In chipping away at the gargantuan task of researching the history of all the buildings in the East Village, it’s always nice when a building wears its history on its sleeve. We’ve noticed that oodles of buildings throughout the neighborhood supply us with dates, whether on plaques or inscribed in parapets or on cornices. And quite often they tell us just what we need to know, such as in the case of the lovely Italianate style rowhouse at 249 East 13th Street, which was in fact constructed around 1865 as stated on the plaque.
But we’ve had to be very careful not to be misled; red herrings abound…
Take for instance the building at 180 First Avenue. Though the date says 1872, the building actually originally constructed in 1840 as a four-story house. An additional floor was added in 1872, when this cornice installed (the initials of Peter L. Bernhardt, the owner at the time, are also inscribed). This type of alteration was typical for many early single-family rowhouses in the neighborhood that were “tenementized” to accommodate more occupants as neighborhood population increased in the second half of the 19th Century.
The inscription on the Manhattan Plaza Building at 66-68 East 4th Street can also fool the average passer-by. This is actually a combination of two houses built together way back in 1832. They were combined 1871 (the date inscribed on the cornice) when they were converted to Turn Hall, a club owned by the New-York Turnverein, a German-American Society.
You can read all about the opening of Turn Hall in the 1871 New York Times article found here. We’ll be delving deeper into the history of this fascinating building in the near future, so stay tuned. In the meantime, do you know of a building in the neighborhood with an inscribed date or set of initials that leaves you puzzled? Let us know and we’ll see what we can dig up!