July 29, 2014 | by Sadie Stein
The optimists among us may think we’re okay: the world will sort itself out, the climate will stabilize, young people will always read and dream and give us hope for the future. And yet, sometimes you see something so objectively depressing that it’s hard not to feel we’re doomed. Case in point: 121 Charles Street, in Manhattan, also known as Cobble Court.
The property, an eighteenth-century farmhouse, is noteworthy for its charm—it’s surrounded by a pretty yard on a picturesque Greenwich Village street. Peep through the fence and you can see the little white birdhouse made in the larger house’s image. Not original to the neighborhood, in 1967, it was moved from York Ave. and 71st Street to avoid demolition.
Horribly enough, it is imperiled again: a broker recently listed it as a “development site” for $20 million. Quoth they,
ERG Property Advisors is pleased to exclusively offer for sale a West Village development site located at 121 Charles Street on the corner of Charles and Greenwich. The property is directly situated in arguably the most desirable enclave in all of Manhattan, the West Village. The property’s corner location benefits from significant frontage along both Charles and Greenwich Street … creating tremendous street presence. The property consists of a 4,868 square foot corner lot in the Greenwich Village Historic District. The offering would allow a developer or user to execute a wide variety of potential visions, from boutique condominiums, apartments or a one-of-a-kind townhouse.
Hopefully, its age and value will help preserve it. Andrew Berman of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation declared that anyone attempting to demolish the house “would have a mighty fight on their hands … This is one of the most beloved and historic corners of the Village. We and many others would fight very hard to keep it that way.” While the house is located within the Greenwich Village Historic District, its status as “contributing” is somewhat complicated by its twentieth-century move.
But its value isn’t just historic, or even aesthetic—not that these shouldn’t be enough. Margaret Wise Brown, the author of Goodnight Moon and The Runaway Bunny, lived in the house in the 1940s. (Some say she wrote Goodnight Moon there; I’ve read varying accounts.) Even if you are one of those who, like the Curbed commenter “Captain Cranky,” considers the house “a shed built by drunks,” it’s hard to imagine anything that went up in its place would be an architectural masterpiece—and lord knows there are plenty of similar structures popping up in this wealthy neighborhood to give you the idea.
When she was interviewed in late life, Jane Jacobs, who’s widely credited with having saved Greenwich Village from development, said, “I think that things are getting better for cities in that there’s not the great ruthless wiping away of their most interesting areas that took place in the past. Terrible things were happening when I wrote Death and Life, so that’s an improvement.” Jacobs died in 2006.
On the other hand, we have Captain Cranky: “You people would ‘save’ a home built from pallets and old shower curtains if it was old. Garbage is garbage regardless of history.” Which, while not exactly the same as optimism, must certainly save one a lot of heartbreak—if not choler.