks - - in a cheap boarding house at 188 Elm Street at the NW corner of what is now the intersection of Broome and Lafayette Streets. The club, chartered to give them generous drinking privileges, was named for an animal considered to be gregarious, gentle, and strong.
• • For years this was a patchwork precinct filled with cheap lodgings and real estate risks. For decades, the Board of Aldermen debated the demerits of Elm Street [which ambled from busy City Hall Place up to the far loftier Lafayette Place], and then spent ten years widening it and disrupting it with subway construction, pinching feet and inches away from property owners as the city planners constructed a wider LAFAYETTE STREET to relieve the excessive traffic on Broadway. Consequently, few buildings were being built on Elm Street for fear NYC would nab the sidewalk and slice it away from an owner's shrinking lot size.
• • As Elm Street became Lafayette Street, the imperfectly widened byway left behind many oddly proportioned ugly parcels known as "gore lots." Italian immigrants settled there when a mini building boom began in 1909.
• • Though Daniel Brady's family owned land on Elm Street from 1862, they never "improved" it. In September 1909 the first building on 218 Lafayette Street took shape when Michele Briganti put a 6-story store and loft building on Brady's 25' x 100' lot. His architect was Charles M. Straub.
• • Italian names dominated this unprepossessing stretch of Lafayette between Spring and Broome Street years before John A. Zaccaro took over this building and its adjoining property in 1981. And real estate owners were tenacious - - largely because no one wanted to buy these booby prizes. As a result, 218 Lafayette remained in one family's hands from 1862-1942.
• • Several petty criminals resided at this address over the years and no businesses seemed to thrive - - not even the bootleggers who ran a speakeasy disguised as a trattoria called Monte Rosa. One notable who lived here was Angelo M. Rizzo [1848-1924], who arrived in 1874 as a poor Italian laborer and got a job lighting lamps around town. Later, as a contractor, Rizzo got the job of installing gas lamps throughout New York City. Active in politics and a benefactor of immigrants in the Fourteenth Ward, Rizzo was horrified when Joseph Petrosino, Chief of the Italian Bureau of the New York Detectives, was murdered in Sicily [March 1909]. Rizzo paid his respects to the Petrosino family who resided across the street (at 233 Lafayette Street).
• • By 1959, no one lived here. The tenement was converted to offices and light manufacturing.
• • By 1966, the city condemned the property and slated it (along with surrounding structures) for "urban renewal."
• • Despite that, in 1981 when NYC had gone bankrupt, Philip Zaccaro and his 48-year-old son John acquired it intact and began advertising a "Vacant SoHo Building" (5 stories + basement) with a cast-iron facade for sale. There were no takers.
• • In 1984 Geraldine Ferraro's vice presidential quest brought new scrutiny to her husband's real estate empire headquartered at 216-218 Lafayette St. Though Geraldine relinquished her White House dreams before the newspapers FULLY disclosed Zaccaro's ties to Gambino crime boss Aniello Dellacroce as well as "D.B." [child-pornography king Robert DiBernardo, the president of Star Distributors] who ruled an empire of X-rated slime from two Zaccaro-owned buildings along Lafayette St. - - until John Gotti shot him in 1986 - - John Zaccaro was indicted and pled guilty in January 1985. Ferraro's campaign sank faster than the Titanic.
• • Big Apple Tour Guide Alert! Infamous "D.B." (played by actor Frank Vincent) co-starred in HBO movie "Gotti" aired August 1996.
• • Unable to rent his groundfloor, Zaccaro gave favorable terms to a chef with French bistro dreams who opened L' Aubiniere at 218 Lafayette Street in 1991. Few customers came and the restaurant closed but Zaccaro decided to build an eatery his son would run and he partnered with a popular chef with a following, Tom Valenti. Rated two stars, Cascabel filled its 120 seats from 1993-1998 - - but when Valenti exited, so did the crowds.
• • In 1998 Frank Giovanetti installed Oona there. Ruth Riechl upbraided the kitchen for its lack of adventure, very few diners were lured there, and Oona tanked in August 1999. He got the message: nothing lives here.
• • Dorrian's Red Hand is the Upper East Side ginmill where pretty Jennifer Levin rendez-voused with Robert Chambers, who choked her in Central Park one summer night in 1986.
• • Dorrians go downtown. The Dorrians, a controversial New York pub family, took over the struggling street-level space and opened The Falls. According to news reports, owners Michael and Danny Dorrian are the grandsons of John "Red" Dorrian, a one-time IRA gunman who came here in 1921, penniless and with a price on his head. Red worked as a bootlegger in Midtown speakeasies - - where his patrons included columnist Walter Winchell and the womanizing "Night Mayor" Jimmy Walker.

• • • Enter an ELK: gregarious, gentle, and strong-minded Imette St. G. • • •

• • After 4AM Saturday, 25 February 2006, 24-year-old John Jay College of Criminal Justice graduate student Imette St. Guillen was kidnapped, assaulted, and brutally murdered after leaving The Falls Bar. That night at 8:43PM an anonymous male, calling from a free payphone near a Brooklyn diner, directed police to her tortured, nude body, dumped about 15 miles away from 218 Lafayette Street.
• • Suspected is a 200-lb African-American convict, who was violating parole by working as a bouncer here. For he's a jolly good felon . . . Hiring inmates with aliases: is this a trend? Or is it just a preference for these working-off-the-books types copied from East Village eateries?
• • State Liquor Authority: another round?
• • A State Supreme Court Judge who writes thrillers and reads this blog said Zaccaro is in deep doo-doo as well. Stay tuned.
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• • Photos: 218 Lafayette Street - The Falls

Real Estate