A Brief History of M. Schames & Son at 3 Essex

Posted on: December 13th, 2010 at 6:07 am by

Since posting about the relocation of neighborhood paint purveyor M. Schames & Son to 90 Delancey, we’ve been in contact with ownership regarding the origins of their former headquarters at 3 Essex Street.  And it’s quite extensive!  Although the City of New York dates the building to around 1909, the tenement is allegedly much older.

But piecing together this history was difficult.  The Schames descendants know little about the structure prior to 1927, when the family initially acquired the property.  However, the demolition of neighboring 5 Essex Street a year ago revealed some interesting clues about its true age.  Based on the antiquated construction methodologies and materials (hand-forged square head nails, hand-hewn beams, etc.), it appears that the original building could have been constructed as far back as the early 1800s.  In subsequent decades (nay, centuries), the footprint was apparently enlarged, and gradually evolved to its current state.  At present, though, only half of the first floor is believed to be original.

And check out the wooden siding, now visible through the busted sidewalk plywood!

Tragedy struck in 1940, though, when a large fire consumed the building.  Coincidentally, a newspaper photographer just happened to be passing the scene with his camera gear in tow.  His chance encounter with the blaze produced the photo seen above.  Truly amazing that the whole place didn’t explode with the sheer volume of paints and chemicals stored there.  Also, note the firefighter on the move.

[3 Essex Street, Circa 1947]

Now that the plywood perimeter of 5 Essex is completely splintered, we have a clear glimpse of the facade of the old paint store. That large opening now sealed with brick was most likely a Porte-cochère for horse-drawn carriages, which probably led through the building at some point in the distant past. Also visible is some of the antiquated wood cladding of 3 Essex, likely the original supports from way back when.

Schames Paints is open at 90 Delancey.  Support your neighborhood hardware store!

Many thanks to the Schames family for the archival photos and help with their family history.

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