Built in the 1850s, the overall effect of Sniffen Court is unusually picturesque, providing a well-preserved example of New York City architecture during the Civil War era. This court of ten two-story houses, on East 36th Street between Lexington and Third Avenues, once served as stables for the newly fashionable neighborhood of Murray Hill. There is some debate as to whether Sniffen refers to the name of a builder John Sniffen, as his name does not appear on any documents associated with the building. Tax and conveyance records indicate that the stables were built in 1863-64 by James D. Smith, a merchant; John E. Wylie, a broker, and Caleb B. Knevals, a grocer. Through the innovative use of an off-street enclave, Sniffen Court isolated the undesirable noise and smells of the stables. The buildings were constructed of brick and designed in an early example of the Romanesque style, each originally featuring a two-story rounded arch with limestone keystone forming the carriage entrance.
When automobiles replaced carriages in the 1920s, the stables were converted into private residences. In many cases, the defining carriage house facade was altered during conversion. The stables lent themselves easily for use as studios, attracting artistic occupants. Sculptor Malvina Hoffman kept a studio at the south end of the court from the 1920s through the 1960s. The Greek Horseman plaques she created to adorn her studio's exterior wall can still be seen today, at the far end of the narrow mews. The Sniffen Court Dramatic Society, founded in 1884, converted two of the stables into a theater. Sniffen Court also has a popular culture claim to fame; the Doors' album cover for “Strange Days” was photographed there. The entrance to the court has been enclosed with a gate. ©2014