If you ever find yourself taking a stroll in the far West Village (and I highly recommend you do), follow West 11th Street almost as far as the West Side Highway and Hudson River, and you will stumble upon a special reminder of the area’s history. The residential building at 354 West 11th Street, located on the south side of the street between Washington and West Streets, is a uniquely intact remnant among a drastically changed streetscape, which Village Preservation fought hard to ensure was preserved. Beyond the bounds of the Greenwich Village Historic District, this farthest west stretch of West 11th Street is today mostly characterized by larger apartment buildings of the 20th century, which replaced earlier, smaller houses and industrial structures.
Nestled between a segment of the West Village Houses development (a 1960-70s effort spearheaded by Jane Jacobs) and the flamboyant “Palazzo Chupi,” a drastic alteration of a historic horse stable, No. 354 is, per the Landmarks Preservation Commission’s (LPC) designation report, a “relatively rare surviving residential building of the early period of the mixed-use development that came to characterize the far western section of Greenwich Village, which was built up with residences for the middle and professional classes, industry, and transportation- and maritime-related commerce.”
354 West 11th Street also happens to be one of the best extant examples of the Greek Revival style along the city’s western waterfront, where most such row houses have been lost. The three-story building displays many of the key characteristics of the Greek Revival style, in vogue in the 1820s to 1850s: the classic red brick in a stretcher bond pattern; brownstone-faced basement level, stoop, areaway curb, window lintels and sills, and detailed door surround; multi-lite (i.e. gridded pane) windows, including elongated windows with unequal sashes at the parlor level; and simple wrought ironwork.
Constructed c. 1841-42, the building had a series of short-term owners for its first two decades, until it was purchased by the family of Friedrich C. Knubel, a German-born grocer, in 1866. The Knubels made some modest changes to the building, including adding an extension to the house at the rear yard in 1871 (a common alteration to maximize space in a crowded city, which we continue to often see to this day). It is hypothesized that they also installed the still-present pressed metal cornice at the primary (front) facade around that time.
Among No. 354’s notable residents was Friedrich’s son, Frederick Hermann Knubel, who spent his childhood in the house and who went on to become the first president of the United Lutheran Church in America beginning in 1918. The Knubels sold 354 West 11th Street to fireman Anthony Udovicich and his wife Elena in 1923, who lived there for the next twenty years or so. It appears that the house was converted from a single-family home to multiple residences at some point in the mid-twentieth century, as there are records showing several occupants during the 1960s. One of them, John F. Mehegan, was a famed jazz pianist, composer, author, and Juilliard lecturer. He is especially known as the composer of the musical score for the Broadway production of A Streetcar Named Desire. The building continues to be privately owned and occupied today, and is currently zoned for three families.
On September 29, 2006, the LPC “calendared” three buildings in the Far West Village for landmark designation. Essentially, this means that the LPC officially decided to add 354 West 11th Street, along with 150 Barrow Street and 159 Charles Street, to its calendar for a public hearing on that date. The buildings were subsequently officially voted on, approved by the Commission, and designated as landmarks the following spring. This was all a direct result of Village Preservation’s long-fought efforts to achieve landmark status for historic buildings in the Far West Village. Click here to learn more about our ongoing efforts to preserve buildings like 354 West 11th Street in the area.