Monday, February 18, 2019

The Lost James Fenimore Cooper House 6 St. Mark's Place



sketch from Mary Elizabeth Phillips's 1912 "James Fenimore Cooper" (copyright expired)
The area north of Bond Street on Manhattan’s east side by 1830 was filling with stately brick Federal-style homes as New York’s wealthy sought refuge from the cholera epidemic and crowding further south. In 1831 real estate developer Thomas E. Davis lined the entire block of East 8th Street, between Second and Third Avenues with residences meant to appeal to these well-to-do clients.  At the time short sections of streets were sometimes renamed to indicate their elevated status.  Three blocks of 8th Street became St. Mark’s Place where Davis’s high-end mansions would rival any in the city.

His houses were exceptional.  Wider than most with a comfortable 26-foot frontage, their red Flemish bond brick facades were trimmed with white marble.  At the parlor level, floor-to-ceiling length windows opened onto elegant cast iron balconies and high wide stoops led to dramatic entranceways.


A view of the mirror-image house across the street No. 24, reveals the original basket newels, the areaway fencing, and the iron balcony.  photograph by Jacob A. Riis, from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York

The doorways were framed in what is known as Gibbs surrounds – deeply carved stone with interspersed quoins of varied width and vermiculated marble blocks fashioned to appear worm-eaten. Such treatments were named after Scottish-born architect James Gibbs.

Among the row was No. 6 and like the rest, it sat upon a high English basement. Above the third floor an pitch-roofed attic featured two twin dormers.



The house became home to the James Fenimore Cooper family around 1833 when they returned from a decade-long residency in Europe.   Born in New Jersey on September 14, 1789, his wealthy land agent father, William, founded Cooperstown, New York.  The family's expansive home, Otsego Hall, was there.

Upon William Cooper's death in 1809, James had inherited a fortune.  He married Susan Augusta de Lancey on New Year's Day 1811.  They would have seven children, five of whom lived to adulthood.

By the time Cooper moved into the St. Mark's Place home, he was a literary celebrity.  He had already published three of The Leatherstocking Tales series--The Pioneers in 1823, The Last of the Mohicans in 1826 and The Prairie in 1827.

But not long after his return to America there came a change in public opinion--at least from several high-powered and wealthy New York citizens.  His 1912 biographer Mary Elizabeth Philips said "Cooper was ever a frank friend or an open enemy."  In the books he wrote within No. 6 he named names and bruised sensitivities and reputations.

In 1838 he published The American Democrat.  Then, as stated by Philips, "Homeward Bound, its sequel, Home as Found, and the Chronicles of Cooperstown--all came in hot haste from the author's modest three-story brick home in St. Mark's Place near Third Avenue in New York City.  In these books Cooper told his side of foreign and town troubles, and it was said that not ten places or persons could complain in truth that they had been overlooked."

A literary critic remarked "He had the courage to defy the majority and confound the press, from a heavy sense of duty, with ungrateful truths...However, this over-critical writing soon became newspaper gossip, and began for Cooper six long years of tedious lawsuits."  Among his new-found enemies were Horace Greeley, Park Benjamin and Thurlow Weed.


James Fenimore Cooper, from the collection of the Library of Congress.

His legal battles finally ended when Cooper made "a clear, brilliant, and convincing six-hour address before the court during a profound silence."  The speech was received with applause in the courtroom and the lawsuits were settled in his favor.

In the meantime, the population of No. 6 St. Mark's Place was increased by one when a stray dog became the family pet.  According to Cooper's grandnephew, George Pomeroy Keese, later, the dog named Frisk, was "a little black mongrel of no breed whatever, rescued from under a butcher's cart in St. Mark's Place, with a fractured leg, and tenderly cared for until recovery."

The Cooper family left New York to live in Cooperstown around 1840.  Their dog, of course, went along.  Keese remembered "Mr. Cooper was rarely seen on the street without Frisk."

The Coopers were followed in No. 6 by the John Ferris Delaplaine family.  John was born in 1786 to a wealthy New York shipping merchant, Samuel Delaplaine, and his wife the former Phila Pella.  In 1814 John married Julia Ann Clason, and they would have five children.


John Delaplaine from the National Portrait Gallery of the Smithsonian.

When the family moved into No. 6, John was the head of his father's shipping business at No. 7 New Street.   His 1845 worth was estimated at $150,000 (more than $5 million today).   Although his sons John, Jr. and Isaac Clason were both educated as attorneys, they entered the family business.  They were both listed in the New Street office in 1848.

Delaplaine added to his fortune by a sordid side enterprise.  According to Timothy J. Gilfoyle's 1992 City of Eros, in 1848 Delaplaine was the owner (although not the operator) of a Walker Street brothel, and in 1852 was accused of supporting Maria Mitchell's Crosby Street bordello.  "When the district attorney prosecuted Delaplaine for running a Church Street brothel, the indictment charged that the wealthy merchant was no neophyte in the business and controlled several other establishments in New York."

John F. Delaplaine died on June 3, 1854 at the age of 68.  His funeral was held in the St. Mark's Place house three days later.

Although the family retained possession of the residence, they soon prepared to move.  On January 24, 1855 the contents of John F. Delaplaine's wine cellar were auctioned downtown.  The auction announcement reflected his vast wealth.  There were 280 bottles of March & Benson's madeira, vinage 1828; 516 bottles of old South Side Madeira; 16 magnums of E. Pell's brandy, "about 40 years old, sealed with the name;" 110 bottles "very superior brandy, vintage 1849;" and a cast of 1844 St. Julien claret.

The family's basement pantries were emptied as well.  Immediately after the wine auction, 200 cases of preserved fruits--cherries, peaches, raspberries, pears, and more--in quart and half-gallon jars were sold.

By the end of the year No. 6 was being operated as a high-end boarding house.  An advertisement on December 6, 1855 offered "Furnished rooms to let with board in the first class house No. 6 St. Mark's place."

In the years prior to the outbreak of Civil War the St. Mark's Place neighborhood remained upscale, as evidenced in its high class boarders.  When William Van Ness Livingston died on March 28, 1860 "after a long and painful illness," according to The New York Times, the newspaper noted that he was "son of the late Henry Livingston, of Livingston Manor."

But a decade and the influx of thousands of immigrants into the Lower East Side brought significant change.  Perhaps the first hint at No. 6 could be found in a December 2, 1872 advertisement:

Two large, furnished cheap upper rooms; gas, fire, &c.; one for two gentlemen; in spacious private mansion at No. 6 St. Mark's place.

The owners appear to have been reticent to renting to women--not wanting to attract disreputable types.  An advertisement in April 1874 offered "A furnished front hall bedroom $3.50.  In superlatively quiet first class residence...suitable for a gentleman only."  The weekly rent would be $78 today.

The once-exclusive St. Mark's Place block continued to change rapidly.  As wealthy families moved northward, shops were carved into the parlor and basement floors of their former homes.  

The basement level of No. 6 was converted for commercial purposes around 1877.  In April 1878 attorney Frederick I. King had his office here, advertising "Divorces speedily obtained--Terms superlatively reasonable."

He shared the space with Dr. H. Eickhorn, who established his office here around the same time.  Eickhorn, who specialized in tape worms, promised in his 1882 advertisements "Infallibly cured with two spoons of medicine in two or three hours."

The doctor's office was taken over by 1890 by Dr. Alois Schapringer, who graduated from the University of Vienna in 1872.

After ownership of half a century, on June 13, 1893 the Delaplaine family sold No. 6, still described as a "three-story and attic brick building with extension."  When the high bid was only $26,250 (about $741,000 today), the New York Times remarked that it was "regarded by some as rather low."

Any trace of refinement had disappeared from the block, and the basement level had been converted to a cafe.  The innocent-sounding business was anything but.  On June 13, 1894 The Evening World called its owner, Max Rosenthal, "one of the most notorious of the cafe proprietors." 

When he was appeared in court for selling liquor to an undercover excise agent on June 12, he had already been arrested four times for selling alcohol without a license.

"Did you have a license for your place?" he was asked.

"No."

"But you sold beer and liquors there?"

"Oh, no!  I only kept them for my friends."

When he was asked if he had ever seen Detective Whitney before, he claimed flatly "I never did.  I don't know him."

In the meantime, the upper floors continued to be operated as a boarding house; albeit not so high end as before.  The same year as Rosenthal's trial, one tenant, 19-year old Charles Shierer, also found himself in police custody following a petty incident.

Unable to come up with the money to rent two bicycles, he and his 18-year old friend, Sigmud Frangarten, pooled their money that April and hired one bike for two hours.  The Evening World explained "It was agreed that each should ride for one hour."

But Shierer either lost track of time or simply enjoyed his ride too much to return at the end of his hour.   He came back to an enraged Frangarten and "a row" ensued.  When Policeman Meehan came across the battling friends, he arrested them for disorderly conduct.  They appeared in the Essex Market Police Court the following morning.

The sheepish boys pleaded their case before the judge.  The Evening World reported "The young men promised Justice Hogan that they would never quarrel again and were discharged."

Rosenthal's trial marked the end of his running of the cafe.  It was taken over by F. Bruner in December 7, 1895.  As part of his lease he was given permission to put a pool table in the space.  His stay was short, and within a few months Louis and Louisa Feit were the proprietors.  Their rent on the cafe was about $1,000 per month in today's dollars.

To attract customers in the increasingly gritty neighborhood, the Feits came up with an innovative scheme--at certain points throughout the night their waitresses would break into the somewhat scandalous French can-can dance.  It was shocking enough to prompt a concerned neighbor to anonymously write to The New York Society for the Prevention of Children (often called simply the Gerry Society).  The letter alleged that the couple's six-year-old daughter "was living in immoral surroundings."

An agent named Deubert visited the cafe on Friday night, September 18 and reported "that the cafe waitresses gave exhibitions of high kicking and skirt dancing."  The New York Times reported "He seized the little girl and told the parents that he was going to take her away from them.  The mother screamed and there was an uproar."  

It was a bit more than an uproar.  The New York Times had begun its article saying "Louis Feit and his wife, Louisa, proprietors of a cafe at 6 St. Mark's Place, were the centre of a small riot in St. Mark's Place Friday night, in which Gerry Agent Deubert was roughly handled."  

Louisa Feit clung to Deubert's neck and begged him not to take her daughter.  He nevertheless, "after much difficulty," dragged the child outside.  And that's when things turned ugly.

Hearing Louisa's screams and Louis's angry shouts, a mob formed in the street.  Before two more Gerry agents and a policeman could rescue him, Deubert's nose was bleeding, his clothing was torn and his hat smashed.  The Feits were arrested.

Louisa protested to Magistrate Brann that she "ran a respectable cafe" and said the letter was written in "spite by an enemy."  Both parents were fined $5 and the girl was held by the Gerry Society pending further investigation.  The family was soon back together and the Feits renewed their lease the following year.

In 1910 owner Carroll Bryce leased an upper floor to the newly-established Ferrer Association.  On October 13, 1910 it held public meeting to mark the first anniversary of the death of anarchist pedagogue Francisco Ferrer.  The group had named its new headquarters the Ferrer Centre.

Eight months later, on June 26, 1911 The New York Times reported "A special meeting of the New York-Mexican Revolution Conference was held yesterday afternoon in the Ferrer Centre, at 6 St. Mark's Place, at which the final plans for the mass meeting at Cooper Union this evening were completed."  That meeting was intended to "arouse public interest in the revolution cause in Mexico."

Here the group hosted lectures, mostly related to radical politics, and avant-garde arts cultural events.  There was also the Ferrer Modern School, a libertarian day school.  The Ferrer Centre remained here until 1914 when it moved to New Jersey.

In the meantime, the same year that the Centre moved in, the Alexander Printing Co. rented what had been James Fenimore Cooper's parlor floor.   It was, in fact, a front for illegal gambling.

It was raided by police on April 2, 1912; but when information reached headquarters that the operation was ongoing, they hit again in May.  Police Lieutenant Becker and nine members of the "Strong Arm" squad drove up in a moving van and, according to The New York Times, "sprang from it, and ran up to the second floor of the house, where they found themselves confronted by an ice chest door.  While they battered at this with axes several shots were fired from inside the room and the detectives fired back."

The vault-like door would not give way so detectives went around to the back.  Climbing atop the one-story extension, they attacked the iron bars on the windows.  When they finally gave way, Detective John Bowers was the first to enter.

The Times reported "he was the target for chairs and everything else in the room which could be thrown.  Two hundred men were inside."  

The operation went beyond the second floor.  The Times reported "In a room on the third floor the detectives found fifty more men whose escape had been cut off by the presence of the police on the floor below."  Racing charts and "other gambling appliances" were found on both floors.

As it turned out, the den's operators had more to fear from other gang kingpins than from the police.  A "gambling war" was going on at the time, and it arrived at No. 6 St. Mark's Place on June 3 that year.

At 12:30 that morning a bomb exploded at No. 85 Fourth Avenue, waking tenants of houses for blocks around.  Ten minutes after police arrived another explosion occurred at No. 103 Fourth Avenue, less than a block away.  The entire front of the building was blown out.  The Sun reported "While the police were busy on that they heard another explosion, which came from 6 St. Mark's place, the first two floors which were occupied by the Central Cafe and the Alexander Printing Company."  The newspaper reminded readers that the address had been the scene of two recent raids and said police "think that a gambling war caused the placing of the explosives."

Major change would come after Carroll Bryce sold the building in January 1913 to David Wasser.  The Real Estate Record & Builders' Guide commented "The buyer intends to erect a modern Turkish and Russian bath."

While Wasser originally intended to simply remodel the building (his architect, Jacob  Fisher, filed plans in February for "alterations"), he had a change of mind.  Two months later a demolition permit was issued.  On April 12 revised plans were submitted for a new structure to cost more than three-quarters of a million dollars in today's money.


Fisher's altered building as it appears today.

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.