Walking west along Charles Street, it is hard to imagine that the area bounded by West 4th, Bleecker, and Perry Streets was still rural until the mid-1860s. At the center of this property was the former estate of Sir Peter Warren. The Warren estate survived on this site, although altered in form, until the mid-1860s. Its final owner was Abraham Van Nest, a prominent New York City merchant.
According to the Greenwich Village Historic District designation report, Abraham Van Nest was born during the Revolutionary War on a New Jersey farm. His family’s saddle business, which he ran, was located in a store extending from Warren to Chamber Streets downtown. Van Nest was a benefactor and trustee of Rutgers College for forty years, served on the City Board of Aldermen, and President of the Greenwich Savings Bank. He lived in the mansion beginning in 1821, at first only to summer, but later lived there year round.
After Van Nest’s death in 1864, this last remaining piece of Village farmland and the Van Nest/Warren farmhouse were sold off for development of houses. The Charles Street side of the block between Bleecker and West 4th Streets was named Van Nest Place, in honor of Abraham Van Nest. In 1936, the city changed it names to Charles Street at the request of property owners, because of confusion with Van Nest Avenue in the Bronx. The current numbers 51-85 Charles Street were part of the former Van Nest Place, and their later development is evident in their rich details, many influenced by the Second French Empire style.
If you want to read more about the development and styles of the former Van Nest Place, just go to GVSHP’s resource page for the designation report for the Greenwich Village Historic District. The section devoted to the former Van Nest Place is located in part two.