John G. Coster and his older brother, Henry, were born in Holland. Henry arrived in New York prior to the Revolution and John (who had been educated at a physician) followed a few years later. They established Brothers Coster & Co., later renamed “Henry A. and John G. Coster.”
In The Old Merchants of New York City, published in 1863, the brothers are mentioned as some of the finest merchants in New York City. Walter Barrett wrote “No better merchants ever lived in this city than these two. When these two honest, guileless merchants formed a partnership in the town”. They sold items from Holland and were famous for their tape made of flax among many other products.
Following Henry’s death in 1821 John continued working in retail and finance. In 1826 he succeeded Henry Remsen as President of the Merchant’s Bank, and he was a director in the Manhattan Bank, the Phoenix Insurance Company and the Globe Insurance Company. He also held out against selling his mansion at No. 227 Broadway to John Astor who bought every other property to build his huge mansion. When John sold, he was paid $60,000 for the house and land; about $1.5 million today.
Mr. Coster purchased two plots at Nos. 539 and 541 Broadway, between Spring and Prince Streets for his new living quarters. He commissioned Alexander Jackson Davis and Ithiel Town, two of the preeminent architects of the day, to design his new home. Completed around 1833, the free-standing mansion was faced in granite. Three stories tall, its hipped roof sat behind a parapet with a central section of balustrades. The double-doored entrance sat within an elegant, columned portico.
When John died in 1846 the neighborhood around his granite mansion was shockingly changing as the entertainment district inched up Broadway. His grand mansion was eventually turned into a theater. It housed an exhibit of Chinese Art and the mansion that once housed fine artwork, costly furniture and imported carpeting, became home to “the wonderful elephant, Tippoo Saib,” lions, panthers and other beasts when Van Amburgh & Co’s. Menagerie moved in. In 1865, P. T. Barnum leased the mansion as a replacement for his recently burned down theater.
In 1868, a fire broke out and the buildings were destroyed. Within a year the cast iron S. A. Beekman & Co. building was completed. The building just north of Spring street has retail stores on the bottom level and loft apartments above.