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Mystery on Avenue D: 143-145 Avenue D, Part 1

What follows is first in a series of posts devoted to our research of the fascinating building at 143-145 Avenue D.

145-147 Avenue D

Early last year, while surveying Alphabet City as part of our research on the history of every single building in the East Village, we became interested in 143-145 Avenue D – at first glance a typical 19th c. vernacular building to which the average passerby might not give a second thought.

Our interest was piqued when we noticed that the building’s facade appears to show faded remnants of an early 19th c. house. As we dug deeper, we uncovered the fascinating history of what is by far the oldest extant building in Alphabet City (by more than a decade), and in fact a critical component of the neighborhood’s earliest incarnation as a thriving shipbuilding hub! We’ll be unraveling this building’s remarkable history now and in future posts.

Flemish Bond brickwork

Before giving away too much, we’ll start the series by allowing you to observe the building in the same way we first did: from the outside. Not unlike the immediate surrounding neighborhood, 143-145 Avenue D architecturally reflects a number of different significant eras in its history, which we’ll be delving into later on.

What first caught our attention was the Flemish Bond brickwork found on much of the building. Flemish Bond is a style of laying bricks (alternating stretchers and headers) that was popular with Federal and early Greek Revival-style buildings and was used very rarely after 1838-40. Additionally, a smattering of the windows are still topped by what appear to be original brownstone Federal-style lintels. These details indicated to us that perhaps this building is much older than it first seemed.

Two different types of Federal-style lintels

Along the ground floor of the 10th Street elevation are three bricked-in windows along with a former loading bay on the far right, which has also been filled-in, which signaled to us that the building may have once been used for manufacturing purposes.

East 10th Street facade, showing bricked-in openings on the ground floor

It also appears that the building might have originally been shorter than it is today. Indicating that the fifth story is an addition is the subtle seam in the brickwork most visible along the 10th Street exposure between the fourth and fifth stories.  The seam is apparent in the s slight change of the brick’s color, which above the fourth floor is of a much more orange hue.  The lack of alignment of the Flemish bond brickwork also indicates a transition.

Detail of seam between 4th & 5th floors, where the even brick pattern is skewed

In stark contrast to the Federal-style lintels is a late 19th century cornice likely added at the same time as the fifth story, composed of geometric shapes and executed in brick.

Late 19th c. cornice

As you can well imagine, these subtle contradictions in the facade have given us – as architectural historians – a lot to play with. In the next post, we’ll delve into the early history of the building, revealing its origins as one of the first and most important buildings ever to exist in Alphabet City.

Stay tuned for Part 2…

8 responses to “Mystery on Avenue D: 143-145 Avenue D, Part 1

  1. I came across the name of the Bank of New York Dry Dock Co. in researching land records. In 1848, my great-great-grandfather Chester Gurney and his wife Clarissa sold to that bank 80 acres in St. Joseph County, Michigan. I have no idea how that came about. What business would a dry dock company have in south central Michigan?

    Are there any records of the bank from the period 1848?

    Ellen Huppert

  2. I grew up across the street from this building in the 80’s/90’s. It was full of squatters, who rioted against the police when they were evicted in the early 90’s. They tossed bricks off the roof, crazy. The building was panted white and I believe made referenced to be being a glass factory.

  3. I came across a photo of Ave D and 10 th street that shows a bank in 1940. The bank is The Corn Exchange Bank and the number above the door is 147 145 Ave D. Can you tell if that is the same location as The Strangers Hospital?

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