P R O P O S E D H I S T O R I C D I S T R I C T
The oldest buildings in the proposed historic district are Greek Revival rowhouses dating from the 1840s, of which these two brick rowhouses are the earliest. Located on the east side of Irving Place between East 17th and East 18th streets, are survivors from a row of six that was among the earliest erected in the Gramercy Park Area. They are two of the finest Greek Revival buildings in the neighborhood, with their massive templelike brownstone entrance enframements, high stoops, simple stone window lintels and sills, and, at No. 56, wrought- and cast-iron stoop railings and denticulated cornice. No. 54 was modernized, probably in 1879, by the addition of a handsome oriel window (once capped by an iron cresting) and massive cornice, both in the Neo-Grec style.
Each of these houses was originally a single-family residence, but as the character of the Gramercy Park neighborhood changed in the early 20th century, rowhouse occupancy changed throughout the area. For some years, No. 54 was occupied by the Ingersoll Club, one of many private clubs that moved to the streets on or near Gramercy Park. By the 1920s, No. 56 had become a boarding house. A major change in use occurred in 1921 when No. 54 was converted into the Cooperative Cafeteria, a project of the Consumers' Co-operative Services(CCS) of New York City, one of several cooperative organizations founded shortly after World War I that sought to provide working people with quality services (restaurants, shops, housing, etc.) at reasonable prices. In 1924 the cafeteria expanded into No. 56.
The Irving Place cafeteria had its kitchen in the basement, with the dining rooms in the basement and first story. Upper stories contained the cooperative's central offices, staff living quarters, and a spare guest room. The cafeteria remained open for many years, finally being replaced by a succession of other commercial establishments. Restoration work was undertaken on the two rowhouses in 1992-1993.
Elsie de Wolfe House
Washington Irving High School
Guardian Life Insurance Company and Extension
106, 108 & 110, and 116