From Banking to Biscuits: 143-145 Avenue D, Part 5
If you’ve been following our forays into the rich and storied history of 143-145 Avenue D, you’re aware of its transformation from one of the earliest and most significant buildings in Alphabet City to its years as the Strangers Hospital. But it gets even more interesting. In the early 20th century, 143-145 Avenue D became part of the F.H. Bennett Biscuit Company (later know as the Wheatsworth Company) complex, which was deemed so significant that the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission recently designated a portion of the complex an official landmark. F.H. Bennett, which had outgrown its previous building at 138 Avenue D (since demolished), purchased both 139-141 and 143-145 Avenue D in 1920 for use as its new facility.
Formed in 1907 by Thomas L. Bennett and Frederick H. Bennett, the F.H. Bennett Biscuit Company was a purveyor of whole-wheat products, which they claimed were more healthful than those made from white flour. The F.H. Bennett Biscuit Company was the creator of the Wheatsworth Cracker and the ubiquitous Milk Bone dog treat, which they created in 1908.
As the company grew more successful, it changed its name to the Wheatsworth Company and constructed a large new Art Deco/Viennese Secessionist style factory building directly adjacent to 143-145 Avenue D, at 444 East Tenth Street, which was designated a New York City landmark in 2008. To date, this 1927 building is the only designated New York City landmark that sits east of Avenue C in the East Village.
According to the Landmarks Preservation Commission’s Designation Report for 444 East 10th Street:
“On May 23, 1927, the F.H. Bennett Biscuit Company filed plans at the New York City Buildings Department for a new seven-story, fireproof bakery…To design its new factory…the company engaged a local architect, J. Edwin Hopkins, who was considered an expert in the design of bakery plants. Hopkins chose a subdued interpretation of the Art Deco/Viennese Sucessionist style.” The design included “…a granite base, terra cotta pilasters etched with bundles of wheat stalks and several bands of multi-colored terra cotta friezes.” (Page 4)
The photo below shows the Wheatsworth Company operating out of all three of its buildings on the corner of Avenue D and East 10th Street. Cars can be seen parked in an opening on the East 10th Street side of 143-145 Avenue D (since bricked-in). The name “Wheatsworth” is also written on the side of the building.
The Wheatsworth Company, having been acquired by Nabisco in 1931, continued to operate from 143-145 Avenue D and the new factory next door until 1957, at which point production moved to Buffalo, New York and the bakery buildings on Avenue D and East 10th Street were shut down. Nabisco sold the property in to investors 1958.
While we love the landmarked portion of the Wheatsworth Bakery complex, the significant history we’ve uncovered of the lesser-known portion at 143-145 Avenue D highlights how much of the East Village’s story has been overlooked. We are thrilled that the Landmarks Preservation Commission is taking action to designate two historic districts in the East Village, but hope this is only a first step in the process, and that more and more buildings throughout this very important and very historic neighborhood receive the protection they deserve.