By JOE SCHIAFFINO
Special to Forgotten New York
The Harriet Onderdonk Building at South Street and Peck Slip, later known as Meyer’s Hotel, was built in 1873 at a cost of $30,000. It was designed by architect John B. Snook, who among his many notable projects designed the original Grand Central Depot on 42nd Street in 1871 (the one the present Grand Central Terminal replaced in 1913), as well as many buildings in the Soho Cast-Iron District. Originally, the first floor housed stores while the second, third, fourth and fifth floors were loft space. Up until its present use as apartments, hoistways had been present which could have been used to lift inventory up to the lofts.
Henry L. Meyer, a liquor merchant, purchased the building and stores from Harriet Onderdonk in 1883 and immediately converted the corner store into a bar to add to the two he already owned on Front Street and Pearl Street. The spectacular original polished wood bar with its sparkling mirrors survived Hurricane Sandy and you can still enjoy a drink there today. It wasn’t until 1903 when Meyer converted the upper floors to include offices on the second floor, and forty-one hotel rooms, nine on the third floor and sixteen each on the fourth and fifth floors, that the building became known as Meyer’s Hotel.
At some point his bar expanded and became known as Meyer’s Restaurant. Famous guests reputed to have stayed at Meyer’s Hotel include Thomas Edison, Annie Oakley and Buffalo Bill Cody, and outlaws Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Teddy Roosevelt was known to drop in at the bar on occasion for a pint while serving as the head of the New York City Police Department, supposedly looking for officers who indulged themselves while on duty.
In 1951, the building/hotel was purchased by Silvio (Steve) Schiaffino and his South Front Realty Corp. from the estate of Henriette Meyers. He made extensive renovations to the hotel, including the addition of bathrooms on the first, third, fourth and fifth floors, installation of a sprinkler system, and repair of the fire escapes. In 1952 he purchased Meyer’s Restaurant and after renovating the kitchen and dining area renamed it the Paris Bar and Restaurant, after his original Paris which opened in 1934 at 164 South Street, but was taken by the City of New York under eminent domain around 1950. Today, its name is carried on by the Paris Café, and remains one of NYC’s oldest restaurants.
The diagonal corner entrance we see today with its signature beveled, etched and frosted glass paneled doors was not original to the building, and was likely added either in 1883 when Meyer opened his bar, or in 1903 when the conversion to a hotel took place. Also, the canopy that shelters the corner entrance was added some years after the original construction. The current owner purchased the building in the early 1980’s from Mr. Schiaffino and converted the top four floors into twenty-eight apartments with seven per floor. Occupancy began in 1985.