The mysterious faded house outline on the side of a Chelsea tenement

In the under-construction contemporary city, you see them all the time—the faint outlines of roof lines, chimneys, windows, and staircases. They’re the phantom buildings of another New York, fascinating palimpsests from bulldozed edifices of Gotham’s past.

150 Ninth Avenue, with the phantom remains of 148 Ninth Avenue on its side

This site is a big fan of these ghost outlines and features them regularly. But recently I came across one in Chelsea with the steel beams and concrete floors of a new structure creeping up to subsume it.

So before the faded outline disappeared from sight behind a new luxury condo or co-op, I tried to delve into the backstory of what was once 148 Ninth Avenue, at 19th Street.

Examples of circa-1820s Federal-Style houses still extant on Harrison Street

Because of what looks like a steep peaked roofline going down the back—and also partly in the front—I assumed number 148 had been a Federal-style, early 19th century home. These modest brick houses for the middle class merchants and artisans were popular in the 1820s and 1830s. Humble but sturdy, they typically reached three stories and featured dormer windows on the third floor.

Many Federal-style homes have been demolished over the decades, small and out of fashion. But a good number remain, with a handful on lower Eighth and Ninth Avenues. They were likely built when this area was on the outskirts of the newly planned Chelsea neighborhood, which rose from the 18th and early 19th century estate of Captain Thomas Clarke, which he called Chelsea.

148 Ninth Avenue

Unfortunately, when it came to finding a photo or illustration of a former Federal-style house at number 148, I came up empty.

Instead of an early 19th century home with peaked roof and dormer windows, the photos I found of 148 Ninth Avenue depicted a typical late 19th century walkup tenement (above and below), similar to but not quite a match to its neighbors running north from numbers 150 to 158.

148 Ninth Avenue in 1939-1941

I don’t know when the corner tenement was torn down. But once it was gone, it seemed to reveal the ghost of the Federal-style house, strangely preserved enough so passersby like myself could imagine the family that inhabited it in the 1820s or 1830s—maybe operating a store downstairs and living on the second and third levels.

From the New York Daily Herald, 1873

Decades later, the little house may have been sliced into separate apartments, as single-family houses in New York City almost always were. Perhaps this furnished room advertised for rent in the New York Daily Herald in 1873 was one of the carved up flats (above)?

The roar and grit from the Ninth Avenue elevated, which dominated the avenue by the late 1860s and lowered the value of the area as a residential enclave, might have hastened the house’s demise.

[Third image: NYPL; fourth image: NYC Department of Records and Information Services]

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7 Responses to “The mysterious faded house outline on the side of a Chelsea tenement”

  1. fmlondon Says:

    Look more closely at the photograph ‘from the 1920s,’ and you will see that the car is from the mid 1930s-1940s.

  2. ephemeralnewyork Says:

    Ah, will fix, thank you!

  3. chas1133 Says:

    where do you normally get the photos. tax records?

    • ephemeralnewyork Says:

      Tax records, the digital collection of the NYPL, and other digitized photo databases. They are treasures.

  4. kkligerman Says:

    Hello,

    My name is Kristin. My husband and I are architects who live in Murray Hill. I have been meaning to send you this ghost building outline! It is easily visible to me but requires others to “look up” to see it.

    The outline is on 108 East 38th Street, Manhattan. The building, an Art Deco confection built in 1930, is called the Towne House. Its construction was fraught with conflict and the highrise apartment building apparently replaced a row of 5 brownstones. https://www.newyorkitecture.com/tag/108-e-38th-street/

    Just west of the building is the Roman Catholic Parish of Our Savior built (surprisingly) in the 1950’s. The church faces Park Avenue and at the back, against the TowneHouse, there is an area way for the service entrance and access. This is where the outline is visible. If you look at the Towne House windows on the lower floors next to the church’s service area, you notice that they get narrower as the ghost building set back changes. The most notable outline seems to be of the sloped attic (mansard) roof. There are still brownstones all over the neighborhood with top floors just like that. Including the Permanent Mission to Guatemala right around the corner on Park Avenue (aka the http://s-media.nyc.gov/agencies/lpc/lp/2102.pdf

    I don’t have time to dig into the NYC archives to find a photo of the building that had been there but you may want to have a go at it! 🙂

    -Kristin

    [image: IMG_20220425_121725.jpg] [image: IMG_20220425_121745.jpg] [image: IMG_20220425_121715.jpg] [image: IMG_20220409_131627.jpg] [image: IMG_20220409_131623.jpg]

    • ephemeralnewyork Says:

      Hi Kristin, thanks for reaching out—the Towne House link you sent shows a gorgeous building. I’d be happy to look into this more but the jpgs aren’t accessible. Could you email them to me at ephemeralnewyork at Gmail?

  5. velovixen Says:

    I wonder how many more “ghosts” have been concealed by new construction!

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