A tiny wooden house in Yorkville that time forgot

Outlawed south of 86th Street in 1866, wood-frame houses are a rarity in Manhattan. So when you find one tucked into an otherwise ordinary Upper East Side block, it’s hard not to fall for its charming cornice and clapboard shutters.

That’s what happened when I found myself in front of 450 East 78th Street. This two-story wooden house hiding between two red-brick tenements was built in 1855, according to the AIA Guide to New York City.

Who built the house and all of the stories contained between its walls is something of a mystery. But like the handful of other surviving wood-frame houses from the same era on the far East Side, it may have been put up by a person of rather modest means who wanted a free-standing dwelling far from the action of the city center, which barely extended past 23rd Street in the decade before the Civil War.

The AIA Guide dubbed the house a “Manhattan miracle” because it managed to evade the wrecking ball. How did that happen? A little luck, plus the changing demographics of Yorkville.

Yorkville in the antebellum age was a hamlet of farms and well-spaced wealthy estates. But after the New York and Harlem railroad opened a stop at 86th Street and Park Avenue in 1834, and horsecar lines began running up and down Second and Third Avenues by the 1850s, the neighborhood transformed into a “low-density” residential enclave, according to the Historic Districts Council.

“With the increase in railroad access to the area, carpenter-builders constructed rows of wood frame houses for middle-class families,” stated the Landmarks Preservation Commission.

As the 19th century continued, Yorkville filled up with working-class immigrants, and that may have been the saving grace for 450 East 78th Street.

“Wood frame houses survived longer in Yorkville because the area was not generally favored by the wealthy for their residences, due in large part to the industries, transportation lines, and working class character of much of Yorkville,” stated the LPC.

At some point before the 1930s (above left), it gained two ground-floor storefronts; the second floor is a rental apartment, and the facade looks similar to the way it appeared in 1975 (at right).

The entire building changed hands about four years ago. For $2.2 million, someone bought this little piece of Manhattan’s wood-frame history.

[Third image: NYPL; fourth image: MCNY 2013.3.1.856]

Tags: , , , , , , ,

10 Responses to “A tiny wooden house in Yorkville that time forgot”

  1. Penelope Bianchi Says:

    How adorable and fascinating! Is it still there and looking like that? I want to remove the air conditioners! It is so charming……I love it!

    • ephemeralnewyork Says:

      Yep, it’s still there, but I don’t believe it’s very well taken care of, nor is it landmarked.

  2. Lady G. Says:

    That really is adorable. That’s the kind of cozy vintage apartment I’d love to live in. I’d love to see inside. It’s probably been modernized but it’d be cool if it still had its original trimmings or anything like that.

  3. countrypaul Says:

    In real estate language, it’s “charming.” But having paid $2.2M, I wonder what the new owner will do with it. (I hope it’s landmarked….)

  4. ephemeralnewyork Says:

    No landmark, unfortunately…

  5. ironrailsironweights Says:

    Oh my … I hate to sound pendantic or anything, but calling East 78th part of Yorkville is really stretching definitions ….


    • ephemeralnewyork Says:

      You’re right…I was thinking Yorkville began at 72nd Street, but it’s actually 79th. Okay, so it’s on the border of Yorkville then!

  6. Tom B Says:

    By not Landmarking this 1855 building, it really shows what the Preservation Commission is all about. I’m not implying anything, just saying.

  7. David H Lippman Says:

    The plot’s a little small for a gigantic tower, but I can see the new owner putting something substantial there.

    Let’s hope he DOESN’T.

  8. The charming wooden houses time forgot in Carnegie Hill | Ephemeral New York Says:

    […] handful of other wood houses similar to these survive on the Upper East Side, remnants of a semi-rural city. Number 120 was […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: