Thursday, December 12, 2019
In August 1870 architect G. E. Knowlden filed plans for five narrow rowhouses to be built for developer Silas M. Stiles stretching south along Madison Avenue from the southwest corner of 78th Street. Although each would be just 15-feet wide, the plans described them as "first-class dwellings."
Stiles's project was not unusual in the early years following the Civil War as the neighborhood developed. Rows of identical speculative brownstone-fronted houses were rising at the time, years before they would be replaced with resplendent mansions. The homes of his completed row were four stories tall including the mansard level, above an English basement. A stone stoop led to their entrances and the openings wore handsome full enframements. Slate fishscale shingles covered the full-height mansards which were pierced by two hooded dormers.
In 1873 the center house, No. 1006, became home to Frederick Stephens Salisbury and his wife, the former Lucy Aletta Wright. The couple had been married five years earlier, on April 16, 1868.
Salisbury was the treasurer and a director in the Whiting Manufacturing Company, silversmiths. He and Lucy had two daughters, Maud Grosvenor, born in 1869, and Adeline, who arrived the year the family moved in. The Salisbury summer home was in Larchmont, on the north shore of the Long Island Sound.
On January 6, 1895 the New York Herald announced that "Cards are out for the wedding of Maud Grosvenor, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Frederick R. [sic] Salisbury, to Mr. Henry Tower Shriver." The wedding took place in St. James's Episcopal Church, where Frederick was a vestryman. "A small reception will follow at the house of the bride's parents," concluded the article.
The groom was well-to-do in his own right, involved in T. Schriver & Co., the iron foundry established by his grandfather, Thomas Shriver. Upon the death of his father, Walter, in 1902, Henry would take over the business. He and Maud purchased a striking summer home in Larchmont, near her parents.
Adeline would never marry. She lived and traveled with her parents and her name appeared alongside her mother's in society papers. While at their Larchmont estate the women engaged in lawn parties and receptions while Frederick enjoyed his yacht, the Goblin. The New-York Tribune remarked that he was "a member of nearly all the yacht clubs along the north shore of the Sound."
Frederick took his nephew, Grosvenor Parker, out onto the Long Island Sound on the Goblin on Sunday afternoon, June 14, 1908. The only other person aboard was the yacht's captain. Salisbury was sitting on the deck, "apparently in his usual health," according to the New York Herald, when he suddenly fell over.
Captain Tyler sailed immediately for the Larchmont Yacht Club, but according to the Port Chester Journal, "when the club house was reached it was found Mr. Salisbury was dead." The coroner attributed the 55-year-old's death to a heart attack. Salisbury left his entire estate to Lucy with the stipulation that after her death it was to be divided equally between Maud and Adeline.
Lucy died in the Madison Avenue house on November 7, 1912 at the age of 65. Adeline inherited the house and continued to live it in alone with her servants as Madison Avenue grew increasingly more commercial. Finally, on April 21, 1925 The New York Times reported that she had sold No. 1006, noting that "The property had been in the hands of the Salisbury family since 1873."
James F. Meehan had formed the 1006 Madison Avenue Corporation specifically to convert the Salisbury house. The project, begun in 1927, removed the stoop and replaced it with a two-story extension to house a store. The upper floors would hold "non-housekeeping apartments," a term which meant they had no kitchens. Immediately after the conversion was completed, in April 1928, Meehan sold the building.
In 1938 the store became home to the newly-founded G & M Pastry shop, owned by Charles Gattnig and Dante Magnani. It would become an Upper East Side destination for nearly half a century.
The store suffered a near disaster on May 24, 1945 when a huge water main broke in the intersection of Madison Avenue and 78th Street. The New York Sun reported that it "generated a giant geyser that hurled tons of water seventy-five feet into the air." The article added "The basement of Gattnig's a bakery and candy store at 1006 Madison avenue, was flooded with five feet of water."
After decades in the space, Charles Gattnig's son, Francis, made the unhappy decision to close. The New York Times food critic Florence Fabricant lamented "G & M Pastry, 1006 Madison Avenue (at 78th Street), an Austrian bakery known for its jelly doughnuts, will be closing in a few weeks." The problem was rising rents. "How much can you charge for a jelly doughnut?" asked Gattnig.
In 1996 the space was home to another bakery, Better Baker (known for its low-fat treats), replaced in 1999 by Buitoni & Garretti's Ten-O-Six Madison. Chefs Viola Buitoni and Jolanda Garretti had catered dinners and events for celebrity clients for years and now opened their prepared food shop here. Florence Fabricant commented, "Forget low-fat when this place opens and head right for the famous lasagna."
In 2015 a renovation was begun that resulted in triplex residence on the upper floors. That same year Roland Mouret moved his upscale boutique into the former food shop. He moved out in 2018.
In the meantime, the skinny Salisbury house is the sole hold-out of the 1870 row. A quaint Victorian anachronism on the bustling Madison Avenue block.
photographs by the author
Wednesday, December 11, 2019
|photo by Beyond My Ken|
At around 6:10 on the evening of October 27, 1878 thieves broke into the Manhattan Savings Institution at Broadway and Bleecker Street and made off with $3.5 million in cash and securities – approximately $91 million by today’s standards. It was the most sensational bank robbery in United States history.
A decade later the heist was nearly forgotten and the Manhattan Savings Institute was laying plans for a new, larger building. Its directors turned to architect Stephen Decatur Hatch who was responsible for several Manhattan buildings, most recently the monumental New York Life Insurance Company Building at 346 Broadway.
The bank, which was founded in 1851, moved into temporary offices in 1889 while the old structure at No. 644 Broadway was razed and construction started on the new one. Hatch used a harmonious mix of Queen Anne and Romanesque Revival styles and a medley of materials: carved sandstone, terra cotta, brick, copper and cast iron. He took advantage of the corner site, crowning the building with a copper-clad tower visible for blocks.
The building was completed in 1891 at a cost of $325,000 (about $9.25 million today). The facade was a feast of bays, pseudo-balconies, pilasters, arches and small-bracketed courses. Within the Broadway pediment the Institute’s monogram, MSI, stood in bold copper relief. In a drastic diversion from traditional European decorative motifs–gods and goddesses, or allegories of continents or the arts, for instance–Hatch turned to the uniquely American. Beavers, ears of corn, and Native American faces appeared within the keystones and cornices.
|A Native American stares out from a keystone above an elaborate wrought iron grill above the corner entrance.|
The Real Estate Record & Builders' Guide pointed out "The bank floor will be of quartered oak and the other parts of the building ash. The Broadway entrance will be of marble, the staircases of wrought iron with marble treads." The structure boasted up-to-date technology: elevators, electric lighting, steam heat and "a pneumatic clock."
The History and Commerce of New York wrote of the newly completed building, saying, “The banking rooms are handsomely furnished in all respects, and amply provided with improved fire and burglar-proof safes and vaults, which gives the greatest possible security…A valuable and increasing list of patrons is drawn to its counters." Depositors were no doubt interested in the burglar-proof sales and vaults given the somewhat recent history of the institution.
The owners proudly touted the new structure as "fire-proof." But it was not. On Wednesday, November 6, 1895 fire broke out in an old factory building at the southeast corner of Bleecker Street and Broadway and spread to the Manhattan Savings Institute. The Record & Guide accused "The susceptibility of this building, which was publicly, though improperly, accepted as a fire-proof building, to injury from fire has created a great outcry and thrown doubts in the untechnical mind on the value of fire-proof construction."
Diplomatically, the journal did not aim blame at Stephen Decatur Hatch. Calling him "a man prominent in the profession in his day," it said he "could not have imagined what has actually occurred, that his building would be partially destroyed by a fire originating across the street. He no doubt had in mind the danger of fire occurring within the building itself."
The Manhattan Savings Institute initially leased the upper floors to the clothing firm Bierman, Heidelberg & Co. Its catalog announced it had acquired the space "with a purpose of surpassing in elegance and convenience all that the clothing trade had hitherto known in business establishments," and added "the final touches of the decorator and cabinet makers [have] just been given to the interior."
Bierman, Heidelberg & Co. subleased space. In 1894 Strouse & Bros., "the well-known manufacturers of 'High Art Clothing,' according to The Clothier and Furnisher, moved its showrooms in; and the following year real estate brokers M. & L. Hess were operating from the building. In 1899 artificial feather merchants Thos. H. Wood & Co. and Albert Stein & Co. were here, and on June 6, 1903, the Record & Guide reported that the J. C. Lyons Building Co. had leased 10,000 square feet.
|A 1901 receipt from clothing retailers Heidelberg, Wolff & Co. featured an etching of the building. courtesy of Lynne Hammar|
Despite the bank's monogram emblazoned on the facade, No. 644-646 Broadway became popularly known as the Bierman-Heidelberg Building. In 1899 Isaac Bierman retired and the firm become Heidelberg, Wolff & Co.
The Manhattan Savings Institute remained in the building at least through the 1920's. By mid-century the neighborhood had changed as fashion moved uptown and the once-elegant hotels and shops along Broadway grew seedy. On April 30, 1959 The New York Times reported that the former Manhattan Savings Institute building, described as an "eight-story loft and manufacturing building" had been sold to Fischer-Landis investors. "The buyers plan improvements, including new elevators and a modernized lobby," said the article.
As so often happens in Manhattan, decline turned to renaissance and in 1981 the old Manhattan Savings Institute building was converted to luxury loft apartments, two per floor above a ground floor restaurant. The building's owner was Martin Fine, a lawyer who also installed his Blue Willow restaurant in the ground floor. He told The New York Times columnist John Duka in January 1984 "A few of us bought buildings [in the neighborhood] because we knew that someday the area would be hot."
One of those apartments appeared in Woody Allen's 1986 film "Hannah and Her Sisters" as the set for the movie's memorable catering scene, and another in the 1989 film "Ghostbusters" as the home of Bill Murry's character, Dr. Peter Venkman.
|The monogram MSI is still evident within the pediment. photo by Tony Hisgett|
Tuesday, December 10, 2019
A year after erecting his striking 30-story World Tower Building, in 1914 fledgling developer Edward West Browning hired the same architects to design three apartment buildings on the Upper West Side. And as they had done with the World Tower project, Buchman & Fox turned to the neo-Gothic style for their design, clad in gleaming white terra cotta.
Browning had purchased three private residences as the sites (No. 126 West 73rd Street and Nos. 42 and 118 West 72nd Street); providing the architects with the challenge of replacing a 25-foot wide house with workable apartment structure. At No. 118 West 72nd Street was the four-story brownstone clad rowhouse which had been home to the Morris Loeb family for many years. Browning paid Loeb $80,000 for the property in April 1914, a considerable $2 million today.
The outlay was, in part, recouped by savings on the architectural fees. Buchman & Fox designed the three buildings as nearly identical triplets, making possible the reuse the terra cotta molds and greatly cutting back the costs. (As a matter of fact, construction costs were $60,000 each, 25 percent less than the cost of the site of No. 118.) When they were completed in 1915, only close inspection would reveal small differences in the trio of apartment buildings. Elaborate Gothic-inspired decorations encrusted the buildings which terminated in spiky parapets 13-floors above the sidewalk.
Browning called No. 118 The Hotel Earlton. Like its siblings, it had four two-room apartments per floor, with "foyer, hall and bath, with parquet floors," according to The Clay-Worker. Known as an "apartment hotel," there were no kitchens in the suites. Tenants had the option of eating in a large dining room on the ground floor.
|Just a block to the east, a No. 42 West 72nd Street, is one of the nearly identical structures.|
Another early tenant was Angela C. Kaufman. She had relatively recently married Joseph Kaufman, an executive with the Ever-Ready Razor Company, but they were living apart. On Saturday night, June 10, 1916, Angela fired a pistol into her breast with decidedly unsuccessful results. The bullet barely broke the skin.
Angela's physician, Junius W. Stephenson, was called and he picked up a patrolman named McKenna on the way to the scene. She was arrested for attempting suicide, but released the following Monday. Stephenson pleaded that she had suffered a nervous breakdown.
In the meantime, detectives were puzzled about her case. Initially Policeman McKenna searched for the bullet, but could not find it. When he examined the pistol he found it fully loaded, although obviously recently fired. Closer inspection revealed that the spent shell had been reloaded into the chamber.
The New York Herald wrote "The mystery surrounding the shooting of Mrs. Joseph Kaufman in her apartment, at No. 118 West Seventy-second street...will not be solved until Mrs. Kaufman decides to discuss the cast, a thing which she steadfastly refused to do yesterday." But her maid was more than happy to talk. She told detectives that on Saturday Angela had received word that her husband intended to divorce her. The New York Times explained "she was afraid her husband's action would be successful and she wanted to die his wife."
Angela was still in legal trouble. On June 12 the New York Herald reported "As soon as Mrs. Kaufman's condition will warrant she will be arraigned on the charge of violating the Sullivan law." (The 1911 Sullivan Act prohibited ownership of unlicensed handguns.)
Joseph Kaufman was, incidentally, disappointed in his attempt to divorce his wife. In court it came out that he had helped Angela divorce her first husband. On July 5 Justice Shearn said "After assisting the defendant to obtain her Nevada divorce decree and getting her to marry him the plaintiff now seeks to have the court declare that what he did was wrong and in bad faith." The judge refused to do so.
|The Hotel Earlton replaced a brownstone house similar to the one glimpsed at the far right. from the collection of the New-York Historical Society|
Baron de Patterson left her on September 28, 1916, accusing his wife of seeing another man. The baroness moved into much reduced circumstances in the Hotel Earlton while her husband went to the Hotel Netherland. Dirty laundry came out in court when he filed for divorce. "They have had a tempestuous marital career," commented the New-York Tribune on February 2, 1918.
Initially the Sinclair Oil executive gave Beatrice $25 per week to live on (just under $420 today). But then the checks stopped. So Beatrice attempted to earn a living as an actress. The Tribune reported "Just now, she says, she is without support and destitute, and unable to live on the income she receives from her work on the stage."
It apparently seemed to Beatrice that she was entitled to some of her husband's wealth. While he was gone from his rooms at the Hotel Netherland one day that spring, Beatrice obtained access. She took home "decorations given him by the King of Portugal, Jewelry, pictures and other property," according to his complaint. Beatrice provided the $1,000 bond (about $16,700 today) and appeared before the judge on April 22, 1918.
America was embroiled in the world war at the time. On May 18, 1917 the Government had enacted the Selective Service Act, which enabled an army to be raised through conscription. One Earlton resident, however, was not eager to see action in Europe.
Russell Storey Hubley was an actor. When he registered with his local board on June 5, 1917 he brought along his wife, Edna. On his questionnaire he listed himself as a married man with his wife "dependent on him." Hubley did not expect the authorities to check his story. When they found out that Edna Clarke and he were not married, both were arrested. Hubley was tried and found guilty on June 21, 1918. He got his wish--he did not have to serve in the military, but instead was sent to the Atlanta Penitentiary for a year and one day. Edna was indicted on charges of conspiring in the plot.
The long series of unfortunate incidents continued at the Hotel Earlton. Coffee importer Manuel M. Clavizo had lived in the building for some time in 1919. The Sun said that he "had large interests in this city as well as in South America." But on September 25, 1919 police were called to his apartment where he had been "found dead, hanging by a wire from a chandelier," according to the New-York Tribune. No reason for the 40-year-old's suicide could be determined.
On November 28, 1920 silent screen actor Syn De Conde (whose legal name was Synésio Mariano de Aguiar) married Anna Pawley. By now he had starred in the 1918 "Revelation," and the 1919 films "Mary Regan" and "Flame of the Desert." He was making $20,000 a year in the theater, a comfortable $250,000 today.
|Largely forgotten today, Syn de Conde was a successful actor on stage and screen. original source unknown.|
|Variety, Friday 14, 1924|
Among the residents not involved in scandal or intrigue was respected financial journalist James Vance Gwin of the American. He had come to New York in 1912 at the age of 21 and worked on the staffs of the New York City News Association, the Press, The Sun and, finally, the American. The Sun described him as being "well-known in newspaper circles." Gwin was just 36-years old when he became ill and, after a being sick for weeks, died in his apartment on May 8, 1927.
The esteem with which Gwin was held among newspaper men and residents of the Hotel Earlton was reflected at his funeral. Among the floral tributes from City Hall reporters, the American, and the American's editor, was one from "associates of Mr. Gwin's at his late residence," said The Sun.
A bizarre incident occurred on September 23, 1933. Lew Stanley was sitting in his automobile at 45th Street between Sixth and Seventh Avenues when four men pointing revolvers at him got in. They drove to an empty apartment at 51st Street and Ninth Avenue where they demanded $5,000 ransom. Stanley was held for hours during which he insisted he did not have that much money. The New York Evening Post later said "after eight hours of dickering he reduced it to $3,000."
With the amount agreed upon, Stanley was taken to the Hotel Earlton where "they accepted the $187 he had there" as a down payment. The Post reported "After that he called in the police, who picked up the two suspects, burly six-footers." Eventually all four men were arrested.
But the Stanleys' problems were not over. Mrs. Stanley was scheduled to testify at the trial on February 15, 1934. Two evenings before the date a man knocked on the apartment door. Mrs. Stanley told him her husband was out, but he insisted on waiting. The New York Sun reported "A few minutes later three other men entered. They then proceeded to ransack the place, taking $8 and before leaving giving Mrs. Stanley a severe beating." Police told reporters it was "an effort to dissuade her from testifying against her husband's kidnappers."
A 1950 renovation created two stores at street level with a "beauty parlor and corset display room" on the second, along with two apartments. It was no doubt at this time that the striking terra cotta tiles were covered over with a pseudo-modern facade. The building was converted to cooperative apartments in 1985; and very recently the lower two floors were restored, once again revealing Buchman & Fox's Gothic-themed tilework.
photographs by the author
Monday, December 9, 2019
|The church was flanked by a factory and a squalid tenement in June of 1930. from the collection of the New York Public Library|
The neighborhood around 47th Street near the East River was a gritty one in the 19th century. In 1884 plans were filed for a "storage warehouse" to be build on the site of a stables building at Nos. 321 and 323 East 47th Street. By World War I the Clausen-Flanagan brewery engulfed Nos. 303 through 323 East 47th Street, uncomfortable bedfellows with with St. Anthony's Chapel at the corner of Second Avenue.
To serve the growing Italian population of the East Side neighborhood, St. Boniface's Church established the chapel in 1915. The New York Times explained that the pastor "received permission to begin special work among the Italians by opening St. Anthony's Chapel." The school hall of St. Boniface's was used for Sunday services under the direction of Father Daniel de Nonno.
St. Boniface's Church held services in English and German. But the Italian population in the parish was exploding. A 1924 census listed 9,000 Italians in the immediate neighborhood. Father de Nonno lobbied the Archdiocese for a separate parish to serve them.
On January 25, 1925 The New York Times reported Hayes "has established a new church in the Grand Central zone. It is an Italian parish, and property on the north side of East forty-seventh Street, from 315 to 323 has been purchased. On the site will be the Church of the Holy Family, and the Rev. Daniel De Nonno has been named pastor." The article noted "Father De Nonno, who has long been an assistant at St. Boniface's, has been intimately associated with the development of the Italian branch."
The site acquired for the church structure was the old brewery. The bleak conditions of the neighborhood was evidenced two months afterwards when a five-story tenement building, directly across the street, was set ablaze by an arsonist. On March 23, 1925 The Times explained "The house had been freshly painted and the flames, which started in a baby carriage in the first floor hallway, mounted so rapidly that the escape of many tenants was cut off."
Tragic stories played out as fire fighters tried to rescue the tenants and squelch the inferno. The Times recounted, for instance, "Mrs. [Patrick] Walsh, with her baby in her arms, stood at the rear window of their apartment on the fourth floor, where they were burned to death. It was impossible to reach them. Her scrams for help grew gradually fainter and finally ceased as she fell backward, still clutching the body of her son." Katherine Walsh was 25-years old and her baby, Joseph, was just 17 months.
As the the drama played out, Father de Nonno and Father Patrick F. O'Connor "said prayers for the dead over the bodies of the victims after the fire was under control."
Three weeks after the that tragedy Father de Nonno was honored with a testimonial dinner at the Biltmore Hotel. It resulted in donations of $17,500 for the erection of a church structure. And the special needs of the blue collar parishioners had not been overlooked. Reporters were advised "A kindergarten, where working mothers can leave their children during the day, will be established on the roof of the building."
The completed structure, a modern blend of historic styles, was dedicated in April 1927. Its brick and stone facade edged up to the property line, necessitating the wide set of entrance stairs to be recessed within the structure, rather than introducing it. The triple entrance sat below a massive stained glass window within a rounded arch. A handsome bell tower with triple arcades and a pyramidal roof sat five stories above the sidewalk.
|from the collection of the New York Public Library|
On January 18, 1931 a shrine to Saint Christopher, patron saint of travelers, was dedicated. The New York Times commented "the movement for the establishment of the shrine was started by chauffeurs and garage workers of the neighborhood." It was the beginning of a movement. With a few weeks the congregation began alterations to convert the basement "as a clubroom for automobilists," according to The New York Times.
And then Father de Nonno took the concept of the patron saint of travelers a step further.
For generations on the Feast Day of St. Francis Manhattan parish priests had blessed the thousands of horses that pulled delivery wagons, coaches, carriages and other vehicles. On Sunday, February 8 Father de Nonno preformed the first Blessing of the Automobiles.
The New York Times reported "The protective spirit of St. Christopher, friend of the traveler, was invoked for New Yorkers...While a crowd stood bareheaded in the rain, sixty automobiles packed in East forty-seventh Street, between First and Second Avenues, were blessed in the name of the saint, who lived in the third century."
Father de Nonno used a relic of the saint, a small bone within a reliquary, in the ceremony. The crowd of 200 and the automobiles were sprinkled with holy water. The Daily Worker was skeptical at best. With tongue in cheek it advised its readers "If you have a tin Lizzie who has been staying out night and may have carbon in the cylinders," this was the answer. It spoofed, "Wicked Studebakers and lewd Lizzies, which have parked themselves in secluded spots on Saturday nights, are doubtless expected to be run through the confessional before enjoying the blessing."
|Father Daniel de Nonno blesses a car in the first Blessing of the Automobiles The New York Times, February 8, 1931|
Later that year, in October, three murals by Italian artist Ignazio La Russa were unveiled. They represented the Glorification of the Holy Family, the Ascension of Christ, and the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin. The latter was a copy of Titian's masterpiece in the Basilica of Santa Maria in Venice. They were unveiled by the rector of St. Patrick's Cathedral, Mgr. Michael J. Lavelle.
|Titian's masterpiece was reproduced in the Church of the Holy Family|
On December 29, 1936 The New York Times reported that Father de Nonno had been transferred to the office of administration of St. Anthony's Church in the Bronx. The Church of the Holy Family now shared a rector--Father George Zertgraf--with St. Bonifice's Church.
Three and a half years later, on June 14, 1940, de Nonno died. In reporting on his death, The New York Times reminisced about his ministry to travelers. "Every Sunday, beginning in the early Nineteen Thirties, Father De Nonno, carrying a reliquary containing a bone of St. Christopher, would bless a long line of cars parked on East Forty-seventh Street. He also blessed cars by special appointment, and made a point of this work in the belief that accidents and the death toll due to motoring would be cut down."
In 1950 the United Nations opened on its massive site on 1st Avenue. Within a decade its growth demanded expansion and nearby blocks were acquired for new structures. The block upon which the Church of the Holy Family was demolished to make way for Dag Hammarskjold Plaza in the early 1960's. A new structure for the church was completed in 1965, next door to the old site, and designed by George J. Sole.
|photo via Mid-Century Mundane|
Saturday, December 7, 2019
In 1858 John T. Boyd advertised "To Let--The convenient three story house with large yard, No. 70 Grove street." It was most likely being operated as a rooming house three decades later when Colden Robinson, his wife Sarah, and her sister, Elizabeth Whitehurst lived there. Their lives would drastically change on March 30, 1888.
Colden and Sarah apparently became involved in a violent argument. It ended with Colden slashing his wife's throat with his razor, and cutting Elizabeth (described by The Evening World as "a neat-looking colored woman) when she attempted to intervene. Robinson's first-degree murder trial began on the morning of June 27. The first witness called was Elizabeth Whitehurst, who "was dressed in deep mourning." Three days later Robinson was found guilty and sentenced to hang.
The house where the murder occurred sat about midway on the long block of Grove Street, between Bleecker and West 4th Streets. It was purchased by Maria Fossier in 1899. She demolished the old structure and hired the firm of Small & Schumann to design a five story brick tenement with a ground floor store on the site. The construction cost of the 22-foot wide building was $15,000; in the neighborhood of $468,000 today.
The shop was leased to M. Cowperthwait & Co., a furniture retailer with stores throughout the city. The company would remain for several years. Maria Fossier seems to have over-stretched her finances and in April 1901 the building was sold at auction.
At the time major change to the neighborhood was on the near horizon. Around 1904 Real estate agent Charles C. Hickok began lobbying to have Seventh Avenue, which began at 11th Street, extended south to Varick Street. Years of pressure paid off an in 1913 the extension began in concert with the construction of the 7th Avenue subway. Scores of buildings, including the historic 1840 Bedford Street Methodist Church, were demolished. Portions of other buildings, like No. 70 Grove Street, were simply sliced off, their interiors exposed like a child's doll house.
When the project was completed in 1917 fully half of the front facade of No. 70 was lost, leaving only 9.5 feet on Grove Street and an open wound along Seventh Avenue South where the corner had been. Its owner, May C. Fay, had to decide whether to finish the demolition or reconstruct her oddly-shaped property.
On September 27 1919 the Record & Guide reported that architect George McCabe had prepared plans to alter the apartment building. The cost of reparations, which included rebuilding the diagonal Seventh Avenue South wall and installing new beams, was a quarter of a million dollars in today's money. The missing corner was patched with full-width grouped windows and pressed sheet metal spandrel panels with embossed diamond designs.
A subsequent remodeling came only two years later, which resulted in a store on the first floor. The stories above held "non-housekeeping apartments." The term meant that there were no kitchens and no cooking was allowed.
The peculiar looking apartment building was home to middle class renters throughout the 20th century. A renovation was completed in 1972 which resulted in an "eating and drinking establishment without restrictions" on the ground floor, three apartments each on the second and third, and two each on the fourth and fifth floors.
In 1993 Down Beat open in the store space. It was described by New York Magazine on January 3 that year as "an intimate new jazz club;" and on December 31 The New York Times said it was a favorite of "jazz's hard-bop mainstream." A week later the newspaper's journalist Peter Watrous called it "a welcome addition to what is already the jazz capital of the world."
|The pedimented entrance is original to the 1899 design.|
photographs by the author
Friday, December 6, 2019
|The site of the cornice is marked by a blank scar.|
In the 1870's the small building at No. 241 South Fifth Avenue was home to the candy factory of Franchi & Lertora, makers of "marshmallow drops." It and the building next door at No. 239 were sold at auction on February 19, 1890; but they would survive another two years.
On June 10, 1892 architect Douglas Smyth filed plans for a seven-story "brick and stone factory" on the site for Alonzo Kimball. He placed the construction costs at $45,000; or about $1.28 million today.
Born in Wakefield, New Hampshire, in 1828, Kimball became associated with the Singer Sewing Machine Company in 1857. He traveled throughout Europe for the firm until 1874 and two years invented and began manufacturing "pin-tickets."
|Alonzo Kimball - Dry Goods Economist, December 9, 1916 (copyright expired)|
Smyth's design was a blend of styles. The two-story limestone base featured massive banded piers, the central one capped by a colossal Ionic capital. The four-story midsection, sandwiched between a stone and a copper cornice, was divided by three brick piers. The arched windows of the third floor featured fan lights with metal spokes. The grouped openings of the top floor took the form of two large arches.
Alonzo Kimball was still perfecting his business at the time of the Kimball Building's construction. And so the building was initially home to Johnson & Morris, steam heating, hot water and ventilating contractors, who moved in in April 1893. The firm designed and installed systems capable of handling the heating needs of large structures. On May 26, 1894 The Metal Worker shared a testimonial received by engineer George W. Plastow when he was given an order "for a considerable heating plant." The return customer said:
More than 20 years ago your house heated a building for me, and the plans has been so free from annoyance and excellent in service that I remembered your house when I wanted this building heated.
In 1896 South Fifth Avenue was renamed West Broadway. (it was a common-sense move, since a year earlier College Place had been extended, joining South Fifth Avenue to West Broadway and creating a confusion of three names within a span of mere blocks.) The Kimball Building received the new address of Nos. 307-309 West Broadway.
Johnson & Morris remained in the building through 1897. And then the following year A. Kimball Co. was incorporated by Kimball, his son-in-law Melville Asbury Marsh, and Arthur G. Thompson. The firm moved into the building that bore its name.
Following the turn of the century the aging Kimball seems to have slowed down and he essentially turned over management of the firm to Marsh and Thompson.
The success of A. Kimball Co. was evidenced in Thompson's luxurious lifestyle. In 1906 he placed his 76-acre country estate on the Long Island Sound for sale. His ad described a "spacious mansion, $25,000 barn, $30,000 stable, house for farm hands, 165-foot grapery, orchards, two acre garden, gas house, ice house, &c." He was asking $150,000 for the property--more than $4.3 million today.
Thompson's wife, Angelica, attempted to obtain a divorce in April 1914. The Sun reported "Mr. and Mrs. Thompson have been living apart for some months." Angelica charged her husband with "improper acts." She was disappointed when the judge refused to grant the divorce. He found no proof of the alleged acts and suspected "collusion" between the couple to obtain the divorce. Getting out of a marriage in 1914 seems to have been more challenging than today.
|The Clothier and Furnisher, January 1919 (copyright expired)|
Alonzo Kimball died "of paralysis" (most likely a stroke) in his home at No. 727 Park Avenue in December 1916. Melville Marsh was made president of the firm and within the year Thompson was out. Marsh's wife, Mary, (who, incidentally, was Alonzo Kimball's only daughter), was made secretary and director of the firm.
Melville and Mary had two daughters and a son, Alonzo. Alonzo entered Harvard in 1916 and joined the firm following his graduation. The family's summer residence was at Sound Beach, Connecticut, and it was there on August 16, 1929 that Melville Marsh died of a heart attack at the age of 73.
The A. Kimball Co. remained in the West Broadway building until August 1957 when it was sold to an investor. The Kimball Building became home to a variety of small businesses like A. M. Aircraft Parts Co., here by 1959. The firm resold surplus military equipment.
|Popular Mechanics magazine, June 1960|
A conversion completed in 1977 resulted in one apartment per floor above the ground floor. The Department of Buildings restricted their use to "joint living-work quarters for Artists."
photographs by the author
Thursday, December 5, 2019
On the morning of March 7, 1883 fire broke out in the five-story apartment house called the Cambridge. Located at Nos. 48 and 50 East 64th Street, the upscale building was owned by Thomas Reid, who had spent the equivalent of $1.7 million today on its construction in 1877. The New-York Tribune described it as having "an ornamental brown-stone front and being supplied with modern conveniences within." The newspaper added, "There had been no attempt to make the house fire-proof."
Nine of the ten families along with their servants managed to escape; but Mary H. and Rosamond B. Wakeman, the wife and daughter respectively of Abram Wakeman, former Surveyor of the Port, were killed. When the inferno was extinguished, the Cambridge had been gutted.
Within five months Reid hired the prolific architect John G. Prague to design two private homes to replace the Cambridge. Just 15-feet wide each, the matching residences would cost $20,000 each to build; or just over half a million each today.
Completed in 1884, their brownstone facades were designed in the latest neo-Grec style. Their high stone stoops led to double-doored entrances with commodious transoms within porticoes crowned by triangular pediments. Prague's repetition of vertical elements at this level--the long, thin parlor windows; the engaged columns of the porticoes, and the tall, fluted piers upholding the second story bays--emphasized the narrowness of the houses and created a somewhat squashed appearance.
Sharply angled bays with carved panels and architrave-framed windows with pediments embellished the second floor; while the openings of the upper two floors wore dentiled cornices. Handsome carved panels separated the windows of the two floors. Separate but identical iron cornices crowned the design.
On November 21, 1884 Thomas Reid sold the houses to two widows, Edith Brevoort Kane and Meta Kane Bell. Edith purchased No. 50 and her daughter No. 48. They paid $30,000 each for the homes, or about $792,000 today.
Edith was the youngest of the eight children of Henry Brevoort, Jr. and his wife, Laura. She married Pierre Corné Kane in 1853 and the couple had four children: Meta, Elizabeth, William and Henry Brevoort Kane. Pierre died in 1870.
Meta was quite possibly named after her mother's sister, Marguerite "Meta" Claudia Brevoort, who made history as a pioneering female mountain climber. Her husband, wealthy attorney Walton P. Bell, had died three years before she purchased the house on January 23, 1881. The couple had two children, John Grenville Kane Bell and Edith Brevoort Bell.
Before the decade was out Meta had remarried, but her choice of spouses was a bad one. Blanche Cruger had divorced millionaire Eugene Guido Cruger in 1887. He then married Meta Bell in London. Meta left him immediately after the honeymoon, in 1891, but not before a daughter, Angele, had been conceived. Meta and the children returned to East 64th Street and Eugene remaining in Europe.
On November 2, 1891 Edith died in No. 50. The Kane estate retained ownership, leasing it soon after her death to Dr. William Horatio Bates. He was a recognized authority and wrote medical papers such as "Notes on the Therapeutic Uses of the Suprarenal Gland," published by the Medical Record on October 8, 1898. The Bates family remained in the house until 1903.
In the meantime, Meta suffered tribulation next door. While in Paris during the summer of 1892, her daughter, Edith, died. Meta divorced Cruger, The New York Press saying "Another popular New York woman, Mrs. Meta Kane Bell, was brave enough to become Mrs. Cruger No. 2 and the divorce courts again cut the marriage ties of this union."
Meta would have to fight for a slice of her ex-husband's estate for their daughter following his death in 1900. The Elmira Gazette reported that Cruger "led a roving life, but spent the last year of his life at Fontainbleu with Miss [Olga S.] Hertz," whom the newspaper called "the Russian peasant." Olga was technically a servant of Cruger, but his will left most of his estate to her. Meta managed to obtain $30,000 for the girl, or about $914,000 today.
The Bates family was replaced in No. 50 by John Bradley Cumings and his wife, the former Florence B. Thayer, by October 1903. The couple, who had moved to New York from Boston around 1900, had two children, six-year old John, Jr., and four-year old Wells Bradley. John was a member of the brokerage firm of Cumings & Marckwald at 36 Wall Street. Soon after moving in, on March 16, 1904, another son, Thayer, was born. At the time the family had four-live in servants, all Irish women.
Often mentioned in society columns, their residency at No. 50 would come to a tragic conclusion. In January 1912 John and Florence sailed for Europe for six-week vacation. Three months later they were headed home on aboard the R.M.S. Titanic.
At 11:40 on the night of April 14 the ship hit an iceberg. A group of first-class passengers, including John and Florence, were led to A-Deck to board lifeboats. Florence initially refused to board without her husband, allowing Lifeboat 4 to fill and be lowered. John, who was 30-years-old at the time, promised her he would follow in a later boat.
Florence and the other survivors in her lifeboat were picked up by the R.M.S. Carpathia. On April 22, 1912 the New York Evening Journal reported "A pathetic case growing out of the Titanic disaster is that of Mrs. J. Bradley Cumings, of No. 50 East Sixty-fourth Street...Mrs. Cumings, confined in her bed since her arrival on the Carpathia, clings to-day to the hope that her husband still lives. Although suffering from the exposure and shock she persists in rising from her pillow to say: 'My husband is alive; you will find him somewhere.'"
Florence insisted to relatives that she saw a schooner near the wreck shortly after the Titanic sank and she believed John had been rescued by it.
By the end of May, however, all hope had faded. On May 30 Madeline Astor, the widow of John Jacob Astor who also perished on the ship, invited Florence and another socialite survivor and widow, Mrs. John B. Thayler, to a quiet luncheon to show their appreciation to Captain Arthur Henry Rostron, the captain of the Carpathia, and its ship's surgeon, Dr. Frank E. McGee.
Florence and the children left East 64th Street within the month and Grenville Kane leased the house to David Bennett King.
Meta Kane Bell Kruger married again in 1900. Her new husband was Raoul Mourichon, a chevalier of the Legion of Honor of France. She moved to Paris, but retained ownership of the 64th Street house until 1919 when she sold it at auction.
No. 48 was sold again in 1921, purchased by William Allen Butler as the home of his newly-wed son, Dr. Charles Terry Butler, and his bride the former Dorothy P. Black. Later that year, on November 17, the New York Evening Post wrote "Congratulations are being extended to Dr. and Mrs. Charles Terry Butler on the birth of a daughter on November 7, at 48 East Sixty-fourth Street."
The Butlers sold No. 48 to Dr. Samuel W. Thurber just two years later in April 1923. The family took possession in time for daughter Louise Wood Thurber's marriage to William Van Loan Taggart in the house on December 15. Like the Butlers, the Thurbers would not retain ownership long. They sold it to another physician, Dr. Rufus E. Stetson in 1926.
No. 50 had been home to doctors as well. In the 1920's ophthalmologist Charles A. Thompson was here, and in the late 1930's and early '40's it was owned by Dr. Egon Neustadt. He sold it to modernist architect Edward Durell Stone in 1945, who had just been discharged from the Army.
The architect announced that he would “remodel the four-story house to provide for his offices on the two lower floors and his residence on the upper floors.” Stone restarted his practice in the house. It was here that he designed the 300-room El Panama Hotel in Panama City, Panama, which was featured in a January 1952 article in Life magazine.
Stone left No. 50 in 1956 to move a few blocks away to No. 130 East 64th Street; a similar house erected in 1878 which he remodeled with a patently Edward D. Stone Modernist facade.
At the time No. 50 was home to Tony Award-winning Broadway director Albert Marre and his actor wife, Joan Diener. Diener starred in "Kismet" in 1953 and in "Man of La Mancha" in 1965. They would remain until 2013.
In 2015 the interiors No. 48 were renovated by Pete Pelsinski of SPAN Architecture. The removal of all the 19th century elements prompted a real estate listing to call it "reinvented."
From the sidewalk the houses, once owned by a socially prominent widow and her equally prominent widowed daughter, have changed little since 1884.
photographs by the author