This rundown building was once a posh mansion

If you stood outside 67 Greenwich Street, you’d never think this shell of a building was anything special: just another decrepit 19th century walkup in Lower Manhattan, now part of a construction site.

Yet behind the scaffolding and broken windows lies the ruins of a Federal–style mansion built from 1809 to 1810—making it one of the city’s oldest houses, even predating the New York City street grid of 1811.

67 Greenwich Street, with its splayed stone lintels and fashionable bowed facade seen on the Trinity Street side of the mansion (below), was built by Robert Dickey, a prominent merchant who amassed his fortune trading tea, coffee, rice, and spices in China, India, and Europe.

A man of such wealth would be expected to live in a grand home on the city’s poshest street. In the late 18th and early 19th centuries, Greenwich Street was the “Millionaire’s Row” of the era.

Imagine what it must have been like then: an elegant thoroughfare hugging the shoreline of Manhattan, lined with new Federal–style homes occupied by families with last names like Livingston and Roosevelt.

In 1809, “two 3-story houses were under construction” on Greenwich Street, along with two stables and coach house and storehouse on Lumber Street (renamed Trinity Place in 1843), “separated from the houses by courtyards,” says the Landmarks Preservation Commission report.

Dickey, his wife Anne (above left), and his family (the Dickeys reportedly had 10 kids) moved into the larger one. They lived there until 1820.

At that time, Dickey’s fortunes took a dive, and he was forced to sell. In 1823, the house was purchased by Peter Schermerhorn, a ship chandler and builder.

The Schermerhorns were of course an old Dutch colonial family; they built the counting houses of Schermerhorn Row at today’s South Street Seaport.

After the 1820s, Greenwich Street was no longer the richest residential area in New York. As the decades passed, what is now called the Robert and Anne Dickey Mansion went through a variety of uses.

It was leased to socially prominent families, took a turn as the French consulate, then became a boardinghouse, ship ticket office.

Like so many New York homes, it even spent time as a house of “ill-fame”—aka a brothel “of the lowest character,” as this frothy New York Times article from 1871 reports.

Incredibly, 67 Greenwich Street remained in the Schermerhorn family until 1919. A fourth floor had been added by then, and most of the remaining Federal–style houses built on Greenwich Street were demolished to make way for the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel, according to the LPC report.

Somehow the Dickey mansion survived the 19th century commercialization of the Lower West Side, the construction of elevated rail lines on Greenwich Avenue and Trinity Place, the building of the tunnel, and then the redevelopment of Lower Manhattan in the late 20th century.

Why is 67 Greenwich behind scaffolding today? It’s slated to be incorporated into this project, which calls for a 35-story tower to cantilever over what remains of the 217-year-old mansion.

[Second image: Evening Post, 1823; fourth image: Anne Brown Dickey by John Wesley Jarvis, Metropolitan Museum of Art; fifth image: 1940, Library of Congress via LPC report; sixth image: 1965, John Barrington Bayley via LPC report; seventh image: Department of Records Tax Photo 1980s]

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4 Responses to “This rundown building was once a posh mansion”

  1. Audrey Burtrum-Stanley Says:

    FANTASTIC! I read your material — THEN, your readership absolutely must look at the link (you provided) to the proposed buildings and the refurbishing of the 200yr old structure. This was a remarkable undertaking, a plan for adding modern design and respectfully preserving the origional structure. It was interesting to see the changes the authorities dictated prior to approval. (Everyone HATED the ‘yellow pylon for signage — ha!)

    I wish, (even though there is ‘a vestpocket-sized park’ across the street) they had a few potted, small trees or bushes or large plants added to the area’s sidewalk or the small patio behind the Fed. bldg. These would ‘belong to the children at the school,’ whereas those in the park are the ‘public’s plantings’. Otherwise, this seems such a place for ‘grown-ups!’ A wee bit of nature (even as a small tree in a decorative container) is so very inviting and adds a unique warmth – such as every schoolhouse experience should offer to children.

    (*If you agree — call someone-in-charge and suggest this to ’em. Who knows, some day you may walk past and see an evergreen in a planter covered in popcorn strings and pinecones caked with peanutbutter to feed winter birds / or a series of pink blossoming
    spring trees with hand-made windchimes — all compliments of nearby learning children.)

  2. Zoe Says:

    This is such an interesting & poignant post Ephemeral (family home w/ ten children to house of ‘ill repute’).

    I’m not thrilled (trying to be polite) about these cantilevered Jetsons (re. space-age cartoon) buildings that *surround* antique buildings. (Despite I LOVE modern architecture on its own). I think/feel they ruin the streetscape setting of the original in a fix-it-till-it’s-broken way. In other words: over design… In these cases literally ‘over’.

    In late 1980 or early 1981 my GV born & raised friend took me to a housewarming party of a very young couple he knew. (We were in our late teens/early 20s & they seemed to be also). They had purchased one of these elegant townhouses/miniature mansions for a song.

    From the outside it looked fairly simple save for a tiny Romeo & Juliet type balcony on the facade w/ shuttered doors opening onto it. Inside it was a beautiful example of the type of building & era that you’ve written about.

    There was a very large (for the size of the building) ballroom that had been used for dances (obviously inc. the parquet floors); w/ the above mentioned shuttered doors & balcony at the outer wall — presumably there for people to ‘take some air’ after dancing & gaze at the street.

    There was a beautiful overgrown fairytale courtyard attached — completely shielded from the street. (It resembled the garden in the scene in Zeferelli’s Romeo & Juliet in which she cries to her nurse after the tragedy has begun to unfold). It was accessible via a tall staircase from an upper floor (vs. kitchen level access one finds in middle-class townhouses & brownstones & tenements).

    The really astonishing thing is that this young couple was able to afford this tiny unfurnished mansion w/ courtyard garden then! (Imagine a couple in similar circumstances attempting that today).

    I am still trying to recall where it was/which building this was. It was on a corner of a numbered grid street (main avenue & numbered side street) — if my memory is accurate. I hope it is still there!

  3. Untapped Staff Reads: Bensonhurst’s Vegas Diner Closes, New Art Installation at Seward Park Library | Untapped Cities Says:

    […] This rundown building was once a posh mansion [Ephemeral New York]: If you stood outside 67 Greenwich Street, you’d never think this shell of a building was anything special: just another decrepit 19th century walkup in Lower Manhattan, now part of a construction site. […]

  4. This construction site in Tribeca used to be one of the city’s fanciest homes – KFA Says:

    […] So what does the future hold for the ever-evolving 67 Greenwich now? It’s slated to be incorporated into a new development project at nearby 77 Greenwich –a 35-story tower that will cantilever over what remains of the landmark. [Ephemeral NY] […]

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