Monday, September 20, 2021

The Lost Broadway Tabernacle - Broadway and 56th Street

from the collection of the New-York Historical Society

In 1857 the congregation of the Broadway Tabernacle moved from its location at Broadway between Worth Street and Catherine Lane because of "the encroachment of business."  Less than half a century later the same problem would force the church to move from its site at Sixth Avenue and 34th Street.

On January 4, 1902 the Real Estate Record & Guide announced "The new home of the Broadway Tabernacle congregation, of which the Rev. Charles E. Jefferson is pastor, will be located at the northeast corner of Broadway and 56th st."  The trustees had paid the equivalent of $14 million today for the Midtown parcel.  That amount would be more than doubled after the architectural firm of Barney & Chapman filed plans in October that placed construction costs at $500,000--around $15.5 million today.

Construction on the massive structure took three years.   The dedication of what The New York Times called the "city's most novel edifice" was held on March 5, 1905 with "impressive ceremonies."  The New-York Tribune described it as a "beautiful cathedral-like structure" and said it "embraces within its walls a huge auditorium, two chapels, a score of Sunday school rooms, parlors, offices, living rooms, a museum and safe deposit vault, each function expressed in the exterior architecture and all culminating in the tower in a harmonious whole."

from the collection of the New-York Historical Society

Architectural critic Montgomery Schuyler called the style, "advanced and elaborate Gothic, advanced in some places to the verge of the French Renaissance."  He was especially taken with the 10-story cimborio, or tower, at the rear of the structure, which he said admirably "crowns the edifice."  Although known for his often biting criticisms, he wrote:

How successful is the choice and combination of material, the pale buff of the brickwork and the pale gray of the terra cotta.  How full of life and spirit is the modelling of this latter, really recalling the old work in comparison with the lifelessness of so much of most modern Gothic.

The Architectural Record, September 1904 (copyright expired)

The interior of the auditorium had been decorated by M. G. Broadbent.  The understated Gothic décor allowed for no painted murals, however hanging from the groin-vaulted ceiling were striking bronze-and-art-glass chandeliers.

Two views of the auditorium.  from the collection of the New-York Historical Society

The New York Times said, "The new edifice is perhaps the most unusual structure in the city, having a theatre, kindergarten, club rooms, a private wedding chapel, and a complete equipment for Settlement work."  

The article reminded readers of the church's beginnings, saying it was founded in 1840 "for the express purpose of reaching the masses" and adding, "The Tabernacle was the first church in New York to stand for free speech.  It was foremost in opposition to slavery."  The Rev. Dr. Charles E. Jefferson explained that the innovations in the new structure were a continuance of that history, saying "This church must be a people's church...This church must hurl itself against political corruption, against the liquor traffic, against militarism, and against industrial injustice."

Jefferson had been pastor for seven years at the time.  His views matched the historically open-minded, progressive stance of the Broadway Tabernacle.  Several years later he listed several issues that the church should fight.  The Sun quoted him on March 4, 1918 as saying that "the frightful inequalities of our social condition brought about by capitalistic injustice should be radically reformed, that race prejudice should be boldly attacked and rooted out and that militarism should also be regarded as a foe."

Rev. Charles E. Jefferson, from the collection of the Library of Congress

The New-York Tribune was unsympathetic with Jefferson's rabid anti-war stance.  (He said, "When I die and you should wish to place a tablet in the church for me I want you to put on it "Peacemaker, or, if you prefer, "Pacifist.")  

Calling his sermons "lectures," on March 12, 1919, as American boys were still returning from Europe, the newspaper wrote, "It is a little difficult at times to reconcile realities with Dr. Jefferson's teachings, but apparently his aim is to show that realities do not matter."  Even when America was deeply embroiled in World War I, Jefferson visited many of the military camps to preach to the soldiers, always insisting that "the great war must be the last war."

A canteen for soldiers was established within the church which "attracted uniformed men by the hundreds," according to the New-York Tribune.  An issue of the parish newsletter said that 100,000 men had visited the church, "attracted by the programme for the soldiers and sailors."  The New-York Tribune reported on May 12, 1919, "So grateful have the uniformed men been that they are planning to put up a bronze tablet to show their appreciation."

The Architectural Record, September 1904 (copyright expired)

Leading an important church like this one was financially rewarding.  In 1924 Jefferson was earning $10,000 per year--about $151,000 today.  The New York Times said he was "one of the highest paid Congregational ministers in this country."  He was offered a raise in salary that year, but he refused to accept it.  He was an author, as well, writing around 24 books on biblical subjects and three on peace.

The highly visible and idealistic pastor would go on to lead the Broadway Tabernacle congregation for 32 years.  The 69-year-old preached his last sermon on June 29, 1930.  Upon his retirement, the church gave him a yearly pension of $3,000--around $46,500 in today's money.

When he died in his New Hampshire home in September 1937, The New York Times reminisced about "'The Saint of the Great White Way' (as it often was suggested to name him)."  It said, "Dr. Jefferson had a longer 'run' on Broadway than any actor."

Whether it was the loss of its powerful leader or simply the fact that, once again, the church was being hemmed in by commerce, change came little by little.  On January 28, 1955 The New York Times reported, "The Broadway Tabernacle church will be known henceforth as the Broadway Congregational Church."  The pastor, Rev. Dr. Albert J. Penner explained, "The word 'tabernacle' has frequently led to misunderstandings."

In 1959 Rev. Dr. Joseph B. Huntley initiated a program to attract young adults--one of which Rev. Dr. Jefferson may not have approved.  He formed the Broadway Chapel Players, which staged plays within the church.  Writing in The New York Age on December 26, Virgil Cabaniss reviewed Susannah and the Elders, the twelfth in a series.  He called it "the most soul-searching religious drama this column has ever witnessed."  He said the concept was "a famous educational and entertaining drama as a form of worship service," adding, "And the place is packed with honest-to-goodness worshippers and discriminating theatre-goers."

But not even the popular theater program could save the congregation from waning attendance.  On February 26, 1969 a headline in The New York Times read, "Broadway Church Is Closing Doors After 129 Years."  The pastor, Rev. Lawrence L. Durgin, explained that the congregation had deferred maintenance for 30 years, and now $500,000 was necessary to "put it in good condition."  The article noted, "The building's nine-story twin gray towers and stained-glass windows are surrounded by office buildings and automobile showrooms."  The trustees had arranged to share the nearby Roman Catholic St. Paul the Apostle Church with that congregation.

Within the year the striking Gothic style church was leveled for a parking lot "for 105 cars," as outlined in Department of Buildings documents.  In 1977 Carnegie Mews, a 34-floor tower rose, on the site, erasing the memory of the Broadway Tabernacle for almost all New Yorkers.

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Saturday, September 18, 2021

The 1903 Hotel Somerset - 150 West 47th Street

The exuberant gable and handsome portico have recently been removed.  postcard from author's collection

The "apartment hotel" trend swept Manhattan toward the turn of the last century.  The hybrid residential buildings offered the amenities of hotels--like maid and valet service--with the long-term leases of apartments.   In 1902 architect Frederick C. Browne began plans for what the Real Estate Record & Guide would call "a late addition to the list of apartment hotels" at 148-152 West 47th Street for developer Henry L. Felt.  

But Browne's plans would never be executed, at least not completely.  While excavations for the foundation were under way, Felt sold the property to Street, Wykes & Co., which hired architect Clarence Luce to redo the design.  In the opinion of at least one contemporary architectural critic, partners Hunter Wykes and Charles F. Street should have kept the original.

Completed in 1903, the 12-story Beaux Arts style Hotel Somerset was faced in red brick above a two-story rusticated limestone base.  A portico of four free-standing columns with Scamozzi capitals upheld a stone-balustraded balcony.  Stealing the show was the massive, three-story Flemish Revival style gable that all but hid the mansard behind it.  Four full-length engaged columns rose to an overblown, broken pediment.  

Meant to draw attention, the gable did just that.  Writing in The Architectural Record in 1903, the often acerbic critic Montgomery Schuyler called it a "pompous sham" and said the Hotel Somerset was "the most ridiculous" of recent New York City structures.

The newly-completed building in 1903.  The Record & Guide, January 17, 1903 (copyright expired)

Nevertheless, the hotel catered to an upper-crust clientele.  Prospective long-term tenants were required to provide references, and  the names of those who were accepted appeared regularly in society columns.  On January 27, 1904, for instance, The Commercial Advertiser announced, "Mrs. Walter Scott of the Somerset, 150 West Forty-seventh street, gives the last of her January at homes to-day."

The residents of the Hotel Somerset, both long-term and transient, enjoyed amenities like a writing room, an elegant dining room and a rooftop café.   In 1910 the white collar residents had professions like physician, "manager," and broker.  And its proximity to the theater district drew members of the entertainment industry as well.

The trellis-roofed café.  photo by Byron Company, from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York

Jules Von Tilzer and his wife, the former Estella Steinberg, lived here by the summer of 1906.  Von Tilzer was one of the six brothers who made up the Harry Von Tilzer Music Publishing Company on West 28th Street.  The couple had "a domestic spat," according to The Sun, on May 27 that year.

According to Estella, she had gone to see Peter Pan at the Lyric Theatre with friends who were about to sail for Europe.  After the play, they stopped at Sherry's restaurant.  It was around midnight when she got home.  Jealous, Von Tilzer flew into a rage and stormed out.

Cast iron lampposts stand guard, and a lacy iron-and-glass marquee stretches forth from the portico in this early photograph.  photo by Byron Company, from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York

When he had not returned home four days later, Estella went to his office.  And there, The Sun said, "such lively things happened that the woman, who is young and attractive, was taken by a policeman to the Tenderloin station house."  Their conversation turned heated--to the point that Von Tilzer's white silk shirt was torn from his back.  When a secretary, Daniel Dody, rushed in to intervene, Estella broke her parasol over his head.

Dody called a policeman and asked him to arrest Estella for assault and disorderly conduct.  They traveled to the station house in the hansom cab that had been waiting for her at the curb.  There Dody told of Estella's violence and Estella pooh-poohed it all, exhibiting her parasol and saying, "Look at this little sun umbrella.  You couldn't hurt a fly with it."  And as to ripping her husband's shirt from his body, she explained she never meant to do so.

"It was a little, thin silk thing, too expensive for a music publisher to wear.  My husband struck me when we had some words and I grabbed at him to save myself."  

In the end, Dody dropped the charges on the condition that Estella never enter the office again.  She agreed, saying, "I've promised not to go to the office, but that promise does not prevent my going in the street.  I'll be outside the office sometimes."

The main dining room.  photo by Byron Company, from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York

Actor and playwright Robert Drouet and his wife, the former Mildred Loring. were residents.   Born in 1870, he had joined a theatrical company at the age of 16.  He was as successful as a playwright as an actor.  Among the plays he wrote, the best known which were Fra Diano and Doris

Actor-playwright Robert Drouet was just 44 years old when he died. The Players Blue Book, 1901 (copyright expired)

Mildred Drouet and her mother traveled to Chicago in the summer of 1914.  On the night of August 16 Drouet went to bed at about midnight, leaving word at the desk to call him at 8:00.  The next morning, according to The Sun, "A number of telephone calls had been unanswered, and when the manager of the hotel went to Mr. Drouet's room to investigate the actor was found dead in bed."  He had died of heart failure.

The tranquility within the Hotel Somerset for its permanent residents may have been upset in October 1914 when the Boston Braves baseball team checked in.  But if the young men had ever been a bit rowdy, that all changed following their game against the Brooklyn Dodgers on October 6.  The team was almost assured of playing in the World Series that year, but during the game their star "hard-hitting third baseman," J. Caryle "Red" Smith, splintered the bone in his right leg while sliding into second base.

The New-York Tribune reported, "It was a glum, sorrowful group of Boston players who sat down to their dinners at the Hotel Somerset last night.  Where all had been mirth and enthusiasm all was sombre and suppressed."

Taken in 1904, this photograph show elegant draperies, tall ceilings and an Oriental rug.  photograph by Byron Company, from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York

On April 11, 1919 Edward Van Bode checked into the hotel.  He had no luggage, a fact that should have raised suspicions in the management.  The 60 year old bachelor, who was the son of General Von Bodemer of the British Army, fell to his death from his eighth floor window two days later.  Despite what seemed to be obvious, the New-York Tribune noted, "There was nothing in his room to indicate suicide."

Another playwright to call the Hotel Somerset home was Edward Henry Peple, here by 1920.  Best known for his farces and comedies, among the popular plays he wrote were The Prince Chap, A Pair of Sixes and The Littlest Rebel.

In 1923 actress Beverly Sitgreaves moved in, having returned from Europe.  On December 30 The Morning Telegraph explained, "After an absence of nearly five years, she has returned to her work as actress and teacher.  In 1919 a cable from Sarah Bernhardt called her to Paris and finally resulted in a tour which eventually carried her around the world."

Beverly Sitgreaves as she appeared while living at the Hotel Somerset.  The Morning Telegraph, December 30, 1923 (copyright expired)

After being the houseguest of Sarah Bernhardt for three months, she played in London in a revival of Arms and the Man, "under the personal direction of Bernard Show," and then appeared in Australia.  At the time of The Morning Telegraph's article, she had just finished an engagement with Ethel Barrymore.  In addition to her stage work, Sitgreaves coached thespians.  The article said she preferred one-on-one instruction, which she "practices at her residence, the Somerset Hotel, 150 West Forty-seventh street."

Also living here in 1923 was lecturer and author Mrs. Sophie Almon Hensley.  She published her first collection of poetry in 1889 and went on to write other poetry collections, and books and essays such as Women's Love Letters and Love and the Woman of Tomorrow.  She lectured on literary topics, and was President of the Society for the Study of Life, secretary of the New York State Assembly of Mothers, and founder of the New York City Mother's Club.  She was also the associate editor of Health: A Home Magazine Devoted to Physical Culture and Hygiene.

Sophie and her husband moved to Jersey, England in 1937.  They were forced to relocate to Canada when the Nazis occupied the Channel Islands in 1940.

The Arts & Crafts style Reading Room in 1904, outfitted in oak and leather furniture.  photo by Byron Company, from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York

In the meantime, the Hotel Somerset continued to attract residents involved in the entertainment industry.  In 1925 vaudevillian actress "Princess" Rajah lived here.  She suffered a major loss that year when she her purse was picked.

Early in the morning of March 23 she was standing in a subway car with two female friends.  Her handbag was suspended over her arm.  The New York Times reported, "She noticed two men standing near her, the car being very crowded, and said that one of them was reading a newspaper which he thrust close to her face."

As the train pulled into 110th Street, she noticed her pocketbook was open and she closed it without much thought.  She and her friends debarked at the Times Square station and went to a restaurant near the Hotel Somerset.  When she opened her purse there, she realized the chamois bag with her jewelry was gone.  The diamonds and other jewelry were valued at $20,000--more than $300,000 in today's money.

Cartoonist Ellison Hoover lived in the Hotel Somerset in the 1930's, as did vaudeville entertainer David Genero (he had won the American cakewalk championship in 1891) and writer Edward Goldbeck and his singer-actress wife Lina Abarbanell.

Soprano Lina Abarbanell, from the collection of the New York Public Library

Goldbeck wrote in both German and English and was a former columnist of the Chicago Tribune.  Lina Abarbanell was a soprano who performed in light and grand opera.  In 1909 she introduced the title character of Madame Sherry at the New Amsterdam Theatre, which ran for 231 performances.

Another author and playwright, Jane Maudlin Feigl, moved into the Hotel Somerset early in 1934, following the death of her husband Colonel Fred Feigl on December 10, 1933.  The New York Times had described her husband as a "former publisher and well known in military circles."  Jane had  already mourned the death of their son Lieutenant Jefferson Feigle for years.  He was the first American artillery officer killed in action in World War I.   The loss of her husband added to her enormous grief.

A relative described Jane as being "very miserable and unhappy," following her husband's death.  The New York Times wrote, "Because of her moodiness, Captain George G. Feigl...her brother-in-law, had been a frequent caller."  Her depression was severe enough to require her being hospitalized in the Fifth Avenue Hospital for several weeks that spring.

On June 5, 1934 Captain Feigl dropped by Jane's 12th-floor apartment.  Unable to get an answer to his knocking, he enlisted the help of manager John Smith, who opened the door with a passkey.  The New York Times reported, "Mrs. Feigl was lying in bed, and along side her was a bottle believed to have contained an acid."

In 1953 the Hotel Somerset was remodeled to a transient hotel.  There were now a restaurant and store on the ground floor, 18 hotel rooms on the second through twelfth floors, and 6 each in the new penthouse, unseen from the street.

photo via

That configuration lasted until another renovation, completed in 1980, converted the Hotel Somerset to apartments, nine each on floors two through twelve, and four in the penthouse.  In 1997 the details of Clarence Luce's gable were shaved off and the portico was removed, destroying the building's 1903 personality. has no authorization to reuse the content of this blog.

Friday, September 17, 2021

The Edward A. Kerbs Mansion - 19 East 82nd Street


In 1894 architect Henry Andersen designed a pair of opulent homes on the northern side of East 82nd Street, just west of Madison Avenue, for developer Daniel Hennessy.  Construction took two years to complete.  

The mirror-image, 25-foot-wide mansions were an especially dignified take on neo-Italian Renaissance architecture.  Short stoops introduced the recessed entrances, flanked by Ionic columns.  The service entrances sat below oculi framed in carved, spilling cornucopia. Like the first floor, the second was clad in rusticated limestone.  Its windows were fronted by stone balustrades and flanked by Ionic pilasters.  Delicately carved shells sat atop each opening.

The upper three floors, which were gracefully bowed, were faced in light orange brick and trimmed in terra cotta.  Andersen embellished the top floors with ornate, Renaissance inspired panels and entablatures.  An elaborate terra cotta frieze introduced the bracketed cornice.

Edward A. Kerbs and his wife, Alice, purchased 19 East 82nd Street late in 1899.  Kerbs was a partner in the cigar manufacturing firm of Kerbs, Wertheim & Schiffer.  The couple had a four year old daughter, Jeanne Edith.

The Kerbs wasted little time in opening the doors of their new home to guests.  On February 22, 1900 the New York Herald announced, "Mr. and Mrs. Edward Kerbs, of No. 19 East Eight-second street, will give a large reception to-day, which will be in a measure a house warming."

During the 1915-16 winter season entertainments in the house focused on Jeanne as she was introduced to society.  It began on December 24 when her parents hosted a dance at the Ritz-Carlton for her.

The 82nd Street house was the scene of Jeanne's marriage to William Kallman on February 25, 1919.  It would be the last large event for the family within the residence.

Less than three months later, on May 12, 1919, Edward A. Kerbs died in the house.   His philanthropic lifestyle extended past death.  His will left $15,000 (a quarter of a million in today's dollars) to the Hebrew Orphan Asylum, of which he was a trustee, and $50,000 to the Trudeau Sanitarium in the Adirondacks.   He stipulated that the latter amount was intended "to erect pavilions for men and women tubercular patients."

The bulk of the estate went to Alice, with the direction that after her death it passed to Jeanne.  But should Jeanne die first, without children, "the estate is to be used to establish the Kerbs Hospital for Tubercular Diseases."

As a side note, in 1953 Jeanne honored her parents by funding the Kerbs Memorial Boathouse, designed by Aymar Embury II, in Central Park.

The Kerbs Memorial Boathouse in Central Park.  photo via the Central Park Conservancy

Almost immediately after her husband's death, Alice sold the mansion to millionaire Isaac N. Phelps.  If he intended to move in, he quickly changed his mind.  In October 1920 he sold it to John Sergeant Cram and his wife, the former Edith Claire Bryce.

Cram was president of the Dock Board and head of the New York Public Service Commission.  He was, as well, the treasurer of the Dayfield Realty Company of which Edith was a director.

Born in 1851, both the Sergeant and Webb families were socially prominent.  John's first cousin William Seward Webb was married to Eliza Vanderbilt, the daughter of William H. Vanderbilt. 

Edith was his second wife.  He had married the widow Georgiana Beatrice Budd in 1898 when he was 47 years old.  She died in 1903.  He and Edith were married in 1906 and would have three children, Henry Sergeant, Edith Bryce, and John Sergeant.  The family had a summer home in Newport and a winter house in Palm Springs, Florida.  

John Sergeant Cram, New York State's Prominent and Progressive Men, 1902 (copyright expired)

Despite her husband's highly visible government positions, it was Edith whose name appeared in newspapers more often.  She was both an ardent pacifist and an activist for human rights.

On December 1, 1921, for instance, the New York Herald reported that she chaired a meeting of the World Peace Fellowship in Town Hall the evening before.  The article said it was "attended by more than 1,000 persons, at which most of the audience signed pledges they would never engage in a war, offensive or defensive, whether it be by bearing arms, making or handling munitions, voluntarily subscribing to war loans or laboring to set others free for war service."

During World War I, men were imprisoned for "political offenses."  In 1922 the wives and children of 37 of them set off on a protest from the West Coast to Washington D.C. seeking their release.  On April 26 they arrived in New York City and paraded up Madison Avenue carrying banners with mottos like "I Have Never Seen My Daddy" and "Is Opinion a Crime in the U.S.A.?"  The New York Herald reported, "In the afternoon they went to the circus as the guests of Mrs. J. Sergeant Cram."

Edith's agenda was not all political, of course.  She routinely entertained in the 82nd Street house.  On February 21, 1924 The Sun reported, "Mrs. J. Sergeant Cram gave one of a series of dinners last evening, at her home, 19 East Eighty-second street," and on February 1, the following year--presumably just before heading to Palm Beach--she gave another.

The family received a major scare in April 1926 when the 72 year old Cram fell down the staircase at 19 East 82nd Street.  Two months later, on June 24, the Oswego Palladium-Times reported he had "failed to rally," and "is seriously ill as the result of severe injuries to his head."

Nevertheless, Edith and her daughter went to Newport that season.  On September 10, The New York Sun announced that "Mrs. J. Sergeant Cram and Miss Edith B. Cram have returned from Newport."

Edith continued with her pacifist activities, which did not go unnoticed by right-wing Ralph Montgomery Easley, head of the National Civic Federation.  In a series of articles in the New Republic in 1924, Captain Sidney Howard placed Easley at the top of his list of "self-appointed, business-backed, hell-roaring flag wavers." On May 5, 1927 Robert Dunn, writing in The Daily Worker, listed "some of the persons this man Easley has gone out of his way to slander and malign."  Among them were H. G. Wells, Cardinal William O'Connell, and "Mrs. J. Sergeant Cram, noted peace advocate."

In 1931 J. Sergeant Cram was 80 years old.  It may have been his advancing age that prompted the Crams to lease their home to a William Randolph Hearst concern in August that year.  The firm may have eyed the property for development, since it already owned the entire Madison Avenue blockfront between 82nd and 83rd Streets, along with the twin house next door at 17 East 82nd.

Instead, the mansion was subleased.  It was home to the widowed Mrs. Carl Newkirk in 1939.  Her husband had been an attorney in Frankfort, Germany.  On February 4 that year her son,  Rudolph H. Newkirk, was married in St. Thomas Church on Fifth Avenue to Hope Emerson Lyons.

John Sergeant Cram died in 1936.  In July 1941 the 82nd Street house was sold to Louis Potter.  He converted it to apartments and furnished rooms.

The elegant mansion saw a variety of commercial tenants in the ground floor "apartment" over the next decades.  In the early 1970's it was home to the Coe Kerr art gallery, and in 1976 became the World of Leslie Blanchard, the society hairdressing salon of "world-famous authority on hair coloring, styling and conditioning," Leslie Blanchard as described by The Journal News on September 16, 1976.  By 2008 the property was owned by Warren Adelson and was home to the Adelson Galleries.

Then, in 2012 the mansion was purchased by the foundation organized in 2005 by impressionist artist Cy Twombly.  (He had died in Rome on July 5, 2011.)  It announced the house would be converted to an education center and Cy Twombly museum.  The Cy Twombly Foundation continues to stage exhibitions and display Twombly's works here.

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Thursday, September 16, 2021

The 1836 Joseph Potter House - 313 West Fourth Street


In the 18th century William Bayard's estate sat within the northwestern section of Greenwich Village.  (It was to Bayard's handsome Georgian home that Alexander Hamilton was taken following his duel with Aaron Burr in 1804.)  Following his death in 1826, his heirs began selling off portions of the Bayard Farm.

In April 1835 Charles W. Hawkins purchased land along the recently named West Fourth Street (the lane had been called Asylum Street until around 1834).  He divided the lots and resold them within the subsequent months.  Among the buyers was mason Henry M. Perine, who erected a two-a-and-half story brick faced house at 43 West Fourth (renumbered 313 in 1864).

Designed in the emerging Greek Revival style, its squat attic level replaced the dormers and peaked roof of the Federal style.  The single-doored entrance featured sidelights and an ample transom that allowed sunlight into the foyer.  Perhaps most eye-catching were the handsome iron stoop railings.  Their graceful design included palmettes above and below a central wreath.

The flat blades within the empty spaces at the bottom of the railings were boot scrapers, a necessity before paved streets.

By the early 1840's the West Fourth Street residence was home to attorney Joseph C. Potter and his wife Cornelia.  The family took in a boarder, James Ferris.  

Ferris was a weaver by trade.  Most likely unknown to the Potters, he had served time in the state prison twice for forgery.  He found himself in trouble again after a confrontation on February 1, 1842.  Ferris was drinking in the nearby porterhouse run by Henry Osborn when Peter Nodine came in looking for his son.  One way or another the two men got into a heated fight.  In court on April 20, Nodine claimed, "while there, Ferris assaulted him and bit the end of his thumb off."

Ferris brought a witness, a boy named Potter who may have been related to Joseph and Cornelia.  Potter worked in the tavern and testified that it was Nodine who made the assault and swore that Nodine "attempted to knock Ferris's brains out with a decanter."  The jury had to decide between the charges--one that Ferris had bitten off the thumb of Nodine, and the other charging Nodine with "attempting to gouge [Ferris's] eye out."  Ferris was found guilty and Nodine was acquitted.

On October 11, 1843 Joseph and Cornelia had a baby girl, Cornelia Livingston Potter.   Sadly, the Potters' parlor was the scene of the her funeral a year-and-a-half later, on May 13, 1845.

By 1851 Edward H. Jacot and his family lived here.  A coal and hardware merchant at 15 Gold Street, his was an substantial business.  On August 20, 1853 he announced the receipt of a shipment of "Steam and gas tubes--One thousand lap-welded English boiler tubes, 2 to 3 inches; 20,000 feet English gas tubing."

Jacot was born in 1811.  He had married Christina Isabella Forbes in 1833.  The couple had at least one daughter, Isabella.  The family's residency was short-lived.  In 1854 liquor importer Morris Livingston and his family, who had previously lived on Eighth Avenue, moved into the house.  

In 1862 Frederick Livingston was enrolled in the introductory class of the Free Academy of the City of New York.  It was possibly the boy's age the prompted a servant to look for a new job that year.    An advertisement in the New York Daily Herald on November 14 read:

Wanted--A situation by a young American woman, to take care of children; has some knowledge of running a sewing machine.  Best city reference.  

As the Potters had done, the Livingston family took in a boarder.  In 1873 William Latson, a driver, rented rooms, and in 1876 Henry M. Parr, who made his living as a clerk, listed his address with the family.

In 1879 313 West Fourth Street became home to the Henry M. Parr family.  Parr was in the produce business at 459 Greenwich Street, and Henry Jr. was an attorney.  The Parrs would remain here for years.  After it was sold to D. Sylvan Crakow in 1902, it was operated as a boarding house by a "Mrs. Borden."

On Friday, October 14, 1904, a middle-aged couple, James O'Neill and his wife, appeared at the door as asked for a room.  The Buffalo Enquirer said, "To Mrs. Borden, the landlady, they said, half-laughingly; that they were on a second honeymoon trip, but they told her nothing of their home."

The O'Neills seemed to have been on a spontaneous visit to the city.  "They said they might stay a week and see some of the wonders of New York," Mrs. Borden later explained.  On Sunday morning they planned to explore the city, but did not come down for breakfast.  The Buffalo Enquirer reported, "Their plans made for a day's outing, death claimed Mr. and Mrs. James O'Neill yesterday, just as their holiday dawned."  Mrs. Borden found them dead in their rooms.  The gas valve had not been fully closed and they died in their sleep.

In 1927 the house underwent a renovation which resulted in a tea room in the basement  and "non-housekeeping apartments" on the floors above (the term referred to the fact that they had no kitchens).  The configuration lasted until 1968 when the former tea room was converted to an art studio and gallery.  There were now one apartment on the parlor floor and two each on the floors above.

The art studio was home to the gallery of British artist Fiona Banner in the early years of the 21st century.  The space was regularly the scene of one-person exhibitions, like the debut of French artist Anne-Marie Schneider in February 2006.

A gut renovation in 2018 brought the venerable house back to a single-family home.  While the 1836 exterior is remarkably preserved, nothing of the original survives inside.

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Wednesday, September 15, 2021

Ralph S. Townsend's 450-454 Sixth Avenue

photo by Beyond My Ken

The First Colored Presbyterian Church was founded in 1822.  By the time it relocated to 146 Sixth Avenue in 1874 its name had been changed to the Shiloh Presbyterian Church and it had been central to the anti-Slavery movement in New York City.  The congregation moved again in 1879, at a time when Sixth Avenue was increasingly becoming a commercial thoroughfare.

In 1891 the former church property at 144 through 148 Sixth Avenue (renumbered 450-454 in 1925) was demolished to be replaced by a six-story loft and store building.  Designed by Ralph S. Townsend, it was a late, commercial version of the Romanesque Revival style.  Divided both vertically and horizontally into three sections.

Townsend gave the two-story base a striped effect by alternating layers of stone and brick.  The central, three-story mid-section featured three large arches, the spandrels of which were decorated with terra cotta panels.  The brick piers were ornamented with fearsome masks between the third and fourth floors, and foliate capitals at the fifth.  Three groupings of round-arched windows along the top section  were visually overwhelmed by the exuberant decoration directly above.  The parapet featured engaged, clustered colonnetes and intricate panels.  The central, raised section announced the date of construction.

The ground floor store was leased to Henry B. Cowels by 1898.  He listed himself in directories as "grocer and liquor dealer," suggesting he divided the space into two shops--one a grocery store and the other a saloon.

In 1904 the lithographic shop of Julius Bien & Co. was in the building.  Tensions between the union and the business owners that year resulted in a ultimatum on the part of management.  On March 16 The Brooklyn Daily Eagle reported, "The employers declared last night that the men would have to sign the arbitration plan this morning individually or they would not be allowed to work."

At Julius Bien & Co., it said, "Each of the employe[e]s of this firm received a copy of the plan this morning.  On the back of it was the request that it be signed before Saturday."  The plan seems to have backfired and Bien's staff walked out.  The following week a help-wanted ad appeared in The Sun:

Lithographic Establishment offers permanent positions and highest wages to thoroughly experienced artists, provers, transferrers, pressmen, cutters and feeders; security in positions guaranteed.  Julius Bien & Company 140 & 142 Sixth Avenue.

The massive building was home to a wide variety of firms.  In 1912 the Artistic Waist Company took the entire sixth floor.  Waists, or shirtwaists, had been the most popular item of women's apparel for at least a decade.  The tailored shirt was worn in one form or another by everyone from shop girls to socialites.  Its popularity was exemplified in a September 16, 1906 article in the Pittsburgh Press that said, "A very fashionable woman with a half a hundred waists boasts that there are no two alike."

The 1899 Sears catalog displayed a variety of shirtwaists.  (copyright expired)

In 1917 the ground floor became home to the Charles French Restaurant.  It was run by Charles Sebestyen, who came to New York from his native Hungary in 1906.  He started out in the restaurant industry as a busboy.  Eventually he became maitre d'hôtel of the upscale Churchill's restaurant and then manager of the famous Delmonico's before striking out on his own.

Garment firms continued to share the building with more industrial businesses.  In the post World War I years the Edison Electric Appliances Company was here.  It touted its new Hotpoint Automatic Iron in December 1922.

An article in the New-York Tribune told housewives they were not to blame if they left their hot iron when a child shrieked, "or perhaps the phone chooses that moment to ring, the roast to burn, the asparagus to cook dry, or the iceman appears with his dripping fifty."  Disaster was avoided with the new appliance.  Outfitted with a thermostat, it automatically turned itself off at a certain temperature.

Silk merchants Greenberg Bros. moved into the ground floor store in 1925.  Among the apparel firms on the upper floors was the Premier Raincoat Company.

Because employees were paid in cash until the third quarter of the 20th century, bringing the payroll from the bank to the office was always a tense and dangerous routine.  On October 26, 1927 Joseph Heller, president of Premier Raincoat, personally cashed three checks equaling $2,350 ($35,000 in today's money) on East Broadway, safely carried the package on the Third Avenue Elevated train, and then along the "crowded sidewalks" to 452 Sixth Avenue.

The threat of robbers seemed to have been averted once again.  But Heller's movements had been watched for weeks.  The New York Times reported, "As he reached the door of his office a man stepped off the stair way and pointed a revolver at him.  A second man stepped off the stair leading to the fourth floor and came up behind him."

When Heller started to resist, the first man kicked him in the stomach.  As he reeled, the second man grabbed the payroll and the pair ran down the stairway.  Heller's cries alerted a secretary, who ran down the staircase after the thieves, "but they had vanished n the rush-hour crowd in the street."

A notable tenant of 452 Sixth Avenue came in 1932 when the John Reed Club opened.  Formed by Communist-leaning artists, writers and other intellectuals, the club was named after activist and journalist John Reed.  The Sixth Avenue venue would be the scene of social events, art exhibitions and lectures for several years.

On December 1, 1932, for instance, The Daily Worker announced, "A first-hand account of the barbarous conditions on southern chain gangs will be given by John L. a talk tomorrow night at 8 o'clock at the John Reed Club, 450 Sixth Avenue."  And on April 21 the following year Professor H. W. L. Dana, "leading authority on Soviet Drama, gave an illustrated lecture "with many lantern slides" about Soviet theatrical productions.

Earlier that year a major art exhibition had been held in the club's space.  On February 25, 1933 The New York Sun reported, "More than 3,000 people have visited the John Reed Club exhibition, 'The Social Viewpoint in Art,' at 450 Sixth avenue, since it's opening on January 26.  Well-known artists like Thomas Hart Benton, Reginald Marsh, and Stuart Davis were represented.

The article mentioned the Socialist bent of the show.  "A feature of the attendance which is probably unique in the history of New York art exhibitions is that trade unions and workers' organizations have been visiting the exhibition in a body.  A good half of the visitors have been members of the working class."  The John Reed Club was disbanded in 1935.    

The marquee and blade sign of Charles French Restaurant were notable features in this photograph, taken about 1941.  via the NYC Dept. of Records & Information Services.

Charles Sebestyen died in August 1942.  His restaurant, already a destination in the space for a quarter of a century, would survive for more than three more decades.

New York Magazine, December, 15, 1969

The long-time French restaurant made way for Hopper's, a jazz supper club, in 1976.  That same year Dennis Wayne took space in the building, establishing DancerSchool.  On April 3, 1977 Joanna Ney, writing in The New York Times, said, "Since 1970, Dennis Wayne has relentlessly pursued his vision for a dance company that would be different from all others."  A veteran of the Harkness, Joffrey and American Ballet Theater, he had now reached that goal with Dancers, a troupe of 12.

Dancers and DancerSchool shared the studio space.  The school, which offered classes in ballet, jazz dance, gymnastics and modern dance, opened on April 4, 1977.

The end of the line for dance studios and factory space came in 1987 when a renovation resulted in 33 apartments on the upper floors.  

By 1997 the ground floor was home to Jefferson Market, which remained at least through 2008.  Ralph S. Townsend's hulking Romanesque building commands as much attention today as it did in 1891.

photographs by the author has no authorization to reuse the content of this blog

Tuesday, September 14, 2021

The 1895 John F. Slattery House - 317 West 80th Street

The oriel was originally crowned with lacy iron cresting and its transoms filled with colorful stained glass.

Developer Bernard S. Levy was prolific on the Upper West Side in the last decades of the 19th century.  He created long rows of residences as well as several "flat," or apartment buildings.  In 1894 he started on another project--a row of six houses on West 80th Street, just steps from elegant Riverside Drive.

Given the upscale neighborhood--filled with spacious mansions--Levy's decision to squeeze six homes onto plots is a bit surprising.   While other developers may have filled the parcel with four 25-foot wide mansions, Levy's six were 16- and 18-feet wide.

But what the homes lacked in width they made up for in architectural charisma.  Architect Charles Israels designed them in the Gothic Revival style.  Their rough-cut stone bases upheld three floors of beige Roman brick.  Israels configured them in an A-B-A-A-B-A pattern, the A models boasting angled oriels at the second floor and sharp gables at the fourth.  All the houses were replete with stained glass that filled the transoms and announced the street number above the doorway.

317 West 80th Street is at the far left of the row.

Bernard Levy offered the houses for $24,500 to $26,000--the higher price equal to about $807,000 today.  A brochure described:

On the low stoop entrance plan, with dining room, butler's pantry and kitchen on the same floor.  Two bathrooms, exposed plumbing, parlors in red mahogany, dining rooms quarter oak, second story oak, third and fourth stories ash, 17 rooms in each house.

The western-most house, 317 West 80th Street, was slightly different from the other A models in that it had three windows on the third floor, rather than two.  It was sold to John F. and Mary Burke Slattery in June 1895.  

The Slatterys had a daughter, Gertrude.  In 1896 a second, Florence Louise, was born.  Sadly, just two months before Florence's third birthday, she died.  Her funeral was held in the drawing room on July 14, 1899.  John and Mary would eventually have two sons, John J. and Patrick Joseph.

At the time of Florence's death, Joseph M. Price and his wife, Miriam Sutro Price, were temporarily sharing the house with the Slatterys.  Price was president of the Improved Mailing Case Company and was highly involved in politics.  The couple had been married in 1894.  Of the four adult residents of 317 West 80th Street, it was Miriam who would steal the media spotlight.

Miriam was the daughter of Bernard and Pauline Josephthal Sutro.  Her brothers had founded the New York Stock Exchange concern Sutro Brothers & Co.  She had graduated from Hunter College and now threw herself into civic issues.

She was one of four managers of The Outdoor Recreation League, for instance.  It sought to relieve the need for playgrounds on the Upper West Side.  On April 19, 1899, The Evening Post reported, "Between Sixtieth and Sixty-ninth Streets, west of Columbus Avenue, is a densely peopled district swarming with children, whose only playground on the stifling summer days is the dangerous, dirty street."  

Miriam Sutro Price and her colleagues envisioned a modern playground for the Upper West Side.  New York Herald, May 7, 1899 (copyright expired)

Central Park was too far away and the playing of games was disallowed in Riverside Park.  Miriam Sutro Price and her colleagues hoped that residents would contribute to the $1,000 cost of establishing a new playground.

Miriam would go on to sit on the executive committee of the National Board of Review of the Motion Picture Industry, serve as president of the Public Education Association, sit on the board of the Manhattan Trade School for Girls, and be a trustee of the Society for Ethical Culture.

The Prices appear to have lived with the Slatterys for only a year.   John, Mary and Gertrude enjoyed the diversions of New York's well-to-do.  On June 20, 1904, for instance, The Buffalo Enquirer noted, "Mrs. John F. Slattery and Miss Gertrude Slattery of New York spent Sunday at the Iroquois."

John F. Slattery died on March 21, 1906.  Following his funeral in the 80th Street house, a solemn mass of requiem was offered at the Church of the Holy Trinity on 82nd Street near Amsterdam Avenue.

Mary soon leased the house to the wealthy Bedell Parkers.  On November 11, 1906 The New York Times announced, "Mr. and Mrs. Bedell Parker, formerly of Bretton Hall, Broadway and Eighty-sixth Street, are permanently established in their new home, 317 West Eightieth Street."  Born in Georgia, Parker was a member of Parker & Finn, "makers of neckwear, underwear, &c."

Cassandra (known as Sannie) O. Gaines Parker was born in Georgetown, Kentucky to an old American family.  A Daughter of the American Revolution, she traced her roots to Henry Clagett, born in 1730.  She routinely appeared in the society columns.

Only weeks after the Parkers moved in, on December 9, 1906, The New York Times reported "During the coming week, Mr. and Mrs. Bedell Parker of 317 West Eightieth Street will have for their guest Miss Mary Brent Smith, from Miss Mason's School, The Castle, in Tarrytown."  Mary was the daughter of Hoke Smith, Governor of Georgia.

The Parkers, who maintained a summer home in Lake Placid, New York, and country estate in Virginia, involved themselves in the Southern social circles in New York City.  On March 17, 1907, for instance, The New York Times reported, "Cards have been sent out for a large post-Lenten reception to be given in the home of Mr. and Mrs. Bedell Parker, 317 West Eightieth Street.  About 500 have been invited, most of whom are officers and members of the Georgia Society, of which Mr. Parker is president."  The First Lady of Georgia, Mrs. Hoke Smith, assisted Sannie in receiving.

The Parkers seem to have been constantly entertaining or traveling.  On April 10, 1908 The Sun announced, "Mrs. Bedell Parker of 317 West Eightieth street will give a bridge on Thursday," and on April 3, 1910 The New York Times reported, "Mr. and Mrs. Bedell Parker and family of 317 West Eightieth Street, have gone to their country home, Wheatland, in Virginia, for a fortnight."

By 1913 Mary Slattery had moved back into the West 80th Street house.  On May 25 that year John J. Slattery's engagement to Agnes Daly was announced.  Five years later, as America was engaged in World War I, Patrick Joseph Slattery was commissioned by the War Department as a second lieutenant in the "non-flying section" of the Signal Reserve Corps.  

At the time Mary was advertising furnished rooms, essentially operating her long-time home as a boarding house.   She remained until January 1923 when she sold the house to Victor Hawkins.  The Irish-born widow moved to Larchmont, New York where she died in 1942, having outlived all her children.

The Hawkins family's summer home was on Long Island, where Victor was treasurer of the Monmouth Beach Club.  The Hawkins's daughter, Virginia, was married to Prescott Richardson Andrews eight years after they moved in, on June 4, 1931.

The Hawkins family left 317 West 80th Street by 1937.  Perhaps because of its narrow proportions, it was never renovated into apartments.  A significant renovation was initiated in 2012.  It may have been at this time that the stained glass was removed as part of the installation of replacement windows.

photographs by the author has no authorization to reuse the content of this blog