The Hairy History of the Now-Demolished 282 Grand Street

Posted on: August 13th, 2018 at 5:09 am by

282 Grand Street, Dec. 2012

Back in March, Grand Street Chinatown lost three historic structures that date back some 200 years. What’s now a vacant lot will soon sprout a monument to luxury living. Here’s some history…

Built sometime between the 1820s and the 1830s, the Federal-style row house at 282 Grand Street and its adjoining sisters were knee-buckling and swoon-worthy for any architecture lover and/or historian.

Let’s stop for a moment and wrap our minds around what this edifice bore witness to.

From various sources including my brain:

  • 1820 — New York’s population reaches 123,706.
  • 1821 — The cornerstone is laid for St. Luke in the Fields.
  • 1821 — Norfolk and Long Island Hurricane, the only direct hit to Manhattan.
  • 1823 — New York buys present-day Bryant Park for a potter’s field. (There is additional speculation, albeit unproven, that Essex Crossing buildings along Delancey could be built atop a Potter’s Field.
  • 1824 — 65 Mott Street is built and is the first tenement ever constructed in the United States. (And is still standing, for now). 65 Mott would influence decades of the city’s housing stock.
  • 1825 — Sing Sing is built upstate to replace Newgate Prison, the official state prison of New York from 1796 to 1828 located in Greenwich Village. With the razing of Newgate, Greenwich Village is able to develop as a desirable residential district.
  • 1826 — Castle Clinton, the fort at the southern tip of Manhattan, is turned into a theater and renamed Castle Garden, but remained the hub of immigrant arrival processing until the opening of Ellis Island in 1892.
  • 1826-1828 — On the fiftieth anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, one of the city’s potter’s fields (yep, another burial ground turned park which we previously wrote about) is renamed Washington Square and is landscaped as a small park.
  • 1827 — Slavery is abolished in New York State on the Fourth of July.
  • 1829 — The Five Points is given its name.
  • 1831 — University of the City of New York, now New York University, was founded at Washington Square in Greenwich Village.

BOOM! Mind-blown. And yet, some say that a building from the 1820s standing in 2018 is somehow (this baffles me) not historic. The very definition of historic defines it.

Photo: NYPL

In the immortal words of Craig Mack, may he RIP, I’m kicking new flava in ya ear, i.e. news articles about the creeptastic world of human hair wigs in the 19th century.

Once at 100 Bowery then 176 Grand before 282, the family Shindhelm, for generations prior and future, made a living in the dramatic world of theatre selling “human hair goods.” Eventually, they would move on up to be among the actors of the Great White Way, but we uncovered these gems from around our way.

NY EVENING EXPRESS 1859

Library of Congress 1870

NEW YORK CLIPPER 1882

NEW YORK HERALD 1899

If you would like to own a piece of theatre history – head on over to Live Auctioneer.

There you’ll find a seller parting ways with, wait for it…

A very large collection of antique Human hair. The Hair came from an estate that had wigs produced in the 19th century by “Plucker & Ahrens, Wig Makers of New York” and “G. Shindhelm, Wig Maker, 232 West 41st St, NY“. There are 37 ponytails and braids as shown, I did not include the smaller pieces in the count. All except one look and feel like human hair the single piece feels like it could be horse hair.

Can’t say I never gave you anything.

Before bidding adieu to the topic of wigs in the 19th century, I had to know – where did wig makers get the hair? From an essay written for the Smithsonian Magazine:

‘There is a human-hair market in the department of the lower Pyrenees, held every Friday,” reports the San Francisco Call in 1898. “Hundreds of hair traders walk up and down the one street of the village, their shears dangling from their belts, and inspect the braids of the peasant girls, standing on the steps of the houses, let down for inspection.’” Brittany eventually forbade public haircutting in a bid to discourage the practice from becoming a public amusement, forcing local “coupeurs” to erect tents at fairs instead…“An odious traffic is carried on in women’s hair,” wrote a reporter on famine and starvation amongst the Russian peasantry in 1891. Similar images of necessity are evoked in a description of a hair dealer distributing the business cards of New York hair merchants to European migrants as they boarded steam ships for America. Such canvassing was strictly forbidden at Ellis Island and the Battery, where immigrants arrived and where guards were placed to prevent such activity from taking place. Nonetheless, in the early 1900s, some 15,000 hanks of hair were said to be cut each year directly from the heads of recently arrived immigrants.

Something so wrong about that. Anywho.

There were other stores at 282. Hundreds in fact, but none so impressive or intriguing as the human hair wig master.

For good measure:

Fur Store in 1859 (NY Evening Express)

Toy Store in 1860 (New York Times Jan. 28, 1860)

They’re gone and now so is 282 and its sisters. You can re-read about their destruction here.

On its way is another shitty residential building most cannot afford.

Photo: Peterson Rich Office

The Landmarks Preservation Commission appears heavily influenced by the real estate industry. Indeed,  they wanted to boot the public from having any say in designations going forward, but were quickly put in check. The outgoing chair, Meenakshi Srinivasan, resigned over the issue.

The city’s character is dying one brick at a time, so we need to tell the stories that keep the memories alive.

Ah, New York. My stunning and gritty, sparkling and filthy, tremendous, transcendent metropolis – you were forged by the keepers of secrets and those secrets I plan to find and reveal, one brick at a time. Bless up.

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