This brownstone is an anachronism in Tudor City

Tudor City belongs firmly in the 20th century. This quiet “city within the city” built on a bluff west of First Avenue between 41st and 43rd Streets consists of 13 residential buildings, almost all reflecting the Tudor Revival style popular in the 1920s.

In 1925, Tudor City’s developer, Fred French, bought up five acres of land and former middle class brownstones in the neighborhood—brownstones which by that time had been turned into tenements or carved into apartments, according to a 1926 New York Times story.

He bulldozed them to revitalize an area that in the early 1900s had become a slum, putting up modern new “efficiency” units that appealed to young professionals working in Midtown.

But there was one old brownstone French’s company didn’t get their hands on, at 337 East 41st Street.

Today, the house borders one Tudor City building and is surrounded by the beautiful Tudor City Gardens on the other side. It’s a ghost of the Gilded Age, because eerily, it looks almost as it did almost 150 years ago.

Number 337 was built in 1871, part of a wave of “uniform rows of houses for middle-class residents” on East Side blocks north of the city center, according to the Tudor City Historic District Report. (Illustration above shows Second Avenue at 42nd Street amid a building boom in the 1860s)

Brownstones were the fashionable style for upwardly mobile Gilded Age families, and they replaced the modest shanties that had been occupied in part by the very poor as well as Irish gang members in the 1850s and 1860s. (Below, East 42nd Street in 1868)

Number 337 was one of 19 identical houses built for one owner, S.S. Stevens. “Four of these buildings faced south: each was a single-family residence composed of a basement and three stories, faced in Ohio stone and capped with a tin roof and galvanized iron cornice,” states the report.

The value of each brownstone in the early 1870s: $10,000. “It’s Italianate details are remarkably well preserved, especially the triangular stone pediment over the entrance,” notes the report. “Still extant are the original stone lintels, sills, and panels below the first floor windows.”

Like its former neighbors, number 337 was likely occupied by respectable middle-class New Yorkers through the next few decades, though an ad in the New York Daily Herald shows that the second and part of the third floor were already being rented out. (Ad above)

With the Second Avenue El soon rumbling nearby, however, the area gradually slid from respectability, becoming an industrial enclave with slaughterhouses and factories polluting the blocks between Second Avenue and the East River.

In 1887, an ad in The Sun offered three furnished rooms on the third floor of number 337. The fee: $16, though it’s not clear if that was per week or per month. (Ad above)

“Furnished hall rooms” were renting for $1-$1.25, which seems to be a clue that what was described in the ad as a “private house” had actually become a boardinghouse.

By the 20th century, the brownstone was converted back to a single-family residence, notes Daytonian in Manhattan, which has a nice writeup on 337’s backstory.  Residents lived, worked, and died there, with the house attracting little attention. (Fourth and seventh photos, above, in 1946)

Today, 337 appears to still be a single-family brownstone. Like other brownstones in Manhattan, it has a tall front stoop and a side door opening onto a small front yard surrounded by a cast-iron fence and gate. (It also has an unusual lamppost, adding to its charm.)

It might not be quite as noteworthy if it still had its original neighbors beside it, forming an entire brownstone row as seen on so many other city blocks.

Instead, this former middle-class dwelling of the 1870s stands out amid a large 1920s development of middle-class housing, a modest Gilded Age brownstone holding its own amid all that Tudor Revival.

[Third image: Wikipedia; Fourth image: MCNY X2010.7.1.9004; Fifth image: NYPL; sixth image: New York Daily Herald; seventh image: MCNY X2010.7.1.9014; eighth image: New York Sun]

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3 Responses to “This brownstone is an anachronism in Tudor City”

  1. Tom Dulski Says:

    I passed this a few weeks back, I remember thinking that whoever owns it must have a hell of a time trying to find a parking spot.

  2. joanne Says:

    I lived across the street from this brownstone in Tudor City. And always admired it as a gem from our past. My many years there it was never occupied and left in a decrepit state. Have photos of then and now. I was told previous owners left due to taxes owed. Not sure how true this is.

    One day saw workers renovating outside and they allowed me to go in and look around. It was in bad shape and probably dangerous. But I had to see it. Walked precariously up to the third floor. Rooms were small. All had fireplaces. Must have been lovely back in the day.

    • ephemeralnewyork Says:

      Hi Joanne, thanks so much for writing in and describing the interior of this relic of Gilded Age NYC. If you have any photos to share, I’d love to see them!

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