Architecture · Conservation · Historic House Museums · Landmarking · Merchant's House · Preservation · Restoration

From the White House to the Merchant’s House

On September 26, the New York City Council will vote on whether to approve a developer’s application to build an eight-story hotel next door to the Merchant’s House. There is no case that can be made for the proposed construction, but there are many reasons that it is absolutely unwarranted:

It will result in catastrophic damage to the fragile 186-year-old building, and according to engineering analyses would likely lead to its collapse.

The developer’s application requests a zoning text amendment for “spot zoning,” which is illegal, benefiting the developer alone.

The community is vehemently opposed to the eight-story hotel in this location.

The hotel project could be shifted to a site around the corner at 403 Lafayette, which the developer already owns! 


Ch3-Flaherty Medallion
The ornamental highlight of the Merchant’s House parlors is a perfect restoration of the nineteenth-century artisan’s work in all its swirling rhythmic exuberance.

When the time came to restore the parlors of the Merchant’s House in 1977, the head of the restoration turned to one of the most prominent architects of the period, Edward Vason Jones, who was so impressed with the beauty and the importance of the  house that he offered his services free of charge.

Jones’ works include the first restoration of the Department of State Diplomatic Reception Rooms and renovations to rooms of the White House under the administrations of Nixon, Ford, and Carter. One of the receptions rooms was named “The Edgar Vason Jones Memorial Hall” in his honor.

To restore the parlor plaster, Jones brought on a team of the country’s finest craftsmen who had worked with him at the White House. David Flaharty, the sculptor and ornamental plasterer who would bring the dramatic ornamental plaster back to its original beauty says that the matching ceiling medallions are “unquestionably among the finest such designs to survive.” In his opinion they are superior to any composed during the American Classical Revival.

Still in Place after 186 years!

A little over five feet in diameter, they are larger than most ceiling medallions found in Greek Revival homes.  In addition, rather than being flat, as such medallions usually are, their centers of alternating foliate acanthus leaf clusters are recessed into the ceiling. This characteristic creates depth and adds interest, but along with the large size of the medallion, requires an extremely elaborate system of framing and lathing of the central ceiling joists. That these heavy medallions are still in place after 186 years is a testimony to the skill of the original builder. That it is impossible to detect which missing elements were replaced by the restorer is a testimony to  the skill of the expert Jones hired to do the work.

The story of the Merchant’s House


5 thoughts on “From the White House to the Merchant’s House

  1. It is shameful that such exquisite craftsmanship, which fills every part of our precious house, very likely will be destroyed by a totally unnecessary construction project next door. And to that all of the grueling work that went on in the past to save this house, (which you discussed so expertly in Miracle on Fourth Street), will have been for naught. It makes one’s blood boil! How can the city allow this to happen?? Thank you for raising further awareness about this, Mary.


    1. Considering that the developer owns a lot just around the corner, which would be the perfect location for the hotel, it makes no sense. But don’t forget, the City Council still must approve the developer’s plan.


  2. I sure hope that the City Council stands up and becomes the hero of this story. So much is at stake and it is all in their hands. They must do what is right.


  3. What a heart-wrenching specter. The developer and each member of The New York City Council must read both your books, “The Old Merchant’s House, Life at Home in New York City, 1835-65” and “Miracle on Fourth Street” in considering their decision which can only be, to save an incredibly unique building in the City’s history It would be folly to do otherwise. How much better if the developer buillt his eight-story hotel around the corner on Lafayette. And, in the space next door to the Merchant’s House, with the support of the community, The New York City Council, and an angel or two, a garden could be designed and planned there reflective of the time period of the family Tredwell and dedicated to the community’s wonderful children who, in 1965, marched through the streets of the East Village to support the landmarking legislation for the Merchant’s House which, soon after, atttained New York City and National Historic Landmark status, as you have told it in “Miracle on Fourth Street”. Who could have the heart and the shortsightedness to destroy such a building. The developer and The New York City Council would be heroes with such a complement to the Museum. The developer’s hotel guests would be delighted to pop around the corner to see the garden and museum which enhances the area in which he wants to be associated. The Merchant’s House , the very, the only, last of its kind in the City, which you brought to life so clearly through your hours and years of dedicated research, tirelessly documented and sourced in your two books is brilliantly written. You told of every aspect of the step by step monumental work taken by so many people in so many fields of restoration work to save and restore this building through blood, sweat and tears pledging heart and soul to see the Old Merchant’s House, renamed the Merchant’s House Museum, open its door to a magnifcent and quite awesome look into a long gone part of New York City history. Every community with a building to save should read both your books and find them the ultimate guide to saving a precious building. Both books are so fascinating and rewarding to read. The glorious medallion shown in your blog is testimony to the perfection of the building’s restoration work of a house intact with its original furnishings. Visiting it is a must when in New York.


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