Wednesday, March 21, 2007

130 West Tenth Street

Manhattan > Greenwich Village > West 10th Street

Perhaps artist Birney Lettick [1919-1986] was seeking a run-down brownstone or any roof-line low enough to show a blue sky spiked by Jefferson Market's whimsical towers. When he selected this grouping (slightly west of Greenwich Avenue), Lettick was generous with his pen, widening a skinny 3-story townhouse and adding height to a one-story taxpayer.

• • The hilariously bohemian scene that tempted moviegoers to see Paul Mazursky's "Next Stop, Greenwich Village" [1976] featured a crowded Village Cafe, artists, beatniks, lovers, loners, dancers, and loafers. The character on the lowest step of the stoop - - closest to the fire hydrant - - would be played by a 33-year-old actor Christopher Walken. On the movie poster, the rowhouse is numbered 25 but it is, in fact, 130 West Tenth Street [3 stories] and its neighbor 128-A West Tenth [1 story]. Not shown is the solid firehouse next door, an 1892 structure that quarters Squad 18's firefighters.
• • Birney Lettick was similarly flattering instead of realistic when he painted the portraits of Ayatollah Khomeini and Ronald Reagan for Time Magazine. His illustrations also appeared on the covers of National Geographic, Collier's, Reader's Digest, and many bestsellers.
• • The address attracted its share of notoriety in the 1880s when it was the location of various suicides and batterings. In 1885, Samuel H. Hoole walloped Mary E. Weston, who resided here, knocking out five of her teeth; Hoole was arraigned in Jefferson Market Police Court across the street for his brutishness.
• • For many years, investor Edward Swan owned 130 West Tenth Street and leased his skinny building to tenants who were either too deaf to mind sirens or who weren't fussy.
• • In 1943, former ice skater Alan E. Murray [1894-1976] leased the one-story hovel at 128 West Tenth, where he began to re-invent footwear.
• • On 7 February 1947, Murray bought the adjoining 3-story dwelling from Swan's estate. By then the inventor was knee-deep in patents for his Space Shoe, suspenders that fastened around the neck, ski boots, and what-not. Early on, celebrity clients were attracted by the curious customized and sculpted oxfords that Murray began pedalling in 1937. Danny Kaye bought several pairs and so did Lillian Gish, Arthur Godfrey, Steve McQueen, and the wife of the Soviet Ambassador to Washington.
• • By 1955, when Murray was minting millions, he was manufacturing his orthopedic "sole food" out of the old Helen Gould stable on 213 West 58th Street, where he also maintained a private ice rink. At some point, Murray painted his name around the Tenth Street doorway, a passage no longer afflicted with the odor of Neoprene and latex like Murray's uptown workshop.
• • In 1968 the Space Shoe went trendy, inspired maybe by the 74-year-old inventor's frisky blonde mistress Anna V. Schloegl, who pried Alan Murray away from his dependence on marital fidelity. Nevertheless, his wife Mrs. Lucille Marsh Murray, whose bloodline included two signers of the Declaration of Independence, refused to divorce him. Alan and Anna did not wed until 1976, when death dissolved Murray's previous marriage.
• • After 81-year-old Alan E. Murray passed on to the great shoe closet in the sky on 24 October 1978, the building acquired a basement full of fortunetellers. Though West Tenth Street's gypsy astrologer Pat Alvarez was arrested for fraud by police in 1999, as part of a crackdown on Tarot card readers and schemers in the Metro area, there is still a psychic in the cellar. Clearly, Murray left his sign and sole visible to seers and sight-seers.
• • Last year Michael and Isaac Namer anounced they would incorporate 130 West Tenth Street into their through-block condominium project, which also pulled in a brick stable designed by Charles Wright in 1874. Apartments will sell for $2,750,000 - $5,975,000. If you have longed to live next door to an active firehouse, where alarms are responded to 24/7, contact a mortgage broker immediately.
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• • Photo: 130 West 10th Street • circa 1975 and in 2004

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Friday, March 16, 2007

146 West Fourth Street

Manhattan > Greenwich Village > 146 West Fourth Street

When the Corcoran Group unloaded a 2-bedroom co-op advertised during 2000 for $835,000.00 "in a pre-war loft building" at 146 West 4th (including 450 square feet of private roof space) - - which finally sold after being on the market for 26 weeks - - there were more than a few snickers in the West Village.
• • At house-warming parties, in between mouthfuls of wine, West Fourth Street residents can reminisce about the building's criminal past, bribes, money-laundering, raids by undercover agents, suicides, and other morsels.
• • In September 1871, a building permit was filed granting J.J. Lyons, the owner of this "brick first class dwelling" on a puny lot size [22' by 42'] to expand upwards. Lyons enlarged his "dwelling" from three stories and an attic to another "one and a half stories with a mansard roof."
• • Serenity ended a few decades later when villainy and police visits would become routine. The dwellers would be arrested for running an underground poolhall, a speakeasy, an illegal after-hours bar, and for quarterbacking money-laundering operations for the Carlo Gambino crime family. Yes, an address with a storied past is 146 W. 4th.

• • Carlyle and Viola Sherlock prospered at this address during Prohibition. Their illegal cabaret shows were so successful that on 17 February 1927 Carlyle expanded The Pepper Pot's operation to the adjoining building. Naming their (wink-wink) liquor-fueled establishment after the spicy national dish of Guyana, the married couple regularly had a rousing group of paying patrons partying well into the wee hours. Wisely, Sherlock generously paid off the local precinct. Even when his neighbors tried to sue him for "maintaining a public nuisance" [i.e., a speakeasy] and non-stop noise, Carlyle Sherlock invariably won the case because the complaining residents were afraid to show up at Jefferson Market Court.
• • Once in awhile, of course, the police handcuffed Viola Sherlock for violating the Volstead Act. Even Texas Guinan was arrested . . . then released. In January 1923, the cops locked up the athletic tennis-playing Viola [born in 1895] as well as a few out-of-towners from Chicago who were buying way too many drinks. But Carlyle and Viola's popularity was such that The Pepper Pot was made "the official and only stop in Greenwich Village of the Gray Line, Commodore Line, and others" - - or so stated their press materials.
• • By 1971, the undercover police and federal agents became even more interested in the mortgage holder of this townhouse. On the books, his name was Nicholas Di Martino, businessman. Nicky was the step-son of Mafia soldier Paul Di Bella who had his hand in many gay clubs and nightspots in the Village. By then the groundfloor premises were named The New Showplace. Godfather Carlo Gambino had wanted to preserve the legacy of the previous club, The Showplace, where Jerry Herman once put on his revues, and an unknown actress Phyllis Newman choreographed live entertainment.
• • No doubt the bullet holes were spackled over before the building went [ahem] co-op.
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• • Photo: 146 West Fourth Street • circa 1927

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Wednesday, March 14, 2007

20 Fifth Avenue

Manhattan > Greenwich Village > 20 Fifth Avenue

Once part of Sir Peter Warren's Farm - - before it was sectioned off into an avenue and its right-angled side streets - - the site that shows the Berkeley Hotel has a hansom cab parked outside.
• • This six-story brownstone building was built in 1876 [and christened after its tony namesake in London, England] by William C. Rhinelander, who also owned a mansion on Washington Square North during that time. In 1844, Rhinelander had acquired this wide corner lot [80.6 by 124.1 feet] when he wed one of the heirs. Clearly, he knew the value of marrying a millionaire, a shortcut to amassing a real estate empire.
• • Across from the Berkeley Hotel was the far livelier Breevoort Hotel, steps away from James Renwick's townhouse where the American humorist Mark Twain had once been in residence.
• • Society bluebloods favored the Berkeley as a pied-a-terre. Occasionally, however, a few scandals and headlines found their way to this address. In June 1903, for instance, the son of publisher Thomas Y. Crowell visited his parents at 20 Fifth Avenue. The 22-year-old Ralph M. Crowell lived one block away from his family at the Lafayette [Ninth Street at Universaity Place] and had recently graduated from college. Tense after his final exams perhaps, Ralph Crowell began to quarrel with the waiter who was serving his family supper. When he became violent, doctors were summoned. Eventually, the hotel staff fashioned a makeshift straitjacket out of blankets and tablecloths - - and off went Ralph to Bellevue.
• • There were no protests when the wrecking crew tore down the sedate Berkeley Hotel in 1939 for a larger apartment house. But when the city announced it would raise the beloved Brevoort and Mark Twain's residence, preservationists became enraged and tried to stop the destruction of these historic structures. The news media and literary figures battled to save these Fifth Avenue landmarks - - to no avail, alas.
• • Enjoy this photo of lower Fifth Avenue during the late 1920s.
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• • Photo: Fifth Avenue north of Eighth Street • circa 1928

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Monday, March 12, 2007

52 West Eighth Street

Manhattan > Greenwich Village > 52 West 8th Street

Contributing to the retail meltdown on the once desirable stretch of West Eighth Street [between Sixth Avenue & Fifth Avenue] comes this bad news. One of the best video emporiums in all of Manhattan - - T.L.A. Video [52 West 8th] is closing its doors. At T.L.A. you could find current movies as well as film classics such as Mae West and Cary Grant in "She Done Him Wrong" [1933] and "My Little Chickadee" [1940] starring Mae West and W.C. Fields.

• • West Eighth Street once had charming, top-rated eateries that were the destinations of restaurant critics, tourists, and New Yorkers, for example, the excellent SeaFare, the bohemian Polly's, the private al fresco Italian loggia of Marta Village Garden Restaurant [23 West 8th], and the versatile indoor-outdoor Main Street [33 West 8th] with its peek-a-boo look into the rowhouse gardens along the south side of West Ninth Street.
• • Enjoy photos of this block during the 1940s - - and be amazed.
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• • Photo: West 8th Street • 1940s

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