Second Avenue Mansions of Yesteryear

Woah! Can you believe the corner of St. Marks Place and Second Avenue once looked like this?

1903 photo of the mansion, courtesy Museum of the City of New York

Our survey of the history of every single building in the East Village has turned up photos of some of the mansions that once lined Second Avenue – the neighborhood’s prime residential thoroughfare in the first half of the 19th century.

Though most famous as a hotspot for counterculture, St. Marks Place was one of the most elite streets in the entire city when it was first built up in the 1830s by developer Thomas E. Davis. Davis built this mansion at the corner of Second Avenue in 1836. It was purchased a decade later by Eugene Keteltas, and remained in the Keteltas family for the rest of its life. Eugene’s daughter Alice was its last resident; she lived there for 70 years before moving to Fifth Avenue & 79th street in 1912. That same year, a permit was filed to replace the mansion with a movie theater. Newspaper articles claim that the before its destruction, the mansion was the last remaining grand private dwelling in the neighborhood, and the final holdout from Second Avenue’s original glory days.

The 1912 building that housed the theater still stands today:

The Keteltas mansion was replaced with a movie theater in 1913

Here’s a view of the mansion from Second Avenue:

The Keteltas mansion from Second Avenue in ca. 1899, courtesy Museum of the City of NY|

And along St. Mark’s Place, as it was being demolished:

The Keteltas mansion undergoing demolition in 1913, courtesy NYPL

Just up the Avenue was another beautiful mansion. At the northwest corner of East 11th Street stood the Rutherford mansion, built for Peter Gerard Stuyvesant in 1845. Stuyvesant died unexpectedly only two years later, after which the home was given to Stuyvesant Rutherford (son of the renowned scientist Dr. Lewis Morris Rutherford) on the grounds that his name be changed to Rutherford Stuyvesant (is was). Rutherford then deeded the house to his father, who built an observatory in the yard from which he took his groundbreaking photographs of the sun, moon & stars.

The Rutherford mansion in 1922, courtesy New York Public Library

In 1885, the house was converted to apartments, and in 1915 was acquired by St. Mark’s Hospital. It was finally replaced in 1935 with the six-story apartment building that stands on the site today.

The same view today

Which takes us to the third and final mansion we’ll visit in this post. On the east side of Second Avenue between 9th & 10th Streets stood the Ransom House, which a 1937 New Yorker article claimed was occupied by relatives of the Astors.

156 Second Avenue in ca. 1899, courtesy Museum of the City of New York

The mansion later became Cafe Boulevard, a famed Hungarian restaurant and chess room. In 1900, the New York Times proclaimed Second Avenue from Houston to East 10th Street “The Hungarian Broadway” for the sheer preponderance of Hungarian restaurants to be found there.

Cafe Boulevard, courtesy Museum of the City of New York

It was finally sold and demolished in 1915, and replaced with the apartment building that occupies the site today and houses Chase Bank (formerly the Second Avenue Deli).

The 1915 apartment building that still occupies the site today

If you’re interested in learning more about our work in the East Village, visit our East Village Preservation page!

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Elizabeth
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Elizabeth Finkelstein was GVSHP's Director of Preservation & Research from Summer 2008 to January 2012.

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2 comments on “Second Avenue Mansions of Yesteryear
  1. Elizabeth DC says:

    The photo of the cafe boulevard is ca 1870-1890 according to the museum of the city of ny. The photo above of the same building at 156 second ave , the ransom house, is dated 1899. This doesn’t make sense since the building is clearly marked cafe boulevard back in 1870 and I know it was already used as a site for chess clubs in 1879. So it was already cafe boulevard in 1899.

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  1. […] All were portrayed by actors who honed their craft at a theater company that had its start in the East Village. Phylicia Rashad (Claire Huxtable from The Cosby Show), Laurence Fishburne and Angela Bassett (Ike and Tina Turner in What’s Love Got To Do With It) and Richard Roundtree (title character in Shaft) are among the hundreds of actors whose talents were fostered by the Negro Ensemble Company, which held its first performances in a former movie house on the corner of St. Mark’s Place and Second Avenue. We have previously blogged about the transformation of this site from a late 19th century mansion to a 20th century movie house. […]

  2. […] desirable homes to be found in Manhattan. Most of these were rowhouses; a few were free-standing mansions. Many of these early rowhouses still exist, such as at 149 Second Avenue and at the landmarked […]

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