an excerpt from the nytimes of 10/27/1998
A Scruffy Old Tavern Is Now Luxury Apartments, By DAVID W. DUNLAP
Manhattan's oldest building is a venerable Georgian chapel, its second oldest, a graceful country estate. Its third oldest building was one of the foulest grog shops within staggering distance of the East River wharves.
And that was in the 19th century, before it got a really bad reputation.
Since 1976, the abandoned, four-story, city-owned structure at 273 Water Street, just south of the Brooklyn Bridge, had resisted every effort to rehabilitate it, defying one housing commissioner after another, crumbling all the while into an ever less salvageable eyesore.
But tomorrow, the little building -- looking better than it has since the Washington Administration -- will be officially reopened as a four-unit luxury apartment house. The key to the turnaround was a $1 sale price, a 14-year tax exemption and a private developer, Frank J. Sciame Jr., who was willing to spend $1.1 million on the property.
That is a big investment for a small yield. Four apartments, after all, don't go too far to solve the city's housing shortage.
But the Department of Housing Preservation and Development, which sold the structure to Mr. Sciame last year for $1, believes the effort was worthwhile.
''It's well beyond the four units and the million dollars,'' said Hector Batista, the chief of staff and deputy commissioner in the housing agency. ''It's stabilizing the community. I think this building, as small as it is, has that significance.''
''One building can have a tremendous impact from a negative standpoint,'' Mr. Batista said, ''but also from a positive standpoint.''
Five years ago, Mr. Sciame, the principal of Sciame Development Inc., restored 247 Water Street, another wreck of a structure in the South Street Seaport Historic District. So he was game for the challenge of rebuilding 273 Water Street.
''How often do you get the opportunity to restore and attempt to recreate the third oldest building in Manhattan?'' he asked.
Actually, historical purists take issue with that characterization, since 273 Water Street, between Dover Street and Peck Slip, was substantially altered over time and had been reduced in recent decades to a pile of rubble with a brick facade.
It appears, however, that the original house was standing by 1781, making it younger only than St. Paul's Chapel on lower Broadway and the Morris-Jumel Mansion in upper Manhattan.
The first occupant was Capt. Joseph Rose, a mahogany trader who kept his brig moored out the back door. It was Christopher (Kit) Burns who put No. 273 on the map in the 1860's by offering dog and rat fights as entertainment to the patrons of his tavern.