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Thursday, April 23, 2009

Itsy Bitsy

In the time I have lived in this city, I have looked off and on at many real estate properties for sale, both apartments and small buildings. In these travels I have been privy to see places, most of which were only available for tiny windows of time in decades.
One of them was 75 1/2 Bedford Street, known as the "Narrowest House in the Village" (or alternately, the narrowest in New York City). The three-story building with its stepped gable roof line was built in 1873, squeezed into a carriage between the neighboring buildings. Its most well known occupant was Edna St. Vincent Millay who lived there from 1923 to 1924 - it has often been referred to as the Edna St Vincent Millay building. Other past occupants include anthropologist Margaret Mead, John Barrymore and cartoonist William Steig. The property has had an interesting cast of occupants and owners - read about it here in Christopher Gray's article in the New York Times.
This property is so often written of and included in tours and books that I have left it on the back burner until today. But it is a worthy candidate for this website and if you have not seen it, you should, sitting as it does in one of the most charming areas in the entire city, around the bend from one of my favorite spots - Commerce Street (an ironic name for one of the quietest streets in the city).
The building sports a plaque, one of many in this neighborhood, proclaiming its historic heritage. These plaques or medallions are always a worthwhile read even for the seasoned New Yorker. The former residents of these homes are frequently household names as are many of the historic facts.
There are places whose charm, quaintness and uniqueness do not supersede their problems and this is one of them. Unique in its size - the width of 9 1/2 feet is the fact always included in even the shortest descriptions. However, being the narrowest building in New York City is not a desirable feature for living and in fact this property was on the market at one time for a decade before someone could see it as a habitable place. It was at this time that I visited it and my memory of it is of a horrid, squalid place that was and absolute mess and so claustrophobic as to be uninhabitable. I had been warned by the broker but still expected a place that with vision had potential. There are several peculiarly proportioned, scaled and shaped properties in New York. Wedges, slivers and itsy bitsy places. See the links below for some of them ...

5 comments:

Someone Said said...

I made a special trip just to see that house a few years ago. It's quite charming. Not sure if I could live in it though.

Thérèse said...

Narrow house means up and down, up and down. It's mostly like that in Dutch towns.

Lily Hydrangea said...

great post. I am so glad to hear it was rescued.

Terry B said...

Another fascinating post, Brian. Interesting that the place is known as the Edna St. Vincent Millay building. Must be seniority as much as anything--the other three inhabitants are every bit as impressive to me, especially William Steig. And 9-1/2 feet?!? Omigod!

Sally said...

Are you looking to buy, or are you a real estate "tyre kicker" (a fabulous hobby!)
Sorry I haven't been commenting much lately - combination of life circumstances. SDP has had a 3rd birthday and you're invited to the party!
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