Oldest House in Chelsea and Cushman Row
404, and 406-418, West 20th Street
No. 404 West 20th Street has the distinction of being the oldest house in the Chelsea Historic District. It was built in 1829-30 for Hugh Walker on land leased from Clement Clarke Moore for forty dollars per year. The lease stated that if, during the first seven years, a good and substantial house of two stories or more was built of brick or stone, or having a brick or stone front, the lessor would pay the full value of the house at the end of the lease. Walker opted for the least expensive option, a two story house (to which a third story was later added) with a brick façade. The original wood of no. 404’s clapboard side wall can still be seen, facing the narrow side alley between it and no. 402 to the east. By 1835, Moore banned side alleys and wooden exteriors like no. 404’s altogether. They were a particular characteristic of early Chelsea. No. 404 is the last wooden house with a side passage left in Chelsea, a critical reminder of its humble, rustic origins. Standing where the oldest house’s wood clapboard side meets its brick front, one sees Chelsea turn the corner from semi-rural village to the sophisticated urban neighborhood so richly embodied in Cushman Row to its right.
The brick front of no. 404 served Moore’s purpose of raising his budding development’s profile and property value, the fruition of which is amply seen in the seven row houses that soon followed immediately west of it, at nos. 406-418. Known as Cushman Row, these were built in 1839-40 for developer Don Alonzo Cushman in the popular English mode of a single unified “terrace” of fashionable townhomes. Cushman Row presents a remarkably intact example of high-style Greek Revival architecture, rivaled in New York only by the famous row on the north side of Washington Square. Hallmarks of the Greek Revival style found here are smooth red brick facades with thin mortar joints, monumental brownstone door surrounds, front doors bordered by sidelights and transoms, ornate stoop and areaway ironwork featuring motifs such as palmettos and Greek keys, attic stories expressed as a monumental cornice entablature, and small decorative attic windows. 404, and 406-418, West 20th Street are located in the Chelsea Historic District and listed on the State and National Register of Historic Places.