Mystery on Avenue D: 143-145 Avenue D, Part 1
What follows is first in a series of posts devoted to our research of the fascinating building at 143-145 Avenue D.
Early last year, while surveying Alphabet City as part of our research on the history of every single building in the East Village, we became interested in 143-145 Avenue D – at first glance a typical 19th c. vernacular building to which the average passerby might not give a second thought.
Our interest was piqued when we noticed that the building’s facade appears to show faded remnants of an early 19th c. house. As we dug deeper, we uncovered the fascinating history of what is by far the oldest extant building in Alphabet City (by more than a decade), and in fact a critical component of the neighborhood’s earliest incarnation as a thriving shipbuilding hub! We’ll be unraveling this building’s remarkable history now and in future posts.
Before giving away too much, we’ll start the series by allowing you to observe the building in the same way we first did: from the outside. Not unlike the immediate surrounding neighborhood, 143-145 Avenue D architecturally reflects a number of different significant eras in its history, which we’ll be delving into later on.
What first caught our attention was the Flemish Bond brickwork found on much of the building. Flemish Bond is a style of laying bricks (alternating stretchers and headers) that was popular with Federal and early Greek Revival-style buildings and was used very rarely after 1838-40. Additionally, a smattering of the windows are still topped by what appear to be original brownstone Federal-style lintels. These details indicated to us that perhaps this building is much older than it first seemed.
Along the ground floor of the 10th Street elevation are three bricked-in windows along with a former loading bay on the far right, which has also been filled-in, which signaled to us that the building may have once been used for manufacturing purposes.
It also appears that the building might have originally been shorter than it is today. Indicating that the fifth story is an addition is the subtle seam in the brickwork most visible along the 10th Street exposure between the fourth and fifth stories. The seam is apparent in the s slight change of the brick’s color, which above the fourth floor is of a much more orange hue. The lack of alignment of the Flemish bond brickwork also indicates a transition.
In stark contrast to the Federal-style lintels is a late 19th century cornice likely added at the same time as the fifth story, composed of geometric shapes and executed in brick.
As you can well imagine, these subtle contradictions in the facade have given us – as architectural historians – a lot to play with. In the next post, we’ll delve into the early history of the building, revealing its origins as one of the first and most important buildings ever to exist in Alphabet City.
Stay tuned for Part 2…