Reform Housing in the South Village
The newly calendared Sullivan-Thompson Historic District contains some of the oldest and most historically significant buildings in the South Village, including St. Anthony of Padua, the oldest extant Italian-American Church in the country, 57 Sullivan Street, built in 1817 and the oldest extant house in the South Village, and a unique set of early reform housing/model tenements built by and for immigrants in the early 20th century. Still intact, they are 150‐152 Sullivan Street (1911), 90‐92 Thompson Street (1913), 132‐136 Thompson Street (1912), 152‐154 Thompson Street (1913), and 101‐103 Thompson Street (1914).
The Citizen’s Investing Company, a real estate firm which was formed about 1911, was responsible for this housing. Founder and President Dominick Abbate was born in Italy in 1870 and came to America in 1874. He, his wife Anna, and their son Dominick, Jr. were all listed as real estate professionals in the 1915 NYS Census and lived at 59 Washington Square South. The new building permits for their model tenements in the Sullivan-Thompson Historic District listed the company’s vice president as Anna Abbate and the company’s location as 226 Lafayette Street. The architect for these tenements was Louis A. Sheinart who was also responsible for buildings in the NoHo East Historic District and the NoHo Historic District Extension.
The map from 1903 illustrates (see below) that all five sites were previously built upon, and in the case of 132-136 Thompson Street, there were what appear to have been three tenementized row houses on the site. Lewis Wickes Hines, photographer, sociologist and advocate for social reform at the beginning of the 20th century, photographed a family at this location in January, 1912, illustrating the poor conditions of the previous housing. Hines wrote of the photo: “2P.M. Mrs. Katie —(refused to give their name), 134 1/2 Thompson St., one flight up, front. Making artificial flowers in a crowded and dirty room used as kitchen, bed room, living room, and work room. Mother and family work including 8 and 9 yr. old girls in the photo (who were at home 2 P.M. on a school day) and the little 3 and 4 yr. olds who were helping by separating the petals. See report on schedule. Name is Darelli [or Tarelli?] 3 days after photo was taken the home was sealed up and disinfected by Board of Health for tuberculosis; 14 yr. old boy. Immediately the flower making resumed again.” In August of that same year, new building permits were filed at this location which included the demolition of No. 134 1/2 and the other two row houses.
The new tenements built by the Citizen’s Investing Company, by contrast, are each a six-story walk up and their floor plans are configured like an ‘H,’ with light courts to either side and in the rear. They featured seven apartments per floor, ranging in size from three to four rooms. Some apartments had separate kitchens and “parlors,” while others had the kitchen and parlor combined into a single “living room.” Each apartment had a double wash tub and a toilet closet, but no bath. They were clad in glazed white brick, decades before the proliferation of this exterior material at mid-century, presumably to symbolize cleanliness.
For the latest news on the South Village including the newly calendared Sullivan Thompson Historic District, click HERE.