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A Tale of Two Tenements

518 and 516 East 11th Street. All photos in this post are by GVSHP.

As I was walking along East 11th Street recently I happened to notice two tenements sitting side by side that appeared to be “sister buildings” (built at the same time using the same design). When I headed back to the GVSHP office I looked through building permits we have on file from the Municipal Archives and discovered that I was correct!

These two buildings were constructed in 1899 to the designs of none other than George Frederick Pelham. Last month, I crowned him king of East Village tenement design. Celebrating their 115th birthday this year, these two old law tenements can be found at 516 and 518 East 11th Street between Avenues A and B (just a block north of Tompkins Square Park). While originally identical in design, they have taken two separate paths over the years. Let’s investigate.


To start, both tenements were originally built with cornices. Today, as witnessed by the photo above, no. 518 still has one while no. 516 does not. At first glance, it looks like no. 518 never lost its cornice; however, this one appears to be a replacement. The details seem too “clean” and the brackets don’t quite match those that would have been in place when a building of this style was constructed.

Even if this may not be historic, it’s nice that the building’s owner put one back on the building (see our past post about “buildings with buzzcuts” for more about cornices that have been removed over the years).


IMG_2880cThe building at no. 518 still has its great door surround accessed by a stoop. Its rails and door are replacements, though the door – while not original – may be historic.

At no. 516, the stoop was removed and the entry was lowered to sidewalk level in 1936. This was actually a common alteration made to tenements in the mid-20th century, and often had to do with the fact that the original commercial spaces on the basement level were converted to residences. These new apartments had interior entryways whereas stores would have been accessed from the street.

Interestingly, although no. 518 is more intact, no. 516 retains the decorative faces above the first floor windows. By looking at the 1980s tax photo, you can see that the window openings of no. 518 had been filled in, so the faces were lost at some point after this time. (The photo also reveals that both buildings have since been painted white.)


Both are great examples of how tenements have evolved over the years. The next time you’re out and about, don’t forget to take a closer look (and look up) at all the great old buildings in our neighborhoods!

4 responses to “A Tale of Two Tenements

  1. Love this!! I’ve written about architectural “siblings” in Milwaukee, too. Fascinating stuff.

  2. 518 was a failed squat; in 1982 a group went in to try and homestead it but wound up fighting amongst themselves to the point where the whole venture dissolved. In 1984 a developer stepped in and bought the place, emptying out whoever was left living in it, redoing it and turning it into early co-ops. If you watch the movie “Ragtime”, it is also the building that Mandy Patinkin’s character lives in with his wife; since it was abandoned when Milos Forman filmed in 1980 there are no interior shots, but there’s a scene where Mandy, upon discovering his wife is selling herself to make a little extra money for the family, races up the front steps, and then soon reappears in a second-floor window, where he throws her antique Singer cast-iron sewing machine to the street, shattering it into a million pieces. I watched them film it, and he must have gone through 15 machines before Forman was satisfied.

  3. Gojira that’s amazing. I live on 11th above Westville. I’m a Ragtime fanatic! I loved that scene, and wasn’t sure if his wife was cheating on him or trying to “earn money for the family” as you said. Considering his reaction was so vile I thought the former.

    Here is a little Ragtime featurette I put together. You are so lucky to have been able to see Milos Forman in action! And the most amazing set ever!


    Long live 11th Street!

    P.S. You can see this building in “The Super” as well starring Joe Pesci!

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