I walk by 513 Grand Street fairly often, it’s on the way to my cousin’s house, and what struck me is that in a city full of older buildings, the style of 513 Grand marks it as one of the oldest.
By today’s standards it’s a very small house and dates from a time when Manhattan was a very low rise city, full of similar small townhouses that functioned as a home, a business, or both. According to city records it was built between 1827 and 1828, and is one of the few remaining Federalist buildings left in the city. This is the time period when New York was growing, prospering, and furniture makers like Duncan Phyfe were busy defining a New York furniture style. Furniture can be packed up and collect, buildings cannot and on investigation the history of the building is both really interesting, and not at all unusual.
You see what makes this building stand out in my mind is that it’s so darn typical. It only survived because at no time did anyone feel like tearing it down. Lower Manhattan has lots of buildings like it and during each building boom they wear a “Kick Me” sign and then they are gone. As far as anybody knows, Neither Washington, Jefferson, or Lincoln ever slept there. All it is is a sort of building that a moderately successful person of early 19th century NY could strive for, which makes it interesting to me at least. After many ups and downs over the years, and conversion to and from a storefront, today the building is a private residence.
In 2007 the building was up for landmark consideration and consequently a long report was prepared detailing the history of the building and its owners. The report touches on the transition of lower Manhattan from a new English city with farms, to merchant houses, early 19th century New York, records of slavery, and freedom from slavery, as the city and nation grew and matured. It’s worth reading, click here: 513_Grand_St_house.pdf.
If you have the urge to take a virtual walk around the area, you can see lots of older buildings in the area here is a goggle street view which you can roam around it. (Kossar’s – which has great bialys is up the block, and if you follow Grand Street west to the Bowery (go right when you are facing the building) you will come to a great series of Chinese food stores which are always mobbed and also some of my wife’s favorite food shopping. On your right you will also pass Seward Park HS – where my dad went to school with Bernie Schwartz – later better known as Tony Curtis. Google took the pictures early in the day, when the streets are pretty empty, but go full screen and you get a great tour, later in the day the streets are impassable.