Monday, May 16, 2022

The Lost S. & W. Dry Goods Store Building - 466 Pearl Street


466 Pearl Street (the white frame structure) contained a grocery street level in 1861.  from the collection of the New York Public Library

The Continental Army had abandoned New York City prior to the British landing in lower Manhattan on September 15, 1776.  On the night of September 20 fire broke out in the Fighting Cocks Tavern, near Whitehall Slip.  Fanned by strong winds, the fire grew to an inferno, spreading north and west and burning throughout the night.  By morning between 400 and 1,000 buildings were destroyed--upwards of 25 percent of the city's structures.  The British blamed the patriots of arson, the revolutionists accused the British of the same.

Whatever the cause of the devastation, a massive rebuilding effort was necessary following the Revolution.  Some charred blocks of Pearl Street became lined with handsome Georgian and Federal-style brick-faced homes by the 1810's and '20's, while others were more commercial.

Straddling the fence was 466 Pearl Street, just west of Chatham Street (renamed Park Row in 1886).  The clapboard house-and-store rose two full stories to a gambrel-roofed attic with a single prominent dormer.  Although almost assuredly new construction, its style harkened back to the Dutch architecture of two generations earlier.

The upper floors were operated as a boarding house by Martha LaGrave in the first years of the 19th century.  Among her boarders in 1811 was a new arrival in New York, who immediately offered his musical services:

F. Mellne, lately from Paris and Italy, begs leave to inform the Gentlemen of New-York, that he intends giving lessons on the Clarinet, Flute and Flagolet.  He flatters himself that those gentlemen who will honor him with their favours will derive great advantage from his manner of teaching, for their improvements.  For particulars and terms of tuition, apply at No. 466 Pearl-street.

At the time, the S. & W. Dry Goods store operated at street level.  (In the large corner building was Matthew Bolmer's "granery and grain chandlery" business.)  It is unclear whether Abraham Howard Quincy's stove showroom supplanted the dry goods store, or if the two businesses shared the space.  In either case, in 1813 his "Fire Proof Stone Stoves" were being exhibited in 466 Pearl Street.

Quincy's domestic stoves were innovative, using stone to insulate the cast iron.  Among their advantages, said an advertisement, were a "very great saving of Fuel," and "the safety with which they are used in nurseries, as children may approach and come in contact with them without injury."

An announcement in the New-York Evening Post on October 4, 1813 said, "A variety of beautiful models and designs by Mr. Holland, are exhibited at the Ware House, No. 466 Pearl street.  Applications are there to be made, and the requisite information will there be given on all points, for the satisfaction of purchasers.  The Ware House is open every day, from sun-rise till sun-set."

Abraham Howard Quincy's invention received an important vote of confidence when several stoves were purchased by the city in 1814.  Quincy wrote to former President Thomas Jefferson that year, saying the "system is in satisfactory operation at City Hall."  

Just prior to the outbreak of the Civil War, the intersection of Pearl and Chatham Streets was heavily commercial.  466 Pearl (left) has sprouted signage over the sidewalk.  from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York

Quincy returned to his native Boston in 1815.  The store space became home to a whole grocery business.  After years of operating the store, in preparation for his retirement in 1836 the owner advertised:

Grocers Stock For Sale & Store To Let.  To any person desirous of entering into said business, a change now offers to any one with a cash capital of from 2 to $3000 in a wholesale and retail business in such a situation as rarely offers.  The present occupant relinquishing the busines."  The top-end investment listed would equal about $86,000 today.

The space next became home to the Nelson Sherwood  & Co. grocery.  Sherwood and his family moved into rooms above the store.  His business would be here for decades.

In 1851 the Manhattan Building Association established its offices in the building, either in a ground floor back room or on the second story.  The association, which had been established four years earlier, held its annual meetings at Chatham Hall, not far away at 5 Chatham Square.  Its secretary, Samuel Jessup, used the association space here as his real estate office until around 1858.

Nelson Sherwood & Co. made way for James Kilpatrick's second-hand store in 1864.  Kilpatrick paid $25 to the city for his license, about $425 in today's money.  An advertisement on May 20, 1867 read, "Gentlemen having any cast off clothing to dispose of can get a fair price by calling on or addressing James Kirkpatrick, 466 Pearl Street, near Chatham."

The proprietor of the boarding house portion gave up the business in the Spring of 1872.  On April 10 the household furnishings were sold at auction.  The announcement listed, "Splendid parlor suit in haircloth, mahogany wardrobe, marble top centre tables and bureaus, chamber suits, feather beds, and hair mattresses, fine Wilton carpets, oilcloth, silver and china ware, silver plated counter case; also one small iron safe, &c."

The rooms once used by the Manhattan Building Association were taken over by the Second District Republican Association around 1879.  It would be the scene of political meetings and rallies through the turn of the century.  On July 22, 1884, for instance, the New-York Tribune reported, "The headquarters of the Republican Association of the 2d Assembly District, at No. 466 Pearl-st., were crowded at 8 o'clock last night with men who came to listen to speeches by Justice James R. Angel, of Morrisania, William F. Townley, and H. A. Matthews.  Previous to the speaking a handsome banner bearing portraits of the Republican nominees was swung across the street from the club windows."

Around 1885 the corner building was replaced with a five-story brick structure.  It seems that the developer coveted 466 Pearl Street, as well, and managed to negotiate the purchase of about one-third of the property.  The result was an awkward end to the former symmetry--the attic dormer now nearly snug against the western wall of the new building.

When Joseph P. Day purchased the property in January 1903, it was now just 25-feet-wide, "the usual city lot," as he worded it.  Day paid $27,000 for the vintage structure, or about $820,000 in today's money.

At the time Benno Borchard ran an "eatinghouse" from the commercial space.  In 1906 the United States School of Photo-Engraving was listed at the address, possibly having taken over the rooms of the Republican Association, which left around 1903.

By 1915 the ground floor space had become home to Joseph O'Rourke's saloon.  He lived in rooms in the upper section.  Prohibition, of course, would end that enterprise and during the Depression years the space was home to Sam The Tailor.

image via the NYC Dept of Records & Information Services.

The unlikely survivor held on until the 1960's, when urban renewal leveled blocks of properties.  The site is occupied today by the Daniel Patrick Moynihan United States Courthouse, opened in June 1996.

image by Americasroof

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Saturday, May 14, 2022

The Alois Kirchgassner House - 191 East 2nd Street


The 1840's saw an increasingly large number of Germans leaving their homeland for America.  While the farmers moved west, many to Pennsylvania, others clustered in the East Village neighborhood.  By 1845 the district had the largest German-American population in the city, known to non-Germans as Dutchtown, and to Germans as Kleindeutschland.

The newcomers brought skills learned in their homeland--like cabinetmaking, brewing, and piano making.  Among the new arrivals was Alois Kirchgassner, who with his wife Mary, moved into the new house at 191 East Second Street, between Avenue A and B in 1853.  

The Kirchgassners' modest, brick-faced house was designed in the Italianate style, although it exhibited none of the more showy details like the molded lintels or elaborate entrances found in the Italianate homes of more affluent citizens further west.

Kirchgassner ran a beer saloon nearby, and Mary ran a boarding house from their home.  (Alois may have been a bit controlling.  He listed himself, rather than his wife, as the proprietor of the boarding house, as well as of his beer saloon.)  All the boarders in 191 East 2nd Street were fellow Germans.  In 1857 they included, Jacob Berge and John Seiberg, partners in a butter business in Washington Market; two tailors, Leopold Raufer and John Schweighoefer; Adam Reis, a stonecutter; and Sebastian Neuburger, who worked as a porter.  That year John Kirchgassner, presumably a son, worked in the saloon.

As they became old enough to work, two other sons, Alois, Jr. and Albert, became machinists.  Alois was first, listed professionally in 1872.  That year the boarders included another machinist, Charles Brandt; yeast merchant Henry Kraatz; and John M. Widmayer, listed as "segarmaker."  Albert followed his brother as a machinist in 1876.

The Kirchgassners were victims of a crime on February 16 that year.  The Record of Crime released by Central Office of the police department reported, "Licensed vender's wagon No. 164 was stolen from in front of the owner's house, No. 191 Second Street."

After the Kirchgassners left, around 1879, the house underwent a series of owners (although it contined to be operated as a  German boarding house).  Adam P. Bautro was, perhaps, the first Polish-born boarder, here by 1895.  He was the publisher and editor of the Polish language weekly newspaper Gazetta-Polska.

On March 10, 1895 he was arrested and charged with criminal libel on the complaint of Dr. H. P. Lewanslowski, who had earlier been connected with the newspaper.  Lewanslowski, described by The New York Times as "a well-known physician," was no stranger to disputes.  

Three years earlier he had been accused of cheating a Polish priest in a New Jersey property purchase.  Additionally, cigar maker John Misiewicz said that when he came to the priest's defense, Lewanslowski "persecuted him with tales derogatory  to his character, thereby injuring his business."  According to The New York Times on August 10, 1892, the Polish newspaper Postep had demanded the doctor "appear before a 'Jury of Honor,' chosen from among the Polish citizens of New-York."

Dr. Lewanslowski explained at the time, "My countrymen in America are hot-blooded people, as hot-blooded as they are honest and unsophisticated."  Now, as Misiewicz had done, he charged that Adam P. Bautro had damaged his honor and reputation through an article in Gazetta-Polska "based on facts connected with [his] control of the paper."

By 1929 the house was home to the Hertz family.  Ernest Hertz was an attorney and his brother, Benjamin was a doctor.  The Hertzes would remain in the house into the 1940's.

Rather surprisingly, the 19-foot wide house has never been converted to apartments.  One of the few survivors along the block that escaped the tenement building phase of the late 19th century, it is a reminder of a time when German was the predominant language in the neighborhood.

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Friday, May 13, 2022

Thomas & Son's 1856 41 Murray Street


In 1855 attorney Jonathan J. Broome was leasing the house at 41 Murray Street from English-born merchant Ebenezer Cauldwell.  At the time, the blocks around him, until recently exclusively residential, were rapidly being transformed with new commercial structures.  Within the year Cauldwell either demolished or substantially renovated the house.  His architects, almost assuredly Thomas & Son, produced an Italianate loft-and-store building faced in marble above a cast iron storefront.  Each of the segmentally arched upper floor windows wore a molded lintel.

Although Cauldwell was a major importer of china, glass and earthenware, his project was an investment rather than a site for his own business.  He leased the upper floors to Patten, Lane & Merriam, wholesale dealers in boots and shoes, while hardware and cutlery dealer Thomas E. Bishop & Co., took the first floor store.  The firms had hardly settle into their new home before it was nearly lost.

At 3:00 on the morning of November 9, 1856, fire broke out in the cellar of 39 Warren Street, directly behind 41 Murray Street.  It was daylight before firefighters could extinguish the blaze, which by now had spread, resulting in what The New York Times called "the utter destruction of four of the finest buildings in that part of the City."  Although 41 Murray Street was not totally destroyed, it was heavily damaged.  The New York Times reported, "The rear of No. 41 Murray-street was damaged by the falling of the adjacent building, which demolished the roof, carrying away the floors down to the sub-cellar."  Thomas E. Bishop & Co. sustained losses of $15,000--a substantial $475,000 in today's dollars.  Despite the rocky beginnings, both firms moved back into the building following the repairs.  

In 1859 Thomas E. Bishop & Co. sent a clerk, Henry M. Malone to the West to collect outstanding debts.  Malone went to Illinois and Michigan and was successful in collecting the equivalent of $52,000 in today's money.  The problem was that he kept it for himself.  He was tracked down and arrested, and on July 27 The Family Herald reported, "The prisoner denied the charge preferred against him, and appeared sanguine of being able prove his innocence in the matter."

Patten, Lane & Merriam still occupied the upper floors at the time, but both firms would be gone by the mid-1860's.   They were replaced by B. Diamant & Co., importers of "French, English, and German Fancy Goods," and Abraham s. Herman, dealer in "cloths, cassimeres & vestings."

The following decade saw hardware dealer E. A. Heath & Co. and the Automatic Signal Telegraphic office (a fire and burglar alarm firm) in the building.  James H. Ingersoll was the principal in E. A. Heath & Co.  The firm had a highly lucrative contract with Tammany Hall.  But problems came in 1871 when The New York Times published details of the city's financial accounts.  The Committee of Seventy was formed in September to examine and corruption in the Tweed ring.

"Boss" William M. Tweed was arrested in 1872.  The scandal spread to the merchants involved in Tammany's web of kickbacks and graft.  On June 25, 1872 the New York Herald reported that a petition had been submitted in court "to have the hardware firm in Murray street, of which James H. Ingersoll is principal, thrown involuntary bankruptcy."  The article noted, "The place of business is at No. 41 Murray street, and is said to have been, up to the time of the recent Tammany exposure, the source from which the city obtained its hardware."

The Murray Street building remained in the Cauldwell family until March 2, 1882, when it was sold at auction to Edward G. Tinker for $36,100 (approximately $943,000 today).   He altered the ground floor for a surprising tenant--Fire Insurance Patrol No. 1.   

Established in 1839, New York Board of Fire Underwriters was a private organization, distinct from the Fire Department.  It was formed by insurance companies that sought to prevent or at least reduce the loss of property caused by fires.   Claims by merchants for lost inventory were often due to water damage caused by the fire department as much as by the fire itself.
The Patrol would rush to a fire working side-by-side with fire fighters, laying tarps to protect goods from water , removing goods when possible, and all the while fighting the flames.

The storefront of 41 Murray Street was renovated with a centered bay to accommodate Patrol No. 1's fire truck.   In the meantime, the upper floors continued to be leased to more expected merchants, like Julius Wile & Brother, importers and wine and liquor; wine dealer Herman Cantor; and Philip Michaelson & Son, brush merchants.

Having a Fire Patrol next door had both its benefits and drawbacks.  On May 27, 1893, William J. Darnstaedt, who ran a "bar glass ware" business at 43 Murray Street, testified, "The building No. 41 is the fire patrol.  We hear the engines whenever they are coming out.  We perceive the effects of the ordinary noise of a concern of that kind being next door.  We hear them when they get the alarm in; we hear them when they go out, as we naturally would."

Fire Patrol No. 1 would remain in the building for decades.  And, like the engines of the regular Fire Department, there were sometimes accidents.  On October 15, 1906, for instance, the Paterson, New Jersey newspaper The Morning Call reported:

An alarm of fire at No. 3 Desbrosses street this afternoon called out Salvage Corps patrol truck No. 1 from the headquarters at No. 41 Murray street.  The vehicle, weighing close to 5,000 pounds, swung out of the house, clanging its bell furiously.  The motorman of a northbound Sixth avenue car, which was speeding up West Broadway at a swift gait, says he didn't hear either bell or gong.  His car smashed into the truck at the Murray street crossing with great force.

The Sun said the truck was "drawn by two white horses and with the crew of seven men seated high up on the wagon."  Those men were "hurled through the air and landed in all parts of the street," as worded by the Morning Call.  Most of them were unconscious when bystanders rushed in.  At least one perished from his injuries.

image via the NYC Dept of Records & Information Services

Fire Patrol No. 1 was still at 41 Murray Street as late as 1921; but the narrow proportions of the Victorian structure could not accommodate modern equipment for much longer.   By 1929 the building had filled with industrial tenants, like the Evansville Tool Works, Hanson Bros. Scale Works, the La Pierre Sawyer Handle Co., the Spargo Wire Co. and other related firms.

Change in the Tribeca neighborhood arrived in the 1970's when ground floor, once home to the horse drawn fire wagons, became Rosie O'Grady's Irish restaurant.  In 1982 the upper floors were converted to residential, one apartment per floor.   More recently the ground floor was home to Shore, an oyster bar.

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Thursday, May 12, 2022

The Edward Dunlap Smith House - 453 West 21st Street


Born in Philadelphia in 1807, Edward Dunlap Smith's English Quaker ancestors had come to Pennsylvania about 1750.  His father, Edward Smith, was a founder of the Cambria Iron Company.  The younger Edward would take a much different career path.  He attended Princeton University and, after graduation, continued studying there to receive his doctor of divinity degree.  While at Princeton Smith met Jane Blair Cary, described by the 1909 History of City of New York, as "a member of the Cary family of Virginia...and connected by kinship with the families of Randolph, Fairfax and Jefferson."  (The Albany Express recalled in 1888 that as a girl she "passed much time at the house of her grand-uncle, Thomas Jefferson."  The two were married in 1831.    

The 1919 book The Virginia Carys would say, "As a preacher he created a sensation in Virginia; tradition described him as 'a vivid pulpit orator.'"  But his ministry in Virginia would be short.  On December 1, 1834 he was appointed the Chaplain of the United States House of Representatives.

Following his term in Washington D.C., the family relocated to New York City where Smith became pastor of the Eighth Presbyterian Church on Christopher Street.  He resigned that position in October 1842.  The following year, in November 1843, he was installed as pastor of the Old Chelsea Presbyterian Church, "which was built for him by James Lenox," according to The New York Times.  (Lenox and Smith were "warm friends" and the Smith's son, who was born the year the church was completed, was named Lenox, after James Lenox.)

The Old Chelsea Presbyterian Church sat within the section of West 22nd Street known as Lenox Place.  In 1852 construction of a commodious house for the Smith family was begun nearby at 299 West 21st Street (renumbered 453 in 1865), between Ninth and Tenth Avenues.  Completed the following year, the 25-foot-wide Italianate style residence rose four stories above a brownstone-faced English basement.  The floor-to-ceiling parlor windows and the stately arched entranceway beneath a prominent cornice upheld by scrolled brackets, suggest the grandeur of the interiors.  The sills of the upper floor openings sat upon diminutive brackets and wore handsome molded lintels.

Edward and Jane would have four children, Lenox, Archibald Cary, Lewis Randolph, and daughter Edith Fairfax.  Jane, expectedly, was highly involved in worthy charities.  On May 1, 1854, for instance, the New York Morning Courier reported on the work of the Hudson River Industrial School where "more than ninety hungry, half clad girls come daily to the school."  The article said that donations could be sent to Mrs. E. Dunlap Smith.

Although his wife was descended from old Southern families, and he was educated in the South, Smith's views on slavery were unquestionable.  In a sermon delivered on December 12, 1850 he not only decried slavery, but predicted that it would result in war.  He said in part:

But that there may be no misapprehension, let it be fairly and openly stated that slavery is now causing sectional division, and exciting deep and bitter feelings of hostility and enmity between the North and the South...It is known to be an evil, and as such in the abstract is condemned.  Perhaps on the abstract question the South would agree with the North.  But slavery in the South is not an abstract question; it is something which exists; something palpable; something difficult to manage and remove.

In 1882 Smith's failing health declined to the point that he became essentially bedridden.   The New York Times called his illness "softening of the brain," and by the end of the year, according to newspaper, he "was not in his right mind."  He died in the West 21st Street house on March 28, 1883 at the age of 76.  In reporting his death, The New York Times recalled, "Mr. Smith was a thorough Greek and Hebrew scholar, and his sermons were characterized more by learning than the elements of popularity."  The article noted, "In accordance with his wishes, funeral services will take place at his home."

Still living with their mother were Edith, who would never marry; and Lenox, who had served in the 71st Regiment during the Civil War, and graduated from Columbia College in 1865.  He was now an agent of the Cambria Iron Company, c0-founded by his grandfather, and president of the Standard Roller Bearing Company.

Lenox's older brother, Archibald Cary Smith, was making a name for himself as a naval architect and marine engineer.  He had already designed well-known yachts such as the Intrepid, built in 1878 and the Mischief, constructed the following year.  His international reputation would prompt Kaiser Wilhelm II to commission a yacht in 1902.

Jane died of bronchitis in the West 21st Street house on April 20, 1888.  In March 1890 her children sold their childhood home to A. D. Russell for $20,000--about $587,000 in 2022 money.  Russell leased it, his tenant now operating it as an upscale boarding house.  

Among the residents in 1896 were Edmund Poirier and his wife, Edna, who lived on the second floor.  While Edna was 30 years old, Edmund was described by the New York Herald as "a man advanced in years."  Edna was his second wife and he had two grown children by his first marriage.

On the morning of June 17 that year, Edmund left the house to attend "a pleasure party on some steamer in the company of friends," according to an acquaintance.  Edna did not go along, but instead had arranged to go bicycling with the 12-year-old son of a close friend.  According to her neighbors, she left the house at about 11:30 that morning, "attired in a jaunty bicycle suit."

Edna and her young companion were riding down Madison Avenue behind a carriage at around 3:30, when they swerved to go around two delivery wagons parked in front of a grocery store.  Edna's bicycle was thrown off balance when her tire hit a streetcar track.  She tried to jump off, and, as reported by the New York Herald,  "in so doing rode directly in between the two leading horses" of on oncoming the streetcar.

Policemen and workers who rushed to the scene "found her lying across the track, with her head and the upper portion of her body beneath the car."  As they worked to free her, according to The Evening Times, Edna "urged the men who were seeking to move the great car to be brave and cool."  While they worked, she asked for someone to find her hat.

Edna was carried to the sidewalk where pedestrians opened their umbrellas to provide privacy as a priest administered last rites.  She was taken to a hospital where she died.  Edmund arrived there about 7:30, and was intercepted by the mother of the boy with whom Edna had been riding.  She told him as gently as possible about Edna's death.  With sentimental Victorian flourish, the New York Herald wrote, "The heart broken husband, when taken to the bedside of his dead wife, knelt and prayed beside her, after having kisser her cold lips."

The house was sold again in 1901, this time for the equivalent of $588,000 in today's money.  It became home to attorney Philip Keyes Walcott and his wife, the former Annie Goedkeep.  They were a well-heeled couple.  Born in Concord, Massachusetts in 1877, Walcott, according to The Sun, "belonged to one of the oldest families in New England" and a grand-aunt was Mrs. Ralph Waldo Emerson.  Annie was a graduate of Barnard College.

Walcott had graduated from Harvard College in 1897, its law school in 1899, and from the New York University Law School in 1900.  He was a junior member of the law firm of Hawkins, Delafield & Longfellow.  The couple maintained a country home at Sea Gate, New York.

On October 6, 1914, shortly after they returned from their summer place, tragedy struck.  Walcott had been at work in his 13th-floor office at 20 Exchange Place when, at 11:15, his body plunged to the sidewalk below.  There was no obvious reason for suicide, The Sun remarking, "He had no concern over money matters.  His family life was happy."

Because his chair faced a large window and the sun shone directly in starting around 11:00 each morning, his co-workers theorized, that he "climbed on the radiator in front of the window to pull down the window shade and that his foot slipped."  A member of the firm, Lewis L. Delafield, hurried to 453 West 21st Street to gently break the news to Annie, but a policeman had already gotten there and had "given Mrs. Walcott a hint of the tragedy," according to The Sun.

By the early Depression years, the house was being operated as a rooming house.  Among the tenants in 1953 was the colorful attorney Justus P. Sheffield.  Known familiarly as "Sheff," he had been married to poet and author Rena Carey Sheffield until 1915 when she sued for separation, charging him with desertion.

Sheffield had "startled the legal profession," as worded by the Corpus Christi Times, by counter-suing and winning a divorce.  His evidence came from Rena's book, The Golden Hollow.  He said one of the characters was, in fact, her real-life lover whom she described in the book as a "dream boy with jet black hair through which [the female character] might run her fingers while they talked of nothings."   He added that another character was actually a representation of himself, reading a sentence, "Mac, whose ungovernable temper tantrums actually threaten my life..."  In granting the divorce, the judge said Rena's conduct, her books and her letters had "condemned her on the stand."

Now 80-years-old, retired, and still single, Sheffield rented rooms in the 21st Street house.  On August 11, 1953 he was crossing a street in Greenwich Village when he was run down by 27-year-old George Halperin of Miami Beach.  He died shortly afterward.  Although Halperin, who was a lieutenant in the Army, was initially booked on a technical charge of "auto homicide," he was later released for lack of evidence of negligence.

By 1956 retired theatrical promoter and producer Max Sonino and his wife, actress Ruth Emily Gillmore lived here.  In 1957 Sonino purchased a 26-foot long houseboat, the SkipperThe New York Times said, "It does not appear to be sea-worthy, but Mr. Sonino insides that looks are deceptive.  Nevertheless, he did not attempt to float it, but kept it hitched to his car and parked in front of 453 West 21st Street.  On March 31, 1958, The New York Times explained that he "has to drive to the other side of the street every day so that the police won't put a parking ticket on his boat."

Max Sorino and his houseboat on West 21st Street.  The New York Times, March 31, 1958

While the Smith house was never officially converted to a multi-family residence, it contains five apartments today.  And although much of the 1853 interior detailing has been removed, the exterior remains essentially intact.

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Wednesday, May 11, 2022

The Varied History of 40 Avenue C

In the 1840's, the house and store at 40 Avenue C was home to a number of blue collar residents.  Little had changed in 1863, when the ground floor cigar store was used by the city as an election polling place.  And it appears that the residents were living in less than comfortable conditions.  On July 10 and 11, 1867, the Sanitary Company of Police set its "subdivision of unskilled labor" to work "whitewashing walls and cleaning cellar" of the building.

Then, in 1869, builder Charles Boehm purchased this and other Avenue C properties from Bernard J. Fry.  It seems to have been Boehm who updated (or replaced) the old building.  A marble bandcourse now ran through the second floor brickwork and the upper floor openings boasted paneled lintels.  

Charles and Katharina Boehm had four children, Charles, Annie, John, and Rosa.  The family continued to house boarders, both in the main house and in the small building in the rear yard.  Most of their tenants were German immigrants.

That was not surprising.  The neighborhood had seen the influx of Germans since the 1840's, and by 1855 only Berlin and Vienna had a higher population of Germans than New York City.  It was likely that Charles Boehm, himself, was one of those early German immigrants.

Following Charles Boehm's death around 1885, Barbara Boehm (the widow of John Boehm) ran the boarding house.  The accommodations must have been crowded.  In the three-story rear building were the families of four tenants, a shoemaker, a cabinet maker, a baker and a hatter.   Above the ground floor real estate office of Goodman & Adler, Barbara had seven boarders: two bakers, a carpenter, a printer, a shoemaker, a coal merchant, and Mary Jaekle, a widow who dealt in umbrellas.  Each of them had a German surname.

On April 21, 1886, Katharina Boehm leased the building to Wolf Morris.  By the time she leased it again in 1890, she had remarried, the paperwork listing her as "Katherina Muller, formerly Boehm."

While the Boehm's boarders had traditionally been hard-working and respectable, by the turn of the century at least one was not.   Living in a front room on the top floor was a woman, described by investigators as of "fair complexion, round face, weight 160 lbs., 30 years, high [sic] 5 ft. 5", Jewish."  She had a reputation both with her neighbors and the police.

On November 5, 1901 Vice Inspector H. S. Conklin filled out a "Disorderly Tenement House" complaint, saying he had visited the woman four days early with Jacob (known as John) Kreiswurth.  The complaint said, "John paid her in presence of me.  She then took him in a small room, remained there for short time, then we left."  (The payment was $1, or about $30 in today's money.)

Why three more visits to the woman's rooms over the next few days were necessary is unclear.  Kreiswurth wrote about their visit on November 7, saying:
She took me to a bed room and exposed her self for Prostitution purposes which I declined.  A partie [sic] who lives on the same floor, back, told us that it is a shame to live with such a woman on the same floor.

There were four tenants living in the rear building on January 9, 1902 when a chimney fire broke out.  Happily, it was extinguished by fire fighters before any significant damage could be done.

Annie Sadlak ran the boarding house in 1906.  Typical of her tenants was Frank Woodinski, a brick layer.  He was working on construction site at 122nd Street and Second Avenue on September 24 that year when disaster occurred.  The New-York Tribune reported, "Edward Brandt...who was working on the scaffold, missed his footing and fell heavily against the new wall which the men were building.  In a moment it collapsed and about ten men fell two stories to the ground."  Among the most seriously hurt was Woodinski, taken to Harlem Hospital "with injuries to legs, arms, body and head and a probable fracture of the skull."

Three months earlier, in June 1906, Annie Sadlak had taken in a new boarder, Michael Sabak.  One afternoon while she was out visiting friends, he sneaked into her rooms and stole a gold watch and chain and $200 from a bureau drawer and disappeared.  (The cash alone would be more than $6,000 today.)

Romance put an end to Sabak's freedom.  Annie Sadlak read the news of his upcoming wedding in January 1907.  She went to police, who arrested him at the wedding reception on January 27.  The New-York Tribune reported, "When the bridegroom's arrest became known, the bride collapsed."  A search of Sabak at the station house revealed "a pair of brass knuckles and a pawn ticket, it is alleged, for the watch which he is charged with stealing from Mrs. Sadlak."

On September 27, 1906 the Tenement House Department cited 40 Avenue C for "unsanitary conditions."  The situation was corrected by Sigmund Kraus, who signed a lease on the building on January 17, 1907.  He initiated alterations, designed by architect Max Muller that included new store fronts, stairs, windows and interior walls.  It was most likely at this time that the distinctive second floor copper bay and the new copper cornice were installed.

The renovations seem to have attracted more upscale tenants.  In 1909, Frederick Hemley lived here when he was appointed a commissioner of deeds.  In 1914 Jack Branower passed his medical licensing examination; and by 1917 Deputy Attorney  General William Blau lived here.  That year Mayor John Mitchel appointed him a city magistrate.   He remained in his apartment at least through 1918.  The store space at the time was either a tavern or liquor store, the excise license being held by S. Kraus & Bro.

The building as it appeared in 1983.  via the NYC Dept of Records & Information Services

In the 1980's, the commercial space held the Camano Restaurant.  It reflected the changing demographics of the neighborhood, as an increasing Hispanic presence joined the Ukrainian and Russian population.

Then, in 2010, what The New York Times called the "pansexual" nightspot, Bedlam opened in the ground floor.  On September 29, the newspaper's journalist Tim Murphy said, "It's a modern-day love triangle:  Williamsburg-y gay men bring their gal pals, who attract straight guys, who in turn bring out more gay men."  The space had come a long way since its days as a German-language real estate office.  Murphy noted, "A recent soft opening drew a hodgepodge of luminaries, including Anderson Cooper, Sarah Jessica Parker, Matthew Broderick and Alan Cumming."  

Recently the ground floor space sprouted the purposely puzzling sign "Nodega," noting "No Shop," "no coffee," "no cold beer," "no groceries, and "no cigarettes."  

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Tuesday, May 10, 2022

The Daniel and Julia Butterfield House - 23 West 94th Street

The three houses Gilbert A. Schellenger designed for real estate developer Thomas Auld along West 94th Street, between Central Park West and Columbus Avenue, in 1885 were a mere 16-feet wide.  Their lack of width was made up for in their Victorian charm.  Schellinger's two slightly different designs--one with a full-width balcony at the second floor, the other with smaller version, one bay wide, above the entrance--were configured in an A-B-A pattern.

Among the A designs was 23 West 94th Street.  Like its neighbors, its basement level was clad in rough cut brownstone, the parlor floor in planar stone, and the two upper floors were faced in red brick, their openings framed in limestone quoins.  Vying for attention was the elaborate terra cotta spandrel panel between the second and third floors.  Schellenger splashed the overall Renaissance Revival design with touches of Queen Anne--seen in the sunburst motif iron balcony railing and in the dogtooth brickwork below the pressed metal cornice.  Despite its narrow width, the house was intended for a well-to-do buyer.  The architect's plans, filed on September 4, 1885, projected the construction cost at $555,000 by today's standards.

Auld advertised the "three story and extension private dwellings," touting "cabinet throughout," referring to the high-end hardwood flooring and woodwork.  The family of Sam Heidelsheimer moved into 23 West 94th Street.  

Born in German in 1840, Heidelsheimer and his wife, the former Mary Sidenbach, had three children, Irving, Helen and Blanche.  It appears that Mary's brother, Milton Sidenbach, lived with the family, as well.  He died at the age of 25 on July 22, 1890, and his funeral was held in the house two days later.

The Heidelsheimers sold the house to Julia L. and Daniel Butterfield in March 1897.  The couple was well known in social, political and military circles.

Eleven years earlier, on September 26, 1886, the New-York Tribune had reported, "News of another wedding on this day, as far away as London, greatly interested New-Yorkers.  It was that of General Daniel Butterfield and Mrs. Julia L. James...which was celebrated in the light of the beautiful old stained glass window of St. Margaret's, Westminster, where Sir Walter Raleigh was buried."  General Butterfield had distinguished himself throughout the Civil War.  During the administration of President Ulysses S. Grant, Butterfield was Assistant Treasurer of the United States.

General Daniel Butterfield, from the collection of the Library of Congress

Julia Lorillard James in 1861, prior to her marriage to Butterfield. from the collection of the Julia L. Butterfield memorial Library.

Julia Lorillard Stafford had married her first husband, stockbroker Frederick Plummer James, at the age of 18 in 1841.  He died in 1884.  They had built Craigside, the magnificent stone country house in Cold Spring, New York, now used by the Butterfields.  Four years before purchasing the West 94th Street house, the couple had hosted a Russian Imperial Grand Duke at Craigside.  In appreciation, the Tsar presented Julia with an elaborately decorated sleigh.

A turn-of-the-century, hand-tinted postcard depicted Craigside.

The Butterfields' ownership of 23 West 94th Street would be relatively short-lived.  They sold it on August 7, 1900 to Edward M. L. Ehlers for $22,000, just under $700,000 in today's money.  General Butterfield died at Craigside the following year, on July 17.

Living with Ehler and his wife, the former Henrietta Howard Cargill, was their son, Dr. Edward C. Ehler.  The Butterfields and the Ehlers had a close, personal relationship.  Edward M. L. Ehler was a colonel during the Civil War, and Julia Butterfield named him as one of the three executors of her will.

Ehler was born in Denmark on January 31, 1840.  He served under Daniel Butterfield at the battles of Fredericksburg and Antietam.  Following the war, Ehler joined the Mutual Reserve Fund Life Association.  In January 1897 he was appointed a council officer of the firm, and in 1900 elected a director.  In 1882 he had taken the post of Secretary of the Grand Lodge of Freemasons.  He retired from Mutual Reserve Fund Life in 1907, while retaining his position with the Lodge.

Henrietta Ehlers died on December 30, 1907.   Ehler and his son continued to live in the 94th Street house.  The Sun remarked that the senior Ehler was "an extremely genial man and was much sough after as an after dinner speaker.  He was an orator of much power."

On May 28, 1917 Edward M. L. Ehlers died in the house at the age of 78.  The Sun noted, "He was one of the best known Masons in the world."  His funeral was held in the Grand Lodge Room of the Masonic Hall on West 24th Street.  

The following year Dr. Edward C. Ehlers and his wife, the former Mary Ann Rogers, moved to Essex Falls, New Jersey.  He retained possession of the West 94th Street house, leasing it that year to actress Madame Pilar-Morin.

Madame Pilar-Morin, The Moving Picture World, January 22, 1910 (copyright expired)

Born in Barcelona, Spain, Madame Pilar-Morin had appeared on stage in London and New York, and was a silent film actress for Edison Company in 1909 and 1910, starring in eight films.  She then turned to "silent drama," or pantomime.  She defended her art to a reporter from The Billboard who interviewed her in "her studio at 23 West 94th Street" in April 1920.  "What is the difference between my art and the art of the screen?" she asked.

Ehlers next leased the house to Spanish poet Joaquin Casanovas.  He welcomed a notable house guest in 1922.  On November 14, the New York Herald reported, "Marcos Coll, sculptor, of Barcelona, arrived yesterday by the Royal Spanish Mail liner Montserrat with a life size marble statue, 'The Poem of Peace,' symbolizing American manhood and womanhood, he says."  The statue would be exhibited at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  The following year, Casanovas published the book, Marcos Coll's "Poem Of Peace," in which he called the artwork, "a great masterpiece of sculpture which expresses the American message of democracy."

In October 1925, Dr. Ehler sold the house to real estate operators Nathan Slater and L. M. Stone.  They held it for three years, before selling it to Margaret Anne Marshall.  She agreed to wait for the tenant's five-year lease to expire before moving in.

The narrow house continued as a single-family house until 1984, when a renovation resulted in a duplex apartment in the basement and parlor floor, and two apartments each on the upper floors.

Although it appears that little, if anything, remains of Gilbert A. Schellinger's 1885 interior detailing, the exterior is, happily, greatly intact.

photographs by the author
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Monday, May 9, 2022

The Lost Cadillac Hotel - Broadway and 43rd Street

from the collection of the New-York Historical Society

On January 16, 1882, brothers Robert and Ogden Goelet purchased the vacant land at the northeast corner of Broadway and 43rd Street from Edwin A. Cruikshank.  They commissioned architect Hugo Kafka to design an upscale hotel on the site--a move that surprised most New Yorkers.

The neighborhood, known as Longacre Square, was the center of the carriage making industry and was far north of the business and entertainment districts.  The New York Times later said, "A few blocks to the north, at the upper end of the square, stood the large Brewster carriage factory, and in the adjacent blocks other firms in what was then a flourishing industry operated successfully."

Hugo Kafka was born in Austria and had studied under the well-known German architect Gottfried Semper.  For two years he served as the "principal assistant architect" at the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition."  His plans for the Goelet project called for "one eight-story brick and Belleville stone hotel."  His Second Empire style design was the latest in architectural taste.  

The main entrance on Broadway sat with a columned portico that provided a balcony to the second floor.  A second entrance on 43rd Street was most likely for unescorted ladies.  Intermediate cornices divided the heavy mass of the upper floors into three sections.  By chamfering the corner, Kafa provided visual interest, extra light and ventilation, and downtown views to the corner rooms.  The building was crowned by a parapet that housed a large clock.

The fortunes of Robert and Ogden Goelet came from real estate.  Their business philosophy was to acquire properties while never selling properties.  They were not, however, hoteliers.  And so they leased the new structure to William and Hooper C. Barrett, known as the Barrett Brothers.  Named the Barrett House, it opened on September 29, 1883 "on the European Plan," meaning that meals in the dining room were not included in the room fee.  The suites cost "$1.50 and up," an affordable $40 per night in today's money for the cheapest accommodations.

Like many other hotels, the Barrett House accepted both long-term and transient guests.  The permanent residents were mostly well-to-do professionals, like broker Richard M. Collins, and George W. Sutton, Jr., an executive with the dry goods firm of Passavant & Co.  Perhaps the first theatrical guest was well-known actor James O'Neill.  He took a suite in August 1888 for himself, his pregnant wife, Mary Ellen Quinlan, and their two young sons, James and Edmund.

James O'Neill's career was tainted by repeated scandals involving women.  from the collection of the New York Public Library

O'Neill was best known for his leading role in The Count of Monte Cristo.  A year before he moved into the Barrett House, the San Francisco Morning Call had estimated his personal fortune at $250,000--more than $7 million today.  He may have been eager to get his family settled because he was about to leave on tour.  In his absence, on October 16, 1888, Mary Ellen gave birth to a baby boy in their suite.  Named Eugene, he would go on to become one of America's greatest playwrights and a Nobel laureate.  Reportedly, Eugene O'Neill kept a picture of the Barrett House among his possessions throughout his lifetime.

The dining room (above) and the cafe.   photos by Byron Company from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York.

A heart-breaking story had played out in the Barrett House a few months before the O'Neills moved in.  On the evening of July 28, 1886, a young woman checked in as "Mrs. Stanly, Philadelphia."  She had dinner in the dining room later, and mailed a letter in the lobby.  The New York Times reported, "That was the last seen of her until the chambermaid found her dead body" the following morning.  She had shot herself in the head, leaving a note for the coroner that read:

Dear Sir:  I leave this note so as to obviate the necessity of holding an inquest, as I have deliberately committed suicide for my family's sake.  I beg of you not to try and find out who I am.  Trusting that you will grant me a resting place among God's poor and unfortunate ones in Potter's Field, and conduct this matter as quickly as possible, I am respectfully yours.

Her hopes of remaining anonymous would not come to be.  Just as the hotel's messenger reached the Coroners' office, "an agitated gentlemen went in too, and he heard the messenger describe the suicide," said The New York Times.  "'My God!' he cried.  'She is my daughter.'"

Colonel Robert Johnstone, a lawyer, had already received the letter mailed from the lobby the previous evening.  His daughter, Elizabeth, had married John Clairmonte six years earlier when she was 21.  Clairmonte was "complaining, tyrannical and abusive," according to friends.  The couple had two children.  In December 1885, Clairmonte divorced Elizabeth, accusing her of infidelity.  Elizabeth lost custody of her children.  The New York Times reported, "She was a woman of great will power, and outwardly she made no sign.  but evidently her trouble prayed upon her so that she felt she could to bear it and determined upon suicide."

On the day of her funeral, John Clairmonte rushed into the undertaker's establishment.  Elizabeth had sent him a letter, as well.  The New York Times said, "Young Clairmonte seemed to be not very much grieved over the sad death of his pretty wife."  Her letter had told him of her intended suicide, asked his forgiveness "for all the misery I have caused you," and ended saying, "Kiss Lewis and Emme for me and accept the love of your unfortunate."

William Barrett died of blood poisoning following an operation in 1893 at the age of 46.  Hooper lost the hotel to bankruptcy in 1900.  Next door, on West 43rd Street, was the Cadillac Hotel, which also sat on Goelet land.  On June 22, 1902 the New-York Daily Tribune reported that the Goelets had leased both buildings to Quartus A. Graves for 15 years.  He operated them jointly as the Cadillac Hotel.  

Apparently part of the negotiations was the replacement of the old Cadillac Hotel building with a modern structure.  On March 15, 1903, The Sun reported, "Plans have been filed with the building bureau for a new twelve-story be built by the Ogden Goelet estate at 153 and 155 West Forty-third street."  The new building was projected to cost $180,000, or nearly $5.5 million today.

The new building made no attempt at melding with its vintage neighbor.  Other than signage, there was no hint that the two structures composed a single hotel.

The lobby and the main desk in 1907.  photos by Byron Company from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York.

The Cadillac Hotel was the scene of a bizarre hoax in December 1903.  Colonel Henry Gillum, described by The Evening World as "a lawyer and member of an old Virginia family," told police he had come to New York to present the Museum of Natural History with a unique item--a gold watch in the shape of a green beetle which had been fashioned for Queen Maria Christina, the great-grandmother of King Alfonso of Spain.

He said his father-in-law, Colonel William C. Duffield, had purchased the watch in Cuba in 1834 for $500.  The Evening World described the timepiece saying:

The bug watch is two and a quarter inches long.  I has curved horns projecting from the front of the head, six jointed legs, three on each side, wings of solid gold, body of enameled bright green, springs under the hindermost legs which when pressed cause the wings to open and reveals a very small watch with perfect works and white face.

Police Inspector McClusky sent out a general alarm to all pawnbrokers in the city.  He told reported "There is not another watch like it in the world."  The Evening World noted, "When lost the bug watch was in a brown morocco case lined with white satin and containing a peculiar key.  The case bore the name of Tiffany & Co., where the watch was repaired in 1878."

But then, on January 21, 1904, having read the description in the newspapers, attorney Abe Levy called the inspector saying he had the "bug watch."  He had purchased it at a sale on Maiden Lane in December 1899, and had the sale papers.  The Sun wrote, "Why Col. Gillum, of the South, should announce that he'd lost it and that he wanted to present it to the Metropolitan Museum McClusky didn't explain."

Two of the parlors in the suites as they appeared in 1907.   photo by Byron Company from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York.

In 1910 the Wallick Brothers took over the lease, renaming it the Hotel Wallick.  Hotel World recalled in 1919, "When the Wallick Brothers took hold of the hotel, they enlarged it and spent a large sum on improvements."  Indeed, in October 1911 the Goelet Estate hired architect John H. Duncan to alter the original building.  The Real Estate Record & Guide said "Alterations consist of changes to the entrance and sidewalk of the 'Cadillac Hotel.'"  It was most likely at this time that the portico was removed and the entrance shifted to the corner.

By now Longacre Square had been renamed Times Square.  It was the new center of the theater district.  The hotel saw an increasing number of theatrical residents, like actor James Garrison who lived here in 1912.

What the Wallick brothers had not foreseen, however, was the coming of Prohibition, which caused the closing of thousands of restaurants and hotels across the country.  On August 9, 1919 Hotel World announced, "The effects of prohibition, it is said, influenced the Wallick brothers in giving up control of the hotel."  Under new management, the hotel once again became the Cadillac Hotel.

For its 50th anniversary, the vintage building received a facelift in the spring of 1933.  On May 28, 1933, The New York Times reported, "The exterior of the building has been restored to its original freshness by sandblasting and the familiar clock in the little tower surmounting the roof has had its face washed and its works renovated for another long period of utility."

Despite the restoration, in 1935 the lower floors were heavily altered and plastered with advertising.  from the collection of the New York Public Library.

That "long period of utility" was not to be.  Only seven years later, on March 19, 1940, The New York Times reported, "The busy Times Square district is about to lose one of its earliest landmarks."  The newspaper said the hotel "soon will bow to the changing times," noting that the "weather-worn clock at the top of the building, which for half a century was a dependable timekeeper known to thousands who passed the corner daily, has outlived its usefulness."

The land was still owned by the Goelet family.  The New York Times noted that Ogden Goelet had passed title to his daughter, May, "who became the wife of the duke of Roxburghe.  Her son, the present Duke of Roxburghe, now owns the property."  The article noted that the duke's representatives had taken bids "from wrecking firms for tearing down the old structure."

Today the 34-floor 1500 Broadway, designed by Leo Kornblath and completed in 1972, occupies the site.

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