This Fallow East Houston Lot Pays Tribute to Tesla, Teddy, and Twain

Posted on: May 5th, 2017 at 9:43 am by

Steve Stollman spent the last month fine-tuning his open-air museum exhibit at 49 East Houston Street. The wall of fame composed of dated clippings, posters, and portraits is an attempt to foist an appreciation of neighborhood history onto unsuspecting pedestrians.

It’s nicknamed “The Mulberry Street Gang,” a plywood installation peppered with ephemera, and with a passageway behind the boards for additional viewing. Stollman’s goal with the project is to shine a light on the seemingly forgotten history that transpired here in the late 19th century. The display pays tribute to Nikola Tesla, who invented alternating current and remote controls, and worked in a laboratory across the street; his friend Mark Twain (aka Samuel Clemens); onetime police commissioner (and later, 26th president) Teddy Roosevelt cleaned up Police Headquarters just down Lafayette Street; Austrian immigrant Joseph Keppler founded the Puck magazine, operating in its eponymous building one block away (now owned by family of the real estate mogul Jared Kushner, President Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser); and pioneering slum photographer Jacob Riis.

“This exhibit may well be my final act here,” Stollman told us in a recent email. “I wouldn’t mind being able to continue to hold forth from there, but whoever wants this space is not going to relate to me and my interests very easily.”

Stollman previously owned 49 East Houston – also constructed in the 19th century – selling bars and classic automat machines, and offering a haven for bicycle activists Time’s Up and Critical Mass. However, he sold the property to investors Michael Hirtenstein and Sean Largotta in 2008 for $5.5 million. His plan at the time was to return to the ground level once the new construction completed. That never happened, and he sued the duo three years ago for about $9 million, claiming he was financially damaged because nothing was built.

Now, Stollman reportedly received an offer from Hirtenstein that gives him until September 15 to find a new buyer willing to pay at least $15 million for the property. Under this alleged arrangement, reported by the New York Times this week, Stollman would receive half the sale price for anything above $11 million. If not, he gets $1.6 million to walk away.

When we first broke this story back in March, Stollman indicated that he was trying to sell for $20 million, and hoped that this display would draw attention to the property and help raise the value.

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