Updated: Apr 14, 2021
By Bart Boehlert
The Lower East Side in Manhattan has gone through more changes perhaps than any neighborhood in New York. As one of the oldest sections in the city, it was farmland around the time of the American Revolution owned by James Delancey, who gave his name to Delancey Street. In the nineteenth century, immigrants arriving in America headed to the tenements and factories of the Lower East Side for affordable housing and work in the garment industry. Over the years, Germans, Italians, Irish, Eastern European Jews, Greeks, Hungarians, Russians, African Americans, Dominicans and Puerto Ricans have resided in the great melting pot of the Lower East Side. More recently, the area has seen in influx of luxury developments and become home to cool restaurants, bars, and hotels, as well as cutting-edge art galleries and museums like the New Museum of Contemporary Art and the International Center of Photography.
Reflecting the many eras of this neighborhood is a large, unique carriage house at 170 Eldridge Street, which is now offered by Thelonious "TJ" Johnson and Ogden Starr of Brown Harris Stevens. The brick structure was built as a carriage house in the 1850s. Then Sigmund Oppenheimer, an immigrant from Mannheim, Germany, bought the building for his successful sausage casing manufacturing company. In fact, the painted Oppenheimer sign on the facade dating from approximately 1875 is thought to be the oldest existing painted signage in New York. Later, the building was the location of a printing press. In 1996, Georges and Dany Forgeois, the restauranteurs behind the popular Bar Tabac, Café Noir, Jules Bistro and more, bought the property and ingeniously renovated it. “This exceptionally large, mixed-use carriage house in the ever-growing Lower East Side market with the option to add two more floors on top is a home run waiting to be hit,” says TJ Johnson.
Behind the simple brick facade, the couple converted the bottom two floors into commercial space and the top two floors as the family residence. Running along the stairs linking the two residential floors is the home’s defining feature: a custom-designed indoor waterfall where water cascades down under a bright skylight along a wall of rocks that were brought into the building and wood beams that were reclaimed from the original flooring. Overhead hangs the original metal pulley system that operated a flatbed elevator when the building housed a printing press. The open living area leads into the kitchen on this enormous floor that runs the length of the building and is 25 feet wide. The cavernous 15 feet-high ceiling is lined with rough wood beams that were exposed and restored during the renovation. Italian terra cotta tiles underfoot are radiant-heated for warmth and add to the rustic style.
Below this striking level is a floor with four bedrooms, a laundry room, an office and a den. On the roof, a finished landscaped deck features a built-in, brick outdoor fireplace. The cellar and ground floor contain more office and storage space and well as a three-car garage. Outside, the curb cut in the sidewalk for vehicle access is a very difficult feature to achieve for a new construction today. This rare and ever-evolving property now awaits its next owner and transformation; after all, on the Lower East Side, the one constant is change.