I’ve long been fascinated by this tall, somewhat foreboding house that sits to the west of Fifth Avenue at 7 West 46th Street – a block that, until very recently, offered one of midtown’s last uninterrupted stretches of 19th and early 20th-century buildings. The block has also been known as “Little Brazil,” a tiny pocket of food and culture where the sounds of Portuguese mingle with Hebrew (the equally interesting Diamond District sits just one block to the north). During the latter part of the 19th century it was an upper-class enclave, although many of its brownstones had been adapted for commercial purposes by the 1910s and 1920s. 7 West 46th is one of the few to have retained noteworthy elements of its original appearance.
Developers have cleared a number of sites to the west of the house, farther down 46th Street toward Sixth Avenue, but so far the building itself and its immediate neighbors appear to be secure from demolition. Even so, this grand edifice bears signs of extensive interior alteration, as evidenced by the plywood boards covering the insides of the door and first-floor windows. The contemporary metal-framed door itself is a defacement that almost seems barbaric, given the loveliness of its surroundings, and at the moment the entire house (with its sooty facade) looks to be uninhabited.
Perhaps the most striking feature of 7 West 46th Street, apart from its magnificent door cornice, is the animal sculpture placed atop the stoop.
Was it a design feature of the original house? If not, when was it added and by whom? Can it give us a clue into the identity of the house’s prior occupants? My friend Amber, who was with me when I took these photographs, felt something very dark about the house, and there is certainly a melancholy aura surrounding it – although how much of that emanates from the recent defacements to which it has been subjected would be difficult to say. Over the next week, let’s see how much of its story we can rescue.