Tuesday, April 7, 2020

The Imlay Ludovic Benet House - 137 West 87th Street

In August 1884 the trade journal Building reported "Mr. Charles L. Guilleaume proposes to build on the north side of 87th street, west of Ninth avenue, seven 3-story high-stoop residences, to cost about $84,000, from the designs of Mr. A. B. Jennings."  The cost of each house would translate to about $317,000 in today's money.  The Real Estate Record & Builders' Guide added "The fronts will be of Berea stone, brick, terra cotta and brown stone, each house being of different design in Rococo."  

Guilleamue's determination to fit seven houses on the 97-foot wide plot is surprising, especially given the high-end residences rising in the immediate neighborhood.  The widest of his row would be No. 139 in center, at just 15 feet.   

Despite the Record & Guide's description of the style as "Rococo," Arthur Bates Jennings blended two rather diverse styles, Queen Anne and Romanesque Revival, for his balanced A-B-C-D-C-B-A row.  

The showier treatment of the attic level made No. 137 (with the pumpkins) not a true mirror image of the other "C" style house, No. 141 two doors to the left.

No. 137, one of the "C" style houses, was just 14-feet wide.   The tall stone stoop led to a necessarily narrow arched doorway.  The basement and parlor levels were faced in rough cut brownstone where Romanesque Revival made its cameo appearance.  The angled facade of the upper floors were faced in red brick.  Jennings crowned the residence with a windowless attic level encased in pressed metal.  Its fanciful design included a triangular pediment and quarter sunbursts, a nearly obligatory Queen Anne style motif.

The house went through a series of relatively rapid turnovers.  It was purchased by Frederick Hussey, principal of the Frederick Hussey Realty Corporation, who leased it before selling it on November 1, 1888 to Mary B. Kidder for $21,000.   The price would equal about $572,000 today.

Mary did not move in, but as Hussey had done, used the house as rental income.  By 1893 she leased it to Edward K. Jones, a member of the legal firm of Eustis, Jones & Clovis.

Born in Delaware, Jones had come to New York in 1879 and opened his law practice.  His reputation among the legal community was sterling.  The New-York Tribune quoted a New York Supreme Court justice who said of him "You will find him...a man of rare scholastic and professional attainments, and possessed of the finest instincts of personal honor and manhood."

In connection with his position as Special Counsel for the United States in Prize Cases, Jones sailed for Europe in the summer of 1897.  In his absence his wife, the former Wilhelmina Paterson, and their daughter, Charlotte, went to the the fashionable Mathewson House hotel at the seaside resort of Narragansett Pier in Rhode Island.  After receiving a telegram that Charlotte had fallen seriously ill, Jones hurriedly returned, arriving in New York on September 5.

As it turned out, it was not only Charlotte who was ill.  Both she and Wilhelmina were suffering from pneumonia.  And, tragically, before Jones could reach them, they died.  The Syracuse, New York newspaper The Evening Herald reported on September 6 "One expired within half an hour of the other."

Edward K. Jones - New-York Tribune Illustrated Supplement, July 17, 1898 (copyright expired)
Jones would partially rely on his fine reputation in the fall of 1898.  Before sailing to Europe in August he had locked up Wilhelmina's and Charlotte's jewelry in the safe of the Metropolitan Club, one of the several exclusive clubs of which he was a member.   When he returned two months later and unlocked the sturdy box, it was empty.

On October 25, 1898 the New York Journal and Advertiser reported that the jewels were "valued at many thousands of dollars," and that Jones "has offered $1,000 reward for the recovery."  Earlier The New York Press had detailed the loss:

One oval-shaped diamond brooch, diamond star corsage pin, pair bracelets (one set with diamonds, others with sapphires, same pattern), pair solitaire diamond earrings, cluster diamond ring, solitaire-diamond ring, gold bracelet set with amethysts, plain gold wedding ring (marked inside 'E.K.J. to W.F.P'), gold scarfpin and packing containing gold coin.

The detailed description may have sparked a scheme in the mind of Helen Maillard who lived in an apartment at No. 50 West 65th Street.  She reported that at 4:00 on the morning of October 22 thieves had broken into her flat and stolen the identical jewelry.  Her story suddenly cast doubt on Jones's.  The New York Press reported "Two peculiarly mysterious losses of diamond were brought to the attention of the police yesterday.  Whether there really was a robbery in either case is doubted to some extent by them, and that there is the possibly of the two strange stories having some connection is more than hinted at."

Helen's story unraveled, however.  Police could find no marks of forced entry although she insisted the door had been jimmied open.   And two years earlier, according to police Captain McClusky, "Mrs. Maillard complained to him that she had been robbed of jewels worth $5,000 by Samuel Gaston, known as 'Jew Sam.'"

Nine months after the incident, on June 27, 1899. Mary E. Senn sold No. 137 to Dr. Imlay Ludovic Benet and his wife, the former Edith Elizabeth Laidlaw.  The couple had been married on November 5, 1896.

Born in Brooklyn on March 13, 1868, Benet had graduated from Princeton University in 1892.  His name drew from those of his parents--Ludovic Benet and Isabel Imlay.  He was by now a surgeon at the Presbyterian Hospital.

Unlike the previous owners, the Benets intended No. 137 to be their long-term home.  In 1904 they hired Brooklyn contractor J. Welch to re-do the plumbing throughout the house.

As was customary, the title of the property was in Edith's name.  And so when Louise C. Ball tripped on the loose coal hole cover on the sidewalk outside on February 25, 1910, she sued Edith.

Louise was 26-years old and a teacher at the New York Normal College.  As she stepped on the lid of the coal hole, it tilted and her foot slipped in.  Two delivery men passing by on a wagon jumped down and carried her up the stoop to the Benet house.  There, according to Louise's testimony, Edith "called for the maid in the house and she came down and they put alcohol on my bruised leg, which made me suffer even more pain."

Charging negligence, Louise sued Edith for $10,000 damages; more than a quarter of a million in today's dollars.  The jury found in her favor, but greatly reduced the settlement to $1,750.

In March that same year Benet sold his automobile.  Entitling his advertisement in The Evening Telegram "Doctor's Maxwell," he described it as "Perfect throughout, at bargain price; demonstrate anywhere, $300; cost $500."  The bargain price would translate to just over $8,000 today.

Little has changed to No. 137 since this tax photo was shot around 1940.  via NYC Department of Records & Information Services
The Benets' marriage had come to an end prior to 1921 when Imlay married Gabrielle Collette in the American Church in Paris.  In March 1922 No. 137 was sold to Harry A. Hannigan who quickly resold it in August to Margaret M. Hull.  The New York Herald reported that she intended to occupy it.

The end of the line for No. 137 as a single family home seemed to have come in 1954 when it was renovated to apartments and furnished rooms.   But in 1971 it was reconverted to a single family home.

The skinny house with its eye-catching pressed metal crown looks little different today that when the paint first dried in 1887.

photographs by the author

Monday, April 6, 2020

The Lost James W. Gerard House - 17 Gramercy Park

The delicate Gothic style cast iron balcony matched the areaway fencing.  from Old Buildings of New York City, 1907 (copyright expired)

Samuel B. Ruggles laid out Gramercy Square in 1832.  Banker Elihu Townsend was among the first purchasers of lots on which elegant mansions would begin rising a decade later.  On March 25, 1844 he sold a 33-foot wide plot on the south side of the park to James W. Gerard.  His mansion, No. 17, would be among the first, if not the first completed on the square.  It was also said to be the third brownstone-fronted house in Manhattan--a trend that would eventually change the personality of New York City homes forever.

Gerard's architect's innovations went beyond the brownstone facing.  In 1840 Richard Upjohn had introduced the Gothic Revival style to New York City in his Trinity Church far downtown.   The Gerard house was almost assuredly the first Gothic Revival style residence in the city.

Four stories tall above an English basement, its double-doored entrance was recessed deeply within a portico, the free-standing columns of which supported miniature turrets and a castellated balcony.  The floor-to-ceiling parlor windows which opened onto a wide cast iron balcony provided views of the park and welcomed ventilation in the warm months.  Square headed drip moldings crowned the openings and a frieze of pointed arches ran below the simple cornice.

James Watson Gerard was born in New York City in 1794 and graduated from Columbia College in 1811.  He was admitted to the bar in 1816.  Interested in civic good from an early age, in 1824 he founded the House of Refuge for Juvenile Delinquents, the first such establishment in the country.  He also took an active role in Gramercy Square and the first meeting of the park's trustees was held in the Gerard house in 1844.

His wife was the former Eliza Sumner, daughter of Increase Sumner who was Governor of Massachusetts and a Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.  The couple had four children, William Sumner (who died young), Ida, Juliette Ann, and James Watson (the fourth James Watson Gerard in the line).

Gerard made his mark on the city's newly-formed police department that same year.  In 1843 the Metropolitan Police--a professional force--was formed.  Up to then the officers wore no uniforms.  One anonymous historian remembered in 1907 "Occasionally, an ordinary looking man would be seen wandering about the streets, and, if the wind happened to turn aside the lapel of his coat, one might observe a small metal shield.  This was the only indication of his office."  Henry Collins Brown, his 1924 book Fifth Avenue Old and New, was more direct, saying that at the time the officers "were dressed for the most part like tatterdemalions."

Gerard lobbied to created military type uniforms which would signify rank, based loosely on the London model.  But his idea was met with opposition.  So when he and Eliza were invited to a fancy dress ball at the home of Charlotte and William Coventry Waddell in 1844, he arrived "in a costume that illustrated his idea--blue coat, brass buttons, helmet and club," said Brown.  "So convincing was his demonstration that the Common Council shortly afterwards adopted the idea, which is substantially the uniform worn today."

James, Jr. followed in his father's professional footsteps, graduating from Columbia College in 1843.  After serving as United States attaché at London, he entered his father's law firm, Platt, Gerard & Buckley.

In 1859 Juliette Ann married one of her father's law partners, Thomas C. T. Buckley.  Her sister Ida married British consul J. Frederick Wiggin.  And on October 31, 1866 James, Jr. married Jenny J. Angel, daughter of former Minister to Sweden Benjamin F. Angel.  Her mother was the former Julia Jones, daughter of Captain Horatio Jones.  The bride was also a direct descendant of Elder William Brewster, who arrived on the Mayflower.

James's marriage was the only joyous occasion for the Gerard household that year.  Both Juliette Ann and Eliza died in 1866.  James and his bride moved into the Gramercy Park mansion with his father.

Two years later Gerard retired from his legal practice, although he continued to hold the position of Inspector of Public Schools.  He died in the house at the age of 80 on February 7, 1874.

Gerard's will was, according to The New York Herald, "a very long and elaborate document."  James received "his stables in East Twentieth street, near Third avenue [and] all his horses and carriages" as well as "all his furniture, plate, wines, paintings (except the 'Queen of Sheba'), books engravings and works of art in the late residence of the testator, No. 17 Gramercy Park."  (Gerard had promised Ida the excluded painting.)

The house was inherited jointly by James and Ida; however their father had his ideas about it.  "He advises that his son shall, if practicable, buy out the interests of the testator's daughter and son-in-law, T. C. T. Buckley, in the residence and live in it himself."  Jennie was also a beneficiary of the will, receiving "a large lot of land and three houses in East Boston, and other valuable property," according to The New York Herald.

James did, indeed, purchase his sister's half of the house.  Like his father, he was now a respected attorney, specializing in real estate and property law.  He and Jenny had three children, James Watson, Sumner, and Julian Monroe.

Gerard was elected to the State Senate in 1876 and served one term.  He wrote several books on history, the most important being The Peace of Utrecht.   The wealth and social position of the family were evidenced in his memberships to the Players, Tuxedo, St. Nicholas Society and Union Clubs.

The Gerards were out of the city for the winter season of 1881-82 and they leased the mansion to General George B. McClellan and his wife, Nelly.  McClellan was nationally known for his service during the Mexican-American and Civil Wars (although not universally lauded).  On December 4, 1881 The Sun advised "Gen. and Mrs. McClellan have issued invitations for Thursday evenings in January at their new residence, 17 Gramercy Park, which they have rented for the winter from Mr. James W. Gerard."

Social events in the Gerard house were often lavish.  The New-York Tribune later recalled "Mr. and Mrs. Gerard gathered about them some of the brightest spirits of the worlds of literature, art and fashion."

On December 6, 1891 The Sun reported "Mr. and Mrs. James W. Gerard gave an elaborate dinner last night at their residence, 17 Gramercy Park, in honor of Mrs. George Pendelton Bowler.  The table was handsomely decorated with American beauty roses and ferns, and the tall candelabra were covered with pink and white satin shades."  Among the guests that night were some of Manhattan's most prominent citizens, including the Nicholas Fishes, the Byram K. Stevenses, Ward McAllister, and Mrs. Blanche Cruger.  Also in attendance was Colonel Cuthbert Larking of England, "who was equerry to the Duke of Connaught and attached to the Queen's household."

James Gerard died in the house on January 28, 1900.  In reporting on his death The Tammany Times called him "a gentleman of scholarly attainments."  The residence was inherited by his 33-year old son, the fifth in a row of James Watson Gerards.  His two younger brothers, Sumner and Julian were both still unmarried and continued to live in the Gramercy Park house with him and their mother. 

James had graduated from Columbia in 1890 and he too went into law.  He had became a partner in his father's firm, now named Bowers & Sands, in 1899.  A year after his father's death, on June 11, 1901, he married Mary August, the daughter of millionaire Marcus Daly, who had died only a few months earlier.

On September 20, 1907 Jenny Gerard died at the family's summer home, Canary Cottage, in Bar Harbor, Maine, at the age of 64.   James and Mary, along with Sumner and Julian, were all still living at No. 17.  But that situation would not last long.

In the summer of 1908 the house was leased to the National Independence Club, a political organization.  On August 30 the New-York Tribune reported that the formal nomination of Thomas L. Hisgen and John Temple Graves as candidates for President and Vice-President, respectively, on the Independence Party ticket had been announced from the club.

But then, on April 29, 1909, The Sun reported "The Independence League will abandon before the end of the week its club at 17 Gramercy Park.  It has been less than a year since the club was opened with fireworks and band playing, but the attendance has been so small and the members have shown such a reluctance to pay up their dues, that the lease has been transferred to the Technology Club of New York."

The Technology Club made no changes to the exterior appearance of the mansion.  photo by Irving Underhill, from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York
The Technology Club was formed by graduates of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.  On May 8, 1909 the New-York Tribune reported "The club moved into its present home about a week ago" and mentioned that among its members were "many of the best known engineers throughout the world."

In 1937 the Gerard family sold the nearly century-old mansion to real estate developers and builders George Schor & Sons.  On February 25 The New York Times reported "A six-story apartment house will rise on the site of the former home of James W. Gerard...J. Lewis Mayers is the architect."  The following year, on October 16, the newspaper commented on its completion.  "It is in colonial style to harmonize with the general treatment of the Gramercy Park section."  One could argue that point.

Sunday, April 5, 2020

While We're All Locked Down ...

After 10 years of posting a new article every day (except Sunday, of course), the new reality in which we are living poses a challenge.  The Shelter-In-Place mandate prohibits me from getting out there and getting photographs for the new posts--as a matter of fact you probably have noticed lately the quality of the photos has not always been great.  That's because I have been forced to use quickly snapped phone photos that were taken for reference and not for final use.

I think that my readers would be as disappointed as I would be if I had to go on a hiatus until this horrible situation has passed.  For one thing, I like to think that the posts provide at least a few minutes of distraction every day.

And so for a while Daytonian In Manhattan will be brushing up some of the older posts and putting them out there again.  After more than 3,000 posts you might find it interesting to re-visit some of the locations.  I promise to add additional information rather than to regurgitate an old post, as well!  I will mix as many new posts as possible (I still have a precious few in my stash!)

Hopefully everyone is remaining safe and healthy and we'll all be back to normal lives before very soon.


P.S. -- The Monday "Lost" posts should go on as usual, since they do not require new shots.

Saturday, April 4, 2020

The Sailors' Snug Harbor Bldg - 262 Greene Street

Upon Captain Robert Richard Randall's death in 1801, his will (drawn by Alexander Hamilton) provided for the formation of  an "Asylum or Marine Hospital, to be called the Sailors' Snug Harbor for the purpose of maintaining and supporting aged, decrepit, and worn-out sailors."  He had envisioned what today would be called a retirement community on the grounds of his 24-acre summer estate in what today is the Washington Square area. The organization was formed; however Randall's family established the hospital and grounds on Staten Island, instead.  The institution wisely retained ownership of the Manhattan property which multiplied in value as the city moved northward.  By the end of the century the Sailors' Snug Harbor properties were garnering the institution vast amounts of income.

By 1899 a modern headquarters was necessary.  The double-wide, Greek Revival style house at Nos. 260-262 Greene Street which had been altered to lofts was chosen as the site.  Rather then demolish it, Sailors' Snug Harbor opted to remodel it into a modern office and loft structure.

from the archives of New York University
Detailed documentation for the project is inexplicably lacking; however given that Robert Maynicke was designing the two six-story brick and stone loft and store buildings next door at Nos. 258 and 260, it is likely he was also responsible for No. 262.

The red brick structure was given a Colonial Revival base with dramatic fanlights above the three two-story arches, reminiscent of Georgian-style doorways.  Two stone plaques set within the spandrels of the arches identified the building with an anchor and the monogram of Sailors' Snug Harbor.

Always financially astute, Sailors' Snug Harbor allowed for income-producing space in its new headquarters.  The three floors above the office levels were lofts which were quickly rented.  In 1900 W. Silverman & Son, dealers in fur trimmings; K. Hopke, "embroidery;" and furrier Schnapp & Katzman occupied the the spaces.  Schnapp & Katzman's employees, almost all women, worked a grueling 54 hours per week.

The tenants turned over at a surprising rate.  In 1903 Aschner & Van Buren, makers of wax figures, was here.  (It would be years before department store mannequins would be made of materials other than paper mâché or wax.)  And the following year Brownstein & Widerhorn, manufacturers of furs; and Weltman Brothers, makers of "fur tails," moved in.

Philip M. Wagner's cloak factory was in the building in 1912.  On the night of November 6 that year Police Lieutenant Glynn and Detective Bottis noticed four men entering and leaving several nearby loft buildings.  Unseen, they trailed them to No. 262 Greene Street and after the gang had been inside a while, they entered.  The New York Press reported that the officers "caught them in the second floor.  The door of Philip M. Wagner's cloak factory had been jimmied."

The Washington Square Association had been founded in 1906 "made up of business men and residents of the neighborhood," as described by The New York Herald.  By 1919 it had 350 members and leased space in the Sailors' Snug Harbor building for its headquarters.

On the afternoon of April 2, 1922 five thugs broke into the residence of Albert R. Shattuck at No. 19 Washington Square North.  Mr. and Mrs. Shattuck and their five servants were bound and gagged in the wine cellar at gunpoint while the house was robbed.  The terrifying ordeal unnerved the neighborhood.  

The Washington Square Association blamed the police.  It held a meeting on April 7 during which it resolved "to appeal to the Chamber of Commerce to call a mass meeting of representatives of civic bodies and citizens generally for the purpose of making a thorough-going inquiry into the apparent breakdown of the police force of New York."  Additionally, it urged the neighborhood residents "to be especially vigilant about locks and bars."

The original ground floor configuration can be seen in this photograph taken around 1941.  photo via the NYC Dept. of Records & Information Services.

Sailors' Snug Harbor remained in the building for decades.  The organization was one of the three largest landholders in Manhattan.  And yet, on July 28, 1976, The New York Times entitled an article "Snug Harbor Vexed by Costs Despite Wealth" and reported "the trustees who administer its shelter for retired seamen on Staten Island say they are not earning enough to keep the home afloat."  To garner funds, the institution announced it was liquidating properties, including No. 262 Greene Street.

Although the ground floor has been significantly altered, little else has changed--including the wonderful anchor plaques the significance of which are all but forgotten.

photographs by the author

Friday, April 3, 2020

The Cross & Bastine Bldg - 232 West Broadway

On February 26, 1870 the Record & Guide reported that M. A. Marcy had hired New Jersey-based architect M. H. Scott to design a "two-story brick store" on the site of a coal yard at the corner of North Moore Street and West Broadway.   Completed before the end of the year, Scott had wasted no unnecessary money on the building's decorative elements--yet without sacrificing architectural style.   The segmentally-arched window heads, ribbon-like freize and corbel table below the pressed metal cornice were all executed in brick.  They all reflected the modish neo-Grec style.

There were two cast iron storefronts--one which engulfed the entire West Broadway side and another at the rear on North Moore Street.  (The West Broadway address, No. 132, would be renumbered 232 in 1897.)

The building's first occupant was Cross & Bastine's wood graining shop.  Victorian architects and cabinet makers cleverly masqueraded cheaper woods as expensive rosewood or mahogany, for example.  Cross & Bastine also etched or engraved supplied designs on glass or wooden panels.

Real Estate Record & Guide, October 3, 1874 (copyright expired)
In the 1890's Achille Bataille & Co.'s "West Broadway Wire Works" office and showroom were located in the building.  Its factory was located significantly north on Hudson Street, one block south of West 14th Street.  The "wire work" was more substantial that it sounds today.  The firm manufactured the brass and wire railings for "banks, offices, cemeteries," as well as elevator enclosures and folding gates, wire fencing and similar architectural items.

At the turn of the century Italian-born Michael Pascarella operated his wholesale paper operation here.  He shared the building with M. Tortakoff's laundry business, which was most likely located in the rear space.  Pascarella would remain for several years and the large sign erected atop the building in 1907 most likely advertised his business.  It cost $230 to install, or about $6,500 in today's money.

Pascarella lived in Emerson, New Jersey and his successful paper business garnered him a comfortable lifestyle.  In September 1910 he purchased a new automobile and proudly invited three friends to take a test ride.  Joining the party was Pascarella's teen-aged son.

On September 4 New-York Tribune reported that when they were about six miles from home the younger Pascarella "said he knew how to run it and he was allowed to try his hand."  Things did not end well.  "When near the Old Hook Cemetery, between Westwood and Emerson, something went wrong with the steering gear."  The boy ran his father's new car off the road and up a steep embankment where it then "turned turtle."

The newspaper said "The five occupants were made prisoners under the car, but all miraculously escaped injury."  They were rescured by men in a "passing machine."  The Tribune ended saying "The new car is now in a Hackensack garage, a wreck."

In 1911 ex-City Chamberlain Charles H. Hyde was facing a charge of swindling a client.  Israel Tilden, a law student and clerk, applied for a change of venue, claiming that Hyde was so hated locally that he could not receive a fair trial.  To support his application Tilden presented the court with an affidavit alleging that local businessmen had disparaged Hyde, assumed he was guilty, and called him unflattering names. 

The problem for Tilden and his client was that at least a dozen of the men learned of the affidavit and told reporters they had never made the remarks attributed to them.  Among them was Michael Pascarella.  

Tilden had reported that Pascarella had said "My opinion is that he [Hyde] is no better than the rest and ought to be convicted."  But Pascarella told the assistant district attorney that he had never met Tilden nor made the statement.  The Sun added that he "says that he cannot read English and never read anything about Hyde or the 'others' in any newspaper."

The Pascarella paper business was gone by the onset of the Great Depression.  A restaurant moved into both levels in 1931, followed by a fish processing and packing factory in 1942.  At mid-century the building held a single store along with storage space on the first floor, with an office and more storage upstairs.  In 1952 the building next door at No. 230 was demolished and would remain a parking lot for years.

The original configuration of the storefront, as well as the initial cornice, can be seen in this tax photograph taken around 1941.  photo via the NYC Dept. of Records & Information Services.
Much had changed in the Tribeca neighborhood by the last decade of the 20th century.  The little corner building was home to One Dream theater by 1991 and it would remain in the space for years.

Then major change came in 2009 when construction started on a six-story structure next door which incorporated No. 232.  Completed in 2010, the combined buildings now form a sumptuous single family residence.

photographs by the author

Thursday, April 2, 2020

200 Years of History - 34 White Street

Around 1805 the two-and-a-half story frame house at the northeast corner of White and Church Streets was completed.  The 25-foot wide residence would have had a peaked roof with dormers.  It unclear who erected the house; but it was occupied by Abraham Moore for several years.  Because Moore was well known in city politics, it is highly doubtful that house originally held a ground floor store.

By 1851 the ground floor had been converted for a grocery store.  It was operated by Gerhard Dieckman in 1853, who lived in the upper floors.  He was too savvy to be taken in by two would-be crooks that summer.  On August 18 the New-York Daily Tribune reported "Officer Trury of the Fifth Ward, yesterday arrested two men, named Charles King and Thomas Brooks, charged with attempting to pass a counterfeit bank bill at the store of Gerhard Dyckman [sic], No. 34 White-street."

Dieckman remained for a few years, but by 1859 the store had been taken over by Christopher Burmester.  On the night of January 18 Burmester neglected to lock the door to the cellar and between 3:00 and 4:00 in the morning fire broke out there.  Because it was "discovered at an early moment," according to the New-York Daily Tribune, it "was extinguished before much damage was done."  

But firefighters quickly suspected an arsonist had entered through the unlocked door.  The New York Herald noted "The fire was subsequently found to have originated amongst some empty barrels...and the fire is supposed to have been the act of an incendiary."

The store continued to see a turnover in proprietors.  Henry Miller ran it and lived upstairs in 1861.  That year the family's pet ran away.  An advertisement in The New York Herald on October 16 read: "$10 Reward--Lost...A King Charles Dog, with white breast.  The above reward will be given by returning him to No. 34 White street, corner Church."  That the dog was beloved was evidenced in the reward--nearly $300 in today's money.

It unclear who was operating the grocery store on March 4, 1864 when The New York Times reported that the house had been sold for $15,500 (about $256,000 today).  The upstairs portion was home to the family of George Reeves and while he was a grocer, his store was at No. 44 Whitehall Street.

The store space was apparently divided by 1873.  Michael J. Gallagher, who lived in Brooklyn, ran a dry goods shop from the address while Henry A. Haack operated the grocery.  Like many grocers, Haack also sold products like wine.  It got him into trouble on August 23, 1875.  The following day The Evening Telegram reported that he had been arrested "for selling liquor on the Sabbath."  He was held in jail overnight before appearing before a judge.

Major change to the building came in 1876 when owner William Watson began significant renovations.  When they were completed in 1877 the house was now a full three stories tall and was faced in brick.  Up-to-date neo-Grec iron lintels and sills were attached to the openings and a cast iron storefront had been installed.

The stylish lintels and sills were the last word in architectural trends.

The former grocery store space was now transformed to a restaurant.  Neither of the partners, Moses King nor Louis Miller, lived in the building.  King's home was on Third Avenue and Miller's on Franklin Street.

The property continued to be in the Watson family for years.  In 1901 the title was transferred to Henry R. C. Watson, presumably a son.

By 1903 the ground floor space was no longer being described as an "eating house," but as a "saloon."  And there was more going on inside than the casual chatter and beer drinking.  Two detectives named Delaney and Rice received a tip that spring, according to The Morning Telegraph, "that a handbook was in operating in a saloon at 34 White street."   A "handbook" operation was a system of betting on horse races.

The two undercover men set out to investigate during the first week of May.  "They had no difficulty in finding the saloon, and a ticker in a corner," said the newspaper.  Detective Delancy explained later that he "hugged that ticker for about an hour, and pored over the quotations on oil, sugar, railroads and horse races."  He said "I acted as much like a sport as I knew how and Kusker eventually approached and asked if I didn't want to be something on the races."

"Kusker" was 24-year old Edward Kusker who, despite his young age, ran what police described as "his gigantic gambling operation."  Delaney feigned "mature deliberation" and then said he "wanted to make a killing on Early Eve, in the sixth."  He pulled out a marked two-dollar bill.   The Morning Telegram wrote "Kusker, says the detective, accepted the bet, and the next thing he knew he was a guest of the City of New York."

In January 1904 Alfred E. Davison purchased the building.  He updated the structure, including a new metal cornice with brackets and a neo-Classical frieze.

Levi Y. Richardson, described by a newspaper as "a wealthy stationer" moved the Ryan Stationery Company into the renovated building.  The firm had been established years earlier and acquired by Richardson that year.  Things were going well for Richardson, who had married his wife, Mary, in 1901.  They lived in a fashionable Brooklyn neighborhood.

But early in 1907 Richardson began consistently staying out late at night.  On April 18 Mary rummaged through his suit pockets and found two love letters from "two young women, one of them prominent in Brooklyn society," according to newspapers.  They left no doubt as to his dalliances, both referring to the happy days that would come after his divorce.  "In the morning, it was alleged, she charged him with duplicity, and he confessed, fell on his knees and with tears in his eyes, kissed Mrs. Richardson again and again," recounted the New-York Tribune.

But his remorse was short lived.  He asked Mary for a divorce and when she replied that she "despised divorces," he exploded.  The New-York Tribune reported on June 11, "One night, she charged, he threw a glass powder jar at her and laid violent hands on her."  After he subsequently moved out, Mary filed for separation on the grounds of "advanced cruel and inhuman treatment and abandonment."

The bad press apparently ruined Richardson's business.  That summer he filed for bankruptcy.  The Sun reminded its readers "A report published in the papers of June 11 of a suit brought in the Supreme Court, Brooklyn, by Mrs. Mary Richardson against her husband...because she found two love letters from other women in his pockets caused considerable comment at that time."

The Ryan Stationery Company survived at the address, taken over by Cornelius Steers in the summer of 1907.  He was successful and on April 25 the following year Walden's Stationery and Printer commented that he "has built up a promising business."

Although clothing manufacturer Perfect Pants Company was in the building until 1913, and outerwear firm The Ranger Sales Co. was here in 1921, it continued to house printing firms.  In 1921 Alvo Printing took the third floor and would stay for years.  

Boys' Life magazine, June 1921 (copyright expired)

Alvo Printing was joined in the building in 1927 by Joseph Eismann, "printers' machinists."

The building was painted white in the 1940's.  from the collection of the New York Public Library
As the 20th century drew to an end the Tribeca neighborhood turned trendy.  By 1994 the Baby Doll Lounge was in the space once occupied by Edward Kusker's saloon and gambling den.  On August 22 that year Anya Sacharow wrote in New York Magazine "TriBeCa hipsters slum at the Jim Jarmusch-ish Baby Doll Lounge."  It would remain in the space past the turn of the century.

In 1997 the upper section was converted to apartments, one per floor.  On February 1, 2006 Petrarca Vina e Cucina opened at street level, described by The Times as "Arqua's wine bar spin-off."

photographs by the author

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

The Josephine Shaw Lowell House - 120 East 30th Street

In 1870, three years before he would become head of the piano firm J. & D. Walker, William H. Walker looked to lease his charming brick-faced dwelling in the Rose Hill neighborhood.  His ad on April 4 in The New York Herald offered:

To Let--furnished, Three-Story House No. 120 East Thirtieth street, near fourth avenue; all the modern conveniences.  Apply to W. H. Walker, at Piano Warerooms of J. & D. Walker, 47 East Twelfth street.

A mix of Greek Revival and Italianate styles, the house was one of a string of six similar homes designed with minor differences.  Handsome Italianate ironwork fencing protected the areaway and continued up the double-wide brownstone stoop which it shared with No. 118.  Paneled pilasters flanked the double doorway and upheld the corniced entablature.  A three-sided oriel at the parlor level no doubt provided a charming, pleasant window seat inside.  Molded architrave frames, slightly arched at the second floor, surrounded the upper openings.

The houses shared a stoop and entrance frame.  The Philanthropic Work of Josephine Shaw Lowell, 1911 (copyright expired)

Seven years earlier Josephine Shaw had married railroad executive Charles Russell Lowell III.  Born into a wealthy Massachusetts family, she had lived both in France and Italy.  Her parents urged her and her four siblings to study and to work to improve their communities.  

Remarkably, when her husband was called into military service during the Civil War, Josephine refused to leave his side.  She followed his division, aiding wounded soldiers at the front.  On October 19, 1864, a year into their marriage, Josephine was eight-months pregnant.  Yet she stayed on with the Union Army and her husband, now in Virginia.  That morning Lowell was wounded at the Battle of Cedar Creek.  His wounds were such that General Sheridan ordered that he be promoted to brigadier general that day.  On October 20 he died at the age of 29.

Josephine Shaw Lowell.  The Philanthropic Work of Josephine Shaw Lowell, 1911 (copyright expired)
The 21-year old widow and mother-to-be returned to Staten Island.  Josephine focused on the rearing of her daughter, Carlotta Russell Lowell, born a month later.  She also turned to public works, working for "the alleviation of human misery," according to historian William Rhinelander Stewart in 1911.

Because she wanted Carlotta to attend Miss Brackett's School in New York City, in 1874 Josephine's father, Francis George Shaw, purchased No. 120 East 30th Street for her.  She continued her tireless work here and in 1876, at the age of 32, she was appointed the first woman commissioner of the New York State Board of charities by Governor Samuel J. Tilden.  She was reappointed by Governor Alonzo B. Cornell in 1881.

Josephine's father died the following year.  The New York Herald reported "To his daughter Josephine Shaw Lowell he gives the house at No. 120 East Thirtieth street, New York."  Although her mother, Sarah Blake Shaw, inherited the Staten Island mansion, she soon opted to rent the house next door to her daughter at No. 118.  In May 1887 the women hired architect H. R. Marshall to connect the two dwellings internally.  His plans called for altering walls and a "door cut through between front halls."  

William Rhinelander Stewart commented "there was constant going and coming; the three women, Mrs. Shaw, Mrs. Lowell, and her daughter were one family.  A friend said of them 'I had never before been with people who talked over the affairs of city and State exactly as they would those of their own family, and on Decoration Day, when the flag hung across the doors of those two houses, one knew what it meant to the women within.'"

Josephine's work in state-wide reform organizations did not distract her from causes closer to home.  She was enraged during the 1889 Christmas shopping season as department store proprietors kept counter employees working late with no compensation.  A reader of The Sun wrote to the editor on December 18, saying in part "The movement undertaken by Mrs. C. R. Lowell of 120 East Thirtieth street...for the employees in dry goods and other establishments that keep open late during  the holiday season, is one that should have the support of the public generally...Wishing Mrs. Lowell and her associates 'God speed' in their humane and equitable task."

Her name consistently appeared in newspapers as she lobbied for improvements in the lives of the underprivileged.  On October 18, 1890 the Record & Guide reported that she had originated a petition for "establishing a park and children's playground" in the infamous Hell's Kitchen neighborhood.

Josephine's parlor was the scene of a notable political meeting on June 16, 1893 following the signing of the Russian Extradition Treaty.  Many Americans feared that it threatened the safety of Russian political exiles who had sought refuge in America.  The New York Times reported "A number of well-known ladies and gentlemen of this city who believe that the extradition treaty recently entered into by the United States and Russian was signed because of misunderstanding and misrepresentation, met yesterday afternoon at the home of Mrs. C. R. Lowell, 120 East thirtieth Street."

The Evening World called it "a small but earnest gathering of patriotic men and women" who hoped "to plant the seeds of protest against the new Russian treaty, which is threatening the liberties of more than one good citizens of this republic."  Before the meeting was over the Society for the Abrogation of the Russian Extradition Treaty had been formed.

Josephine was equally intent on women's rights.  On April 23, 1894 The New York Herald reported "Mrs. Charles Russell Lowell, of No. 120 East Thirtieth street, has long figured in the ranks of New York's ardent suffragists, and though she had held a 'parlor meeting' at her house several weeks ago, she again on Saturday bade her friends to partake of her hospitality and listen to the remarks of Mr. Frederick Hollis in opposition to the arguments that have been advanced by the City Woman Suffrage League and the orators of the many drawing room meetings during the last few weeks."

Carlotta followed her mother's lead in civic involvement.  On December 14, 1896 Mayor William Lafayette Strong appointed her a School Inspector.  She was also involved in the New York Kindergarten Association.

Sarah Blake Shaw died at No. 118 in December 1902.  In reporting on her death, The Sun mentioned "Mrs. Shaw was a member of the famous group of Abolitionists who lived in and about Boston.  William Lloyd Garrison, Wendell Phillips and Theodore Parker were among her personal friends."  It added that Josephine "has written extensively on subjects pertaining to charitable and humanitarian work."  Sarah's estate was valued at about $4.58 million in today's money.

Josephine continued her sometimes controversial work.  On November 28, 1903 she held a meeting in the 30th Street house "to arrange for a mass meeting at which protests will be made against the deportation of John Turner, an English labor organizer and social reformer," according to the New York Evening Post.  The Government had labeled Turner "an anarchist."

Josephine was juggling her work for Turner with her determined efforts as part of the Women's Municipal League to have Mayor Seth Low reelected.  On October 18 The New York Herald said Josephine's house "is like one of the old houses of the aristocratic literary set on Beacon or Charles street in Boston.  One almost expects to see the Charles River as he looks out the rear windows.  It is this house that Mrs. Lowell has converted for the time into a campaign bureau...Porters come and go carrying materials of the campaign into downtown tenements or into uptown mansions, wherever there is a possibility of winning a vote."

Josephine Shaw Lowell died on October 12, 1905.  Carlotta immediately left the house she had grown up in and she and her aunt, Ella S. Barlow, leased it within weeks of Josephine's death.  On November 7, 1905 The New York Press reported "when they return from their honeymoon Mr. and Mrs. Bryce Metcalf will reside in No. 120 East Thirtieth street.  Mrs. Metcalf, who was Miss Susie Hall, was married last week."

Unlike Josephine Lowell, Susie Bryce's name appeared in newspapers not for any activism, but for purely social reasons.  On January 24, 1906, for instance, The New York Press announced "Mrs. Bryce Metcalf, No. 120 East Thirtieth street, will be 'at home' to-day."  Society columnists followed the Metcalfs as they moved between their townhouse and country place, Cedarwild, in Ardsley, New York.

Following the Metcalfs in No. 120 in 1917 was Mary Fanton Roberts, "known to the world of letters as editor of 'The Touchstone,' a magazine of art," according to the New-York Tribune.   She moved her editorial office into the house and focused tremendous attention on the rear garden.

Two years later the New-York Tribune said that backyard had been "the same sad little patch of would-be grass that usually forms the groundwork for an overhead laundry line in places where the owners are not the practical dreamers we find Mrs. Roberts to be.  It had a homely, rickety fence alongside, and, worse of all and almost discouraging even to Mrs. Roberts, it backed up directly against a great factory from which pasteboard boxes had a way of crashing down on tender plants and getting lost in the branches of the few trees that then ornamented the grounds."

A corner of Mary Fanton Roberts's garden.  New-York Tribune, July 6, 1919 (copyright expired)
Landscaping, shrubs and flowering plants, statuary and an Italian birdbath transformed the unattractive space into an urban oasis.  "Already neighbors in that block who have heard of the fame of Mrs. Roberts's gardening...have engaged landscape gardeners to 'fix their yards up' because the spirit of competition has set in," said the article.

Carlotta Lowell and Ella Barlow sold No. 120 in 1921.  John Nelson Cole paid $60,000 for the house, just under $845,000 today.  He most likely purchased it in anticipation of his impending marriage.  His engagement to Helen Dodd was announced on January 14, 1922.

The houses still shared a stoop in 1941.  The entrance pilaster of No. 118 was salvaged to create the new single entrance frame in 1972.  photo via the NYC Department of Records & Information Services.

George Eghyan was living in the house in 1933 when he was a victim of a high profile swindler.  Edward Jockin convinced him to pay $840 "in the belief that Jockin has smuggled a large quantity of silver bars out of Mexico and had cached them in Germany."  He promised Eghyan a share "of the booty" for helping retrieve it.  Eghyan was not the only victim of the shady proposition.  Former General Motors Corporation head William C. Durant and former New York Police Commissioner Richard E. Enright also lost "substantial sums of money," according to The New York Sun on April 3.

The charming house with its significant history was converted to offices in the basement and first floor in 1972, with one apartment each on the upper floors.  In 1980 the offices were renovated to a duplex apartment.

photographs by the author