Tuesday, January 21, 2020

An Elegant Shell - Keith's 81st Street Theatre, Broadway at 81st Street




Born in Dundee, Scotland, Thomas W. Lamb arrived in New York in 1883 at the age of 12 and went on to study architecture at the Cooper Union.  Eventually, after working as a buildings inspector for the City, he established his architectural office, Thomas W. Lamb, Inc.  His first commission for a theater came in 1909 from William Fox, who was involved for the fledgling moving picture industry.  Within eight years he had designed three more motion picture theaters on Times Square.  

On March 26, 1913 The American Architect reported that Lamb had filed plans for a "3-sty theatre and stores to be erected on the corner of Broadway and 81st St. for the Fulton Building Co."  Construction costs were projected at $130,000, or about $3.4 million in today's terms.

Unlike Lamb's projects for William Fox, the 81st Street Theatre was intended mainly as a vaudeville venue, with "photo-plays" as an added attraction.  It was completed by the end of April the following year.  The Broadway section which held the lobby, ticket booths and lounges was three stories tall.  Its dignified neo-Classical style facade was executed in white terra cotta and featured soaring double-height arches flanked by columns and separated by tall Corinthian pilasters.  The auditorium directly behind was clad in dull red brick which purposely did not compete with the Broadway showpiece.

The theater opened on May 25, 1914, this ad calling "one of the finest vaudeville and photo-play theatres in New York City.  The Evening World, May 25, 1914 (copyright expired)

In its July 1914 issue Architecture and Building beamed "The new Eighty-First Street Theatre...which has just been opened, is decidedly a step forward in the erection and equipment of a modern vaudeville and photoplay house.  The amount of study which has been given and the taste displayed throughout this entire structure is evident, even to the exterior of the building which is of matt [sic] glaze white terra cotta."

The lobby was lit by solid brass sconces and hanging fixtures "of white glass in Adam's design."  Architecture and Building, July 1914 (copyright expired)
The lobby was paneled in Caen stone--a marble-like material--and its ceiling was decorated in "delicate clouded effects."  The critic said "On entering the theatre one is impressed with the harmony and refined richness of the entire color scheme."  The carpeting and the curtains were deep red.  The seats were upholstered in Spanish leather dyed to match.  Above the audience was a large mural depicting music and dance.  Architecture and Building commented that it "introduces just a sufficient amount of color to give a rich note to the entire color scheme."  

The main ceiling panel depicted Music and Dancing.  Architecture and Building, July 1914 (copyright expired)
Acts in vaudeville theaters changed often and patrons visited more than once a week.  The proprietors of the new theater quickly established a clever gimmick to keep its customers coming back.  On July 2, 1914 The Evening World reported "At the Eight-first Street Vaudeville and Motion Picture Theatre, the management lends umbrellas to patrons in rainy weather."

A highly unusual event took place on September 25, 1918.  Members of the Screen Club staged a benefit for its house fund.  Moving Pictures magazine reported "Many picture people were present.  The proceeds for the club came from the sale of souvenir programs and autographed photographs, also the difference in the advance of seat prices."

None of that would have prompted press coverage.  But then at 11:00 four audience members were selected and brought on stage.  While the audience watched, a motion picture was made.  Moving Pictures explained "The film was to be 500 feet in all, and will be shown at the theatre October 15-17."

The management was rethinking its programming by the spring of 1919.  In March Variety wrote "This theatre divides its program with a feature picture, playing three [vaudeville] acts at either side of the film.  Through that the theatre confesses that first it is a picture house rather than vaudeville, and secondly it prefers pictures."

On September 1 that year the management of the theater was turned over to B. F. Keith, who immediately changed the name to B. F. Keith's 81st Street Theatre.  That was the only initial change.  Vaudeville reported "The house will open with six acts and a picture, without a headline attraction billed."  There were two performances each day, "placing it in the big time class," said the trade journal.

Columbia Daily Spectator, December 3, 1919 (copyright expired)

Audiences showed their disapproval of vaudeville performers by tossing pennies.  On November 1, 1920 a group of well-dressed young men in the orchestra section were caught by booking agent Charles Stockhouse "casting pennies on the stage during the turn of Clayton and Lennie," as reported in Vaudeville.  Stockhouse went to the street and found a policeman, who arrested the youths.

As it turned out, they were not neighborhood rowdies, but college boys "home from school on an election day week-end vacation."  The night court judge "reprimanded the penny throwers, stating to them they stood in no different position before him, though they were sons of wealthy fathers, than any other culprit," reported Vaudeville.  "He warned them if a further complaint was lodged against either they would receive a jail sentence."

The neo-Classical design of the exterior was carried on within the auditorium.   Architecture and Building, July 1914 (copyright expired)
Patrons enjoyed the works of the best directors and most celebrated screen stars here.  On January 11, 1920, for instance, The New York Herald announced "At B. F. Keith's Eight-first Street Theatre the feature will be Cecil B. De Mille's 'Male and Female,' with Miss Gloria Swanson in the lead.  There will be six vaudeville features in addition to the feature."

Among the live acts in February 1928 was Rudy Vallée and his musical group, the Connecticut Yankees.   The crooner was the equivalent of a pop star of today and drew masses of screaming female fans.  The crush of devotees on opening night caused traffic to come to a halt on Broadway.  He mentioned the incident in his 1930 memoir, Vagabond Dreams Come True, calling it "the tremendous outburst we received."

Stores lined the street level in this 1915 photograph.  photo by Byron Company from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York
At mid-century the venue had become a full-time motion picture theater, operated by Howard Hughes's R. K. O. Pictures.  The New York Times theater critic was less than thrilled with The Lisbon Story on September 6, 1951.  Saying that the film "arrived from over the water yesterday afternoon at the R.K.O. Eighty-first Street Theatre, British National Film, the company responsible did neither continent any great favor."  He concluded his critique saying "Anyone who pays good money to see this one deserves the boredom he'll get in return."

Then, in December 1953, CBS-TV announced it had leased the property.  The venue was converted to its first color television studio.  Among its most memorable productions here was the 1957 Rodgers & Hammerstein Cinderella starring Julie Andrews.  It was the only musical written by the partners expressly for television.

The elegant terra cotta building, now named the Reeves television studio, seemed doomed in November 1984 when it was sold to a developer for $11 million.  The Landmarks Conservancy pronounced the structure "an excellent example of early classical and elegant movie palace building form."  The following spring, however, The New York Times reported "But the landmarking effort was never pursued."

It was only the developers, Louis V. Greco, Jr. and Peter Gray, who had formed the Landmark Restorations Company three years earlier, who saved the front of the building.  When they purchased the building the television soap opera "Search for Tomorrow" was still being taped there.  The firm announced plans for a 22-story apartment tower, Renaissance West, designed by Beyer Blinder Belle behind the gutted Broadway section.  The New York Times remarked "Landmark Restorations has made a specialty of projects with a preservationist character, or at least a sensitivity to history."


At a time when developers are demolishing vintage structures at an alarming rate, it is refreshing that at least the shell of Thomas W. Lamb's handsome 1914 theater was preserved by one of them.

photographs by the author

Monday, January 20, 2020

The Lost Buck's Horn Tavern - Broadway and 22nd Street


In 1864 Valentine's Manual of New York City published a depiction of the tavern as it appeared in 1812. On the veranda railing can be seen the large set of buck's horns from which the inn took its name.   from the collection of the New York Public Library

In the 18th century travelers into and out of New York City had essentially two choices if traveling by land--the Eastern Post Road on the east side, and the Bloomingdale Road, opened in 1703, which ran diagonally to the upper west portion of the island.  The Bloomingdale Road would eventually connect with Broadway, taking on the latter's name.

At intervals along both roads were roadhouses--places where horses could be rested and fed, coach passengers be housed for the night, and food and drink obtained.   In 1716 the Horn family purchased land from the widow of Solomon Peters at what would become the southeast corner of Broadway and 22nd Street.  By the second half of the century John Horn's Buck's Horn Tavern stood on the site.  The inn itself was a handsome Georgian-style clapboard structure two stories tall fronted by a prominent porch and veranda.  As with other roadhouses, it was a complex of buildings including a stables to accommodate the vehicles and horses of travelers.

Although the Buck's Horn was remote, according to Suzanne Hinman in her The Grandest Madison Square Garden, "In 1783 Horn's tavern hosted General George Washington." 

Historian Stephen Jenkins commented in 1911 that the Buck's Horn Tavern was "spoken of in 1816 as 'an old and well-known tavern.'"  Decades before Manhattan would be graded, the buildings sat "about ten feet higher than the present grade."  

By the beginning of the 1830's the city had expanded far enough northward that on December 30 that year an announcement was posted in the New York Evening Post that going forward political meetings of the 12th Ward would be held at Buck's Horn Tavern.   

Coaching parties were a favorite pastime among New York's upper class and the Buck's Horn Tavern, by now operated by P. Shepherd, was a popular stop by the early 1840's.  In his The Greatest Street in the World: The Story of Broadway Old and New, Jenkins recalled:

It was a favorite road-house for those who drove out upon the Bloomingdale Road (Boston Post-road)...The drivers of that day used to come as far as the Buck's Horn, then turn through the quiet and lovely Love Lane [later West 21st Street] to Chelsea, and thence by the river road through Greenwich village back to the city across the Lispenard meadows.

from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York


Shepherd added to the attraction by having "ten pin alleys" installed around this time.

Westchester thoroughbred horse breeder and racer Abraham Miller took advantage of the inn's popularity with well-heeled patrons when he offered a renowned racehorse for sale.  On October 23, 1841 he advertised in The Spirit of the Times "The celebrated Stallion FACTOR, the sire of Greenwich Maid, Dolly, and Caty Q and other fine trotting horses, well known on the Turf, is offered for sale on accommodating terms."  The advertisement noted "Factor may be seen at Shepherd's 'Buck's-horn Tavern,' corner of 22d street and Broadway."

A year later, on September 6, 1842, tragedy befell the old hostelry.  The New York Herald reported "Between four and five o'clock yesterday morning, a fire broke out in a building between 21st and 22d streets, occupied as a tavern, kept by P. Shepherd, and called the 'Buck-horn Tavern."  The blaze quickly spread from the wooden building to the two large stables.

Henry C. Platner, a wealthy upstate visitor from Cherry Valley, New York, was one of the boarders and his team of valuable horses was in the stables.   One man, possibly a stable employee, did his best to save the panicked animals.  The New York Herald reported "We regret to say, a gentleman named Campbell, was severely injured by a kick from one of the horses he was endeavoring to rescue from the flames."  The Eagle added "He was considered to be in a dangerous state yesterday."  All four horses, valued by Platner at $1,000--nearly $32,000 today--perished.  

The following day The Sun reported on the devastation.  "The Buckhorn Tavern, in Broadway, above 21st street, kept by Mr. Shepherd, together with the stables and out-houses, was destroyed by by fire...Mr. Shepherd estimates his loss at $1000, no insurance."  Along with the buildings, Shepherd "lost his fixtures, ten-pin alleys, $800 worth of furniture, and a gold watch worth $160," said the New-York Daily Tribune.  (A reporter from The New York Herald doubted that the valuable watch was lost in the flames.  "Mr. Shepherd's watch, no doubt, was stolen.")

Abbey's Park Theatre was erected on the site of the Buck's Horn Tavern in 1874.  When it, too, burned to the ground in 1882, it was replaced by the Brooks Brothers building.  The sleek structure on the site today was completed in 1986.





Saturday, January 18, 2020

The 1827 House at 46 Carmine Street





Around 1827 carpenter Albert Berdan began construction on a three-and-a-half story house at No. 46 Carmine Street.  It is nearly doubtless that he worked in concert with another carpenter, James D. Brower, and with Seba Bogart who respectively erected Nos. 42 and 44 Carmine Street at the same time.  The completed dwellings were essentially identical.

Like its neighbors, No. 46 was faced in red brick and trimmed in brownstone.  Its peak roof was pierced by a single dormer.  Further evidence that the three builders had worked together came on February 2, 1828 when auctioneer James Bleecker announced he would be selling the two new houses, Nos. 44 and 46, at a single auction.




The house initially saw a quick succession of owners.  It was sold four times between 1828 and 1834 when Kemp Godfrey purchased it.  He would retain possession for more than three decades.  

Mary Armstrong was leasing the house from Godfrey in the mid-1840's.  He may have been unaware of the goings-on here at the time.  On July 22, 1846 The New York Herald reported that Mary had been arrested and "indicted for keeping a disorderly house at No. 46 Carmine street.  Justice Roome committed her to prison."  

After that the dwelling became a rooming house.  But the removal of Mary Armstrong's brothel had not eliminated questionable nature of the tenants.  On February 25, 1850, for instance, The Evening Post reported "James Price, a boy bout 14 years of age, was found concealed in a house 46 Carmine street, last night.  He was arrested by officer Philip Journeux."

The ground floor was converted to a shop around 1855.  On May 31 the following year an advertisement in The New York Herald read: "To Let--The store and room adjoining, 46 Carmine street; has gas, counter, cases, &c; suitable for a millinery or other light business; rent $225 a year.  Also a neat room to a single lady or gentleman."

The monthly shop rent would be equal to around $575 today.  It was low enough to lure Mrs. Melville to relocate her millinery shop from Broadway.  



A cleverly worded ad slightly pretended to be a notice to a friend.  The New York Herald, December 4, 1856 (copyright expired)

She touted the low overhead as the reason for her affordable prices in a December 1857 ad:

A Cheap Rent and The First Quality of millinery--Ladies, misses, and children's hats and bonnets of the latest New York and Parisian styles, superbly arranged and beautifully finished...at Mrs. Melville's 46 Carmine street

The tenants' names continued to appear in newspapers for the wrong reasons.  Patrick Cassidy lived here in 1864 when he was seriously wounded in a bar fight.  On June 3 the New-York Daily Tribune reported "A row occurred late on Wednesday night, in the saloon of Patrick Gilbrire...during which Patrick Cassidy was stabbed three times in the head and once in the arm, by John Burns." 

The proprietor of the store where Mrs. Melville had sold hats now dealt in "fancy goods."   Fancy goods stores were slightly different from dry goods stores in that they also offered ribbons, stationery, inkstands, and such.  The owner remained until the fall of 1871 when he advertised "For sale cheap--the stock and fixtures of a fancy goods store, doing a good business; cheap rent."  The shop became home to the roofing office of W. R. Barnett.  His business was such that this was one of two locations in Greenwich Village.


The Commercial Register, 1874 (copyright expired)
In 1876 there were four roomers living upstairs.  Ellen Hanley and Catharine Rose were both widows.  John Williams was listed in directories simply as "laborer," and Charles Kron was a carpenter.

In 1881 John Murray, a machinist, landed a job in the Fire Department's repair shop.  His salary was $3 per day, or about $1,560 a month in today's dollars.  

Francis Davidson was here around the same time.  He tended bar at McKeever Brother's saloon a block away at No. 15 Carmine Street.  He ran afoul of the law on Sunday night June 15, 1884 when he served a glass of beer to undercover officer George H. Stephenson.  Davidson, "who appeared to be in charge," was arrested for selling alcohol on a Sunday and held on $100 bail.  Ironically, the New York Herald reported "One [McKeever] brother is an inspector of the Board of Excise, and the other an officer in the Third Civil District Court."

Thomas Wheatley and his wife, Mary, lived here in 1896.  The 56-year old made his living as a carpenter.  He was physically abusive to Mary, according to other tenants who informed police he struck her.  On the morning of July 5 neighbors saw Mary and later reported that she "was well."  But she would not survive the day.

Wheatley left their rooms at 2:00.  He later told a judge that "he left his wife in the house all right in the afternoon, and went out for half an hour.  When he returned, she was dead,"  according to the New York Evening Telegram.  Neighbors suspected murder.  Wheatley put the blame on liquor.  He told Magistrate Flammer, "She would drink whiskey and eat no food," recounted the newspaper.  "He had no doubt she had died of alcoholism."  The court was not so certain.  The judge remanded Wheatley on suspicion of murder pending the coroner's investigation.

Frederick Conrad, alias Frederick Roberts, and James Andres, alias James Roberts, shared a room the following year when they embarked on a campaign of crime and terror.  Posing as brothers, they were 19- and 25-years-old respectively.   The burglars avoided apprehension by breaking into homes in Westchester County rather than New York City.  On October 25, 1897 The World entitled an article "Booty By Wagon Loads" and detailed their eight-day crime spree in several cities.


"The Westchester Burglars" operated from No. 46.  The World, October 25, 1897 (copyright expired)
Following their arrest The New York Herald explained "in a room at No. 46 Carmine street the plunder was stored.  The pawnshops in the neighborhood offered a ready means of disposing of the goods."  The article added that "In the room at No. 46 Carmine street the detectives found a kit of burglars' tools and 120 pawn tickets."

Another 19-year old thief was Archibald Costello, whose brother, John, lived here.  On Saturday night January 6, 1900 Sarah Connors was walking alone Carmine Street near Bedford when Archibald snatched her bag.  According to The New York Press, "After getting the pocketbook Costello ran to his brother's home in No. 46 Carmine street."  But he had not anticipated the spunk of his victim.

The Morning Telegraph continued "Miss Connors picked up her skirts and sprinted in hot pursuit of the thief...Policeman Jackson, who had joined in the chase, pursued him into the rooms of John Costello."  Costello, according to The New York Press, "refused to open the door for the policeman, saying it was his home and castle."  Officer Jackson did not agree with that argument and broke in.  The "young robber was dragged, howling, from beneath a bed and placed under arrest," said The Morning Telegraph.

At least from 1902 through 1903 the ground floor held a butcher shop.  In 1904 John Elrand and his wife, Mary, moved their second hand furniture shop into the space from a little further up on Carmine Street.  The couple and their three children occupied the rooms in the rear of the shop.

According to The Evening Telegram on April 11, 1905, "they were able to make a fairly good living.  The man is said to leave the management of the business in the hands of his wife."  He also left the preparation of his lunch in her hands and he expected it daily at noon.  On Monday, April 10, it was not ready.

Irate, Elrand called Mary into the shop and expressed his displeasure by firing a bullet into her temple.  "He then ran to the yard in the rear of the building and turned the weapon on himself, inflicting three wounds in his breast," reported The Telegram.  Mary staggered outside to the sidewalk where she collapsed.  The youngest son, John, had seen the entire incident and ran for help.  The Call reported "They were taken to St. Vincent's hospital, where it is said that both will probably die."

It is unclear whether either or both of the Elrands perished; however John, Jr. who witnessed the tragedy, was still living in No. 46 as late as 1911.

That same year the Spinosa family lived at the address.  Their 16-year old daughter, Jennie, worked in a clothing factory at No. 9 Bond Street.  Trouble began brewing that year when one of the tailors, Joseph Nuccio, became enchanted with her.  Jennie's repeated rebuff of his attentions may have partially had to do with his physical deformity.

The 18-year old Nuccio, however, was not one to take "no" from a female.  After asking her to marry him several times over a few months, he finally resorted to her mother.  On September 30, 1911, he appeared at their rooms ready to extort a positive response.  "With him he had a revolver, a dagger and a bottle of poison, reported The New York Call.  Nuccio had underestimated Jennie's mother.  The article explained "Mrs. Spinosa lives on the third floor of 46 Carmine street and looks muscular enough to throw Joe downstairs."

The following day Jennie's uncle accompanied her to work "to tell Joe to stop making love to her."  Nuccio did not respond well to the advice.  "When Joe became belligerent the uncle, who is twice the tailor's size, tucked him under an arm and carried him, kicking and squawking, to the Mulberry police station."  Nuccio was held in $500 bail "to keep the peace."

But that peace would not last.  Two years later, on November 6, 1913, he was sent to the Tombs in default of $10,000 bail (a staggering $262,000 today).  He had attacked Jennie with a knife.  "It was said by the police that Nuccio, who is a hunchback, slashed the girl's throat on October 20 because she refused to marry him," reported The New York Call.


A 1937 renovation resulted in a single residence above what was then a carpenter store.  Tied back curtains suggest a well-kept apartment.  Note the horse-drawn laundry wagon.  via NYC Department of Records & Information Services

Before Jackson Pollock would make his mark on the art world he called No. 46 home from 1932 to 1933.   He moved into the two-room apartment of his brother and sister-in-law, Charles and Elizabeth Pollack, "over Elizabeth's acid objections," according to the 1989 biography Jackson Pollock: An American Saga by Steven W. Naifeh and Gregory White Smith.  The brothers squeezed their studios into the tight space.

In 1937 architect Federick S. Koeler was hired to renovate the building into a single family home above the store level.  That configuration lasted until 1960 when another project resulted in one apartment on each of the upper floors.



The top floor apartment was placed on the market in 2014 for $1.25 million--a figure inconceivable to the shady characters who lived in the building a century earlier.  With true real estate agent bravado, the listing noted that it "was once owned by Aaron Burr."  Of course, Burr had fled New York more than two decades before the house was erected.

photographs by the author

Friday, January 17, 2020

The Michael Friedsam House - 44 East 68th Street





On January 26, 1915 the executors of the Benjamin Altman estate met in the offices of B. Altman & Co. to announce the bequests of the millionaire's will.  Among the executors was Alman's close friend and successor as president of B. Altman & Co., Michael Friedsam.  Afterward an oil portrait of Friedsam was unveiled in the executive offices, painted by Ellen E. Rand.  The New York Times commented, "The same artist painted a portrait of Benjamin Altman, which now forms part of the Altman collection in the Metropolitan Museum of Art."

The portraits were by no means the only things the two intimate friends had in common.  Neither married and each had astounding art collections which focused on Dutch Old Masters.  

In 1921 Friedsam set out to erect a new home--one that would be as much a residence for himself as a venue for his artworks.  On June 23 The New York Herald announced that he had purchased the houses at Nos. 44 and 46 East 68th Street for $175,000--about $2.45 million today.  "The houses thereon are of the old fashioned four story and basement type, but if Mr. Friedsam carries through his plans they will be replaced by one big dwelling ranking as one of the finest of its kind in the city."


Friedsam's house would replace the two brownstones seen at the far left of this photo.  In the center of the frame is the opulent John D. Crimmins mansion.  photo by Byron Company from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York

Three months later, on September 25, the newspaper reported "Col. Michael Friedsam, president of B. Altman & Co., has filed plans through Frederick G. Frost, architect, for a handsome residence and art gallery at 44 and 46 East Sixty-eighth street...It will cost more than $100,000."  That figure brought the total outlay to more than $3.8 million in today's dollars.

The appellation of colonel used by the newspaper, incidentally, was the rank Friedman held with the Quartermaster's Department of the National Guard.  He had been promoted in August 1918.

The New York Times explained that the proposed house would have "adequate provision for his art collection, considered one of the best in private ownership in the city."  The article noted "the new Friedsam residence will be in one of the most exclusive sections of the city, and where many homes of prominent New Yorkers have been erected in the last decade."


The newly completed house looks no difference today.  original source unknown
Completed in 1922, the five-story Friedsam house was clad in limestone.  Frost's restrained neo-Classical design featured a rusticated base with a centered entrance flanked by Doric columns.  Stone balustrades sat below the second floor openings which sat within round arches.   The upper floor were sparsely decorated other than a prim stone band between the third and fourth floors.  The cornice wore a tall, balustraded parapet.

Just before the house was completed Friedsam made two significant additions to his collection.  On December 3, 1921 the New-York Tribune reported he had purchased Albrecht Durer's 1502 work The Saviour, and Quentin Matsys' The Rest on the Flight into Egypt.  The article noted "These, together with other works acquired by Colonel Friedsam, soon will be housed in the latter's new home in East Sixty-eighth Street, it is said, which is being designed especially for his art collection."


The velvet-lined walls of the upper stair hall (above) and the art gallery were hung with masterpieces.  original source unknown
The two acquisitions would be in fine company.  In 1917 alone Friedsam had purchased Franz Hals' Portrait of a Man, Pieter de Hooch's The Maid Servant, and Nicholaes Maes' The Lace Worker.  During World War I he spent $1,900 for an autographed copy of Childe Hassam's The Avenue of the Allies.


The Lacemaker, painted by Nicolaes Maes in 1656 hung with other masterpieces in the 68th Street house.  from the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art
Friedsam's involvements and interests went far beyond art collecting and B. Altman & Co.  He was for years the president of the Fifth Avenue Association, a director in several banks, and was connected with the Architectural League of New York, the Museum of French Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Real Estate Board of New York, the French Institute, and many other groups and societies.  He was, as well, a commander of the French Legion of Honor and a member of ten exclusive clubs.


Michael Friedsam, from the collection of the Library of Congress
Friedsam's love of art, history and architecture was reflected in his philanthropy.  He was a contributor to the construction of the Cathedral of St. John the Divine and supported the College of the City of New York and the Museum of the City of New York.  When Thomas Jefferson's Monticello was threatened in 1925, he joined New York businessmen who rallied to save it.  His check over over $7,000 in today's money was the first received by the fund.


The entrance hall (above) led to the impressive marble staircase.  original source unknown
On February 19, 1931 The Sun reported that Friedsam had been elected to his seventh term as president of the Fifth Avenue Association.  The article noted that he "has been confined to his home at 44 East Sixty-eighth street with a slight illness," but assured he was improving and "is expected to return to his duties soon."


The French-style study featured a portrait of Benjamin Franklin.  original source unknown.
But he did not recover and on April 8 the newspaper reported "From all sections of this country and from abroad today tributes continued to pour in for Col. Michael Friedsam, philanthropist, connoisseur of art, civic leader and merchant, who died suddenly yesterday at his home, 44 East Sixty-eighth street."  The mayor ordered that all flags on Fifth Avenue be lowered to half staff.

Among the accolades was that of Governor Franklin D. Roosevelt who called Friedsam "one of the most unselfish and useful citizens of this city and State."  Former Governor Alfred E. Smith said "The city and State of New York have lost one of their most valuable citizens."

No report of Friedsam's death overlooked his vast art collection, estimated at the time at between $10 million and $29 million.  Included in the more than 200 paintings were four Rembrandts, several Vermeers, fifty French primitives including one of Louis XI by Frouquet, and works by Goya, Velsaquez and Murillo.

The wide-spread esteem in which he was held was reflected in Cardinal Patrick Joseph Hayes's appearance at the house to offer condolences.  He was named an honorary pall bearer, as well, despite Freidsamn's Jewish religion.  According to The Times, more than 3,500 persons filed into Temple Emanu-El for the funeral.  

Friedsam's estate was roughly appraised at over $21 million.  But that figure fell far short of the actual worth.  The New York Sun explained on April 19, 1933 "the figures filed today are not an entirely accurate reflection of what he was worth.  The most obvious example of this is that a value of $2,500,000 was set upon his art collection...The collection has been roughly valued by art authorities at around $10,000,000."



The Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Brooklyn Museum shared in the entire Friedsam collection, including "paintings, porcelains, tapestries, rugs, enamels, crystals, marbles, bronzes, antique furniture and objects of art," as worded in the will.   Friedman's niece, Alice A. Schwartz, was bequeathed "my household furniture, beds, beddings, household china, glass and housekeeping articles and utensils of every description belonging to me and all my silver plate and plated ware and all my jewelry and personal effects wherever the same may be located or stored."   Alice also received $250,000 (more than $4.1 million today); but not the house itself.  It was included in the real estate to be liquidated by the executors.

In 1936 the Dominican Academy purchased No. 44 for one dollar with the stipulation that it be used only for educational purposes.  Founded by the Dominican Sisters in 1897 as an elementary school, it grew into a private Catholic high school for girls.


Among the students in 1965 was 17-year old Patricia Genovese, described by one nun as "a fine student."  Some parents and neighbors were concerned, however, since Patricia's uncle was crime boss Vito Genovese, and her father, Mike Genovese, had been called to appear before a State Investigation Commission hearing on loan sharking a year earlier.   (He took the Fifth Amendment twenty-six times during that session.)

In the winter of 1965 the school received at least two letters and two phone calls "demanding Miss Genovese's expulsion because of her family's notoriety," according to the Long Island Star-Journal.   Then, on the first week of December, someone took matters in their own hands.

As Patricia left the school, she was abducted by two men "in their fifties," according to the FBI.  The Long Island Star-Journal reported on December 20, "Miss Genovese told police that they held her captive for several hours, but that she escaped by ramming a pencil into one man's ear."



The Dominican Academy remains in the Friesdam mansion.  Interior renovations were completed in 2018 which included updating the technology and security infrastructure.  From the street there is essentially no change to the residence since Michael Friedsam first moved in his priceless collection in 1922.

photographs by the author

Thursday, January 16, 2020

The Wm. Clark Company Building - 295 Church Street






In the 1840's, when James and Ellen Bingham lived in the two-story wooden house at No. 201 Church Street, the neighborhood was still respectable.  But within the decade things would drastically change.  Operated as a rooming house in 1853, it was home to multiple tenants, including Sarah Johnson.

On August 23 that year the New-York Daily Tribune reported that residents "yesterday morning found a dead body of an infant in the sink in the rear of the premises."  There was little doubt that the child was Sarah's, and its paternity may very well have been behind the its cruel death.  "Suspicion rested upon a mulatto girl in the house, named Sarah Johnson, as it was ascertained that she had given birth to a child on the previous night.  The infant, however, is white."  Sarah claimed that she accidentally dropped the baby into the sink.  "She is however charged with doing it willfully," said the article.

The Tribeca neighborhood continued to change as, following the end of the Civil War, factory buildings rapidly replaced the old houses.  In 1867 William G. Hackstaff, Jr. hired the well-known architect Isaac F. Duckworth to design a five-story replacement structure at No. 201 Church Street. Although Duckworth attached cast iron facades to many of his striking buildings throughout the district, this one was faced in sandstone above the cast iron storefront.   His Italianate design of arched openings with molded surrounds was repeated on each floor.  


Paneled side piers and carved keystones add to the elegance of the utilitarian structure.

A renumbering of Church Street gave the building its new address of No. 295.  It was home to various dry goods-related businesses in the subsequent years, like Milmo Cotton Co.; Bondy Bros., apparel manufacturers; and Herman Levy & Co., makers of cloaks.  In 1890 J. R. Leeson & Co., thread merchant, was in the building, and the following year it would become home to another, more visible, thread dealer.

For more than 25 years William Clark had been the general manager of the Clark Thread Company of Newark, New Jersey.  In January 1891 he incorporated the William Clark Company and leased the store here for his sales room.

Two years later King's Handbook of New York City remarked "The thread manufactured by this company is distinguished from others by the letters N-E-W, and notwithstanding the fact that it has been on the market but a short time, it has been favorably received, owing to its meritorious qualities."  The 74-year old Clark, whom the handbook called "one of the oldest living thread manufacturers," handed over the active management of the firm to his two sons, William, Jr. and Robert K. Clark.   It was Robert who oversaw the Church Street office while William managed the mills at Westerly, Rhode Island.

There the firm had erected a village of sorts for its factory workers.  Small houses provided "all the comforts of a refined homelife can be enjoyed," according to King's Handbook, and there was a building used as a chapel and night school, as well.  (The need for a night school suggests that children were employed during the day.)


King's Handbook of New York City, 1893 (copyright expired)

William Clark and his brother, George, had been sent to America from Scotland in 1866 to expand the company business, J. J. Clark & Co., later renamed Clark Thread.  By George's death in 1873 they employed more than 1,000 employees in the only thread factory in the country.  Exactly why William broke away to start his own firm is unclear--he certainly had amassed a significant fortune in the existing company.  But the schism would cause problems down the road.

In 1897 the Clark family had had enough of William's trademark infringements.  They sued to stop William Clark Company from using the "Clark's" name in the same typeface and identical logo.  They further complained that his "N-E-W" was unacceptably similar to their "O-N-T" (for Our New Thread).


Clark Thread Co. complained that the round logo was deceptively similar to its own. The Dry Goods Economist, 1893 (copyright expired) 

In the meantime the upper floors continued to house garment and textile related firms.  Tenants in the 1890's included cloak manufacturer Adolph Rosezweig, and Korn & Haber, another clock and suit maker.

In 1902--the year that William Clark died on his yacht near his home in Paisley, Scotland where he had retired--Meyer Brothers occupied the store and basement which had housed the William Clark Company showroom.  The upper floors, according to The New York Times, were "occupied by hosiery concerns."

On the night of February 3, 1902 Policeman Boll saw smoke escaping from the cellar level.  "When the firemen broke in the door the smoke overcame them so fast that all retired to the street," reported the newspaper.   Six fire fighters were overcome by the smoke and a second alarm was called in.  The damages were estimated at more than $600,000 in today's dollars.

Only three years later the building would be damaged by flames again.  During a blizzard at 4:00 on the morning of January 25, 1905 fire broke in the kitchen of Mrs. Grace's restaurant at No. 35 Walker Street.  "The flames were discovered at the very height of the blizzard," reported the Brooklyn Daily Standard Union, and "threatened to destroy the wholesale dry goods' district before it was extinguished."

Fueled by the high winds, the inferno spread to Church Street.  Heavy damages were suffered in No. 297, and at No. 295 the International Suspender Company was dealt significant losses.

While most of the tenants continued to be apparel-related, one was strikingly different.  By 1917 the Salvage Disposal Corporation operated from No. 295.  An advertisement the following year read "We buy old, new iron, metal, machinery, merchandise of every description."  It was perhaps the first hint of change in the Tribeca neighborhood as the apparel trade began moving northward.

That migration was complete by the last quarter of the century.  In the early 1980's Reven Service Company operated from No. 295, offering a service to homes and businesses using the currently popular Venetian blinds.  On July 7, 1983 The New York Times advised "Reven will wash and refurbish custom-made blinds only.  The charge for washing, retaping and re-cording two-inch blinds is $8 per tape; the charge for washing one-inch blinds is $5 per tape.  In Manhattan, Reven will pick up for orders over $30."


The 19th century garment workers would be shocked at the appearance of interiors of the upper floors.  photo via Brown Harris Stevens
Reven Service Company would have to find new accommodations when, like so many vintage Tribeca loft buildings, No. 295 was converted to residential space above the store level in 2002.  

photographs by the author

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

A Battered Relic - 225 East 21st Street




Around 1835 a 22-foot wide house appeared at what would be numbered 225 East 21st Street.  Faced in Flemish bond red brick and trimmed in brownstone, its Greek Revival design was the latest in domestic architecture.  There may have always been a shop at ground level.  The wide entrance above a short stoop would have had a pair of exterior doors, now gone, which would have protected entrance hall from cold winds or rain.

By the 1870's the neighborhood was quickly filling with immigrants from Ireland and Germany.  Around this time the ground floor space was converted to a stable, while the rest of the building operated as a rooming or boarding house.  One apparently educated tenant was looking for work in October of 1873.  Her ad read "A young lady desires a position as governess; is willing to make herself useful; either city or country."

In September 1880 A. C. Fransioli was leasing the stable, listing his business simply as "horses."  Upon the expiration of his lease the following September it was taken over by J. Tilney.

Those who rented rooms above the stable were, understandably, not well-to-do and not always law-abiding.  Mrs. Louise Derossle lived here when she went to the Sixth Avenue shopping district on March 27, 1897 to pick up a few things.   Her suspicious movements caught the eye of a store detective who began following her.  According to The Sun, "He says she took a number of small articles from different counters" and when she walked out of the store he arrested her.

Louise had been busy.  "When searched at the station house, two small satchels, one piece of dress goods, and a quantity of lace, neckties, soap, blacking, pins, and collars were found in her possession."  The 37-year old spent the night in jail before appearing in the Jefferson Market Court.

Among the roomers in 1902 was Fletcher Ranson.  When he was called for jury duty he listed his occupation as "artist."  It was perhaps a romantic self-perception; for when the City Record included him in the list of men "fit for jury duty" it described him as "clerk."

F. J. Thoman was running the stable business that year; however it appears that the ground floor may have been converted to a grocery store within four years.  In 1906 Walter Parker received his permit from the city "to sell milk."  Parker's endeavor did not survive past 1911.  On September 29 that year an advertisement offered the store fixtures for sale, including a fireproof safe "in perfect order."

The business was most likely moving out because the Buildings Department deemed the structure unsafe that year.  It was probably during the reparations that one of the top floor windows was converted to a door with access to a fire escape.

Charles Williams rented a room here following the renovations.  A professional pickpocket, he targeted a well-dressed gentleman waiting for a streetcar on January 22, 1913.  But he picked the wrong man.  Lincoln Steffens was a journalist who specialized in what today is known as investigative journalist.  He was well aware of the tactics of sneak thieves.

Steffens had just left The Players on Gramercy Park.  The Evening Telegram reported "As he boarded the car he found himself being jostled, and felt a premonition that he was about to be 'touched' for his 'leather,' as he used to say in his police reporting days."  He swirled around to see Williams bolting away with his wallet and the $40 it held (a significant $1,050 today).

Steffens jumped from the car and ran after Williams, managing to dodge his cohorts who tried to block his way.  Policeman Cahill joined in the chase and Williams was caught.  Ironically, it was not his capture that frustrated Williams at the station house--in the chaos another pickpocket had managed to snatch his own watch.

"Mr. Williams is an ingenious man in many ways," said The Evening Telegram.  "After deep study some time ago he evolved a watchguard which he felt sure would keep his watch in his pocket, no matter how expert might be the fingers which reached for it.  He found it hard, after installing the guard, to get the watch out himself."  But he had met his match.  

"Williams did not appear to be especially aggrieved at Mr. Steffens for causing his arrest, but he did have a deep grievance against some non-union pickpocket who took his $60 gold watch while he was trying to escape."

By the time of the episode motor cars were quickly overtaking horses on the streets of New York.  In 1915 renovations were made to convert the ground floor shop of No. 225 to an automobile repair garage.  Nicholas Morizio opened the New Home Garage here that year.

Morizio not only repaired cars, but he helped sell them as well.  Throughout the next few years advertisements for used cars appeared, like this one in 1915:

Beautiful landaulet, aluminum body, for sale very cheap.  New Home Garage, 225 East 21st.

Dr. Robert L. Irish brought his car into the garage for repairs in the spring of 1919.  Unfortunately for the doctor, once it was fixed two of the mechanics decided to take it for a spin.   On May 20 The Daily Long Island Farmer reported "William Farrell, 28 years old...while operating an automobile at Rockaway road and Kosciusko street, lost control of the machine and ran into a telephone pole."  He was taken unconscious to Jamaica Hospital with internal injuries and a cut lip.


The commercial doors may well date from the 1906 grocery store.  The New Home Garage mechanics apparently worked on the vehicles on the street.
The article continued "Later upon verification of the license number, it was learned that the automobile had been taken from the New Home Garage at 225 East 21st street, Manhattan, where he was employed as a mechanic."  The young man later attempted to explain to a judge why he was behind the wheel of the stolen car.  "Farrell claims that another employee of the garage took the car and became too intoxicated to run it and it was while he was trying to return with it that he met with the accident."

Mozorizio's New Home Garage remained here into the 1920's.  By 1933 the ground floor housed the offices of the Boudin Contracting Corp.   The firm landed a lucrative contract with the military that year to build a ten-ton "forced draft incinerator building" at West Point.

In 1945 the structure was once again deemed unsafe.  The reparations included a full renovation and new plumbing.  The revamping resulted in a dental laboratory on the first floor and "dental assembly factory" above.

The venerable building managed to ignore the drastic changes along the block throughout the rest of the century.  The architectural office of David Ling was here by the first years of the 21st century.  He continues to operate from the space.

With its patchwork of alterations the battered remnant of the early 19th century is a remarkable survivor with a compelling past.

photographs by the author