These ‘automobile stables’ on 75th Street might be the city’s first garages

Back in the days when New Yorkers got around town by horse and carriage, wealthy Gothamites built separate private carriage houses blocks away from their own mansions.

Inside these carriage houses (many quite lovely), broughams and phaetons were parked and horses cared for. In a small second or third floor area, a coachman and groom could live and work, making sure the carriage was ready when the owner wanted to use it.

By the turn of the century, however, the motor car hit the scene. Though some thought these “devil wagons” were just a fad, others realized they would soon replace horses and become the preferred mode of transportation for posh city residents (who were the only people who could afford a car at that time).

In 1902, a man named Edmund C. Stout was one who saw the future. That year, Stout bought five brownstone houses at 168-176 East 75th Street and converted them into what he dubbed “automobile stables,” according to a 2013 paper by Hilary Grossman from the Columbia University Graduate School of Architecture.

“Soon after completion, they were noted in the New York Times as the first automobile garages erected for private use in the city,” stated the Upper East Side Extension report by the Landmarks Preservation Committee.

Stout gave his automobile stables an architectural makeover, adding a fourth floor, removing the stoops, and trading the out-of-fashion brownstone style for a more arts and crafts look with fanciful rustic red brickwork.

“The buildings were sold off to New Yorkers who sought a place to keep their automobile and house their chauffeur,” wrote Christopher Gray in a New York Times column from 1988. “Each building originally had a charging station for electric automobiles.”

The automobile stables weren’t just for cars. The LPC report had this to say: “According to the New York Times, each building was initially outfitted with ‘a living room, which the owner may use if he feels so disposed, a dining room, and small kitchen, in which suppers or light meals may be prepared, and a billiard room.’ Other sources indicate that the upper-stories may have actually housed the private chauffeurs of the owners.”

Who were these owners? Millionaire C.G.K. Billings owned number 172, per the LPC report; Billings is best remembered as the man who arranged a black tie dinner party on horseback at Sherry’s in 1903. George F. Baker, a financier and philanthropist, owner number 168. Banker Mortimer Schiff purchased number 174.

Though the popularity of automobiles soared in the early 1900s, some of the automobile stables were converted for other uses. By 1912, number 172 was thought to have been used for an embroidery business, according to the LPC report. Numbers 172 and 176 may have been turned into residences.

Number 176 housed a physician’s office for more than a decade, from 1966 through 1979, per the LPC report, “while number 172 hosted a number of different businesses simultaneously in 1964, including an antiques store, custom dress-making store, and
artist studios.”

Today, the five former automobile stables are residential units, and only numbers 168 and 174 still have a first-story garage, the LPC report states.

A small number of Manhattanites are lucky enough to have private garages, including the owners of the house next door to this row at number 178—the rest do without or fork over big bucks to park underground.

[Fifth photo: NYC Department of Records and Information Services]

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7 Responses to “These ‘automobile stables’ on 75th Street might be the city’s first garages”

  1. Robin Gosnall Says:

    Like mews in central London, once stables at the rear of town houses, now very desirable residences themselves.

  2. chungwong Says:

    Jack Lemmon’s Townhouse was 174 E 75th St in How to Murder Your Wife (1965) http://onthesetofnewyork.com/howtomurderyourwife.html

  3. chas1133 Says:

    kinda reminds me of a few I’ve seen in the village around Charles St…kinda

  4. ironrailsironweights Says:

    Nothing surprising about those charging stations. Despite what Elon Musk would have us believe, electric cars have been around since almost the very beginning of the auto industry with their popularity peaking in the first decade of the 1900’s. Limited ranges weren’t much of an issue back then as most people didn’t drive far.
    Electrics were especially popular among women, who often disliked the balky crank starters on gasoline-powered cars. In fact it was the development of modern electric starters around 1915 that led to the sharp decline in electric cars.

    Peter

  5. countrypaul Says:

    What a cool bunch of homes, including the one you referenced next door. All you need is money….

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