by Kevin Walsh

Lispenard is one of those only-in-New York street names you find downtown, such as Desbrosses and Laight — neither of which I am sure how to pronounce. I think it’s the only street that begins at West Broadway and ends at Broadway — it runs just two blocks.

Like most of those only-in-New York street names, it was named for an original landowning family, or a person associated with Trinity Church.  In this case, the street was named for either Anthony Lispenard (1640-1696) or grandson Leonard Lispenard (1714-1790). Anthony Lispenard was a refugee from 17th Century France, as many French Huguenots emigrated to the Colonies in the 1700s. He became an alderman, and assemblyman and a treasurer of King’s College (which developed into Columbia University). He married into the Rutgers family (the Lispenards also intermarried with the Bleeckers) and came to own much of the property that is  now west of Broadway and south of Canal. Unfortunately, back then much of that was swampland, which became the source of troublesome mosquito infestations before the area was developed and built up with the aid of landfill.

It was a wild spot, remaining in a primitive condition — part marsh, part swamp — covered with dwarf trees and tangled underbrush. Cattle wandered into this region and were lost. It was a dangerous place, too, for men who wandered into it. To live near it was unhealthy, because of the foul gases which abounded. About the year 1730, Anthony Rutgers suggested to the King in Council that he would have this land drained and made wholesome and useful provided it was given to him. His argument was so strong and sensible that the land — seventy acres, now in the business section of the city — was given him and he improved it. At the northern edge of the improved waste lived Leonard Lispenard, in a farm house which was then in a northern suburb of the city, bounded by what is Hudson, Canal and Vestry Streets… Nooks and Corners of Old New York, Charles Hemstreet, Scribner’s 1899)


Something had always puzzled me about Lispenard Street. It’s not perfectly straight — there is a very slight bend to the southeast as it approaches Broadway, about one degree, maybe two. You can see that reflected on this atlas plate. I researched what happened: when Lispenard was laid out and opened in 1809 it took an abrupt turn to the north and met Canal at Mercer Street. In 1821 it was decided to close that bend and run Lispenard straight through to Broadway. Apparently that wouldn’t have left room for anything to be built on Broadway between Lispenard and Canal because of the latter’s slanting route. So, it was given an ever so slight jog to allow more room…


The First National City Bank of New York building (which later became Citibank) has occupied that little bit of territory on Broadway between Lispenard and Canal for many years. This triangular space was once the location of Brandreth House, a hotel run by one Doc Brandreth, a dope peddler who later did time in Sing Sing. On the hotel’s steps on July 23, 1859, Virginia Stewart was shot and killed by her lover Robert C. MacDonald, who had pursued her from North Carolina. He killed himself with opium while awaiting trial in the Tombs. NY Songlines 

A waiter had been shot and killed at the Brandreth House one year earlier. [NY Times]

This is a grouping of 5-story office buildings built in 1866 and 1867; most have their dates of construction written on their rooftop pediments. 1st floor fronts are made of cast iron. The grey building in the center, which says “Erected 1866,” was built for Daniel and Ambrose Kingsland, oil and shipping merchants. Daniel was president of Chemical Bank and a patron of the Broooklyn Academy of Music. From 1851-1853 Ambrose Kingsland was mayor of New York under the Whig banner from 1851-1853, and while in office he appropriated funds for what would become Central Park.

Even though this block of Lispenard Street is landmarked, that doesn’t mean things can’t fall into disuse and decay; witness the ground floor of #43. It’s aged rather genteel-y, though, with its iron Corinthian columns gradually rusting, and accumulated street scrawlings and stencillings adding to an aura of painless starvation. Like most buildings on the north side of Lispenard this is actually the back end of a building fronting on Canal Street, in this case, #324. The Canal street end was built in 1864 while the back end on Lispenard was added in 1876.


Pearl Paint, the art supplies favorite at 308 Canal Street, once had this branch, the Pearl Craft Center, at #42 Lispenard. In 2012 it still had the trademark Pearl Paint ground floor red paint job. Pearl opened in 1933 and its main branch on Canal is still doing well.


While I mentioned #40 Lispenard above, #38, on the right, is actually just one of the frontages for this building, which is actually L-shaped and wraps around the corner building at Church and Lispenard to another front at #315 Church Street, and it was also built between 1866-1869 for the Kingsland brothers; in fact the pediment of the Church Street front is marked…


…”The Kingsland Buildings 1967.” Other buildings from the same era, 1865-1870, are along the east side of Church Street, while the west sude of Church Street doesn’t have any comparably aged frontings because of a 20th Century street widening project.


This dental office at #44 Lispenard has gone out of their way to celebrate Halloween. The real horror begins when you get in the chair and on comes the drill. gives them a panning


#39-41, the Clark Building, is the back end of #332 Canal Street, is an 1883 Queen Anne-style loft built for John J. Clark, a restaurant chain owner.


#38 Lispenard is home to Civil Service Books, a surviving indie bookshop. It apparently once had a much older handpainted sign it has since lost since it moved to Lispenard Street.

Thousands of wannabe Civil Service workers trek to Worth Street in Lower Manhattan to buy so-called exam passbooks, a veritable CliffsNotes for exam prep, at the one store in the city that sells such wares: The Civil Service Bookshop. The mother-daughter outfit has been around for 60 years continuously serving “working people,” as owner Roslyn Bergenfeld said., referring to its original location at 89 Worth Street.

She Sells the Books on the Civil Service [NYTimes]


I like a place that knows what it is. Barber Shop, #33 Lispenard. I should do a page on the different varieties of barber poles. The red stripe in the barber pole once signified arterial blood and blue, venous blood, as medicinal bloodletting used to be handled at barbershops, which doubled as surgeons during the Middle Ages. Beginning in 1163 in Europe, the clergy was banned from the practice of surgery and barbers took over those practices.


Next to 33 Lispenard. The amazing thing is there are no misspellings.


Church Street comes to its northern end at Canal Street, but not before transferring much of its traffic to 6th Avenue, which runs northbound beginning at Franklin Street.


#9 and #11 Lispenard, which do not fall in the street’s landmarked section and hence, there’s no online information about them. #11 resembles #43 (see above) so, I’d guess it was built sometime in the 1870s.


This is Lispenard Street’s west end, where 6th Avenue meets west Broadway. The building in the center, 39 6th Avenue, is in the new Hilton Garden Inn chain, a reasonably-priced lodging about a block away from the Tribeca Grand, which is unreasonably-priced.


At the NW corner of West Broadway and Lispenard, Nancy Whiskey Pub shares a building with the Pepolino Italian restaurant.

“At the best dive bars, misery and dread are balanced by elation and poorly reasoned optimism. Rot and decay hang in the air, but so does self-affirmation. The patrons and the help relate to each other like dysfunctional family members, bitter and defiant one moment, gentle and supportive the next.” –Ben Westhoff in New York City’s Best Dive Bars, in which he gave it 5 bottles.


This massive behemoth was previously called the AT&T Long Lines Building, though now it’s leased to Verizon, T-Mobile, and other firms.  It was built in 1932 by a pre-eminent Art Deco architect, Ralph Walker. The great 27-story height was required to hold long-distance telephone lines. The lobby boasts a world map in mosaic and the ceiling has artwork featuring long-distance telephony to the world’s continents. I’d like to get in there sometime.

See the lobby in the Gallery on the building’s official website.

After leaving Lispenard Street I wandered up 6th to the triangle formed by Laight, Canal, and Varick. For many years this was a forlorn asphalt expanse with nothing at all built there, so naturally, I didn’t photograph it. Of course, now that it’s built up, I can’t do any photographic comparisons.


Capsouto/Cavala Park was developed in 2009 and originally named Cavala Park, but it was renamed the next year for neighborhood restaurateur (Capsouto Freres) and activist Albert Capsouto, who had died in 2010. The centerpiece of the park is a 114-foot-long waterfall sculpture by artist Elyn Zimmerman, which pays homage to the actual canal that once ran long what became Canal Street.

“Cavala” was a whimsical portmanteau combining the first two letters of Canal, Varick and Laight Streets, which the park borders.


For me the most interesting aspect of this park are the stainless steel plaques showing maps of this area throughout history from 1796 on. This map shows the former Collect Pond in today’s Foley Square and the drainage ditch to the Hudson River that became today’s Canal Street. At the northeast section, the X formed by Cross and Orange Streets later became Five Points, the city’s worst slum for much of the 19th Century.

Note at the bottom of the map the smaller body of water called Little Collect Pond. Duane Street was laid out to take a southeast jog to avoid the pond, which was drained long ago, but the bend in Duane Street is still there.


This map from 1803 shows the Collect Pond drainage trenches. Canal Street was not yet fully laid out.


By 1921 the map approximates the modern one, but 6th Avenue was yet to be laid out; it pretty much runs down the middle of this map vertically, from the D in Grand to the Y in York. It was extended south in 1928 when the IND Subway was built.

On the left, the NY Central Freight Depot was replaced by the Holland Tunnel entrance/exit roads in the late 1920s, as well.


This is a reproduction of an 1800 print that shows Broadway extending over the canal where Canal Street would be built. When, in the mid-1910s, Squire Vickers, the pre-eminent subway art director from the mid-teens to 1940, was looking for mosaic designs for the BMT Broadway subway, he chose this print:


This mosaic plaque was designed by Jay Van Everen; the BMT Canal Street station opened 1/5/1918.

The scene is described in Isaac Newton Phelps StokesNew York Past and Present: 1524-1939:

The Arch, or Stone Bridge was probably erected during the Revolution to facilitate access to the fortifications near the Collect Pond. By 1782 Broadway (or Great George street, as it was then called) had been formally extended across and beyond the ditch, clearly indicating the existence of a bridge at this time. The lage double house on the SW corner of Broadway and Canal Street is the “Stone Bridge Tavern” often referred to in writings of he period. The canal ditch ran from the Collect to the North [Hudson] river at Canal Street and to the east river at Catherine Street. In early times it supposed to have been navigable in canoes. It was formalized  and a sewer constructed through the street in 1819.

via Lee Stookey’s Subway Ceramics.


You’ll be seeing more of these park lamps around as new parks are built around town. They are used frequently in new parks instead of the classic Henry Bacon Type B post, which was designed by Henry Bacon in 1911. This is officially (to the Department of Transportation) known as the Flushing Meadows pole, despite the fact that they were first introduced in Canarsie Beach Park in Brooklyn in 2004.


Some English and Danish food terms (some in Bodoni Black) have appeared on this building at the corner of Laight Street and St. John’s Lane. Aamanns-Copenhagen, billed as NYC’s first authentic Danish restaurant, will be opening in the space sometime in 2013.


St. John’s Lane, which runs between Beach and Laight Streets west of 6th Avenue, is one of Manhattan’s rare surviving back alleys. Read more about it on this FNY page.


Though it’s one of the busiest streets running south in Tribeca, Varick Street is still paved in Belgian blocks at the Holland Tunnel approach. Colonel Richard Varick was a Revolutionary patriot and later, mayor of NYC from 1789-1801. He was an aide-de-camp to Benedict Arnold but professed ignorance to Arnold’s treason.

Up ahead is One Hudson Square on Canal between Varick and Hudson Streets. It was built in 1930 as the Holland Plaza Building for the printing trades (I interviewed unsuccessfully there in the early 2000s for a job with a printer). Among the current tenants are Adelphi University, New York Magazine, and Getty Images.


One Hudson Square will also be the home of the Jackie Robinson Museum. Robinson, of course, became the first modern-era African-American major league baseball player in 1947 for the Brooklyn Dodgers, and played with excellence for ten years. When he was traded to the New York Giants after the 1956 season, he retired because he had already accepted an offer from Chock Full o’Nuts and his game was beginning to deteriorate from his diabetes.


In the early 2000s the approach roads to the Holland Tunnel were given a set of these unique dual light posts that appear nowhere else in the city.


There’s a parcel bounded by Grand, Canal, Varick and 6th Avenue that has lay empty for a few years now. Apparently the asking price is rather high. For now, you can see the towers of Tribeca from here, including the AT&T tower on 6th Avenue.


Some leftover painted signs on Broome Street just east of Varick.


2012, meet 1870: a billboard for the 2012 James Bond vehicle adjoins Waring’s Building.

With that, it was time for the train.




Tal Barzilai October 22, 2012 - 10:42 am

Do you usually expect spelling errors when it comes to any writings expressing freedom?

Kevin Walsh October 3, 2014 - 8:54 am

yep. Very common. Its code!

Kevin Walsh October 3, 2014 - 9:00 am

J/K truth be told, there were often mistakes due to the lack of education of those expressing “freedom.” You have to understand that the highly educated knew not to step outside the lines in fear of being chastised and those who lacked the education did not care about being chastised. They were adamant about getting their message across regardless of spelling or grammatical errors. Obviously this is my take on it and there is no right or wrong answer to this. Hope that answers your question.

Chee Ef October 22, 2012 - 12:09 pm

At first I thought I was looking at a typo: “…and came to own mush of the property that is now west of Broadway and south of Canal.” until I realized that swamps and marshes can actually be considered somewhat mushy. Great write-up!

Kevin Walsh October 22, 2012 - 12:43 pm

Very funny.

paktype October 22, 2012 - 12:14 pm

I used that barber shop on Lispenard Street when I worked in the area from 1991 to 1993.

Dan Herman October 23, 2012 - 1:27 am

Curious to know about the double-dashed line colored blue in the atlas plane, which splits off at Canal and Broadway. Is that an inlet leading to the Collect Pond south or is that an elevation marker?

Kevin Walsh October 23, 2012 - 10:25 am

Yes, those dashed lines represent streams that were since placed underground.

Doug Douglass October 23, 2012 - 5:59 am

The only pronunciation of Laight I’ve heard is “late.”

Skeeter October 23, 2012 - 9:06 am

Thanks for the post! I was hoping you’d write about this street one day.

I work in the old ATT building and walk down Lispernard daily. The lobby in the ATT building is magnificient. Its open to the public. The ACE station is accessed from the building’s lobby. You can also access the building on Church Street.

The Underground Railroad apparently came through the area. There’s a plaque stating this at 319 Church Street which is now a La Colombe coffee shop. Also a good place for celebrity spotting.

Between Canal and Lispernard on Church street is an Art Deco US Post Office with some interesting details inside.

John P. Simonetti October 23, 2012 - 5:06 pm

Two questions on this page: 1) What is that top font on the Barber Shop sign? and 2) Why don’t you suggest that the AT&T Long Lines Building be added to one of the future Open House NYC tours?

Patrick October 24, 2012 - 10:13 am

Not a New Yorker, but always find this interesting. Definitely whets my appetite to come and look at NYC architecture, etc.

One thing I’ve noticed in my travels: the old AT&T building, like nearly EVERY telephone exchange building I’ve encountered (including the very small, single-story one in my small Kentucky hometown!) has almost no windows and few points of entry along the ground floor. While I’ve never seen a definitive statement on why this is so, I suspect it has a practical reason: they were constructed this way to make them easier to “defend” from the inside in the event of a local/civil unrest (or, more to the point, in the case of enemy invasion). Look at ANY telephone building, even those built into the 1950’s and 1960’s, and they fortress-like in this respect.

Ken B. October 24, 2012 - 9:22 pm

These buildings were constructed to house the mechanical switching apparatus of the telephone companies and had relatively few people working in them. Windows are usually installed to provide light and (in older structures) ventilation for building occupants. The number of street level entrances in a building are calculated to accommodate the number of people that inhabit or use that building. While security was a consideration in the design of telephone company buildings, the lack of windows and doors reflected the lack of need and was a cost-saving measure for both construction and maintenance.

Hugh October 25, 2012 - 12:09 pm

You’re correct. Telephone building have been ‘hardened’ against disaster and attack. After the ‘early years’, they were built with thick walls and no windows. They all have their own electric power and can run for long periods without public utilities. Some facilities can’t even be seen, as they are completely underground. This became increasingly important during the cold war as communications were vital for rescue and rebuild. In Manhattan, some hardened buildings are at 33 Thomas St and 811 10th avenue.

chris kralik December 6, 2012 - 5:13 pm

Hey, a little research from montreal… Desbrosses is french, means ‘of the brushes’. pronounced des-day, brosses- bruss more or less. The es ending is plural and silent when spoken. It seems that the tides at Manhattan are measured on the Hudson and Desbrosses street:

and digging a little further, I found this ref to Desbrosses the Huguenot who left a 1000 pounds to Trinity Church in his will so that they could pay a minister to say mass in French…..!search/profile/person?personId=407373425&targetid=profile

Having lived on Meserole St and learning through your awesome book and site that many of the early settlers were Huguenot refugees inspired me to look further. (I was pretty sure Meserole was Spanish! and I said it with the accent)

3 out of 4 Desbrosses listed on Wikipedia are painters…..Of the Brushes.

Rosalyn January 1, 2013 - 8:46 pm

I lived at 11 Lispenard Street in the late 1980s. I was told that cloth sails were made in the loft I lived in. I always wanted to get more information about that building.

Joe January 17, 2013 - 12:54 pm

Another interesting note about the AT&T building. It was originally built in the early 1900s (teens?) as a much smaller, square building. When 6 Ave was extended south in the 20s for the building of the IND subway, the AT&T building was extended westward to “front” the new 6 Ave. It received a complete makeover.

The joints where the two buildings connect can be seen in unfinished floors of the building.

amy April 22, 2013 - 10:43 am

Thanks for writing about The Civil Service Bookshop on 38 Lispenard Street in Manhattan.

sofia May 15, 2013 - 4:17 pm

Thank you for the historical tour. Very well done. Spent time downtown during the 80’s, had lived uptown. So much facinating history in Manhattan-dear to my heart. Keep up the great work!

Alan Yelvington December 16, 2014 - 8:31 pm

I spent a lot of time with friends in a loft on the south side of Lispenard. I remember the “Fatal Attraction” cage elevator, and the gas light fixtures were still in place on the walls.

My favorite eatery was Magoos across from the Long Lines building. Wonderful place to eat, chat with the waitresses, and listen to conversations around me. Great jukebox too.

Bob March 29, 2015 - 6:05 pm

In his autobiography, “Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave,” Douglass writes that upon escaping to freedom in 1838 and getting to New York City he was aided by a Mr. David Ruggles who “took me to his boarding-house on the corner of Church and Lespenard[spelled in that way] Street.”

Danny July 20, 2015 - 10:23 pm

Also of note is a big piece of modern history: The intersection of Church and Lispenard St. is where one of the Naudet brothers filmed the first plane crash on 9/11. It’s the only good footage of the event.

Fred Casale April 14, 2016 - 12:46 am

I operated a vintage clothing story at 11 Lispenard in the early 1980″s. It was a store front that featured barn-like garage doors and a metal truck lip at the curb from its carting/industrial days. The back of the 3000 square foot loft was a textile cutting and enrolling factory, run by an elderly couple for many years. There was also a sleeping loft covered with a skylight at the very north end of the building (facing Canal St, at the time). I did use it from to time.In its short life the store gained some notoriety. Some of its new/old vintage clothing and jewelry were featured in various t-v series’ and in the long defunct Shop Magazine. During the summer various local modern dance companies would borrow various items to be used in their performances as part of “Art On The Beach”, a summer, Sunday afternoon event held on the beach front of what is now Battery Park City. It was also mentioned on the radio. The building tenants above the store were typically, artists, photographers, sculptor’s, etc. On Sundays, there was a flea market in what was the parking lot to the right of the entrance of the building. We would set up a table there with various vintage items and invite people to head to the store around the corner which during the summer, with the garage doors opened extended onto the sidewalk. During the same summer of 1982, a dark, menacing image of what reminded one of a seared human, post-nuclear explosion image, appeared on a wall to the right of the entrance to #11. The image, was a trademark of the street artist Jean’Michel Basquiat amidst the anti-nuclear of the time. He chose 11 Lispenard and many other obscure locations throughout lower Manhattan that summer to grace us with. There were few cafes (other than Whiskey Pub, which still stands today on the corner), including Smoke Stacks and Lightening around the corner on West Broadway, and the Reggae Lounge after hours behind a metal garage door next to Smoke Stacks. Finally, the most amazing part was the monthly rent for the store front at the time: $450.00!

Jgf May 14, 2019 - 3:59 pm

Brandreth didn’t do time in Sing Sing! He lived in the town of Sing Sing, which is now called Ossining.

jocelyn mel July 19, 2019 - 11:43 pm

JGF – how fascinating to add this to the whole story. Very interesting about Brandreth’s impact and how funny that he didn’t do time in Sing Sing…

jocelyn mel July 19, 2019 - 11:48 pm

I LOVE FNY. This has been one of my favorite proof sources about why the internet is so wonderful. So grateful for your work.


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