As it happens, I’m familiar with the building at 20 Beaver Street because Etalia is my favorite pizzeria near our office. (Pizza is – and I’m skating on thin ice by saying this – subjective, so I try to avoid using words like “best.”) However, I took the picture above specifically because of the sign on the cornice.
The facade is typical of the loft buildings and warehouses from the first half of the 1800s that are still scattered across lower Manhattan. The retail storefront is a modern alteration. It’s not a landmark, so the easy source of information about a very old building doesn’t exist; the Department of Buildings guess date of 1900 is obviously wrong. The oldest fire insurance map that the public library has on line, from 1852, shows what sure looks like this building. If I had to guess, I’d say 1830s or 40s.
The sign in the cornice for Samuel Lakow is for a relatively modern tenant. Lakow’s company sold office furniture, which was a big business in this area then and now. They were located for a long time on Pearl Street, I found a reference to them at 86 Broad Street in 1911, and they moved to 20 Beaver in 1920. Somehow that sign has survived, possibly because removing it would take some effort and leaving it takes none. In the old-buildings world we hear about demolition by neglect – this may be an example of preservation by neglect.
The Lakow company lasted until the 1970s. The desk tray below is from a shopping guide published in the December 1959 copy of Gentleman’s Quarterly, before it came GQ, and looks quite nice: