Designated on November 14, 2006, 159 Charles Street is significant as a relatively rare surviving residential building of the early period of development of the Far West Village. This individual landmark was constructed around 1838 as a Greek Revival style rowhouse with a three-story height, flat roofline, machine pressed red brickwork laid in stretcher bond, and wood and stone decorative detailing, emphasizing simple forms and planar surfaces. The house’s historic bracketed metal cornice likely dates from the 1870s or 1880s. Today, the house retains its brownstone base and original decorative wrought iron areaway fence. 159 Charles Street is one of nearly one hundred buildings landmarked in the Far West Village as a result of GVSHP’s campaign to save the Far West Village, kicked off in 2003.
The structure at 159 Charles Street is one of the few surviving buildings dating from the initial urban development of the Greenwich Village Hudson River waterfront. The population of Greenwich Village quadrupled between 1825 and 1840 as a number of cholera and yellow fever epidemics in Lower Manhattan led merchants to relocate to the area. Commercial development and congestion in the area near City Hall Park also encouraged many wealthy New Yorkers to move northward, particularly to the area east of Sixth Avenue. Throughout the nineteenth century, Greenwich Village developed as a primarily residential neighborhood with accompanying institutions and commercial activities. However, the western section of Greenwich Village developed as a mixed-use area intermingling middle-class and professional-class housing with industrial and commercial buildings, often serving maritime-related businesses.
A thriving middle-class residential neighborhood developed among the growing businesses, and by 1835 there were twelve houses on the north side of Charles Street between West and Washington Streets, most of which were owner-occupied. Henry Wyckoff, for whom 159 Charles Street was constructed in 1838, leased the house to James Hammond, the proprietor of a lumber business at the corner of West and Leroy Streets, and later, several other tenants – mostly families – resided there. After the Civil War, this area of the Village was no longer deemed desirable for single-family residents, and by the 1880s, there were five families (20 people) residing at 159 Charles Street. Beadleston & Wortz’s Empire Brewery purchased the building in 1889 and used it to house workers and later, its corporate offices. During the mid-twentieth century, the Terminal Leasing Company purchased the building at 159 Charles Street, and since 1964 it has had several residential owners.
Because of its history, architecture and other features of the building, the LPC determined that the 159 Charles Street House has a special character and a special historical and aesthetic interest and value as part of the development, heritage, and cultural characteristics of New York City. Read the designation report for 159 Charles Street here.
Read other “Off the Grid” posts about individual landmarks throughout Greenwich Village as we celebrated the 50th Anniversary of the Landmarks Law in 2015. See all designation reports for landmarks and historic districts in our neighborhood here.