How ‘Night Before Christmas’ creator also spawned NYC’s Chelsea

” ’Twas the night before Christmas, and all through the house . . . ”

The immortal opening lines of “A Visit from Saint Nicholas” — an 1823 poem commonly known as “The Night Before Christmas” — are among the most famous in the world.

Clement Clarke Moore
Clement Clarke MooreLawrence Thornton/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Lesser known is that the beloved text was written on a farm called Chelsea that gave birth to the modern-day neighborhood on New York City’s West Side.

And that its author, Clement Clarke Moore, had his own Ebenezer Scrooge-like conversion from a bah-humbug anti-developer to one of the city’s biggest real estate barons.

Yes, the man who helped create the modern image of Santa also gave us today’s Chelsea.

Harry Azorin and Lori Monson, whose townhouse at 408 W. 20th St. is on the market for $8.65 million with Sotheby’s, love the area.

When they bought it for $950,000 in 1995, they were drawn to “the architecture and bucolic tree-lined streets abutting the [General Theological] Seminary and its gardens.” They were all part of Moore’s original property — and led to his ultimate plan to make Chelsea a neighborhood different from the rest of Manhattan. “What sealed the deal” the couple tells The Post, is that “we are both big history buffs.”

Moore himself was born in 1799 on a Manhattan farm established by his grandfather, Major Thomas Clarke, who named his property Chelsea in honor of a famous veterans’ hospital in London. Clarke’s daughter, Charity, married Benjamin Moore, who became bishop of the Episcopal church in New York. Clement Moore inherited the Chelsea estate from his grandfather, which spanned what today would be roughly from 19th to 24th streets between Eighth and 10th avenues — when he was just 14 years old.

Clement Clarke Moore's property map.
Clement Clarke Moore’s property map.Collection of the New-York Histo

Two years earlier, the city had created a map — the Commissioners’ Plan of 1811 — that both created the city’s rectangular street grid and established the norm of 25-by-100-foot house lots.

Young Clement wasn’t happy with that denser future. In 1818, when he was 19 years old, he published an anonymous pamphlet titled “A Plain Statement, Addressed to the Proprietors of Real Estate, in the City and County of New-York,” calling the street plan a “source of stress and vexation.” He also predicted laying out the grid would be “expensive” and “obnoxious” and — when it was all over — the commissioners would have destroyed New York.

To keep the city from riding roughshod over his farm, he took the central orchard and donated it the Episcopal Church to build the General Theological Seminary, established in 1817. But that still left much of Moore’s land ripe for development. As the 1820s progressed and New Yorkers began moving uptown, Moore began to have second thoughts about the evils of real estate. Instead of visions of sugar plums, he saw dollar signs.

Around this same time, Moore wrote “A Visit from Saint Nicholas.” He was probably inspired by the traditions (and stout figure) of a groundskeeper who worked on the Chelsea farm and was a descendant of an old Dutch family. The poem kept alive the Dutch tradition of Saint Nicholas as the bringer of presents. Moore even gave the reindeer Dutch names: Donder and Blixem (better known as Donner and Blitzen) mean thunder and lightning. It was published anonymously in the Troy Sentinel in December 1823. For years, historians have questioned whether Moore is the poem’s true author, though he did publish a version of it under his own name in 1837.

Meanwhile, around 1829, Moore began leasing out lots he owned on 20th Street, including what is now 404 W. 20th St. He rented that plot for $40 per year to a man named Hugh Walker. The house that Walker built in 1830 is the oldest in the neighborhood and has just hit the market with Shawn Felker of Douglas Elliman for $8.3 million.

Shawn Felker has listed the oldest house in Chelsea, built in 1830 on one of Moore’s lots, for $8.3 million.
Shawn Felker has listed the oldest house in Chelsea, built in 1830 on one of Moore’s lots, for $8.3 million.Tamara Beckwith/NY POST

Felker has helped owner Ajoy Kapoor, a private equity manager, and architect William Suk navigate the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission process to create plans for a brand-new house to be built behind the home’s historic brick facade. Felker, who is selling the home with these LPC-approved plans attached, says the house is “shovel-ready” to be converted from its current 4,500 square feet to over 9,000 “stunning” square feet.

As he leased out his lots, Moore’s goal was to appeal to the city’s wealthiest residents. To accomplish this, he attached restrictive covenants to his properties: houses had to be set back 10 feet from the sidewalk, be fireproof and “of good quality,” not house any “nuisance” industries like blacksmithing, and not have smelly stables. (Evidently, the only hoofbeats were to come from reindeer.)

By creating a new home behind the front wall that incorporates original pocket doors and fireplaces, Felker says, the proposed 404 W. 20th St. holds true to Moore’s vision.

In 1840, on the same block of 20th Street between Ninth and Tenth avenues, Don Alonzo Cushman built a row of townhouses from 406 to 418 W. 20th St., today one of the best-preserved developments in the city.

This Cushman Row townhouse at 412 W. 20th St., which has four apartments but could be converted back to a single-family home, is on the market for $8.39 million.
This Cushman Row townhouse at 412 W. 20th St., which has four apartments but could be converted back to a single-family home, is on the market for $8.39 million.Brown Harris Stevens

Amazingly, two Cushman Row homes are currently on the market. 412 W. 20th St., which has been converted into four apartments, is being repped by Ryan Aussem at Brown Harris Stevens for $8.39 million. The home, which has an owner’s duplex and three rental units, can also be converted back into a single-family home.

Two doors down, Azorin and Monson’s home at No. 408 — perhaps most famous as the stand-in for Elaine Benes’s Upper West Side home on Seinfeld — is listed with Sotheby’s Mark Thomas Amadei and Jonathan Hettinger. Azorin, a former advertising executive, and Monson, a physical therapist, both “in their sixties,” especially like living in the area during the holidays.

They point to traditions including “the annual reading of ‘The Night Before Christmas’ followed by carols in Clement Clarke Moore Park. . . . There is a wonderful group of volunteer carolers, and Clement Clarke Moore enthusiasts, who regularly carol on our block during the Christmas season.”

Jim Glaub received hundreds of letters to Santa at his 343 W. 22nd St. apartment and believes it’s because of its “Night Before Christmas” association.
Jim Glaub received hundreds of letters to Santa at his 343 W. 22nd St. apartment and believes it’s because of its “Night Before Christmas” association.Stefano Giovannini

Moore not only gave us many of our modern notions of Christmas — “hanging stockings by the chimney with care” and Santa’s reindeer-drawn sleigh being just two of them — but many people seem to think that his old Chelsea farm is the North Pole itself.

Just ask Jim Glaub: In 2007, the digital marketer moved into an apartment at 343 W. 22nd St. — and began to receive letters addressed to Santa. The first couple of years, a handful of envelopes arrived in his mailbox. Then “in 2009,” Glaub says, “over 400 letters came in!”

Glaub doesn’t know how people got ahold of the address, but guesses that Clement Clarke Moore and “A Visit from Saint Nicholas” were the catalyst. “When people found out he wrote the poem, they may have sent letters to Moore himself,” Glaub speculates — meaning that people may have been writing to Santa in Chelsea for almost 200 years.

Inspired by the heartfelt letters, Glaub co-founded the nonprofit Miracle on 22nd Street, where “elves” can adopt letter writers and help families in need.

Other homes currently on the market that were part of Moore’s original parcel include 448 W. 22nd St., an Italianate townhouse from 1854 listed for $4.99 million with Leslie Garfield, and the more modern 328 W. 23rd St., built in 1927, which boasts over 9,000 square feet of living space and a 40-foot garden, repped by Corcoran for $17.85 million.

By the time Moore died in 1863, “The Night Before Christmas” was becoming a worldwide phenomenon. Since there were no more churchyards in Chelsea, he was interred in Trinity Cemetery in Upper Manhattan. Each year, the Church of the Intercession hosts a reading of the poem and procession to Moore’s grave so that fans can pay their respects.

But those who want to witness Moore’s legacy should walk the streets of Chelsea or visit the grounds of the General Theological Seminary, where his vision of a close-knit, architecturally beautiful neighborhood lives on.

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