Sunday, December 14, 2008

Stephen Van Resselaer House

From The Masterpiece Next Door

85. Stephen Van Rensselaer House

Location: 149 Mulberry Street (originally 153 Mulberry Street)
Built: 1816
Architect: Unknown
National Register Number: 83001751
Listed: June 16, 1983
Visited: October 12, 2008

Stephen Van Rensselaer House
From the masterpiece next door
Before it was a cheap jack clothier for touristic delectation--and, let's face it, probably also some immigrant's entrée into The Good Life--149Mulberry Street was a Little Italy restaurant, Paolucci's.And some time before it was a restaurant, it was home to the Italian Free Library and Reading Room, serving the local community with what one account says was 3,000 books in Italian and 32 Italian daily papers from various parts of Italy. (Lord, what happened to the contents of this library?)

None of this is why 149 Mulberry was landmarked, though--neither the 1969 landmark designation report from the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission or the 1983 National Register of Historic Places nomination form say anythingabout Little Italy. Newer ones are somewhat more ecumenical, but many of these earlier reports are remarkably unconcerned about matters beyond a somewhat narrow architectural aesthetic (the NYC LPC reports from the '60s use words like "quaint" and "charming" a lot) and the Great Men of New York history.
It was landmarked because, well,it was (and is) a surviving wooden-frame Federal Style rowhouse, for one--as you'd imagine, not many survive because of the whole fire thing--and because it was one of the homes of Stephen Van Rensselaer III. He was...well, Fortune called him the 10th richest American of all time. Like many of the ultra rich New Yorkers of his day, he could trace his family back to the some of the earliest Dutch settlements in the New World--and like those families, too, he left his name on our landscape, specifically in the name of the engineering university he helped found.

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