How A Beautiful 19th-Century Marble Archway In Manhattan Became An Auto Body Shop

The other day, I was driving up Broadway toward the northern tip of Manhattan when something caught my eye off to one side…

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Poking up behind the auto body shops and brick storefronts…

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…was that a crumbling stone archway?

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Something seemed very out of place about this. I pulled over and looked it up on my phone…

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…and learned that this…

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…is all that remains of this:

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This archway is the last remaining structure from the Seaman-Drake estate, which used to sit atop the Inwood hills over 100 years ago. I noticed several historical pictures of the property in the window of the Inwood Hills Spirit & Wine Room beside the arch. Here’s one of Broadway back in the day…

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…and now.

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According to this great article from MyInwood.com, the Seaman estate was built by one John Seaman, the wealthy son of Dr. Valentine Seaman, who introduced the small pox vaccine to the United States. In 1851, Seaman purchased 25 acres of land in northern Manhattan and built his estate.

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According to this 2001 NY Times article, the house and archway were both built of marble taken from a quarry at the bottom of the hill along Broadway (marble from this same vein was used to construct St. Patrick’s Cathedral).

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The estate was later bequeathed to Lawrence Drake, Seaman’s nephew, and managed to survive into the 20th century.

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Sadly, in 1912, a number of one-story buildings were constructed around the archway, while the estate itself was sold to developers in 1938.

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Since 1960, the southern portion of the arch has been home to Jack Gallo Auto Body…

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…and it’s really fascinating to peek in and see one enormous leg jutting through the ceiling, as if it somehow stomped its way into the building:

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But for a really neat little secret, head up the drive under the arch…

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…and turn through the opening:

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Once an enclosed room, the roof over this wing of the arch collapsed decades ago, leaving the structure open to the elements.

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Standing inside, it almost feels like a medieval turret covered in lush green ivy.

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Even more surreal, the marble walls almost completely drown out the surrounding noise, creating a tranquil retreat from the honking cars and rumbling el trains of northern Manhattan.

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In recent years, there’s been talk of incorporating the arch into a restaurant or club, but nothing has materialized.

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For a number of really fantastic pictures of the Seaman-Drake estate (not shot through the glass windows of a liquor store!), be sure to check out the article on MyInwood.com.

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I think the most interesting bit is the rear window inside the arch. A hundred years ago, the view would have been rolling hills and a palatial estate. Today?

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-SCOUT

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21 comments

  1. First of all, I love your site and I’m totally addicted to it. I’ve been fascinated with both NYC and the movies equally as much my whole life, and you have perfectly combined them on this site.

    Secondly, this has to be one of my favorite finds of yours so far. Most of northern manhattan is a cornucopia of great locations and secret finds, and this has to be one of the best.

    Keep this site running!! Best, Anthony

  2. That was a fascinating story! Thanks!

  3. Amazing! Thank you.

  4. Hey! You were in my ‘hood! That arch is one of the many reasons I love Inwood. It’s so great to see the little pieces of history poking out amongst contemporary New York.

  5. Great article. I have been reading your site for years and love it. I know the arch well. I have lived in the building on the left for 13 years so it’s funny to see it here.

  6. I love this site. Please keep them coming. Great article.

  7. This was a fantastic piece! I’ve always wondered about that arch. For some reason I had it in my head that it was associated with Hamilton Grange. So interesting to know the real story.

  8. Should you ever stop scouting, I think you should change the name of your site to “This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things”.

  9. Thank you, I forgot about this oddity. I used to see it frequently and it was one of those “things.” I agree, “this is why we can’t have nice things.”

  10. Wonder if any of the trees are original to the Estate? Great post, as always.

  11. This is my father-in-law’s old shop. He’s retired now, but we’ll print this out to show him. Something tells me he won’t be surprised to know people are still fascinated by the arch.

  12. +1 to Don’s comment.

    Kudos again. Your site is a consistant source of fascinating facts about my City

  13. Though I never knew what it was, if you go up into the park – and follow the path through the woods, you can find many part so the old estate – particularly the foundations and an amazing “deck” – or some kind of structure that looks out onto the West Side highway. I miss Inwood living in FiDi – but my dog and I thoroughly explored the woods above Inwood Hills park…

  14. As always, one of your great finds!

    By the way, last night I went over to 47th Street to meet a friend for a play & dinner. Since Tuesday night shows typicaly have a 7:00 p.m. curtain; dinner had to be quick and easy. So based on your recent post, we hit the diner at the Edison Hotel. My friend, also a longtime New Yorker, was shocked that such a place existed and in the middle of Manhattan’s Disneyland of all places!

    Thanks as always.

  15. Really great site. This was a really cool article. I’ve never noticed the arch before and I can’t wait till I get a chance to get over there!

  16. This is very cool find and I probably wouldn’t have noticed it because it is hidden quite well. The turret discovery was a nice surprise. I wonder why they didn’t keep more of the property. sad.

  17. I guess this IS cool, Scout. But I have to say, when I scrolled down to see the photo of the estate to which the arch belonged, I experienced literal pain–a visceral response to all that beauty, reduced to a graffiti-scrawled remnant.

    It’s heartbreaking.

  18. The destruction of historic buildings is common throughout the world …. I also prefer the rolling hills … greetings

    • Sergio Del Pino

      Although that may be true up to a point, it is only in America that we have no respect for the past. Just look and see , sadly only in books, how much we have destroyed in this country due to “Progress”. Yes, America’s grand past is all but a memory, due to developers wanting to build new and bigger structures to make more money and in the process destroy our history.

  19. As a descendant of Dr. Valentine and John Seaman, it’s wonderful to view these pictures of the estate. The Seaman family has a very rich history in New York. Very proud of what my ancestors accomplished — very ashamed of the greed following Ann’s death.
    As a very odd side note..
    I am an actor and have worked with an actress by the name of Ann Drake!
    (Cue the ‘Twilight Zone’ theme.

  20. Very interesting. Thanks for taking the time.

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