The many lives of two Chelsea carriage houses

Certain old buildings in New York are so enchanting, they hijack your imagination. Who lived in them, you wonder as you pass by, and what stories can they tell us about their neighborhood?

This is what happens to me whenever I walk by 461 and 463 West 18th Street, just off Tenth Avenue.

These twin carriage houses were built in the 1880s, when the area known today as West Chelsea was a working-class industrial district of low-rise flats and factories.

The earliest image I could find of the twin stables dates to 1932 (above). You can see them tucked behind a corner restaurant. Cyrus Rheims, the name on a building sign on Tenth Avenue, rented and sold draft horses. Maybe the stables were built for Rheims.

Or perhaps the stables housed the horses used by the West Side Cowboys. These were the men hired to ride in front of the street-level freight trains that roared up Tenth Avenue from the 1850s to the mid-1930s, warning pedestrians out of the way (not always successfully; hundreds were killed over the years).

By 1938, when Berenice Abbott took this photo of the carriage houses for her exhibit and subsequent book Changing New York, number 463 “was attached to a corner liquor store at 130 Tenth Avenue,” the book notes in an updated index.

With curtains in the windows of number 461, it was likely a residence—maybe the man and woman on the right made it their hideaway. “These businesses, and the junk shop at number 461, served the seamen and dockworkers of the still-active West Side waterfront.”

Here’s a 1941 photo of the corner, with the two carriage houses (now painted white, along with 130 Tenth Avenue) in the center. Deliverymen unload their trucks; a tire business has taken over three tenements.

The freight trains on Tenth Avenue are gone, replaced in 1934 by elevated trains running along the new High Line. The gleaming New York of modernity, symbolized by the Empire State Building, appears far away.

By the 1970s, with industry in decline and the Hudson River waterfront all but abandoned, Tenth Avenue and 18th Street was a desolate place, judging from this 1975 photo by Edmund V. Gillon.

The shipping industry on the waterfront was gone, though the freight trains on the High Line were still running. Small businesses like Congo Tires, however, continued to hang on.

By 2000, twenty years after the High Line’s abandoned rail tracks were reclaimed by weeds, the carriage houses were looking better.

French restaurant La Lunchonette had opened on the corner in 1988, taking over the ground floor at number 463. But note the bars on the door of number 461—a holdover of a more crime-ridden West Chelsea.

Here we are in 2017, and the two carriage houses are prime real estate (take a peek inside the second-floor former hay loft at number 461, courtesy of these listing photos from 2012) in a revitalized, wealthier West Chelsea—thanks in part to the new High Line Park.

La Lunchonette is gone, though. This locals favorite was a casualty of a suddenly trendy neighborhood where landlords can command the kind of sky-high rents no one who lived on West 18th Street when a freight train belched up the avenue could have ever imagined.

[Second photo: NYPL; third photo: Berenice Abbott, Changing New York; fourth photo: NYPL; fifth photo: MCNY by Edmond Gillon; 2013.3.2.141; sixth photo: mrjumbo.com]

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35 Responses to “The many lives of two Chelsea carriage houses”

  1. luluhulu Says:

    Beautiful post, Emphemeral.

  2. Audrey Burtrum-Stanley Says:

    This is a highly commendable array of photos telling ‘the life story’ of these two structures. You must have Eye Strain trying to spot the places in the vintage photos, when the paint went from dark to light and the doors changed so dramatically in size and placement. Remarkable work – the FBI needs you!

  3. Linda D. Says:

    It was also interesting to note the changes in the building next door which went from a one story something to a garage and ended up an apartment building. A very interesting insight into a neighborhood’s evolution. Thanks!

    • ephemeralnewyork Says:

      Good observation–that little garage didn’t stand a chance in today’s real estate market.

  4. The Hatching Cat Says:

    I wonder if any cats lived here to keep the mice at bay….great story.

  5. jharrigan23 Says:

    Appreciate the historical work……..very enjoyable….Thanks you

  6. Lynne DeThample Says:

    Excellent history on this fine old building. Renovations on the inside are impressive! I’d buy and talk to the spirits every night!!!

  7. judyrosica Says:

    It reads like a wonderful biography and breathes life into these wonderful buildings. They have gotten the respect they deserve.

  8. Audrey Burtrum-Stanley Says:

    If I owned these Carriage Houses, I’d be elated to have a copy (print out) of your presentation here. Maybe you can make the owners each a copy (after all YOU DO HAVE THEIR ADDRESS,) You could suggest they consider putting the material in a frame to hang on some interior wall and declare’n it should never leave the dwelling regardless of who is renting or if the structure should change ownership. This way the legend of the house’s activity and how it has been woven into the changing neighborhood, will never be lost to the future!

  9. ephemeralnewyork Says:

    Thank you! Audrey, that’s not a bad idea. I’m actually hoping someone knows who lives in each house and sends them a link to this post, for their own enjoyment.

  10. Mark LaPilusa Says:

    Apologies for being a slight bit forensic…In the 1938 Bernice Abbott photo, Mickey’s Junk Shop is #459.

  11. Mark LaPilusa Says:

    BTW, love the site. Keep up the great work.

  12. ephemeralnewyork Says:

    Thanks! Yes, the junk shop is #459…I’ll check again but I think Changing New York made a typo.

  13. 4/5: Explore Jamaica, Queens; Amazon’s 2nd bookstore: Secrets of Balthazar | SpotCorner Says:

    […] The many lives of two Chelsea carriage houses These twin carriage houses were built in the 1880s, when the area known today as West Chelsea was a working-class industrial district of low-rise flats and factories. (Ephemeral New York) […]

  14. Tom B Says:

    Seriously, who can afford $6,400 a month rent? That’s twice more than most families make each month!
    Nice work on the research.

  15. SlowCorrosion Says:

    This is wonderful, thank you so much for putting this out there.

  16. Tim Says:

    I’ve sent this to the owners. They will love it.

    • Audrey Burtrum-Stanley Says:

      Dear TIM —

      Please tell the owners of the pair of wonderful, old NYC buildings — after staring at the structures / with natural Orange -Brick at the top and trimmed in that beautiful Blue-Green paint / next time they re-paint – consider doing the bottom half (which is now Red) in the Blue Green paint color and trim it in the Orange-Brick hue so both levels will compliment oneanother. It would make the buildings a ‘stand out’ on the block. (*SORRY — Could not resist writing this – ‘ADVICE’ is like a hair-in-the-mouth; Nothing improves till you SPIT IT OUT!)

  17. trilby1895 Says:

    In the 1938 Abbott photo, i see those crisply starched and ironed ruffled curtains and try to imagine the woman who adorned her windows so lovingly. What was her life like? Husband? Children? No doubt money wasn’t abundant yet she made the effort to beautify her life. Or, perhaps it wasn’t a wife and mother at all; after all, women died young then; perhaps it was an orphaned daughter who was responsible for those curtains. In old buildings like this, there is no ending imagination of “what it was like then.” One reason why I love New York City as much as I do.

    • Zoe Says:

      trilby 1895:

      When I had an apartment in Bay Ridge Brooklyn in 1992 my Greek American landlord (male) was really angry that I did not have “white” curtains in *all* my windows. I had them in two out of five but not ALL of them. (Not in my sliver of a kitchen & not in my art studio at the back).

      Meanwhile I had a pipe to *nowhere* (= plastic tub emptied in toilet) under my kitchen sink / scalding hot water only in my bathroom / a bathroom door that didn’t close completely / shoddy electrical wiring / a massive hole in the ceiling (after the upstairs neighbour’s pipe burst). He said he was concerned about the *respectability* of not having “white” curtains that could be “seen from the street” — saying “It looks like Gypsies live here.” (I told him they don’t like to be called “Gypsies” — preferring ‘Roma’ etc). Funnily my mum is from Berlin & Frankfurt am Main Germany where she said Roma & Sinti all had “white curtains” in their wooden caravans!

      Most — if not *all* — of my New Yorker friends over the years on the LES & GV & Park Slope etc. did not even *have* curtains in *every* room (such as kitchens & rooms facing private courtyards etc.). It was so funny… aside from having to go to landlord/tenant court to have the repairs made — which the judge ordered be done. He & his lawyer did not mention the not enough “white” curtains accusation in court. So apparently they are not legally required in NYC!

      • trilby1895 Says:

        Zoe, I LOVE your story and, guess what, I, as well, live in Bay Ridge and have for the past 35 years. I’m almost thinking we could have lived in one of the same buildings (I’ve lived in two during my life here). Can you believe the turmoil over window curtains? Since living here, I can. Easily. Berlin and Frankfurt; my family are also from Europe. Would you be willing to correspond? If not, I understand since I am pretty reclusive. Do you know if our correspondence is public, on “Ephemeral”? Of course, I would prefer not. Btw, thank so much for your comment to me; first time I’ve received such.

  18. EGWolf Says:

    I love this post. Thank you.

  19. Zoe Says:

    To Trilby 1895:

    I lived at 85th & 4th in a beautiful (aside from the aforementioned repair violations) prewar building. After the subways were built that far out some really lovely purpose built *apartment houses* were designed. This one had a little foyer w/ glass pane French doors & tall windows w/ deep sills & parquet floors etc. — in contrast to the *features* of the tenements & rooming houses & private family homes *made* into apartments later. (Bathtub in your kitchen on the LES or beautiful 19th c. parlours & dining rooms & libraries of townhouses in Park Slope hacked to pieces to create studio & one bedroom apartments etc.).

    I won’t give the exact address because I don’t want to out the landlord (re. repairs not made until court ordered) but to do the New Yorky thing of citing what was filmed nearby: a scene from Saturday Night Fever was filmed across the street from that building.

    I LOVE that neighbourhood. The romantic view of the bridge one can see from almost anywhere… all the exquisite Arab food. I think a lot of New Yorkers do not realise that in Bay Ridge some people own lovely stand alone homes surrounded by significant expanses of private green lawn & gardens. (The section away from the trains & commercial district — near the convent & toward the water & walk). Where else can you have a home/house like that & be blocks from the subway (aside from a few other also little known enclaves in greater NYC)?

    I wonder if there are still the noisy & illegal drag races up 4rth Ave. (!!!). I really wished I’d lived there longer as there is a LOT to see in Bay Ridge for those interested in history & architecture. Most of which I only discovered after the internet allowed us to know what fascinating things were just round the corner. Even when I lived on the LES there were several city museums (preserved historic houses etc.) & historic buildings only *blocks* from me — w/ my passing them almost daily yet having not a clue what they were about. Inc. on my *own* block. Because who climbed every step in front of a building then to read a *tiny* bronze plaque next to a door (if they’d even bothered to place one).

    Lastly: I think our comments ARE “public” here! Happy to have been the first ever comment posted on any comment of yours ever Trilby. Colourful virtual cyber *confetti* for you! My first ever received comment was probably an abusive one on my hometown *community blog* for a CT Shore town an hour from NYC (private blog but about the town & created/run by my brother’s former classmate)… whilst I was valiantly attempting to post comments against teardowns of handmade ancient & antique houses replaced almost *daily* by hideous McMansions. (Honestly — as the town has a ‘teardowns’ page on its news website which used to be called ‘teardown of the day’. See the NYT piece). I’m looking forward to reading your future comments to Ephemeral Trilby 1895.

    • trilby1895 Says:

      Zoe, re 85th & 4th Ave. apt…….I wouldn’t be at all surprised if you and I had passed each other on the street and/or in Cent. 21 around 1992. 4th Ave. drag races? Let’s say their roaring, obnoxious presence is NOT but a memory, unfortunately. Your comments re McMansions replacing lovely ancient and antique homes particularly causes me (psychic) pain. As a child, we (my family and I) spent many a summer on the Connecticut shore (was born in that state) and what I remember are those lovely old towns, elm-lined streets, beautiful homes. As a matter of fact, one of the most beautiful locations, I later found out, was Wesleyan University in Middletown. “Teardown of the Day” – as far as I’m concerned, bordering on criminal behavior and that includes when that takes place in Brooklyn, actually, everywhere in NYC. I wish people would cultivate an appreciation for the uniqueness and beauty of what’s been “left behind” regarding buildings, streets. Oh, sorry to have misled you but I have had a few replies to comments but none forwarded to my e-mail address. LES is another location in which I would like to live in NYC, along with Park Slope, Cobble Hill, Bklyn Heights, Gramercy Park, etc., etc. I will look forward to your comments in Ephemeral, as well, Zoe!

      • Zoe Says:

        Trilby — I see what you meant now. The comments get sent to your email addy when you have marked the box under the comment box saying ‘Notify me of new comments…’. Perhaps you’d not done that previously?

        Yes the ruthless teardowns are happening everywhere now — the City & country 😦

        I was going to mention Century 21 but I did not want to confess my shallow adoration of clothing & shoes etc. here! LOVE that place… really miss it along w/ everything else in Bay Ridge…

      • trilby1895 Says:

        I guess that’s why I haven’t noticed replies that much. “….shallow adoration”…. could be/is me. When I moved here, Cent. 21 was but a tiny storefront. Have you seen it lately? Since they’ve added an annex across 87th St. with housewares, bed and bath linens, second floor devoted solely to SHOES? Departments have been seriously changed around, some (changes) good, others not so much but that place is still my go-to place for lots and lots of stuff, all except books.

      • Zoe Says:

        I haven’t been to Bay Ridge s. 2002 when I *attempted* to move back there & found out that the rest of NYC no longer minded travelling an HOUR outside of Manhattan to get home once they discovered they could move to Bay Ridge for apartments 10x larger than they were used to on the island & hence the rents became astronomically high like Manhattan rents.

        Like so many other New Yorkers I’m priced out of the City & forced to live just outside of it’s margins. (Upside: the beach. Downside: inadequate public transportation).

        A whole floor for shoes (*rolls eyes*). Like a whole floor for candy & chocolate. When I was last there in 92 the shoe dept. was in the front — so one *had* to walk by it to exit (if I recall properly). My favourite was the *tiny* designer clothing dept. w/ very marked down clothing from high end designers (which I still could not afford but liked putting things on my wish list then paying my rent / electric / phone instead). Don’t tell me that has a *floor* also. (I may cry at the thought…).

        Don’t forget to mark ‘Notify… new comments…’ from now on Trilby!

  20. trilby1895 Says:

    $6,400 per month; not meaning any disrespect but……if this space were anywhere but Chelsea, Manhattan, New York City, I’d wager asking rent would be something like $50 per month pre-2017 pricing, more like 1950s, of course. But, say in Duluth, maybe $100. Highly unrealistic Manhattan real estate that will happily be remitted by someone who loves history of the place. I would.

  21. trilby1895 Says:

    Zoe, I know what you mean about being priced out of neighborhood because, when I moved here 35 years ago, I found the same as you did…..”no one” wanted to live “way out” in Bay Ridge but now, pfttt, no prob traveling 40 min by subway to get to work. The distance was no problem for me since I’d always have a seat (being near the end of the R line) going in and coming back – about an hour and a half a day for uninterrupted reading; what could be better. But now….well, if I didn’t have this long-time apartment (and from what you’ve said about your’s previously in BR, we very well may have the same landlord), I’d never be able to afford to live here. I would like to correspond with you but am loathe to do so on this public forum. Is there a private way we can exchange e-mail addresses so these notes don’t appear on “Ephemeral”?

    • Linda D. Says:

      I’ve enjoyed this conversation, but if you two really do want to take it offline, I’d suggest contacting the moderator who might be able to put the two of you in touch by email. I’ll miss the exchange. It’s been illuminating. Thanks!

  22. Zoe Says:

    Linda & Trilby:

    Linda I don’t want to deprive you of the gripping travelogue of Bay Ridge! (Nor drive dear Ephemeral mad w/ the politics of requests for email exchanges).

    Trilby (& anyone tired of paying NYC rents) Stamford & Bridgeport CT are turning into boroughs of NYC. It takes longer to get to Bay Ridge than Stamford.

  23. trilby1895 Says:

    Dear Linda,
    I love that you find us (Zoe and myself) interesting to read!!! ; ) I’ve passed through Bridgeport on MetroNorth visiting family in Conn. (I was born in Conn.) but, at this point in my life (pretty “far along”) I think I’m staying put. But thank you, Linda. When I moved here I gave up my car, also driver’s license, and haven’t driven for 35 years and don’t want to and, I’m afraid, living anywhere but right here would necessitate a car/driving. I think I’d better take your advice and check w/Mr. Ephemeral about something not involving those who thought they were going to read about Chelsea carriage houses and find themselves drawn into this. But I’m really glad to have provided some fun reading. ; ) Thank you, Linda.

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