Saturday, February 16, 2019

The 1861 Condict Building - 55-57 White Street




Cousins John Eliot Condict and Samuel H. Condict were both highly successful.  John was the principal in J. E. Condict Co. with his brother, Silas B., makers of leather "cavalry cartridge boxes, cap boxes, &c.."  He was also vice-president of Condict & Co., brokers in railway stock.  Samuel ran S. H. Condict Co. manufacturers of saddlery and military accouterments.   Samuel ran S. H. Condict & Co., which also manufactured leather accessories.

In 1860 the cousins began construction of the new headquarters for their businesses at Nos. 55-57 White Street on the site of two old structures.  Designed by the prolific architectural firm of John Kellum & Sons and completed in 1861, it sat on the corner of Franklin Alley (later given the more decorous name of Franklin Place).  At the time cast iron facades were rapidly coming into fashion.  The innovation enabled rapid construction, lowered building costs and was touted as fireproof.  Kellum turned to Daniel D. Badger's Architectural Iron Works to fabricate the facade.  It appeared in the founder's catalog four years later.  


Architectural Iron Works New York, 1865 (copyright expired)

The facade featured a few unusual elements--the side piers of the ground floor pretended to be vermiculated stone blocks.  They morphed into highly uncommon diamond-point quoins on the upper floors.  A handsome corbel table ran below the elaborate cornice.  The cast iron design was inspired by earlier stone versions, most notably in its two-story "sperm candle" columns, so-called because of their similarity to the thin candles made from sperm whale oil.  In fact, two years earlier Kellum and his former partner, Gameliel King, had designed a highly similar building in marble at No. 388 Broadway

Kellum clearly borrowed elements from his earlier marble building for the Condict building.

Both D. E. Condict & Co. and S. H. Condict & Co. moved in, along with commission merchants Sprague, Colburn & Co.   John E. Condict was more than a landlord to John H. Sprague.  The two were long-time friends outside of business.

The same year the building was completed the first shot in the Civil War was fired.  The national crisis was a boon for both Condicts who landed military contracts.   During the first year of the war S. H. Condict & Co. supplied the Government with $10,324 worth of gun-slings, cartridge boxes and other "equipments."  That amount would equal about $165,000 today.

The cost-efficient firm did not waste its remnants.  On December 22 1861 it advertised:  "To Shoe Manufacturers--A large lot of small pieces of Leather for sale, suitable for shoe manufacturers.  Apply at 57 White street, to S. H. Condict & Co."

J. E. Condict & Co., too, sold to the military.  During the fiscal year of 1865-66 The Government purchased $3,187.67 in "horse equipment" (about $50,000 today).  The business relationship with the military lasted beyond the war.  In May 1873 S. H. Condict & Co. placed a bid with the United States Navy for $5,32.50 in knapsacks.

Sprague, Colburn & Co. remained in the building following the death of John H. Sprague.  Shockingly, John Eliot Condict saw opportunity in the death of his close friend.  He approached Sprague's widow, Henrietta, and offered to help administer her finances.  The American and English Railroad Cases later reported "J. Elliot [sic] Condict had long been a friend of her husband, doing business in New York in railway securities, under the style of 'Condict & Co.'"  

In February 1870 Henrietta loaned Condict $25,000, taking his note in exchange.  Just before it became due, he suggested she buy $75,000 in bonds of the Madison & Portage Railway Company from him.  Condict put the $25,000 he owed her toward the purchase.  When she had received no interest by April 1879, she placed control of her affairs in the hands of John M. Whiting who dug into the matter.  No evidence could  be found that the railroad had ever received payment for bonds in the name of Henrietta A. Sprague.  A law suit followed which found Condict liable to return the funds, with interest, to Mrs. Sprague.  It may have been the publicity and humiliation that caused Condict to move his family to San Francisco that year.

In the meantime Sprague, Colburn & Co. continued  to represent manufacturers in its White Street showrooms.  In 1879 it sold the "dress goods, handkerchiefs, tie silk and grenadines" of Dohery & Wadsworth; and the silk goods of Jersey City makers Victory Silk Mills; Field, Morris, Fenner & Co.; and A. Pocachard.

In the 1880's two major firms occupied the building.  Commission merchant J. H. Libby & Co. was founded in Maine around 1838.  It opened its New York office in 1863.  The firm handled woolens and "domestic mixed goods of fine grades."  In 1888 Illustrated New York: The Metropolis of To-day commented "The business premises in this city are spacious in size, eligible situated for trade purposes, and are at all times stocked to repletion with new, reliable and valuable goods." 

Also in the building was Lawson Brothers, importers of "laces, embroideries, curtains &tc."  Founded by Robert Lawson in 1858, it now engulfed three floors of Nos. 55-57 White Street.  Illustrated New York said of the firm, "This house has long been recognized as among the most extensive importing houses in this line in the country, possessing every facility for keeping itself en rapport with the most famous of European manufacturers."

H. J. Libby & Co. would remain in the building at least through 1906; while Lawson Brothers left around 1896.  In its place was Campbell & Smith, merchants in cloaks, millinery, notions, fancy goods and hosiery.

By 1906 The American Mills Company had taken over the Campbell & Smith space.  The firm manufactured "elastic fabrics, elastic webbings, suspender and garter webbings, elastic braids and suspender braids" in its Waterbury, Connecticut factory.

Hoffman-Corr Manufacturing seems to have been the sole occupant of the building by 1908.  The firm manufactured seemingly disparate products: rope and twin, "cotton waste and candle wicking," and flags.  

Factory work in the early 20th century could be tedious and discouraging.  Many firms promoted morale by sponsoring company baseball teams, bowling teams and other activities.  On August 23, 1908 the New-York Tribune reported "The Commercial Athletic Association has set apart the afternoon and evening of August 29 for its grand carnival and athletic games, which are to be confined wholly to the members of the houses represented in the baseball league."  Among them was the Hoffman-Corr Manufacturing Company.

A massive two-week celebration of the 300th anniversary of Henry Hudson's discovery of the Hudson River and the 100th anniversary of the invention of Robert Fulton's successful steamboat was held in New York from September 25 to October 9, 1909.   Hoffman-Corr Manufacturing responded by producing "bunting flags," purported to be exact reproductions of the flag that flew on Hudson's Half Moon in 1609.


The Country Gentleman, August 26 1909 (copyright expired)
On September 23, two days before the events began, the firm advertised that it would remain open until 9:00 every night to enable customers to grab up their flags.  They were available in four sizes, from 4 x 6 feet to an enormous 8 x 12 feet.  The costs ranged from $1 to $3--the most expensive costing around $85 in today's dollars.

Two years later Clough, Pike & Co., importers of "mohairs" shared the building with Turtle Bros., importers of linens.  Both were foreign-based.  Clough, Pike & Co.'s mills were in Bradford, England; while the headquarters of Turtle Bros. was in Belfast, Ireland.

Harry T. Turtle handled the American operations, while Herbert S. Turtle oversaw the Irish side of things.  The well-respected firm suffered embarrassing press when Harry T. Turtle was arrested on the afternoon of June 6, 1912.  The bold headline in The Evening World read: Linen Importer Held, Accused of a $100,000 Fraud."  Special Treasury Agents Williams and Coffee had been surveiling Turtle since January 1910.  He was charged with defrauding the Government by undervaluing imported goods.
The Dry Goods Economist, January 13, 1917 (copyright expired_

Turtle Bros. was still in the building in 1919, a year after Herbert S. Turtle died.  But it was gone by the following year.

In 1920 the building was shared by hospital linens manufacturer Geo. P. Boyce & Co., and cotton and woolen goods jobbers Louis Bralower & Sons.

The building was sold in January 1922 for $140,000; about $2 million today.  The timing could not have been worse for the buyer.

On February 21, 1922.  Brothers Charles, William, Harry and Hyman Bralower were about to close up at around 6:00 when smoke was seen coming from the basement.  While they attempted to find the source, an automatic fire alarm sounded, bringing 15 pieces of fire equipment to the scene.  

The New-York Tribune reported the firefighters found "more than 1,000 tons of baled cotton on fire in the sub-cellars."  The heat was so intense that they could not enter.  "Instead they chopped holes through the sidewalk and poured tons of water into the cellar," according to The New York Times.  The acrid fumes forced the firefighters to work in shifts; but even that did not save 12 from being overcome.  Department physicians on the scene treated the men.

While a crowd of 5,000 spectators gathered, according to the New-York Tribune, the fire "spread to the main floor of the building and were rapidly penetrating to upper floors by air and elevator shafts."

Additional alarms brought a total of 18 companies.  Two hours after the fire broke out two complete companies of firefighters were still inside the ground floor, "trying to save large quantities of baled cotton goods," said The Times.  Chief Crawley suspected that by now the floor was unsafe and ordered the men out  "They had no sooner got to the street when the floor fell with a roar, carrying everything on it into the flames below."

It took firefighters three hours to extinguish the blaze, which caused damages equal to $2.9 million today.   But Daniel Badger's fireproof iron facade had proved to be just that.  While the interior of the building was severely damaged, the exterior needed new windows and a coat of paint.

Leather manufacturer M. Slifka & Sons moved into the rebuilt structure in 1923.  The firm made and exported purses, belts, wallets, and leather suspenders for military use.

Despite the recent substantial repairs, architects Schwartz & Gross were commissioned in 1929 to do a general renovation.  The changes resulted in a store and offices in the first floor, offices in the new mezzanine level, a stockroom on the second, and factory space above.

By the last quarter of the 20th century the Tribeca renaissance had reached Nos. 55-57 White Street.  In 1982 the Collective for Living Cinema was in the building; and in 1986 the ground floor itself became a piece of art.  Artist Karen Zuegner used the three central windows as a show entitled "Fragments of Life."  She filled each 10-foot high window with three-dimensional geometric forms in blacks, whites, and grays.  The New York Times critic Grace Glueck explained on April 25, "Their arrangement--representing her life--is helter-skelter, playing off the flat, orderly two-dimensionality of the glass surfaces, though a grand triumphal arch in the middle window pulls the whole tableau effectively together."

The gentrification of Tribeca brought threats to its historic architectural fabric.  On September 9, 1988 New York magazine reported "TriBeCa residents are outraged over a developer's plan to build a 33-story condominium tower--including a 9-story addition atop an 1861 landmark cast-iron building."  Virginia Millhiser proposed to demolish the five-story synagogue at No. 49 White Street and replace it with a tower, the base of which would form a bridge over Nos. 55-57 White.  The problem for locals was that the "1861 landmark" wasn't.

The civic groups prevailed, lobbying the Landmarks Preservation Commission to designate the Condict building an individual landmark.  Millhiser's project was successfully stifled.



Two years later the upper floors were converted to apartments.  The restoration of the facade and the fabrication of historically appropriate doors resulted in the building's return to its striking mid-Victorian appearance.

photographs by the author

Friday, February 15, 2019

The 1833 Saul Alley Mansion - 6 Washington Square North




Between 1790 and 1797 the City purchased 13-acres of land near Greenwich Village as the site of a burying ground and execution site.  The potter's field was the final destination of paupers and criminals.  During periods of epidemic wooden coffins were stacked in trenches sometimes three or more deep.  Although the hangings stopped on July 8, 1819, the surrounding area was by no means affable.

That all changed in 1826 when Mayor Philip Hone renovated the potter's field into a parade and drill ground named in honor of George Washington.  Before long the tens of thousands of interred bodies were forgotten.

In 1828 George Rogers erected his elegant Federal-style country house on the northern edge of the Square.  In doing so, he knocked over a domino which would result in one of the most exclusive residential enclaves in Manhattan.

The land on the north side of the Square between Fifth Avenue and University Place had been part of Captain Robert Richard Randall's 24-acre summer estate.  Upon his death in 1801 he donated that land for the formation of an "Asylum or Marine Hospital to be called the Sailors's Snug Harbor."  The organization was formed; however Randall's family established the hospital and grounds on Staten Island, instead.  The institution wisely retained ownership of the Washington Square land.

In 1831 three prominent businessmen, John Johnston, John Morrison and James Boorman embraced the potential of the Square and planned a row of high-end speculative residences.  To do so, they leased the plots from Sailors' Snug Harbor.  Completed in 1833, the nearly matching mansions were faced in brick and trimmed in marble.  Designed in the rising Greek Revival style, they exuded refinement, wealth and taste.


The project began at the corner of Fifth Avenue and ran eastward.  photograph by the author

John Johnston erected two of the homes--Nos. 6 and 7.  He moved his family into the slightly wider house and sold the leasehold of No. 6 to the prominent Quaker merchant and politician, Saul Alley.  Alley's new home was an ample 27-feet wide.  Three stories tall plus a squat attic floor, its wide marble stoop rose to a Doric-columned portico.   The exquisite Greek Revival fencing wore generously-sized anthemia, or palmettes.

Alley had begun his career as a partner with another Quaker, Preserved Fish, and Moses Grinnell in the shipping firm of Fish, Grinnell & Co.   In 1816 Alley and Fish formed the commission merchant firm of Fish & Alley.  The two would continue working together when they were named commissioners of the newly-incorporated East River Fire Insurance Company of the City of New-York in April 1833.

Alley's name was well-known for a number of other reasons.  He was a Director in the Bank of the United States, a water commissioner (a highly important post at a time when the massive Croton Aqueduct project was forming), and in 1839 was a commissioner of the Custom House.

Saul and his wife, the former Mary Underhill, had seven children.  Both 20-year-old Mary Anna and 8-year old Josephine died in 1841.  Son John was still living in the house when he opened his law office at No. 38 Wall Street around 1846.  He died in the house in 1851.

George, who was just two-years-old when the family moved in to No. 6, would become a prominent banker and close friend of William H. Vanderbilt.  William would go on to become a partner in the banking firm of Alley, Dowd & Co.


The graceful sweep of the staircase takes a gentle bend at the second floor.  photograph by the author
Alley added to his resume (and fortune) in 1842 when he became a director of the New-York and Erie Railroad Company.  

The population of No. 6 was reduced by one on May 4, 1848 when Lydia married George Catlin, Jr.  She would not go far, however.  The wealthy Catlin family lived just three door away at No. 9, and Lydia and her groom moved in with her new in-laws.

Lydia's brother George was married to Louisa Ann Smith Johnson on April 19, 1852.  The bride was the great granddaughter of former U.S. President John Adams.  Six months later, on October 21, Saul Alley died in his Washington Square mansion.   

The Alley family held on to the leasehold of the house until the death of Mary in 1868.  Although there were still five years left in its term, it was auctioned "by order of the executors of Saul Ally [sic]" on April 9 that year.  


At each turn of the staircase a niche was provided for statuary or flowers.  photograph by the author
The auction announcement offered "The Lease of the lot, with the handsome three story, attic and basement brick House, No. 6 Washington square, northside" and noted it was "in complete order."  Included was the two story stable in the rear.


The marble Greek Revival mantel in the back parlor is an exact match to the one in the front.  photograph by the author

The leasehold was purchased for $36,000 (about $640,000 today) by Goold Hoyt Redmond.  The millionaire bachelor, son of William Redmond, Sr. and the former Sabina E. Hoyt, would not be living alone.  Of his ten siblings, his sisters Emily, Matilda and Frances (known familiarly as Fannie) were listed in the house with Goold.

Immensely wealthy, Goold was listed as a "gentleman," which simply meant he did not work.  He preferred sports and society and was a member of the Metropolitan, Union, Knickerbocker, and Racquet and Tennis Clubs, as well as the Tuxedo Club among others.

The Redmond sisters were no doubt distraught when their Scotch Terrier, Sam, disappeared a few months later.  Wearing his new red leather collar, he went missing on May 10, 1869.  When he did had not returned five days later, they offered a $5 reward (nearly $95 today).

Sam was replaced by Rowdy, a white Bull Terrier with a black spot around his eye.  Another $5 reward was offered when he, too, went astray in March 1873.

Matilda married English-born railroad mogul and banker Richard James Cross on June 3, 1872, and in 1881 Frances married Henry Beekman Livingston.

In June the same year of Frances's wedding, Goold hired architect G. L. Baxter to add a one-story extension to the rear.  Costing about $42,000 in today's money, it would create a new dining room.   Although it was now just Emily and Goold in the house; the expanded space would soon be necessary.


The dining room extension featured a barrel-vaulted ceiling.  photo by Wurts Bros. from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York
It serves as a conference room today.  photograph by the author

Tragically, Matilda died in 1883, just months after the birth of her sixth child, Eliot.   Her bereaved husband Richard James Cross accepted the invitation to move into No. 6 where Emily could care for the children.  Two years later Richard married his sister-in-law, Annie Redmond.  The family continued on in the house with Goold and Emily--creating a population of 10 not including servants.

It prompted Goold to enlarge the house again.  In June 1883 he brought G. L. Baxter back to add a second story to the dining room extension, providing additional bedrooms.


The front parlor as it appeared after the turn of the century.  photo by Wurts Bros. from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York
The space as it appears today.  photograph by the author


There was still room, apparently, for one more.  On June 15 1894 William Redmond was granted an "absolute divorce" from his wife, Margaret, whom he had married on May 1, 1889.  Newspapers reported "She did not defend the case," intimating that she had been caught in a dalliance.  William moved into No. 6 Washington Square.

The Redmonds and Crosses were highly visible in society as well as political and social causes.  Mary Cross held anti-Tammany meetings in the drawing room in 1894 and was also a member of the Washington Square Auxiliary.  The couple gave financial backing to the erection of the Washington Arch in 1890.

In the meantime, Emily, William and Goold often moved about society together.  They shared a cottage in Newport, for instance, and traveled to Europe together.   

Goold's unmarried status made him sought-after guest by Newport socialites.  The Sun mentioned on July 4, 1897 that by his arrival "the ranks of the bachelor contingent have increased...which encourages the givers of dinner parties."  If there were any hopes of marriage in the minds of wealthy matrons, however, they would never come to pass.

William Redmond died in the Washington Square house on December 6, 1898 at about 50 years of age.  Emily and Goold continued traveling and entertaining together.  On May 6, 1900 the New-York Tribune noted "Goold H. Redmond and Miss Redmond, of No. 6 Washington Square North have arranged to sail for Europe on Tuesday next in the steamship Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse.  They will remain abroad for several months."  And the siblings leased the Bishop Potter mansion in Newport together every season starting about 1901.
In the last years of the Cross-Redmond residency, there were no lions on the newels, suggesting they were added by the Morrons after 1919.  photo by Wurts Bros. from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York

Following her brother's death on December 21, 1906, Emily continued to live on with the Cross family in the only home she had ever known.  (She would, incidentally, outlive all ten of her siblings, dying at the age of 90 on January 9, 1934.)

The Redmond estate sold the leasehold to No. 6 to Henry W. Kent on March 14, 1913.  Kent lived nearby at No. 80 Washington Square East.  He soon transferred it to Robert de Forest, who lived in the former Johnston house at No. 7.

The eagerness of neighbors to keep control of the leasehold may have had much to do with the changing nature of the lower Fifth Avenue district.  The owners of those mansions were fleeing northward to newly-fashionable neighborhoods.  The Washington Square denizens, however, were adamant about preserving the patrician tone of their enclave.

In February 1914 De Forest leased the house to George Dallas Yeomans, attorney for the Brooklyn Rapid Transit Co.  The timing could not have been better--the debut of Isabel S. Yeomans was on the near horizon.

On November 25, 1915 the New-York Tribune reported on Isabel's coming-out reception in the house.  "The debutante had a record number of girls receiving with her.  There were forty-six in line."  The astoundingly long list of those in the receiving line included the names of some of the wealthiest families in New York--Alexander, Platt, Riker and Cushman among them.  Following the reception young male guests arrived for dinner and dancing.

In May 1919 De Forest renewed the leasehold to No. 6 and immediately leased the house to John Reynolds Morron.  The industrialist was president of both the Peter Cooper Gelatin Co. and the Chicago-based Atlas Portland Cement Company, and was a director of the First National Bank of New York, the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad, Pullman, Inc. and the International Rubber Company. 

Before he and his wife, the former Belle Goodridge Burch, moved in Morron made renovations to the house.  He hired architect James Gamble Rogers to install an elevator within the house and to create a two-story "brick studio" in the rear.  The total cost topped a quarter of a million in today's dollars.


John Reynolds Morron, United States Passport photograph 1925
Morron's residency here was not without upheaval.  In 1922 he went on trial accused of cement price-fixing.  On the stand he denied that there had ever been "an agreement or understanding between his company and any other" for fixing prices or controlling distribution of cement.


Another view of the front parlor taken when the Cross family was here shows no chandelier, suggesting it was Belle Morron who installed the antique crystal fixtures in place today.  Note the gas sconces stationed strangely enough on the columns.  photo by Wurts Bros. from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York


The opening between the front and back parlor was necessarily narrowed to accommodate Morron's 1919 elevator (hidden within the walls separating the two parlors and entered from the hallway).   photograph by the author
And then in June the following year a witness jotted down the license plate number of the get-away car used in the holdup of Joseph Szabo.  The three perpetrators had robbed the businessman of $887.  Unfortunately, the plate number came back to John R. Morron.

On July 19 detectives entered Morron's garage and examined his automobile.  The New York Times reported that it "had not left the garage in at least a week, and that the plates gave no evidence of having been temporarily removed."   The witness had apparently incorrectly remembered the tag number.

A few weeks earlier Morron's name had been linked with another run-in with the law; although this one was much less serious.  Proud of his aristocratic residence, Morron hired Connecticut artist Ozias Dodge to make a sketch of the house.  On May 17, 1923 he began, but, according to The New York Times, "He found he could not get far enough back from the house to get all the trees of the Morrin [sic] home in the perspective of his drawing without climbing over the fence of Washington Square Park."  The Morron butler kindly brought a chair from the house for the artist to use.

Washington Square in 1923, however, was far different from today.  Park goers were expected to stay on the pathways and the grass was strictly off limits.  But Dodge had been promised a permit to "work on the forbidden ground" by his friend, the Secretary of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  Dodge's mistake was that in his hurry he did not bother getting that permit.

The artist needed only five minutes on the grass to complete the sketch and had been there three minutes when he was ordered to move by Patrolman Harry J. Booth.  Dodge refused.  "He said he had worked all over New York and even in Paris without being treated that way before."  Patrolman Booth lost his patience and arrested him.


The bronze lions, seen here in 1932, were later stolen.  Only one was recovered.  The plaster copies made from it now grace the newels and the original is kept safely inside an NYU building.  photograph by Gottscho-Schleisner, Inc from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York

At the Essex Market Court Dodge pleaded guilty "but contended that the policeman had not shown common sense."  He was given a suspended sentence and advised not to go back to the same spot to complete the sketch.

Belle died around 1945 and John died at his summer residence in Littleton, New Hampshire on June 25, 1950.  He was 82.

No. 6 was acquired by New York University later that year.  It now held the leases on Nos. 1 through 6.  Gently renovated for office space, it was joined internally to Nos. 5 and 7 by doorways placed in unobtrusive locations on different floors.  


A second floor bedroom as it appeared when Emily Redmond and the Cross family occupied the house.  photo by Wurts Bros. from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York
A doorway accessing No. 5 Washington Square can be seen to the right of the window today.  photograph by the author

Today the former Saul Alley mansion is home to the the administrations for both NYU's Graduate School of Arts and Science, and the Faculty of Arts and Science.  The university deserves high praise for carefully preserving so much of the historic interiors.

Many thanks to NYU associate Dale Rejtmar for his invaluable input.

Thursday, February 14, 2019

1850's Yorkville Charm - 450 East 78th Street


photo by Beyond My Ken
After the New York and Harlem Railroad was extended along Fourth Avenue in the 1830's a hamlet grew up around the 86th Street station.   In the 1850's an influx of German and Irish immigrants settled in the village, many of them hired to build the Croton Aqueduct.   At some point around the time of the Civil War it became known as Yorkville.  Eventually Yorkville would rival, then overtake the Lower East Side as the center of the German immigrant community.

Around 1855 a two-story wooden shop and house was erected at what would be later numbered 450 East 78th Street.   The simple clapboard front, three bays wide, wore a simple bracketed wooden cornice.

The store was a neighborhood grocery by the last quarter of the century.  The names of two of its proprietors reflected the German population of the Yorkville area.  In the 1880's and early '90's Richard Meyerdierk ran the grocery store; and by 1896 it had been taken over by Frederick Brockhoff.  He had arrived in New York on the Harzburg on April 10, 1873.

In 1905 the owner of the grocery store was awarded a permit "to sell milk."  That same year alterations were done and it could be at that at this time that the ground floor was divided into two shops.  The owner may have had a difficult time paying for the improvements.  On June 7, 1910 B. E. Theo Wolleson & Mechanics Construction Co., Inc. were awarded a mechanics' lien on the property for $35.00.

One of the upstairs tenants in 1912 was 35-year-old Edward Wodenhold.  That summer was scorching, making work brutal for laborers like him.  July 8 was, according to The New York Times, the hottest since 1878.  At 2 p.m. the temperature climbed to 93 degrees, a dangerous level at a time when there was no relief in the form of air conditioning or even electric fans.

Before heading home to his insufferably hot rooms, Wodenhold stopped to get a drink.  But unfortunately, the heat had already taken its toll.  The Times reported that he "died from heart failure inducted by heat in a saloon last night at 860 First Avenue."

Rather amazingly, as the old wooden and brick buildings on the block were razed to be replaced by modern apartment buildings around the turn of the century, the little wooden store had survived.  In the Depression years it was home to a "Ladies & Gents tailor" and Heller Bros. electricians.

Laundry dries on lines behind and above the building on September 25 1935.  An electrician and tailor occupy the store fronts. . from the collection of the New York Public Library
By the last quarter of the 20th century the century-old ethnic personality of Yorkville was changing as younger generations of Germans and Hungarians moved away.   By 1973 Toto Mundi Gallery was here, called by New York Magazine the "most inexpensive quality framing in town."   Around the same time Ages Past Antiques occupied the eastern shop.

Edmund Vincent Gillon captured the building around 1975.  Ages Past Antiques is in the nearer shop.  from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York
The 1980's saw the accessories boutique Flights of Fancy move into a space.  It sold items like the "clay boudoir jar with potpourri" available in 1984 for $14.50.

The little wooden building sold around 2016 for $2.5 million.  Amazingly there are three apartments in the upper floor.  Even more amazing is that the charming structure survives.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

The Soon To Go 1889 O'Rourke's Hotel - 162 11th Avenue


The building, with its colorful history, awaits demolition.
In the last decades of the 19th century the waterfront along Eleventh Avenue in the Chelsea neighborhood was gritty at best, dangerous at worst.  The sailors who came and went on the commercial ships and the longshoremen who worked the docks haunted saloons and lived in meager rented rooms.

In 1889 a four-story brick hotel was completed at the northeast corner of Eleventh Avenue and 22nd Street.  The neo-Grec style structure boasted no architectural exceptions.  The  most eye-catching elements were the earred stone lintels of the openings.  The cast metal cornice with its decorative swags was ordered from a foundry catalog.   A saloon occupied the ground floor.


Metal letters affixed to the facade announce O'Rourke's Hotel.  At the left is the New York Port Society's Mariners' Church.  photo by Berenice Abbott
For decades the rough-edged stevedores and seamen came and went through its doors.   Crime around the hotel most often involved fist fights, prostitutes, and drunkedness.  But the State paid close attention to this and similar hostelries on election days.  Some transients, like sailors, were easily bribed to place illegal votes.  Every year poll agents reported on the number of "hotel votes"--there were 9 in 1910, for instance, and 13 in 1913.

An unlikely tenant in 1906 was Martin Fay, a retired police officer.  That year he received a pension totaling $661.29; or about $18,700 today.  It was apparently a temporary arrangement, for he does not appear here before or after that year.

In 1943 the ground floor space was described in city documents as a "restaurant."  The upper floors contained eight furnished rooms each.  That restaurant, however, was still a bar, variously called Joey's, Slavor's or Catch 22.  Patrons, however, called it "the Bucket of Blood."  The nickname reflected the often violent behavior of the drunken longshoremen and sailors.  Around mid-century a sign hung over the bar that read "Management is not responsible for women left overnight."


Little had changed to the hotel's appearance on March 12 1929 when this photo was taken.  The Mariners' Church, too, survived.  photo from the collection of the New York Public Library.

It was not all violence and drunkedness at O'Rourke's, however.  According to an owner, Alan Frank, there were Thanksgiving dinners "served to the salts upstairs at little or no cost."

But change is inevitable in Manhattan, even in the meanest of neighborhoods.  By the last years of the 20th century the shipping industry was gone from the West Side.  As The New York Times journalist Alan Feuer noted on April 7, 2005, "West 22nd Street, from 11th Avenue to the West Side Highway, has been transformed from warehouse space to art galleries, from auto body shops to coffee bars.  Where once there were stevedores, there are now Italian tourists.  Well-heeled women walk expensive-looking dogs."

The former saloon had become a trendy bar, called Open, by 2001 and the second floor was home to The Proposition, an art gallery around the same time.  By the time Feuer wrote his article, the ground floor was  being renovated to a sleek bar called Opus 22 Cafe and Lounge.

The club was the scene of a violent event on May 23, 2006, reminiscent of the Bucket of Blood.  Just before midnight, as one event ended and another group was coming in, a bouncer dealt with a patron who refused to leave.  A fight ensued, which spilled onto the street.  The bouncer pulled out a firearm and fatally shot the patron in the chest.  The Times reported that he "then shot three others before fleeing the scene."

There were only four aged men still living in the upper portion at the time.  Their 10-by-10 foot rooms cost them $300 per month.   They secured their doors with padlocks when they left.

Their landlord, Alan Frank, who allowed them to stay as an act of kindness, told Alan Feuer, "The cruel twist is that these guys were left here living among the yuppies and the galleries.  All their haunts have disappeared.  The coffee shop.  The old Mexican restaurant.  The little drugstore."

One tenant, 71-year old George Ullrich, put it simply.  "Places change, but people don't.  People just get old."
The former Victorian saloon front was sleekly modern when Opus 22 moved in.  photo via CityRealty
In the meantime, the lower two floors continued on within the new reality.  The their 2013 book Art on Sight: The Best Art Walks in and Near New York City, Lucy D. Rosenfeld and Marina Harrison noted, "The West Chelsea restaurant B.E.S., at 559 West 22nd Street at 11th Avenue, functions as a gallery as well as an eatery."

But one of the last remnants of the West Side's maritime history was soon slated to go.  Luxury residential buildings had been creeping up the West Side Highway for several years, giving it the nickname Starchitect Row.



On March 8, 2017 plans were filed to erect a 12-story, 13-unit residential building on the site.  CityRealty noted the following day "The structure will be topped by a duplex and a private roof terrace."  It is now just a matter of time for O'Rourke's Hotel.

photographs by the author

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

The J. Milton Doremus House - 320 West 80th Street




In 1898 the Riverside Building Co. began construction of a row of eight rowhouses that would begin at No. 320 West 80th Street and wrap around the corner to No. 74 Riverside Drive.   In fact, the architect of the row, Clarence True, owned the development firm.  By now the prolific designer was so successful that he could be a one-man show; eliminating the need for a developer or contractor.

Clarence True routinely worked in historic styles and for this project he chose Elizabethan Renaissance Revival.  The total cost of the project was estimated at $266,000--more than $1 million each today.  Six of the homes were faced in red or tan brick.  No. 320 West 80th Street, on the other hand, wore a suit of chunky red ashlar which, coupled with the full-height rounded bay, gave this narrow, 17-foot wide structure a turret-like appearance.

True's choice of ashlar, the same sandstone used by Henry Hobson Richardson in his masterful North Congregational Church in Massachusetts, gave the structure a redder, less heavy appearance than the more ubiquitous brownstone.  While the blocks of the second through fourth floor were undressed, that ground floor facade was formally planar.  Here delicate carvings graced the arched openings, spandrels and the frieze below the cornice.

Facade repair resulted in the loss of carving.  True did his best to make the service entrance, right, unnoticeable.
The fifth floor took the form of a mansard with a single, lofty dormer.  The solid parapet here would have provided privacy to servants who moved bedding outside on steam summer nights.

No. 320 was quickly sold.  On April 23, 1899 The Sun reported that it had been "bought by ex-Postmaster-General Thomas L. James."   The very fact that James chose this house and block testified to the extremely upscale nature of the area.

Beginning his career as a printer and newspaper owner upstate, he had worked for the government since moving to New York City in 1861.  He reorganized the operations of the Custom House and quickly rose in governmental positions.  In 1873 President Rutherford B. Hayes appointed him Postmaster of New York.  As he had done with Customs, he overhauled the efficiency of the mails--increasing the number of deliveries, instituting a "fast-mail service," and expediting foreign service, for example.  When President James A. Garfield put together his cabinet, he selected James as his Postmaster-General.

When James took his position, the postal service was running at a $2 million deficit.  He attacked the problem as he always did--by reorganizing, ferreting out fraud and abuse, and in this case, reducing the clerical force.  His changes made up for more than the shortfall.  James resigned following Garfield's assassination, focusing on his office as president of the Lincoln National Bank. 

His library in the 80th Street house was impressive.  The New York Times noted in 1899 "Gen. James is constantly adding to his collection of books, his aim being to accumulate on the shelves of his library the best that there is in general literature.  He does not aspire to be a collector of specialties.  He has a taste for pictures and other beautiful objects in art, which he gratifies judiciously."

James maintained a summer estate in Englewood, New Jersey.   He became seriously ill there a few months after purchasing No. 320.  But on August 19 The Times assured readers that James, "who has been ill at his home here for several days with congestion of the lungs, is much better, and will be able to sail for Europe on Wednesday next."

In case readers were distrustful, the newspaper noted on September 23 that he had arrived in London.  "He is in fine health."  The trip was brief, especially considering that the back-and-forth voyage would have consumed several days.  On October 9 he was back in his office at the bank.

Also brief was James's ownership of No. 320.  He returned title to Clarence True by the spring of 1900; and on June 20 newspapers announced that it had been sold.  The buyer was J. Milton Doremus, vice-president of a drug firm.  He and his wife, Isabella, had an 11-year-old daughter, Miriam.

The upper stair hall is patently Clarence True, reappearing in his houses throughout the Upper West Side.  photo via www.elliman. com
Doremus took an active interest in his new neighborhood.  In October 1902 he was elected to membership in the West End Association, a politically-active group that lobbied for improvements on the Upper West Side.  He would become a strong voice within the Association for years.

Shortly after moving into the house, Doremus had been selected to sit on a grand jury regarding the failure of a bank.  It was a relatively uninteresting case.  But in the summer of 1903 he found himself on a highly-publicized and potentially dangerous trial involving gangsters, labor conflict, and threats of violence.

Labor differences and strikes in the first half of the 20th century were often violent--sometimes involving beatings, arson, and even bombings.  Samuel J. Parks, a leader of the Housesmiths' and Bridgemen's Union, was on trial for extortion--forcing business owners to pay large sums before union workers would return to work.  The Evening World called the trial "really a struggle between capital and labor in one of the ugliest forms."  The newspaper said that those who dared to testify against Parks had "splendid courage."

Although there had been threats against the prosecution team, when the jury was been finally selected on August 17, the New-York Tribune printed the home addresses of each jury member.  Nonetheless, Doremus was apparently unruffled (possibly because of the large number of detectives reported to fill the halls of the courtroom).  At one point in the trial he directly questioned a witness for the defendant.  It took the jury only a day to deliberate and the verdict was announced nation-wide.  On August 22, 1903 the Maysville, Kentucky newspaper, The Evening Bulletin, reported "Samuel J. Parks, the labor leader, who has been on trial for several days charged with extortion...was found guilty."

Around 1909 J. Milton Doremus gave up the drug business and took a job with the Brooklyn-based Paddock Cork Company, which manufactured products like bulletin boards for schoolrooms.  The American Druggist and Pharmaceutical Record viewed the job on par with a religious defection, calling him a "proselyte."

The last major entertainment for the family occurred on November 7, 1914.  On that day Miriam was married to Ripley Ropes in the Central Presbyterian Church.  The Princeton Alumni Weekly reported "After the ceremony a reception was held at 320 West 80th St."

At the time her parents were preparing to leave Manhattan.  On May 5, 1915 the 80th Street house was sold to Rhoda F. Greene.  Two months later J. Milton and Isabella Doremus moved into their newly-completed "fifteen room Colonial House," as described in the Real Estate Record & Builders' Guide, on Manhasset Bay, Long Island.  The journal called it "one of the most attractive on the North Shore."

Rhoda Green would remain in the house for years.  It seems possible that although she never married, her life was not without romance.  She had a close friend, Charles Albert Schieren.   The wealthy bachelor was the son of the former Brooklyn mayor and principal in Charles A. Schieren & Company, leather and belting manufacturer.  The younger Schieren died on December 4, 1932.  His will left Rhoda $100,000 "in recognition of her friendship for me."  The token of friendship would be more than $1.8 million today.

Rhoda's summer estate was at Long Branch, New Jersey.  It was there that she died on May 25, 1936.  Her funeral was held in the 80th Street house two days later.

No. 320 was soon purchased by Paul and Mary Cinkosky.  They "modernized" the house, according to The New York Times on December 27, 1937, before leasing it to a single tenant "for occupancy."    The Cinkoskys, Hungarian immigrants, seem to have fudged a bit on the documentation, for they received a "multiple dwelling violation" shortly afterward. 

The Cinkoskys retained possession of the house (now leased to single residents) until 1943.  Perhaps because of its slim proportions, No. 320 remained a single-family house until 1969.  The new owners initiated a renovation, completed in 1971, which included a separate apartment on the ground floor.  That was reversed around 2001, returning the house to a single-family home.  Stone reparation included in one of those renovations resulted in the loss of carved decoration.  No. 320 was recently placed on the market for $7.65 million.

Cost factors, no doubt, resulted in the replacement parapet being unexpectedly austere.
Although much of Clarence True's interior detailing has been lost; much remains.  And except for the loss of the carvings, his romantic, rosy-red citadel survives intact.

photographs by the author