There are very few welcome surprises that have come along in the past months of this pandemic. But Village Preservation’s Spring House Tour Benefit, a much beloved annual event that is a hallmark of the beginning of spring in New York, is one whose fate has a happy, and unexpected, outcome!
Traditionally held on the first Sunday of May, our Annual Spring House Tour Benefit is in its 22nd year. When we made the decision to postpone the much-anticipated event, we dug down deep to find a way to continue and make the tour happen in whatever way we could. As the public health situation did not improve over the course of the subsequent weeks, we determined that a physical walking tour through the six houses was not a viable possibility this year, and an alternate solution was in order.
As they say, “necessity is the mother of invention.” And so it was in the case of the house tour.
We reached out to the owner of 632 on Hudson, one of the homes that was slated to be on the tour this year, and asked her if she would be willing to have a short film made of her extraordinary home. To our great delight, she said yes! And the film we have produced, “Adaptive Enchantment,” will premiere October 18th, running through October 24th. We cannot wait to share the surprises that lay in store for our audience! But for the moment, let’s explore the building’s rich and varied history.
632 Hudson’s Past
The history of the home is every bit as full of turns and surprises as its current contents, mirroring almost two centuries of Greenwich Village’s evolution, all in one building. 632 on Hudson began its life in 1847 as two adjoining townhouses, when the neighborhood was developing as a home for merchants and moderately successful businesspeople. One of the houses was built for the family of Stephen Kane, a sashmaker, and the other for the family of Richard Towning.
The entry for 632 Hudson in the landmark designation report for the Greenwich Village Historic District reads:
“These two brick houses are four stories high, rising slightly above their neighbors to the south. They share a cornice with dominant central pediment, added at a later date. There are stores at the ground floor and windows above them, all of nearly equal height. They were built for Stephen Kane (No. 630) and for the estate of Richard Towning (No. 632) as part of the development of the area.
But by at least 1855 No. 632 was operating as a boarding house, as waves of immigration began to wash over the area, horse-drawn streetcar lines connected the area to “the city” downtown, and the nearby Hudson River waterfront was bursting with industry. The blue-collar residents included Augustus J. Reilly and L. S. Vandermark, both of whom worked as “cartmen,” and Henry J. West, a clerk. All three men were also volunteer firefighters.
The tradition of volunteer firefighters continued as the residents changed. In 1859 Edward Eaton, John Kavana, and Louis M. Sturtevant—all carpenters—were living here and volunteering as well.
In 1881 Hugh King, an Irish immigrant, purchased both townhouses and converted them into a general storefront and warehouse for his liquor importing and exporting business. By the late 19th century, this part of Greenwich Village, connected to the waterfront, was populated largely by Irish immigrants and their children, who built the area’s churches, schools, and gathering spaces. The remnants of King’s store’s original signage are still visible right above the first floor, and at the very top, there is installed a pediment on the cornice to capture his name, Hugh King, and the year he purchased it.
The building’s next adaptation was as a sausage factory! The Esteve family bought the building during World War II to make candy, according to Edward Esteve, the son of Maria and Edward Esteve, the owners of Esteve Packing Corporation. Spanish immigrants, they were part of the large “Little Spain” community found on Manhattan’s Far West Side between Christopher and 23rd Streets in the 20th century.
The Esteve family switched to making sausage in the mid-1950’s. Maria Esteve ran the sausage factory, while her husband, Edward, concentrated on other import-export goods. By the 1960’s the canned chorizo was carried all over the world by Grace Lines. The sausage business closed in 1983, but Mrs. Esteve refused to sell the building, hoping to launch another business, possibly a restaurant. When she died at the age of 97, the family sold the building.
632 on Hudson Today
In 1992, our friend Karen Lashinky and her mother, who fled to America to escape the Nazis, would stumble across what remained of the two structures, which had been ignored for some time. Through the windows and doors is almost 200 years of history brought to life through the adaptive reuse and reimagining of this erstwhile sausage factory.
Karen has transformed this amazing building into a fascinating wonderland that holds stories and seemingly infinite treasures that are a feast for the eyes and the ears. The story has all the makings of one of those rags-to-riches productions beloved on Broadway. Only this time, the star is a derelict sausage factory in Greenwich Village.
We hope you will join us for our premiere of “Adaptive Enchantment” and explore the wonder and mystery of this magnificent home.
To those of you who have already generously donated to support our benefit this year, we thank you once again! On the morning of October 18th, you will be sent a private link and password to your email address. Please be on the lookout for that email!
To those of you who have not yet supported our 2020 benefit, there is still time! You can make a donation to the benefit here! We will send you the private link and password to your email address on the morning of October 18th.