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The Decline of the Dry Dock District: 143-145 Avenue D, Part 3

This is post #3 in a series devoted to our research of the fascinating building at 143-145 Avenue D.

Those of you who have been following our research on 143-145 Avenue D – the oldest extant building in Alphabet City (for background, see parts one and two) – are now well-versed in the building’s connection to the early history of the Dry Dock neighborhood. Built as the Dry Dock Banking House, this building was one of the first houses ever built in Alphabet City and played a critical role in the functioning of the shipbuilding industry that once lined this portion of the East River.

143-145 Avenue D
143-145 Avenue D

But by 1848, 143-145 Avenue D had ceased to be used as the Dry Dock Banking House.  Based on tax records and fire insurance maps, we know that the banking house relocated directly across the street to the building at 147 Avenue D, on the northwest corner of East 10th Street. This second banking house (shown in the photo below) survived intact from 1854 until 1961, when it fell victim to urban renewal. Today, the site is used as a playground.

1937: Far left, 147 Avenue D (since demolished), second home of the Dry Dock Banking House

So what happened to our building?

1936: center left: first location of the Dry Dock Bank; center right: second location

No longer the Dry Dock Banking House, 143-145 Avenue D operated as a boarding house for a time.  But from this time until 1871 (when things again start to get very interesting) the function of 143-145 Avenue D remains somewhat clouded. A fire insurance map from 1862 labels 143-145 Avenue D as the Manhattan Steam Laundry.  An ad found in the New York Herald from October 11, 1864 exclaims, “Lace and muslin curtains cleaned in the best manner, at 21 per pair, at the Manhattan Steam Laundry, 141 Avenue D, corner of Tenth Street.”

In 1848, the same year that the banking house vacated the building, the New York Dry Dock Company sold the rights to their well-regarded name and thus the Dry Dock Savings Bank was chartered (this would later merge with the Dollar Savings Bank of New York to become the Dollar Dry Dock Savings Bank, which survived until 2004) . But only in name were the two companies in fact related. The Dry Dock Savings Bank building that was later constructed on Bowery and East 3rd Street is undoubtedly one of the most gorgeous buildings ever to have existed in the East Village. Sadly, it too went the way of the wrecking ball.

The Dry Dock Bank, 343-344 Bowery at the corner of East 3rd Street (demolished)
An 1862 fire insurance map (courtesy NYPL) shows the Manhattan Steam Laundry Company at 143-145 Avenue D and the new Dry Dock Bank across the street

By this time, however, the Dry Dock District had ultimately begun its decline.  After the Civil War and the construction of the Erie Canal, wooden ships had begun the downward spiral towards obsolescence in favor of iron hulled ships.  The bustling shipbuilding neighborhood came to be dominated by waves of immigrants from Germany and Eastern Europe.  Tenements quickly replaced many of the previous single-family homes.

But this wasn’t the end of 143-145 Avenue D. Up next, The Strangers’ Hospital comes to town…

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