08 November 2013

A Bit of Old St. Mark's

As undulating glass and metal towers rise on both sides of the western entrance of St. Mark's Place in the East Village, the four-story brick building at 23 Third Avenue looks more and more like a forlorn totem of the street's past. It is currently occupied by the eatery Archie & Sons (which has applied a very 19th-century-looking painted sign to the western wall) and King's Magazine, a shabby all-night newsstand that has been there for as long as I can remember.

Before Archie & Sons arrived, it was briefly St. Mark's Pizza, and prior to that Tahini (which also went in for painted wall ads). For some years before that, this was the home of a nice, cheap falafel joint called Chickpea.

The structure was likely built sometime in the 1850s. From 1852 to 1960—108 years!—is was owned by a single family, until a descendent of that clan, Marie O. Gregory, sold it to Sam Gabay and Louis Ameri. Gabay was a Turkish immigrant who came to America as a boy in 1905. He later entered the garment business. He opened his first store at 1 St. Mark's Place (the same building as 23 Third Avenue). So, essentially, Gregory sold the building to her tenant. Later, Sam moved his business to 225 First Avenue, where it still is. Today, its run by Sam's grandchildren.

According to records, Gabay & Ameri LLC still own the address today. They also own 35 Third Avenue.

During the 1860s, meetings of the German Central County Committee, or the German Union Committee (names of the group vary in news accounts) were held here. (The East Village, then called the Lower East Side, was a German stronghold until the early 1900s.) In fact, a great many different clubs seems to have been formed, or met, at this address in the 1800s, making me think it might have been a hotel or a saloon of some sort.

If it was, it was, perhaps, not a reputable joint. In 1900, the police, tipped off by professional do-gooder Anthony Comstock, raided 23 Third Avenue, where a crap game was taking place, and arrested one Frank Smith "and took several tables, a dice box, and a quantity of chips."

By 1917, things had cleaned up and 23 Third Avenue was a recruiting center for the U.S. Army. One day in April, 75 men signed up for duty here.

Some business applied for an electric sign here in 1921. In 1931, a business lease was taken out on 23 Third Avenue by F. Bawirz. By 1980, according to a photo I located, the ground floor of the building was entirely taken up by a sprawling pizza place. (Which means King's Magazine didn't open until sometime after that.) I'm not sure if this was the same St. Mark's Pizza I remember being in this location when I moved to NYC in 1988. I do not have fond memories of St. Mark's Pizza—the help was rude and the slices were very expensive—but others do recall the warmly.

So that means a business called St. Mark's Pizza has closed twice at this location.

It should be remembered that, for much of its existence, the Third Avenue El rumbled right past this building. There was a stop on 9th Street. Throughout all the years, the basic structure of the building has not changed much.


Mitch said...

Presumably they have tenants on the upper floors.

I knew someone who lived on St. Marks about 15 years ago. It can get pretty tiring!

terry said...

I definitely have fond memories in the early 90s of St Marks Pizza here at this location. I would return a few times to try it out (into the early 00's) and it was the same Pizza. Was saddened to see it replaced by the Falafel joint. Didn't realize it became another pizza place after that...

Kadnga said...

I used to drive in from Ct. just for St Marks slices. Absolute best pizza back in the 80's