Elisha Blackman Building, New Haven Connecticut

Date added: June 16, 2024
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 (1978)

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The Blackman Building is an illustration of commercial building design of the 1880s executed in brick and stone work that is first-rate, and has a well-documented history of ownership as an investment by a series of real estate brokers. The account of its construction and management is a capsule history of the life of downtown buildings of 19th-century origin, many of which have been demolished.

The masonry of the Blackman Building is a testimonial to the high quality of materials and craftsmanship that went into its construction. The glazed brick with thin mortar joints and the sandstone trim show few signs of deterioration. The arrangement of brick and stone into pilaster strips, corbelling, and string courses shows design sophistication that suggests the hand of an architect, but construction details are not known and the designer remains anonymous. The unknown architect planned a building that fits well on its odd-shaped site. His use of granite piers with iron beam lintels harks back to an earlier era; instead of the massive granite slabs, full cast-iron storefronts might have been expected. At the roof line his use of sheet metal sheathing was not uncommon at the time, but has now become an oddity.

In the 1880s York and Chapel were fine residential streets, and fad been for 150 years or more. The lot on which the Blackman Building now stands was the site of the home of Dr. Aeneas Munson, Sr., a well known physician earlier in the 19th century. Munsons had lived here since as early as 1748. Elisha Blackman (1812-1888), builder of the present structure, bought the lot, 54 feet on Chapel Street and 109 feet on York Street, and the three houses then standing on the land in 1870. Born in Oxford, Connecticut, Blackman had a long career in New Haven's famous carriage manufacturing industry. He first appears in the New Haven City Directory in the edition for 1845, listed as a carriage maker. In 1847 he is listed as a coach maker, and in 1852 the listing after his name reads, "E. Blackman & Co., coach makers." Apparently, he was progressing in the trade. By 1858 the firm had become Blackman and Randall and in that year entered into a partnership with Henry Hooker that lasted until 1861. In 1863 Hooker with James Brewster, the most renowned name in New Haven carriage manufacturing history, bought out G. & D. Cook Co. to become the largest carriage manufacturing establishment in the city, soon known as Henry Hooker & Co. In 1871 Blackman was working for this company, but the association didn't last and the 1877 directory lists him without business association.

In the 1880s, however, he is listed as a broker, although the nature of his brokerage business is not specified. He is not listed with the real estate and insurance brokers but his son-in-law, Cleveland S. Thompson, was a conventional real estate and insurance broker. Perhaps it was this association that led him to construct his building. Blackman opened his brokerage office at 174 York Street in one of the buildings he owned on the corner. These buildings appear in an 1879 panoramic view of New Haven engraved by Bailey and Hazen of Boston. In the single year 1883 Blackman's office address is 510 Chapel Street rather than 174 York Street, presumably because he had to move out while his new building was being constructed. The 1886 Sanborn map shows the new brick building in place.

It is quite possible that the construction of the new four-story brick building with stores on the ground floor and apartments above upset the neighborhood. The first of its type in the immediate vicinity, it was the vanguard of change. York and Chapel up to that time were lined with homes, with the exception of a grocery store that had been located for years on the northeast corner of the intersection, diagonally across from Blackman's, and the 1871 Calvary Baptist Church on the southeast corner (now the Repertory Theater). Yale University was still safely a full block away. The value of the land was rising, however, and Blackman was the first, soon followed by others, to take advantage of the changing economics with a multi-story residential building.

71 years old when he built his building, Elisha Blackman died five years later, leaving an estate to be administered by his son-in-law for the benefit of his two daughters and a granddaughter. The building was always mortgaged and at this time the mortgage was bought by Yale. On October 14th, 1902 the President and Fellows of Yale College for $1.00 and other consideration released the ladies from the mortgage when they paid it off. After Thompson died the three ladies sold the building in 1908 to Henry C. Bretzfelder, another real estate broker, taking a mortgage in part payment. Bretzfelder owned a number of properties in New Haven. The Blackman Building was one of his investments, as it had been for Blackman and his heirs.

The 1920 deed of transfer) to the next owner, Peter J. McIntyre, another real estate broker, for the first time conveys not only the land and building but also the household goods on the third and fourth floors; furniture, fixtures, beds, mattresses, and so on. The second floor at this time was leased to four dentists. Instead of three floors of conventional apartments, the arrangement now included a floor of offices and two floors of furnished apartments. The change indicated that the building had started into a slow decline that was to continue for 50 years, culminating in a 1977 fire followed by vacancy.

McIntyre also made physical changes. New Haven Building Permit 17159, dated September 10th, 1920, authorizes 12-foot openings in the wall for a four-story bay on the York Street side, covered with galvanized iron, at an estimated cost of $2000. The architects were Delle Valle and Vece.

While only the permit for one bay has come to hand, it is presumed that all bays were constructed at the same time. Such presumption is supported by a picture at the New Haven Colony Historical Society that shows the building without bays early in the 20th century. The picture is a postcard view, with the message on the reverse of the card dated 1909.

The present configuration of the store that comes out to nearly a right angle in front of the truncated corner of the building proper was also built by McIntyre (Building Permit 8977, October 31st, 1929). In these alterations, several of the original granite piers and iron beams were replaced by lolly columns and steel beams, when the storefront was moved out from the building. One of the lolly columns is visible now inside the plate glass window of the shoe repair shop.

McIntyre raised money by mortgaging the Blackman Building in 1930 to the Connecticut Mutual Life Insurance Co. When his estate sold the building in 1949 the new owners continued this mortgage until 1963. The new owners were restaurant proprietors rather than real estate agents and conducted their restaurant on the premises. The upper floors continued to suffer from lack of maintenance and repairs. The situation did not improve with another change of ownership in 1971 and the building fell into disrepair. Early in 1978 new owners took title and architect's plans for rehabilitation were drawn.

Building Description

The Blackman Building is a four-story structure with stores on the first floor and apartments above, constructed in red brick with stone trim in 1883 on the southwest corner of York Street and Chapel Street in downtown New Haven, Connecticut. The other three corners of the intersection are occupied by buildings of Yale University; the Art and Architecture Building, the Art Gallery, and the Repertory Theater.

The configuration of the building and its lot is determined by the fact that the internal angle of the southwest corner of York and Chapel is less than 90 degrees. Consequently, the plan of the building is a trapezoid with no: two sides parallel. The front of the building along York Street is 65 feet long, the Chapel Street front 45 feet, and the other two sides 60 feet and 40 feet. The corner of the building at the street intersection is truncated, and has a window in each floor. The York Street facade jogs in, near the entrance to the upper floors. The roof, not visible from the street, is a low hip.

The ground floor of the Blackman Building provided for three stores facing Chapel Street and, running behind them, one store facing York Street. The entrance to the apartments on the upper floors is on York Street, just before the York Street store. The walls are laid up in common bond using glazed brick with thin mortar joints. The York Street front shows the original arrangement of pilaster strips at the corners and at intervals along the facade dividing tall one-over-one windows that are recessed from the wall plane under decorative scalloped headers. The windows have heavy rectangular lintels and narrow sills of beige sandstone. The landings of the interior stairway over the York Street entrance are lighted by windows at half levels. There is a double window between the first and second stories and a round-arched window between the third and fourth. The arch of this window springs from an impost formed by a string course that is an extension of the fourth floor window lintels. At mid-level of the fourth floor there is a brick molding, while above the fourth floor windows brick corbelling connects the pilasters. The roof line is comprised of a metal clad cornice over modillion blocks and a dentil course and has a low parapet capped by red tiles. The brick and stone work are in good condition.

The present store fronts along York Street were installed during 1920s alterations, and those along Chapel Street are a later date. A massive granite pier visible at the southeast corner of the building gives an indication of the original arrangement. More piers like it are in place behind the 1920s store fronts. The piers are connected at their tops by iron, or perhaps low quality steel, beams that support the exterior brick walls. This structural system was obscured in the 1920s when the store fronts were pushed out onto the sidewalk and some of the piers -and iron beams were replaced with lolly columns and steel beams, creating room for a fourth store fronting on Chapel Street.

Presumably, it was at this time that the entrance received its metal clad broken pediment with reeding and elements of garlands. The floor immediately inside the entrance is tiled in the fashion common in the 1880s, leading to the conclusion that the entrance way has always projected out from the building at this point, and only its exterior treatment was changed in the 1920s when the storefronts were moved out to their present position.

There are three three-story bow windows, also dating from the 1920s, running from above the storefronts to the roof cornice on the Chapel Street front, evenly spaced to cover most of the facade.

Two more of these three-sided bows are on the York Street facade, one just before the jog, and the other at the southeast corner of the building. The wooden mullions separating the windows vertically and the spandrels separating them horizontally are metal clad like the cornice, although the bows were added several decades after the building was constructed.

The ground floor of the Blackman Building is now occupied by Shops and a restaurant. The upper floors, now vacant, were apartments. There is only one stairway, rising from the York Street entrance. One run of the stairs with closed string still has its balustrade of turned spindles and molded hand rail. Its newell posts have incised decorations.

The building has interior brick bearing walls all the way up to the roof that support the floor load. There are a number of small, Shallow fireplaces, some of them bricked up, in the interior and exterior walls, perhaps intended originally for gas fires. The interior trim of the round headed window and the casings for several of the windows in the bows are in place, but the interior has suffered badly from fire and water damage and most of the interior trim either is gone or is badly deteriorated. In particular, the southwest corner of the roof is charred and open.

Elisha Blackman Building, New Haven Connecticut  (1978)
(1978)

Elisha Blackman Building, New Haven Connecticut  (1978)
(1978)

Elisha Blackman Building, New Haven Connecticut  (1978)
(1978)

Elisha Blackman Building, New Haven Connecticut  (1978)
(1978)

Elisha Blackman Building, New Haven Connecticut  (1978)
(1978)

Elisha Blackman Building, New Haven Connecticut  (1978)
(1978)

Elisha Blackman Building, New Haven Connecticut  (1978)
(1978)

Elisha Blackman Building, New Haven Connecticut  (Date Unknown)
(Date Unknown)

Elisha Blackman Building, New Haven Connecticut  (1978)
(1978)