The fascinating history behind NYC’s stables-turned-real estate

Washington Mews, a little alley north of Washington Square Park, is an urban gem. Still paved with Belgian block and lined with quaint cottages, it’s a Greenwich Village street that might as well be in Europe. In fact, cities like London and Paris are filled with these tiny picturesque thoroughfares, whose cute little homes once stabled horses, carriages and sleighs.

Due to quirks in New York’s history and design, these mews are exceedingly rare in the city, making carriage-house living both scarce and coveted. Often disguised behind modest, original facades, many converted carriage homes contain architectural wonders hidden from view.

Washington Mews: One of Manhattan’s rare alleys lined with former stables, this stretch was designed to service a row of 1830s homes along Washington Square Park.Annie Wermiel/NY Post

Take investor David Aldea’s home at 23 Cornelia St., which Taylor Swift rented in 2016. The 5,500-square-foot West Village pad was asking $40,000/month then, and is on the market with Corcoran for $24.5 million. Walking down the street, the home’s massive, arched wooden doors hint at its 1912 carriage house origins, but the unprepossessing facade might not stop passersby in their tracks.

Upon entering, however, it’s clear this is no ordinary stable: today, the garden level is graced by a 25-foot swimming pool, while an ornate Murano glass chandelier hangs from double-height ceilings. But, as Aldea notes, despite these modern touches, original details abound, particularly in the living room, where there are “24-inch square windows that would have been for the horses to stick their heads out for ventilation.”

Considering the fact that New York was a horse-and-carriage town for so many centuries, it’s surprising that there aren’t more such conversions. That’s in part because most remnants of the city’s colonial days are long gone. Also, Manhattan’s populated areas used to be far more compact; their borders barely extended north of today’s City Hall until the 1820s. The majority of New Yorkers, it seems, walked almost everywhere nearly two centuries ago.

A new street layout in the first decades of the 19th century helped the city expand, and travel by private carriage became more common — but only for the city’s elite. So few New Yorkers could afford to maintain a horse that when a commission laid out the city’s famous grid in 1811, the plan purposely excluded rear alleys for stables. Even by the Civil War, a mere 3 percent of NYC residents owned their own horses and carriages.

Annie Wermiel/NY Post

A few early mews still exist. Take Washington Mews, which was erected behind the stately homes of “The Row,” one of New York’s first planned “terraces” of homes — a clear sign that the 1832-built Washington Square townhouses were only for the well-heeled. As society moved uptown and the demographics of the Village shifted, many stables were converted into artists’ studios, including those of Paul Manship (who sculpted the Rockefeller Center fountain’s golden “Prometheus”) and Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney, founder of the museum that bears her name.

Today, Washington Mews apartments rarely come on the market, though 64 Washington Mews, the former residence of opera singer John Charles Thomas, is currently asking $18,500 per month.

West of Washington Mews is MacDougal Alley, another street of stables that became quarters for artists, including Jackson Pollock. Beyond this, however, a mere handful of other true mews streets exist around the city; they include photogenic Grace Court Alley and College Place in Brooklyn Heights. There’s good evidence MacDougal Alley and Washington Mews were once part of a Lenape Indian canoe portage route across Manhattan; Brooklyn’s College Place may have been a Native American trail, too. That adds an intriguing historic layer to the former carriage house at 14 College Place (last asking $10.5 million and currently in contract with Compass), which underwent a gut renovation in 2014 and now holds over 5,000 square feet of gorgeous interiors.

77 Prospect Place: Architect Philippe Baumann on the balcony of the former Park Slope stable he helped renovate.Annie Wermiel/NY Post

As the city expanded in the 19th century, architects had to figure out how to handle the problem of building stables and carriage houses that were close enough to their owners’ main residences to be convenient but far enough away to avoid any unpleasant odors. But housing pressure has always been so great in Manhattan that these homes for horses transformed into homes for people fairly quickly.

Good examples are found along the Village’s West 10th Street. The structures closest to Fifth Avenue are very large, late 19th-century mansions, while the portion of the block closer to Sixth Avenue is dotted with stables. Take the former boarding stable of the Grosvenor Hotel at 50 W. 10th St., which was built in 1863 but converted to a residence in 1887 and later became home to playwright Edward Albee. A few doors down at 40 W. 10th St., a modest 1833 carriage house was already a home by the end of the 19th century. Later, it got amped up into a six-story spread, purchased by Napster’s Sean Parker in 2011 for $20 million.

A benefit of owning a carriage house like Parker’s or Aldea’s is that the old stable doors aren’t just for show: Behind them is a private garage, a coveted amenity anywhere in the city.

Erstwhile stable 180 E. 73rd St.Zoe Wetherall

Jed Garfield of brokerage Leslie J. Garfield, who is marketing a former carriage house at 180 E. 73rd St. (asking $16.75 million), points out that many of these older carriage houses not only have the space for a garage but also come with curb cuts — an amenity the city no longer installs — which makes them all the more desirable.

East 73rd is just one street filled with former stables like this one, which, being a full 25 feet wide, provides an exceptional amount of space across relatively few floors. Most of these carriage houses would have served the Gilded Age mansions on Fifth Avenue. However, not all carriage houses could be so far removed. At 251 E. 61st St. (on the market for $14.35 million and repped by Douglas Elliman), the original carriage house is set at the rear of the property, separated from its townhouse by a charming interior garden and accessed by a modern underground tunnel.

In the West Village, 131 Charles St. (asking $12 million via Halstead) still features its original “horse walk,” a small passage running next to the house through which the ponies would have been led back to the stable. That building, where photographer Diane Arbus lived and worked for many years, also features other original details, like an exterior hay crane, used for hauling feed up to the second story.

A courtyard separates the home from the original stable at 251 E. 61st St.Michael Weinstein/MW-Studio.com

Similarly, the converted carriage house at 875 Pacific St. in Prospect Heights ($3.95 million with Douglas Elliman) now has a gorgeous bluestone walkway (instead of a horse walk) that leads to a rear guest house. Originally, that may been housing for chaffeurs or stablehands.

While these authentic reminders of the past are charming, sometimes what makes a carriage house so desirable is how easily it lends itself to a top-to-bottom makeover. Entrepreneur Noel Wiggins purchased the carriage house at 77 Prospect Place in 2003 for $1.53 million.

The Park Slope home had already undergone a number of intriguing renovations, including one in 1972 undertaken by Brooklyn Union Gas, which installed an “experimental fuel cell” on the roof (using technology developed for the Apollo space program) as a hedge against rising oil prices during the gas crisis. By the time Wiggins took ownership 30 years later, few traces of that redo remained — and there were even fewer vestiges of the home’s original life as a stable. This meant that he, along with Philippe Baumann of Baumann Architecture, could treat it as a blank canvas. They added an open-plan upper floor, two terraces and a skylight. The house was listed by Corcoran for $7.49 million — but went into contract earlier this week.

Multiple owners’ steeds shacked up at 458 W. 146th St. (left), now high-ceilinged condos with a two-bedroom unit listed for $1.88 million. 875 Pacific St. was a carriage house in Prospect Heights that has received a stark yet stunning modern makeover.Douglas Elliman

In addition to private stables, New York once featured numerous commercial stables. But these are even harder to find today. Some have been torn down; others were converted early on into automobile garages. But a few commercial stables have become apartment buildings, such as the old Bradhurst Carriage House at 458 W. 146th St. in Hamilton Heights, where Compass has a listing for a two-bedroom condo asking $1.88 million.

Most intriguing, some commercial stables have actually remained so, even as the city changes around them.

The New York Police Department’s stable in Hell’s Kitchen was incorporated — horses and all! — into Mercedes House, the 2012-built luxury West Side rental at 550 W. 54th St. Units currently start at $3,100 a month for a studio. Other area stables — many of which house the steeds that cart tourists around Central Park — stand on extremely desirable real estate in this up-and-coming neighborhood.

The Mercedes House on West 53rd Street.Tamara Beckwith/NY Post

Will they, too, be incorporated into new projects, or just torn down?

The odds aren’t rosy: On the Upper West Side, the famed Claremont Riding Academy on West 89th Street — the last stable that provided animals for horseback riding in Central Park — closed in 2007. It was converted into a school, not apartments, but the writing’s on the wall for the city’s remaining stables.

Perhaps the most coveted space in the city is a home with a rear mews where the stables still exist but serve as garages. That’s the case in the St. Nicholas Historic District, a k a Strivers’ Row, the 1892 Harlem project built to lure wealthy buyers with homes designed by top-tier architects and back alleys lined with stables.

265 W.139th St.: Bob Dylan (left) once owned this Harlem home on iconic Strivers’ Row, which comes with a coveted separate stable turned garage.The Corcoran Group; 20th Century Fox/Kobal/REX/Shutterstock

The lovely townhouse at 265 W. 139th St., designed by Stanford White and once home to Nobel laureate Bob Dylan, is currently on the market through Corcoran for $3.59 million.

Not only do you get a four-story home by one of America’s most beloved architects, but that rear stable is also still intact, waiting for your own modern carriage to take up residence.

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