Walk west on Charles Street, past Bleecker and Hudson, to the part of the Village where traffic slows and boutiques grow thick. At the corner of Greenwich Street, behind an iron gate and ivy-draped brick wall, you’ll find Manhattan’s only freestanding, privately owned house.
“Typically, a house that survives from 200 or more years ago, a freestanding house, it’s a monument, a museum,” explains Andrew Berman, executive director of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation. “[This house is] unusual because it’s still in private hands.”
The sight of 121 Charles Street, the centuries-old Cape Cod-style house with its lawn and cobblestone driveway, is not easily forgotten. Unlike Village townhouses, which are attached to each other on the sides, and only have yards in the front and back, this little farmhouse-looking home seems to grow out of its land. On the surface, it seems like it has been there forever – but it hasn’t.
For more than a century, the house sat on 71st Street near York Avenue, where, for a time, it was home to Margaret Wise Brown, author of the hugely popular “Goodnight Moon” and other children’s books. At one point, it was even a pub, where the owner served drinks in the low-ceilinged great room and lived upstairs.
It wasn’t until 1967, when the Archdiocese of New York announced plans to raze the block that the house was on, that the house was moved to the Village. The couple renting the home convinced the owner to sell to them, and, with the help of the borough president and mayor, it was saved from demolition and moved to Charles Street.
The entire structure was loaded onto a flatbed truck and driven down Second Avenue and across 14th Street to the West Side.
In the years after it was moved, the house changed hands multiple times. It wasn’t until the late ’80s that its current owners found it.
As Suri Bieler tells it, when she was a little girl on a vacation to Manhattan, she spotted the house as she peered out her backseat window as her father circled the Village. She fixated on the house, but for years it was just a fantasy. “I thought I had made it up,” she says.
That is, until she happened upon it again years later. This time, in 1998, the house had a “for sale” sign affixed to its gate. Bieler and her husband, Eliot Brodsky, jumped on it.
For nearly a decade, the couple, who own Eclectic Encore Props, a prop rental business, lived comfortably in the house. But when their son Jack was born, they needed to expand. That was when they hired Manhattan-based architect George Boyle to renovate and double the home’s size.
Rather than straighten the home so that all its windows and doors were level, they crafted the additions to echo the original.
Boyle says one of the best compliments he’s received on what they call “Jack’s House” praised the fact that he didn’t correct the windows. Actually, he fixed them to look like they were 200 years old.
The renovation was so well done that Bieler and Brodsky were presented with an award by the GVSHP in 2003.
Curious passersby often ring the bell to inquire about the history of Jack’s House. Sometimes they even make an offer to buy it. “You can’t get more prime than this location,” says Drew Glick, a vice president with Prudential Douglas Elliman.
Bieler has no intention of parting with it. “If we ever left New York, we’d take the house with us,” she says. “The house has legs.”