Last week we talked about the history of the building at 48 3rd Avenue and left you wondering about the rest of the block of 3rd Avenue between 10th & 11th Streets. As a reminder, this started when we came across a great picture of the block taken by Berenice Abbott in 1937. Using information gathered from our research of every building in the East Village we took a look at how this block has changed.
Today, this block of 3rd Avenue has seven buildings. Until at least 1906 there were nine. The pre-1850 buildings at 50 and 52 3rd Avenue were combined and drastically altered sometime after the 1970s. Today, GVSHP is advocating to preserve many of the East Village’s earliest buildings, a cause even more critical with the recent demolition of an 1852 rowhouse at 331 East 6th Street and two 1839 rowhouses at 326 & 328 East 4th Street. The block had lots of varying sizes, with the smallest at 52, 54 and 56 3rd Avenue which were less than 16 feet wide. The building at 54 3rd Avenue was built in 1906, replacing two buildings that according to tax records dated to the 1830s.
Next door to the Stuyvesant Curiosity Shop was a pawn shop and Sig Klein’s Fat Men’s Shop. We don’t know much about the pawn shop but we do know that Mr. Sig(mund) Klein owned that building as well as the building that housed his shop at 52 3rd Avenue. Sig Klein opened his shop in 1895 and it is very likely that it was opened and remained at the same location until it closed sometime in the 1970s.
To say the least the store was unique and its highly specialized wares and excellent customer service made it well known. Klein’s customers included such famous New Yorkers as Babe Ruth. A May 2, 1931 article in The New Yorker described Klein and the business:
“when he started, bartenders and beergarden owners from the bad old Bowery made a good part of his customers … Now over six thousand fat men trade regularly here … from as far away as Germany, Ireland and Cuba.”
If you were wondering about Sig Klein himself, he was a very tall, thin man. He came to this country as a young boy from Vienna and worked as a tailor before opening his shop. Klein passed on in 1932 and his daughter, Eva Klein Greenberger, continued running the shop until it closed.
While the buildings have been altered beyond recognition there is one aspect that has remained. If you look carefully at the photos of Klein’s shop on the right side of the building you can see a one story brick entryway with iron cresting. Despite all of the changes made to the buildings that entry is still in place today.
As we mentioned 56 3rd Avenue was built in 1906 by Luder Reinken for a restaurant and lofts. It has lost its rooftop balustrade but its stone quoins and lintels are still in place giving a sense of its classically influenced design. At the time of Abbott’s photo Sipmeier’s Restaurant for Ladies and Gents was on the ground floor. In the 1960s and 70s the building was owned by Dorothy O’Connell Kirwin the owner of one of New York’s oldest pubs, McSorley’s Ale House (speaking of food and drink don’t forget to save the date for our Much Ado About Noshing Event on November 7!)
It’s barely visible in Berenice Abbott’s photo but at the far end of the block there is a sign that reads “art supplies.” That sign is for New York Central Art Supplies at 62 3rd Avenue. Housed in a building from the 1850s, New York Central Art Supply was founded in 1905 by Benjamin Steinberg and except for a brief move to a building next door in the 1930s has remained at the same location for more than 100 years. The store was named for the New York Central Railroad. Still a family business, the store is run by Benjamin’s grandchildren Steven and Marcia. Over the years the Steinberg’s store has served the diverse artists that call the village home including Frank Stella, whose studio was formerly nearby at 128 East 13t Street, and Jeff Koons.
While the block has changed a great deal, it represents a microcosm of the diverse history of the East Village – high society developers, immigrant businesses, the seediness of the Bowery, artist culture and unfortunately the ever present pressure from development. To learn more about the East Village and what you can do to preserve it please check out our East Village Preservation page.