The Mysterious 10-Foot Wide Brownstone on East 37th Street

I swear, I’ve taken the East 37th Street exit from the Midtown Tunnel a zillion times over the years and I’ve never noticed it before…

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Which, frankly makes sense: look down the rest of 37th Street from 3rd Ave and you’d never know anything is out of the ordinary.

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But yesterday, stuck in traffic and moving at a snail’s pace, I happened to glance over and notice it…Wedged between two apartment buildings on the south side…

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One of those awesome Manhattan buildings that is simply too skinny to believe:

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Literally, 164 East 37th Street is 1/3 a brownstone, measuring just 10 feet wide:

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To my knowledge, only two others like it exist in Manhattan: one at 420 West 58th Street…

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the other at 19 West 46th Street:

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In fairness, 164 East 37th Street isn’t a true residential building like the latter two – it’s actually the entrance and stairwell to the apartments in the brick building on the corner.

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Still, it was clearly once a full building that someone one day decided to lop in two. Compare it to its neighbor, and you can see there’s no way someone built this just to house a stairwell:

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A second clue can be found in the roofline…

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…where the cornice connecting the two buildings appears to be an afterthought:

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Finding any history on it is really difficult. Since the 1920’s, several different publishing companies have claimed the address 164 East 37th Street. The most notable appears to have been The Statesmen Press which, in 1919, created a stir by publishing a pamphlet alledging British espionage in the US during World War I. It was ultimately revealed to be a hoax, though the publishers defended it as a satire.

Also of note, on June 19, 1953 at 9:55 AM, mobster Steven Franse was found strangled to death in his car outside of 164 East 37th Street, a hit ordered by the Genovese crime family.

Whatever it’s history might have been, I’m a huge fan of these sliver buildings, and after stumbling on the first two, I couldn’t imagine any more existed in the city. Turns out, I’ve been driving by one for ten years now.

Finally, one last little bit I love about the building. Even though it’s a scant ten feet wide…

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…Someone has managed to find room for this staircase, less than two feet wide, leading to some miniature subterranean dwelling:

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Definitely will have to check it out someday…

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If you can contribute anything else to the history of 164 East 37th Street, please post in the comments!

-SCOUT

PS – I’ve noticed a growing number of print articles (newspaper, magazine) recently that have clearly found “inspiration” from Scouting NY posts. Just do me a favor – if you are planning on writing an article about, say, the three buildings above, could you at the very least mention where you got the idea from? Thanks in advance!

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23 comments

  1. Awesome!

  2. Awesome! Added to the must-visit list. These buildings in “New Amsterdam” remind me of Singel 7 in Amsterdam, boasting a 43 sq/ft footprint. See photo from a flickr album found on the web, credit to Bagatell: http://www.flickr.com/photos/bagatell/128061040/

  3. I’ve always wondered about this building at 135 Reade. Google the street view and you can see that the entrance appears to be on the west side of the sliver and unlike the property you cover above, this one has tons of windows. Would love to know more about it if you stumble across it in your travels.
    http://maps.google.com/maps?f=q&source=s_q&hl=en&q=Greenwich+St,+New+York&aq=&sll=40.709141,-74.01103&sspn=0.043136,0.06566&gl=us&ie=UTF8&geocode=FcxebQIdV7OW-w&split=0&hq=&hnear=Greenwich+St,+New+York&ll=40.716847,-74.010671&spn=0.001399,0.002052&z=19&layer=c&cbll=40.716798,-74.010569&panoid=CEjq_Wz5_mDrrJwThWToDw&cbp=12,23.75,,0,-13.37

  4. I was hanging out on Twitter and someone led me to your blog. Delightful. The 420 58th street is really cool. I don’t know where it is located, but there is a 2.5 meter wide, shipping container house, squeezed between two buildings. It may not even been in NYC. I have just seen pictures. I would love to live in one of these interesting homes. I hope you do investigate the tiny dwelling below the house. It would make another great post.

  5. Hi Scout,

    Scott Campbell linked me to your website via twitter. Your post reminded me of 75 1/2 Bedford St. in Greenwich Village, believed to be the narrowest building in the city. I thought you might want to add it to your collection:

    http://www.thevillager.com/villager_54/narrowhousewide.html

    Regards,

    Zachary Donovan

  6. Jeremy In Kansas

    “it was clearly once a full building that someone one day decided to lop in two.”

    I don’t know. To me, it looks like it was an alley that someone decided to make into rentable space. If it was once a full building, wouldn’t the windows match up?

  7. It’d make a great gay sauna

  8. I always see such cool things on your site. :)

    Fascinating skinny little building — and of course, I’d like to live in it. Wonder what the inside is like….

  9. I used to live around the corner from this one.
    I passed it myself umpteen times. As I was usually walking directly in front of it – rather than across the street from it, I can see how it was so easily missed. That green shed jutting out used to house a business.
    I would also bet the fact that I preferred to walk past Sniffen Court (one block south) also added to my missing it.

  10. Gabrielle Pierce

    You find THE BEST stuff…….:)

  11. Scout: Regarding your post script. I noticed something of yours in the NYT recently and assumed that either their National Geographic subscription lapsed or NPR’s fundraising drive had sent them scrambeling for another news source.

    Keep it coming.

  12. Great find, as always! :))

  13. So Nick, I’m surprised no one else thought of this. What’s the skinney on this joint? Have you checked any building records about this place?

  14. My guess is it was built as part of the building on the corner especially if it contains the building’s stairwell – I mean, how else would they get up and down?). The peeling paint on the corner building even matches the color of the stucco, making me assume that whoever chose a different material for the facade this thought it would be an interesting choice, never thinking that when the paint wore off it would really start to look like a separate building.

  15. Public records show the brick building being older than the full brownstone to the right. So i’m not too sure about the building being cut in half. Here’s an aerial view from 1924 http://i.imgur.com/cSKHs.png

  16. I can go a little further back. In 1895, the address was occupied by a contractor and architect named Patrick Martin. See http://query.nytimes.com/mem/archive-free/pdf?res=F50915F6385911738DDDAF0A94DD405B8585F0D3

  17. If you read the piece linked by Zachary about 75 1/2 Bedford, the photo at Google Maps is pretty amusing: http://tinyurl.com/75-5-bedford-st-nyc

  18. There’s another one, on St Marks Place, I think at 1st Ave. Don’t recall if it’s a “lopped in two” building or a separate structure, but you can add that one to the list.

  19. I believe the NYTimes did a whole article on the entire block of either the 37th or 46th Street building awhile back (I think it may have been 46th). I couldn’t find it in a quick search, but the whole thing was very interesting, and I believe they explained the peculiar size.

  20. I am really hoping that this thread isn’t so old that you will never see this. But I do not see a direct contact email for you – except for contests.

    Is this really the narrowest house in NYC?

    I’d love to hear your take on this!!

    http://ny.curbed.com/archives/2011/06/20/nycs_narrowest_house_has_a_surprisingly_big_backyard.php#bedford-4

  21. 39 St. Marks Place is also very narrow: https://maps.google.com/maps?q=39+St+Marks+Place&layer=c&sll=40.728544,-73.987153&cbp=13,46.14,,0,0.19&cbll=40.728425,-73.987318&hl=en&ie=UTF8&hq=&hnear=39+St+Marks+Pl,+New+York,+10003&ll=40.728425,-73.987318&spn=0.000001,0.0006&t=h&z=21&vpsrc=0&iwloc=A&panoid=Zjv2VJOQ2yCiDpyCKLQjOg

    Enjoyed your post!

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