Wednesday, August 21, 2019

The Soon To Go J. F. McQuade Building - 215 East 38th Street

The little wooden house at No. 215 East 38th Street, built at around the end of the Civil War, was the home and business of the Boylston family for decades.  Thomas Boylston ran his undertaking business from the rear, while his wife Eleanor operated a grocery store in the front.  In 1880 a son, John, was born to the couple.  On January 23, 1888 The World mentioned "At 215 East Thirty-eighth street Mrs. Boylston has sold small groceries for twenty years."

Around 1903 Caroline and Frank F. Schwartz purchased No. 215 and the building next door at No. 217.  The titles were put in Caroline's name.  The couple ran the Schwartz Manufacturing Company; and Caroline seems to have been the force behind it.  She listed herself as president, manager and director.  Frank was a director, only.

If the intention was to build a new factory building on the combined sites, that did not happen.  Caroline had No. 217 demolished in 1904 and erected a five-story brick factory on the site, designed by Louis Falk.  The Schwartzes retained possession of both buildings until January 1921 when they sold them to J. Charles Hupfel, president of the newly-organized Hup Realty Co.

Again, if Hupfel considered combining the sites, he changed his mind.  Instead he demolished what the Real Estate Record & Builders' Guide described as the "two story frame building" at No. 215 and commissioned the architectural firm of Bruno W. Berger & Son to replace it with a "two-story brick factory."  According to The Accessory and Garage Journal the cost of the building was projected at $30,000--or around $421,000 today.

Bruno W. Berger had been associated with notable architects during his long career.  He began with a brief partnership with Theodore A. Tribit as a partner in Tribit & Berger in 1879 to 1880.  He soon worked with Franklin Baylies in Berger & Baylies, creating some noteworthy Manhattan structures until 1890 when they both established independent offices.  

The architect designed the little 25-foot wide building in the Arts & Crafts style.  The unapologetically utilitarian structure was given visual interest through checkerboard patterned brickwork below and above the ground floor openings.   The high parapet above the grouped windows of the second floor was decorated with Arts & Crafts motives created in brick and concrete--an immense cost savings for the owner.

A separate entrance to the left accessed the second floor.  When this photograph was taken in 1939 the name J. F. McQuade, Printers was stenciled on the ground floor windows.  from the collection of the New York Public Library 

In 1930 Charles Bloom, Inc. leased both floors.  Incorporated in 1919, the firm imported and manufactured silks.  Its mills were in Paterson, New Jersey.  In addition to silk fabrics, the firm manufactured silk accessories and household goods.  It would eventually become a major player in the interior decorating industry after leaving 38th Street.

Among the items produced by Charles Bloom, Inc. was the bag made of organdy, and the unusual  boudoir lampshade.  Dry Goods Economist wrote "Imagine an electric light shining through this lovely pale lemon chiffon and satin lamp shade."  Dry Goods Economist, April 9, 1921 (copyright expired)

By 1935 J. F. McQuade "Book and Job Printing" was here.  Organized by Joseph F. McQuade in 1905, he had been located at No. 205 East 34th Street since its inception.  The Irish-born McQuade was highly active in the Irish and the Catholic communities.  His advertisements, often placed in Irish-American publications, stressed his alliance with the working class.  On October 28, 1944, for instance, an ad in The Advocate read:

We are now in a position to handle your printing needs, tickets, hangars, journals, etc.  All work done by the McQuade Printing of 215 East 38th st--a strictly union shop, and will be delivered on time.

The Advocate was Manhattan's leading Irish-American newspaper.  McQuade scored a coup within the community when the publication wrote "We are now connected with the McQuade Printing Firm, of 215 East 38th Street.  Joe is a member of the Corkmen's Association and Grand Knight of Vera Crus Council, K. of C.  It is strictly union.  The prices are O'K and all work will be delivered on time."

Following Joseph F. McQuade's death in 1938 the business was taken over by his son, Joseph F. McQuade, Jr.  About the same time the structures directly to the east were demolished to create Tunnel Exit Street for the Queens Midtown Town, completed in 1940.

Caroline Schwartz's 5-story factory was taken out by the new Tunnel Exit Street.

J. F. McQuade Printing remained in the building until September 1961 when it moved to a larger facility at No. 104 East 25th Street.

Within months No. 215 was converted to offices; the openings of the ground floor bricked over and the replacement windows installed at the second floor. 

In 2016 the owner marketed it and the building next door at Nos. 211-213 as a "development parcel" as $42 million.  It was purchased by Kent 38th St LLC.

rendering by Hill West Designs via
In December 2017 Hill West Architects released renderings for a "Consulate and Permanent Mission to the United Nations" on the site.   The 20-story building will erase two more elements of the quickly disappearing low-rise fabric of Murray Hill.

photographs by the author
many thanks to reader Sherri Dial for prompting this post

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

The Leander H. Crall Mansion - 16 West 76th Street

In 1898 developer James Carlew began construction on a row of seven lavish limestone-faced townhouses on West 76th Street, between Central Park West and Columbus Avenue--but somewhat surprisingly he would do it in two stages.  That year he commissioned the architectural firm of Cleverdon & Putzel to design four of the homes, Nos. 18 through 24.  Each 25-feet wide and five stories tall, their regal Beaux Arts facades might be more expected on the east side of Central Park.

The following year the architects set to work designing the other three homes, Nos. 12 through 16.  Plans were filed in February, estimating the cost of each house at $40,000--around $1.25 million today.

The newer homes slipped seamlessly into the row. While the individuals residences were perfectly symmetrical in design, the row was a purposely unbalanced mix--an A-B-B-A-B-A-C configuration.

The 76th Street row exuded class and wealth.
No. 16 was a mirror image of No. 14 next door.  The centered bronze-grilled entrance doors were protected by a columned portico  The service entrance to the left sat below a round window framed by a carved wreath.  A balustrated balcony fronted the bowed bay of the second and third floors.  The windows of the fourth floor opened onto a balcony protected by a stone railing, their ornate carved enframements capped by molded cornices.  Intricately decorated panels separated the fifth floor openings, below a deeply overhanging bracketed cornice.

James Carlew sold No. 16 in December 1899 to George P. Tangeman.  He immediately leased it to Leander H. and Howard E. Crall.  It was a short-lived arrangement, and on November 2, 1901 the Record & Guide reported that Tangeman had sold it to his "joint tenants" for $85,000 (more than $2.5 million in today's dollars).

Leander Howard Crall came from an old family in America.  He was the 21st generation descended from Isaac Krall.  He had married Harriet Ann Vater Moore, a widow, on May 23rd, 1864.  The couple had three children, Howard Elmer, Walter Egbert (who died in infancy), and Hattie Mabel.

Harriett had died on October 16, 1896.   Crall donated a memorial window to the Church of the Holy Trinity on on Lenox Avenue at 122nd Street in her memory, which was unveiled on Christmas day, 1899.

Crall was, as described by The New York Times later, a "pioneer in the newspaper advertising business.  While still a young man in Ohio he helped found the Cincinnati Times.  He moved to New York in 1873 and, according to The New York Press later, "he built up a large business connecting himself in similar capacity with other prominent newspapers."  In 1885 he incorporated the L. H. Crall Company.  Howard had joined the firm in 1890, directly after his graduation from Yale University.

Leander H. Crall - The Ancestry of Leander Howard Crall, 1908 (copyright expired)

On December 11, 1900 Hattie married Frederic West MacDonald in Holy Trinity Church.  Howard was the best man.  The New-York Tribune reported that "a reception will be held after the wedding at the home of the bride's father."

Following their honeymoon the couple moved into the West 76th Street house.  Leander seems to have been socially independent, and was routinely reported arriving and leaving fashionable resorts without Howard or the MacDonalds.  An exception was the holiday season of 1901-02 in Lakewood, New Jersey.  The New York Times reported on January 5, 1902 that it had been "the gayest holiday season this fashionable resort has ever enjoyed."  The article detailed the wealthy New Yorkers who had spent the holidays in upscale hotels, including, for instance, John D. Crimmins, the Perry Belmonts, and the extended Brokaw family.  Among those who had spent time at the Laurel-In-The-Pines were Leander, Howard and the MacDonalds.

A native of Ohio, Leander was a member of the Ohio Society of New York, founded in 1885 by Civil War General Thomas Ewing, Jr.   He had been appointed its treasurer in 1888.  On April 14, 1902 during the organization's "ladies' night" banquet, Crall was honored for his service.  But unfortunately he could not be there.  The following day The New York Times reported "the presentation of a loving cup to Leander H. Crall, who served the society for fourteen years as Treasurer, was an interesting feature of the banquet.  Mr. Crall is in North Carolina for his health at the present time, so his son, Howard Crall, accepted the gift for him."

Howard was well-known in New York, perhaps most notably for his military activities.  In 1890 he joined the Seventh Regiment, known as the Silk Stocking Regiment because of the high percentage of millionaires within its ranks.  He had attained the rank of lieutenant by now, and was inspector of small arm practice.  Moreover, he was an expert marksman and when London made a good-natured challenge to New York for a shooting match in 1905, Howard was among the 11 members of the Seventh Regiment selected to go up against the Queen's Westminster Volunteers.  Howard not only performed well, he set a world record.

The group posed as they prepared to leave for London.  Howard Crall is on the second step at the right.  The New York Times, June 4, 1905 (copyright expired)

The population of No. 16 was increased by one when Mabel and Frederic had a son, Howard Graeme MacDonald, in September 1909.  They would have one other son, Donald.

Leander H. Crall died on March 6, 1911 at the age of 75.  His funeral was held in the Holy Trinity Church three days later.  The New York Times reported his estate to be about $4.5 million in today's money on June 30, 1912.  It mentioned his "Summer residence in the Adirondacks," and specifically pointed out "five paintings, now at 16 West Seventy-sixth Street, worth $2,750." (In the neighborhood of $75,000 today.)  Among them was Frederick Edwin Church's "Water Lilies."

The following year, in June, title to the 76th Street mansion was put jointly in the names of Howard and Mabel.

Upon the United States entry into World War I, Howard was appointed to the Governor Whitman's Staff as Acting Chief Ordnance Officer of New York State.  The position came with a promotion to Lieutenant Colonel.  

When the Seventh Regiment returned home following the war it had been designated the 107th Infantry.  That name change meant little to New Yorkers.  A massive parade was held for the soldiers on March 24, 1919 and the New-York Tribune began its report saying "It was still the old 7th, the 'Dandy 7th,' that marched up Fifth Avenue yesterday.  The article noted "bringing up the rear of the escort were Colonel Howard E. Crall and staff at the head of the present 7th Regiment of guardsmen."

It was about this time that Howard and Mabel began sharing the house with Edward N. Breitung and his wife, Charlotte.  Breitung was described by The New York Times as "a wealthy banker and mine owner," and Charlotte was well-known among society.  The purpose of the unexpected arrangement is unclear.

Charlotte involved herself in charitable events and when a benefit performance of The Importance of Being Earnest for the Milk for Children of America Fund was being planned for February 1920, The New York Herald advised "Seats will be sold by Mrs. Edward N. Breitung, No. 16 West Seventy-sixth street."

The Breitungs entertained in the house, as well.  In March 1921, for instance, Charlotte hosted a supper party for 11 guests.  Among them was Mrs. Charles M. MacNeill who arrived following the opera.  Upon entering, she laid down her diamond studded opera glasses, valued at $3,000.  The following morning she realized she did not have them.  A search of the house turned up nothing.  The theft was just one of a mysterious string of similar incidents that was taking place during glittering entertainments in high-end houses at the time, befuddling police as to how the burglars were managing the heists.

Later that year the Breitung name appeared in newspapers for a scandalous reason.  On September 21, 1921 Edward had the unfortunate distinction to be the first man in New York arrested for visiting a brothel.  The New York Times said "Breitung, who is said to have a rating of $18,000,000, is the first man to be arrested in this city under the amendment to the vagrancy law."  That amendment made visiting a "disorderly house" a crime.  The article explained that heretofore, "As a rule, the man is not only not arrested, but is not even called as a witness against the woman."  Although the charge was an offense--not rising to the status of a felony nor even a misdemeanor--Breitung's name and the 76th Street address were prominently publicized in the newspapers.

Charlotte Breitung was, no doubt, humiliate by her husband's well-publicized indiscretion.  photo from the collection of the Library of Congress.
Like Charlotte, Hattie was highly involved in charitable organizations.  In 1922 she was the treasurer of the "Sowers," described by The New York Herald as "an organization of graduates of the Spence School.  In April that year Hattie was involved in organizing its benefit for the Darrach Home for Cripple Children.

The two women apparently coordinated their entertaining schedules.  On May 9, 1922 The New York Evening Post reported that Hattie would be hosting a dinner party "before the motion picture presentation and dance to be given at the Plaza Hotel."

Howard Crall went to Florida in the winter of 1923.  On February 27 The New York Times ran the rather unfeeling headline: "Col. Howard E. Crall Drops Dead At Golf."  Ironically, he was playing golf with three physicians.  Crall had just hit his third shot.  The Times said "The shot was a good one, and when one of the members of the foursome turned around to congratulate him the Colonel was seen to reel and fall to the ground."  Despite the immediate medical attention, there the doctors "could do nothing to revive him."

Howard's funeral was impressive.  The entire 7th Regiment escorted his body with full military honors from his home to Holy Trinity Church, and then to the railroad station.  The burial ceremony at the Kensico Cemetery included a bugler and firing squad.

The MacDonalds remained in No. 16 for two years.  On May 25, 1925 the New York Evening Post reported that Hattie had sold the house.  The family gave up private home living, moving into an apartment at No. 760 Park Avenue.

The house was purchased by Lucy Carnahan Thomas, widow of Abner C. Thomas.  Moving in with her were her unmarried daughters, Ethel Cary Thomas and Lucy Cary Thomas.  It is extremely possible that Hattie knew Lucy through their Ohio connection.  Lucy was the first President of the Daughters of Ohio.  She was, as well, a member of the Daughters of the Revolution, the Daughters of 1812 and of Sorosis, the first professional women's club in America.  

The 81-year old died in the house the following year, on November 13, 1926.  Ethel and Lucy continued to live here.  They reduced their living space to the first floor in 1941 when they converted the mansion to one apartment on the first floor, two each on the second through fifth, and one in the newly-added penthouse, unseen from the street.

One of the apartment became home to the women's brother, Abel Cary Thomas.  A Harvard-educated attorney, he was at one time legal adviser to theatrical producer Henry W. Savage.  This father had written the book Thomas on Mortgages, and in 1925 Abel wrote its second edition.  The New York Times noted "Mr. Thomas was associated with the late Sam Warner in the development of talking pictures and establishment of moving-picture theatres."  Abel Thomas died in his apartment in No. 16 on February 21, 1945.

Two years later, on June 30, Lucy Cary Thomas died here.  She had been the manager of St. Luke's Home for Aged Women for more than a quarter of a century.  Ethel moved to Glen Ridge, New Jersey before 1953.  The year her former apartment was divided into two.

The apartments were home to well-respected tenants, like renowned violinist Giovanni Bagarotti and his pianist wife, Marta Rousseau Bagarotti.  Marta, who studied at the Paris Conservatoire, accompanied her husband in his concert tours.  She died at the age of 49 on November 6, 1959 while living at No. 16.

The noble presence of Cleverdon & Putzel's row survives after more than a century.  No. 16 looks little different than it did in 1899 when Leander H. Crall first moved in.  Amazingly, even the interior shutters in the second floor survive.

photographs by the author

Monday, August 19, 2019

The Lost St. Mark's Church Rectory - 156 Second Avenue

By the time this photo was taken in the second half of the 19th century, the original Greek Revival fencing had been updated with an Italianate version.  Most likely at the same time the stoop railings were replaced by the chunky wing walls.   photo by George Gardner Rockwood, from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York

By the first decades of the 19th century the neighborhood around Stuyvesant Square had filled with elegant homes.  St. Mark's Eipiscopal Church, completed in 1799, was the parish of some of New York's wealthiest and most politically powerful citizens--including the Stuyvesant, Stewart, Fish, Hone and Perry families.  Around 1840 the congregation erected a sumptuous brownstone-faced rectory for its pastor, Henry Anthon, at No. 156 Second Avenue, diagonally across from the church near the corner of East 10th Street.  

At 40-feet wide, it was twice the width of a normal rowhouse.  Floor-to-ceiling length windows on the parlor level opened onto cast iron balconies.  Peaked lintels sat above the openings and brick dentils ran below the cornice.  The double-doored entrance was flanked by columns which upheld a hefty entablature.  The over-all design bespoke elegance and refinement.

Rev. Henry Anthon was born in New York City in March 1795.  He graduated from Columbia College in 1813 and afterward studied theology.  He became pastor of St. Mark's in 1837.  

Anthon had married Emilia Corré, daughter of Joseph Corré, in 1819. Living in the house with them were their two sons, George Christian and Edward.  In 1841 Edward enrolled in the University of the City of New-York.   His brother was already a professor there.

Rev. Henry Anthon wore the severe countenance of a 19th century preacher.  Tribues to the Memory of the Rev. Henry Anthon, D. D. 1862 (copyright expired) 
Like many other high-level pastors, Anthon published academic works.  In 1845 he turned his attentions to his own flock, publishing Historical Notices of St. Mark's Church from 1795 to 1845.  

George Christian Anthon was still living with the family when a serious disagreement with two other professors led to his resignation from New York University on March 7, 1851.  He founded the Anthon Grammar School and would remain its principal until his death.

His brother, by now, had been ordained by the Episcopal Church.  In May 1856 the Vestry of St. Mark's lured Edward from his post of rector of St. Thomas's Church in Taunton, Massachusetts to become Assistant Minister of St. Mark's.

Rev. Henry Anthon celebrated Christmas Day services in 1860, including the administration of Communion to the 300 worshipers.  A few weeks later his close friend, the Right Rev. Manton Eastburn, said "But it was with difficulty that he got through the duty, for he was suffering acutely with pain.  He returned to the Rectory and, after eleven days of severe agony, expired on Saturday, the 5th of January, 1861."  He was 69-years old.

Anthon's funeral was held in St. Mark's Church on Tuesday, January 8, 1861.  Edward Anthon resigned his post at St. Mark's to open his own church, The Memorial Church of the Reverend Henry Anthon, D. D.  On March 31, 1861, only three months after Henry Anthon's death, The New York Herald reported that the new church, on West 48th Street, would open the following morning.

The Rev. A. H. Vinton was appointed rector of St. Mark's.  But following his return to Boston sometime before 1874, the rectory was sold.  In 1877 city directories show that it was being operated as a high-end boarding house with just three residents.  Martha M. Ransom was the widow of Jonathan H. Ransom and would remain in the house for several years.  Alonzo Goodrich Fay was an attorney with offices at No. 237 Broadway; and George G. Kaufman was an editor.

By 1886 the lower floors had been converted to the fashionable Café Manhattan.  The rooms on the second floor were leased to clubs and organizations, and selected cafe employees were provided rooms on the third.  

An investigative reporter for the New York Herald found more than well-dressed diners here, however, prompting him to entitle his article on August 18, 1899 "Where Are The Police?"  The writer said that it was an open secret that gentlemen played cards in some upscale restaurants.  

The proprietors of the more fashionable coffee houses take little pains to conceal this fact.  At the Cafe Manhattan, Second avenue, between Ninth and Tenth streets, where I saw several men playing cards the money for which they played was on the table beside them.  On the broad piazza, back of the coffee room, there were several players, and still further to the rear were half a dozen private parties.

By the time of that reporter's exposé the upper rooms were known national-wide for chess playing.  In 1886 the American Chess Review announced that "The New York Chess Club has moved into its new quarters at 156 Second Avenue," and quickly the location became ground zero for Manhattan chess events.  On September 25, 1887, for instance, the Grand International Tournament was held here, sponsored by the Sixth American Chess Congress, which also had its headquarters in the building.

The chess groups shared the upper floors with at least two other organizations.  The National Philatelic Society's club rooms were here in 1887; and by 1890 the German-American Stenographers' Association Gabelsberger was here.  On October 14 that year The World announced "The association will open a course of studies in German and English stenography on November 4, in its rooms at the Cafe Manhattan, No. 156 Second avenue."  The Masonic rooms of the Perfect Ashlar Lodge, No. 604 were also here at the time.

The Café Manhattan was run by William Stampfer.  In January 1893 he leased the business to M. Moschkowitz, who made a few changes, including the name.  The restaurant was now known as the Café Boulevard.  It was most likely Moschkowitz who joined No. 156 with the house next door and installed a three-story storefront.

An early 20th century postcard shows the significant alterations which successfully erased the dignity of the former mansions.
The New York Chess Club continued to hold annual tournaments in its clubrooms.  It was joined in the building by a new club in 1895.  On December 3 The Evening Post announced "The Progress Chess Club was founded at the Café Boulevard, No. 156 Second Avenue, last night."  The article added "A match was played at the Café Boulevard between Messrs. Borsody and Rosenthal, which was won by the former."

Frank Leslie's Popular Monthly depicted a scene in the Cafe Boulevard during the "hour of Apertif," between 5 and 6 p.m. November 1895 (copyright expired) 
The change in the neighborhood from one of wealthy homeowners to German and Hungarian immigrants was evidenced in the cafe.  Frank Leslie's Popular Monthly said the establishment "rejoiced" in the patronage of "the Teutonics," and noted:

It is more plebeian in its tone, inasmuch as a large proportion of its guests are simple commoners; but there is always a large sprinkling of nobles to be found clustered about its small tables, drinking beer, playing cards or dominoes and reading the foreign papers, of which a greater number and variety are subscribed for by the proprietor than can be found in any other place of refreshment in the town.

By 1898 the club rooms of the Hungarian Society were upstairs.  The cafe was now being operated by Ignatz Rosenfeld who introduced new attractions for his mostly German and Hungarian customers; not all of which were welcomed by neighbors.

On June 28, 1897 The New York Herald reported that Rosenfeld had been arrested for disturbing the peace.  The article explained "He has an orchestra at his place, which plays while his guests consume wiener schnitzels and compote.  The orchestra also plays several bars after the serving of the coffee.  It is alleged that at half-past twelve o'clock yesterday morning the orchestra was discoursing harmony."

The following month Rosenfeld got more unwanted press.  Mary Sajtos had been the cafe's pastry chef for several years.  She was one of the lucky workers who also lived in the building.  In addition to free room and board, she received a salary of $44 per month, or about $1,370 today.

In 1893 she struck up a love affair with the assistant cashier, Adolph Lipschutz.  On Christmas Day 1896 he proposed marriage, and Mary accepted.   Almost immediately afterward he asked to borrow money, promising he would use it to open a restaurant which he would manage and she would be its cook.  In various amounts she loaned him a total of $500, or about $15,600 in today's dollars.   She later said that she waited in vain for him to announced that he had acquired the restaurant and to say "We will be married to-day and go to the home that I have made ready for you."

That didn't happen.

Lipschutz  left his position in the cafe in December 1898.  A few months later a good friend, Marie Rinkacs, confided to Mary, "I know that Adolph Lipschutz is not going to marry you and is going to wed Lena Gross, because I have been shopping with Lena and have helped her buy her wedding outfit."  Mary Sajtos did some investigating on her own and discovered that her fiancé had used her money to buy a gold watch and chain, gold cuff buttons and a diamond pin.

She sued "the faithless Adolph," as worded by The Morning Telegraph on July 29, 1899, for breach of promise of marriage.   The article said she "assesses her wounded feelings at $2,000."  Lipschutz was arrested.  But although the newspaper deemed him a "villain," it made light of Mary's plight.

"By her splendid cooking she won the heart of a man, and by her cooking she lost it, for her fat pies and lollipops soon lost their charm and the man's stomach turned."  Lipschutz, it said, "met a woman with more money than she had and he preferred gold to doughnuts."

Ignatz Rosenfeld was acutely aware of the income provided by the chess clubs.  On October 28, 1899 The Evening Post reported "To supply a great need, Mr. I. H. Rosenfeld, proprietor of the Hungarian Restaurant and Café Boulevard will soon set apart a large and handsomely furnished room for the accommodation of chess-players.

In the meantime the cafe continued to be a popular gathering spot.  On December 28, 1899 the Tammany Association held a dinner in one of the private rooms to honor retiring County Clerk William Schmer.  Two hundred officials and politicians were in the room that night.

Having leased the property for years, Rosenfeld purchased it in in May 1900 "for about $80,000," according to the New York Herald.  It was a significant price, amounting to around $2.75 million today.  But he could apparently afford it.  Three years later The Hempstead Sentinel reported that he had spent $250,000 to buy the entire district called Arverne-by-the-Sea on Rockaway Beach.  It included a 190-room hotel, a casino, and six cottages.

Another romantic involvement among the staff ended tragically in 1904.  Mary Olah, who worked in the pantry, fell in love with Sigmund Bohn, a waiter.  The main obstacle to the affair was Bohn's marriage.  Things got tenser when, it appears, Mary discovered she was pregnant.  She quit her job in mid-December 1904 and moved in with her sister.

Then, only about a week after she left, Mary somehow sneaked into the cafe late on the night of December 30.  She went upstairs where she found Sigmund, but things ended badly.  The New York Press reported "Many late guests in the Café Boulevard...were startled at 1 o'clock this morning by the sound of loud voices on the upper floor, then pistol shots."

Sigmund Bohn then came running down the stairs "with blood streaming from a wound on his chin."  He rushed through the dining room yelling that he had been shot.  The article described "The women jumped from their seats and several men stanched the flow of blood from the wound with napkins and table linen."

Employees ran upstairs to find that Mary had shot herself.  "A terrible wound had been made in her abdomen and she was already unconscious."  Having fire the shot directly into her unwanted fetus, the unfortunate woman later died.

On November 20, 1908 The New York Herald announced that architect Emery Roth had been hired "for partly remodeling the banquet rooms of the Café Boulevard."  It was clear evidence that the restaurant was still highly popular.  The upper rooms were still occupied by chess clubs, including the Rice Chess Club (formerly the Cosmopolitan Chess Club). 

When arrangements were being made for a tournament among some of the world's greatest chess players in January 1913, The Sun reported "Arrangements have been completed with the manager of the Cafe Boulevard, 156 Second avenue, to have the bulk of the rounds played in its studio."

But the days of chess matches, strudel and coffee were drawing to an end.  Second Avenue, once entirely residential, had become nearly completely commercial.  In 1915 a demolition permit was issued for the property.  It was replaced by a brick apartment building which survives.
photo via

Saturday, August 17, 2019

The Joseph and Josephine Bissell House - 46 West 55th Street

In 1869 developer John W. Stevens erected a row of five 20-foot wide Italianate style row houses on West 55th Street between Fifth and Sixth Avenues.  It was a bold move, since little development had reached this far north.  His architect, Thomas Thomas, faced the high-stoop homes in brownstone, the current height of fashion.

By the time former judge Henry Alker and his family were living in No. 46 the neighborhood had filled with fashionable homes for upper and upper-middle class families.  Having once been Manhattan's Public Administrator, he had served three terms on the Marine Court bench.  By the mid-1880's he was privately practicing law.  On the afternoon of Friday, November 19, 1886 he suffered a small stroke.  It was followed by a more severe one and on Sunday he lapsed into unconsciousness.  He died in the house on Tuesday morning, November 23.

At the turn of the century the former Alker house saw rapid-fire turnovers in ownership.  James H. Young sold it to Edward Van Ness in 1901; Van Ness sold it to Sadie S. Dearborn in 1902; and she sold it to Dr. Joseph Bidleman Bissell and his wife, Josephine in January 1903.  As was common, the title was held in Josephine's name.

Before moving in the Bissells initiated a major renovation of the outdated house.  On April 24, 1903 architect Edward L. Tilton filed plans for changes which included extensions to the rear and a remodeled front.  The costs were listed at $10,000--or about a quarter of a million in today's dollars.

Construction was completed in June 1904.  Tilton had stripped off the brownstone front and stoop and moved the facade forward.  Like the currently popular neo-Federal and neo-Georgian styles, Tilton's sophisticated neo-Classical design was executed in brick and stone.  The Bissell house featured a four-story bowed bay above which the fifth floor sat demurely back.

At street level a double-doored entrance above two short stone steps, sat within a molded limestone frame.  They were originally flanked by windows.  Above a beefy bracketed cornice sets of three multi-paned openings at the second and third floors was within a shared limestone frame.  Three French windows distinguished the floor above, the heavy stone brackets of the fourth floor cornice slightly extending on either side of the windows.  A simple copper cornice crowned the residence.

Born in Lakeville, Connecticut in 1859, Bissell had been educated at Yale and then at the College of Physicians and Surgeons at Columbia University.  Following his graduation he studied in Vienna and Munich.  He had been, by now, the visiting surgeon of Bellevue and St. Vincent's hospitals for six years.  He was internationally known for his pioneering work with x-rays and radium.

Dr. Joseph B. Bissell - from the collection of the Columbia University Roll of Honor

The Bissells and their four children--Karl, Eugenie, Joseph, Jr., and Katherine--moved into the house with two female servants.  The family's summer estate was in Tuxedo, New York.  

On November 11, 1910 The New York Times advised "Dr. and Mrs. Joseph B. Bissell have opened their cottage at Tuxedo for the annual ball at the club this evening, and are entertaining a house party there fore their debutante daughter, Miss Eugenie Bissell."  The article added "On Saturday the party will motor over to Princeton, N.J., for the Yale-Princeton game."

Along with his work at St. Vincent's and Bellevue, Bissell was the private physician of wealthy and celebrated New Yorkers.  Two of them, Julia Marlowe and her husband E. H. Sothern, were among the most famous actors of the period.  In 1911 he disappointed fans when he ordered Marlowe to cancel her performances until the insufferable "climatic conditions" of heat and humidity passed.  And three years later, in February 1914, he told reporters "he had refused to permit her to return to Mr. Sothern and resume her work on the stage."  She was ordered to take a one year rest.

As was often the case, the breadwinners of well-to-do families remained in the city during the week while their families went off to the country.  On June 23, 1912 The New York Times reported "Mrs. Joseph B. Bissell of 46 West Fifty-fifth Street has taken the Sewell cottage at Oyster Bay for the Summer, and her daughters, the Misses Eugenie and Katherine Bissell, will be with her."

As hospital surgeon, of course, Bissell's patients were not all wealthy or famous.  The day before that Times article he treated a young boy who had been "playing Indian in the street."  Handguns in the possession of children were a constant problem in New York at the time.  Boys celebrated the Fourth of July by firing pistols into the air, for instance, often resulting in injuries.

And so when this boy and his friends decided to play "Indians," it made perfect sense to them to use real revolvers.  The game ended with the boy being shot.  The Sun said "The bullet entered the left side, passing dangerously near the heart, liver and kidneys, cut the spinal cord and fractured the sixth rib."

Joseph Bissell used his x-ray equipment to find the bullet.  The Sun said "The X-ray probably saved this boy's life, but unfortunately he is a cripple, being paralyzed below the waist, with no possible chance of recovery."

Bissell's experimentation with radium went far beyond x-rays.  In 1910 he established the Radium Sanatorium on West 70th Street "for the treatment of cancer with radium."  In the days before the dangers of the element were clearly understood, he not only amassed a sizable stock of radium, but applied it directly on his patients.  

He performed the procedure outside of the sanatorium as well.  On January 1, 1915 the New-York Tribune reported "The first radium operation for cancer performed in Bellevue occurred...when Dr. Joseph B. Bissell, one of the visiting physicians, of 46 West 55th st., placed $12,000 worth of radium on the eyelid of James Grogan, forty-five years old, a laborer."  Dr. Bissell pronounced the procedure as "satisfactory," and the article noted that "The operation was watched with great interest by most of the Bellevue students and staff."

On April 6, 1915 Eugenie was married to Laurence Millet in the 55th Street house.  Bishop Patrick Joseph Hayes of St. Patrick's Cathedral performed the ceremony.  The groom's father, artist Francis Davis Millet, had lost his life in the R.M.S. Titanic disaster three years earlier.  The New York Times reported "The house was decorated throughout in apple, peach, almond and other Spring blossoms, and in the drawing room an aisle outlined by ribboned posts topped with flowers led to a huge rosebush covered with pink flowers, before which the ceremony was solemnized."

Eugenie Bissell on her wedding day. The New York Times, April 18, 1915 (copyright expired)

Three months later Joseph Bissell was on his way to London where he had been invited to "do special work in St. Mary's Hospital with radium and radium solutions in the treatment of infected wounds," as explained by the New-York Tribune on July 3.  The article mentioned "Dr. Bissell has the largest amount of radium possessed by any one person in New York City, and is suggested as managing director of the radium institute being planned by philanthropists of this city."

Karl's engagement to Pheobe Doelger, daughter of the wealthy brewer Peter Doelger, Jr., was announced on November 17, 1916.  The wedding took place five months later in St. Patrick's Cathedral on April 24.

Dr. Bissell was made a major in the United States Army when the United States entered World War I.  The chief surgeon at Fort McHenry, Maryland, he came home for Thanksgiving in 1918.  He became sick on November 30 and died in the house three days later of food poisoning.  His funeral was held in St. Patrick's Cathedral on December 4.

The following year, in September, Josephine sold No. 46 to another well-known doctor, James Ramsay Hunt.  The price was not disclosed, but Hunt's $35,000 mortgage--just under $400,000 today--hints at the cost.  Joseph moved to No. 850 Park Avenue where she announced Katherine's engagement to John G. W. Husted a few weeks later.

Born in Philadelphia in 1872, Hunt graduated from the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine in 1893 and, like Bissell, then studied in Europe--Paris, Berlin and Vienna.  A neurologist, he joined the staff of the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons in 1910.  And also like Bissell, he had served in the Army Medical Corps during World War I, at one point deployed to France as a director of neuropsychiatry.

Hunt and his wife, the former Alice St. John Nolan, had three children, James, Jr., Alice St. John and Emily.  Their country estate, Mount Holly Farm, was at Katonah, New York.

The family's purchase of No. 46 came at a time of substantial change in the Fifth Avenue neighborhood.  Millionaires were migrating ever northward along Central Park and their former homes were being taken over by commercial interests.   In March 1922 a hearing was held in the offices of the Board of Estimate and Apportionment regarding "Changing from a residence to a business district West 55th Street" between Fifth and Sixth Avenues.  Alice Hunt was there to make her protests known.  With a total of seven people opposing the amendment and seven supporting it the change was temporarily shelved.

By the time of Alice's protest her husband had been made president of the American Neurologic Association.  He would go on to preside over the New York Neurologic Society in 1929, and the American Psychopathological Society in 1932.  Through his research his name became associated with several neurological conditions, including Ramsay Hunt's atrophy, Ramsay Hunt's paralysis, and the Ramsay Hunt syndrome type 2.

James Ramsay Hunt - original source unknown
According to Alice Hunt years later, her parents hosted weekly dinner parties in the house, attended by other medical professionals and "wealthy members of the business world."

Following his prep school years at St. Paul's School, James Jr. went on to Yale, where he was a member of the rowing team.  On October 24, 1930 his engagement to Eleanor Pratt, granddaughter of one of the founders of the Standard Oil Company, was announced.  The Times noted that James "will be graduated with the class of '31, the marriage taking place shortly afterward, on June 27."

The ceremony took place in the Church of St. John's of Lattingtown on Long Island, a village surrounded by sprawling Gold Coast estates.  The organist of Grace Church was brought in to "play a program of wedding music for a half hour while the guests were arriving," reported The New York Times.  In the meantime, the organist of St. Paul's Chapel waited at Welwyn, the estate of the bride's family.  As the guests approached for the reception, she "played a program on the chimes in the Pratt estate."

Alice was next to be married.  Her wedding to Sherman M. Bijur took place in St. Matthew's Episcopal Church in Katohah on May 5, 1935.  Emily was her sister's maid of honor.  Following the ceremony a reception was held at Mount Holly Farm.

It was a short marriage.  On April 27 the following year Alice obtained a divorce in Reno, charging Bijur with cruelty.  The Times remarked "Mrs. Bijur had asked the court to restore her former name, Alice St. John Hunt."  With her maiden name restored, Alice busied herself in New York with political and social issues.  By December she was executive chairman of the women's division of the New York State Economic Council.

The Hunts were at Mount Holly Farm on July 22, 1937 when James Ramsay Hunt died "after a long illness," as described by The New York Times.  He was 63-years old.  Oddly enough, that newspaper's obituary omitted Emily as a survivor, listing only his wife, James and Alice.

Emily was quite alive and her debutante entertainments were held in 1939.  On May 25, 1941 her mother announced her engagement to Warren Burke.  By then Alice had been married three years to Elisha Lee.  That wedding had taken place at Mount Holly Farm on December 3, 1938.  Unfortunately that marriage, too, ended in divorce.

Alice Hunt was struggling financially at the time.  The year prior to Emily's wedding the Bowery Savings Bank foreclosed.  And once again the house became home to a physician--actually two of them.  The bank sold No. 46 in 1943 to Drs. Harry Sidney Newcomer and his wife, Marian Anastasia Statts Newcomer.   

The couple initiated a conversion which resulted in business offices on the first and second floors, a duplex apartment on three and four, and four furnished rooms on the fifth.  Marian ran the Marian Newcomer's Mater Christi Guild from one of the commercial spaces.  Others were rented to the Dioptric Instrument Corp., makers of precision lenses, and Reach Yates Matton, an advertising agency.

The Newcomers retained possession of the house until 1954 when it was sold to Edward A. Viner.  The principal of the Edward A. Viner & Co. investment firm, he moved his business into the building, and altered the upper floors to offices through the third floor, and a duplex apartment on the fourth and fifth floors.  Just two years later Viner died and his estate sold the building.  It became home to a string of commercial tenants, mostly in the apparel field.

In 1987 clothing retailer Jean Robert Ltd. purchased the former home and, once again, made renovations.  Completed in 1989, they resulted in a showroom on the first and second floors and offices in the upper floors.  The ground floor was changed with the removal of the windows and the widening of the entrance, giving it a rather churchy appearance.

Then, on August 14, 2001, the National Real Estate Investor entitled an article "A New House of Fashion: 46 West 55th Street," and reported that "Les Copains, the Italian fashion design house of men's and women's clothing, knitwear and accessories, purchased 46 West 55th Street for $4 million.  The clothier will occupy the five-story, 7,400 sq. ft. townhouse building as its U.S. headquarters and as showrooms for its various fashion lines."

With little outward hint, the haute couture fashion house continues to occupy the former Bissell residence.  It is an astonishing survivor of a much different period along the now-bustling block.

photographs by the author

Friday, August 16, 2019

An 1897 Remake - No. 156 Franklin Street

The cast iron base is all that remains of the original 1874 design.

On April 30, 1874 Isaac Rodman sold the 25-foot wide, three story building at No. 156 Franklin Street to Daniel O Archer.  Archer, who lived in Tarrytown, New York, paid $15,000 for the property, or about $341,000 today.   He already owned the 50-foot wide plot directly behind at Nos. 38 and 40 North Moore Street.  Within the month architect Griffith Thomas filed plans for an "iron and brick store and oil factory."  The  building would engulf both the Franklin and North Moore Street properties.

The district was already filling with apparel and grocery firms, however, and the oil factory would not last in the new building especially long.  In April 1881 Archer hired contractor W. A. & F. E. Conover to build a wall across the rear of No. 156 Franklin Street, separating it from the North Moore Street portion.  

Turle & Skidmore, importers of "table waters," leased No. 156 Franklin Street.  Still here a decade later, an advertisement in June 1892 in the New-York Tribune led off "Hotel Keepers, Cafe Keepers and Restaurant Keepers ATTENTION!"  It asserted that its Manitou brand Table Water and Ginger Champagne "are the favorite beverages with all, and it will be to your advantage and profit to increase your stock NOW."

Shortly after that ad was published J. H. Mohlman & Co. leased both the Franklin Street and North Moore Street sections of the building.  The Evening Post remarked that it was rented as a "double building, of five stories fronting North Moore Street, and a single building of four stories on Franklin Street."

Although the partition wall was left intact, J. H. Mohlman & Co. did extensive renovations to the property for its wholesale grocery business.   The Franklin Street side was used mainly as a warehouse above the storefront.  In the North Moore Street building, the ground floor was used for storing heavy stock like molasses and sugar, with the offices and showrooms on the second floor.  The top floors held canned goods, cereals, hominy, rice, flour and similar items.

The firm had wisely kept the heaviest stock on the first floor.  But a large shipment received the week of April 20, 1895 necessitated weighty barrels and crates being taken upstairs.  It ended horribly.

On April 30 The Evening Post began an article saying "'First a rumble, then a crash, and then fire' is the significant account given by the most trustworthy witnesses of the accident which reduced a well-packed five-story building at Nos. and 40 North Moore Street this morning to a burning mass of debris and groceries.  The building was an old one, but it had been rebuilt for the use of J. H. Mohlman & Co., wholesale grocers, recently."

The beams could not withstand the weigh and had collapsed.   Broken pipes leaked illuminating gas which then ignited.  "The collapse was very compete.  The roof, front and rear wall, and all the floors went down, leaving only the side walls standing," said The Evening Post.  "Fire broke out at once."

No. 156 Franklin Street fared a little better than the North Moore building, which was a total loss.  "Part of the rear wall of No. 156 Franklin Street was broken in, and parts of the floors there, with some of Mohlman & Co.'s stock, were carried down."  Nevertheless, the building was heavily damaged.  "The flames penetrated to the Franklin Street building and poured out through the front window there.  In fact, the loss by fire is the heaviest in that part of the building."

Escaping damage was the building next door at Nos. 152-154 Franklin Street, home of the Eisner & Mendelson Company.  Like Turle & Skidmore the firm imported "foreign manufactured mineral waters and malt extract tonics."  Founded in 1882 as a partnership between Moritz Eisner and Joseph Mendelson, by now Benjamin Bleier had bought out Eisner.  

Eisner & Mendelson Company's handling of the American trade of Johann Hoff's Malt Extract entangled the firm in years of trademark fighting in courts.
Daniel O. Archer sold the damaged Franklin Street building to Benjamin Bleier.  In December 1897 the firm of Stein, Cohen & Roth filed plans to drastically repair and renovate the structure.  Despite that firm's name, there was only one architect, Emery Roth, actually practicing.  His plans called for adding two stories, installing "new steel floor construction" and "alteration in front."  The costs were projected at $25,000, or more than $780,000 today.

When Roth was done only the cast iron base of Griffith Thomas's 1874 structure was recognizable.  Now six stories tall, Roth faced the upper floors in beige brick and made ample use of cast iron in the central section to make vast expanses of windows possible.  In contrast to Thomas's staid storefront, Roth gave the upper floors an ebullient Beaux Arts face.  A projecting bay at the second floor, most likely intended for an office or showroom, was decorated with trailing bell flowers.  Carved ornamentation included lions snarling above garlands of fruits and ribbons, a cartouche with foliate decorations, and two lovely scrolled ornaments upholding the fifth floor cornice which delicate cut into the corners.  The sixth floor was sparsely ornamented under a pressed metal cornice.

Until recent years the name of Eisner & Mendelsohn Company was legible on the panel above the fourth floor.
Almost immediately after moving in, the firm sold the building to Bleier's wife, Josephine.  The New York Times, on June 5, 1898 explained, "The sellers will continue to use the premises under a ten years' lease."  

Eisner & Mendelson Company remained in the building past the turn of the century, continuing to act as agents for manufacturers' sometimes questionable products.  An advertisement in The Scranton Tribune on March 10, 1899, for instance was entitled "Woman's Greatest Enemy" and urged "To cure sick headache by natural means take the Carlsbad Sprudel Salt.  It is a certain remedy for disordered stomach, constipation, etc."

This 1899 ad claimed the Johann Hoff's Malt Extract was "essential for mankind."  The Sun, May 10, 1899 (copyright expired)
An advertisement two years later in The Sun promised that the same product was equally effective for male problems.  "Men who sit down much are usually troubled with indigestion, dyspepsia or ailments that follow--such as kidney complaints, nervous disorders, lazy liver, constipation, etc."  Carlsbad Sprudel Water, it promised, "is a medicine prepared by nature.  It cures."

In 1902 Eisner & Mendelson Company was replaced in the building by H. B. Kirk & Co.  Before it moved in an additional story was added.  An announcement in the New-York Tribune on April 19 read:

This year marks the close of a half century during which we have transacted business on Fulton Street.  After April 21st we will occupy the spacious seven story building, No. 156 Franklin Street, as our present quarters are wholly inadequate for our steadily increasing business.

Headed by Harford B. Kirk, the firm sold a wide range of products, from hard liquor like Old Crow Rye, to expensive imported wines and aperitifs.  

The Sun, June 21, 1903, (copyright expired)

On November 11, 1907 Josephine Bleier sold No. 156 to Ralph L. Spotts who, not coincidentally, was vice-president of H. B. Kirk & Co.    

Spotts was, incidentally, a colorful character.  He was also a partner in the Cantono Electric Tractor Co., but his fame came from his expert marksmanship.  

On November 21, 1910, for instance, The New York Times reported on the shooting matches of the Larchmont Yacht Club.  "Ralph L. Spotts carried off the honors of the day, for he not only won the fist prize of the season as high gun with a score of 119, but he also won the ten and five bird scratch events, and the leg for the Sauer gun.  He also won the 200 target match."

A member of the New York Athletic Club, he was on the 1912 American Olympic trapshooting team.   For years his name appeared in sporting magazines like Field & Stream as he continued to add silver cups and trophies to his collection.

In February 1922 T. J. Van Houten & Zoom leased the entire building.  Its product could not have been more different from those of H. B. Kirk & Co.--powdered cocoa and toffee.

T. J. Van Houten & Zoom handled the American sales of the Dutch-manufactured products.  An advertisement in the Buffalo Evening News on December 21, 1923 said of Van Houten's Dutch Cocoa "Every Sip a Treat!"  It went on to say that its "wonderful toffee" was "the kind Mother would have made if she had only known how!"

The firm did not remain especially long.  In 1925 the building was leased to the Martin Miller Co., manufacturers of bakery ovens and home heating appliances.  The company sub-leased the fourth floor that year to the Wayne Woodworking Co.

A photo for city tax purposes before mid-century shows that the fire escape had already cut through the cornice.  photo via NYC Department of Records & Information Services

It may have been the onslaught of the Great Depression that caused No. 156 to be vacant in January 1930.  It was advertised for lease as having a "low insurance rate."

Throughout the next six decades tenants came and went while the Tribeca neighborhood slowly changed.  The provisions dealers and the "egg and dairy" merchants were pushed out as artists and yuppies discovered the vast loft spaces.  In 1993 No. 156 was converted to residential space with just one loft apartment per floor.

Regrettably the fire escape that zig-zags down the front of the building and maliciously cuts through the first and sixth floor cornices obscures Emery Roth's handsome Beaux Arts factory building.   Despite that despoiling, the building is worth a pause to take in the details--especially those wonderful corner-snipping scrolls at the fifth floor.

photographs by the author