Posts Tagged ‘Barrow Street’

The story of the twin houses of Commerce Street

December 24, 2017

In the West Village, at that wonderful cow-path bend where Commerce Street winds around to merge into Barrow Street, sit two stately antebellum homes.

Numbers 39 and 41 Commerce Street, built in 1831 when the village of Greenwich was transitioning from a suburb to part of the larger city, are twin separate stand-alone houses, joined together by a small shared garden behind a concrete wall.

These two beauties remind me of sisters—and a legend about two sisters may be in their history.

The story has it that the houses were built by a sea captain who had two feuding daughters.

The daughters wouldn’t speak to each other, so he built identical houses for them with the shared garden, hoping they would get along again.

Who doesn’t want to believe a story like that? Unfortunately, no evidence supports it.

A New Jersey milkman named Jacob Huyler is credited with building the twin houses, which originally stood only two stories high.

“Huyler never lived in New York, but he did not sell the buildings—he held them for rental,” wrote Christopher Gray in the New York Times in 1996. One of those renters was listed at the time as a captain.

By the end of the 19th century, the mansard roofs and a third floor were added, and both homes were carved up into rooming houses for artists and working-class residents.

[Above right, in 1913; bottom two photos by Berenice Abbott; 1937.]

Today in a pricier Greenwich Village, the houses are single-family residences again. They retain their 19th century loveliness, and strollers often stop and stare.

These twin beauties are emblems of a much different New York, when a legend about a sea captain using real estate to help bring two sisters together doesn’t seem like too much of a stretch to believe.

[Third photo: MCNY x2010.11.1797; fourth photo: MCNY 89.2.3.214; fifth photo: MCNY 43.131.1.327]

A Village monument to a 19th century blacksmith

June 17, 2013

HallananinitialsLots of vestiges from the years when horses powered New York still remain: stables, horse drinking fountains, and the handsome nine-story loft built in 1897 as a monument to work horses and one Greenwich Village man who shoed them.

The clues are on the facade. Below the fourth floor, fancy insignias bearing the initials “MH” appear.

Hallananhorseshoe

Who is MH? The letters stood for Michael Hallanan, a Galway-born blacksmith who came to the Village in the 1860s to open a horseshoe shop around the corner on Barrow Street.

HallananbuildingNo ordinary blacksmith, Hallanan invented a rubber horseshoe pad that prevented horses from slipping on ice.

That earned him kudos from the newly formed Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals as well as big profits, which he used to buy nearby real estate.

Nine Barrow Street was built by Hallanan—it’s hard to see, but the very top says “Hallanan Building” in green letters—and it “covers the plot where he had his original horseshoeing shop 60 years ago,” noted The New York Times in Hallanan’s 1926 obituary.

On the West 4th Street side, there’s an enormous bas relief of the horseshoe he invented, as well as its patent number.