Saturday, July 11, 2020

The 1874 Martin Bates, Jr. & Co. Bldg - 489-493 Broome Street

photo by Beyond My Ken
Architect Jarvis Morgan Slade's father, Jarvis Slade, was among the first major developers to change the face of the neighborhoods later known as Tribeca and Soho from residential to commercial.  The Real Estate Record & Builders' Guide would call him a "pioneer in this district" and say "it was mainly due to his influence that it was so rapidly covered with first-class buildings."

As a teenager J. Morgan Slade learned architecture in the offices of Edward H. Kendall.  He the opened his own practice at No. 346 Broadway and at just 20-years old received a significant commission--a five-story, 62-foot wide commercial building for silk merchant Martin Bates.

Located at Nos. 489-493 Broome Street between Wooster Street and West Broadway, the structure went up with lighting speed.  Construction began on August 1, 1873 and was completed four months later, on January 31.  Partially responsible for the rapid completion was Slade's choice of cast iron for the facade.  The ability to bolt large pre-cast sections onto the masonry frame was widely touted for its time-saving (as well as fire-proof) qualities.

Costing $75,000 to construct (about $1.65 million today), Slade had produced a highly restrained, sparsely ornamented building.  Each of the upper floors was essentially identical (the second floor received preferential treatment with its engaged columns sitting on paneled pedestals).  Even the capitals of the columns were understated.  While other architects were embellishing their cast iron columns with elaborate, leafy Corinthian capitals, Slade chose a simple ring of egg-and-dart molding that resembled a string pearls.

Slade's subdued capitals are quietly dignified.
Within the triangular pediment above the bracketed cornice was the date construction date 1873.

Bates moved his business, Martin Bates, Jr. & Co., into the new structure.  The American Hatter would later call the firm "one of the pioneer establishments in the fur business, dating back to the year 1834."  At the time of its founding in Boston it was Martin Bates & Sons.  Martin Bates, Jr. opened the New York office in 1845 and in 1853 the firm was renamed Martin Bates, Jr. & Co.

Furs not only provided Victorian consumers warmth but status, as well.  Martin Bates Jr. & Co. did a large sealskin business, requiring several vessels that steamed to Alaska for skins.  The American Hatter added that it also dealt in "buffalo robes, deer, elk beaver and all kinds of furs."

Directory of the Hat, Cap and Fur Trades, 1880 (copyright expired)

Bates leased space in the building to A. De Grieff & Co., a trimming goods importer.  The respected organization suffered humiliating press coverage in 1875.  On December 22 The New York Herald reported "No little stir occurred in the Custom House yesterday with reference to the customs seizure of the establishment of A. De Grieef [sic] & Co., of Nos. 489 to 493 Broome street."

photo by Beyond My Ken (cropped)
The firm had received 95 cases of dress trimming from Paris, the value of which it declared at $14,000.  Suspecting fraud, the Customs office sent inspectors Benjamin and Cosgrove sent to the Broome Street factory with orders "that no goods are allowed to leave the establishment without their knowledge and consent."  

The senior partner in A. De Grieff & Co. admitted that the goods were worth about $70,000; but deflected blame onto a fired clerk.  "We believe that these accusations against us of defrauding the revenue emanate from a discharged clerk named Bell."

After only six years in the building Martin Bates, Jr. & Co. moved to Greene Street in 1880.  Among Bates's Broome Street tenants at the time were Clinton H. Smith & Co., lace goods manufacturer; Wightman & Co., ladies apparel makers; and Fleitmann & Co., silk importers and commission merchants.

Established by Ewald and Hermann Fleitman who had arrived in New York from Germany in 1864, Fleitmann & Co. was by now among the largest commercial merchants in the city.  

Despite the intricate work required to produce high-quality lace goods, female workers of Clinton H. Smith & Co. made what today would be considered sweat shop wages.  An advertisement in 1881 read "Experienced operators on lace goods can get from $7 to $12 per week, steady work."   The higher end of that range would equal $300 today.

Dry goods merchant George Forbes occupied space in the building in 1887.  And that year he learned a lesson about drinking too much.  On May 20 he stumbled out of "a drinking resort" on 6th Avenue and hailed a hansom cab.  The driver, Benjamin Frankford, owned the cab as well as the livery stable where it was housed.  When they got to Forbes's home on East 87th Street, Frankford helped the inebriated man get to the door.

Later Forbes realized his gold watch and chain, valued at nearly $7,000 in today's money, were missing.  Hoping that Forbes had been too drunk to recognize him, Frankford boldly reappeared at his door the next day.  He said he was a private detective and was certain he could track down the thief.  Forbes handed him $10 as a retainer.

Frankford repeatedly returned, but never with the watch; only to get additional fees.  Finally, after having spent over $1,800 in today's dollars, Forbes realized he was being swindled.  Frankford was arrested and Forbes had learned a very expensive lesson about over-imbibing.

By 1892 I. Modry & Co., makers of "caps, laces and rufflings," and The Empire Manufacturing Co., children's dresses manufacturers, were the two major tenants.  I. Modry & Co., headed by Ignatius Modry (known as Ignaz), was a massive operation, employing 390 workers in 1892, only 15 of whom were men.  More than half of the operators were minors, with 50 of them under 16 years old.  The firm would remain in the building into the first years of the 20th century.

The building as photographed on April 13, 1916 looks little different today.  from the collection of the New-York Historical Society
Following World War I the tenant list changed.  After the building was purchased in November 1917 by the Levett Sales Co., apparel related firms disappeared.  They were replaced by more industrial companies like General Platers' Supply Co. and the Parker Sheet Metal Works.  

New York Herald, January 26, 1919 (copyright expired)
The were joined in the 1920's by North & Herbert Co., Inc., dealers in machinery, automobile accessories and hardware; and Aerovox Wireless Corp, founded in 1922 as the Radiola Wireless Corporation, makers of radios and components.

Radio World, April 1926

The post-Prohibition years saw another type of tenant, the wine warehouse of De Boer & Miller, Inc. 

The Soho district would see dramatic change beginning in the 1970's as artists took over the old factory buildings.  The streets that had rumbled with delivery trucks increasingly saw the influx of art galleries, artist lofts and shops.  By 1971 the Fischbach art gallery was in the former Bates building and the following year the upper floors were converted to "studio and offices"--one per floor.

Fischbach remained in the building through the mid-1970's, joined by the Alessandro Gallery by 1976.  The Frank Marino Gallery was here in 1981.  Other commercial tenants over the next two decades would include The Handbag Workshop and the health food store Healthy Pleasures.

Another renovation completed in 2001 resulted in one sprawling apartment each on the second and fourth floors, and two each on the third and fifth.

photo by Beyond My Ken
Today the Martin Bates, Jr. & Co. building--designed by a young man barely out of his teens--is remarkably intact after more than a century and a half.

Friday, July 10, 2020

The 1911 Chapel of St. Columba - The Cathedral of St. John the Divine

When Daniel Leroy and is wife, the former Susan Elizabeth Fish moved permanently from their elegant home at 20 St. Marks Place to Newport, their daughter Mary Augusta was still in her teens.  In 1849, when she was 20 years old, she married another Newport resident, Edward King.

King had already made a fortune in the China Trade, dealing in tea and silk, and had extensive real estate holdings in Newport, Rhode Island and New York City.  The King mansion, design by Richard Upjohn in 1845 and completed in 1847, was the largest and most impressive house in Newport at the time.

When Edward died in September 1875, The New York Times remarked "His wealth is estimated at $5,000,000."  The massive estate would equal about $111 million today.  The article added "a wife and eight children survive him."  But before the century was out, Mary Augusta King would repeatedly attend the funerals of her children.  Both Edward and Elizabeth died in 1878, Alexander in 1885, and Leroy in December 1895.

Mary commissioned John La Farge and Augustus Saint-Gaudens to design a memorial to her husband in the Newport cemetery.  She was a congregant of St. Columba's Chapel just outside of Newport and donated several windows memorial windows.

Her connection with John La Farge and the Irish St. Columba resurfaced when Heins & La Farge was awarded the commission to design the massive Cathedral of St. John the Divine in the Morningside Heights neighborhood of Manhattan.  The plan included seven chapels fanning out in a U shape behind the main altar.  They would be known as the "Chapels of the Tongues," dedicated to the city's largest immigrant groups.

The Irish chapel would be the Chapel of St. Columba, the patron of Ireland and Scotland.  On April 13, 1905 The New York Times reported "Work on the Chapel of St. Columba, for which a gift of $100,000 from Mrs. Edward King was recently announced, will shortly begin."  Mary's donation would equal $3 million today.  The chapel was to be a memorial to her daughter, Mary LeRoy King, who had died a year earlier.

Sadly, Mary would not live to see the chapel completed.  She died three weeks after The Times article.  When the Chapel of St. Columbia was dedicated on April 19, 1911, it was presented to Henry Lewis Morris of the Cathedral trustees by her son, George Gordon King.  The family added to the gift by providing "two patens, two chalices and two cruets, all silver-gilt, inscribed: 'In living memory of Mary Augusta King 1911, Mary LeRoy King 1911" to be used within the chapel.

Spanish-style wrought iron gates introduce the chapel.  photo by Another Believer
Heins & La Farge's striking work melded Romanesque with Gothic.  A Spanish-style wrought iron screen and gates sat within a Romanesque arch.  Within niches on either side were ten statues which followed the successive stages of the development of Christianity.  Within the chapel proper the heavy engaged columns along the walls were decorated with incised spirals and terminated in leafy capitals.  Above the cream-colored Italian marble altar were mosaics representing Celtic crosses.  

The stained glass windows, however, were the chapel's pièce de résistance.  Modeled after the windows in the 13th century York Minster cathedral, they were "pattern windows" because they relied on geometric patterns rather than figures or scenes.  (The exception was the depiction of the baptism of Christ by John the Baptist in the four upper panels of the central window.)  They are also known as grisaille windows because of the amount of "grizzled" or grayish brown glass used. 

The intricate windows are breathtaking.

Helen Marshall Pratt, the author of The Cathedrals of England and Westminster Abbey, was highly impressed with the windows.  In an article in The New York Times Magazine on September 14, 1919 she called them "almost equal in beauty to the Five Sisters Window of York Cathedral."  She deemed them "better worth studying than any that I know in the city."

Originally, of course, the Chapel of St. Columba was filled with seating and accessory items.  On December 7, 1929, for instance, the Ballston Spa Daily Journal noted "surrounding the chapel are six wonderfully graceful seven-branched Candelabra, after Donatella, which were brought from Italy."

The chapel had noble visitors on December 28, 1924 after Lord Robert Cecil, the First Viscount Cecil of Chelwood, and his wife attended services in the cathedral.  The New York Times reported that following the services the head usher "took Lord and Lady Cecil and Mrs. Lamont on an inspection of the seven Chapels of the Tongues."  The couple was taken with the sculptured entrance.  "The Viscount remained longest in the Chapel of St. Columba.  Here is a series of statues by Gutzon Borghum of representatives of the successive stages of the development of Christianity in England."

The sculptures of church figures flank the entrance.
The chapel was the scene of an interesting ceremony in 1965.  On November 10 the Review Press-Reporter of Bronxville, New York reported "A 700-year-old piece of Westminster Abbey was presented to the Episcopal Bishop of New York last week."  

The gift from England was conferred in a ceremony in the Chapel of St. Columba.  The Dean's Verger of Westminster Abbey gave Bishop Horace W. B. Donegan a 1-foot by 9-inch by 8-inch piece of a carved capital from one of the Abbey's ambulatory chapels.  It dated from the 13th century when Henry III started to rebuild Edward the Confessor's church.

The Bishop promised that the 28-pound artifact would be "incorporated within the fabric of our Cathedral Church," and said that "until the Abbey stone is permanently built into the Cathedral Church it will be on exhibition in the Nave."

In 1990 artist Keith Haring sculpted a bronze triptych altarpiece entitled The Life of Christ.  One of the nine casts was acquired by the Cathedral of St. John the Divine and placed on the altar of the Chapel of St. Columba.  It stands out starkly within the Heins & La Farge surroundings, a poignant piece of religious art.

photographs by the author

Thursday, July 9, 2020

The 1929 444 East 52nd Street

The 1929 agents' brochure for 444 East 52nd Street explained "the desire of the present day New Yorker for the comfort and convenience of the apartment house, coupled with his desire to avoid the vexatious traffic congestion of the metropolis, has led to the studio apartment house development along the banks of the East River, to afford far-sighted men and women the opportunity to walk to their offices and the shopping district, and thereby enjoy the convenience of going to and fro without delay and discomfort."  Indeed, the Beekman Terrace district just south of Sutton Place was rapidly filling with "splendid buildings of stone and steel," as described by the brochure.

Designed by De Pace & Juster for Babor-Comeau & Co., Inc., 444 East 52nd Street was a Jazz Age blend of Gothic and Tudor inspired styles.  The base of undressed, variegated blocks featured square-headed drip moldings over the doorways.  The stone continued up the ten stories as quoins, embracing a facade clad in rough-faced brick that simulated age.  Large stone pseudo-balconies, brick diapering and intricately-decorated piers added to the romantic charm.

For decades "studio apartment" buildings had been popular.  The term, which had little in common with the use of the term today, referred to artists' spacious apartments that included vast studio windows which provide the best light.  The northern section of No. 444 East 52nd Street held duplex and simplex studio apartments of four and six rooms.  "All studios have log-burning fire-places," noted the brochure.

The large studio windows are conspicuous in this architects' rendering.  444 East Fifty-second Street brochure.
There were also "maisonette apartments" which had private entrances onto 52nd Street.  The southern half of the building, without the northern light so important to artists, had no vast studio windows.  The only duplexes on this side were the two in the 10th floor and penthouse levels.

444 East Fifty-second Street brochure.

Among the initial residents were newlyweds William Gaston and Rosamond Pinchot, who were married in January 1928.  Born into high society Rosamond was the daughter of prominent attorney Amos Pinchot and the former Gertrude Minturn.  In 1923, at the age of 19, she and her mother were on an ocean liner when she was noticed by the producer and film director Max Reinhardt.  Most likely much to her mother's horror, he cast Rosamond in the Broadway production of The Miracle.  She played a nun who escapes from her convent.

By the time the socialite-turned-actress moved into No. 444 she had become a sort of sensation.  The newspapers called her "the loveliest woman in America."  But shortly after taking her apartment here she created an uproar among tight-laced society when it was reported she had said "uncosmeticed women [i.e., those not wearing makeup] were immodest."  Newspapers printed the outraged reactions of both men and women.  Rosamond insisted she never said it, but had merely been repeating something a friend said.

Nevertheless, she did not back down from the fact that decent women might use makeup.  "They must make up in the city.  Everything is so vivid and startling in the city that a pale, tired face is depressing."

Although the couple would have two children, William Alexander and James Pinchot, their domestic life was more than rocky.  In 1933 they separated.  Tragically, on January 24, 1938 the Beaver County Times reported "Clad in an evening gown and an expensive fur coat, Rosamond Pinchot, 32, famous actress...was found dead today in her automobile in the garage of an estate which she rented [in Old Brookville, New York]."  She had connected a garden hose to the exhaust pipe and taken her own life.

On June 12, 1930 the New York Evening Post reported that "Mrs. Boothe Brokaw has leased a large penthouse apartment at 444 East Fifty-second Street."  She had divorced her husband of seven years, millionaire George Tuttle Brokaw, a few months earlier.

Born Ann Clare Boothe, like Rosamond Pinchot she had had a theatrical career.  But now she was more focused on working for Women's Rights and suffrage.  She maintained a staff of four servants and paid $555 per month rent on the penthouse (about $8,500 in today's money).  In 1934 she poetically described the view from her terrace, published in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on August 10, saying:

There are many penthouse views: the East River, sombre as a black velvet ribbon at your feet, shot with phosphorescent slivers that flake away in the wake of river craft.  The Queensborough Bridge and Hell Gate, flung like necklaces across the river's dark body...the lance of the Chrysler Building looming near, the flaming tower of the Radio Building, the golden glow of the New York Central building, the red torch of the Empire State Building, hung high above them all.

On November 23, 1935 Ann married the publisher of Time, Fortune and Life magazines, Henry Luce.  She dropped her first name, becoming Clare Boothe Luce, and would become one of the most recognized figures in American politics (she became Ambassador to Brazil in 1959), and literature (she wrote numerous journalistic pieces, war reporting, and fiction and became best known for her his play The Women in 1936).

Clare Boothe Luce and Henry Luce arrive at Idlewild Airport in 1954.  from the collection of the Library of Congress
Equally well-known was Dorothy Parker, who moved into the building in January 1934.  She may have been influenced on the location (which she reportedly said was "far enough east to plant tea") by the fact that her close friend and Algonquin Round Table member, Alexander Woollcott, lived in The Beekman Campanile next door at No. 450 East 52nd Street.  

Later that year Robert Benchley introduced Dorothy to screen writer Alan Campbell.  He was 28-years old and she was 39.  Campbell would become her second husband.

15 years before moving into No. 444 East 52nd Street, Dorothy posed with members of the Algonquin Round Table.  To the right is Alexander Woollcott, who lived next door at No. 450 East 52nd.  Also seen are Art Samuels, Charlie MacArthur and Harpo Marx.  original source unknown

In 1938 resident Lela E. Rogers was mortified when she read in the newspapers that she was engaged to marry FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover.  Lela's daughter was motion picture star Ginger Rogers, but suddenly it was she and not the actress who was drawing press attention.  She called reporters to her apartment to try to dispel the rumor.

On June 9 the New York Post reported "With tears of embarrassment, Mrs. Lela E. Rogers...denied a published report today that she may marry J. Edgar Hoover, chief of the G-Men."  Lela wrung her hands and lamented, "Oh, dear, dear, dear, what will Edgar think?  It's just too silly for words...And what will Edgar think of me if he reads in the papers that I was supposed to have said anything of the kind."

Lillian Gish was living here in 1938 while appearing on Broadway in The Store Wagon.

While Lela Rogers was dealing with erroneous reports of her romantic life, another resident, Lillian Gish was appearing on stage in The Star Wagon.  Earlier that year she had appeared before the Senate Subcommittee on Education and Labor to lobby for proposed bill to provide a permanent Bureau of Fine Arts.  She pointed out that with the onslaught of the Depression "the theater was very hard hit...Thousands of actors were deprived of a livelihood, with the consequent loss to our country of that many precious skills."  She concluded her testimony by telling the senators, "Let me end by saying that yours is the opportunity to make a great contribution to the welfare of the country."

Before long Elliot and Elizabeth Hall Janeway moved in.  Married in 1938, the couple would have two sons, Michael and William.  Elliot was a noted economist and writer for The Nation.  His articles caught the eye of neighbor Henry R. Luce who hired him to write part-time for Fortune and Time.

In the meantime, Elizabeth was honing her writing skills as well.  She worked on her first novel, The Walsh Girls, while living here.  Her 1945 novel Daisy Kenyon was adapted to film starring Joan Crawford.

444 East 52nd Street continued to be home to well-heeled, notable residents throughout the coming decades.  In the 1960's, for instance, author and journalist for The New York Times Albert Hodges Morehead, Jr., and James A. Henderson, president of Wells Fargo and Company, lived here.

Significant facade repair is taking place in 2020.
De Pace & Juster's handsome design melds into the row of similar apartment buildings along the southern side of the block.  They constitute a time capsule of the upscale Manhattan life in the late 1920's and early '30's.

photographs by the author

Wednesday, July 8, 2020

The 1903 Johnston Building (Nomad Hotel) - 1170 Broadway

Living in Stutgart, Germany did not impede Caroline H. Johnston's Manhattan real estate operations.  She remotely purchased properties around the island which she improved with commercial and residential structures.  As the turn of the century neared, she little by little amassed the properties around No. 1170 Broadway.  In 1897 she purchased No. 1172 at the southeast corner of Broadway and 28th Street for $250,000.  She acquired the abutting property at No. 1168 Broadway the following year for $110,000; and No. 1168 Broadway in 1900 for $148,005.

On March 15, 1902 The Record & Guide reported that she "has decided to erect a 12-sty store and loft building on the site."  The nearly square footprint was just over 105 feet wide on Broadway and almost 103 feet on 28th Street.  The architectural firm of Schickel & Ditmars was put to work designing what would briefly be known as the Johnston Building.  Their plans, filed a month later, projected the cost at $500,000.  Coupled with the price of the properties, Caroline Johnston's project would cost her the staggering equivalent of around $30 million in today's dollars.

The fact that this section of Broadway was dotted with several upscale hotels may have prompted the architects to design the Johnston Building to more closely resemble a hotel than an office structure.  Above the street-level storefronts, the limestone-faced building dripped with Beaux Arts decorations, its rounded corner rising to an elaborate cupola.

The lushly ornamented entrance would have been appropriate for any high-end hotel of the time.  photo by Beyond My Ken
The name did not last especially long, most likely because there was another Johnston Building downtown which was already well known.  Two Johnston Buildings, one on Broadway and another on Broad Street, were just too confusing. 

The new structure filled with the offices of architects and other construction-related firms.  In the first decade after its opening architects James B. Ware & Sons, Bosworth & Holden, W. E. McCoy, J. J. Malone, and N. Serracino were here.  Builders and contractors included Jobson-Hooker Co., The Bottsford-Dickinson Co., Geo. Vassar's Son & Co., and the Hennebigue Construction Company.

The National Cash Register Company was in the highly visible corner store in 1905.  photo by Wurts Bros. from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York
Real estate firms joined the architects and builders.  The International Amusement & Realty Co., the West Rockaway Land Company, and the uptown office of Frederick Soutack & Alwyn Ball, Jr. were tenants.

When the International Amusement & Realty Co. sought to update its offices in April 1910 by renovating the stairs and walls, it did not have to look far.  Both the architect, James J. Malone, and the contractor, Geo. Vassar's Son & Co., were tenants.

In June 1912 Caroline Johnston updated the show windows and replaced the roof.  The building continued to lure architects and builders.  That year the Atlantic Terra Cotta Company moved in and would remain into the 1920's.

Atlantic Terra Cotta Company was a major tenant for years.  Real Estate Record & Guide, December 21, 1912 (copyright expired)

Atlantic Terra Cotta Company was joined in the building that year by builders Wills & Marvin Co. and architect James Brite.  The well-known construction firm of Thomas J. Brady, Jr. Company took space in 1914.

A variation in the tenant list began in 1916 when A. J. Haire Publishing Co. moved in.  The firm published The Corset and Underwear Review, a monthly trade journal, and the annual International Corset & Underwear Directory.

The Corset and Underwear Review, July, 1921 (copyright expired)
In 1918 the general offices of the United Electric Light and Power Co. were here, and by the following year the Barker Original Bakeries System, Inc. operated from the building.

The Barker firm advertised nation-wide, hoping to attract would-be small business owners.  For an investment of $5,000 (just under $74,000 today), an investor was guided through the process of opening a bread bakery.  An advertisement claimed that "many wide-awake men in cities of the Middle West and East are today making $500 to $2,400 per month...who knew nothing whatever of the Baking business."  "We have solved all problems for these people, furnished an expert to start them and covered every detail to assure their success."

Other garment-related firms in the building that year were The Textiles Company, Inc. and Naef Brothers, dealers in embroideries "that impart distinctiveness to Lingerie, Blouses and Infant's and Children's Dresses," according to an advertisement.

Another new tenant in 1921 was the New York School of Filing.  It entitled an advertisement on January 30 "Woman's Best Vocation--FILING," and claimed "We have trained and placed over five thousand girls and women in positions paying $18 to $35 per week."  (The higher salary would equal $500 today.)  

After having been in the building for 37 years, Haire Publishing Company left in 1953.  The neighborhood around No. 1170 suffered during the next few decades as modern Midtown business buildings attracted tenants.  Small offices and stores moved in, like Josalam, headed by Joseph J. Samowich.  Another tenant, Yuchius Co., operated from a storefront here and at No. 1133 Broadway.  

As Christmas shoppers frantically searched for the popular Cabbage Patch dolls in 1984, Customs Agents raided the Yuchius Co. stores as well as the firm's warehouse on West 27th Street, confiscating 20,000 counterfeit Cabbage Patch dolls.  Tests by the Customs Department chemists indicated "that the stuffing in the dolls contained several volatile and flammable compounds, including benzene and toluene," said The New York Times.

In the meantime Josalam garnered more positive press coverage.  In October 1983 Joseph Samowich received his patent for "Josalam," a decorative laminate "for home, business or even military use."  And two years later he was awarded another patent for a new "bulletproof clothing, or soft body armor."  This was Samowich's third patent on the protective garments which he said "required fewer layers of fabric and are less costly than those currently employed" by the police and military, according to The New York Times on April 13, 1985.

photo by Beyond My Ken
The rediscovery of the neighborhood north of Madison Square, or Nomad, at the turn of the century would result in a renaissance of No. 1170 Broadway as well.   The building that looked like a hotel became one in 2012 when the Sydell Group transformed it into the NoMad hotel and restaurant.  The interiors were designed by French architect Jacques Garcia.

The renovation-restoration resurrected Schickel & Ditmars' 1903 Beaux Arts showpiece.

photographs by the author

Tuesday, July 7, 2020

The 1930 Schrafft's Restaurant Building - 2131 Broadway

A flagpole originally sprouted from the center of the parapet.
James A. Frame purchased the vacant plot of land at No. 2131 Broadway, between 74th and 75th Streets from millionaire real estate operator Amos E. Eno in 1899.  He erected a seven-story apartment building on the site, the Avonmore.

At the time Frank G. Shattuck had been operating an ice cream and candy store on Broadway, opposite the New York Herald Building.  The candies were made by W. Schraftt & Sons of Boston.  In 1906 he opened a store in Syracuse, New York and another at Broadway and 34th Street.  The same year he formally joined forces with George and William Schrafft, sons of the candy firm's founder, and incorporated the Frank G. Shattuck Company.

The business expanded from ice cream and candy into the restaurant business.  The New York Times later said "Remembering the neatness and cleanliness of his mother's farm kitchen and also some of the bad meals he had eaten in restaurants while a traveling man, [Shattuck] insisted upon cleanliness and quality as cardinal virtues in his organization.  The Schraftt stores prospered and others were opened in rapid succession."

In 1929 the Shattuck and Schrafft firms merged, with Frank Shattuck becoming chairman.   That same year Shattuck purchased the Avondale apartment building as the site of the seventeenth Schrafft's restaurant in the New York City area.

The Avondale was demolished and architect Charles E. Birge filed plans for a two-story structure to house a "store and tea room."  Completed within the year, the ground floor was faced in polished black marble, typical of the Art Moderne storefronts of the period.   A department store type marquee (decidedly not Art Moderne) that stretched to the curb announced the restaurant's name in bronze lettering.  There was no shortage of entrances.  The main doorway below the marquee was flanked by two arcade style entrances (for the soda fountain and candy store) and at the far ends were two more doorways, presumably emergency exits for the upper level and the dining room.

photo by Byron Company from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York

The stone-faced second floor held three sets of grouped openings.  Bronze anchors held the marquee supports.  Each window was separated from its neighbor by a black marble-paneled pilaster and boasted a leaded glass transom, their style more expected in a World War I building than one of 1929.  Two equally anachronistic bas relief busts, which hearkened to the Vienna Succession movement of more than a decade earlier, sat above the end windows.  A bandcourse of stylized waves and palmettes ran below the scalloped parapet.

As opening day neared an advertisement boasted "Every new Schafft's marks a step ahead.  Each new store we try to make a little finer than the preceding one.  This one on Broadway near 74th Street is the newest--therefore it's just a bit more artistic, just a bit more inviting than anything we have done before."

On the first floor were the soda fountain, "candy department," bakery counter and tea room (which was decorated in "Empire style").  The second floor held the two separate dining rooms which the ad deemed "unusually distinctive."  One took the form of "a lovely Italian garden that combines the beauties of an outdoor setting with the quiet and comfort of indoors."  The other was Spanish in decor, with "gay Castilian colors and flashing mirrors."

The Italian room featured a frescoed ceiling, wall murals, and an overhanging trellis.  The leaded transoms are visible over the windows.  photo by Byron Company from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York
Patrons were offered "club breakfasts," luncheon, afternoon tea and dinner.  With their finances strapped by the Great Depression, many found the "special family dinner" in the Italian room affordable at $1.50--about $23 today.

The Schraff's advertisement advised, "But, to see the store at its best, you must drop in after the theater and mingle with the many knowing New Yorkers who find it very much the place to go for late suppers."  It was a bold pronouncement, considering that the restaurant had not yet opened.

The restaurant opened on May 27, 1930 with a benefit for the Federation for the Support of Jewish Philanthropic Societies of New York.  The New York Sun reported that the women's division of the group "helps today to inaugurate the latest addition to the chain of Schrafft's shops...Members of the junior league of the division act as hostesses at the new restaurant."  A quarter of the day's proceeds was donated to the charity.

In 1932 the price of the popular $1.50 dinner was reduced; this ad reminding husbands that it would "save the housewife hours or marketing, planning and preparation!"  The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, March 23, 1932
The restaurant was a popular spot for group dinners and luncheons.  Newspapers routinely reported on events like the annual dinner of the Linnaean Society of New York, and the bridge tea of The Mothers' Association, Inc. of the West End Synagogue on May 17, 1934.

In 1931 the Shattuck concern sold the property to the Mine Realty Corp. while it continued to lease the space from the new owner.  It was a deal that caused problems four years later.   

In 1935 Schrafft's moved out, essentially leaving its landlord a vacant shell.  Mine Realty Corp. took the chain to court claiming significant damages after Schrafft's removed "all of the wall panelling, the electric fixtures, the cooling and ventilating system."  According to the suit the firm left "nothing but the walls and floor of the building," making it "or little or no value to the plaintiff." 

The Mines Realty attorneys argued that the bronze Schrafft's lettering was "integral with the building."  photo by Byron Company, from the collection of the Museum of the City of new York
Mine Realty Corporation found a new tenant for the stripped-out space in May 1936.  Ida Chinitz Arbuse signed a 21-year lease.   The wife of Dr. David Abruse, she owned another popular restaurant, the Tip Toe Inn, a Jewish eatery on the corner of Broadway and 86th Street founded by her father, Aaron Chinitz.  

The remodeled space became the C. & L. Restaurant which, as had been the case with Schrafft's, would be the scene of group dinners and luncheons for decades.  On October 1, 1942 the PM Daily advised "The C & L, 2131 Broadway at 75th St., has private dining rooms to accommodate parties numbering from 25 to 300.  Minimum price for well-prepared Jewish meals is 75c at noon, $1.25 at night.  A phonograph or Muzak is available for dancing."

Although Ida Arbuse died in June 1957, the C & L Restaurant continued to operate for years.  Then, in 1972, a renovation resulted in a D'Agostino's grocery store on the first floor and a meeting hall on the second.  

In his article in The New York Times on January 13, 1973 Frank J. Prial profiled three "hard-core bingo players," sisters-in-law Gertrude and Beatrice Bachrack, and Sarah Smith.  They were on hand, he said, "for the opening of the city's newest bingo hall at 2131 Broadway."  

"The place is known as Broadway Hall, Inc," said the article, "and it is where it is because there are so many elderly people in the neighborhood."  Offering air-conditioning and a snack bar, the space above the grocery store could accommodate 350 Bingo players.  When it opened at 12:30 on the afternoon of January 12 patrons had been waiting outside for two and a half hours.

Broadway Hall was replaced by a Jack LaLanne fitness club in 1982.  Its two-day grand opening on October 2nd and 3rd featured appearances by soap opera stars John Gabriel of "Ryan's Hope" and Kristen Meadows of "One Life to Live."  Also on hand were players from the New York Mets, Yankees, Rangers and Jets.  The highly-publicized open house "champagne cocktail party" offered refreshments, prizes and demonstrations of "aerobics, nautilus circuit training, body building and more!"

The fitness club remained for years above the grocery store.  In 2004 the ground floor was remodeled, now home to Fairway Market, and the second floor became a related restaurant.  Then on June 10, 2019 The Times's food columnist Florence Fabricant reported "Fairway Market has renovated the second floor of its Upper West Side flagship and added a well-equipped cooking school."

The once sleek restaurant building is rather beleaguered today.  The marble faced ground floor with its bronze marquee is long gone, and the stone of the second floor is heavily pitted and worn.  Only the carved busts and decorative bandcourse gives the passerby a hint of its former smart appearance.

photographs by the author

Monday, July 6, 2020

The Lost 1875 New-York Tribune Bldg - 150-154 Nassau Street

To the left of the soaring Tribune Building is the New York World building.  from the collection of the Library of Congress

In the 19th century the triangular plot of ground bound by Nassau Street, Spruce Street, and Park Row was known as Printing House Square because the city's newspaper publishers were closely packed into the neighborhood.  Certainly not the least of these was the New-York Tribune, founded in 1841 by Horace Greeley.  Upon Greely's death in November 1872 editor Whitelaw Reid purchased the newspaper.

Only seven months later, on June 13, 1873, architect Richard Morris Hunt filed plans for a replacement building for the Tribune.  Elisha Graves Otis had introduced the passenger elevator to the world in 1853, laying the groundwork for higher buildings.  Hunt's plans called for an 8-story structure to cost $400,000--about $8.82 million in today's dollars.  The 260-foot tall building would be the tallest in New York City, surpassed only by the spire of Trinity Church.

Richard Morris Hunt supplied this watercolor-tinted rendering.   The four-sided clock tower was described as a "Florentine campanile."  from the collection of the Library of Congress.
Almost from the beginning there were problems.  In March 1874 the New-York Sun newspaper sued in Supreme Court "to recover a large amount of damages for encroaching twenty-five inches on the property of the Sun in erecting their new building," as reported in The New York Times.  And a fatal accident occurred five months later when 30-year old construction worker John Murray plunged from the fifth floor on August 15, 1874.  

Completed in April 1875 the building was, in fact, ten stories rather than eight as originally planned.  Morris had created a vibrant neo-Grec style structure faced in bright red brick and trimmed in granite.   The New-York Tribune reported that the clock dials, "twelve feet in diameter," would be illuminated at night.

   from the collection of the Library of Congress

The main floor lobby was decorated in various colors of marble--black from Belgium, gray from Italy, and rouge griotte, or red marble, most likely from France.  The wood trims were of ash, cherry and apple, and bronze chandeliers dazzled the visitors.   Up-to-the-minute technologies included electricity for lighting (although gas lighting was prevalent), speaking tubes between floors, pneumatic tubes for sending messages, and "electric annuciators," early versions of the intercom.

Known popularly as "the Tall Tower," it drew criticism from near and the far.  An article in The British Architect called it "commonplace and unsatisfactory" and said it "was less pleasing in execution than in the illustration."  The Real Estate Record & Guide blamed the new challenge of designing a skyscraper for the building's "indecision and even formlessness."  Architectural critic Montgomery Schuyler said it was "a glaring collocation of red and white and black."  And The New York Times likened it to a "sugar refinery," and the type of architecture which children might appreciate.

In addition to the newspaper offices and plant the structure housed commercial tenants, including its architect,  Richard Morris Hunt.  

One tenant in particular, Koster & Bial, brought more unwanted press to the building with its "elegantly fitted up" basement saloon.  On August 20, 1875 The New York Times mocked the newspaper for leasing space to a saloon, quoting Horace Greeley's own words against intemperance (he called alcohol "poison").  The article said the Tribune had "added one more to the already large number of drinking saloons in this City...Perhaps not many drunkards will be allowed to loiter about the premises, but who can estimate the number who will therein develop the appetite which will inevitably end in inebrity and ruin?"

The other tenants of the New-York Tribune Building caused no unwanted ripples.  Among them was businessman and inventory Charles A. Cheever.   Undaunted by his disability (he was paralyzed from the waist down at an early age), he held more than 100 patents, ranging from electric rock drills to electric fire engines.  He became associated with Alexander Graham Bell and Thomas Edison and made dozens of improvements on their inventions.  He constructed the first telephone line in New York and formed the Telephone Company of New York.  The city's second phone line, installed in 1877, ran from Cheever's office in the Tribune Building to the the Law Telegraph Exchange at No. 140 Fulton Street 1877.  

The law firm of Brown, Hall & Vanderpoel was in the building at the time.  The New York Times described the office of partner A. Oakley Hall, former mayor of New York, on March 21, 1877.  "The offices of Mr. Hall comprise a suite of rooms handsomely furnished and decorated with pictures, statues, and other works of art many of which have some interesting incidents connected with their history."

The elevator had solved one of the problems of tall buildings, but fire remained a danger.  On April 1, 1888 a blaze broke out in the eighth floor offices of the Homer Lee Bank Note Company.  It quickly spread to the Tribune editorial rooms on the ninth floor.  The New York Times reported "Crowds...soon collected on The Times's corner, and strained their necks in their efforts to look at the tongues of flame that darted out from the windows so far above the street.  Ladders, of course, were of no avail to the firemen."

Firefighters climbed the nine flights of stairs with ropes which they lowered to the street.  Hoses were then hoisted up by that method while other firefighters dragged heavy hoses up the stairs.  Simultaneously, Tribune workers on the tenth floor had gotten the stand hose working which the firefighters took control of.

The fire was extinguished within 30 minutes; but the entire ninth floor was lost, including an old oil portrait of Horace Greeley.  Although the monetary loss to the New-York Tribune and its building was estimated at less than $2,000 (about $55,500 today), the loss of paperwork, the library, and original manuscripts "can hardly be estimated," according to the city night editor.

In 1900 the Tribune Building was by no means the tallest building in the neighborhood.  from the collection of the Library of Congress.

An annex to the Tribune Building was erected on Frankfort Street in 1881, but at the turn of the century yet more space was needed.  On August 22, 1903 The New York Times reported "The Tribune Association is to add a skyscraper to the Printing House Square neighborhood by increasing the height of its building from ten to nineteen stories."  The article said that the addition of 100 feet upwards would make the structure "visible within a radius of twenty-five miles from City Hall."  It would also be the only skyscraper without a steel skeleton.

Architects D'Oench, Yost & Thouvard had been hired to do the $350,000 in renovations ($10.5 million today).   They promised to "retain the architectural features of the present Tribune building, and its portico will suffer no change," although the steps would be removed to make the facade flush with the street.  The Times added "The tower, whose summit is 240 feet from the street, will be taken down with the clock and rebuilt so that its vane will be 340 feet above the sidewalk."

Plans were filed in November 1904, the Record & Guide noting that "the work calls for steel work, reinforcing the frame work." 

In an amazing feat of engineering and logistics, the clock tower was preserved.  On February 3, 1907 The New-York Tribune explained on February 3, 1907, "every stone [was] carefully taken and relaid on top of the twenty-story structure in exactly the same position.  The only difference between the Tribune tower to-day and that which stood for thirty years on the site is that the finial and weather vane of the present one are of copper and those of the former one were of iron."

The additional floors took the form of a massive mansard.  photo by Edwin Levick from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York
In 1915 the Tribune leased the corner, ground floor space to a drugstore.  The deal included the remodeling of the storefront and that presented a problem.  On June 13 The New York Times explained "An up-to-date American druggist cannot display the latest concoctions of ice cream and fruit flavors with a twenty-floor statue right where a show window ought to be."  John Quincy Adams Ward's imposing bronze statue of Horace Greeley reading an issue of the New-York Tribune had sat on the site since its unveiling on September 20, 1890.

from the collection of the New-York Historical Society
"So, Horace Greeley being in the way," said The Times, "decidedly persona non grata in front of the Tribune Building, may have to move on.  That is a tragedy."  The bronze monument was moved across the street into City Hall Park.

In the years following World War I the newspaper industry had moved northward and in 1921 the New-York Tribune followed the trend.  On December 24 The New York Times reported that after being located on the Nassau Street site for 80 years, the newspaper had purchase property on West 40th Street and sold its 20-story downtown building.  Saying that they had paid about $3 million (more than 40 times that amount today), the article added "The new owners have bought the property as an investment, and upon the removal of The Tribune, probably in May, 1923, they will renovate the structure and offer it in large suites to the ever-growing number of corporations seeking offices down town."

A postcard view showed the proximity of the Tribune Building to City Hall.   from the collection of the New York Public Library

In April 1922 demolition of the buildings on the 40th Street site got underway.  Six months later, on October 18, The New York Times reported that retired merchant Victor Weichman had leased the Tribune Building for 21 years for a total rental of $5 million (more than $76 million today).

The next three decades sat a number of legal firms as tenants, as well as banking and contracting companies.  Around 1935 the Catholic Board for Mission Work Among Colored People moved its offices into the building.

In 1944 the Tribune Building was sold to a syndicate which resold it the following year to Borrock, Steingart & Borrock.  It was again sold in July 1956 to a syndicate headed by Frederick W. Gehly, former vice president of the Chase National Bank.  The New York Times commented "The buyer plans to modernize and air-condition the structure."

That modernization was not enough to save what had become an unofficial landmark.  On May 20, 1966 The New York Times reported "The old Tribune Building at 150 Nassau Street, a relic of what was New York's 'Newspaper Row' at the turn of the century, is to be razed to make way for Pace College's $12-million campus center."  The article noted "The Tribune Building has been called New York's first 'skyscraper,' preceding the 21-story Flatiron Building."

Later The New York Times's columnist Christopher Gray would comment "The Tribune has vanished almost without a trace, and barely a whimper."

many thanks to reader Peter Alsen for suggesting this post