Monday, October 29, 2007

Introducing: The "Lamartine Blocks": W29th and W30th Streets,between 8th and 9th Avenues.

Introducing: The "Lamartine Blocks": W29th and W30th Streets,between 8th and 9th Avenues.XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX Recently (October, 2007) there has been heated discussion back and forth regarding efforts to stop alterations to 339 West 29 Street, the-former home of crusading abolitionist, activist, Abigail Hopper Gibbons. Rather than bickering, it would be more constructive to embrace all reasons for the houses importance in the hopes of preserving valuable remaining historic resource. There are many reasons that both 339 West 29Th Street (former home of Quaker Abolitionist Activist, Abigail Hopper Gibbons) and its related row of houses (once known as..Lamaratine Place) are important and worth preserving (in equal amounts) for historic,cultural and architectural reasons. All of which deserve celebration.
Lamartine Place was likely named for Alphonse De Lamartine, a French romantic poet and patron of Anti Slavery and liberal causes.

The House is most worthy of individual landmark designation, and the larger context in which the house is situated, a two block oasis of 1847 rowhouses is worthy of preservation as a historic district. Specificaly, this refers to the north side of West 29th street from Eighth to Ninth Avenue (at one time known as "Lamartine Place") and both north and south sides of a similar block of West 30Th Street from Eighth to Ninth Avenue.These two blocks were developed in 1847 by Cyrus Mason,in partnership with William Torrey. Mason and Torrey were involved in the construction of Clement Clarke Moore's 1845 row house development, London Terrace, on the site of the present apartment complex of that name, 23d to 24Th Street between Ninth and 10Th Avenue. Both the29th Street block and the 30th street block show Moore's influence, with several row houses still preserving in varied degrees the the front "yard: setback characteristic of Moores' blocks to the south near the Episcopal seminary.

These two miraculously surviving blocks are both a lovely 19th Century Oasis and a sorely needed respite, wedged as they are, between Penn Souths huge "tower in park" complex and the "super-blocks" of the Farley Post Office and Madison Square Garden/PennStation.(not mention many mega projects to come!) This alone is worth preserving as large scale development pressures are encroaching from all sides these days. Perhaps it is not too late for the Chelsea community to create of these two blocks, a mini Historic District..this would be ideal (no doubt replete with "non contributing buildings" and the rowhouses in various states of alteration or not). ...Barring this, at least these historic "Lamartine Blocks" need a firm lowering of the attendant FAR from R8b to R6b which is more akin to certain West Village townhouse sidestreets.

Interesting coincedences abound: 8th Avenue from W23rd Street to W42nd Street was to be known as the Negro part of the "Tenderloin" district in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries, and was home for New Yorks Negro population with middle class aspirations before the mass relocation of blacks to Harlem afterWW1. Black aspirations to stability and prosperity were repeatedly thwarted by the seedy charachter of the area and many despaired that city officials did nothing to relieve them. The situation took a tragic turn in August 1900, when the Tenderloin erupted into a terrible race riot prompted by an Eighth Avenue undercover police officers mistaken assumption that a black woman was “soliciting.” The womans husband promptly intervened outraged at this slight to his wife's dignity, unaware that the white man was a police officer. The officer Thorpe struck the husband with a club, and the husband retaliated with a penknife, fatally wounding the officer. The police officers subsequent funeral erupted into violence with police and white gangs wreaking havoc on black neighborhoods throughout the Tenderloin. In retaliation, blacks armed themselves, while the black elite formed the “The Citizens’ Protective League.” Although the CPL persistently solicited the protection and cooperation of Mayor Robert A. Van Wyck, the mayor placed all the authority of the investigation in the control of the Police board, who only legitimized their officers’ actions. In each case, the state—the police, the mayor, and the Police board—neglected to protect black citizens’ rights. As Frank Moss, the compiler of the affidavits of black victims, lamented, “The ‘investigation’ was a palpable sham.”
After the construction of the Penn South in the 1960's, the important African American civil rights figures A. Phillip Randolph and Bayard Rustin settled in to the 28th Street buildings of the complex just to the south of the former Lamartine Place (29th Street). In addition to masterminding Martin Luther Kings' historic "Poor Peoples March" on Washington, Rustin was active in promoting strong bonds between Blacks and Jews and later in life, between gays and straights within African American communities.(He was always fairly open about his own homosexuality) He remained a devout Quaker from birth. A Chelsea high school is now named for him.


Overview: Abigail Hopper Gibbons (7 December 180116 January 1893) was an abolitionist, activist, and a nurse during the American Civil War. Gibbons grew up in a Quaker family, and her father spent much of his time and money aiding runaway slaves. Abigail was to share her father's beliefs and spent much of her life working for social reform. Over the course of her life, Gibbons pushed for prison reform, welfare, civil rights, and care for soldiers returning from the Civil War. Eventually, a political shift in the local Quaker organization resulted in Gibbon's father, as well as her new husband, James Gibbons, being disowned by the society for their anti-slavery activities, which is somewhat perplexing given the Abolitionist stance of the Society of Friends, and this may reflect differences over tactics. Abigail Gibbons left the Society, which she had been a leading member in, and never returned. (although she probably kept Quaker values and form of worship at home).
Despite being a controversial figure, she was highly successful in her many efforts. XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX Historic Gibbons Home in Manhattan Needs official landmarking!:
The Gibbons home in Manhattan, still stands at what is now 339 West 29Th Street, and was part of an elegant row of houses built as a piece in 1847,much of which survives,despite an apparant lack of any landmark protection. The row was once known as Lamaratine Place and was likely named for Alphonse De Lamartine, a French romantic poet and patron of Anti Slavery and liberal causes.)The house is alleged to have been a stop on the Underground Railroad,which ia not suprising given the family passionate devotion to the Anti Slavery cause, and in fact yewitness accounts support this.

Dilgent research, has shown that there is compelling evidence that the building was not only,home to the legendary Abolitionist family but was also specifically targeted during the Draft Riots of 1863 and can further be established through a contemporary eyewitness accounts as being a station on the Underground Railroad.

There exists an extremely important document indicating,irrefutably,that Abigail Hopper Gibbons and her husband, James Sloan Gibbons, provided refuge for runaway slaves.It was written by their close friend, the renowned lawyer Joseph M. Choate. Choate,who used to visit the Gibbons home after coming to New York in 1855, states:

"the house of Mrs. Gibbons was a great resort of abolitionists and extreme antislavery people from all parts of the land, as it was one of the stations of the underground railroad by which fugitive slaves found their way from the South to Canada. I have dined with that family in company with William Lloyd Garrison, and sitting at the table with us was a jet-black negro who was on his way to freedom...Lucretia Mott the celebrated female preacher of that day was also a frequent guest."

[from Dorothy G. Becker, Abigail Hopper Gibbons (New York, 1989), pp. 6-7, citing Edward Sandford Martin, The Life of Joseph Hodges Choate: As Gathered Chiefly from his Letters (New York, 1920), 2 Vols. Vol.I, pp. 96,99.

As Underground Railroad Stations are supposed to be preserved by law, 339 West 29th St. (the Hopper-Gibbons' home) must be given landmark status. Similarly, as there are not a great many examples of 1840's architecture left in Manhattan, the Landmarks Preservation Commission should give this rare surviving example theroef, the landmark status it deserves, thus preserving the architectural integrity of this building.

After the Battle of Gettysburg, Abby and daughter Sarah at the front lines nursing wounded Union sold iers and helping escaped slaves to survive and avoid recapture. Upon comencement of the first-ever military draft, Draft Riots engulfed New York City. At the Gibbons home at 19 Lamartine Place (now 339 W. 29th St.) were Abby’s husband, James Sloan Gibbons, and their two younger daughters, Julia and Lucy. The Gibbons home became one of the many targets of the angry mob.

Below are a few glimpses of what happened to their home on July 14,1863 from a letter (dated July 17) from daughter Lucy to her Aunt Anna:

"As for Bridget, the [Irish servant] girl, it was impossible to alarm her. Her sole consideration was getting through with the washing.... .... In fact, at about 5 o’clock,...I proposed taking a bath [after she and Julia had moved some clothing, personal papers, and portraits to their aunt and uncle’s home next door]. Fifteen minutes later, the mob appeared. .... Our neighbors behaved nobly. Judge Robinson entered with the mob and saved what he could--a portrait of Willie [their brother, who had died in a freak accident while a student at Harvard, a few years earlier], a drawer full of letters,...Mr. Horn stood in the parlor and threatened the mob with a pistol. He drove off the women (!!!) who were trying to set fire to the house with torches, but was finally obliged to retreat through the back window. Mr. Grey rescued a sheet full of wet clothes which were being carried off; and his wife had them re-washed and ironed. A lilttle boy from somewhere, only about twelve years old, helped like a little soldier, bringing buckets of water to put out the fire. .... Our butcher [probably an Irishman] went into the midst of the mob, and declared he would not have that house touched, for which he was badly beaten, but will recover. Father was at the Fifth Avenue Hotel making a last appeal for military to protect the premises..... Mr. [Joseph] Choate...[accompanied us] over the roofs to the end of the block, (by this time the mob was violent) out of a house there [owned by a Jewish man], procured a carriage which waited in 8th Ave., put us all into it, and brought us [to his family’s home on W. 21st St.].

The above item is Excerpted from “The Life of Abby Hopper Gibbons as Told Chiefly Through Her Correspondence,” By Sarah Gibbons Emerson (1896)

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