Keeping Time: One Building’s Many Lives in the East Village
February 5, 2015

“…he’d left Chicago and come East in a fashion that rather took your breath away: for instance, he’d brought down a string of polo ponies from Lake Forest. It was hard to realize that a man in my own generation was wealthy enough to do that…”

The Great Gatsby, that infamous chronicle of roaring 1920’s wealth, describes the heir Tom Buchanan with his string of polo ponies. Tom brought his own polo ponies from the Midwest. The less fortunate families of New York , the Vanderbilts, the Delanos, the Belmonts,bought their horses at auction houses in the city. At the turn of the century alternatives arose to literal horse power. Elevated trains and automobiles, especially for the wealthiest New Yorkers, decreased the dependence on horses and increased their value as luxurious pastime.  Auction houses became increasingly grand buildings for beautifully bred animals. These buildings required grand internal halls to host processions of horses from which customers could choose. The last of these auction houses known to exist in New York was saved just last year, largely by the efforts of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation. The building was declared a landmark by the Landmarks Preservation Commission in November 2014.

A beautiful polo athlete, and his rider. Photo courtesy of the New York Public Library.

 

Saved from the wrecking-ball, 128 East 13th Street may have begun life as an auction house but its survival in the neighborhood ensured that the edifice became part of a deep swath of  New York History. 128 East 13th was originally called the Van Tassel and Kearney Horse Auction Mart.  The auction house was built by the prestigious architecture firm Jardine, Kent and Jardin who would later go on to create the Carnegie Library in Easton, Pennsylvania. The auction house was conveniently located close to several prominent private clubs of the era.

This image from 1943 captures a studious moment at a program at New York University sponsored by the United States Department of Defense, which training women in war engineering and in this case drafting. Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress.

By the 1940s the generous floor plan had been adopted by the defense industry for women’s training.  GVSHP unearthed a New York Times article referring to “assembly and inspection work, the reading of blueprints, and various mechanical aspects needed in defense industries”. So after its flirtation with early 20th Century money, 128 saw another influential figure, Rosie the Riveter, pass through its halls.

A work by Frank Stella at the Metcalfe Federal Building in Chicago.

128’s most recent tenant certainly helped save the building. After hosting horses and women’s defense the building welcomed  an artist. From 1978 until 2005 the American painter and print-maker artist Frank Stella had his studios in the East Village space.  Stella  – who was born in 1936 – remains an import figure in the New York art world to this day. He is even now preparing for a retrospective at the Whitney. Like so many New York artists however, he has had to find a less expensive studio space. While he still lives in Greenwich Village his studios are now in Newburgh, New York.

Andrew Berman of the GVSHP caught word of the demolition plans for the building shortly before they were filed.  This gave historical preservation the edge on the developers who were hoping to turn their $12 million purchase into a seven-story condominium building.

 

128 East 13th Street today: now home to the Peridance Capezio Center. Photo courtesy of the Peridance Instagram account.

So who is the newest, proud tenant of this beautiful three-story beaux arts building with its generous open floor plan? That would be the Peridance Capezio Center, a dance studio with professional through beginner classes…and so prancing returns to this historic address.

An advanced beginner Ballet class at the Peridance Capezio center, just one many dances classes offered to children and adults at all levels of dance experience. Photo courtesy of the Peridance Instagram account.

 

–Posted by Julia Berick, Marketing and Communications Coordinator