James Brown House (Manhattan)
James Brown House
|Location||326 Spring Street, Manhattan, New York City, New York|
|NRHP Reference #||83001717|
|Added to NRHP||August 11, 1983|
|Designated NYCL||November 19, 1969|
The James Brown House is a historic building in the Hudson Square neighborhood of New York City. It was built in the early 19th century. Today, it is listed in the National Register of Historic Places and is a City Landmark. It is one of the few existing examples of Federal architecture in New York. Its ground level is the site of The Ear Inn, one of the oldest existing taverns in New York City.
The two-and-a-half-story Flemish brick house which features a gambrel roof and dormers was built in 1817 and was originally the home of James Brown, an African-American Revolutionary War veteran, who was the proprietor of a tobacco store on the ground floor of the house. At the time of the building's construction, the house was only several feet from the shoreline of the Hudson River, although subsequent urban development has since filled in land that has increased the distance to the shore.
Brown sold the building to two apothecaries in the mid-19th century, and records show that a tavern occupied the shop from at least 1835; it was likely a bar even earlier than that, making it one of the oldest taverns in New York City. The house was purchased in 1890 by an Irish immigrant named Thomas Cloke, who ran a tavern and sold beer and spirits to sailors and longshoremen. The tavern had a brewery that was later turned into a restaurant. Cloke was reported to be a successful businessman and was well regarded in the community.
Cloke sold the business in 1919 in anticipation of the Eighteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, which prohibited the sale of alcohol. During Prohibition, the restaurant became a speakeasy, while the upstairs floors were variously a boarding house, a headquarters for smugglers, and a brothel.
After Prohibition, the bar re-opened, but now existed as a business without a name. It was simply called "The Green Door", and catered to a clientele of waterfront workers, almost all of whom were hard-drinking regulars. The area declined sharply during the mid-20th century, as urban decay turned the once-bustling area into a nearly abandoned district.
In 1969, the building was one of the earliest designations of the city's Landmarks Commission.
In the mid 1970s, a group of struggling artists purchased the building, and in 1977, they re-opened the bar. Due to restrictions on changing signage on historic buildings, however, the new proprietors simply painted out part of the letter B in the "Bar" sign, turning it into the word "Ear", after The Ear, a music magazine they published upstairs.
Today, the James Brown House remains largely unchanged from its past appearance, even as urban renewal has transformed the area around it. Indeed, as part of the permitting process, real-estate developers have paid for thousands of dollars in repairs and improvements to the building, including a backyard fire escape The Ear Inn still exists as a bar and restaurant, featuring memorabilia from its past.
- List of New York City Landmarks
- National Register of Historic Places listings in New York County, New York
- "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. 2009-03-13.
- White, Norval & Willensky, Elliot with Leadon, Fran (2010). AIA Guide to New York City (5th ed.). New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780195383867., p.189
- "James Brown House Designation Report" New York Landmarks Preservation Commission (November 19, 1969)
- Amateau, Albert. "Ear Inn has colorful history and uncertain future" The Villager (August 27 - September 2, 2003)
- Dwyer, Kevin "Blasts from the Past" New York (June 6, 2005)
- Lombino, David. "A Gleaming Urban Glass House Astonishes Spring Street" New York Sun (November 6, 2006)
- Coe, Andrew. Ear*Inn*Virons: History of the Landmark James Brown House and the West Soho Neighborhood. New York:Odyssey Books, 2002. ISBN 9622177182