Pineapples, Pinecones, and Acorns, Oh My – in the Greenwich Village Historic District
Walking back to the office after a rally for landmarking the interior of the White Horse Tavern, I saw the most delicious architectural pineapples along West 11th Street. You may have seen these symbols of home and welcoming on fences or railings in our neighborhood. Pineapples, along with pinecones and acorns, are familiar decorative elements in the Village. Pineapples were once known as a symbol of welcoming, and because in days before refrigeration they were rare, it represented that no expense was spared in communicating that welcome. Let’s look at just some of these unique architectural features that are mentioned in the Greenwich Village Historic District designation report (all text is from the report unless otherwise noted).
“Federal details, often executed by superior craftsmen, gave these houses that particular quality of excellence which we associate with them. The wrought ironwork at the stoops and the exquisite doorways with their leaded glass have never been equaled. The handrailings at the stoops were simple straightforward examples of good wrought iron construction with vertical spindles and simple top and bottom rails. Some of these had curvilinear designs beneath the handrails. The ornament, where funds permitted, was lavished on the square open work new posts with their elaborate designs and their tops crowned by pineapples carried on scrolls, the symbol of hospitality. The areaway or yard railings were generally simple and straightforward designs similar to those of the handrailings at the stoops.”
56 West 10th Street
“This charming little two and one-half story late Federal townhouse in Flemish bond brickwork, with stone basement and original front door and dormers, was built in 1832 for Malcolm McGregor. The exceptionally well-preserved doorway is flanked by paired Ionic columns and narrow sidelights which retain their original delicate tracery, all surmounted by a transom surrounded by a fine egg and dart molding. The stone door and window lintels, now shorn of their tiny cornices, are Greek Revival in character. Perhaps the most striking feature of the house is to be found in the great wrought iron basket urns, topped with pineapples, at the foot of the stoop. They rest on low, fluted columnar bases. The remarkable arched dormers retain their slender paneled pilasters and three-centered arch window heads with simple keystones in wood. A rich bracketed cornice, of later date, crowns the front wall. The painter Saul Schary, has resided at No. 56 since the Nineteen-fifties.”
25 Barrow Street
“Among the older remaining houses in The Village, this once elegant Federal townhouse, constructed of Flemish bond, was built in 1826. That it was formerly a two and one-half story house with pitched roof and dormers may be seen from the change in the brickwork which begins eight courses above the second-floor window lintels. Although the Flemish bond is for once retained above this point, the character of the workmanship is manifestly different. The muntined window sash is gone, but the original eight-paneled door and its pilastered frame remain, as does the handsome wrought ironwork of the stoop, complete with its open newels surmounted (right-hand side only) by the pineapple, symbol of hospitality. This lot of land, formerly part of the Peter V. Remsen estate in The Village, was purchased in 1825 by Jacob Shute, a mason, who lived on this street. He built this house the next year. His tenants here in the first two years were William Ryer and, afterward James Luckey, a cartman. A walkway at the left side led to a small frame building, presumably a stable, at the rear of the lot, and built before 1854.”
260 West 11th Street
“The principal beauty of this house is its superb Federal ironwork. Now a three-story building with French casements and Italianate cornice, added in 1872, this was originally a two-story Federal house built of Flemish bond brickwork. It was erected in 1830 for John Mildeberger, a wealthy tallow chandler.
“The wrought iron openwork newels and the hand railings of the stoop are the superb originals with Gothic motifs at the landing, derived from English origins via the architectural handbooks of Batty Langley. Another unusual feature is the handsome twisted ironwork at the top of the newels supporting pineapples, the symbol of hospitality. The original areaway railing has been supplemented by the addition of cast iron finials at the top.”
56 Bank Street
“Erected in 1833 for the Reverend Joseph Carter, whose Academy was located at 294 Hudson Street, this three-story house is early Greek Revival in style. The brick front is constructed in Flemish bond, over a rusticated basement. A bracketed roof cornice and sheet metal window lintels of later date have recently been removed as a result of an attractive restoration. The simple fascia board of the roof cornice may well be the original. The front door once had narrow sidelights and is surmounted by a rectangular transom. The wrought iron hand railings of the stoop are the Greek Revival originals and have curvilinear wrought ironwork in the upper section. The unusual openwork circular newel posts, set on stone bases, are surmounted by pineapples of painted brass. The pineapple motif was a popular symbol of hospitality in those days.”
26 Washington Square North
“The unusual ironwork at No. 26 and the cornice of No. 25 are the distinctive features of these two brick Greek Revival houses. They were built in 1839 for different individuals and seem to be modeled after their earlier neighbor, No. 24. All three have Greek Revival porticoes with unfluted Doric columns and long parlor-floor windows with double-hung sash, six over nine panes. No. 25 retains the same cornice line as No. 24. The cornice at No. 25 subordinates the attic to a storage area with diminutive windows and is an extremely handsome feature. The full fourth floor at No. 26, added later, has a handsome dentiled cornice in keeping with the style of the house. These townhouses are the only two on the block that retain their original front door enframements with sidelights, glazed transoms and pilasters with palmetto capitals. At No. 25 are to be found the only exterior window blinds along the row, except for those at No. 21, which may resemble the originals.”
“The ironwork of its stoop and areaway have the arch-pattern castings of the Italianate period. At No. 26 the areaway and stoop railings have most unusual Greek Revival designs, with anthemion motifs at the base and a top band filled with rosettes beneath elaborate finials, consisting of diminutive obelisk forms alternating with pine cones set above honeysuckle bases. After the panic of 1837 James DePeyster Ogden bought the leases to Nos. 25 and 26 with their covenants extending to 1839-40 the required time interval for erection of dwellings. Evidently this building project was too burdensome at that period, for he soon assigned the lease of No. 25, at considerable loss, to Samuel S. Howland of No. 12 Washington Square. Howland held the lease from 1838 to 1848, and the house was built in 1839 either by him or by his son-in-law George B. Dorr, who was first taxed for it. Thereupon the Dorrs moved from No. 12 to their new residence at No. 26. The next owner of the house and resident was John Oothout, president of the Bank of New York and a wealthy man of note. Later in the century it was the home of Eliza (Oothout) Siebert, whose husband Louis P. Siebert was in the woolen business. They built the stable at the rear, on MacDougal Alley in 1871.”
142 West 11th Street
“This row of eight fine brick houses was constructed in 1855 by a number of men in the building trades, of whom the most important was Linus Scudder, a well-known Village builder. All originally had stoops. Their uniform cornice line has been slightly modified. They were built in the Italianate style with high stoops over rusticated basements and very ornate ironwork. The roof cornices had brackets extending horizontally, which was typical of the period. Of all these houses, No. 136, with its original stoop and cast ironwork, gives us the best idea of how they all may have looked originally. An interesting feature of this house is the gateway in the low, yard railing giving access to the Stoop. The newels and corner post are all surmounted by acorn-shaped finials. In addition to the handsome fence and stair handrailings, a similar railing has been provided for the balcony serving the full-length drawing-room windows at the first floor.
“The dignified double doors at the head of the stoop are framed with rich wood moldings and paneled reveals at the sides. The outer stone frames of the doorway are also segmentally arched and consist of moldings carried up the sides and over the head with cornice following the arch above the doorway but leveled at each end. The drawing room windows have similar cornices. Three of these houses retain their original double-hung window sash with the heavy central muntin, made to simulate casements. The square-headed window lintels all have tiny cornices. Basement entrances replace the stoops on Nos. 130, 134 and 140; and the original roof cornices have been removed from Nos. 138 and 140 and replaced by a brick parapet with stone coping.”
47 and 49 Charles Street
“This row of four late Italianate townhouses was built of brownstone in 1869 with similar bracketed cornices, handsome doorways and stoops. No. 49, the corner house (also No. 253 West 4th Street), has a restaurant in the basement but retains most nearly it’s original appearance. While Nos. 43 and 45 have been remodeled to provide basement entrances, Nos. 47 and 49 retain their handsome cast-iron balustered stoop railings and, in the case of No. 49, the polygonal newel posts with acorn finials. The handsome doorway at No. 49 is notable for its arched pediment carried on vertical console brackets, richly carved. The round-arched inner part of the doorway, with flanking incised triangular panels, is all that remains of the original at No. 47. the double-hung windows in this row are all of plate glass, except for the third floor of No. 47 Where the sash is vertically divided by the original single muntin. In 1927 a two-story extension was added to the rear of No. 49 (described under No. 253 West 4th Street).”
59 Charles Street
“The very handsome house at No. 59, built in 1866, was designed in the style of the French Second Empire by Gage Inslee, architect. He undoubtedly designed the flanking houses, Nos. 57 and 61, which formed a group of three owned by Walter W. Price. lnslee’s plans may also have been used for the rest of this row westward to No. 69, as these houses are basically similar to No. 59 and are united under a common cornice. No. 59 is the outstanding example of this block as its architectural features remain unchanged, except for the lack of the central vertical muntin in the double-hung window sash of its lower floors. This three-story brick house with rusticated stone basement has a modillioned roof cornice, supported on console brackets and ornamented with rows of lentils and with small rectangular bosses on the fascia board. The low segmental arch, so typical of the French influence, appears at all the windows as well as the doorway. Following the profiles of these arches, the deeply cut window cornices with pronounced shoulders give a feeling of strength. The handsome paneled double doors (described above for No. 83) retain here their complete outer enframements. They are paneled and profiled around incised rosettes, and are surmounted by elaborate console brackets which support the segmented arched cornice with shoulders. The wide, gracious stoop is enhanced by massive balustrades which rise from polygonal newels of intricate workmanship. Their design is echoed by the square gateposts of the areaway, which are likewise surmounted by acorns, but of a smaller size. The areaway railing has unusual cast iron balusters, and its arched gate has a beautiful and intricate design in wrought iron. No. 59 is likewise interesting as a family city residence. Built in 1866 by Walter W. Price, a brewer, it was sold by him in 1869 at a handsome profit to his partner, Ernest G. W. Woerz, also a brewer, who made his home here for eleven years. It was known at this time as No. 5 Van Nest Place, a reminder of the old Van Nest estate which had once occupied this block. After passing through two more owners, it was purchased, in 1887, by Anna Catherine Gerdes. It thus became the home of the family of John H. Gerdes, a German immigrant who had liquor selling establishments at several taverns. This house continued to be their home until the very recent death of his daughter in 1966.”
132-136 Bank Street
“This charming row of three brick residences was built in 1833 for William E. Fink, a grocer. These houses, early Greek Revival in style are three stories in height with basements. Nos. 132 and 134 have fronts of Flemish bond. The corner house, No. 136, is constructed of running bond, and the top floor attic windows have been replaced by larger ones. The original wrought iron hand railing of the stoops has been retained at all three houses. At Nos. 132 and 136, the horizontal band beneath the handrail proper is designed with a very graceful scrollwork pattern. The iron spindles are enhanced by a delicate ball design at mid-height. The handrailings, resting on very simple newels with urnlike bases, terminate in a curved volute. A simple wrought iron areaway railing, and wrought iron uprights, topped by small acorn finials may be seen at all three residences.”
“At. Nos. 132 and 136, the charming Greek Revival doorways have columns and transoms. These doorways consist of a handsome three-paneled door which is flanked on both sides by well proportioned, fluted Doric columns. The two handsome columns support a low entablature which is surmounted by a five-paned transom. A simple lintel, enhanced by a delicate cornice, is seen over, the transom. The lintels above the muntined windows of the first and second floors of all three houses have had cornices added. In all three houses, the original sills remain unchanged. The facades may have originally been crowned by a deep fascia board with waterproofed surface seen at No. 134, with small windows cut into it. No. 136 has a shallow cornice set above the lengthened windows, while No. 132 was remodeled to provide a double window located on center with casements, above which a dormer has been added to obtain north light. Philip Evergood, a well-known painter, lived at No. 132 Bank Street from 1940-47.”
These are just some of the lovely decorative architectural elements in the Greenwich Village Historic District. Where are your favorite pineapples, pinecones or acorns? Let us know in the comments, or tag us on Instagram!