46-54 Stone Street
Location: 46-54 Stone Street
Every truly great city must have at least one Great Fire, and New York City had two. (Or three, though the third doesn’t have the mythic flavor of the other two.) Mind you, none of them were at a 1666 or 1871 level of annihilation, but still, they disfigured the landscape in remarkable ways: they’re big reasons why Manhattan has very little before 1800. The first started a week after the British invaded Manhattan in September 1776. It destroyed up to a quarter of the city, mostly its extreme west side. It made the city a miserable place to occupy, with survivors living in tents among the ruins. Of course miserableness may have been the intent, though Patriot arson was never conclusively proven.
The second one arrived on December 16, 1835. Ungodly winter weather — including temperatures approaching 17 degrees below zero — heightened the effects of a gas pipe explosion at a warehouse on the corner of Exchange and Pearl. High winds carried sparks all over the city, even across the rivers to New Jersey to Brooklyn. Earlier fires already depleted much of the water supply, so firemen were forced to cut holes in the frozen East River for water, and even then, it froze in hoses and pipes. The fire was so hot, so huge, so awful, people in Philadelphia could see it. Philadelphia is a hundred miles away. In the end, nearly 700 buildings over fifty acres went up in flames, thereby gutting the commercial district in America’s largest city.
Tiny Stone Street, only a couple hundred feet away from the fire’s source, shows us what was built in the wake of the fire. There’s no record of what stood here before, but it’s easy to assume they resembled what you see all over South Street Seaport today. The new buildings were built taller and grander: four and five stories instead of two-and-a-half, machine-made brick instead of hand-molded, and a liberal use of granite, especially with the columns on the bottom floors — an application of Greek Revival style for commercial use.
Today the street offers a concatenation of bars and restaurants that serve people out in the open during warm weather. Pleasant, but a little too crowded for my tastes.