Friday, May 22, 2015

The 1899 Oliver Gould Jennings House -- No. 7 East 72nd Street



As the turn of the last century approached, Oliver Gould Jennings ranked among the wealthiest and most influential of Manhattan’s citizens.  His father, Oliver Burr Jennings, was a founder of the Standard Oil Company; and his own far-flung interests included directorships in Bethlehem Steel Corporation, McKesson and Robbins, Inc. the National Fuel Gas Company, the United States Industrial Alcohol Company, and several others.

Jennings married Mary Dows Brewster, the daughter of Benjamin and Elmina Brewster, on December 16, 1896.  Two years later, the millionaire laid plans for an impressive home for his bride.   For the site, he chose No. 7 East 72nd Street, where Caroline de Forest’s 28-foot wide brownstone home stood, just steps from Fifth Avenue and Central Park.  Next door at No. 9 the massive and elaborate Henry T. Sloane mansion had just been completed.

Architects Flagg & Chambers closely followed the lead of the Sloane mansion—matching the arched first floor openings and continuing the ebullient Beaux Arts motif.  The completed Jennings house appeared nearly as an extension of its neighbor.  Finally, on November 28, 1899, the New-York Tribune reported “Mr. and Mrs. Oliver Gould Jennings will this winter occupy their new home, No. 7 East Seventy-second st.”

When Architectural Record published this photo in 1901, the lot next door was still vacant  (copyright expired)

As with all the grand city mansions, No. 7 was opened only during the winter season--about five months each year.  At other times millionaires occupied their country homes, high-end resorts, and, of course, traveled abroad.  On May 28, 1911 The Sun noted “Mr. and Mrs. Oliver G. Jennings of 7 East Seventy-second street, who are now at their country place at Fairfield, Conn., will go on to Newport in July.”

Oliver and Mary retained ownership of their elegant French home for 15 years.  In April 1914 Jennings purchased the vacant plot at No. 882 Fifth Avenue between 69th and 70th Street and sold the 72nd Street house.  The New York Times reported the buyer as “the Four West Fifty-seventh Street Company, controlled by W. Emlen Roosevelt.”  Jennings had put a $325,000 price tag on the house—about $7.8 million today.

One day later the title to the mansion was passed to Frank Schlitt, “whose name frequently appears as temporary possessor of valuable New York realty,” said The New York Times.   While the new Jennings mansion was being constructed, Oliver and Mary remained in the 72nd Street house.  

The Jennings mansion was in architectural harmony with its lavish neighbor.  To the right of the Sloane residence is the home of Benjamin Guggenheim. 

On August 3, 1915 Jennings was being driven by his chauffeur near Harris Corners, around Westport, Connecticut.  On the same road was Simon J. von Der Lin, a waiter at the Hotel McAlpin.  Von Der Lin had taken his wife and 3-year old daughter for a country drive in a motorcycle with side car.  The meeting of the Jennings limousine and the open motorcycle would end badly.

Jenning’s chauffeur hogged the road and, according to von Der Lin, “forced the motor cycle so far to the side of the road that it collided with a telegraph pole.”  The toddler suffered a compound fracture of the knee, subsequent hemorrhages, and was partially paralyzed.  The waiter sued Jennings for $10,000 in damages in September.

On December 18 that year the Real Estate Record & Builders’ Guide noted that “Oliver Gould Jennings, 7 East 72d street, will soon be able to occupy the handsome dwelling being erected for him at 882 Fifth avenue.”   As Oliver and Mary Jennings moved out of the 72nd Street residence, Sumner Gerard and his wife, the former Helen Coster, moved in.


While undeniably lavish, sections of the Jennings mansion could be considered "cold."  Architectural Record 1901 (copyright expired)

The couple’s first child, James Watson Gerard, had been born a year earlier and his brother, Sumner Gerard, Jr., would be born in the house on July 15, 1916.  Another son, Casper, would come along in March, 1919.

While the Gerards were socially visible, they took active parts in political and patriotic causes.  At the age of 46 in 1920 Sumner held the rank of major in the Army Reserve Corps.   Helen was a member of the Women’s Committee of One Hundred of the Serbian Child Welfare Association.  As the group pushed to collect funds for relief efforts, Helen Sumner was a major player.  On January 2, 1921 the New-York Tribune noted “The most ambitious affair will be a bridge to be held at the residence of Mrs. Sumner Gerard, 7 East Seventy-second Street, on Tuesday, January 11.”

While attending the Hyde Ball in 1905, Sumner Gerald posed for a photograph.  He buttoned his tuxedo trousers above the calf for the shot.  Photograph by Byron Co. from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York http://collections.mcny.org/C.aspx?VP3=SearchResult&VBID=24UAYWCO2N3I&SMLS=1&RW=1280&RH=894

A year later, on January 4, she invited 100 women into the house to discuss fund raising for the Woodrow Wilson Foundation.  The foundation was “organized to perpetuate the memory and ideals of the former President.”

Within four years the Gerards were gone from No. 7 East 72nd Street, replaced by the Henry Ingersoll Riker family.  A member of one of New York’s oldest families, Henry and his wife, the former Mary Jackson, had three children: John, Mary, and Henry, Jr.  Like Mary Jennings, one of Mary Riker’s favorite charities was the Babies’ Hospital and she routinely hosted meetings of the Sewing Circle of the Babies’ Hospital here.  Her husband, who had graduated from the Harvard Law School, never practiced.  The New York Times later mentioned “After a few years in Wall Street, he devoted himself to the management of his property.”


In November 1927 the 55-year old Henry Ingersoll Riker caught a cold, which quickly advanced to pneumonia.  After being sick only a few days, he died in the mansion on November 14.

One by one the Riker children would marry and leave East 72nd Street.   The first was Mary, who wed William Chandler Riker on April 26, 1930 in the Church of the Incarnation “with which for many years the Riker family has been associated,” said The New York Times.  The newspaper noted that the wedding was attended by “a representative gathering of old New York families.”

For readers who wondered about the Riker-Riker connection, The Times explained.  “The bride and bridegroom are distantly related and are descendants of Abraham Van Rycken who came from Amsterdam when New York was New Netherlands.”

The Riker sons both went on to become doctors.  John Lawrence Riker married Isadore Jean Beaudrias in 1932; and his brother married Cornelia Shepard on February 17, 1937.  Mary Jackson Riker now lived alone in the grand relic of the Gilded Age on a street much changed since the days when elegant carriages transported millionaires to and from their mansions.  She died in 1947.

At the time of Mary’s death, Frank Lloyd Wright was busy creating several designs for the Solomon R. Guggenheim art museum.   In February 1957 the Guggenheim opened in the Jennings mansion while its iconic building on Fifth Avenue was under construction.   It shared space with the Danish delegation to the United Nations.  The strange bedfellows would remain in the house until 1959, when the permanent Guggenheim museum opened.  The Danish group left within a few months.

The Jennings Drawing Room as it appeared in 1901 Architectural Record, (copyright expired)
In August 1960 the Lycee Francais de New York leased the mansion as additional facilities to its main school at Nos. 3-5 East 95th Street.  Four years later the school purchased the house along with the former Sloane mansion next door.  Walls were broken through combining the two buildings.

The school added its own touches to the Drawing Room--like fluorescent lighting and required sprinklers -- photograph by JGNY https://www.flickr.com/photos/jgny/582668230/in/set-72157603255161778/
The school retained possession of the two magnificent structures until 2010 when it sold them as a package to the Emir of Qatar for $26 million.  He commissioned architect Thornton Tomasetti to blend them into a single massive residence the likes of which even the Sloanes and the Jennings would struggle to compete with.

non-credited photographs taken by the author

Thursday, May 21, 2015

The James Kernochan House - No. 18 East 10th Street


By the 1830s Henry Brevoort’s 86-acre farm stretched between what would be 9th Street north to 18th Street, and from the Bowery to Fifth Avenue.   The Commissioners’ Plan of 1811, which, on paper, laid the regimented grid of streets and avenues across the estates of Manhattan’s aristocracy, did not sit well with the powerful and wealthy Brevoort. 

Broadway was pin-straight, running northward up the island, right through Brevoort’s orchards at 10th Street.  The commissioners caved in and Broadway made a crook, heading diagonally to the west rather than disrupt the Brevoort estate.  East 11th Street caused a problem, too, and that street would not be opened until after Henry Brevoort’s death in 1841.

Two years later construction began on Grace Church at the bend of Broadway and 10th Street.  Designed by Brevoort’s nephew, James Renwick, Jr., it was a masterpiece of Gothic Revival architecture.   The style was just emerging and represented the cutting edge in ecclesiastic and residential architecture.  It would not be long before, just two blocks away, the house at No. 18 East 10th Street began rising.

Most of the property along the block between Fifth Avenue and University Place was owned either by the Brevoort or Renwick families.  The street was lined with elegant brick or brownstone-faced Greek Revival residences.  But No. 18 was decidedly different.

Four stories of red brick sat above a brownstone English basement.   Square-headed Gothic drip moldings capped the openings and the doorway was framed in a striking Gothic entranceway.   For the staid merchant class residents of the block, the style may have been just a touch daring.

Nearby was the home of Joseph Kernochan, his wife Margaret, and their six children.  Kernochan was a wealthy dry goods merchant and banker, President of the Fulton Bank.   His son, John Adams Kernochan, was a sophomore at Columbia College in 1852 when he was honored with a “testimonial” for having “most excelled” in his studies.   The following year, on July 27, 1853, he graduated with an A. B. degree.  The scholar was again awarded a testimonial for being the graduate “who has most distinguished himself by his general proficiency in his class, and also by his general good conduct.”

Young John A. Kernochan married Charlotte Walton Ogden and the couple moved into No. 18 East 10th Street.   Kernochan entered the iron importing business and garnered what The New York Times later deemed “a large fortune.”   He was a member of the exclusive Union Club and the family maintained a summer home in Pittsfield, Massachusetts.

In 1868 Charlotte grew ill.  When the annual Liederkranz Ball at the Academy of Music was held on February 17, 1869, John was forced to attend alone.   No doubt already worried about his wife’s condition, a confrontation with a coach driver was most likely the last thing John Kernochan needed.

When the ball was over, John got into one of the coaches waiting at the curb.  Unlike a carriage, coaches were customarily used by parties of passengers and this driver was looking forward to a large fare.  “After getting inside of the coach,” related The New York Times the following morning, “the driver, finding that he had only one passenger instead of four, he, as alleged, refused to take the complainant home, but drove him to the corner of Nineteenth-street and Broadway, and there refused to go any further.”

Dressed in evening clothes Kernochan had no intention of walking the long distance home in the February cold.  He ordered the man to continue driving.  The driver then “became very abusive toward him.”   So John Kernochan had the man arrested.  He was brought before the Marshal and fined $5—about $90 today and much more than the lost fare he had been concerned about.  How Kernochan got home that night is unclear.

Charlotte’s condition deteriorated.  She was suffering from cancer of the uterus and on Sunday, May 30 that year she died.   Somewhat surprisingly, her funeral was not held in the house, but in St. Mark’s Church.  She was buried in the fashionable New York Marble Cemetery on Second Avenue.  She was just 34 years old and John was 35 at the time.

By 1872 Samuel L. Vought lived in the house and would remain at least through 1874.  He was followed by William H. Walker and his wife, Isabella.  She was a member of the nearby Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church.   But things were not going smoothly in the Walker household.   On April 19, 1884 Judge Larremore granted an absolute divorce to Isabella.

Things were a bit less rocky for Jacob Ewing Ward and his wife, the former Mary Kitchell who moved in by 1895.    Called by The Adjuster a descendant of “one of the oldest and most respected of New Jersey families,” Ward’s family had been in New Jersey since Josiah Ward helped settle Newark in 1666.  Following his graduation from Rutgers College in1875, he practiced law, eventually being appointed assistant counsel for The Prudential.  He was also a partner in the Madison Aqueduct Company, incorporated in 1872.

Living in the house with the Wards was Mary’s mother, Mrs. Ambrose E. Kitchell.  The women partnered in their entertainments, announcing their mutual “at homes” in the society pages.    Their stay on East 10th Street would be relatively brief.  In 1897 the Social Register listed them a block away at No. 47 West 11th Street.

At the turn of the century the house was owned by lawyer and journalist Arthur Sedgwick and his wife.  The author of several legal treatises, he was long associated with the Nation and was at one time co-editor with Oliver Wendell Homes of The American Law Review.  Not everyone viewed Sedgwick favorably.  Boston publisher Dana Estes called him an “egotistic marplot.”

In June 1902 Hettie Sherman Evarts Beaman leased the house.   She was the eldest daughter of William Maxwell Evarts, Secretary of State under President Hayes.  Her husband, Charles Cotesworth Beaman, who had died the previous year, had been a partner in the legal firm of Evarts, Choate & Beaman.   His impressive background included his appointment in 1870 as the first Solicitor General of the United States.

Almost two decades earlier, Charles Beaman was taken with the talents of a young artist, Augustus Saint-Gaudens.  In 1885 he rented Saint-Gaudens his summer house in Cornish, New Hampshire.  In trade for the first summer’s rent, he commissioned a bronze bas relief of his son.   In 1894 Beaman commissioned another bronze portrait; this one of himself.  With the money from this work Saint-Gaudens was able to purchase from Beaman the estate named Aspet.

The bronze portrait of Beaman afforded Saint-Gaudens the means to purchase his New Hampshire estate -- Smithsonian American Art Museum
With Hettie in the 10th Street house was her unmarried brother-in-law, 53-year old William Stacy Beaman.  He, too, was a lawyer with Evarts, Coate & Beaman at No. 80 Maiden Lane.  A member of the Harvard Club, he was still in the house in 1917 when he reported to his fellow alumni, “Have continued in the practice of law with office address and residence unchanged.  Voted for Woodrow Wilson’s re-election.”

In May that year Hettie Sherman Beaman died at the home of her daughter in Boston at the age of 65.  William Stacy Beaman left the East 10th Street house by November 1920 when L. J. Praeger leased it “for the season.”   Praeger rented the house for at least two more winters.

The house that had seen the comings and goings of wealthy attorneys, bankers and writers became home to the liberally-bent Civic Club by 1927.  On January 29 that year S. Stanwood Menken, head of the National Security League, spoke to a meeting of the Teachers’ Union here.

“Teachers have a right to hold their academic views and express them freely,” he told the assembly, “irrespective of Boards of Education or State authorities of any kind.  No man is good enough to be another man’s thinker.”

When asked what a teacher who believed in evolution should do, considering the ongoing Scopes Trial in Tennessee, Menken said he would “teach what he wanted to or go to jail for it.”

When anarchists Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti were sentenced to death in 1927, the Civic Club joined other organizations nationwide in dissent.  A protest meeting was held on Friday night, April 15 in the house.   Things had not calmed down by October.   When the Fifth Avenue Restaurant discovered that the “literary gathering” of Le Cercle Victor Hugo scheduled for October 18 was in actuality a symposium titled “Sacco and Vanzetti: What Shall We Do?” it canceled the space.  The organization quickly changed the meeting to the Civic Club, which was happy to oblige.

Although the Civic Club continued to host controversial speakers—like Professor I. Z. Steinberg who lectured on “Trotsky’s Exile and the Future of the Revolution” in 1928—many other topics were on the arts and literature.  But the Club never shied away from protecting basic freedoms.

In 1919 a Queens mother, Mary Ware Dennett, had written a short essay to instruct her two adolescent sons about sex.  When it came to the attention of certain doctors and educators, they wanted copies.  Now a grandmother, Mrs. Dennett published “The Sex Side of Life,” a pamphlet for the instruction of children.

The Y. M. C. A. purchased several hundred copies and it was endorsed and printed by The Medical Review of Reviews.  But on April 29, 1929 Federal Judge Warren B. Burrows fined her $300 and found her guilty “of sending obscene literature through the mails.”

Mary Ware Dennett refused to admit guilt, refused to pay the fine, and was poised to be sent to jail.  “Thousands of intelligent, decent citizens have endorsed my pamphlet during the eleven years it has been distributed,” she told reporters.  “Of the many editorials concerning it that have come to me, not one contains adverse criticism.  Surely the press and these thousands of citizens cannot all be wrong.”

The American Civil Liberties Union held a meeting at the Civic Club the same day that the judge’s opinion came down.  The Mary Ware Dennett Defense Committee was organized, “composed of prominent attorneys, physicians, clergymen and educators,” reported The New York Times.  “The committee, it was announced, will carry the appeal to the Supreme Court of the United States if necessary.”

In 1955 a study and lunch room were installed in the basement level, a library and study on the parlor floor, and two apartments on each upper floor.  The house was converted to one spacious apartment per floor in 1977; and today there is a duplex apartment in the basement and first floor; and a triplex above.  The three-story co-op was listed recently for $9.25 million.

The striking Gothic Revival entrance survives.  The many-paneled door is an Edwardian replacement.

At some point in the 19th century the house was slightly updated with a new cornice and Italianate ironwork.  Sadly, the wonderful moldings over the windows were shaved flat sometime during the 20th century.   But the striking Gothic entrance which sets No. 18 apart from its Greek Revival neighbors still survives—a relatively rare appearance of the style in Manhattan residential architecture.

photographs by the author

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

The 1815 John Wood House -- No. 74 Franklin Street


When John Wood erected his handsome Federal-style residence at No. 74 Franklin Street in 1815, the neighborhood was quiet and refined.  Wood’s home, 25-feet wide, was clad in brownish-red brick laid in Flemish bond.  Splayed stone lintels with layered keystones ornamented the openings.  Three and a half stories tall, the house marked the success of its owner.

In 1840, several blocks to the southeast, G. A. Bradbrook operated what he termed a “general and fashionable outfitting store” at No. 353 Pearl Street.   An advertisement that year in A. E. Wright’s Commercial Directory promised shoppers that he “Keeps constantly on hand the following articles, viz.—Shirts, Under Shirts, Drawers, Belts, Cravats, Bosoms, Stocks, Gloves, Hosiery, Handkerchiefs, Scarfs, Collars, &c, &c.  LINEN made to order in a superior style.”  Bradbrook was not interested in haggling with his patrons.  “No deviation from first price” said the ad.

As the years passed the commercial district inched northward and so did G. A. Bradbrook.   By 1851 his store was located just four blocks south of the former Wood home, at No. 297 Broadway.   Then two years later he had moved to No. 74 Franklin Street and the wealthy merchant set to work converting his property for his store.  In 1853 Tax Assessment Records reflect improvements and it was most likely at this time that the attic was raised to a full fourth floor and the cast iron shop front was installed.   Rather remarkably, while the architect added a modern Italianate cornice; he carefully reproduced the Federal-style lintels over the new openings.  Bradbrook’s rather common storefront with its fluted Corinthian columns was, nonetheless, pleasing.

The wealthy merchant maintained a country estate far to the north.  But in 1857 he decided to sell.  An ad in the New-York Tribune on Tuesday, May 26, 1857 offered “Beautiful Gothic Country Residence…Furniture, Horses and Carriages for sale.”  Bradbrook described the estate glowingly.  “The House contains 16 Rooms, with all of the modern improvements and outbuildings; a Garden well stocked with choice Fruits, and everything calculated for a Gentleman’s residence.”

Although the Bradbrook family would retain possession of the building for decades; it appears that by 1869 G. A. Bradbrook’s store was no longer here.  That year Bechel & Wolff “importers of French, German, and English fancy goods and corsets” was listed at No. 74 Franklin Street.

The upper floors where the Wood family had lived in comfortable style became factory space.  In 1882 E. Lux advertised for “Hands on Lamb knitting machine;” and two years later, on February 7, M. Schlesinger & Co. sought “Experienced hands on embroidered ties and to iron gents’ lawn ties.”

Around the same time the Wilsons—John, Richard and William—ran their operation here.  The three respected businessmen were all members of the Chamber of Commerce of the State of New York.

For several years Goodman & Lazarus, makers of umbrellas and parasols, had done business from No. 84 Franklin Street.  But by 1898 they had moved down the block to No. 74.   That year the firm had either a boom in production or a heavy turnover in workers.  It advertised on January 28 for “operators;” on February 6 for an assistant cutter; and two days later for a veteran cutter.

Goodman & Lazarus was a substantial operation, employing 11 men and 20 women in 1900, each of them working an average of 51 hours a week. 

The manufacturers advertised in round-about New York: 1902 -- copyright expired

When the City of New York assessed No. 74 Franklin Street at $55,000 in 1906, G. A. Bradbrook was still listed as its owner.  The valuation would translate to a significant $1.5 million today.

Manufacturing umbrellas and parasols had made Joseph Lazarus a wealthy man.   By now he had moved his family into a spacious apartment at No.  200 West 111th Street on a block lined with similar upscale buildings.  On the afternoon of April 12, 1907 a maid answered the doorbell to find a young man at the door.

“I suppose Joe is at home,” he said.

“Who do you mean by Joe?” she asked.

“Why, Mr. Lazarus, of course.  I am a distant relative of his.  He is in, of course?”

The maid explained that Joseph Lazarus was at his Franklin Street office, the children were away at school, and Mrs. Lazarus was out calling.  The visitor acted perplexed.  He told the servant that he had telegraphed Lazarus that he was coming to visit. 

“I should have thought that he would be home to receive me.  Well, I may as well wait.”

Everything seemed plausible so the maid allowed the man to enter the parlor.  He picked up a picture from the mantel and said “How well the children look!”

He took off his overcoat, asked for a morning newspaper and settled in.  The maid returned to the kitchen, but a few moments later was called.  “Can I have a glass of water?”

When she brought the water he dismissed her saying “I will call you if I want anything else.”

About an hour later she stepped into the parlor to see if Joseph Lazarus’s nephew indeed needed anything else.  She was surprised to find he was not there and a search of the apartment showed that he had left.  “It also revealed that with him had gone a quantity of Mrs. Lazarus’s clothing and jewels, which had been in her room opening off the parlor,” reported The New York Times the following day.

“Thoroughly frightened,” the maid telephoned Joseph Lazarus who rushed uptown.   Detective Walsh arrived shortly afterward.  Lazarus gave the police a list of the missing items, which amounted to between $3,000 and $3,500.  Included were “a valuable Persian lamb coat belong to Mrs. Lazarus, a pearl and diamond ring, with five stones, a gold watch and chain, a second watch and chain marked with the initials ‘H.L.,’ a diamond and pearl locked and chain, a pair of diamond cuff buttons, and a string of matched pearls.”

Detectives wondered how the burglar had such intimate knowledge of the family.  At first Lazarus claimed to be at a loss to account for this.  He later broke down and admitted he suspected “the son of a prominent Harlem family, who disappeared from his home some weeks ago.” 

The circumstances surrounding Lazarus and the youth seemed a bit questionable—possibly explaining the respected manufacturer’s reluctance to talk.

“This young man, Mr. Lazarus said, he had met at Asbury Park in Easter week and had become very well acquainted with him,” reported The Times.



Joseph Lazarus’s bad luck returned four years later.   On Thursday November 16, 1911 he sealed a large business deal.  The banks were already closed so he stuffed $6,000 in cash and $15,000 in certified checks and notes into his wallet and headed home.

He told his wife of the huge transaction and offered to take her out on the town to celebrate.  When the couple left the apartment, he still carried the cash-laden wallet with him.

Lazarus and his wife enjoyed a night at the theater followed by dinner at the Hotel Traymore on West 58th Street.  When they arrived home he realized his wallet was gone.  After tossing and turning throughout the night, he called an emergency meeting of the members of his firm the following morning.

While the conference was going on, the telephone rang.   Gus Schnabel, manager of the hotel, had called to notify Lazarus that a waiter had found his wallet under the table.  “Shall I send it down?”

Lazarus instructed Schnabel to messenger the wallet to him and carefully took down the waiter’s name.  When he received the wallet—containing the full $21,000 in cash, checks and notes—he sent a letter back to the hotel.  It included a $500 for the waiter, Philip Loew—a tidy reward of nearly $13,000 today.

Ironically, no one at the hotel, including the waiter, had bothered to look into the wallet other than to pull out Lazarus’s business card.

Throughout the next seven decades the building would house dry goods firms, like Melville L. Levy, “cottons,” and Phoenix Linen Corp., importers and jobbers, who were here in the 1920s.   The former house saw rapid turnover of owners at mid century.  Between 1944 and 1948 it was sold four times, and again in 1956 when the Manhattan Textile Import-Export Company purchased it.

The former house retains its residential appearance, despite the cast iron store front.

In 1998 the building was converted to residential space on the upper floors and showroom space at ground level.  Today John Wood’s 1815 home is the last recognizable relic of Franklin Street’s far distant residential past.

photographs by the author

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Queen Anne on Lower Broadway - 370 Broadway


The blocks of Broadway just south of Canal Street saw incredible change during the 19th century.  In the 1830s and through the mid-1840s Richard Kingsland lived in the 25-foot wide house at No. 370 Broadway.  The well-to-do hardware merchant operated his business at No. 89 Maiden Lane.  But by 1848 the Kingsland house had been replaced by a commercial building where Collins & Brother, publishers operated through the 1870s.

That building, too, would not last.  On April 17, 1880 the Real Estate Record and Builders’ Guide reported that John Jay and Edmund B. Aymar intended to replace the structure with a “five-story brick store” extending through to Courtlandt Alley.   The men had chosen architect-brothers David and John Jardine to design the building.

All around the site stone-faced Italianate-style office and loft buildings had already appeared.  But D. & J. Jardine would go in a different, trendier direction.  They turned to neo-Grec, updating it with liberal splashes of Queen Anne decoration.  The red brick façade was ornamented with terra cotta tiles and panels featuring popular design elements of the period—sunflowers, ferns and stylized leaves.  The architects softened the corners of the openings with bullnosed brick.  The stone lintels were delicately carved with a floral motif, nearly unperceivable from the street; and the  sills dripped with rounded dentils.


The building was completed within the year, costing Jay and Aymar $35,000—about $825,000 today.  The store space on the first floor became home to Butler Brothers, “dealers in hosiery and notions,” while the upper floors were reserved for light manufacturing.  William Maas & Co., “manufacturers of jet goods and jewelry,” occupied the second and third floors.  The fourth and fifth floors were joined with No. 368 Broadway by internal doorways. Here Danzig & Feuchtwanger made underwear and Danzig Brothers produced ladies’ suits.  A central skylight provided additional light to the interior of all the floors.

The clothing factories on the uppermost floors employed about 100 girls.  Wood-burning stoves not only provided warmth during the winter months, but heated the smoothing irons.   When the floors were closed up on the evening of January 7, 1882 at least one of the stoves was left burning. 

Just after 6:00 that night William H. Hall, a Butler Brothers salesman, was standing under the skylight area.  He glanced up to see the glow of flames on the fourth floor.  Firemen rushed to the building and lugged their fire hoses as far as the third floor, where they found the stairway boarded up.

“They were compelled to retreat, and then carried their hose up ladders placed against the rear of the building on Courtlandt-alley,” reported The New York Times the following day.  Other fire companies responded and hoses were hauled to the roofs of adjoining buildings.  As they fought the fire, the fourth and fifth floor windows on Broadway burst out, showering the sidewalk with glass.  An hour after it was discovered, the fire was extinguished.

The two top floors were burned out and the lower floors were heavily damaged by water.  The Times said they were “deluged.”  Butler Brothers lost about $25,000 in stock; Wm. Maas & Co. between $35,000 and $40,000; and the two clothing manufacturers together lost between $10,000 and $15,000. 

“The building is owned by the Hon. John Jay, and can be put in proper repair for $5,000,” said The Times.  “The fire is supposed to have originated from the upsetting of a stove.”

A month later, on February 3, plans were filed for repairs to the building.  The Times’ estimate was not far off.  Contractor E. Smith placed the cost at $4,677.

On April 14, 1888 Edmund B. Aymar sold his one-third share in the property to Jay’s wife, Eleanor, for $51,667.  Wm. Maas & Co. was still in the building, along with its related firm Mass, Blum & Co., which manufactured leather goods.  Wm. Maas & Co. had been organized in 1867 and by 1886 was, according to Finance and Industry “one of the most prominent houses engaged in manufacturing novelties and fancy goods.”  It not only manufactured, but imported its goods.

By now they had taken an additional floor at No. 370 Broadway and established a large factory in Harlem.  Finance and Industry called the Broadway premises “very commodious and spacious…admirably arranged and equipped with every appliance and facility for the display of the varied stock, and the convenience of customers.”  The authors called William Maas and M. Blum, “gentlemen of the highest character and integrity, who are thoroughly conversant with every detail of the business, and are constantly placing before the trade the latest novelties.” 

The top floor of the building was leased by Israel Levy, proprietor of the Excelsior Cloak Manufacturing Company.  His good fortune began a downturn on October 27, 1888 when he was arrested for fraud.  Robert Kell charged “that Levy had fraudulently disposed of his stock and cash, and then offered to settle with his creditors at 40 cents on a dollar.”   Levy managed to pull together the hefty $5,000 bail; more than $125,000 in today’s dollars.

The Excelsior Cloak Manufacturing Company was bankrupted by the scandalous affair.  But Levy would be back in the newspapers—and jail—two years later.  Officials discovered that when Levy realized his business would crumble, he gave large amounts of cash (as much as $70,000 in one instance) to other garment manufacturers, then signed loan agreements with them for the same amounts—in effect borrowing his own money.

When the list of creditors was compiled during the bankruptcy proceedings, the “lenders” were included.  When they received their payouts, they simply gave Levy his money back.  Israel Levy and three others were arrested on October 10, 1890 “for alleged fraudulent disposition of property.”

The factory space formerly rented by Levy was taken over by Lichtenstein & Lyons, wanother cloak manufacturer.  In 1891 the firm employed a bright 18-year old as its bookkeeper.  Unfortunately, Julius Kleiblatt was taking home more than his salary.  The teen was arrested on September 11, 1891 on grand larceny charges.  “It was alleged that for some time he has been defrauding the firm by raising the pay rolls and also by overcharging customers,” said The New York Times.  “He was held for trial.”

In the meantime, Wm. Mass & Co. continued growing.  Seeger and Guernsey’s Cyclopaedia of the Unitd States-New York listed a seemingly unending list of the goods produced by the firm.  Among them were bar pins, hair pins (ivory and tortoise shell), leather novelties, pocketbooks, purses, combs, and hair ornaments.  The publication listed among the types of jewelry: amber, celluloid, coral, diamond, enameled, electro-plated, horn, ivory and mother-of-pearl, shell, rubber, silver, mourning, and hair jewelry.

The firm suffered a tremendous blow on September 4, 1898 when its five-story Harlem factory building was all but destroyed by fire.  The New York Times called it “one of the fiercest that the department has combated in months, and for an hour the destruction of the entire block of buildings was threatened.” 

One wall collapsed onto the street, nearly burying a fire engine and destroying it.  The cost to the owners, whom the newspaper called “manufacturers of bone, rubber, horn and ivory goods,” was estimated at $200,000.  The Times added “More than 300 persons, largely girls, will be thrown out of employment as a result.”

As the new century dawned, Wm. Maas & Co. abandoned No. 370 Broadway, to be replaced by linen dealers.  In 1905 Granite Linen Co. was here, joined by Crest Handkerchief Mfg. Co. and James Elliott & Co, purveyors of linens and handkerchiefs, by 1907.

James Elliott and Granite Linen manufactured a wide array of "white goods" -- Dry Goods Economist, February 19, 1921 (copyright expired)

On January 21, 1911 the Real Estate Record and Builders’ Guide reported that the John Jay Estate had sold the building to F. S. Jerome and James H. Wright.  The New York Times announced that the property “was resold almost immediately” to Carson G. Peck, who owned the building next door at No. 372.  Peck, who was a business partner of F. W. Woolworth, paid around $135,000 for the building; almost four times the original cost.

Dry goods firms would continue to call No. 370 home for decades.  James Elliott & Co. was still here into the 1920s, as was Tile Crafton Company, Inc., sellers of blankets and bedspreads. 

The Great Depression hit many companies hard, including the exporting firm run by 40-year old Julius Stern in the building in 1930.  Stern lived in Lawrence, Long Island and on the afternoon of November 6 that year he telephoned his doctor saying he was not feeling well.  It was the beginning of a most bizarre episode.

When Dr. J. Barnett arrived, Stern excused himself and went into another room.  “A few moments later he returned holding a bottle of poison, staggered a few steps and fell at the doctor’s feet,” reported the New York Times the next day.  Despite the doctor’s antidote and two hours of care at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Far Rockaway, he died from the poison.

“The police declared that Stern was an exporter with offices at 370 Broadway, and that he had been despondent because of business depression,” said The Times.

The second half of the century saw No. 370 filled mostly with small civic or political offices, including the Bureau of Public Information and the Committee for Better Transportation for New York.



Other than the obliterated ground floor, D. & J. Jardine’s design is largely intact.  Its deep red brick façade and crisp terra cotta ornamentation stand out sharply on this mostly gray monotone block of Broadway. 

photographs by the autor

Monday, May 18, 2015

The Lost Colored Orphan Asylum -- 5th Avenue and 44th Street

A romanticized etching appeared in A. Costello's Our Firemen: A History of the New York Fire Department in 1887 (copyright expired)

Contrary to the conception of some, racial bias and discrimination were as much a part of Northern mores as they were of the Deep South's.   The 1936 history From Cherry Street to Green Pastures: A History of the Colored Orphan Asylum at Riverdale-on-Hudson recalled that the orphanage was “Founded in stirring times, when race prejudice was rife.”

Those stirring times were 1834 when two Quaker women, Anna Shotwell and her niece, Mary Murray, discovered that black orphans, unlike their white counterparts, were either confined to the alms house or to the streets to fend for themselves.    The New-York Daily Tribune later reported “Their only place of refuge was the Alms House at Bellevue, where colored children are mingled with the adult inmates, exposed in consequent to very corrupting influences, and imperfectly furnished with the means for any kind of instruction.”

The women relentlessly badgered city leaders “trying to make the officials understand that they were only storing up trouble for themselves if they did not find homes, education and a chance for self-respecting employment for hapless negro boys and girls.”  They also appealed to friends and wealthy citizens for funding.

In 1836 they purchased a house on 12th Street between Fifth and Sixth Avenues.  The purchase was necessary because no property owner would lease to a group housing black children.   With the house ready to receive orphans, three Quaker women headed to the almshouse.  They rescued 11 children who were being housed in the cellar there.   But there was a problem.  According to the 1936 history, “They could not be taken to their new home by carriage, for no coachman would drive negro children, yet several of them were too small to walk.”

Anna Shotwell picked up one of the toddlers and told Mary Murray and the other woman, “I’ll carry this one if thee will take the others.”  And a rather extraordinary pilgrimage through the streets of Manhattan was made to what the women called “the cottage.”

But the “cottage” would not suffice for long.  The group of women lobbied for funds to build an appropriate orphanage and school.   On December 12, 1842 the New-York Daily Tribune reported that work had commenced on the Colored Orphan Asylum on Fifth Avenue just north of the Croton Reservoir (now the site of the New York Public Library).  “Twenty lots of ground were appropriated for the purpose by the Corporation of the City, and private subscriptions to a considerable amount of have been received for the same object.”

The location, between 43rd and 44th Streets, was undeveloped and rocky.  Fifth Avenue was still a rutty, dirt road this far north.   But the high location and open lands provided fresh air and sunshine, highly prized attributes for Victorian orphanages.

The Tribune noted “Such an Institution was thought to be especially needed, because these children, although the most wretched of orphans, were virtually excluded from all the existing Orphan Asylums.”

The Asylum opened in May 1843.  It was an impressive brick structure sitting on a high basement faced in fieldstone.  Three-story pilasters separated the openings of the slightly-projecting central section, above which sat a classical pediment.   The New-York Tribune would report “Mr. Joseph B. Collins states that the Asylum for Colored Orphans was erected at an expense of $20,000, which had been procured in donations by the exertions of a few ladies.”   That amount would translate to about $650,000 today.

A primitive water color dated 1847 shows the unpaved 5th Avenue, the Croton Reservoir at 42nd Street, boulders and a shanty.  from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York  http://collections.mcny.org/C.aspx?VP3=SearchResult&VBID=24UAYW3AOT9M&SMLS=1&RW=1280&RH=894

“Shortly after the house was opened the Mayor and Common Council paid a visit and were so pleased that they gave the Association twenty additional lots.  This permitted the institution to keep two or three cows and to plant a vegetable garden,” reported the Asylum’s centennial history.

Only children under 12 years of age were housed here.   Education at the Asylum included the learning of a trade for boys, and domestic skills for the girls.  Once a ward of the Asylum reached 12 years old, he or she was released as a farm laborer or domestic servant.

To supplement donations, the mangers of the Colored Orphan Asylum held fairs.  These were a common Victorian method for churches and other institutions to raise money.  On December 26, 1845 one of the managers wrote a letter to the Editor of the New-York Daily Tribune that dripped with slightly-veiled sarcasm.

“The interest manifested by H. Greeley, for improving the moral and physical condition of his fellow men, among whom I am pleased to observe he recognizes the colored man, induces me to take the liberty of directing his attention to ‘the Fair for the benefit of the Colored Orphan Asylum,’ got up entirely by colored people at their own suggestion.”

The orphanage was, by now, housing 145 children and costs were on the increase.  The letter ended saying “If you would pay a visit to the Asylum some Tuesday or Friday, you would, I think, be gratified to witness an assemblage of happy faces—made so by those who can sympathise with suffering humanity, regardless of the shade of complexion—and in the advancement of mind and morals he would rejoice that so large a number had been rescued from the contamination and degradation which their helpless condition must have subjected them.”
 
Etching from the collection of the New York Public Library
The Tribune followed up on the success of the fair on January 12, 1846.  “To their credit it is announced that on Saturday they paid over to the Institution nearly seven hundred dollars, beside presenting the inmates with a large quantity of cakes and other dainties.”  The newspaper concluded its article with a remark unthinkable to modern readers.  “This shows that they rightly appreciate and gratefully acknowledge the benefaction to their race conferred by the Society.”

But by the end of the year, the $700 was gone and the managers were once again pleading for donations.  On December 11 they wrote “The anxiety arising from the care of so large an establishment can scarcely be realized by those who have not deeply participated in its responsibilities.  The table must be daily supplied, clothing adapted to the coming season, and the moderate salaries and wages of those employed cannot be withheld.”

On May 10, 1847 the Asylum celebrated its 11th Anniversary with an exhibition by the children.  The New-York Daily Tribune said they “numbered about 100, and presented a pleasingly tidy and orderly appearance.  The exercises in singing, geography, arithmetic, etc. were most creditable alike to teachers and pupils.”

In his remarks to the audience Mr. Ketchum wondered at the fates of the children were it not for the asylum.  “Not a third of them would have been visible to our eyes; those would doubtless have sunk to their graves who are now rescued by these benevolent ladies, washed and clothed, fed and provided with a comfortable home.”   He recounted the story of a Southern slave holder who, after visiting the Colored Orphan Asylum, went home and freed his slaves.  “Now, the managers did not ask him to do that—but doubtless there were very glad of it!”

In February 1851 the number of orphans had risen to 114 with net expenses totaling about $281 per month.  The indefatigable managers continued to hold fairs and knock on doors for support.

When one of the teachers died in August 1852, Rev. J. W. Pennington, pastor of the black Presbyterian church at the corner of Prince and Marion Streets, headed to her funeral at the Asylum.  Black citizens were barred from riding in public omnibuses; so he sought alternative transportation to no avail.

He wrote to the Editor of The New York Times on September 25 “On the block above my house is a carriage-stand, where I stopped and attempted to negotiate for a hack, but $1.50 was the lowest cent I could get one for, to go the distance!  So in painful excitement I walked the entire distance, under the burning sun of one of our hottest days, getting there after the hour, and not fit for service.”

Pennington said “it is a hard case that a man should be compelled, in the public service, to walk ounce after ounce of his heart’s best blood out of him every day, and not be allowed to avail himself of the public conveyances designed to save time, health, and life…I shall be told that the majority of the public will object to my riding in the ‘busses.  Is that true?  Will the members of a Christian public object to me, a minister of Christ, using the facilities of a public conveyance, while about my Master’s business?”  He concluded his letter saying “I ask for simple justice at the hands of my countrymen.”

By 1860, with the number of orphans now at 180, the Asylum had managed to get assistance from the City—60 cents a week per orphan.  In desperation the Directors appealed to the Department of Public Charities for additional funds--$1 per child—at its May 24th meeting.  The Department’s minutes showed that the request, “with a number of others of less importance,” was referred to the Committee of the Whole.

The Directors waited three weeks until the Department came to a resolution.   On June 14, according to The New York Times, “it was decided that in the future 70 cents per week should be paid to the Colored Orphan Asylum for each pauper child.”

The Asylum received three unlikely orphans on August 25, 1860.  On July 22 the W. R. Kibby, a slave brig of Boston, was found abandoned by the Crusader off Anguills, in Spanish waters.  It was hauled to New Orleans.  On August 14 the New Orleans Picayune reported “On opening the fore hatch, one of the men discovered a wooly head, and thinking it was some one of the negro stewards from the Crusader, stowed away in order to go North, he hailed him as such, but no response, and it proved to be a boy, one of the original cargo.”

In fact there were three African boys in the cargo hold; now in need of water and food after eight days of hiding.  The W. R. Kibby was ordered to be sailed to New York, “for the purpose of condemnation, she having been found derelict, and subsequently with African slaves on board.”

Upon reaching Manhattan, the boys were put in the Eldridge Street jail.    They captured the attention of United States District Attorney James I. Roosevelt.  Although it appears he was more moved by the intelligence they could provide than by humanitarian reasons.

On August 24 The New York Times reported that Roosevelt, “who has manifested much interest in the three African boys found on board of the slaver Kibby, has written to the President, suggesting that they should be released from their imprisonment in Eldridge-street Jail, and be placed in the Colored Orphan Asylum in this City, where they can be instructed, and thus enable the Government to obtain the particulars of their capture, and other facts concerning the voyage of the Kibby, the fate of their several hundred comrades, and such information as would be of servtee in suppressing the Slave-trade.”

The newspaper added “The boys appear quite cheerful, though evidently at a loss to understand why they are shut up in prison.”

Older girls pose with hoops in the paved play yard.  Younger children sit on the steps.  From the collection of the New York Historical Society

On January 27, 1860 the children once again exhibited their learning for the public.   The New York Times said that the orphans, “in matters of personal cleanliness and robust health, would challenge comparison with the attendants of any free educational institution in this City.”   The writer seemed astounded at their aptitude.  “The musical taste and tenacity of memory exhibited in these performances were surprising.  The songs were in several instances led by a most diminutive specimen of the colored race, whose old-fashioned antics excited immense laughter, and on one occasion even evoked an encore.”

On April 12, 1861 the Confederate Army opened fire on Fort Sumter in South Carolina, sparking the Civil War.   The orphans on Fifth Avenue, seemingly a world away, were happily unaware--for now. 

On November 29, 1862 The Times reported on Thanksgiving celebrations.  “A glad sight it was to see the hundreds of these colored children, rescued from poverty and crime, and placed under the kindest and best Christian influences, fitting them for a lift of respectability and usefulness.”  It would be the last Thanksgiving dinner in the stately orphanage building.

In 1863 the Draft Lottery was established to augment troops fighting in the South.  But corrupt practitioners focused on the working class—primarily Irish immigrants—while the wealthy bought their way out of service.    A protest quickly disintegrated into a bloody riot; three days of murder, looting and arson in July with innocent blacks being strung up from lampposts, shot and stabbed.

It was not merely men in the mob; women and children joined in the looting.  On July 13 the rabble headed for the Asylum.  The following day The New York Times reported “The Orphan Asylum for Colored Children was visited by the mob about 4 o’clock…Hundreds and perhaps thousands of the rioters, the majority of whom were women and children, entered the premises, and in the most excited and violent manner they ransacked and plundered the building from cellar to garret.”

Items were tossed out of the upper windows and one little girl among the mob, 10-year old Jane Barby, was killed “by furniture which was thrown upon her.”

The newspaper estimated that there were perhaps 600 to 800 terrified children within the building.  “When it became evident that the crowd designed to destroy it, a flag of truce appeared on the walk opposite, and the principals of the establishment made an appeal to the excited populace, but in vain.”

The newspaper reported that the entire orphanage had been ransacked, “and every article deemed worth carrying away had been taken—and this included even the little garments for the orphans.”   Repeatedly the rabble tried to set the building on fire.  Chief Engineer Decker stood on the top step of the entrance “amid an infuriated and half-drunken mob of two thousand, and begged them to do nothing so disgraceful to humanity as to burn a benevolent institution, which had for its object nothing but good.  He said it would be a lasting disgrace to them and to the City of New-York.”

Decker’s pleas were in vain.  The mob wanted not only to burn the orphanage, but to murder the children inside.  “The institution was destined to be burned, and after an hour and a half of labor on the part of the mob, it was in flames in all parts.”

Children flee through the crowds at the orphanage burns.  One orphan, at far left, is being beaten and stomped -- Harper's Weekly, August 1, 1863 (copyright expired)

Five stage coach drivers, among them Paddy McCaffrey, and the members of Engine Company No. 18 saw around 20 of the orphans surrounded by the murderous mob.  “It hardly seems credible, yet it is nevertheless true, that there were dozens of men, or rather fiends, among the crowd who gathered around the poor children and cried out, ‘murder the d—d monkeys,’ ‘Wring the necks of the d—d Lincolnites,” reported The Times on July 17.  “Had it not been for the courageous conduct of the parties mentioned, there is little doubt that many, and perhaps all of those helpless children, would have been murdered in cold blood.”

The children miraculously escaped through the courageous actions of heroes like Paddy McCaffrey.  The 19th Precinct Station House received “two hundred and sixteen of the children, none over twelve years of age, who had escape from their home by the rear as the dastardly and infamous mob forced an entrance in front and fired the building,” reported The Times. “These little ones would undoubtedly have been slaughtered had they not been carefully guided away.  They were sadly terrified on reaching the Station, but were reassured, housed, and kindly cared for by Sergeant Petty.”

Looters carry away furniture as the Colored Orphan Asylum burns to the ground -- from the collection of the New York Public Library

On August 16 all the children were conveyed to Randall’s Island.   Their orphanage was a blackened ruin.

On November 12, 1863 the Superintendent of Unsafe Buildings directed that the charred walls of the Colored Orphan Asylum be taken down.  Almost immediately, fund raising began to rebuild.  But not everyone thought it was such a good idea.

In 1863 the land around the orphanage site was no longer rural, rocky terrain.   The mansions of Manhattan’s wealthiest citizens had begun creeping up the now-paved Fifth Avenue.   One reader of The New York Times, who preferred to remain anonymous, voiced his concerns in a letter to the editor on August 1.

“The location, however good for the purpose originally, is bad, very bad, at the present time.  The land is altogether too valuable.  It would sell quickly at one hundred and twenty-five thousand dollars,--and why devote so costly a property for such a purpose?”

To support his argument, he offered a nearly preposterous prediction.  “This building has been recently burned by a mob; who can tell when the next asylum, on the same spot, may follow suit?  Better build at a distance from the mob, where they would not be likely to go, and out of this county.”

The children were housed at 51st Street and Fifth Avenue for four years until the new Colored Orphan Asylum was completed far away at 143rd Street.  Fine mansions soon occupied the site of the old orphanage; replaced in the 1896 by the elegant Sherry's restaurant; and in the 20th century by soaring office towers.

photo http://www.aacrealty.com/Uploads/image_temp/_MG_3937-033_web.jpg

Saturday, May 16, 2015

The 1861 Nos. 70-72 Franklin Street


Born into one of New York's oldest families, Charles H. Contoit was considerably wealthy in his young adult years.  In 1860 the bachelor real estate operator began work on an ambitious project.  The block of Franklin Street between Broadway and Church Street on which he had set his sights had been purely residential three decades earlier.  But now the low brick homes were giving way to impressive commercial structures.  Contoit demolished the two buildings at Nos. 70 and 72 Franklin Street and began construction on a grand loft and store building.

While the plot sat nearly mid-block, the tiny alley called Franklin Place ran alongside it.  This block-long passage made the site all the more advantageous—providing for additional windows along the side and for delivery access off Franklin Street.   The name of Contoit’s architect has been sadly lost; for he deserves credit for the stately Italianate structure that was completed a year later.

Faced in white marble above the cast iron storefront, the building featured dignified carved lintels and sills.  A delicate marble egg and dart band ran along the top of the first floor entablature.  The crisp quoins that rose along the edges terminated below the cornice in handsome foliate carved scrolls.

The cast iron base with its elaborate fluted Corinthian columns and pilasters, like the marble façade above, wrapped around the Franklin Place corner.  The remainder of the Franklin Place elevation was faced in red brick, as was the rear—more in line with the industrial nature of the structure.


In 1861, the year that Contoit began leasing space in Nos. 70-72 Franklin Street, the first shot was fire in the Civil War.  Despite the upheaval and reduction in the male workforce caused by the conflict, dry goods firms moved in.  Among these was the store of George Pearce & Co., importers of “white goods, laces and embroideries, and linen handkerchiefs” both “British and Continental.”   The firm had been organized in 1858 and leased the ground floor here in 1860, prior to the building’s completion.

In September 1865 George Pearce & Co. renewed the lease for another term of five years, agreeing to a yearly rent of $1,100—in the neighborhood of $16,200 today.

While the company sold its imported linens at street level, other white goods concerns had offices and factories upstairs.  On November 16, 1888 The Sun ran an advertisement that announced “Girls wanted to work on laces and embroideries.”  That same year John N. Bull’s “notions” company was in the building.

One tenant, dry goods merchant Roger Lamsen, ran into trouble on his way home on December 12, 1895.  On the same uptown elevated train with him was 65-year old retired merchant William Hickok.  The older man had been downtown on business and was heading home to No. 181 West 75th Street.  The Sun said of him, “He is not used to travelling on the elevated roads during rush hours, and he made up his mind that he didn’t like it.”

He did not like it because his train car became more and more crowded at each station and “the possibility of having to stand all the way up to Seventy-fifth street stared him in the face.”  By the time the train reached the 72nd Street station, Hickok was “in a very bad humor,” and was “what might be called ‘boiling mad.’”

Hickok bolted from the car just as Lamsen and another man, John H. Short, disembarked.  Although Lamsen and Short reached the stairway first, the crotchety Hickok tried to shove his way past them.  He “tried to force [Short] against the rail while he passed.”  When Short protested, Hickok “raised his foot and planted a kick which made Mr. Short grunt.”

When Hickok kicked him again and said “Now will you let me pass?” Short brought his embrella down on Hickok’s head.  It resulted in the 30-year old Short and the old man “mixing up with each other in a way which sent thrills of joy through the hearts of the guards of the train and the ticket men, who with about twenty passengers gathered about to see the fun.”

The trainmen, enthralled with the combat, made the passengers wait while the train stood still.

Then Lamsen, also 30-years old, got involved.  “Mr. Lamsen was foolish,” opined The Sun.  “By maintaining strict silence he would have escaped much physical exertion and much consequent embarrassment.”  But instead he poked his finger at Hickok and reprimanded him.  “You’re responsible for all this trouble, sir.  You’re dead in the wrong, and you’d ought to be ashamed of yourself.”

According to the newspaper “No one seems to know just how it happened, but in some manner Mr. Hickok broke away from the guard who was holding him, grappled with Mr. Lamsen, and was rolling wildly about the platform with him, all in the twinkling of an eye.”

It took a policeman to break up the fight.  Hickok’s face was bleeding and he insisted that Officer Beck arrest the two men.  He did.  When Lamsen and Short were arraigned in the Yorkville Police Court the following day, Hickok’s son stood in for him, telling the judge “his father was completely used up by the beating he had received, and would not be able to leave his bed until to-day.”

Also in the building and presumably less feisty were Chas. A. Brown & Co., commission importers of “English, French, German and Swiss underwear, hosiery and gloves;” and the Glastenbury Knitting Co., manufacturers of underwear.

On December 5, 1897 Charles H. Contoit died in his mansion at No. 728 Fifth Avenue.  The New York Times said his estate was “estimated to be worth considerably over $1,000,000.”  Lawyers could find no trace of any family of the unmarried man.  Almost all of his fortune was left to charity.   But first the 75-year old took care of his servants in his will.  Martha Finley, “an old servant of the family,” received $2,500 (about $75,000 today); his butler William Cribbens inherited $1,000; and “all the other servants get legacies of $250 each,” reported The Times.

Brothers Edward W. and George W. Scott ran the dry goods commission house of Scott & Co. in the building at the same time.  Edward was 70 years old in 1899 and, looking back with a modern view, seems to have been suffering from the first stages of dementia.  The condition resulted in a pitiable and potentially dangerous episode.

Edward Scott and his wife lived in the upscale San Remo Hotel.  Around 7:30 on Monday evening, November 6 he left the Franklin Street building and headed home.  He never arrived.

George Scott searched all the hospitals and ferries “in the belief that he had gone astray in a fit of mental aberration,” but no trace of the old man could be found.  Two days passed before, around 9:00 on the morning of November 8, George Scott's office telephone rang.  According to The Sun “a voice, which Mr. Scott recognized as his brother’s, at the other end of the wire, said: ‘I’m at the Fort Lee ferry.  Come and get me.’”

Scott took a friend, John P. Faure, to the Fort Lee ferry terminal on the Manhattan side of the river.  They could not find Edward.  When police had searched all the telephone booths in the area with no result, a detective took the ferry with the two men to the New Jersey side.  There they found Edward Scott sitting in the ferry house.

Saying he was “well known in the dry goods trade, having been in business here for more than forty years,” The Sun reported that “his mind is a blank as to his wanderings.”

He told his family that the last he remembered was riding on a crosstown car that Monday evening.  “The next thing he knew was that he was sitting in the ferryhouse at Fort Lee, and his eye had chanced to fall on a story in the paper he was reading about his own disappearance.”  At that point he realized he had been lost and called his brother.  The newspaper said “The explanation given of Mr. Scott’s disappearance was that he had become confused as to localities.”

Earlier that year Charles H. Contoit’s vast real estate holdings were auctioned—much of it in the neighborhood of No. 70-72 Franklin Street.  More than a dozen Manhattan buildings and real estate were sold.  In January 1899 The Evening Post Record of Real Estate Sales said the competition was “general and spirited” and that the sale realized $892,250.

Nos. 70-72 Franklin Street was purchased for $128,000 by James B. Haggin, referred to by The Times as “the Western millionaire;” along with several other properties.  (Haggin spent $531,000 at the auction.)  He had made his fortune in copper and was now making his mark in Manhattan real estate and society.  He became well known in horse racing circles, and establish himself and his wife in the former George Crocker mansion at No. 1 East 64th Street.

The building continued to attract white and knit goods firms.  By the turn of the century Kotedsilk Underwear Company had its New York office and salesroom here; as did Erlanger Underwear Manufacturing Co.  Erlanger scored a coup in August 1906 when it announced it was taking over the B.V.D. underwear operation.  “The company retains its selling offices at 70-72 Franklin Street,” noted Men’s Wear magazine.

advertisement New-York Tribune, November 9, 1900 (copyright expired)

James B. Haggin died in 1913; but his estate continued to operate the Franklin Street building.  In 1914 “the upper part” of the structure was leased to the American Cotton Mills, Co. which had been on Franklin Street for nearly half a century.  Two years later Stull, MacCallum, Wilcoxon & Co., dealers in white goods, took the corner store and basement.

Erlanger advertised its new brand in 1906 -- McClure's Magazine, April, 1906 (copyright expired)

The firm focused on the marketing of its Haze o’Dawn brand of voile; while offering “special bargains in colored wash goods, white goods and draperies to meet the demand of the season.”  Business was successful enough that on March 8, 1922 it was announced that the Stull, MacCallum, Wilcoxon Co. had taken the entire building “for a term of years.”

James A. Perry & Co. shared space before Stull, MacCallum, Wilcoxon Co. took over the building -- Dry Goods, March 1918 (copyright expired)

In 1928, just prior to the onset of the Great Depression, the architectural firm of Jardine, Hill & Murdock updated the nearly 70-year old building.  The upper floors, once mostly factory and office space, were now designated as “showrooms.”

Throughout the rest of the century No. 70-72 Franklin Street continued to house dry goods firms.  In 1931 Sichel Company, “linen fabrics,” moved in and in 1933 Brown & Kruger, Inc., linen importers, took the store and basement.  In the 1990s, the Manhattan Textile Corporation, import-export firm, filled the building.

By now the Tribeca neighborhood had been discovered and the grand Victorian structures were quickly becoming repurposed.  In November 2009, when the building was listed for $11 million, there were eight residential units in the upper floors and, as always, a store at sidewalk level. 



The white marble has been cleaned and restored and, somewhat surprisingly, the first floor storefront survives almost totally intact—including historic wooden double doors at the western end.  At some point a rather incongruous but highly attractive colonial entrance was inserted between the cast iron columns.

photographs by the author