- 9 E. 10th St.
A RECENT cleaning has stripped away the deep shadows on the exterior of the unusual teak-decorated apartment building at 9 East 10th Street, which was built in 1888, was once home to the writer Dawn Powell and is one of the few buildings of its time to have such carvings on its front.
The building, the Ava, is next door to a teak-encrusted private house at 7 East 10th Street built in 1887 by Lockwood de Forest, a prominent decorator of his day, and it is de Forest who was the man behind the teak.
De Forest, who had worked with Louis Comfort Tiffany and other major artists, had a factory in India that shipped teak screens, doors and sometimes entire interiors to America, then a growing market for such exotica. He also had an extra lot next door, 9 East 10th, which he sold to the architect William H. Russell in 1888.
Russell, who lived a block away at 21 West 10th Street, built the Ava, a five-story apartment house designed by his firm, Renwick, Aspinwall & Russell. For reasons that are not clear, Russell decided to use teak decoration on his building too, and the cornice and first-floor trim are in teak carved in a fashion extremely similar to that on the de Forest house -- the work must also have been from de Forest's factory.
On the ground floor of the Ava, the door and window casing is in teak carved in low, sinuous relief; above this runs a more heavily modeled cornice, across the entire front. To the right of the door is a large plaque with the building's name, Ava, surrounded by more Indian-style decoration and two triplet groups of elephants, also in teak. The roof cornice is also teak.
Inside, the vestibule appears mostly intact, but the door and sidelights carry panes of glass unusually large for this period in such a location. Closer inspection indicates pin mounts at the top and locking devices at the bottom, as if some sort of rigid screen had been locked into place; tenants report that there has been nothing there for at least 30 years. There isn't enough depth in the frame for something made of iron; more likely it was some sort of wood that could be easily worked into a thin screen -- perhaps teak?
In 1890 Russell sold the building to Christian Tietjen, a banker and lard manufacturer, and there is no indication that the Ava was anything but a standard rental apartment house built on speculation. The earliest tenants were people like John Beavor-Webb, yacht designer and intimate of J. P. Morgan. Beavor-Webb designed Morgan's yacht Corsair. Another resident was Dr. Alexis Carrel, who won a Nobel prize in 1912 for his work in organ transplants and surgical techniques.
Later, as Greenwich Village became an artists' colony, it attracted people like Helen Dryden, who was described in The New York Times in 1956 as once having been the highest-paid female artist in the country. Dryden designed covers for Vogue and other journals, and did interiors for Studebaker automobiles.
The 1925 census recorded her living at 9 East 10th Street with her 25-year-old Philippine-born cook and butler, Ricardo Lampitok. But by 1956 Dryden was living in a $10 a week hotel room paid for by the city's Welfare Department; at the time she referred nostalgically to her ''$200 a month'' 10th Street apartment.
Dawn Powell was another artistic resident, in the 1930's and 40's. Tim Page, who has been involved in five books on the prolific diarist and author, said ''it was where she lived when her writing was strongest, where she finished books like 'Angels on Toast.' ''
Mr. Page said that ''in a letter dated Sept. 16, 1931, Powell described the building as 'calm, spacious -- one's soul breathes deep breaths in it and feels at rest.' ''
LAST summer an inspector for the Queens County Savings Bank, which holds a mortgage on the property, examined the building and recommended certain improvements, including cleaning the masonry on the facade. This was done, and now the iron-spot brick and the carved teak -- cleaned previously -- are fresh and clear.
The ground-floor entryway and hall have been spruced up with new woodwork and an interesting paint job. Jennifer Markowitz, the property manager, says that as rent-regulated apartments are decontrolled, ''we generally gut renovate, with modern fixtures and new sheet-rock ceilings and walls and new oak floors.''
Ms. Markowitz, who lives in a renovated apartment in the building, said that her apartment ''had some really nice detail, but it was so old it was dangerous.''
Nick and Amy Pearson's apartment, on the first floor in the rear, looks original, except for the bathrooms and kitchens. Most rooms have paneled ceilings, and there are three fireplaces in the six-room apartment, which has three-inch-wide pine-board floors. The finishes are characteristic of their period -- nothing museum quality, but old-shoe nice, with the sags and bumps of age. The Pearsons even have fragments of the original wallpaper showing under the peeling paint in their front hall.
The fireplaces in the Pearsons' apartment are elegant but simple, with no teak. But in another tenant's apartment, on the front of the building, one fireplace is obviously teak, although its intricate carving has been painted over.
It appears that no decorative-arts historian has surveyed the interiors of this unusual building. As to why Russell would have introduced something as unconventional as teak to what was just an investment, there is no better answer than Mrs. Pearson's: "Maybe it just made him sing, you know?"
Photographs by Frances Roberts for The New York Times