This is the second part of a three part series on the Weehawken Street Historic District. This small historic district is comprised of only fourteen buildings but represents a wonderful cross section of the development of Greenwich Village’s Hudson River waterfront. The designation of this District was due in large part to the efforts of GVSHP.
The Hudson River Railroad was constructed along West Street in the 1850’s, with a depot in what is now the Weehawken Street Historic District. By the early nineteenth century New York City had developed as the largest port in the United States, and South Street along the East River was the primary artery for maritime commerce. However, West Street became a competitor in the 1870’s and by the 1890’s surpassed its eastern neighbor. Weehawken Street and environs during this time was an eclectic mix of manufacturing and commercial structures as well as tenements.
Many of the buildings which now make up the Weehawken Historic District were constructed during this time period. 177 Christopher Street was constructed in 1883-84 for lessee H.C. & J.H. Calkin, which according to the city directory provided “coppersmiths and plumbers, steam & gasfitters, sheet iron & brassworkers, ship furnishing, galley stoves, patent metallic life rafts.” 185 Christopher Street, a former warehouse, was converted into tenement housing in 1871 with residences in the upper floors and a saloon at the ground level. 304 West 10th Street was built in 1873 and also housed residences in its upper floors and a saloon at the ground floor. The liquor/saloon business was a commercial activity that would predominate throughout the district’s history, and was a significant aspect of the social life in the working men for waterfront neighborhood.
At the turn of the century the section of the waterfront adjacent to the district was considered particularly unsavory. In 1902 The New York Times described the section of piers between Houston and West 14th Street as “the resort of outcasts, drunkards, dissolute people, and a dangerous class of depredators and petty highwaymen.” A major public undertaking that had a profound impact on this section of the Hudson waterfront was the construction of the Gansevoort Piers (1894-1902) and Chelsea Piers (1902-10). These long docks accommodated the enormous trans-Atlantic steamships making this area a hub of frenetic activity with half a million seaman of all nationalities arriving at the harbor each year.
One building which dates from the turn of the century in the Weehawken Street Historic District is 396-397 West Street (1903-04), which housed the Holland Hotel. Today this is a rare surviving Hudson River waterfront hotel. No. 9-11 Weehawken Street (1908-09) was a stables building with residences at the upper floors. 391 West Street (1902) was a tenement with residences at the upper floors and men’s furnishing business on the ground floor. Looking at the 1910 Federal Census of the area, residents were primarily first and second generation immigrants hailing from Germany, Ireland and Italy. Professions listed included laborers, shop owners, and craftsmen, particularly in the boat trade. The census enumerated many seamen, both those lodging at local hotels as well as those living on the steamships at the piers such as the Colorado. Even families were enumerated who lived in boats at the piers.
In the next installment of this blog series, we will look at the Weehawken Street Historic District following World War II and into the later half of the twentieth century when it became a center for bars catering to the area’s gay clientele.