What became of 5 tenements on Elizabeth Street

What a difference 107 years make on the tenement block of Elizabeth Street between Prince and Houston Streets.

In the first photo, taken in 1912 by Lewis Wickes Hine, trash is strewn on the uneven Belgian block pavement. Broken-down carts line the sidewalk; boys huddle in the doorway of a bar bearing a sign for the Kips Bay Brewing Company, founded in 1910.

Kids run around, men stand by storefronts, and laundry hangs from fire escapes laden with pots, pans, and other household items.

It’s a Little Italy street of poverty—but it’s also a hive of human activity, rich with the unpretty details of daily life.

Amazingly, the string of tenements at 260 to 268 Elizabeth Street still stand. They’ve been cleaned up and repainted, and the fire escapes are uniform and clean, almost elegant.

Expensive boutiques and a roasting company occupy the storefronts. The Kips Bay bar is gone, as is the tenement across Houston Street. The block is still and tidy, absent of human energy.

But the little 1820s Federal-style house with the dormer windows on the corner still hangs on. (It was once Colonial Cafe, RIP!)

[Top photo: LOC]

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14 Responses to “What became of 5 tenements on Elizabeth Street”

  1. Indigo Spider Says:

    I have not seen this block since the mid-80s and it has changed tremendously. My dad had his iron works business (267-69 Elizabeth) and I remember going to work with him as a kid. Back in the 70s and 80s it was much grittier but I do remember those tenements. My dad retired in 1995 and simply rented out the building.

    We still own the property but I moved away from the area and have not actually seen how it changed! If you ever come across old picture of B&J Iron Works on Elizabeth, that was my dad’s shop.

    • jmatturr Says:

      Nice sign on the ironworks, if I remember. Even when I moved near there in ’79 it seemed to be something of a holdover. The art store was you mention below sold pigments and I think came as the neighborhood changed rapidly and now has moved. A few new places opened up and suddenly in 1996 the NY Times had an article about a new neighborhood called ‘Nolita’ and there was the flood.

      • Indigo Spider Says:

        Yes, it was from the 40s I believe. My dad started working for the original partners when he arrived in NY in 1957 so I’m not sure how old the original sign was. My dad bought the into the “B” when the partner, Berthold I think it was, retired. Later, “J”, which was Julius, returned to Germany and got another partner but they never changed the name or the sign.

        I still remember the business phone number like I remember my first telephone number even better then my current and I think I even have pictures of the first trucks without the 212 area code and with the exchange instead of numbers.

  2. Kenny Says:

    I lived at 262 and remember the Iron Works well.
    The VOA was on the corner, the smell from the bakery from the other side of Houston, CBs around the corner … We seemed hemmed in: east of the Bowery, west of 6th, south of Canal and north of Washington Sq were another worlds.
    There were many blues bars and Ukrainian activities on 2nd Ave but to get there we would walk clear around the more dangerous punk bars on Bowery. If you didn’t buy firecrackers from the Vietnamese kids they would light them and throw them at you. The Little Person who ran the bodega on Prince Street was the biggest Rigetti / Yankee fan ever. The Rays Pizza next to him claimed to invent the Hawaiian slice. The Pioneer grocery and the laundry on Mott Street. Our b/w tv was from Uncle Steve’s on Canal Street. San Genaro !
    God love you, Elizabeth, who ever you were.

    • Indigo Spider Says:

      I vaguely remember walking to get egg, bacon and cheese on a Kaiser roll with my dad for breakfast shortly before opening the shop on the mornings I went to work with him. I don’t remember if it was the bodega on Prince but I do remember they always had my dads order ready without him calling ahead and they always remembered me. I think it was because he was the “giant German guy” that everyone remembers but I always felt special as a little kid that they knew me.

      I also remember some sort of artist supply store on Elizabeth, I think, or am I remembering that completely wrong?

  3. Kenny Says:

    Maybe you are thinking of the Pearl Paint on Canal Street.
    Someone said Martin Scorsese and Isabella Rossellini lived on the block when they were married.

    • Indigo Spider Says:

      Yes, I think that is the one, thanks. I also remembering hearing about Scorsese/Rossellini at the time but still don’t know if it was just rumor or not. I do remember meeting Rossellini on a corner as we both were trying to catch a cab once. She was very nice and gave me an autograph when I kinda stared because I recognized the face but couldn’t figure out who she was.

      Scorsese filmed a scene in my dad’s shop for the Godfather, although I never met him. It was cut from the film and pissed my father off to no end that they closed for several days so they could film and then never made it into the movie. Hated Scorsese forever after haha!

      Thanks for the reminders, always fun to reminisce.

  4. Tom B Says:

    The bottom pic of the girl with heart and double white doors is different than my Google map pic. Mine shows a big eye ball and a pull down shutter covering the doors. It’s amazing that the tenement building looks almost the same. I wonder what they look like inside. I heard Scorsese say he lived on Elizabeth St when he was young.

  5. ephemeralnewyork Says:

    I think he did, or his grandparents did. There’s a Scorsese connection to the neighborhood.

  6. Kenny Says:

    There is a shot in Scorsese’s Mean Streets looking down on Old Saint Pat’s Cemetery; the camera would have been placed on an upper floor or rooftop on the east side of Mott Street between Houston and Prince. So that set up may have backed the Iron Works on Elizabeth Street. In the cemetery DeNiro & Keitel look up at the revelers with disdain signaling change in their neighborhood. Scorsese insisted no Hollywood stage could capture the flavor of a Soho hallway or stairwell.

  7. Bob Says:

    1999 photo from Shorpy’s: https://www.shorpy.com/files/liz.jpg

  8. Bob Says:

    1933 photo, from NY Public Library

    https://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/510d47dd-38ad-a3d9-e040-e00a18064a99

  9. Bob Says:

    1940 tax photos:

    http://nycma.lunaimaging.com/luna/servlet/s/u7f8sh
    http://nycma.lunaimaging.com/luna/servlet/s/496k9b
    http://nycma.lunaimaging.com/luna/servlet/s/h63vo6

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