Tuesday, June 28, 2022

The 1894 James G. and Georgie Wentz House - 312 West 82nd Street


In 1893 builders Albert C. Squier and William E. Lanchantin acuired a 48-foot-wide plot of vacant land on the south side of West 82nd Street, between West End Avenue and Riverside Drive.  Somewhat surprisingly, instead of instructing prolific architect Clarence Fagan True to design two 24-foot-wide residences on the parcel, in keeping with the mansions that were rising in the neighborhood, they asked for three.

Completed in 1894, the trio were luxurious, despite their narrow, 16-foot widths.   True designed the group in his own take on the Romanesque Revival style.  The center house, 312 West 82nd Street, was an American basement residence, meaning it was entered almost directly at street level.  Clad in undressed brownstone, it rose four stories to a slate-shingled mansard with a prominent, peaked-roofed dormer.  At the second floor a faceted bay provided a balcony to the third floor.

On June 30, 1894, the Real Estate Record & Guide reported that Squier and Lanchantin "have sold to a Mr. Martin No. 312 West 82d street, one of a row of newly-erected three-story [sic] stone front dwellings."  The use of pseudonyms when purchasing property was not uncommon, and as it turned out, "Mr. Martin" was, in fact, James Griswold Wentz.

An attorney with Sweetser, Pembroke & Co., Wentz was just beginning to deal in real estate, himself.  He and his wife, the former Georgie Banyer Nichols, had been married four years earlier.  Despite his significant wealth, it was his wife who drew the social attention.

Georgie's earliest American ancestor, Sergeant Francis Nicol, arrived in America in 1660 with his uncle, Richard Nicol, who later became Colonial Governor of New York.  Her great-grandfathers on both sides fought in the American Revolution.  Included in her pedigree were elite names like Ogden, Whitney and Bulkley.

Like all socialites, Georgie was involved in charity work.  On February 1, 1896, for instance, The Sun reported that she "will throw open her house to-day for the benefit of the Ladies' Domestic Missionary Society, St. Matthew's Episcopal Church, in West Eighty-fourth street."  That afternoon the ladies enjoyed a musicale.

During their early married years, the Wentzes traveled extensively, especially during the summer months.  On July 2, 1897, The Evening Telegram announced that the couple "will pass the month of July making a trip through the St. Lawrence River to the Thousand Islands.  In August they will go to the White Mountains."

At the turn of the century, Georgie turned her attention to politics.  On November 5, 1900, the Woman's Republican Club was organized in her parlor.  The power of Georgie Wentz's name was reflected in the appearance of Senator Chauncey M. Depew, who spoke for an hour at that meeting.  Georgie would be the club's president for years, and when a reporter asked her "for her own special reason for being a politician" in October 1904, she replied in part:

Because I believe that it is in the home that the incorruptible politician is made.  When you see a man lax in his duties in this respect, dishonest, unscrupulous, you will find either that he left home too early or that when he was there his duty was not made clear to him.

The mother has in her hands the molding of the child's morals.  If she neglects it, the fault is here.  If the voters of the coming generation are started right in the home they will continue on the right path.

In the meantime, the Wentzes continued their travels.  On May 28, 1901, The Evening Telegram reported that they would "visit the Pan-American Exposition, at Buffalo, in June.  Later in the summer they will go to Maine to remain until September."  And in July the following year, the New York Herald announced that they had sailed for Europe for the season.

The couple's summer seasons became more predictable after 1903 when they acquired a Newport cottage, Beaumaris, at the junction of Brenton and Wickham Roads over looking the ocean.  It was in Newport that Georgie's and Alva Vanderbilt Belmont's mutual cause, Women's Suffrage, coincided.  By 1914 Georgie was hosting the Newport County Woman Suffrage League meetings at Beaumaris; and in 1915 she aided Alva Belmont with a suffrage event at Marble House.

It is unclear when Georgie's widowed mother, Georgiana Bulkley Nichols, first moved in with the couple.  She died in the Manhattan house at the age of 70 on May 27, 1908.  The social prominence of the family demanded two funerals, one in the West 82nd Street house at 10 a.m. on May 30, and a second "at the homestead, in Southport, Connecticut," four hours later. 

In 1910 Wentz purchased the residence at 335 West End Avenue and the following year sold 312 West 82nd Street to Isaac Steigerwald, a partner in The Machine Metals Products Company of New York.  

Steigerwald was the first of a succession of owners.  He sold it in 1917, and it was resold in 1919, and again in 1922 to Ferdinand B. Minrath and his wife Anna.   Minrath was the head of the George Minrath Pharmacy.   Living with the couple were Scott Minrath, his wife Gertrude, and their children.  The adopted son of Ferdinand's and Anna's daughter, Scott Minrath was a 1918 graduate of Princeton University and worked with the Guaranty Trust Co. of New York.

The family was clear on their preferences in domestic help.  An advertisement in September 1922 sought, "Chambermaid-Waitress, small private house; only white need apply; German preferred."

Ferdinand Minrath did not enjoy his new home for long.  On April 21, 1923 he died in the house.  His will suggests that there may have been tensions between him and his adopted grandson.  Scott Minrath received $1,000 (about $15,000 today), and Gertrude and the children received the "right to occupy house at 312 West 82d Street."

Once again the house went through a succession of buyers, until 1958, when it was purchased by H. Edwin and Mildred Cason Smith as headquarters for their Group Relations Ongoing Workshops, Inc. (GROW).   The building remained little changed inside until 1970 when the Smiths converted the first through fourth floors to offices and classrooms.   

On July 14, 1972, Iver Peterson of The New York Times explained that the group-therapy school "uses the group-discussion method to teach paying students how to conduct their own 'behavioral sciences' programs dealing with the emotional and social problems of their clients."  He described GROW as "One of the largest group therapy training schools in the city."

But Ivers was concerned about the faculty's credentials.  He pointed to five members with Ph.D's from Philathea College, "a former Bible school in London, Ontario, which is not accredited in Canada and is not recognized by any accredited American college or university."  He noted, as well, "GROW's founder and executive director, H. Edwin Smith, is listed as having a doctorate from an unaccredited college in Florida."

Dr. Edward F. Carr, director of the State Division of Higher Education, said, "It's pretty difficult to tell here where the charlatanism ends and the integrity begins."

In 1985 Paul Plassan hired architect Douglas P. Herrlin to return the property to a single family home.  He shared it with his partner, motion picture and Broadway hair stylist and wig designer Paul Huntley.  The house also served as Huntley's work studio.  Upon Plassan's death in 1991, title to the property was transferred to Huntley.

image via lesliegarfield.com

Huntley's work was epochal in the theater.  He was responsible for the Carol Channing's trademark bouffant in Hello Dolly!, the wigs for Elizabeth Taylor in the 1963 motion picture Cleopatra, and for the 2014 Bullets Over Broadway, alone, worked on 48 wigs.  In his 60-year career he styled hair and created wigs for more than 200 Broadway shows.

Huntley sold 312 West 82nd Street in January 2021.  The following month he flew to London to work on Diana: The Musical.  He died there on July 13 at the age of 88.

photograph by the author
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Monday, June 27, 2022

The Lost Irving Place Theatre - 11-13 Irving Place


from the collection of the New York Public Library

On December 20, 1860 Irving Hall opened with a grand ball.  Situated on the southwest corner of Irving Place and East 15th Street, one block east of fashionable Union Square, it would be the scene of concerts and balls for years.  But despite the famous performers who appeared here--George Christy's Minstrels, Madame Parepa-Rosa and Artemus Ward among them--the opening of Steinway Hall a block away in 1864 brought unwanted and intense competition.   In his 1903 A History of the New York Stage, historian T. Allston Brown wrote, "As a concert hall this place lost caste as soon as Steinway Hall was opened, and Irving Hall gradually fell into disuse."

On January 22, 1887, The Real Estate Record & Guide reported, "Gustav Amberg, manager of the Thalia Theatre on the Bowery, has leased Irving Hall" and an adjoining house, and "will so alter and remodel both buildings as to convert them into an opera house."  The article noted that architect G. B. Pelham was drawing the plans, which placed the cost at $65,000 (about $1.8 million in today's money).

"Mr. Amberg says he was induced to take hold of this project by the very general wish expressed by the better class of the German population for some up-town theatre where opera might be rendered in German," said the article.  Prominent German citizens had financially backed Amberg's project, guaranteeing him $45,000 to stage 120 performances.

Irving Hall was not remodeled, but demolished in July 1888.  The new structure was completed before the end of the year.  It was, perhaps, G. B. Pelham's last work.  He died of a stroke on May 2, 1889.

The three-story Amberg Theatre was Pelham's take on Spanish Moorish architecture.  The Evening World called it "one of the handsomest houses in the city."  Patrons passed through two grand arches framed in carved stone.  A romantic cast iron balcony at the third floor was roofed in Spanish tiles, and two picturesque faux bell towers perched upon the corners.  Capable of seating 1,528 people, the Amberg Theatre boasted "thirty proscenium boxes," according to the Record & Guide, and was electrically lighted.  The curtain had been designed by artist Karl Geiger of Vienna, Austria.

The venue opened on December 1, 1888 with the operetta Fortunio's Lied.  The Evening World reported, "The new house is said to be absolutely fireproof.  The staircases are of iron and stone, and the walls of fireproof brick.  Then there are fire-escapes on each side of the house, and twenty-one exits.  Mr. Amberg says that an audience can leave the building in from three to five minutes."

The Sun anticipated success for Amberg.  "The large company has been carefully picked, and the repertory of plays embraces the best German things to be had in this country."   But the newspaper was wrong.

Less than three years later, on June 4, 1891, a "stormy" meeting of Amberg's backers was held.  Three, William Steinway, William H. Jackson and John Weber, were infuriated about the net losses of $75,000 since the opening.  The Sun reported that a "new syndicate of prominent and public-spirited German-American citizens" had been formed to run the theater, including wealthy Germans like Steinway, Theodore A. Havemeyer, Jacob  H. Schiff and George Ehret.  At least for now, Gustav Amberg was retained as the salaried manager.  The Sun said, "The house will open in September, and there will be no lowering of its old standard of meritorious and diversified performances of operas and plays in the German language."

Under Amberg's management the venue continued to flounder financially.  So, in 1892 William Steinway met with Austrian-born theater manager Heinrich Conried, and convinced him to take control.  The following year, on May 1, the name of the venue was changed to the Irving Place Theatre.

Under Conreid's management, things turned around.  Julius Cahn's Official Theatrical Guide of 1897 called the Irving Place Theatre, "the most prominent German theatre that the city boasts of...where the best German company in the United States can be seen."  Ticket prices ranged from 35 cents general admission, to $1.50 orchestra seats (the most expensive being about $50 today).

Along with classic plays, Conreid staged works of playwrights unknown in America.  Years later The Argonaut would recall, "He was ever vigilant in search for new material.  The new playwrights--Sudermann, Fulda, Bleihtren and Hauptmann--were made familiar at the Irving Place Theatre before they known to the English stage."  It was here where several of Henrik Ibsen's plays were first staged in America.  On April 12, 1896, for instance, his The Doll House opened here.

The Argonaut said:

From the very outset, therefore, the Irving Place Theatre became unique and synonymous with all that was artistic.  People knew that they could depend on seeing really noteworthy plays.  An evening spent there was in the way of an intellectual treat.  And more than that, Conried succeeded in unifying his German audiences.  Night after night they came, until they began to regard themselves as one big family.  They visited each other between the acts, and when the play was over they went to Luchow's for supper and to exchange opinions.  Over the beer, of an evening, one could see the critic, the actor, and those interested in the welfare of the German Theatre.  It was as near the Continental idea as one could get in New York.

In 1903 Heinrich Conried was recruited to succeed Maurice Grau as the manager of the Metropolitan Opera.  Otto Weil took over as manager of the Irving Place Theatre.  His views could not have been more different than those of his predecessor.  Sweeping changes soon came.  In its September 1908 issue, The Theatre noted, "Realizing that the German-speaking public in this city is more keenly interested in the lighter forms of art than in the works of the more tragic and classic repertory, Mr. Weill has announced his intention of confining his productions to comedy and farce."  The article added, "He has completely reorganized the Irving Place company.

Famed Art Nouveau artist Mucha designed the cover of this 1907 playbill.  

Real trouble came with America's entry into World War I.  Anti-German sentiment swept over the country and German businesses and citizens with German surnames became targets of vitriol.   On June 6, 1918, the New-York Tribune reported, "Preliminary steps to stop the production of plays in German theatres of New York were taken yesterday by members of the Intimate Committee for the Severance of Enemy relationship."  A letter had been sent to the Irving Place Theatre "to cease further productions in the enemy tongue."

Two months later, on August 21, the New-York Tribune reported, "The Irving Place Theatre, once the home of German drama, has been leased by Maurice Schwartz, and will be devoted hereafter to Yiddish plays."  Some of the most recognized names in the Yiddish theater appeared on its stage over the next few years.  In October 1920 the play Hard To Be a Jew by humorist Scholem Aleichem, called the "Jewish Mark Twain," was staged here, for instance.

A stark change came in 1922 when the Irving Place Theatre was converted to a burlesque venue, although Yiddish plays were still staged at least through 1927 (Dostoyevsky's The Idiot opened on March 25 that year in Yiddish, for instance).

Reginald Marsh depicted a scene titled Irving Place Burlesque in 1930.  from the collection of the Whitney Museum.

By 1934, motion pictures were being screened here along with live performances.  That summer a strike of the "film employees" of the Theatrical Protective Union was held.  Then, on April 16, 1938, The New York Times reported that owner Judge Thomas C. T. Crain had leased the building to a new tenant, mentioning "it has been in the Crain family for more than a century and one time was one of the finest legitimate houses in the city."  The article noted that the renters "intend to modernize the building for motion pictures and stage shows."

The theater in 1938.  photograph by Berenice Abbott, from the collection of the New York Public Library

Almost a year to the day later, on April 11, 1939, The New York Times reported on the screening of Il Grande Appello (The Last Roll-Call), "with which the old Irving Place Theatre is beginning what Clemente Giglio hopes will be a series of first-run Italian films."  His hopes were not to be.  In 1940 the venue was converted to the New Irving Place Theatre, a cooperative theater.  The venture by the Merely Players, described by The New York Times as "a group of youthful actors," drew the wrath of unions, who picketed outside.  In response, a placard was posted that read:

We are a young cooperative group, pro-labor to a man, anxious to create jobs for ourselves and the union.  Because our ideas and talent are worthy, we are working on a cooperative basis to get your support.  By helping us you will make jobs for the union as well as for all of us.

By the onset of World War II the Irving Place Theatre was exclusively a motion picture theater.  Many of the films were war-related propaganda.  On January 3, 1942, for instance, The New York Times reported, "Revivals of Wings of Victory and Edge of the World, have started a week's engagement at the Irving Place Theatre."  And on September 12, the newspaper reviewed Scorched Earth, saying "it gives a harrowing impression of Japanese depredations in China."

Renovations that transformed the theater into a warehouse made in 1962 included the boxing-in of the towers.  photo by Edmund Vincent Gillon

On January 21, 1962, The New York Times reported, "The Irving Place Theatre, where Ibsen's plays were introduced to New York, will become an adjunct of S. Klein on the Square."  The article explained, "It is being converted into a warehouse."  The auditorium, "which until recently had been nearly intact, is being stripped of its boxes, balcony, gallery, ornate plasterwork and ornamental molded metal ceiling."  Architect Fred L. Liebmann was responsible for the renovations, which included 
dissecting the auditorium to three floors.

photo by Jim Henderson

The structure survived until 1984, demolished for the block-engulfing Zeckendorf Towers, completed in 1987.

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Saturday, June 25, 2022

The Proctor & Company Building - 5 East 20th Street

The cafe-chocolate shop L. A. Burdick was in the ground floor space in 2010.  photo by Beyond My Ken

Around 1850 broker and bookseller John Paine sold the vacant lot at 5 East 20th Street to William V. Brady, who erected a two-story stable on the plot.  Brady was a postmaster whose home was far downtown on Cedar Street, so this was not his private carriage house, but almost assuredly a livery stable.

Elias Smith Higgins purchased the building around 1860 and enlarged it with a large extension to the rear.   Livery stables commonly assisted their customers in selling used vehicles.  An advertisement in the New York Herald on December 17, 1871 offered:  "For sale--A double sleigh, but little used; will be sold cheap; also Bells and double Harness.  Apply at stable, No. 5 East Twentieth street."  And four years later a customer advertised, "A New Peter's Brougham for Sale--No. 5 East Twentieth street."

The second floor held both storage and living accommodations.  In 1878-79 John Corbet and Robert Musgrove, both coachmen, were listed as living here.

As the turn of the century neared, the vintage stable was converted for business.  As early as 1892 Proctor & Company's East India House operated from the ground floor.  The home decorating store imported high-end furniture, bric-a-brac and textiles from Europe.

The Jewish Messenger, August 26, 1892 (copyright expired)

In 1893, Elias Higgins's son, Eugene, hired architect R. F. Bloomer to enlarge the building again.  A third story and an rear extension greatly increased the interior square footage.

Proctor & Company was still in the building in 1897, sharing it with a shop selling "Japanese fancy goods," and A. L. Bogart Company, electrical contractors.  On September 9 that year, The Electrical Engineer said Bogart was "well known in the electrical field."

Eugene Higgins brought in architect John L. Jordan to give the building a stylish makeover in 1901.  A new storefront was installed for Louis Struever, who had just signed a 10-year lease, and the upper stories received a new metal cornice and pressed metal window decorations.  Even the columns flanking the middle window on the top floor were simply rolled sheet metal.  The renovations resulted in the former livery stable receiving a charming French personality.

Louis Struever most likely 
had much input into the design.  He and his brother, Emil, were well known café proprietors.  (Emil's was at 876 Broadway.)

It appears, however, that Struever's café did not succeed.  On September 15, 1904 John Bohling took over the lease.  While he listed his business as "restaurant," it appears it was a tavern that also served food.  When Bohling went out of business in 1913, an auction was held of the "saloon fixtures."

The post-World War I years saw a completely new list of tenants in the building.  In 1920 M. Rabinowitz moved his stationery store in.  He had been in business since 1905, originally located at 108 Fifth Avenue.  The same year the Art Lamp Shade Studios moved into the building from 1 East 13th Street.  And in 1921 the toy company Invincible Importing Co. leased the second floor.  In its January 1922 issue, Toys and Novelties explained that the firm was only several months old, but "It grew so rapidly that they had to find larger quarters and were fortunate in securing show rooms at 5 East 20th Street, near Broadway."  The article said, "Manager Hersfeld has been spending many nights working like a beaver to have everything in the new lines of imported and domestic toys ready for buyers."

Toys and Novelties, March 1922 (copyright expired)

The little building continued to see a variety of tenants.  The M. Rabinowitz stationery store was closed in bankruptcy in 1934, and in 1939 the Blackshaw Press, Inc. operated from one of the upper floors.  The firm published popular novels like H. B. Liebler's 1939 Moccasin Tracks, and the 1940 The Alleghenians by Frederic Brush.

Jane Products operated from the building in the 1970's, offering novelties like a French policeman's whistle, perfect "for hailing cabs or scaring mashers," according to New York Magazine on December 7, 1970.

As the neighborhood transformed to the trendier Flatiron District, chef Cyril Renaud opened Fleur de Sel here in November 2000.  The New York Times food critic Florence Fabricant noted, "The concise menu has a decidedly French focus, as does the décor, enlivened with his watercolor interpretations of Impressionist paintings."

Fleur de Sel was replaced by a café and chocolate shop, L. A. Burdick.  Not merely a candy store, its owner Larry Burdick hosted a "discussion about chocolate, with a tasting" with Sepp Schoenbaechler of Felchlin Chocolate in Switzerland in September 2011.

In 2017 The Hudson Company opened its flagship shop at 5 East 20th Street.  Based in upstate New York, the firm markets reclaimed and custom hardwood flooring, beams and paneling.

Today there are three apartments in the upper floors.  Sadly, John L. Jordan's cost savings 1901 renovations have not withstood the ravages of time and weather well.  The pressed metal cartouches and the rolled sheet metal columns are badly dented, and one capital has fallen away.   Scaffolding on the building in 2022 gives promise that, perhaps, a restoration is underway.

photographs by the author
many thanks to Laurie Gwen Shapiro for inspiring this post
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Friday, June 24, 2022

Hook & Ladder Company 3 (Water Tower No. 2) - 108 East 13th Street


In the pre-Civil War years the volunteer Friendship Hook and Ladder Company, No. 12, operated from 78 East 13th Street (renumbered 108 East 13th Street in 1866).  In January 1865 a bill was introduced in the State Senate to establish a professional fire department.  The New York Times noted it "has created a great excitement in fire circles, and among the better class of firemen it is not very favorably received."  Nevertheless, the Metropolitan Fire Department was formed and in July 1865 the transfer of property of the volunteer houses to the department was documented.

The inventory was meticulous.  Among the items being passed to Hook and Ladder Company 3 (which would be formally organized on September 11 that year) were "one truck, ladders, four axes," and "forty-five chairs, five broken chairs, one table."  Keeping the names of the original ten members of the company straight may have been challenging--three were named James and five were John.

The old firehouse was showing its age at the end of World War I.  On February 11, 1919 the Fire Commissioner sent a request to the board of Estimate and Apportionment to approve plans "for alterations and repairs to the quarters of Hook and Ladder Company No. 3 at 108 East 13th street."  The cost of the renovations was estimated at $3,375 (about $50,500 today).

The days of horse-drawn trucks was quickly drawing to a close, and repairs to the vintage structure could not accommodate motorized vehicles.  In 1928 the Victorian building was demolished and architect John R. Sliney drew plans for a modern firehouse on the site.  Completed the following year, his two-story design drew on the waning Arts & Crafts style.  The vast truck bay was outlined in rusticated stone that rose to a segmental arch.  Shallow, full height piers rose to a stone entablature and cornice, above which was a stepped parapet.

Mayor James J. Walker presided over the opening ceremonies on October 8, 1929, during which Edward J. Kenny presented the company with two searchlight trucks.  Kenny, who was an honorary deputy chief, gave the equipment in memory of his father, Battalion Chief Thomas A. Kenny.  A newspaper reported, "The searchlights were set in action by Mayor Walker, who turned their 3,700 watts each on the taller buildings in that neighborhood."  The article added, "The new firehouse is occupied by H & L Co. 3, Water Tower No. 2 and the Chief of the 6th Battalion.  It is of standard design and replaces a very old structure on that site for many years."

Among the firefighters here in 1936 was James H. Martin, a 30-year veteran.  On September 28 the New York Post reported, "Ever since he can remember, young Artie Martin has wanted to b e a fireman just like his father.  Well, he's a fireman today."  A bachelor, Arthur Martin lived with his parents in the Bronx, but he would be seeing a lot more of his father now.  The article said, "Father and son shook hands on it when the boy was assigned to Hook and Ladder No. 3 at 108 East Thirteenth Street, where the senior Martin is stationed."

Personal danger is part of a firefighter's everyday life.  That was reflected on New Year's Eve 1946 when Hook and Ladder Company 3 responded to a four-alarm fire at 749 Broadway.  Seven firefighters were trapped when the fourth floor of the seven-story loft building collapsed, "apparently from the weight of water poured in to fight the blaze," reported The New York Sun.  Among them was Captain George H. Winter of Hook and Ladder Company 3.  It would take seven and a half hours to pull the last of the men out.   In all 31 firefighters were injured, three of them, including Winter, critically.

The fire trucks were fueled from a 550-gallon gasoline storage tank on the premises.  The men of both companies launched into action early on the morning of August 31, 1950.  The  Yonkers, New York Herald Statesman reported "A Manhattan fire company fought a stubborn blaze on its own premises early today...The blaze, of undetermined origin, was confined to the basement of a firehouse at 108 East 13th Street."  Happily, the fire was extinguished before it reached the storage tank.

The firehouse was the scene of a horrifying incident on July 24, 1963.  What evolved into "a savage feud," as worded by the Long Island Star-Journal between Hondo T. Barimm and Qani Saraci had begun years earlier in their homeland of Albania.  The intense hatred between the two culminated that afternoon at 2:30 when Barimm walked out of his apartment house and noticed Saraci on the street.  Police later recounted that "Barimm drew his automatic and Saraci fled south on Third avenue with Barimm, gun in hand, in hot pursuit."

After ducking behind parked cars in a parking lot, Saraci fled into the East 13th Street firehouse.  Firefighter Olin Blair was on watch at the desk when, "Suddenly Saraci and Barimm raced into the firehouse, and Barim fired a shot which mortally wounded Saraci as it ripped into his left eye."  As the dying man sought cover under a ladder truck, Barimm pulled out a knife and began "to hack at Saraci's left ear," according to police.

Blair grabbed a crowbar and demanded that Barimann back off.  He told police later, "Barimm pointed the gun at me, but I had a feeling he wouldn't shoot."  In the meantime, another firefighter, Gustav Knoeckel lowered the bay door to prevent Barimmn's escape.  When police arrived, "Barimm surrendered meekly," according to the Long Island Star-Journal.  He was charged with homicide and held without bail in what newspapers called the "Vendetta Death."

An incinerator fire a few blocks from the firehouse ended in a dramatic scene on the morning of August 31, 1987.  Once back at the firehouse, the men got off the 40-foot ladder truck to help direct traffic as Firefighter Lawrence Brown prepared to back it into the bay.  The 36-year-old Brown told journalist Todd S. Purdum of The New York Times, "When I turned over my left shoulder, I saw one of our guys tumbling down and a guy in a van speeding off."  The driver had hit Firefighter Douglas C. Hantusch and fled the scene.  What he did not expect was that he would be pursued by a wailing firetruck.

Purdum wrote, "With the fire truck's lights blazing, Firefighter Brown sped west on 13th Street...Just west of Seventh Avenue, the fleeing motorist found himself blocked by a double-parked truck and gave up."  Brown climbed down from the truck, reached through the open window of the van, and switched off the ignition.  He held 20-year-old Michael P. Ottino until police arrived.  He was charged with leaving the scene of an accident and failing to yield to an emergency vehicle.

The most tragic day in the history of the firehouse came exactly 136 years to the day after the establishment of Hook and Ladder Co. 3.  At 8:46 on the morning of September 11, 2001, American Airlines Flight 11 crashed into the World Trade Center's North Tower.  Even before United Airlines Flight 175 hit the South Tower seventeen minutes later, the men of Hook and Ladder Company 3 had arrived on the scene.  When the North Tower collapsed at 10:28, 11 members of Hook and Ladder Company 3 were lost.

The company's heavily damaged firetruck was stored at JFK Airport for a decade, before being put on display at the 9/11 Memorial & Museum where it sits today.  The names of the hero firefighters are memorialized in bronze plaques on the exterior of 108 East 13th Street.

photos by the author
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Thursday, June 23, 2022

The 1848 Chauncey L. Norton House - 9 Charles Street


In the early 19th century, Greenwich Village expanded into what had been the 300-acre summer estate of Admiral Sir Peter Warren.   Charles Christopher Amos inherited a part of the Warren estate, and in 1819 Abraham Van Nest, president of the Greenwich Savings Bank, purchased the manor house.  The three ownerships would result in a confusing tangle of street names on the properties.  

Charles Amos named the road running through his property along the stretch of thoroughfare running from the Hudson River to Greenwich Avenue Charles Street, after himself.  But he named a single block, between Waverly Place and Greenwich Avenue, Warren Place in homage to Sr. Peter Warren.  And Amos further added to the confusion by giving a nod to Abraham Van Nest by christening the north side of one block of Charles Street--between Bleecker and West 4th Street--Van Nest Place.

Until 1819 the Eagle Mills occupied the north side of the Warren Street block.  That year it was purchased at auction by Najah Taylor and Nathaniel Richards, whose Eagle Distillery sat on part of the site.  In 1847, as Greenwich Village expanded into the area, the pair sold seven plots to men engaged in the building trades.

They erected four houses, 1 through 7 Warren Place, as a group.  Completed in 1848, their Greek Revival design were most likely drawn from style books.  And yet, their entranceways and stoop railings reflected the emerging Gothic Revival style.  The Gothic-paneled doors were enclosed by diamond-paned sidelights and transoms below square headed drip moldings.  The elements placed the houses on the cutting edge of domestic design.

On September 22, 1847, about the time construction began, Abraham Riker Lawrence purchased 5 Warren Place as the home of his daughter, Margaret Parslow Norton, and her family.  She was the wife of Chauncey L. Norton family.  The couple had three children, Abraham Riker Lawrence, Cecilia Augusta, and Margaret L.  Norton was connected with the Bank of the Union, on the corner of Broadway and Howard Streets.  Following the resignation of James R. Del Vecchio in 1854, Norton was elected its president.

Interestingly, the Nortons used the addresses 5 Warren Place and 5 Charles Street interchangeably until 1879.  That year the block officially became Charles Street and the house received the new address of 9 Charles Street.

On May 9, 1851, three years after the family moved into the house, Margaret Norton died after what the Mourning Courier and New-York Enquirer called "a short and severe illness."  She was just 30 years old.  Her funeral was held in the parlor the next afternoon.

The following year, on March 29, 6 year old Margaret died.  She was buried in Trinity Cemetery next to her mother.

Abraham Riker Lawrence died on August 3, 1863.  His nephew, Andrew Lawrence, produced a hand-written will dated December 1839, which left the entire estate to Lawrence's brothers and sisters, and to his nephew.  By now all of the heirs had died except Andrew Lawrence.  Noticeably omitted from the list of heirs were the Norton children, Abraham Lawrence's grandchildren.  And so, Chauncey Norton went to court, suggesting the will was a forgery.

Norton had a stake in the proceedings, as well.  The Charles Street house was still owned by Lawrence at the time of his death.  By the terms of the contested will, Lawrence's nephew would now be the legitimate owner.

The trial dragged on for months.  The New York Herald said, "In the course of the long and exhaustive trail before the Surrogate very great acrimony was exhibited between the contesting parties, and a number of exciting scenes occurred among the counsel, there being four or five lawyers on each side."  Acrimony was understandable, given the fact that defense claimed that Abraham Riker Lawrence had never married and that Margaret Norton was an illegitimate daughter, therefore, not entitled to a bequest.

Finally, a decision was announced on April 29, 1865.  Despite the absence of evidence to support "the existence of the marital relation between the decedent and the grandmother of the infant contestants," the court deemed the Norton children "the heirs at law and next of kin of decedent."  As a result, Abraham and Cecilia inherited equal shares of the Lawrence estate and the Norton family now owned their home.

Chauncey L. Norton died at the age of 66 on February 16, 1880.  Abraham, now a broker, remained in his childhood home until March 1894 when he sold it to Henry Schlobohm "for about $18,000" according to The New York Times.  The sale amount would be equivalent to around $560,000 today.

A milk merchant who also dabbled in real estate, Henry would have to leave his Charles Street house in 1898 when he was called to fight in the Spanish American War.  (It would not be until 1916 that the Government granted him a $24 per month pension for his action.)

Henry consistently received mail and packages intended for 9 Van Nest Place.  In 1900, he and a group of neighbors finally  had had enough of the Van Nest Place confusion.  On October 2 they signed a petition to the Board of Aldermen that said in part:

Van Nest place is practically unknown except to persons living in the immediate vicinity of the block bearing that name, and for that reason expressmen and all others having packages, letters or messages for delivery, upon inquiry for Van Nest place are invariably directed to Charles street, and told that Van Nest place and Charles street are the same, and therefore from the fact that there are two sets of numbers from No. 1 to No. 18 in that street, the delivery at the wrong house is frequently made.

The petitioners asked that the name Van Nest Place be discontinued and that portion of Charles Street be renumbered.  Unfortunately for them, it would not be until 1936 that the change was effected.

The former Norton house remained a single-family home until a renovation completed in 1971 converted it to apartments, two per floor.  At the same time, all of the surviving 1848 interior details, except for one or two Greek Revival mantels, were obliterated.

photographs by the author
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Wednesday, June 22, 2022

The John A. Squires House - 271 East 7th Street


image by the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation

No. 271 East 7th Street was one of a row of fine, brick-faced homes completed in 1843.  Like its identical neighbors, it was 22-feet-wide and three stories tall.  The full-height third floor, normally much shorter in Greek Revival houses, showed the influence of the emerging Italianate style.  The upscale tenor of the residence was reflected in costly extras, like the marble stoop.

Although situated in what was known as the Dry Dock District, just about a block from the East River shipbuilding area, the residents of 271 East 7th Street were not involved in that industry.  The rapid turnover of occupants suggests the house was initially rented.  Grocer Joseph Cobb and his family lived here from 1851 to 1852, followed by William Wells, a butcher, and his widowed mother Eliza in 1853 and '54.

In 1856 Edwin L. Tallmadge and his family moved in.  Listed as a carman, he was most likely the owner of a delivery firm, rather than merely being a driver.  He and his wife, Ann E. Tallmadge, had five children, Edwin Jr., Herbert H., Harry E. Willard P. and Ella A.  The family also took in a boarder, Elizabeth Elting, who taught in the Girls' Department of Public School No. 15 on Fifth Street.  The family would remain in the house until 1861, when Tallmadge sold it to a neighbor, John A. Squires.

The Squires family had lived half a block away at 298 Seventh Street (the East would be added decades later).  John and his wife, the former Mary R. Nevins, had two sons, John H. and Joseph H.  A third, Robert A. Squires would be born in 1864.

At some point Squires updated the Greek Revival house with Second Empire elements--a slate-shingled mansard with two dormers and lacy iron cresting, and arch-paneled doors within a modernized entrance now bereft of the Greek Revival framing.

The family had barely settled in before trouble arose.  Among their domestic staff was Julia Madden.  On February 25, 1861, she bundled up "wearing apparel, furs, jewelry and money to the amount of $75," according to the New York Express, "and decamped with the plunder."  When police went to her home at 15 Baxter Street, they found the stolen goods.  On March 12, the New-York Daily Tribune reported, ""Julia Madden, a young girl of 17, in the employ as servant-maid of Mary R. Squires...pleaded guilty."  She was sent to the State Penitentiary for two years.

John A. Squires was a partner in the painting firm of Hogg & Squires.  The partnership was dissolved on September 11, 1865, with a notice in the New York Herald announcing "The business will be continued by John A. Squires."

Just over a week after taking over the establishment, John and his wife experienced heartbreak.  On September 21 their nine year old son, Joseph, died.  His funeral was held in the parlor three days later.

Following John H. Squire's marriage to Hannah Tyrie, the newlyweds moved into the East 7th Street house.  Interestingly, the bride brought along her two brothers, John and James, as well.  Her father-in-law took at least one of them, James, into the painting business.

At some point a studio window replaced the arched dormer window on the eastern half of the mansard.

The joy of a marriage soon dissolved into a string of tragedies.  On October 5, 1868 John J. Tyrie died at the age of 29.  His funeral was held in the house two days later.   A year and a half later, on May 4, 1870, John H. Squires died at the age of 22.

At the time of his brother's death, Robert A. Squires had just turned eight years old.  His father had changed his profession to the veneer business.  Robert was visiting his father's shop at 205 Lewis Street on July 13, 1871 when the unthinkable happened.  The New York Herald reported that he "was run over by one of the cars of the Belt Line Railroad at the corner of Lewis and Eighth streets and killed."  The funeral of the last of the Squires' sons was held in the house on July 16.

At some point Hannah Squires's sister, Cecelia, and her husband William A. Collyer moved into the East 7th Street house.  The string of sorrowful ceremonies continued when Cecelia's funeral was held on May 20, 1874.  She was 30 years old.  Only seven months later, another funeral was held in the parlor continued.  Mary R. Squires died on December 15, 1874 at the age of 48.  

John A. Squires sold his veneer factory two months later and presumably retired.  All three occupants of the East 7th Street house--John Squires, Hannah Squires, and William A. Collyer--were now all widowed.  John took in two boarders that year, Moses Sulzberger, a drygoods merchant, and his widowed mother, Babbette.  Almost unbelievably, Babbette died in her room on September 2, 1875 at the age of 69.  Yet again, a funeral was held in the parlor.

Moses Sulzberger remained with the family through 1880.  In 1881 John A. Squires moved to Piermont, New York and transferred title of 271 East 7th Street to William A. Collyer "during life of John A. Squires."  In 1886 he leased it to attorney Joseph Emanuel Newburger.  

Born in 1853, Newburger was a bachelor.  Moving in with him was his unmarried sister, Hannah (who ironically taught in the Boys' Department of Grammar School No. 15 where Elizabeth Elting had worked decades earlier), and his widowed mother, Lottie.  Aside from his legal practice, he was highly active in Jewish affairs.  He was a founder of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, president of the Independent Order of B'nai B'rith District No. 1 and president of the Hebrew Orphan Asylum among other activities.

Newburger was elected a City Court judge in 1890, and would become a Justice of the New York State Supreme Court in 1905.   His occupancy would start a tradition of judges in the East 7th Street house.

Joseph E. Newburger on commencement day at Columbia University in 1914.  from the collection of the Library of Congress (cropped)

John A. Squires died in April 1891 and the following year his estate sold the house to Charles Seligman for $16,000 (about $469,000 today). 

The Seligmans would remain in the house only until March 1901 when it was purchased by Justice Benjamin Hoffman "for his own occupancy," according to The Sun.  The judge and his wife, Rebecca, had four children, Belle, Eva, Ruth and Joseph Benjamin.  Before moving in, Hoffman hired the architectural firm of Rogers & Stander to do interior renovations, including "new windows, partitions and floors," according to their plans.  The updating cost Hoffman the equivalent of $37,700 in 2022 dollars.

The Hoffman girls were the center of social attention within the family.  On December 11, 1904, for instance, the New York Herald reported, "Mrs. Benjamin Hoffman will give a debutante tea for her daughter, Miss Belle Hoffman, at her residence, No. 271 Seventh street, to-day."

As they grew to be young women, debutante entertainments turned to weddings.  Eva's engagement to Nathan Ries was announced in November 1912, and Ruth's to Newton M. Shack came in September 1917.

By the time of Ruth's engagement, the Hoffmans had shared 271 East 7th Street with the David Lazarus and his wife, the former Molly Lemlein, for at least seven years.  The couple had two grown children, Bella and Lester.  Lazarus and Hoffman had a close professional connection.  While Judge Hoffman was the Sixth Assembly District leader of Tammany Hall (appointed in 1891), Lazarus served as his deputy.  In December 1910 Lazarus was elected to take Hoffman's seat.

A massive meeting was held in the Hoffman home in September 1918.  The Evening Telegram reported on a bronze tablet to be placed in Hamilton Fish Park honoring the East Side "soldier boys who have fallen on French battlefields."  The article noted, "This was decided at a representative meeting of 100 residents of the east side, including the mothers of the heroes, held at the home of Judge Benjamin Hoffman."

Somewhat ironically, when Joseph E. Newburger's first term as Supreme Court justice was ending, Benjamin Hoffman established the Newburger Club to promote his candidacy for reelection.  The Sun reported on August 11, 1919, "It was started at a meeting of East Side citizens at 271 East Seventh street, where the headquarters will be."

When women obtained the right to vote in 1920, Rebecca Hoffman stepped up.  She was appointed co-leader of the Sixth Assembly District with her husband, who had regained the seat.  Always active in politics, she had helped found the Progress Relief Society in 1895, and still served as an officer.

Benjamin Hoffman suffered a fatal stroke on May 20, 1922 at the age of 58.  The New York Herald mentioned, "Recently he had been working on rent cases and had disregarded the warnings of his physician that he lessen his labors on the bench."  His funeral was held in the house on May 22.  Among the several judges to serve as pallbearers was David Lazarus.

Hoffman's death left the position as Tammany leader of the Sixth Assembly District unfilled.  Lester Lazarus, who was still living with his parents in the East 7th Street house, was a Deputy Assistant District Attorney.  He was appointed to replace Benjamin Hoffman as Assembly leader on July 28, 1922.  The New York Herald mentioned, "The salary is $9,000 a year.  He formerly received $4,000 a year as Deputy Assistant District Attorney."  His new salary would equal about $139,000 today.  

Rebecca Hoffman was still the district's co-leader, and following her husband's death, she became even more active in politics.  That year she served as a delegate to the Democratic National Convention, and would do so again in 1924 and 1928.  When she ran for reelection as Register of New York County in 1928, Mayor James Walker deemed her, "the queen of the ticket."   The Elmira Star-Gazette said, "When she came to office, at a salary of $12,000 a year, she was the highest paid woman public official in the state, and one of the highest in the country."

Rebecca Hoffman, Elmira Star-Gazette, June 18, 1931

She held that position until her death on June 16, 1931.  In reporting her death, The New York Sun commented, "For thirty-five years she had made her home at 271 Seventh street, known as Political Row."

The entire Lazarus family continued on at 271 East 7th Street and at their summer home in Rockaway Park.  On August 7, 1933 The New York Sun reported on David's 75th birthday, noting that he spent "fifty of them in the Tammany organization."  He was now a Commissioner of Records in the Surrogate's Court.  

The mansard was undergoing work in June 2022. 

It is unclear when the Lazaruses left the East 7th Street house.  It was seemingly being operated as a rooming house by 1937.  Although it has never been officially converted to a multi-family building, today it holds five apartments.

photographs by the author
many thanks to reader Joe Ciolino for prompting this post
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