Monday, August 8, 2022

The Lost Libbey Castle (Woodcliff) - 196th Street and Fort Washington Avenue


from the collection of the New-York Historical Society

Augustus C. Richards's vast wealth was reflected in the $25,000 in personal taxes he paid in 1857, according to the New York City Tax-Book.  That year his spectacular country home was completed far north of the city east of the Bloomingdale Road (later Broadway) near what today is 196th Street.  He had purchased the land two years earlier from the estate of Lucius Chittenden.  Designed by architect Alexander Jackson Davis, the New York Herald later described Woodcliff as "a four story stone mansion, massive and costly in construction."  Davis typically worked in historic styles, and Woodcliff mimicked a Norman castle with an imposing tower and crenellated battlements.  The World later wrote, "This mansion was built from the rock quarried away for its foundation...It is a veritable castle, turreted and picturesque."

It was undoubtedly Richards who commissioned this unsigned painting of Woodcliff, completed prior to 1869.  from the collection of the New-York Historical Society.

Like many other affluent businessmen, Richards became involved in relief efforts during the Civil War.  His interest was highly focused on loyal American refugees from the South who were arriving in New York City.  He was an active member of the Committee In Aid of the Union Refugees from Florida.  The New York Times described the refugees as having been "stripped of large portions of their property by forced levies for the support of a cause which they heartily abhorred."

Simultaneously, he lobbied for a project much closer to home.  On March 5, 1863 he was appointed a vice-president of a group of residents and property owners of the Manhattanville, Carmansville, Fort Washington, and Tubby Hook districts "to advocate the construction of a distributing reservoir for the upper end of the City," according to The New York Times.

Richards added oil wells to his business interests around 1863.  He was president of the California Petroleum Company, an 18,000-acre property of "natural oil wells of the largest size," according to an article in The New York Times on March 4, 1865.  The San Francisco Mercantile Gazette placed the output of the wells in 1863 at $14 million--just under $300 million in today's money.

Richards sold Woodcliff on February 26, 1869 to Civil War General Daniel Butterfield for $275,000 (about $5.4 million today).  Butterfield had just resigned as Assistant Treasurer of the United States following a scandal that connected him with Jay Gould and James Fisk in the scheme that resulted in the panic of collapsing gold prices known as Black Friday, on September 24, 1869.

General Daniel Butterfield, from the collection of the Library of Congress

Butterfield's ownership would be extremely short-lived.  Only weeks after taking title, he sold it to Tammany Hall leader William Magear Tweed.   His residency, too, was brief.  According to The World later, "Tweed never inhabited this beautiful home, but sold it to his son."  The New York Herald had a slightly different slant to the story, saying, "When William M. Tweed jumped his bail it was from this house that he escaped."

Whichever version is true, "Boss" Tweed's downfall began in 1871.  Influential publications like the New York Times and Harper's Weekly relentlessly attacked Tweed Ring corruption, and Tweed was arrested in October for fraud.  Released on $1 million bail, he fled to Europe.  (He was later tracked down, and returned to New York.  He died in jail in April 1878.)

Tweed's son sold Woodcliff to millionaire drygoods merchant Alexander Turney Stewart, whose magnificent marble city house sat across 34th Street from the brownstone mansion of William Backhouse Astor, Jr.   But, like Butterfield and Tweed, he and his wife, the former Cornelius M. Clinch, would enjoy their country estate only briefly.  Around the first of April 1876, Stewart contracted a cold which progressed to what the The New York Herald indiscreetly described as an "inflammation of the bowels."  On April 10 the newspaper reported that "the great merchant millionaire" was critically ill in his Fifth Avenue mansion.   Later that same day the tycoon died.

Cornelia Stewart sold Woodcliff to her husband's business partner, William Libbey.  Born on March 7, 1820, Libbey and his wife, the former Elizabeth Marsh, had three sons, William Jr., Jonas and Frederick.  Libbey's family had been in America since 1630 when John Libbey first came from England.

Reputedly Libbey brought back Andrew Jackson Davis to modernize and enlarge the mansion.  It was used as William and Elizabeth's year-round home following William's retirement in 1883.  Only Jonas was still unmarried at the time.  He was the editor and owner of The Princeton Review.  William Jr. was a professor in the College of New Jersey, and Frederick was associated with his father "in looking after various investments," according to America's Successful Men in 1895.

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

By the end of the 19th century, as the city swelled northward and engulfed the former country estates, the house now known as the Libbey Castle, had become a landmark.  On July 8, 1894 the New York Herald remarked, "Mr. and Mrs. William Libbey occupy the most conspicuous residence on the ridge.  It is known as Libbey Castle and is situated on Fort Washington avenue at what would be about 194th street."

The article addressed the many urban legends surrounding the house.  "All sorts of questions are asked and as many different answers are given with regard to the castle.  It is often taken for an old fort as anything else.  It looks cold and uninviting, but its surroundings, with its granite walls covered with ivy, are very beautiful."  A writer for the New York Herald four years earlier had said, "A chance acquaintance...once told me it was used during the late war as a prison for Confederal captives...The first driver who ever took me over the road gave me still another version of the old mansion's history.  It was built in Revolutionary times and rebuilt many years ago."

Local myths aside, Libbey Castle was a comfortable and luxurious home.  In 1895 America's Successful Men said, "Mr. Libbey spends his leisure time in the enjoyment of his beautiful home on Washington Heights on the upper part of this island overlooking the Hudson."  Ironically, that same year on November 7, The Sentinel reported, "William Libbey, A. T. Stewart's partner, died Tuesday of apoplexy at his home, the Libbey Castle, New York."

Nine years later Frederick A. Libbey sold the portion of property on which the mansion stood to former New York City Mayor Hugh J. Grant for a reported $300,000 ($9 million today).  On December 8, 1904 the New York Herald reported, "He is to make his home in the castle, which is a celebrated structure, occupying an imposing site."  The article noted, "Besides the mansion the grounds contain a stable and some fine hothouses."  The New-York Tribune reported on the size of the property the Libbeys had sold:

It is on a plot of more than 750 feet in depth, running from Broadway to Fort Washington-ave., with a frontage of 320 feet in Fort Washington-ave. and 510 feet in Broadway.  As the streets have not yet been cut through the tract, it is difficult to say just what would be the street boundaries of the parcel.

In 1917, John D. Rockefeller began buying up large parcels in the Fort Tryon district with the intention of developing a majestic park with sweeping views of the Hudson.  Among the first of his acquisitions was Libbey Castle.  While he worked on amassing an adequate amount of land, he leased the mansion to the Paulist Choristers and Father Finn's Paulist Choir School.  The house accommodated 50 live-in students as well as faculty.  

Musical American, June 18, 1921 (copyright expired)

On June 15, 1930 The New York Times reported on the progress of Rockefeller's plan, including additional land from the Libbey heirs.  "His first offer was made in June, 1917, to Mayor Purroy Mitchel.  The present offer includes four or five additional acres in the southern section, acquired by Mr. Rockefeller in 1922 from the estate of James M. Libbey, and it exempts four acres on the site of the Revolutionary Fort Tryon."

The mansion looked a bit beleaguered not long before its destruction.  from the collection of the Library of Congress.

Rockefeller commissioned the landscaping firm of Olmsted Brothers to design what would become Fort Tryon Park in 1931, the year he donated the land to the City of New York.  Construction began that year and was the park was dedicated in 1935 by Rockefeller nd Robert Moses.   Although The New York Times had earlier reported that Libbey Castle would be used as a museum, it was demolished.

A photograph dated 1931 documented the demolition Libbey Castle.  image via the Metropolitan Museum of Art has no authorization to reuse the content of this blog

Saturday, August 6, 2022

The 1910 Blum & Koch Building - 76-78 Madison Avenue


On November 14, 1909 the New-York Tribune reported on "a transaction in the lower Madison avenue district which attracted widespread attention."  The Herald Square Realty Company had purchased the two four-story houses at 76 and 78 Madison Avenue that, only a few weeks earlier, the sellers had leased to the straw hat maker Blum & Koch.  The firm had no interest in the old brownstones, however.  "On that site is to be erected by the purchasing company a twelve story mercantile structure," said the article.  Blum & Koch's 21-year lease guaranteed them the use of the eight lower floors, while subletting the upper floors.

The well-known architectural firm of Schwartz & Gross received the commission to design the structure.  In its January 1910 issue, The American Hatter reported on the coming building at the southwest corner of Madison Avenue and 28th Street.  "The structure will be completed early in the fall, at which time Blum & Koch will remove their straw hat factory to the new location, where it is their intention to occupy about eight floors, which will give them twice the space they now occupy, thus doubling their present capacity."  The article projected, "the new building will be of the most modern construction in every detail, and the new plant which Blum & Koch will install for the manufacture of their product will be composed of the most improved equipment for the making of high-grade straw hats."

Construction had not yet started at the time of the article, and so the projected fall completion date might have seemed optimistic.  As it turned out, the building was finished within seven months, and Koch & Blum advertised in The American Hatter's August issue, "We will move into the new Blum & Koch building, Madison Avenue at Twenty-eight[h] Street, New York, on August 15."

photo by Wurts Bros, from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York

Schwartz & Gross's handsome Renaissance Revival style building sat upon a three-story stone base.   The two Madison Avenue entrances that flanked a large show window were capped by triangular pediments filled with elaborately carved cartouches upheld by cornucopia.  They announced the addresses, 76 and 78, with one leading to the factory floors and the other to the store space.

The upper sections were faced in pale beige brick, the only ornamentation of mid-section being the splayed lintels.  The  piers 0f the two-story top section were ornamented with carved swags, and trailing groups of bellflowers.  An ambitious stone cornice that smacked of the Vienna Secession movement, crowned the edifice.

 Samuel H. Blum and Henry Koch had organized Blum & Koch in 1895 at 3 Waverley Place.  In its 15 years of existence, it had grown to a massive business.  Straw hats were, of course, seasonal.  Gentlemen wore different hats for different warm weather purposes--business, driving, golfing, and such.  Straw hats were not only lighter than winter hats, but allowed an amount of air to pass through.

Vanity Fair, June 1924

Two of Blum & Koch's most popular styles were the Boater, used in the country and seaside, especially for boating; and the Panama dress hat (a favorite of Theodore Roosevelt).  Other styles included the telescope hat and the straw Fedora.

This trio sports three types of straw boaters.  original source unknown.

Among Blum & Koch's first tenants was Tuttle & Bailey, which took an entire floor in January 1911.  Founded in 1846, the firm manufactured "warm-air registers and ventilators."  When the company's new catalog came out in February 1912, the Real Estate Record & Builder's Guide, wrote, "Architects will find in it didactic material which will help them in planning high grade buildings...The book shows conclusively that there is no limitation to the company's ability to produce grilles and screens which will conform to any style of architecture whether adapted to interiors or exteriors."

Also signing leases in 1911 were "headwear" maker G. H. Stiehl & Co., and G. Plonsky, maker of "smart skirts."  Although a hatmaker, G. H. Stiehl was not a competitor of Blum & Koch, as it produced "boys', children's, misses' and ladies' headwear."  An advertisement in The Millinery Trade Review in July 1911 said in part, "G. H. Stiehl & Co...are now comfortably situated in their new, spacious building," and boasted its "new equipment, improved facilities and bright surroundings."

A reviewer described this G. H. Stiehl & Co. creation "a jaunty, white feather fancy."  Dry Goods Economist, February 8, 1913.

The Blum & Koch Building housed millinery and apparel firms throughout most of the 20th century.  Blum & Koch remained here after the deaths of its founders (Samuel H. Blum died on December 29, 1914, and Henry Koch on August 12, 1918).  The firm would operate from the building well into the 1920's.   Other tenants during the 1920's were the Robbins Dress Company and S. Cohen & Co., "exclusive underthings."

The Corset and Underwear Review, February 1922

On September 13, 1962 The New York Times titled an article, "76 Madison Ave. To Be Renovated" and reported that the recent buyer, real estate investor Jack Brause, "plans to modernize the building with automatic elevators," adding, "A new lobby was installed recently."

Much of the tenant list in the last quarter of the 20th century was far afield from millinery and apparel.  In January 1979 the newly formed National Mediarep Corporation opened its offices here.  The New York Times reported, "Its entire purpose is to get more advertising for those public broadcasting station magazines that accept advertising."

Later that year, in August, Republican Presidential candidate Ronald Reagan opened his New York City campaign office in the building, headed by "two veteran New York Republicans to coordinate his efforts in the state," according to The New York Times on August 19.

Major change came when a conversion to residential condominiums was completed in 2013.  It resulted in apartments ranging from one to three per story, above the ground floor.  

 photographs by the author
many thanks to reader Paul Masse for requesting this post has no authorization to reuse the content of this blog

Friday, August 5, 2022

The Remodeled Wm. W. McLaughlin House - 60 East 83rd Street


image via

In June 1887, architect Francis A. Minuth filed plans for four four-story-and-basement homes on East 83rd Street between Fifth and Madison Avenues.  Their high-end tenor was reflected in the construction costs--the equivalent of $661,000 each by today's standards.  Interestingly, Minuth was working for two developers.  Charles Gulden was erecting 54 and 56 East 83rd Street, while Frederick Correll and his wife Caroline were responsible for 58 and 60.

Completed in 1888, Minuth had designed the brownstone-faced, Queen Anne style residences in an A-B-B-A configuration.  The easternmost house, 60 East 83rd Street, was a mirror image of 54, its wide stoop with beefy newels set to the west and its second story oriel and prominent mansard gable to the east--the opposite of its counterpart. 

The row as it appeared in 1940.  60 East 83rd Street is to the left.  via the NYC Dept of Records & Information Services

The Corrells sold 60 East 83rd Street to wealthy clothier Hyman Sarner and his family.  He and his wife, the former Augusta Vogel had six children, Celia, Julius, Bertha, Martha, Marcus Joseph, and Hattie.  Like many well-to-do businessmen, Sarner dabbled in real estate development, and was perhaps best known for his battle over a five-foot wide strip of land on Lexington Avenue and 82nd Street six years earlier.  When the owner, Joseph Richardson, refused to lower his price, Sarner and his partner forged ahead, building an apartment house and leaving Richardson with what they considered a worthless strip of property.  The decision prompted what was widely known as "the incident."

A month after Sarner and his partner broke ground in May 1882, Richardson did the same.  He erected two houses on the 5-by-100-foot plot that blocked light and ventilation to the apartment building.  They were known as the Spite Houses.

On November 27, 1890, Bertha Sarner was married to Issac J. Silberstein in "the assembly rooms of the Metropolitan Opera House," as reported by the New York Herald.  Augusta nearly outshone her daughter, wearing "a gown of black velvet, en train, trimmed with point lace."

The Sarners sold 60 East 83rd Street on July 17, 1899 to one of New York's most colorful figures.  Known as the "Millionaire Cop," Inspector William W. McLaughlin had joined the New York Police Department on November 26, 1868.  The Times Union called him "among the most efficient enemies of criminals in New York police history."  McLaughlin was responsible for the capture of a string of forgers and thieves, including the tracking of a gang of elevated railroad robbers to Cuba and arresting them.

Now the head of the detective bureau, McLaughlin's career was not without stain.  He had faced trial in May 1895, charged by a State investigative committee of extortion.  He was accused of forcing shopkeepers and other businessmen to pay bribes to avoid being given fines for violations like blocking the sidewalk.  In court it was alleged McLaughlin's millions were amassed through such graft.  He countered, saying he earned his fortune in real estate dealings.

William and Mary A. McLaughlin had eight children.  Unlike most Irish cops, in his early years he spent his days off at art museums, honing what would become a fine knowledge of art.  By the time the family moved onto East 83rd Street, McLaughlin owned impressive and costly works.

The New York Sun said, "One of the best art collections in America is owned by a policeman," adding that McLaughlin's "brownstone mansion at 60 East Eighty-third street [is] hung with his old masters--Franz Hals, Turner, Delacroix, Corot, Inges, Landseer, Millet, Breugels and many others."  (In 1915 McLaughlin would value his collection "of rare pictures and etchings" at $250,000, nearly $7 million today.)  The newspaper noted, "There was some eye-rolling among the wealthy residents of upper Fifth avenue when he planted his mansion close by, but he didn't mind.  Those who know him say his love of art is informed and genuine."

McLaughlin's nationwide fame as a crook-catcher landed his image on a cigarette card.

McLaughlin had not given up his penchant for receiving money under the table.  It proved his undoing when he involved himself in a high-profile divorce case.  When millionaire Howard Gould and his wife, actress Katherine Clemmons, became embroiled in a high-profile divorce in 1907, McLaughlin gave him use of the Detective Bureau "to secure evidence to fight his wife's suit for separation," as reported by the Brooklyn Standard Union.

The discovery of the scheme resulted in a purge at the Police Department.  On April 20, 1907, The New York Times wrote, "The storm that has been hanging over Police Headquarters for more than a week broke yesterday, and eight Inspectors and almost unnumbered Detective the Detective Bureau were hit.  Common patrolmen cluttered the earth."  Among the casualties, of course, was Inspector William W. McLaughlin.

The article reported that "William W. McLaughlin, known as a 'Millionaire Cop,'...[who] was sent to command a little Westchester station, suffered the hardest come-down that the Commissioner handed out yesterday."  A reporter was sent uptown, but "His magnificent house at 60 East Eight-third Street, among the millionaires, was closed up fast...A footman stood outside to tell reporters that the new Captain of the Westchester Precinct would see no one."

McLaughlin's humiliating demotion did not end the investigation.  On May 17 McLaughlin received a "list of questions" from the Commissioner regarding the Gould affair, asking him "to reply to them forthwith," as reported by The Sun.  The former inspector "was taken suddenly ill at his home" that night.  The Sun said he was afflicted with "a complication of diseases, of which the leading symptoms are rheumatism and bronchitis.  He may have others."

The Commissioner would never receive McLaughlin's reply.  On May 23 the Brooklyn Standard Union reported, "Rather than submit to a cross-examination and tell what he knows about the alleged use of the Detective Bureau by Howard Gould to secure evidence to fight his wife's suit for separation, it was rumored at Police Headquarters...that Capt. William McLaughlin, formerly head of the detective bureau as an inspector, had resigned."

Despite the shady circumstances surrounding his resignation, McLaughlin was granted a police pension of $2,500 per year (about $38,000 today).  He rebounded by opening McLaughlin's U. S. Detective Agency, no doubt employing several of the disgraced detectives from the Gould scandal.

Of their eight children, five were still living in the East 83rd Street house with William and Mary in 1911:  Violette and Edna, both unmarried, and William Jr., Thomas and Edward.

Fire broke out in the residence on the morning of February 22, 1915, after which the McLaughlins filed a claim for $70,000 in damages.  The Sun reported, "The inventory of the pictures destroyed included two canvases by Sir Joshua Reynolds, for which he paid $2,200; a Turner, valued at $1,250; two Troyons, worth $1,500 each; two Depres for one of which he paid $200 and for the other $1,000, and a Corot, valued at $1,500."  Mary additionally claimed the loss of $25,000 worth of clothing.

But, once again, it appeared that McLaughlin was acting a bit shadily.  The insurance company balked at the claim and it ended up in court in January 1916.  The insurance company brought in fire fighters, who testified "that it had taken them just five minutes to stamp out the fire entirely and that they had the hose turned on only one minute," according to The Sun on January 23.  The firm's experts asserted, "Only one dozen of the eighty-one paintings cited by the plaintiff...were actually damaged.  An additional $250, the experts declared, would have been sufficient to burnish up the other paintings whether they were injured or not."

Claiming that the McLaughlins had "willfully, maliciously and fraudulently" overstated the damage, the insurance company proposed that it was not obligated to pay a cent.  After deliberating for just over an hour, a jury agreed.  The Sun reported that it decided that Mary A. McLaughlin was "not entitled to any part of the $70,000 she asked in her suit against the National Fire Insurance Company."

On December 15, 1931 The New York Sun reported on the 85th birthday celebration planned for William McLaughlin the next day.  It reminisced about his storied career in law enforcement, calling him America's most famous thief catcher," and saying, "Trim in figure, natty in dress and a bit histrionic in his methods, he held the spotlight for years as the chief of the Detective Bureau."  Nothing was mentioned about the Gould scandal or any of the others.

Mary McLaughlin had been ill for an extended period at the time of the birthday party.  Fifteen days later the newspaper reported on her death.  Her funeral was held in the Church of St. Ignatius Loyola on Park Avenue at 84th Street on New Year's Eve.

Mary left her entire estate to William.  And that caused a problem within the family.  Years earlier Annie had opened a savings account for her mother at the Broadway Savings Bank.  Upon her death it contained a balance of $5,102.32--just over $100,000 by today's standards.  Because she had opened the account in her own name, Annie insisted it belonged to her.  Her father (somewhat surprisingly given his vast fortune) took her to court.  Helen Edna testified against her sister, saying that Annie had always referred to the account as "mother's money" and to the bankbooks as "mother's bankbooks."  On June 6, 1933 William W. McLaughlin won the suit against his daughter.

It was a short-lived victory.  McLaughlin was visiting his married daughter Irene Coffey in Mount Kisco, New York on October 13 that year when he suffered what the Times Union described as a "coughing spell" followed by a fatal heart attack.  Once again, newspapers dwelt on his notable career.  The Times Union said "He was said to know the Rogue's Gallery by heart and he was a master of criminal psychology."  The New York Sun recalled, "During his career he broke up the Red Hook gangs and performed numerous feats of police work which inspired District Attorney William Travers Jerome to call him the 'ablest man on the force.'"

Family infighting over the will lasted for nearly a decade.  Helen McLaughlin first contested it over the distribution of paintings and other artwork.  The suits continued through 1941.

In 1948 the former McLaughlin mansion was divided into apartments--two per floor.  The stoop was removed and the entrance lowered to the basement level.  

image via the NYC Dept of Records & Information Services

One of them was home to burgeoning designer Elia Delgado in the 1970's.  New York Magazine described her in 1979 saying, "A good dressmaker is rarer than a truthful press agent.  One who's been keeping society's seams straight for years is Elia Delgado, 60 East 83rd Street."

image via

Then, a renovation completed in 2009 completely changed the personality of the 1888 residence.  Reconverted to a single family house, the brownstone front was removed and replaced by a modern neo-Classical facade.  What remained of the F. A. Minuth interiors were gutted in favor of more sterile, cleaner lines.

Many thanks to reader Keith Leong for requesting this post has no authorization to reuse the content of this blog

Thursday, August 4, 2022

The Charles M. Mather House - 249 East 13th Street


Charles Milton Mather listed his profession as "clerk," a nebulous term that ranged from a lower-paid office worker to a highly responsible employee often entrusted with large amounts of money.  The elegance of his newly-built home at 153 East 13th Street (renumbered 249 in 1868), just west of Second Avenue, suggests the latter.

Mather and his wife, Frances, had lived downtown on Henry Street prior to moving into their new home in 1863.  Three stories tall above an English basement, it was faced in warm orange brick and trimmed in brownstone.  The impressive Italianate entranceway featured double doors below an ample transom.  The arched entry was ornamented with an imposing arched pediment supported on elaborately carved foliate brackets.

The Mathers remained in the house until the early 1880's.  It was next home to the Moses Joshua Weil family.  Both he and his wife, the former Fannie Reis, were born in Germany.  The couple had six children.  The Weils attended the Fifteenth Street Temple, and Moses was highly involved in several Jewish organizations, including the Levy Lodge, No. 5 of the Free Sons of Israel of which he was treasurer.  

Moses Weil became ill in the summer of 1890, and died on June 21 at the age of 54.  The Jewish Messenger said, "Until last week he had never suffered a single day's sickness, and his lamented demise was therefore a terrible shock."  The article noted that his funeral was largely attended "by friends both Jewish and Christian."

The Second Avenue neighborhood had changed by the turn of the century.  When Fannie Jurist purchased 239 East 13th Street in August 1907, it was described as a "tenement," meaning it was being operated as a rooming or boarding house.  Jurist leased it to several proprietors over the next two decades.  In 1922 it was being run by Robert and Bessie Thompson.

In September that year, Elma Fay rented a room from the Thompsons.  The 23-year-old had come from Pennsylvania in hopes of finding find a job.  The New York Herald wrote, "She had not been able to find work and the city appeared cold to her, but she determined to carry on, thinking the Thompsons would take care of her until she could find an opportunity to earn some money."  Unfortunately for Fay, the Thompsons were going through a stormy domestic period.

It came to a head on September 25 when Bessie Thompson "stormed into her room and accused her of undue intimacy with her husband and wrecking her home and hinting that she would have to leave," as reported by the New York Herald.  Elma was already depressed, and this assault was too much to handle.  She went to a nearby drug store and purchased a bottle of Lysol, a poisonous cleaning compound. 

Back home, Elma poured the liquid into a glass and, meeting Bessie in the hallway, said "I am going to end it all."  Bessie strongly reprimanded the young woman, who set the glass on a hall table and rushed to her room.  Elma later told police, "soon after she had reached her room she heard screams coming from downstairs, and that she found Mrs. Thompson on the floor."  Bessie had drunk the glass of poison.

Bessie Thompson was still coherent at the hospital, where she told police she tried to kill herself "because of domestic trouble."  Elma Fay blamed her own thoughts of suicide on "a misunderstanding with Mrs. Thompson."  Bessie survived, and one might assume that Elma Fay found new lodgings soon afterward.

Fannie Jurist sold the house to Julius Maier in June 1924.  It continued to be operated as a rooming house, and in the winter of 1925 three unusual tenants took a room.  On January 21, Detectives Petrizzo and Kirly were "keeping watch on the Thirteenth Street block" for drug vendors when, according to The New York Times, they "heard sounds of a scuffle coming from a room on the third floor of 249 they hurried up there."  They burst into the room to find two 15-year-olds, Joseph Ward and Joseph Burke, "squared off, with boxing gloves on their hands."  Another boy, 14-year-old Frank Altenhein, was "acting as referee, second and ringside crowd." 

The New York Times said the room was "fitted like a gymnasium, with gloves hanging on the walls, a punching bag in one corner and pictures of Jack Dempsey, Benny Leonard and other ring heroes in prominent places."  There was also a photograph of the boys "in Wild West outfits that they had had taken in a Fourteenth Street gallery."  

The detectives had inadvertently found three runaways, missing since New Year's Day.  Altenhein had found $360 in a safe in the basement of his mother's Harlem home around Christmas.  He and the other two boys left home "firmly intending to head for the Rockies to become hunters."  They got as far West as Pottsville, Pennsylvania, when they changed their minds, turning back to become prizefighters in New York City.  The rented the third floor room, outfitted it for training, and purchased an Irish Terrier mascot named Beauty for $4.  The New York Times reported, "Until their money gave out on Monday night they said that they had enjoyed themselves exceedingly."  

But now their adventure was over.  "None of the three seemed happy at the prospect of going back home to Harlem."  The boys were temporarily taken to the Children's Society.  The article noted, "When the detectives told them that they would have to part with 'Beauty,' the Irish terrier, Altenhein sold the dog to a reporter for a torn $1 bill."

On March 2, 1929 the basement level was opened as the CafĂ© Intro.  Many labor groups were headquartered within the East Side neighborhood, and the cafe's proprietors advertised, "Workers patronize our restaurant." 

The Daily Worker, March 2, 1929

The venture does not seem to have been successful, however.  It appears to have closed by 1931.

By the late 1930's and early 40's, the rooming house was being run by Vincent Canzoneri.  He had six roomers in 1940, five men and one woman, who ranged in age from 40 to 63.

A renovation completed in 1968 resulted in two duplex apartments.  While, unfortunately, nothing survives of the 1864 interiors, the facade was restored around 2012, bringing it nearly back to its original appearance.

photographs by the author
no permission to reuse the content of this blog has been granted to

Wednesday, August 3, 2022

The Beleaguered 1856 Emanuel Augustus Thouron House - 46 West 36th St


photo by Ted Leather

On October 1, 1856 an advertisement appeared in the New York Herald titled "Houses On Murray Hill, Near Fifth Avenue."  It touted, "Just finished, and for sale, Nos. 42 and 46 West Thirty-sixth street, between Fifth and Sixth Avenues.  They are first class houses, with brown stone fronts, and built in the very best manner throughout."  Although just 16-feet-wide, they were, indeed, first class houses.  The block was filling with handsome residences as the fashionable tenor of Fifth Avenue spilled down the side streets.  No. 46 (which was most likely a twin to 42) was designed in the popular Italianate style.  A high brownstone stoop led to the entrance, and handsome Renaissance style pediments sat above the upper windows.

Surprisingly, the developer could not find a buyer for 46 West 36th Street.  A year later in September the advertisements were still appearing.  It seems he leased the house for two years, then tried again.  This time the advertisement was slightly reworded:

For Sale--The handsome four story brown stone English basement House 46 West Thirty-sixth street, Murray Hill.  The house is elegantly finished, frescoed throughout and ready for immediate occupancy.  A large amount of the purchase money may remain on mortgage.

A buyer was finally found in Emanuel Augustus Thouron and his wife, the former Hannah Neilson Borrowe.  The couple had been living at 68 Bond Street, once among the most fashionable streets in Manhattan, but now becoming severely commercialized.

Thouron was a well-respected merchant and a member of the Chamber of Commerce.  He and his brother, Elisha Henry, were partners in Thouron Brothers & Despres at 62 Reade Street and in Philadelphia.

The childless couple remained in the house through 1866, after which it was sold to John Wentworth and his wife Mary.  John was the principal in the furniture firm of Wentworth & Sons, which he ran with his two sons, Mitchell E. and Joseph W.  Joseph was living in New Jersey at the time, while Mitchell and his family moved into the house next door to his parents, at 44 West 36th Street.  

The wives of well-to-do businessmen were expected to involve themselves in a least one charitable organization.  Mary E. Wentworth's choice was the Morning Star Union Mission Sunday School.  Interestingly, it was an interdenominational institution, the New York Herald noting, "The officers and teachers are volunteers from the various churches."  Mary was in elevated company.   Heading the committee for a fund-raising fair in 1874 was Melissa Phelps Dodge, wife of millionaire William E. Dodge.

The uncomfortable commute from New Jersey to Wentworth & Sons at 109 Bowery may have proved too much for Joseph.  By the time of that fair, his parents had moved to 150 East 38th Street and Joseph and his family were living at 46 West 36th Street.  Presumably Joseph paid rent, since the title remained in John Wentworth's name.

By the late 1870's the once-fashionable block was becoming increasingly commercial.  Although Mitchell and his family remained at 44 West 36th Street several more years, in 1878 the Joseph Wentworth family left No. 46.  His parents leased lower floor rooms in the house to doctors.  It became a sort 19th century version of a medical building. 

Among the initial tenants were Dr. Pilcher and Dr. M. J. De Rosset.  The apparently busy De Rosset was, according to the American Journal of the Medical Sciences in 1878, "Ophthalmic Surgeon to Dispensary Holy Trinity, Assistant Surgeon New York Eye and Ear Infirmary, etc. etc."  Both physicians were published that year, Pilcher's "letter" on "Colles Fracture--Urethral Stricture and Diluting Urethrotomy--Obscure Abscess of the Liver, their Association with Hypochondria, &c." appeared in the North Carolina Medical Journal.

The 1890's saw the offices of Drs. Caleb J. Wood, Thomas M. Dillingham, Ernest W. Auzal, and Ellsworth Eliot, J. in the former house.  Dillingham was joined in his practice by Dr. Arthur G. Allan in 1895.  

Dr. Caleb J. Wood was in Madison Square park on November 18, 1891 when a woman named Addie Davis "held him in conversation," according to the New York Herald two weeks later.  He had no way of knowing that the woman was "one of the 'badger' girls of the East Twenty-sixth street gang."  While Addie had Dr. Wood distracted, Maggie Jones snatched his gold watch and chain.  The entire gang was arrested and brought before a judge on November 29.  Wood was there to identify his robbers.

Dr. Dillingham took on a heart-wrenching case on April 4, 1892.  For about a week Elizabeth Beale's friends "noticed she was depressed," according to The World.  The newspaper described the unmarried 48-year-old as belonging "to an old New York family and for a number of years [she] taught the higher branches to young women of wealthy families."  Dr. Dillingham prescribed a "much-needed rest," and called upon Rev. S. S. Seward, who invited Elizabeth to stay at his house on Lexington Avenue with his family for a while.  A professional nurse was engaged to watch over her.

The next night Elizabeth was "very excited" and "walked the floor until 4 o'clock...but was closely watched by the nurse."  Unable to get any sleep herself, the nurse began to prepare coffee at 6:00 on Wednesday morning while Elizabeth was in bed.  When she returned to Elizabeth's room, she found her 

She ran downstairs to a horrible discovery.  "A servant girl informed her that Miss Beale lay on the flagging outside."  Mrs. Seward, had heard the ghastly thump of Elizabeth's body hitting the stone paving of the areaway where it landed headfirst.  Dr. Dillingham was summoned, but he said that taking her to the hospital was "useless, as Miss Beale could live only a few hours."  She died at 9:00.

Dr. Dillingham appeared in court during the trial of Herman Clarke on November 12, 1894.  Clarke was a member of the stock brokerage firm of Hunter, Clarke & Jacob and had been arrested for forgery and falsifying the firm's books.  His embezzlement caused the firm to fail.  Dillingham testified that Clarke's actions were prompted by a drug addiction.  The Sun reported, "Dr. Dillingham said that he knew Clarke to be a user of drugs which made him entirely irresponsible mentally and morally."  He petitioned the judge to send Clarke to an asylum for the insane, rather than to a prison.  (It was the rather ineffective 19th century equivalent of a drug rehabilitation center.)  Dillingham's efforts were only partially successful.  Rather than send Clarke to State prison for five years, the judge sentenced him to two years and four months.

Around November 1, 1897, Dentist William Kenzel took an office here.  But, according to the other tenants, he "spent very little time there."  In fact, he would never see a patient in his new space.  His worried sister came to his office looking for him several times.  Kenzel checked into the Warwick Hotel on November 5 where his physical condition alarmed the staff.  The New York Herald reported that he was taken to New York  Hospital that afternoon.  His condition worsened and he was transferred to Bellevue Hospital.  Three days later the New York Herald he was "dangerously ill with phthisis," known today as pulmonary tuberculosis.

While physicians and dentists operated from the basement and parlor floors, the top two were rented as upscale bachelor apartments.  Ironically, given the nature of the building's professional tenants, among the residents in 1899 was 19-year-old Henry Caney, a Christian Scientist.  Described by the New York Journal and Advertiser as "well dressed and of good appearance," on August 17 Caney "was found in Fifth avenue near Fortieth street...uttering injunctions to a number of persons and a policeman about the ethics and physics of Christian Science."

Caney was incoherent and a crowd began to collect around him.  When a policeman arrived, according to The New York Times, a "handsomely dressed girl" told him, "He's ill.  Why don't you call an ambulance?"

The comment caught Caney's attention.  "Ill, madam?  No, indeed.  I am never ill.  Nor are you ever ill, Madam.  If you think you are ill all you have to do  is to pray, and you will be cured.  Just pray."

Canney was, however, ill.  He was taken to New York Hospital where he was diagnosed with epilepsy.  He was given medicine, which he surprisingly took, and then the attending doctor accompanied him home.  Equally surprisingly, The New York Times reported, "At 46 West Thirty-sixth Street last night the servant refused to admit callers, saying that Henry Caney was ill."

Living on the top floor in 1901 was Julian Potter.  The Morning Telegraph explained, "Mr. Potter is a nephew of Bishop [Henry C.] Potter and lives at 46 West thirty-sixth street, a fashionable neighborhood."  Potter, said the newspaper on May 18, "loves to burn the midnight oil and linger over his favorite magazines.  His aversion to early rising is equally pronounced."  But the continuing changes in the "fashionable neighborhood" were disturbing Potter's routine.  Behind the house, on West 35th Street, a new commercial building was being constructed.

Potter went to the West 30th Street police station on May 17, 1901, telling the desk sergeant, "These men come there early in the morning and wake me up with the noise they make.  Why, they come right under my window, in the rear of my house, where they are leveling a building.  Really, I am nearly dead for sleep."

His complaints went further.  "At night these workmen keep a bonfire going continually.  The glare is reflected on my bedroom windows and this keeps me awake all night."  Sergeant Norton promised Potter "he would do all in his power as a police official to remedy the evil."  In the meantime, a journalist went to 46 West 36th Street to ask the landlady "as to Mr. Potter's means of livelihood."  She replied, "He is a gentleman of leisure, sir."

In 1914 the Wentworth estate sold house to the Collingwood Realty Co. for $55,000--just over $1.5 million in today's money.  The firm hired architect Adolph Mertin to alter the building "into store and residence purposes," reported the Real Estate Record & Builders' Guide on February 26, 1915.

Mertin removed the stoop and installed a two-story storefront that projected forward to the property line.  Faced in gray brick, its no-nonsense design was vaguely Arts & Crafts in style.  The facade of the two upper floors, which now held furnished rooms, was left unscathed.

photo by Ted Leather

The commercial spaces were home to a variety of small businesses, like the Select Hat Frame Co. which moved in during the summer of 1922.  

The Millinery Trade Review, July, 1922

Living in one of the rooms on the third floor that year was 32-year-old Marc Connelly, who had reportedly begun writing plays at the age of five.  In 1921 he had teamed up with the drama critic for The New York Times, George S. Kaufman, to write comedies, two of which were staged in 1922: To the Ladies and Merton of the Movies.  Connelly was a member of the famed Algonquin Round Table and would receive the Pulitzer Prize for his 1930 drama The Green Pastures.

Moving into a fourth floor room in 1922 was 20-year-old Ellen Miriam Hopkins, who had come to New York with her sister Ruby and was working as a chorus girl, sometimes getting small parts in plays.  According to Allan R. Ellenberger in his Miriam Hopkins, Life and Films of a Hollywood Rebel, "She moved into a boarding house at 46 West Thirty-Sixth Street, a small dark cell on the fourth floor that delighted her because it was utterly shabby.  Struggling artists and authors lived there."

Like Marc Connelly, Miriam Hopkins would rise far higher than her humble start.  She landed a role in the 1926 staging of An American Tragedy, and by 1933 was a leading lady, starring in the Broadway production of Jezebel.   By then she had been on contract with Paramount Pictures for three years.

Little changed to the building for half a century as soaring office towers rose around it.  A renovation completed in 1970 resulted in a restaurant on the ground floor, offices on the second and third, and two apartments on the fourth, a configuration that lasts today.

photo by Ted Leather

Squeezed in between modern structures, the former Thouron house looks sadly beleaguered.  Yet a hint of its once-proud history is evident on the upper two floors.

Many thanks to reader Ted Leather for suggesting this post has no authorization to reuse the content of this blog

Tuesday, August 2, 2022

The 1917 Central Baptist Church - Amsterdam Avenue and 92nd Street


As early as 1898 Central Baptist Church, located on West 42nd Street near Broadway, was closely affiliated with the West Park Baptist Church at 92st Street and Amsterdam Avenue.  That year Central Baptist's Embroidery Class and its Carpentry and Chair Caning Class were held at the uptown location.  The relationship would become even closer a decade later.

Central Baptist was an outgrowth of the 1842 Laight Street Baptist Church.  When the congregation erected its handsome church at 220 West 42nd Street, the Longacre Square district was the center of the carriage making industry, its side streets lined with brownstone homes.  The New-York Times remarked in 1911, "It was one of the first Baptist churches to be built in the upper part of New York, which at that time was considered a suburb of the city."  But at the time of that article, Longacre Square had been renamed Times Square and was the center of Manhattan's theater district.

On March 29, 1910, The New York Times reported that "The changed conditions in the Times Square district led the officers of the Central Baptist Church to contemplate moving to a more residential locality."  The article said that the West Park Baptist Church had been authorized by the State Supreme Court "to transfer the church property on the southeast corner of Amsterdam Avenue and Ninety-second Street to the Central Baptist Church of West Forty-second Street."  The two congregations had merged and "a new Central Baptist Church will be organized."

Services continued in both locations until October 1911 at which time The Sun reported that the theatrical firm of Frazee & Lederer and P. Chauncey Anderson had purchased the vintage 42nd Street church as the site of a theater for $500,000--a substantial $14.7 million today.  The article noted that the old West Park Church was also for sale.  "When this is disposed of a new edifice that will accommodate both congregations will be erected in the neighborhood of the uptown church."

But the Central Baptist Church trustees decided not to sell the Amsterdam Avenue structure, but to replace it.  On March 2, 1912 the New York Globe reported that the congregation intended to build "a splendid new edifice" which would be "one more important, influential church added to the residential section of New York's upper west side."  Architects Walter Cook and Edward F. Pallme were hired to design the structure.

The plans, filed in June 1915, placed the cost of construction at $200,000.  The Real Estate Record & Guide noted it would be 78 feet wide on Amsterdam Avenue, and stretch back 115 feet on 92nd Street.  "The building will contain accommodations for a Sunday school and parish house.  The church auditorium will seat approximately 1,000 people."  (That left little room for increasing membership, which was currently at 700.)

The New-York Tribune reported, "Simplicity is to be the feature of the exterior, and utility of the interior."  The article noted, "So extensive is the Central's new enterprises that it is not expected to complete it before September, 1916."

Demolition of the old church along with a house on 92nd Street began on August 1, 1915.  Nine months later, on May 6, the cornerstone was laid "with a simple service of hymns and Scripture readings by the Rev. Dr. Frank M. Goodchild, the pastor," according to The New York Times.  Inside the box were the church's yearbook and annual report, a history of the Baptist Church, newspapers, 1916 coins, and such.  With World War I raging in Europe, Dr. Goodchild commented, "Let us hope that when this stone is removed and this box taken out a hundred years from today there will be peace on earth and accord of nations."  It was an optimistic wish.

Completed in 1917, Central Baptist Church was designed in "the modified English Gothic order."  Built of Germantown stone (a type of granite) and Indiana limestone, a corner tower,  118-feet high, dominated the design.  

from the collection of the New York Public Library

Although the New-York Tribune had promised that the interior would be designed with utility in mind, the stained glass windows, by Gorham Studios, were by no means utilitarian.  The New York Globe, on October 6, 1917, said "But the glory of the auditorium is the great west window, thirty-eight feet in height by twenty-two feet wide.  It consists of seven panels in three groups...and the whole is of such marvelous depth and splendor of color as is impossible to describe."  Gorham Studios also designed the ten side windows which depicted scenes of the Life of Christ.

The great West Window.

The Rev. Dr. Frank Marsden Goodchild had been pastor of Central Baptist Church since 1895.  It was he who recognized the need to relocate the church immediately upon taking the pulpit.  Seemingly indefatigable, he wrote three religious books, was a "visiting preacher," and was president of the American and Foreign Bible Society, president of the Ministers' Home Society, and vice president of the Baptist Union for Ministerial Education.

As the church rose, he got into a heated confrontation with U. S. Army General Frederick Funston for the latter's "attitude toward the activities of clergymen in the army."  Goodchild insisted that clergymen be permitted "to preach without restrictions to soldiers," while the general demanded that preachers "must not tell the soldiers that they were lost and were in need of being saved."  He added that he did not "wish the emotions of the soldiers stirred, and wanted no such thing as a revival," said The New York Times on November 21, 1916.  From the pulpit, Dr. Goodchild called Funston a "religious dictator" and demanded that Congress investigate conditions in the army."  The well-publicized feud prompted other Baptist ministers to distance themselves from the fiery pastor.

Goodchild's health began to fail in 1923.  That year he and his wife sailed to France for six months "in the hope that the long vacation would restore his health," said The New York Times.  Instead, upon his return he suffered a stroke.  He preached his farewell sermon on January 6, 1924, during which he dedicated the life of his six-month-old grandson, Robert Mardsden Goodchild, "to the Christian life, and to the Christian ministry, if God so wills."  (He presumably did not consult his infant grandson on the decision.)  In tribute to his long service to the church, the congregation gave him cash equal to a year-and-a-half's salary.  Goodchild died on February 18, 1928.

Dr. Goodchild was replaced by the Rev. Dr. John Falconer Fraser, who, in 1931, also found himself in a heated confrontation.  In his sermon on November 1, he declared that the name of the Central Baptist Church had been dragged "into scandalous notoriety by the reckless villainy operating in the name of the United States Government."  The previous week the church had been named as co-defendant in a "padlock suit" for running a speakeasy disguised as a bird store on West 91st Street.

Falconer told his congregants that he was not used to speaking about political issues from the pulpit, but "It seems incumbent on your minister to make a statement on this unseemly subject."  He insisted the church had no connection with the owners of that building nor the shop and said, "God knows, the speakeasies stoop low enough in their practices in evading the law, but it is doubtful if they an equal the latest publicity stunt of the Federal authorities in New York City."

As the decades passed, the neighborhood, the congregation, and the church's outreach changed.  The youth of the neighborhood caught the attention of Richard "Pee Wee" Kirkland in 1994, who began the School of Skillz basketball camp at Central Baptist Church every Saturday. 

Kirkland was born in Harlem in 1945 and learned basketball on the streets.  A sensation in high school and college, he was drafted by the Chicago Bulls in 1969, but he turned down the offer, presumably because he was making more money as a drug dealer, money launderer and jewel thief on the streets.  He was arrested in 1971 and sent to the Lewisburg Federal Penitentiary in Pennsylvania on a ten-year sentence.

He told The New York Times journalist Vincent M. Mallozzi in January 1997, "Thirty years ago, I was part of the problem.  Thirty years later, I'm part of the solution."  The solution included mentoring young Upper West Side boys through basketball.  He said that while in prison he thought of the people who had wanted to see him go into the N.B.A.  "I knew the only way to repay those people was to one day work with kids, because somewhere out there there's another Pee Wee Kirkland, and until that kid turns his life around, I will always feel his pain."  Kirkland ran his School of Skillz at Central Baptist Church for years.

In the summer of 1997, Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani created a task force to examine the relations between the city residents and the New York City Police Department.  It followed the beating and torture of Abner Louima in a Brooklyn precinct station house.  Among the members was Central Baptist Church minister Rev. Michel Faulkner.  He called the group "the most diverse task force in the history of New York City," saying the members "poured their heart and soul into a process that they truly believed in."

Faulker was crestfallen when, a year later, Giuliani essentially dismissed the task force's findings, saying "the panel had failed to recognize the department's recent success in reducing crime."  Of the task force's recommendations, he said "Some of the things we've already done.  Some of the things I've opposed in the past, I'll continue to oppose them.  And some of the things are unrealistic and make very little sense."

The uneasy relationship between Faulker and Giuliani continued.  In March 2000 an unarmed Black man, Patrick M. Dorismond, was shot dead by police.  Three months later Giuliani had still not expressed condolences to the victim's family.  On June 3, Elisabeth Bumiller, writing in The New York Times, reported, "He has not reached out to Representative Charles B. Rangel of Harlem...or to former allies like the Rev. Calvin O. Butts and the Rev. Michel Faulkner."

Faulkner told Bumiller, "I've sent him a couple of messages.  I haven't heard back from him.  I don't know what it means, to be honest with you.  To me it's not good."

The Central Baptist Church continues to serve a noticeably dwindling congregation.  And while the handsome 1917 structure with its stunning stained glass windows is little changed, rumbles on the street speak of a possible sale and demolition of the structure, which has no landmark protection.

 photographs by the author has no authorization to reuse the content of this blog