By Brian J Pape, AIA, LEED-AP

THEN: Enoch Morgan’s Sons Company originated in the West Village, literally on the banks of the Hudson River, in 1809. Although other factories grew up around this waterfront location over time, this one stood out prominently. In Moses King’s Handbook of New York City, Second Edition, this seven-story loft building at 439 West Street, ca. 1869, at Bank Street (named for a bank building, not the river banks), did stand out among low-rise maritime buildings.

But of equal novelty, to my reading, is the fact that in his entire page of description of the company’s product, not once does he actually tell the reader just what it was, so confident he was that everyone would know exactly what he was talking about!

King describes the packaging (“a tin-foil wrapper surrounded by a deep blue band”), and the power and merit of advertising (“grown until it is a household necessity in every part of the civilized world”), and trademark defense (“defended against infringement with such vigor that Sapolio cases stand as precedents”), and even the origin of the name (“the Indian name of this village was Sapokanikan” but the product name is “a manufactured word”), yet Sapolio is never defined. What I had to find in Wikipedia is that

“Sapolio was a brand of soap noted for its advertising….Bret Harte wrote jingles for the brand, and the sales force also included King Camp Gillette, who went on to create the Gillette safety razor. Time magazine described Sapolio as “probably the world’s best-advertised product” in its heyday. Sapolio was manufactured by Enoch Morgan’s Sons Co. from 1869, and named by the family doctor.”

“After decades of maintaining some of the best known advertising in the U.S., Sapolio’s owners decided that their position was sufficiently insurmountable as to let them discontinue most advertising. Despite the brand’s overwhelming market position, it was overtaken by competitors within a few years and disappeared from the market before World War II.”

As an example of its ubiquity, in the 1905 novel, The House of Mirth, by Edith Wharton, a reference is made to “the mingled odour of sapolio and furniture-polish”.

In 1997, Sapolio was bought by the Peruvian company Intradevco Industrial SA, which markets several cleaning products under the Sapolio name.

Although the history is not clear, King implies that the factory shown above was built for the company in 1869.

Text & Photo credit: King’s Handbook of New York City, Second Edition, 1893, except as noted.


NOW: A bronze entrance plaque names the building “Riverbank 166 Bank Street”; not to be confused with a newer, bigger apartment project in Hell’s Kitchen, or Riverbank Apartment Corp. at 142-162 Bank St., which shows West Village Houses on their website.

The city records the addresses as 433-435 and 437-441 West Street, and 166-168 Bank Street.

According to a Streeteasy site, this location was converted to a 30-unit coop elevator building from a “Sapolia (sic) Soap Factory” in 1981.

One of the units for sale lists at $3,199,000 for a 2,200 ft², seven-room, three-bed, two-baths, which averages $1,454 per ft². What was once an isolated industrial area of the city, is now a sought after residential neighborhood, with expansive views of the Hudson River and its park, just south of the Meat Market District.

This handsome, if plain, red brick loft building retains its limestone trim and window proportions, except for three bays over the loading docks, despite being outside of any historic district. The main entrance has been moved from West Street over to the former loading dock location on Bank Street. The loading docks have been infilled, but the lintels and opening widths have been retained.

There is a reference on the realty site of a 1900 build date, and also 1920. There is an annex on the south side of the original building, which seems to match the floor lines and architectural materials of the original, even the cornice line is continuous. This additional wing may account for the later dates referenced, because the photographic evidence shows the building in King’s 1893 book has been preserved. Such is the depth of our historic neighborhood.

Photo Credit: Brian J. Pape, AIA, LEED-AP

Brian J. Pape is a citizen architect in private practice, serving on the Manhattan District 2 Community Board Landmarks Committee and Quality of Life Committee (speaking solely in a personal, and not an official capacity), Co-chair of the American Institute of Architects NY Design for Aging Committee, is a member of AIANY Historic Buildings and Housing Committees, is LEED-AP “Green” certified, and is a journalist specializing in architecture subjects.

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