SCHEFFEL HALL, Gramercy Park

by Kevin Walsh

There’s a storefront at 190 3rd Avenue in the Gramercy Park area between East 17th and 18th Streets that appears to have been unchanged since the 1890s, and, for once, this is a case where the storefront is, in fact, unchanged, or nearly so, instead of being a reasonable facsmile.

We see here a remnant of Kleindeutschland, the German neighborhood decimated by the destruction by fire of the General Slocum excursion boat in 1904; a recollection of a mostly forgotten writer; and a remembrance of a (reputed) nest of German spies during World War I. A mini-history, albeit of obscurities.

Scheffel Hall was constructed in a German Renaissance style with a distinctive scrolled gable in 1894. The ground floor was originally a beer hall patronized by the then-substantial German population in the neighborhood. It was named in honor of Joseph Victor von Scheffel (1826-1886), a German-born poet and novelist.

The wrought-iron letters spelling out the address, “Scheffel Hall” and “Allaires” identifiers have held up incredibly well over the decades, as have the two scrolled lamp fixtures. The Hall was once an L-shaped building with frontage on East 17th Street and the ground floor was a restaurant ran by Augustus Van Horn Stuyvesant, a direct descendant of Pegleg Pete himself.

In the 1910s, Scheffel Hall was the home of Allaire’s, a meeting place for local Germans and, some say, a major nexus for German spy activity during World War I. In the early 20th Century it was also a music hall/restaurant frequented by area cognoscenti, including O. Henry, who immortalized it as “Old Munich.” Later, it became the German-American Rathskeller, Fat Tuesday’s Jazz Club and Highlander Brewery. These days? Scheffel Hall, which started as a place where you could get beer and pretzels, is now a yoga and pilates studio where young women turn themselves into pretzels. More on Scheffel’s at Lost City and Songlines.

Block by block, 3rd Avenue seems to have more “holdout” tenement buildings from the early 20th Century — these are on East 22nd and East 24th, but you can still see quite a few on 3rd and Lex well into midtown.

CENTER: a holdout home to a pawnbroker successfully resisted being gobbled up by Gramercy Green, constructed a few years ago as luxury apartments for Irish investors, but currently used as the city’s most spacious dormitories by New York University. Some of the students seem abashed by the luxury digs, according to the NY Times.

Page completed September 15, 2009



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