Friday, April 12, 2024

Harry Hurwit's 1927 Re-Do of 1080 Park Avenue


In 1887, bricklayer John P. Thorton erected eight brick-faced flats, or apartment houses, on the west side of Fourth Avenue (renamed Park Avenue a year later) between 88th and 89th Streets.  Designed by Frederick T. Camp, they were intended for middle-class residents, predating the thoroughfare's exclusivity by about a decade. 
Although it took the address of 1080 Park Avenue, the entrance to the corner building was on 88th Street, allowing Herman Goossen to open his saloon in the Park Avenue end in 1889.  When Prohibition arrived, the saloon made way for the Paramount Market.

A significant change had come to Park Avenue by then.  Mansions equal to those along Fifth Avenue lined the blocks and vintage buildings like 1080 Park Avenue were quickly disappearing.  On November 13, 1925, the New York Sun reported that that a syndicate had been formed "to improve the northwest corner of Park avenue and Eighty-eighth street with a fifteen story duplex apartment house."  The operators had leased the building in July "for sixty-three years, with an option to purchase it."

The developers quickly hit a snag, however.  The building's owner, Simon Ginsberg, had purchased 1080 Park Avenue in 1922 and had owned 1082 Park Avenue since 1905, operating his upholstery business there.  He had already refused to sell his properties to another set of developers who erected the large L-shaped apartment building around them in 1925.  And he was unwilling to have another apartment on the corner.

In 1925, Ginsberg gave 1082 a remarkable make-over designed by Augustus N. Allen.  Two years later he turned his attentions to the corner building.  

Architect Harry Hurwit remodeled 1080 Park Avenue with a Mediterranean inspired, stuccoed facade.  The entrance was given a segmentally arched entrance, flanked by paired, engaged columns with graceful cinched waists.  Directly above the entrance was a pseudo balcony fronting two windows framed by paneled pilasters and capped by swans head pediments.

The romantic motif continued at the fourth floor, where windows with balconettes were framed by engaged columns (similar to those of the entrance) under round arches.  An arcade of shop windows graced the Park Avenue ground level, while a roof of Spanish tiles crowned the design.

Ginsberg had successfully transformed his two 1887 buildings into modern fantasies.  image via the NYC Dept of Records & Information Services.

The Park Avenue commercial space was leased to David Bogen for his Boghen Pharmacy (the difference in spelling had to do with a licensing technicality), while the apartments became home to respectable, well-heeled tenants.  

Among the earliest was Marie Estill, who got unwanted and embarrassing publicity in 1929 when Betty Marvin sued her husband, Lewis B. Marvin, Jr., for divorce.  The Marvins maintained a country home in Port Washington, Long Island where, according to the Newburgh News, Lewis was a "prominent yachtsman."  In court on January 22, Betty said her husband "owns a sloop and a sporty roadster."

The divorce stemmed from a raid Betty had led on the summer home five months earlier, on August 1, 1928.  She took a friend, Florence Lawson, and a private investigator, Chester B. Evans along.  The Long Island Daily Press explained, "none was prepared for the sight that met their eyes.  As they stepped into the hall Mrs. Marie Estill of 1080 Park avenue, Manhattan, walked across the landing at the head of the broad staircase.  She was completely unclad."

Evans testified that Marie "screamed and dashed into another room."  The raiding party rushed up the stairs and into the bedroom where, "they found Marvin, considerably embarrassed as he reached frantically for articles of clothing."

In the meantime, residents paid $2,300 per year for four-room apartments (about $3,400 a month in 2024 terms).  Unlike Marie Estill, their names most often appeared in newspapers for social reasons.

On October 12, 1933, for instance, The New York Sun reported, "Mrs. Helen Virginia Meyer gave a tea yesterday on the roof-garden of her penthouse apartment at 1080 Park avenue in honor of Mrs. John P. O'Brien, wife of Mayor O'Brien."  Helping to host was Mrs. Howard Chandler Christy.

Helen was a "onetime show girl and silent-movie bit player," according to The Saturday Evening Post later, but was best known for her extensive collection of period gowns and costumes.  She was described in the 1937 book Fabrics as the "well known costume historian, and designer of the 'Famous Brides' and 'Famous Queens' series."  

In reporting on the upcoming Society Circus Ball at the Waldorf-Astoria on May 2, 1934, The New York Sun commented that Helen Virginia Meyers was on the costume committee.  "Miss Meyers, who is at 1080 Park avenue, as well as the Brooks Costume Company, have all manner of original and colorful costumes available for the ball, and will donate part of the proceeds on the rental and sale of the costumes to the charity for which the ball is being held."

Resident Fredericka Ludlum had experienced an unsettling incident earlier that year.  She had a house guest in January, Julia Wright.  The 80-year-old was, according to the North Shore Daily Journal, "a member of one of the oldest families of Long Island."  The article said, "The Wright family from which she was descended, settled the village [of Oyster Bay] 250 years ago, having bought their land from the Indians."  

On the evening of January 17, 1934, Julia Wright said good night.  The next morning, Fredericka Ludlum attempted to wake her houseguest, whom she discovered had died in her sleep.

In 1936, William F. Cutler was among the founders of "the newly formed professional football team, to be known as the New York Yankees," as reported by the New York Post on September 22.  The newspaper said, "The first match is scheduled for Sunday at the new stadium on Randall's Island...Following Sunday's game the team and their backers will drive to Manhattan, where Mr. William F. Cutler, one of the directors, and his pretty wife will play hosts to them at a cocktail party at their apartment at 1080 Park avenue."

A renovation completed in 1959 resulted in two apartments per floor.  The ground floor pharmacy was still operating as late as 2002, replaced by an Ottomanelli grocery store by 2011.  Today a deli occupies the space.

Harry Hurwit's graceful storefront has been brutally remodeled and the roof tiles replaced with shingles.  Nevertheless, his romantic remake survives, overall, intact.

photographs by the author
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Thursday, April 11, 2024

Rosario Candela's 1930 740 Park Avenue

In 1928, a year before the Stock Market crash, George Stephenson Brewster and his wife, the former Eleanor Grant Bosher, lived in a handsome mansion on the northwest corner of Park Avenue and 71st Street.  The massively wealthy Brewster was among the largest stockholders of the Standard Oil Company.  That year, the Brewsters' next door neighbor, real estate operator James T. Lee, proposed that they give up their mansions in favor of opulent apartments in a luxury building on the site.  By March 1929 when ground was broken, Lee had acquired a third mansion on Park Avenue and a nurses' residence on 71st Street.

Lee commissioned architect Rosario Candela, known for his high-end apartment buildings, to design 740 Park Avenue.  Working with him was Arthur Loomis Harmon (who joined the firm of Shreve, Lamb & Harmon later that year).  Construction was completed in October 1930 and, despite the onslaught of the Great Depression, James T. Lee had little trouble filling his opulent building with millionaires.

Candela and Harmon had produced an aloof, 17-story structure with little outward flair.  Its style has been called by one architectural historian, "Classicizing Art Deco."  Faced in limestone, the building's minimal decoration included a dignified, monolithic entrance flanked by fluted shafts topped with foliate, cabbage-like finials.  A bracketed cornice above the second floor introduced the upper section.  The topmost floors were decorated with carved panels, urns, and rosettes; and the balconies given decorative iron railings.

It was not the exterior, but the cooperative apartments that were meant to astound.  The New York Times said the building was "literally twelve mansions built one on top of another."  (In fact, there were 30 apartments.)   On September 6, 1930, a month before the building opened, The New York Sun had described the duplex apartments as being designed around "a spacious central gallery opening on separate corridors, which definitely set apart the servant, master and guest quarters."  The article said in part,

The main gallery has a marble floor and base and the second floor gallery is teakwood, as are the floors of the principal master room throughout the quarters.  The typical duplex floor plan has six master bed chambers with private baths and dressing rooms surrounding two sides of the gallery.  The guest suite has a private corridor.  On the opposite side of the gallery is the corridor leading to the servants' quarters, containing four maids' rooms and baths. 
On the main floor the gallery has the sweeping brass stair rail and alcove taking the space opposite to the living room and the library entrances.  Also opening off the gallery are a large reception room and a dining room...Numerous wood-burning fireplaces are provided in every large apartment.

Along with the Lees and the Brewsters, according to The New York Times, residents included Bayard C. Hoppins, Frances W. Scoville, James Watson Webb, G. Beekman Hoppin, and Langdon K. Thorne.  (The Thorne apartment consisted of sixteen rooms and seven baths.)

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

On October 14, The New York Times reported that James T. Lee's daughter and son-in-law, Janet and John Vernou Bouvier 3d, had purchased "an apartment of eighteen rooms and six baths."  Despite the building's being brand new, the article said, "The purchaser...will occupy the suite upon completion of alterations."  At the time, the Bouviers' daughter, Jacqueline, was just two months old.  She would, of course, go on to become First Lady of the United States as Jacqueline Kennedy, and subsequently wife to millionaire Aristotle Onassis.

Among the of the first social events was the wedding of Electra Webb.  Her pedigree was sterling.  Her father, James Watson Webb, was the son of William Seward Webb and Elizabeth Osgood Vanderbilt; and her mother, Electra Havemeyer, was the daughter of Henry Osborne Havemeyer, whose family had made its extensive fortune in the sugar industry.  The Webbs' country estate was Shelbourne Farm, in Shelbourne, Vermont.

The Webbs announced Electra's engagement to Dunbar Wright Bostwick on December 21, 1931.  The groom held his own in regard to familial prestige.  The Evening Post said, "Mr. Bostwick is a grandson of the late J. A. Bostwick, and on his mother's side he is a grandson of the late Mr. and Mrs. Henry B. Stokes and a nephew of Mr. and Mrs. F. Ambrose Clark."

The Brewster apartment was the scene of a burglary around the same time.  Just over three weeks later, The New York Age reported that five detectives had been presented a $4,000 reward "for the recovery of $80,000 jewelry stolen from the home of Mrs. Eleanor Brewster at 740 Park avenue."  (The heist would equal about $1.78 million in 2024.)

On July 26, 1937, The New York Sun reported that plans had been filed "for alterations to be made in the apartment to be occupied by John D. Rockefeller, Jr."  The millionaire and his wife Abby Greene Aldrich were combining apartments 15B and 16B on the 15th and 16th floors.  "They are to be connected by private elevator and a new private stairway," said the article, noting, "Other changes also are to be made."

When completed, the Rockefeller apartment engulfed 20,000 square feet with 37 rooms and 14 bathrooms.

Two views of the Rockefeller apartment.  images via Vanity Fair, October 30, 2003.

Among the residents as mid-century approached were Marshall Field III and his wife Ruth Pruyn Phipps.  Like all socialites, Ruth involved herself in worthy causes.  On June 5, 1948, for instance, The New York Age reported, "Mrs. Marshall Field and Miss Lillian Hellman were co-hostesses at a tea for the benefit of the Wiltwyck School for Boys on Thursday, in Mrs. Field's apartment, 740 Park avenue."  That day, two judges spoke on the "problem of juvenile delinquency" in the city and the work of the school, which, the newspaper explained, "is interracial and non-sectarian, [and] cares for delinquent boys between the ages of 8 and 12 years."

On August 3, 1952, The Sunday Press of Binghamton, New York, reported that Webb & Knapp, Inc., headed by William Zeckendorf, had purchased 740 Park Avenue.  The article noted, "Among those who have apartments in the building are John D. Rockefeller, Jr., R. T. Vanderbilt, Jack F. Chrysler, Countess Allene de Kotzebue, Mrs. S. R. Guggenheim, Mrs. Langborne Williams, Col. William Schiff and Mrs. Janet Auchincloss.   

Abby Green Aldrich Rockefeller died in 1948.  Three years later Rockefeller married former concert pianist Martha Baird.  The ceremony was held at Martha's Providence, Rhode Island home. 

John D. and Martha Rockefeller were vacationing in Tucson, Arizona on May 11, 1960 when the multi-millionaire died at the age of 86.  Although he had given away hundreds of millions of dollars during his lifetime, he left an estate appraised at $160,598,584.  The New York Times reported, "The bulk of his estate was left about equally to his widow, Mrs. Martha Baird Rockefeller of 740 Park Avenue, and to the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, Inc. of New York."  Among Martha Baird Rockeller's inheritances was the apartment.  She died of a coronary occlusion in the apartment on January 24, 1971 at the age of 75.

Another prominent resident died two months later.  Flora Ettlinger Whiting had moved into a 14-room duplex in June 1940.  Her husband, Giles Whiting, had died three years earlier.  She maintained a 100-acre summer estate in Scarborough, New York, and a "porticoed Greek Revival mansion," as described by The New York Times, near Tarrytown.  She filled the three residences with early American furnishings and artwork.

When Flora Ettlinger Whiting died on March 8, 1971 at the age of 93, she left an estate "estimated at $20-million to $25-million," according to The New York Times.  On May 1, 1972, an auction of her furnishings and artwork was held at Parke-Bernet.  The array of items ranging from Federal tall case clocks, to an 18th century camelback sofa purchased by the State Department, to Etruscan, Roman and Greek antiquities drew bidders from across the nation.

Retired publisher and philanthropist Enid A. Haupt purchased her duplex penthouse apartment in 1967 for $350,000.  The widow of Ira Haupt, who died in 1963, she maintained a country home in Greenwich, Connecticut.  Intensely interested in horticulture, she donated the Haupt Fountains at the Ellipse between the White House and the Washington Monument, and the four-acre Enid A. Haupt Garden beside the Smithsonian "Castle" in Washington.  She also provided the funding for the American Horticultural Society to purchase River Farm, an 18th century plantation near Mount Vernon.

Enid Haupt died in her Greenwich home on October 26, 2005.  The following year, her 740 Park Avenue apartment with two terraces on the 17th floor and a "very large, rambling terrace on the 18th floor," as described by The New York Times, went on the market for $27.5 million.  It was purchased by John A. Thain, chief executive of the New York Stock Exchange, and his wife Carmen.  Their country home was in Harrison, New York.  The couple put the apartment back on the market in 2018 for $39.5 million.

Two views of the Thain apartment.  photos by Jon Nissenbaum, The New York Times April 27, 2018.

After nearly 100 years, 740 Park Avenue remains one of Manhattan's most prestigious addresses--its placid Candela-Harmon facade belying the sumptuous, house-like apartments inside.

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Wednesday, April 10, 2024

The James H. Sanford House - 31 West 9th Street


Dennis McDermott broke ground for three four-story rowhouses on West 9th Street between Fifth and Sixth Avenue in 1854.  Their architect was quite possibly James Renwick, Jr., who lived half a block away, at 21 Fifth Avenue.  The 17-foot-wide homes were completed in 1855.  Their Anglo-Italianate style placed the entrances a few steps above the sidewalk.  Above the rusticated first floor, a full-width cast iron balcony fronted floor-to-ceiling windows at the second, and bracketed cornices crowned the design.

It appears McDermott originally leased the center house, 19 Ninth Street (renumbered 31 West 9th Street in 1868).  The lessee operated it as a boarding house, advertising in The New York Times on April 6, 1855:

Rooms and Board.  A second story front room and bedroom to let, separately or together, furnished, or unfurnished, to a gentleman and wife; also rooms for single gentlemen.  Apply at No. 19 9th-st., between 5th and 6th avs.

That no single women were accommodated testifies to the high-class nature of the boarding house.  Living here in 1856 were Cyrus Y. and Harvey S. Bradley, who were in the clothing business on Murray Street; Julius Catlin, Jr., a clerk; printer William C. Martin; and Benjamin K. Phelps, an attorney.

The "first class four story and basement house with the modern improvements" was offered for rent again in April 1857.  It became home to Irish-born actor, poet, author and theater manager John Brougham and his actress wife, the former Annette Hawley.

John Broughman, from the collection of the Library of Congress

Brougham had relocated from London to New York City in 1842, debuting at the Park Theatre.  He opened his own theater, Brougham's Lyceum, in 1850; wrote plays; and edited a comedic paper, The Lantern.  

Annette Brougham had two stage names, Mrs. Annette Nelson and Mrs. Coppleson Hodges.  The Broughams left the West 9th Street house in 1860, returning to London.

The house next became home to merchant Charles J. Spence, whose family would remain here until about 1864.  A daughter dropped a piece of jewelry in the fall of 1863.  Her parents' notice in the New York Herald on October 21 read,

Lost--On Monday afternoon, the 19th inst., between Ninth street, Fifth avenue and Twenty-first street, a child's Gold Armlet, marked (inside the clasp), C.R.S.  The finder will be suitably rewarded by leaving it at 19 Ninth street.

Dr. Morrie Leo Wolf lived here for a year, between 1865 and 1866, after which James H. Sanford purchased the house.  A printer with offices at 644 Broadway, he sold the 31 West 9th Street on April 26, 1870 to Rodney W. and Agnes Looke for $25,000 (about $600,000 in 2024).

Rodney W. Looke was the yard master of the Long Island Railroad's repair yard at Hunter's Point.  He was, as well, a partner with Robert G. Farmer in the Farmer & Looke saloon at 711 Eighth Avenue.  He and Agnes had four children.

In the summer of 1870, Looke was involved in a disturbing incident.  The Long Island Railroad repair yard was "being constantly invaded by river thieves," according to John B. Schmelzer, the railroad's general ticket agent.  Within the past year, $15,000 worth of iron had been stolen.  On the night of August 6, yard workers became aware that men were carrying away iron towards a boat.  Looke joined Schmelzer and a few other workers in chasing the crooks.  Schmelzer handed Looke his handgun and later testified, "The workmen threw stones, and Mr. Looke fired two shots."

Rodney Looke's testimony was slightly different.  The New York Times related, "He fired two shots at the boat, when, not understanding the revolver, he handed the weapon to a canal-boat Captain, who fired two more shots.  The remaining two shots were subsequently fired at a freight car by Mr. Schmelzer."

The reason the men were testifying before a coroner's jury was that one of the burglars, John Smith, was hit and subsequently died.  The New York Times reported, "The jury rendered a verdict of justifiable homicide, though they were in doubt which of the two men fired the fatal bullet."

The parlor of 31 West 9th Street was the scene of the funeral of the Lookes' youngest son, Rodney James, on September 25, 1872.  The boy had died two weeks after his 14th birthday.

Charles Sanford had provided the mortgage on the house to the Lookes.  In 1875, with $18,000 still outstanding, he lost patience and evicted them.  Sanford held a mortgage sale of the "household furniture, piano, French plate mirrors, velvet and Brussels carpets, &c.," on July 8.  Three months later, on October 12, a foreclosure auction of the house was held.

It was purchased by John E. Forbes, a stockbroker, and his family.  Living with them was John's widowed mother, Laura S. Forbes.  The Forbes' residency would be relatively short.  They sold the house in November 1880 to coal mogul Washington Lee.  It appears the purchase was a gift for his daughter Josephine and her husband Bruce Price.  

Born in Maryland in December 1845, Price opened an architectural office in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania where he met Josephine Lee.  The couple was married in 1871.  They moved to New York City in 1877 with their five year old daughter, Emily.   

Bruce Price, image via

Among the structures Price designed while living at 31 West 9th Street were the James Alfred Roosevelt estate at Cove Neck, Long Island; the Charles T. How cottage "Cleftstone," in Bar Harbor, Maine; and the sprawling Rumson, New Jersey estate "Seacroft."  The Prices sold the West 9th Street house in March 1894 to W. H. C. Barlett for $21,000 (about $767,000 today).

The Barlett family lived here through 1903, then leased the house to Rafael R. Govin and his wife in 1904.  Govin was a banker at 15 Wall Street.  

Bertha K. Barlett and her sister Helen M. Post had inherited 31 West 9th Street by 1911, when they leased it to Theodore Bromley.  Born in Cornwall, England, he was long involved in the theatrical community.  In 1874, he was made treasurer of Booth's Theatre, later becoming the business secretary of the Actors' Fund of America.  He died in the West 9th Street house on February 4, 1914.

Somewhat surprisingly, on September 26, 1916, The New York Sun reported that the house had been leased "to the Delta Sigma Pi Fraternity for a long term of years."

The Barlett family sold 31 West 9th Street to Emanuel C. de Bonilla in October 1922.  By 1936, it had been converted to unofficial apartments.  Among the residents in 1936 was Charles L. Trout, the head of Charles L. Trout Company, Inc. described by the North Shore Daily Journal as the "widely known jewelry firm."

By 1941, the window details had been removed.  image via the NYC Dept of Records & Information Services.

On the morning of February 4, 1936, the 70-year-old failed to show up at work.  Employees were concerned and sent Harold Sensing to the apartment to check on him.  The North Shore Daily Journal reported, "When Sensing arrived there he found the jeweler clad in pajamas, dead in the bathtub of his two room apartment.  In his right hand was a revolver.  In his right temple a wound."

Contract bridge expert Josephine M. Culbertson lived here at mid century.  Born Josephine Murphy, she was hired as the secretary to bridge expert Wilbur C. Whitehead in 1920.  Through him she not only learned the game, but quickly mastered it.  By 1922, she was teaching the game and met Ely Culbertson, "an up-and-coming young bridge player," as described by The New York Times.  The couple was married the next year.

The Culbertsons taught, lectured and wrote about bridge, earning each of them $100,000 per year by 1936, according to The New York Times.  Although they divorced in 1938, they remained close friends and in 1954 Josephine edited a book on contract bridge by her former husband. 

Josephine Culbertson was living here on March 24, 1956 when she died at the age of 57 after suffering a stroke.

In 1987, the house was officially converted to apartments, with a doctor's office on the first floor.  Although the window details have been shaved off, 31 West 9th Street is the best preserved of the original row.

many thanks to reader Ari Heckman for requesting this post.
photographs by the author
no permission to reuse the content of this blog has been granted to

Tuesday, April 9, 2024

The 1909 Amherst and Cortlandt Apartments - 504 and 510 Cathedral Parkway


photograph by Anthony Bellov

The Carlyle Realty Co. was aggressively erecting apartment buildings on Cathedral Parkway just west of Amsterdam Avenue in 1909.  On the north side would be the St. Albans and the Dartmouth, and directly across the street would be the Amherst and the Cortlandt.  All four were designed by Schwartz & Gross.  The latter pair, at 504 and 510 Cathedral Parkway, respectively, would stand out among Manhattan architecture.

When the plans were filed in September 1909, the Real Estate Record & Builders' Guide said, "The construction will be of the highest type fireproof materials," and placed the construction costs at $400,000--or about $13.8 million by 2024 conversions.

The architects drew their design from the Vienna Secessionist movement--borrowing motifs from the Austrian branch of Art Nouveau, while admittedly toning down the often exuberant elements for their New York audience.  The 12-story twin buildings were faced in brown brick and trimmed in stone and terra cotta.  Their tripartite design included a three-story rusticated stone base.  Each seven-story midsection sat between full width balconies.  Full-height stone piers that terminated in terra cotta panels beneath swags and overblown thistles divided the midsections into three vertical parts.  Above the balustraded balconies at the 11th floor, the end sections were given elaborate decorations between overhanging cornices.

As seen here, the two buildings had identical, elaborate entrances.  The World's Loose Leaf Album of Apartment Houses, 1910 (copyright expired)

The interior floorplans of The Amherst and The Cortlandt were identical, with two apartments per floor--one "of seven rooms, three baths and nine closets, and the other of eight rooms, three baths and nine closets," according to The World's Loose Leaf Album of Apartment Houses in 1910.  A separate service elevator opened directly into each apartment's "service hallway."

The World's Loose Leaf Album of Apartment Houses said,

The floors of the parlor, library and dining rooms are parquet, and especial care has been taken to provide magnificent woodwork in each apartment.  The scheme of interior decoration provides for white enamel in all the parlors and of antique oak in the dining rooms on the even-numbered floors and mahogany on the odd-numbered.

An advertisement in The New York Times on September 29, 1910 noted that the apartments had "all the comforts and conveniences of a private house, with the added advantages of an apartment."  Rents for the seven-room units started at $1,400, and those for the eight-room apartments ranged from $1,700 to $2,100 a year--a pricey $5,790 per month in today's money for the most expensive.

The family of Simon Strauss, a retired businessman, lived in a second floor apartment in the Amherst in the early 1920s.  The family attended a New Year's Eve party on December 31, 1921 arriving home around 4:00 the next morning.  Their new year started off on a bad note.

According to Strauss, they discovered that "a servants' entrance to their apartment had been forced."  Burglars had made off with $10,000 of jewelry and clothing (a sizable $182,000 haul by today's standards).  The New York Herald reported, "The lobby is the only entrance to the house, Mr. Strauss said, so it was apparent that the thief went up the service stairs behind the elevator to the apartment, broke in and made a careful selection of the articles stolen."  The newspaper called the crime "one of the most puzzling burglaries recently."

Milton Whately Harrison and his wife, the former Irene H. Seiberling, were a powerhouse couple.  Born in Brooklyn in 1888, Harrison held degrees from the St. Lawrence University Law School; the New York University School of Accounts, Commerce and Finance; and the American Institute of Banking.  The president of the Natamsa Publishing Co., he was also the executive manager of the Savings Bank Association, secretary of the American Bankers' Association, vice president of the National Association of Mutual Savings Banks, and vice president of the National Associated Owners of Railroad Securities.

Irene Harrison was the eldest daughter of millionaire Frank A. Seiberling, founder of the Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co.  The couple were married on Christmas Day 1923 in the Seiberlings' Akron mansion, Stan Hywet Hall.

The Harrisons on their wedding day, with the ringbearer dressed as a page.  (original source unknown)

The names of the residents of The Amherst and The Cortlandt appeared regularly in the society pages.  On March 15, 1928, for instance, the Brooklyn Daily Eagle reported on the reception the Louis Barnards had hosted the previous night to announce the engagement of their daughter Amy Beatrice to Harry Alvin Ostroll.  The following year, in reporting on the wedding on January 21, 1929, the newspaper noted, "Mr. Ostroll and his bride will go to the West Indies on their wedding trip and will reside in Manhattan upon their return."

In 1934, the owner of The Cortlandt, the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company, hired architect Emery Roth to update the building.  On June 12, The New York Sun said, "In keeping with the popular trend of cutting up large old-fashioned apartments into the small suites so much in demand today, Emery Roth has prepared change the entire interior of that building from the present two apartments per floor to five suites on the first floor and six apartments on each of the other eleven floors."

The following year, the Atlantic States Realty Corporation commissioned Roth to reconfigure The Amherst.  On September 30, 1936, The New York Sun commented, "Both buildings, having been subjected to extensive renovation, recently, are today completely modern."

Berenice M. Brandes's wedding was far less glamorous than Amy Barnard's had been.  There was no engagement announcement.  Instead, on June 10, 1943, the Brooklyn Daily Eagle reported, "Mr. and Mrs. Emmanuel Brandes announce the marriage of their daughter Berenice M. Brandes to First Lt. Edward N. Kaplan."  No doubt because of the ongoing war in Europe, the couple settled for a civil service wedding.  The article said, "The marriage was performed by Mayor Fiorello La Guardia in his office at the City Hall."  It added, "After a brief wedding trip the couple will return to New York where a reception will be given them at the home of the bride's mother, 504 Cathedral Parkway, Manhattan, today.  Immediately following the reception, Lieutenant Kaplan will report back to his regiment."

No doubt shocking to most residents, on April 22, 1975, The New York Times announced, "A raid by 15 officers at a reported policy-rackets headquarters, at 504 Cathedral Parkway, Manhattan, resulted in seizure of $10,000 and six 10-gallon bags full of policy slips representing an estimated $5-million in bets over two weeks, and the arrest of eight persons, according to the police."  "Policy rackets" was illegal gambling, also known as the Mafia lottery, the Italian lottery, and the numbers racket.

Although the cornices have been lost, the elaborate decorations survive.  Note the Secession style iron balconies.  photograph by Anthony Bellov.

In 1985 the two buildings were joined internally.  A new entrance was created, and the originals converted to windows.  Now called the Amherst-Cortlandt, its highly unusual and striking exterior was, for the most part, preserved.

many thanks to historian Anthony Bellov for suggesting this post has no authorization to reuse the content of this blog

Monday, April 8, 2024

The Lost Commercial Cable Building - 20-22 Broad Street


from the collection of the New-York Historical Society

John William Mackay was brought to America by his parents as an infant.  Destitute, they lived in the impoverished and dangerous Five Points district.  The immigrant boy who initially survived by selling newspapers made a massive fortune mining in the West, emerging as one of the wealthiest men in America.

Mackay organized the Commercial Cable Company with James Gordon Bennett, Jr. in 1884 to lay and operate the trans-Atlantic cable.  It was a direct competitor of Jay Gould's Western Union operation.  When Western Union refused to relay messages initiated by Commercial Cable, Mackay bought the Postal Telegraph Company and began buying up and consolidating other small telegraph companies until by 1886 his firm was an equal to Western Union.

In 1894 Mackay moved both companies into his new Postal Telegraph Building, designed by George Edward Harding & Gooch at 253 Broadway.  It was a temporary arrangement and a year later ground was broken for the Commercial Cable Building, designed by the same architects.  The site, just south of the New York Stock Exchange, extended from Broad Street through to New Street. 

The Commercial Cable Building was designed to impress.  On November 27, 1895, The Electrical Engineer described the rendering as showing "a handsome and imposing twenty-one story structure, above which rise two towers surmounted by domes representing the two hemispheres.  The towers will be connected by a mansard roof more than three hundred feet above the street level."   While the journalist said, "The general style of the building is the Italian Renaissance," the architects liberally lavished it with Beaux Arts decorations.

George Edward Harding & Gooch included the latest in conveniences and technology.  There would be six "fast electric elevators," as well as lavatories and "retiring rooms" on each floor.  The Commercial Cable Company would occupy the entire ground floor "which will be of unusual height," said The Electrical Engineer and "will be furnished entirely in marble."  The building included nineteen stories of rental offices.  The "total investment in land and structure will represent an outlay of at least $2,000,000," said that article--just under $72 million in 2024.

The architects' 1895 rendering depicted fenestration along the southern side--a feature that would cause troubles later.  Record & Guide, June 6, 1896 (copyright expired)

The Commercial Cable Building was completed in 1897 to general acclaim.  On December 24, the New-York Tribune, saying the structure "lifts its head far up into the clouds," called it "an ornament to the street."  The article added, "It is handsome in design, and represents some of the best ideas of modern building."  But while both the exterior and interior were considered beautiful, the building's function for the Commercial Cable Company was paramount.  "The lines of the Commercial Cable Company diverge to all parts of the civilized world, and the best possible service is furnished both at home and abroad," said the article.

The Architectural Record's critic was less enthusiastic, saying the designer "has put a huge brass knob at either end of the top, giving his skyline two competing features in place of one dominant feature."  He decried that the Commercial Cable Building, "reeks of a rowdy picturesqueness like cowboy slang."

The building had barely opened when it was the scene of an unusual suicide.  On September 24, The Sun titled an article, "Cat Suspected of Suicide" and explained that the janitor's "well-known cat named Thomas" had recently been intimate with a female tabby that disappeared.  The article said, "Yesterday morning Thomas was seen about the lower floors of the building.  Shortly before noon one of the elevator men saw the cat go upstairs.  That was the last seen of it alive."  Before long, Thomas "dropped from the roof of the Commercial Cable Building into New street."

American Architect and Building News, December 11, 1897 (copyright expired)

The tenants on the southern side of the building enjoyed sweeping views of New York Harbor.  But that was threatened in January 1902 when the property next door was sold to Blair & Co.  On May 16, the New-York Tribune reported, "Many of the tenants of the Commercial Cable Building are angry, because much of the light and air on the south side of the building is soon to be cut off by the erection of a new home for Blair & Co., bankers."  When the property was purchased, the Commercial Cable Company was promised that a light court would provide light and air.  But now, said the New-York Tribune, "The plans for the building to be put up by Blair & Co. call, however, for a court, but it will be within instead of outside the building."

Blair & Co. erected its building inches from the Commercial Cable Building, greatly reducing the rental values of the offices on that side.  

photo by Irving Underhill, from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York.

John Borowski was hired as a window cleaner in May 1905.  He aspired to be an elevator operator and four months later, when he could make time, began learning.  On March 25, 1906, the New-York Tribune reported, "Yesterday he started to practise [sic] with one of the elevators in the annex.  On the twelfth floor he left the car for some purpose, and when he came back evidently started it before he was well in the car."  The young man was crushed between the floor of the car and the top of the door.

Such accidents in the decades before the invention of elevator safety devices were not uncommon.  Less than two years later, on January 13, 1908, the newspaper reported that 15-year-old Harry De Freis "was killed yesterday afternoon by falling down the elevator shaft."  He had opened the grate and looked down to see where the car was, and lost his balance.

Photographer Irving Underhill captured the Commercial Cable Building from between the cornices of two structures in 1903.  King's Views of New York, 1903 (copyright expired)

Bootleg liquor and liberated flappers of the Roaring '20s visited the Commercial Cable Building in 1921 with nearly disastrous results.  Florence Rogers, a 21-year-old telephone operator, was invited to what she described as "an after-hours party in a brokerage office" on the 16th floor here on August 3.  Milton Roth, a clerk in William H. Kemp & Co., had a key to the offices and arranged the party.  There were three men and three women.

The New-York Tribune reported, "In the office cocktails were served, Miss Rogers said, and there was violin and harmonica music.  But things got ugly.  According to her, "she drank cocktails because she was told that if she did not swallow the liquor it would be forced down her throat."

At about midnight the two young women and one of the men left.  Things then became worse for Florence Rogers.  The men, one of whom had a pistol, attacked her, tearing off her blouse.  When she attempted to get to the telephone, one of the men disconnected it from the wall and Florence was "struck on the face."  Luckily, her screams attracted the attention of late-working employees in the building and as they came down the corridor, the two men fled.  When police arrived, "they found Miss Rogers in such a hysterical state that an ambulance was called."  (Not surprisingly, Milton Roth was fired the next day, however it does not appear he was arrested.)

In its November 1926 issue, The Commercial Telegraphers Journal reported that the Postal Telegraph Company was leaving its Broadway home and moving into the Commercial Cable Building.  "It is now felt that greater operating efficient will result from having both land lines and cable systems terminate under the same roof," said the article.

The following year, the New York Stock Exchange leased three floors in the building, including the coveted first floor--heretofore the bastion of the Commercial Cable Company.  Then, on October 4, 1928, The New York Times reported that negotiations were nearly completed between the Mackay Companies and the New York Stock Exchange for the purchase of 20 Broad Street.  "The Stock Exchange, it is understood, plans to take over the building as an annex to its present quarters at Wall and Broad Streets."  The article added, "There is a possibility, it was said yesterday, that if the Exchange buys a building it will raze it and build an annex especially to meet its needs."

That did not happen, however.  The negotiations fell through and The New York Stock Exchange, instead, continued renting space in the Commercial Cable Building.  In 1941, when the Exchange renewed its lease of five floors, The New York Times commented, "The building is not in use above the fifteenth floor."

What seemed inevitable came to pass in 1954 when The New York Times on August 16 announced that The Hanover Bank had purchased "more than half of the Broadway blockfront from Wall Street to Exchange Place."  The bank planned a 400,000 square feet skyscraper on the site, said the article.  "It is expected to be completed in 1956."

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Saturday, April 6, 2024

Henry Fernbach's 1868 52 White Street


In August 1866, a thief was apprehended in the store of Woolf & Sternback at 52 White Street.  The management pressed charges and the perpetrator was jailed in the Ludlow Street jail.  Two weeks later, the New York Dispatch reported, "On Friday evening a woman named Heyman...left her three children, aged nine months, two and a half, and three and a half years of age at the store of Messrs. Woolf & Sternback."  She told the clerk that the store was responsible for her husband's incarceration, "and as she had no means to support the children, she left them for the firm to take care of."

At the time of the shocking incident, the altered house in which Wolf & Sternback operated was slated for demolition.  The property had been purchased by brothers Mayer and Simon Sternberger who commissioned architect Henry Fernbach to design a loft-and-store building on the site.  Completed in 1868, the Second Empire style structure was clad in marble above the cast iron storefront.  Each floor was defined by an intermediate cornice and paneled pilasters at the sides.  A triangular pediment atop the ornate terminal cornice announced the date of the building's groundbreaking.  

Mayer and Simon Sternberger were the principals in the M. & S. Soap company, located at 190 South Fifth Avenue.  Although the first tenant to move into their new building was perhaps A. Langdon & Company, a wholesale boots and shoes dealer, almost all the other tenants were in the dry goods business.  In 1876 they included Alexander King & Co., importers and commission merchants; the Scranton Silk Co.; shirt maker Isaac Rosenstein & Co.; and the Magic Ruffle Co.

On April 20, 1883, the New-York Tribune reported that Mayer and Simon Sternberger had sold 52 White Street to Mrs. James A. Hayden for $114,000 (about $3.33 million in 2024).  Among her tenants were E. Spitzer's furrier business; and Adler & Schoenhof, which listed itself as "manufacturers of the 'IXL' and Victoria skirts, children's cloaks and suits."

They were joined around 1890 by A. N. Loeb & Co., importers and manufacturers of items like the Stuttgarter Sanitary Underwear.  By the mid-1890's, William Campbell & Co., makers of cotton and woolen goods; A. M. Warner  & Co., importers; and A. Friedlander & Co., which made ladies' waists and suits occupied space.  The latter firm was a large operation, employing 56 men, 34 women, and 15 teenaged girls all of whom worked 59 hours per week.

Arion Marcellus Warner was the head of A. M. Warner & Co.  Born in Connecticut in 1843, his firm imported household textiles, like "wool piano and table covers," Irish linens, napkins, and such.   He left the office early in 1897 suffering from stomach pains.  They became so bad that, according to The Sun, he was "confined to his bed fifteen weeks."  After three months of suffering, Warner died on March 30 "of paralysis of the stomach."  

The firm continued doing business at 52 White Street.  By 1901, when it employed two men and 26 women, A. M. Warner & Co. both imported and manufactured table cloths.  It remained until February 1, 1913, when the firm moved to 569-575 Broadway.

Textile and dry goods business continued to call 52 White Street home throughout the Depression years.  Among them were Arthur Bier & Company, who dealt in linings; and Lamb, Finlay & Co., Irish linen importers, here by 1929.

The Tribeca Renaissance caught up with 52 White Street in 1974, when the upper floors were converted to artists' joint living and working quarters (one per floor), and the former store space became the Collective for Living Cinema.  Founded in 1973, the Collective held filmmaking workshops and screened films weekly.

Patrons of the Collective for Living Cinema were treated to films not seen elsewhere.  In February 1976, for instance, it screened the 1934 Wonder Bar, a musical starring Al Jolson, Ruby Keeler, Dick Powell, and Dolores Del Rio.  On October 18, 1985, The New York Times described the films shown here as "avant-garde, foreign and generally neglected films."

In the first years of the 21st century, the ground floor space  became home to the Manhattan Children's Theater.  Then, on September 19, 2011, jewelry designer Ted Muehling opened his shop here.  It was replaced in 2022 by the James Fuentes gallery.

photographs by the author
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