Walking around Greenwich Village is a treat for those who live, work, or visit here. The unique architecture and character of the neighborhood have been preserved thanks in large part to the designation of the Greenwich Village Historic District in 1969, granting landmark status to much, but not all, of the neighborhood, and to the diligent advocacy efforts of Village Preservation since 1980. Besides the wonderful storefronts and trees now blooming in the parks and gardens, I like to look up at a distinctive architectural feature seen throughout the district that is not common in the rest of Manhattan, but which speaks to the simplicity, the charm, and the just plain old age of the building preserved and protected in the Greenwich Village Historic District.
Dormer windows perch elegantly on some of the older buildings in the district. A dormer is a small structure projecting from a sloping roof that often contains a window, generally meant to afford extra light or space into low, sloped ceilinged attic spaces. In Greenwich Village, they are found almost exclusively on Federal-style rowhouses, which were built between 1790 and around 1830, and reflect the earliest American style of the newly-independent republic (dormers went out of style after 1830 or so in New York, but came back into fashion in the late 19th century for ‘Second-Empire’ style houses and then again in the early 20th century in Colonial Revival houses). Federal-style houses are generally the oldest structures in Greenwich Village, and with a few exceptions, in all of Manhattan.
I imagine a writer or painter sitting next to those dormer windows, with the light streaming in. So let’s look at a few of the finest — all descriptions come from the Greenwich Village Historic District designation report, unless otherwise noted.
52 West 10th Street
Except for its garage door, this charming Federal townhouse of brick was built in 1830-31 by Abner Tucker, a carpenter. Two and one-half stories in height, with a facade in Flemish bond brickwork, this little house is a fine surviving example of the Federal period of New York architecture. It retains the original doorway, paneled stone window lintels, and exceptionally well-preserved dormer windows. The typical eight-paneled door, framed by a pair of columns set against rusticated woodwork, is surmounted by a glazed transom. The high stoop has simple wrought iron railings, with built-in shoe scraper and ornamental scrolls at the top above the landing. At one time this house was converted to a stable which, accounts for the large doorway, now a garage ‘door, which led through to the back before front and rear houses had been connected, thus filling the lot. The sculptor Isamu Noguchi resided at No. 52 at the beginning of the Second World War, as did Concetta Scaravaglione several years later.
246 West 10th Street
No. 246, a charming little two and one-half story house, was the first of several houses erected in 1826 by Isaac A. Hatfield, carpenter-builder. Together with Jonathan and Charles R. Hatfield, who also were builders, he had purchased twelve lots from Richard Amos in 1825 on a portion of which he built seven houses extending from this house to No. 510 Hudson Street around the corner. Construction of the row began in 1826 with No. 246 and terminated with No. 510 Hudson Street the following year. This late Federal house stands virtually unchanged, except for the new dormer window and skylights on the roof. The front is constructed of Flemish bond brickwork and has its original doorway with Doric columns set against wood rustication blocks. The stoop is notable for two reasons: it is entered from the side and it retains its original wrought iron handrailing.
17 Commerce Street
No. 17 serves as a welcome reminder of the original proportions and general appearance of the row adjoining to the east. This small two and one-half story late Federal house, with basement, has a low pitched roof and central dormer window. It was built in 1830 as an investment by Abraham R. Bogert, a stone-cutter, and rented immediately. With a brick front of Flemish bond, its handsome paneled stone lintels, dark exterior blinds, and small light fixtures flanking the doorway, it is easily the most attractive building on the block. Pilasters flank the deeply recessed door with leaded transom. The second story windows have muntined sash, and the dormer has a casement window. The ironwork of the stoop is the original and notable for its fine openwork newels of wrought iron.
18 and 20 Christopher Street
This pair of charming little Federal houses was built in 1827 by Daniel Simonson, a carpenter who had purchased the lots that year. These two and one-half story houses of Flemish bond brickwork have gambrel roofs, which are now echoed by the roofs of the dormers. Each house has a dormer window, which is triply divided while its gable is decorated with a sunburst pattern. No. 18 has three simple panels on the fascia board of its roof cornice and a paneled doorway with fanlight giving access to the upper floors. No. 20 has its original paneled Federal door and doorframe with panels replacing the original sidelights. In the corners may be seen the original semi-engaged colonnettes, while those which once stood in front of the pilasters on either side of the door have been replaced by brackets at the top under the transom bar. The transom bar is very handsome, consisting of a convex (pulvinated) frieze with a refined cornice above. The leaded transom above the bar is exceptionally graceful and displays circular and oval forms. At both houses the charming wood shop fronts, which were doubtless added at a later date, consist of glass windows and corner colonnettes set under small continuous hoods, which shelter both show window and door.
78 Washington Place
These two Greek Revival townhouses were built of brick in 1839 by William W. Berwick, together with a stable on the adjoining lot, No. 76. Previously a mason, Berwick by this time had become a builder. He made his home at No. 17 (now No. 78), moving next door some years later to his new house (No. 76). No. 78 retains its original Greek Revival doorway, with pilasters supporting a handsome entablature and cornice. Rising to this dignified doorway is a stone stoop with cast iron stair rails of elaborate anthemion design, and an areaway railing, all originals. Above the bracketed and paneled roof cornice has been added an attic story, with high mansard roof and dormer windows crowned by drip moldings and pediments. Thus, one now sees an interesting combination of two mid-century styles.
114 Washington Place
The late Federal segmental-arched dormers at No. 114 are a crowning glory of this handsome house. Built in 1833 for Joseph Annin, a merchant, this two-story brick house with stone basement shows us the original appearance of the row. The facade, with its Flemish bond brickwork and fine details, is in an excellent state of preservation, and presents a most attractive picture. The wrought iron railings at the stoop are the Federal originals, and each handrail turns under itself, avoiding the need for a newel. The areaway railing has had cast iron Greek Revival finials added. The broad stoop leads to a handsome door with three horizontal panels, flanked by fluted Doric columns which support a transom bar with decorative moldings. Above this we find a simple three panel transom framed by a richly carved molding. The doorway is capped by a latter-day cornice supported on Neo-Grec brackets. The windows retain muntined sash and have sheet metal lintels with cornices, but have been given a new character by miniature corbels supporting their sills. The cornice has a fascia board with leaf and tongue molding. It stops short of the side walls of the house, but the boxed cornice which once returned above it has been replaced by a board and metal rain gutter. The handsome dormer windows are segmental-arched, with keystones, and projecting roof cornices above them echo their shape. These windows are flanked by paneled pilasters.
41 and 51 Barrow Street
These … attractive, though modest, houses of the late Federal period were all built within two years of one another: the three dwellings on the right, Nos. 47, 49, and 51 in 1826; the four to the left, Nos. 39, 41, 43, and 45 in 1828. With the exception of No. 51, they were built as speculative houses for Charles Oakley, who was taxed for Nos. 45, 47, and 49; they found tenants immediately. Among the first tenants were Jacob Bogcrt, carpenter at No. 39; Jacob Nauglc, mason, at No. 47; and Jacob A. Roome, carpenter, at No. 51, all of whom may have played a part in the construction of these houses, together with Abraham Bogert (also Bogart), stonecutter, who developed adjoining properties.
The original appearance of all these houses must have been similar to Nos. 41 and 51. Both are two and one-half storied wood buildings with brick fronts in Flemish bond, steeply pitched roofs and dormer windows. No. 51 retains its original single dormer, replaced at No. 41 by a double casement window surmounted by a low pediment. Stone lintels provide a contrast to the brick facades, as do the cornices, of wood at No. 51, and sheet metal at No. 41. The stoops and areaways have attractive iron railings: those at No. 41 are cast iron, dating from a later period, while the very simple ones at No. 51 are the wrought iron originals.
4 to 10 Grove Street
This fine row of Federal two and one-half story houses is one of the most delightful in the Village. They are frame structures with brick fronts in Flemish bond and were built between,1825 and 1834 on land leased from Trinity Church and St. Luke’s Chapel. The builder associated with the row is James N. Wells, who, like Samuel Winant and John Degraw, had started out as a carpenter, but soon achieved recognition as a builder. He did a great deal of work for Trinity Church and built St. Luke’s Chapel. With the exception of No. 2 1/2, subsequently altered by the addition of a third story with bracketed cornice and steel casement windows, this row of houses has been modified very little. They faithfully reflect the type of modest dwelling which a conscientious builder erected in the late Eighteen-twenties and early Eighteen-thirties.
No. 6, built in 1827 by and for D. G. Van Winkle, a house carpenter, and No. 8, erected in 1829 for Abraham Storms, Jr., merchant, were extensively remodeled by James N. Wells in 1833-34, as was No. 2 1/2, the earliest house of the row, which Wells had originally built in 1825. No. 4, erected by Wells in 1833-34, replaced a shop owned by William J. Roome, a house painter. Consequently, Wells should certainly be credited with the fine proportions and good taste so evident here. All of these Federal houses, with the exception of No. 2 1/2, are three windows wide, two and one-half stories high, and surmounted by two dormer windows at roof level. A low stoop leads to a doorway framed by paneled reveals. Although No. 4 was the last house in the row to be built, it is interesting to note that it has a prototype Federal doorway flanked by columns, standing in front of rusticated wood blocks simulating stone. The three other doors are similar, but have pilasters instead of columns.
The transom of No. 10 retains its handsome leadwork applied over the glass. The eight-paneled entrance doors of these houses, surmounted by a rectangular transom, are also typical of the era. The stone lintels, flush with the brickwork, above the doorways and windows have lost their cornices, but the plain wood cornices with undecorated fascia board may be the originals. The dormer windows at Nos. 4, 8, and 10, have double-hung muntined sash; they have frames with small square paneled blocks at the meeting of vertical and horizontal trim members and are crowned with little pediments. At No. 6, the two dormers have been combined under a low gambrel-shaped gable with a small diamond-shaped window inserted between the two original ones.
No. 8 is the only house which has exterior window blinds. Most of the wrought iron railings at the steps and landings are the handsome originals.
132 Bank Street
This charming row of three brick residences was built in 1833 for William E. Fink, a grocer. These houses, early Greek Revival in style are three stories in height with basements. Nos. 132 and 134 have fronts of Flemish bond. The corner house, No. 136, is constructed of running bond, and the top floor attic windows have been replaced by larger ones. The original wrought iron handrailing of the stoops has been retained at all three houses. At Nos. 132 and 136, the horizontal band beneath the handrail proper is designed with a very graceful scrollwork pattern. The iron spindles are enhanced by a delicate ball design at mid-height. The handrailings, resting on very simple newels with urnlike bases, terminate in a curved volute. A simple wrought iron areaway railing, and wrought iron uprights, topped by small acorn finials may be seen at all three residences.; At. Nos. 132 and 136, the charming Greek Revival doorways have columns and transoms. These doorways consist of a handsome three-paneled door which is flanked on both sides by well proportioned, fluted Doric columns. The two handsome columns support a low entablature which is surmounted by a five-paned transom. A simple lintel, enhanced by a delicate cornice, is seen over the transom. The lintels above the muntined windows of the first and second floors of all three houses have had cornices added. In all three houses, the original sills remain unchanged. The facades may have originally been crowned by a deep fascia board with waterproofed surface seen at No. 134, with small windows cut into it. No. 136 has a shallow cornice set above the lengthened windows, while No. 132 was remodeled to provide a double window located on center with casements, above which a dormer has been added to obtain north light. Philip Evergood, a well-known painter, lived at No. 132 Bank Street from 1940-47.
So, don’t forget to look up! And learn more about Greenwich Village Historic District 50th Anniversary Celebration and Open House Weekend April 13-14 by clicking here.