Is there anything quite as enchanting as coming across a quiet hidden courtyard in the middle of a dense Manhattan neighborhood?
It’s especially magical when the courtyard is just a quick walk from the hustle and bustle of Times Square. That was my reaction when I took a walk through tiny Clinton Court in Hell’s Kitchen.
This secret space is about halfway down the busy tenement block between 9th and 10th Avenues. It’s accessible through a long slender walkway behind a heavy iron door, which you can find to the right of the residence at 422 West 46th Street.
The door is locked, of course. But it’s worth the trip if you can catch a glimpse of the courtyard from the street through the door.
And if you can convince a resident to let you in and see Clinton Court up close, you’ll want to grab your camera.
Clinton Court is an oasis of tall trees and lush gardens. The courtyard is steps from the back entrances for 420 and 422 West 46th Street (with their ivy-covered walls).
And right in the center is an entirely separate carriage house, with a facade right out of New Orleans or Paris, or a fairy tale.
The carriage house has an unclear history. It was probably built in 1871 by the builder who put up the tenement at number 422.
This was approximately 20 years after 420 West 46th Street went up in the 1850s—before Hell’s Kitchen filled up and became a poor Irish neighborhood of factories, warehouses, and small businesses in the decades after the Civil War. (And long before the neighborhood got its colorful nickname.)
The carriage house “had horse stalls on the ground floor, but occupancy of the upper floors at this time is unclear—in the 1880’s a milkman, Jacob Michels, occupied the entire structure,” wrote Christopher Gray in a 1992 New York Times piece.
Yet some sources have it that the carriage house dates back to the 1820s and was owned by George Clinton, governor of New York at the turn of the 19th century and a descendant of DeWitt Clinton, who has a park named after him in the neighborhood.
With Halloween coming up, it might be worth mentioning that a couple of sources claims the place is haunted either by Governor Clinton himself, one of his kids or by an executed British Revolutionary War sailor named Old Moor, as the site of Clinton Court occupies a former potter’s field cemetery.
The carriage house’s history becomes clearer in the 20th century. “In 1919, Raffaello and Frank Menconi, prominent architectural sculptors, purchased both 420 and 422 and merged the lots,” wrote Gray.
The Menconis are the designers behind the flagpole bases outside the New York Public Library, among other city sculpture icons.
“They added a one-story studio with a skylight on the rear lot of 420 and occupied the entire rear building for their business.”
[ALL PHOTOS © EPHEMERAL NEW YORK]
In 1958, the tenements at 420 and 422 West 46th Street, the carriage house, and the studio became one single apartment complex entity, says Gray—serene seclusion steeped in New York history and mere steps from Midtown.