Saturday, December 3, 2016

The Stephen C. Clark Mansion - Nos. 42-46 East 70th St

Although his grandfather, Edward C. Clark, had been passionately involved in the development of the Upper West Side (including the construction of The Dakota Flats); Stephen Carlton Clark chose the opposite side of Central Park as the site for his new mansion in 1910.

Born in Cooperstown, New York in 1882, Clark was married to the former Susan Vanderpoel Hun.  The couple had three sons, Alfred Corning, Robert Vanderpool. and Stephen Carlton. Jr., and a daughter, Elizabeth.  Immensely wealthy, Clark was a director in the Singer Sewing Machine Company, co-founded by his grandfather, and in other corporations.

The block of East 70th Street between Madison and Park Avenues was lined with high-stooped brownstones in the 19th century.  The Union Theological Seminary was also located on the block and in 1897 remodeled the abutting house at No. 46 into a "commodious modern residence" for the it's new President, Rev. Charles Cuthbert Hall.

Hall and his family lived comfortably in the handsome home until 1909, when the Seminary relocated.  On Christmas Day 1909 The New York Times announced that "the remaining portion of the Union Theological Seminary property, consisting of three dwellings...known as 42, 44 and 46 East Seventieth" had been sold.

The following year, on October 29, The Real Estate Record & Builders' Guide noted that "jewelry and diamond merchant," Louis Morris Starr had commissioned architects Tracy, Swartwout & Litchfield to design a mansion on the site, "to cost in the neighborhood of $125,000."

Starr apparently changed his mind.

It was, instead, Stephen C. Clark who would erect a massive mansion here.  The Record & Guide noted on August 19, 1911 that plans had been filed by Frederick Junius Sterner.  The projected cost would translate to about $2.57 million in 2016.

The house was completed a year later.  Rising six stories, it was like no other residence in New York City.  Sterner earned a reputation by transforming outdated brownstones into modern, sometimes quirky, takes on romantic architectural styles--Tudor, Gothic and Mediterranean fantasies, for example.  There would be nothing whimsical, however, about the neo-Jacobean Clark mansion.

Faced in ruddy brick laid in Flemish bond with burned headers to suggest age, the symmetrical facade was highlighted by vast leaded openings, and an imposing Tudor-style entrance flanked by octagonal brick-and-stone buttresses.  Two stone figures topped the Flemish gables.

While Clark went about his busy schedule (he had been elected to the New York State Assembly in 1910).  Susan Clark was actively involved in charitable causes, most notably those connected with the Cathedral of St. John the Divine.

The Clark family maintained a summer estate in Stephen's hometown of Cooperstown.   He and his brother, Edward Severin Clark, built the Otesaga Resort Hotel there in 1909, the he was President of the Leather Stocking Corporation, based in Cooperstown, which directed the Clark enterprises.

Later Clark would found the Farmers Museum in Cooperstown, and in 1945 would donate the Fenimore House as the headquarters of the State Historical Association, of which he was Chairman of the Board.

The East 70th Street mansion would seem to have been designed for grand entertainments like balls and dinners.  But Susan's entertaining was, in seems, almost exclusively related to her charitable works.  For years the residence was the scene of the Cathedral Sewing Class and meetings of the Fresh Air Association of St. John the Divine.

The Fresh Air Association ran the House of Saint John the Divine, a facility encompassing about 30 acres on the Hudson River near Tomkins Cove.  Its purpose was "to promote the physical and spiritual welfare of the poor in the City of New York' to care for the sick, the young, the aged and disable; to minister to the needs of mothers and children during the hot summer months."

More than 500 mothers and their children would stay for about two weeks at a time each year.  The organization also ran "a well equipped boy's camp" on the property.

The Cathedral Sewing Class was related to the Fresh Air Association, and provided all the clothes worn by the children at the House during the summer.  Similarly, in February 1921 Susan Clark held the first meeting of the Clothing Committee of St. Luke's Hospital in the mansion.  During that meeting, according to the New-York Tribune on February 13, "Miss Rachael Jane Hamilton will sing songs on costume."

While Susan conducted her charity work, Stephen had offered his services to the country during World War I.  In 1922 he received a Distinguished Service Medal for his services as a lieutenant-colonel in the Adjutant General's Department.

All the while the Clarks collected art.  The 70th Street house was filled with masterpieces by Rembrandt, Renoir, Cezanne, van Gogh, Degas, Hals, Picasso, El Greco, Seurat, Corot, and Braque. Deemed by The New York Times as "long known in the art world as a collector of discrimination," Stephen Clark assembled an important collection of works by Henri Matisse.

Millionaires' mansions were highly-private domains, rarely glimpsed by those outside of the highest social circles.  In a highly-unusual move, in 1926 the Clark home was opened to the public.  On December 5 The New York Times reported "Mrs. Stephen C. giving the use of her house on Wednesday, from 10:30 A. M. to 6 in the afternoon, for a sale of articles made by blind men and women who are cared for by the Society for the Relief of the Destitute Blind."

And with the onslaught of the Great Depression, the mansion was opened again.  On November 16 and 17, 1932 the public was invited to view the Matisse collection for $2 admission.  The funds were to benefit Hope Farm, a community school for needy boys and girls in Dutchess County New York.

The Matisses hung in a room on the top floor of the mansion, "devoted entirely to that artist."  In various rooms on the lower floors, a sale of holiday gifts was conducted, including toys, home-made jellies and marmalade, infant clothing and similar articles.

The exhibition was so successful that it was repeated in April 1933 to assist the jobless.  Over the next few years the  Clarks' Matisse collection would be shown several times to benefit Depression Era charities, like the Unemployment Relief Fund.

It was about this time an old baseball came into Clark's possession.  He put it on display in the Cooperstown village library with other baseball paraphernalia in 1937.  The collection caught the attention of the President of the National League (later Baseball Commissioner) Ford Frick, who suggested a permanent hall to commemorate the game and hits heroes.  Stephen C. Clark donate the funds to erect the Baseball Hall of Fame, opened in 1939.

By now Clark was Chairman of the Board of the Museum of Modern Art and a Director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, a trustee of St. Luke's and Roosevelt Hospitals, and a director of the New York Trust Company.

He had also founded the Clark Foundation in 1931 to direct his several interests like the Fenimore Art Museum and the Farmers' Museum.  The Foundation's work in New York City still offers grants to organizations "that help people out of poverty."

The Clark children married and left the East 70th Street mansion.  Stephen Jr.'s engagement to Nancy Young Wickes was announced on April 11, 1934; Elizabeth's engagement to Henry R. Labouisse Jr. was announced the following year; and in 1939 Robert V. Clark married Suzanne de Lasalle Hiteman.  Alfred Corning Clark became engaged to Dorothy Tweedy Potter in April 1941.

In the summer of 1952 Robert and his wife were visiting his parents at their Cooperstown estate.  Robert was suddenly afflicted with "a spinal ailment" and taken to a nearby hospital.  The 32-year old died on August 27.

On September 17, 1960 Stephen Carlton Clark died in the 70th Street house at the age of 78.  His important art collection was donated, in part, to his alma mater, Yale University, and to the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC.  But the majority was divided between the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Museum of Modern Art.

In 1965 the Clark mansion was acquired by the Explorers' Club, founded in 1904.  Among the club's impressive roster of members over the decades were Robert E. Peary, Richard Evelyn Yeager, Neil Armstrong, Charles A. Lindberg, Lowell Thomas, Sir Edmund Hillary, Theodore Roosevelt, Sally Ride, and Eric Shipton.

The interiors were carefully preserved, and the walls were now appropriately hung with valuable paintings reflecting the club's legacy.   Albert Operti's Rescue at Camp Clay depicts the 1884 rescue of the scientific expedition of Adolphus W. Greely in 1884.  Commissioned by the United States Government to hang in the Capitol, it was acquired by the Club in 1946.  It is only one of dozens of Operti's works displayed in the clubhouse, including his memorial portrait of Robert E. Peary.

Also represented in the collection are Arctic paintings by artists like Frank Wilbert Stokes and Tappan Adney.  The mansion houses other artifacts, as well--Thor Heyerdahl's globe from the Kon-Tiki; polar bear mittens worn by Matthew Henson on the first successful expedition to the North Pole; and a replica of a Yeti scalp.

Few casual passersby would guess that the remarkable building at Nos. 42-46 East 70th Street was once a private home.  Through its careful treatment of the mansion, the Explorers' Club has preserved the Clark mansion as a fascinating survivor of the glittering Edwardian era.

photographs by the author

Friday, December 2, 2016

The 1828 No. 30 Water Street

At high tide during the 18th century, the East River washed over the roadway that ran along its banks; earning Water Street its name.  Subsequent land fill would push the riverfront more than a block away.  But in 1747 when Hendrick Remsen purchased most of the block front from  Broad Street to Coenties Slip from the Van Horne family, he was buying waterfront property.

In 1828 Edward Remsen, Hendrick’s great grandson, partnered with Obadiah Holmes to construct three matching Federal style buildings at Nos. 26 through 30 Water Street.  The four-story commercial structures were faced in Flemish bond red brick with brownstone trim.  The plain fascia boards and cornices of Federal buildings were commonly made of wood.  Here, however, they were executed in brick.  Before not very long, most likely in the 1840s, a granite Greek Revival storefront was added. 

Michael Viola was doing business from No. 30 Water Street around that time.  The river front neighborhood was a rough one.  When Viola was walking past the corner of Dover Street, a few blocks north of his business, on Sunday November 3, 1845, he ran into serious trouble.

The New York Herald reported later that day that “about noon today, he was grossly insulted by some boys who made use of the most abusive language to him, and on taking hold of one of them, the young rowdy immediately drew and knife and stabbed Viola in the lower part of the left groin, severing an artery.” 

The street toughs escaped while Michael Viola lay bleeding profusely on the sidewalk.  Deputy Coroner “Mr. Milliken” was summoned and he had Viola transported to the City Hospital.  The Herald reported “His life however is despaired of, in consequent of the great loss of blood which he sustained before he was taken to the Hospital.”

The following day, however, the New-York Tribune reported heartening news.  “We learned yesterday afternoon by inquiring at the Hospital that Michael Viola, who was stabbed Sunday in a quarrel with some boys in Water-street and who was reported to have died yesterday morning, is still alive with every prospect of recovery.”  By the time of the Tribune’s report, Frederick May, who went by the street name “Flukes,” had been arrested as an accessory to the assault.

In 1869 James McCombie ran his wholesale produce business at No. 30.  He had full trust in his bookkeeper, David F. Wright.  But in the spring of that year he discovered his trust had been ill-advised.  It all started on March 12 when he left two signed, blank checks with Wright.  One was to pay a cartman’s bill of $10, and the other to pay supplier Van Bokkelsen’s open invoice of $56.  David Wright, instead, made the first check out payable to “cash” in the amount of $1,100; and the next day did the same with the second check, this time in the amount of $363.  The total amount of the fraudulent checks the bookkeeper cashed would amount to more than $26,000 in 2016.

But he was not done yet.  The following day, March 14, James McCombie was absent from the office.  He complained in court that while he was gone Wright “procured a cartman and took and stole from him 106 packages of butter, valued at $3,000, which he secreted in a store, on West and Washington streets.”

Wright was arrested at his home and “denied each and every general allegation.”  Nevertheless, he was able to pay his $7,500 bail, around $135,000 today, supposedly on his bookkeeper’s salary.

Hardware dealers Reilly & Guy Company were listed in the building at least by 1894.  Various tenants in the upper floors through the coming years included architect John V. Knoth whose office was here by 1910.

Reilly & Guy Company moved to White Hall Street in the first years of the 20th century; but the firm would be back in 1921 when it shared a lease on the entire building with the recently-formed W. D. Blood & Co.  Incorporated in 1918, W. D. Blood & Co. was formed to export “American manufactures in foreign fields, especially automotive and hardware manufactures,” as reported by Automotive Industries on May 22, 1919.

Wilfred D. Blood in 1919.  Automotive Journal, June 1919 (copyright expired)
W. D. Blood & Co. was still at No. 30 Water Street in 1931, when it took over the export business of the Motor Wheel Corporation.  In the 1930s the firm was no longer exporting merely automotive hardware, but “automotive vehicles,” as mentioned by The New York Times in 1938.  The increased growth had forced the company to move to larger quarters on Whitehall Street by then.

In 1943 ship chandlers I. K. General Marine Contracting Corporation took over the building.  But change was coming to Water Street in the second half of the century as the Financial District edged closer to the waterfront.  The gritty blocks around the docks slowly became the lunchtime haunts of tie-wearing brokers rather than merchant mariners.  In 1969 No. 30 was converted to an “eating and drinking” establishment on the first through third floors.  City documents noted “fourth and attic floors to remain vacant.”

Despite the noticeable change to Water Street, and to the other two of Remsen’s and Holmes’s 1828 buildings, No. 30 retains much of its original flavor.

photograph by the author

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Our Lady of Sorrows School -- No. 219 Stanton Street

By the middle of the 19th century thousands of German immigrants had settled in New York’s Lower East Side.  In 1857 only Berlin and Vienna had larger German populations.  That year Rev. Bonaventure Frey founded Our Lady of Sorrows parish for the area’s German Catholics.

Construction on a permanent church building at No. 105 Pitt Street began in 1867 and was completed the following year.  In 1873 the trustees obtained the lots next to the church building, extending to Stanton Street, as the site of a school.

Another German immigrant, J. William Schickel, was given the commission to design the building.  Known professionally as William Schickel, he had arrived in New York just four years earlier at the age of 20.   Trained in Bavaria, he designed Our Lady of Sorrows School in the Victorian Gothic style popularized by John Ruskin. The plans, filed on February 13, 1874 called for a “four-story brick school house.”  It was an understated description.

Construction progressed rapidly and was completed before the end of the year.  On December 14 the church ladies staged a “grand fair” in the hall of the school to offset the construction costs.  Church fairs were a common means of fund-raising in the 19th century; and The New York Herald said “a number of tables well covered with objects of art and virtu will surround the spacious hall, and tasteful draping depend from the walls and ceiling.”  The newspaper reported that the shopper could find articles “some of great value and rare curiosity, and there is little doubt that with the efficient corps of lady attendants the fair will be an entire success.”

Five stories tall including the mansard roof, the red brick structure was trimmed in limestone.  Ruskin’s influence appeared in the polychromatic alternating of stone and brick over the openings.  The slate-shingled mansard was punctuated by a row of delightful, stone-faced dormers; a centered gable on the Pitt Street elevation; and pyramidal corner caps.  At the fourth floor a stirring sculpture of the Virgin and Child perched below an ornate Gothic canopy.  Internally, the structure was essentially two buildings.  Girls entered on Pitt Street, while boys used the entrance at No 219 Stanton Street. 

The stenciled transom over former boys' entrance on Stanton Street survives.

The Catholic students from the surrounding tenements were expected, of course, to attend Our Lady of Sorrows Church.  That meant getting up hours before sunrise, at least for their First Communion mass on November 7, 1886.  The New York Times reported that the high mass commenced at 5:30 a.m.  “After the mass 100 little girls robed in white, with veils and flowers, 60 small boys in black clothes and red sashes, 30 other boys, and the clergy marched through the aisles of the church.”

The school hall of Our Lady of Sorrows was used for various events.  On Monday, November 15 that year, for example, the St, Aloysius Sodality, a men’s fraternal organization of the church, gave a “musical and dramatic entertainment” to benefit the purchase of a bell for the tower of the new Church of Our Lady of Angels far north on 113th Street.

Like the church, Our Lady of Sorrows School was run by the Capuchin Fathers.  On February 14, 1888 The Evening World reported on the status of the facility, saying it was “now in a most prosperous condition.”  At the time of the article the boys’ school had an enrollment of 352 and the girls’ school 450.  The difference in “average daily attendance” could be explained by the need for young boys to find work rather than attend school, in order to help with family finances.

The school hall was the scene of a reunion of sorts on May 2, 1915.  The New-York Tribune reported that “Present and former inhabitants of Pitt Street foregathered to swap reminiscences in the old school hall…last night.  The meeting, which was termed ‘A Monster Smoker and Oldtimers’ Night,’ was under the direction of the St. Aloysius Young Men’s Benevolent Association.  A vaudeville show and refreshments enlivened the evening.”

As late as the 1970s the dormers and the delightful cast iron finials of the roof survived.  photo from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York

The hulking Victorian building served the Pitt Street neighborhood into the 21st century.  Then, in January 2011, it was closed by Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan.  The building was converted for the Cooke Center for Learning and Development.  A non-profit provider of special education services for students aged 5 through 21, it also provides consulting and training services.

 photographs by the author

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

The 1861 S. B. Althause Bldg -- No. 19 Mercer Street

The side pilasters were once adorned with Corinthian capitals which matched those of the columns.

When Elizabeth Birdsall married Richard Jackson Althause, her father owned a successful "blacksmith" business.  It would become the life's work of their eldest child, Samuel Birdsall Althause, who was born in 1804.

Samuel first apprenticed under his grandfather; then when Benjamin Birdsall retired in 1828, he partnered with George Cornell to take over the business, calling it Cornell, Althause & Co. Now more than merely making horseshoes and door hinges, the firm was an early Manhattan foundry.

Renamed S. B. Althause & Co. following the partners' breakup in 1841, the foundry was located at Nos. 20-22 Mercer Street.  Directly across the street at No. 19 was the Althause home.  Samuel married Helen Welling Sealy, and on December 17, 1855 their first child, Charles M. Althause was born in the house.

Tragedy struck the following year.  On Wednesday, March 19, 1856 the one-year old boy died.  At 2:00 two days later friends and relatives filed into the Mercer Street house for the heart-rending funeral of the infant.

The success and scope of S. B. Althause & Co. was reflected in the contract to provide the ironwork for the massive new Lord & Taylor department store at Broadway and Grand Street in 1859.  It was about this time that Samuel Althause, having already amassed a personal fortune, moved his family to Brooklyn.

In 1860 Althause demolished the Mercer Street house and began construction on an up-to-date commercial building.  While the name of the architect has been lost, his design was unexpectedly sophisticated.  Its five stories were divided into three sections.

Free-standing fluted columns flanked the centered double doors of the cast iron base.  Their elaborate capitals were echoed in the pilasters to the sides. 

The upper floors, faced in stone, featured rusticated piers which rose between two-story arches.  Paneled spandrel panels separated each of the double-height arches.  Faceted keystones flanked a gently scrolled keystone at the lower level; while above the keystones were elaborately carved and foliated.  A bracketed iron cornice completed the design.

The building was completed in 1861 and among its first tenants was Griswold & Sheldon.  Partners William C. Griswold and Julius Sheldon operated a substantial hat-making and wholesale business here, and Sheldon held a patent on his "hat-blocking machine."  Despite what appeared to be an extensive business, the firm declared bankruptcy in 1867.

M. & P. E. Goldberg operated from the building in 1871.  The firm's bookkeeper, J. D. Smith, was caught pilfering "small sums of money" that summer.  On August 4 he was committed for trial.

In the meantime, the store of Rawson & Co. was at street level.  It closed in April 1872, advertising its furniture and accessories in The New York Herald.  "Store fixtures--counters, tables, desks, show cases, chairs, chandeliers, mirrors, globes, travelling trunks, stove and pipe; at nominal prices this week."

By 1874 John T. Camp & Co., "ladies' dress trimmings" had its factory and salesroom in No. 19 Mercer Street.  John T. Camp was a successful businessman, who also owned the "popular Hotel known as the Mountain House," in South Orange, New Jersey, as described in The New York Herald that same year.

But he was best known for his military service during the Civil War.  He had enlisted in the 22nd Regiment on November 11, 1861, just seven months after the firing on Fort Sumter.  By the time of his discharge in February 1871, he had risen to the rank of Lt. Colonel.  Breveted a colonel, he retained command of the 22nd Regiment until his retirement on April 13, 1896.

Meanwhile, other apparel-related firms came and went.  In 1883 brothers Herman and Aaron Levy went into business manufacturing boys' clothing.  The young men opened with a substantial working capital, added to when Aaron married "a Miss Jacobs [and] received $15,000 as a wedding gift from his father-in-law," according to The Clothier and Furnisher.  

The firm suffered damaged to its stock when a fire broke out on July 26, 1888; but the partners received $6,000 in insurance money to cover it.  And so it was perhaps puzzling to their uncle, Charles Schanz, when the brothers asked for a $4,016 loan not long afterward.

The problem was horse racing.  The Levi brothers purchased a stable of 12 horses and invested in a race track in New Jersey.  And they gambled in a 28th Street "pool room," (the term for an illegal horse gambling operation) to try to bolster their funds.  Instead, they simply got deeper into debt.

Finally, on March 6, 1890 H. L. Levy & Brothers declared bankruptcy.  The Sun reported the following day, "Both the partners...are young men, and their failure is attributed to horse racing, in which they are currently reported to have lost $22,000."  The article mentioned the stables and the race track, saying "they made a failure of it."

The embarrassing reason for the once-respected firm's collapse was publicized nationwide.  The Clother and Furnisher reported "Their failure is attributed to the fact that they tried to run horses and were heavy losers, besides losing very heavily in an uptown poolroom."

Equally mortifying was the press attention received three years later by Etienne Hunter, a 42-year old traveling salesman for W. A. Reilly & Co.  Hunter had married Annie Morris on July 22, 1880 and they lived happily together for years.  Then, on their anniversary in 1892, he walked out.

On March 16, 1893 "he returned home and was forgiven," according to The Times.   Three weeks later he told Annie he was going on a business trip.  "She suspected, however, that there was a woman in the case, and began to investigate," said the newspaper a few months later.

Annie's suspicions were based on Etienne's frequent mention of Mrs. Edith Browning, who had written several books on "free love and kindred subjects;" one of which was titled Experimental Marriage.  Annie had found several of Browning's books which the author had sent to Etienne with passages underlined by her.

And in 1891 Hunter had mailed a letter to Mrs. Browning; but it was accidentally returned to his wife who opened it.  The last straw was when Annie purchased furniture on 14th Street.  The clerk asked her if she wanted it delivered to "the same place as the last."   "She then learned that her husband had purchased a quantity of furniture and had it delivered to Mrs. Elizabeth Hunter at 134 East Twenty-eighth Street."

Now Annie did her own private investigation work.  She staked out the 28th Street address, a boarding house operated by a Mrs. Burke, as well as No. 19 Mercer Street.  "She went to her husband's place of business and followed him one day for seven hours all over the city, until he finally reached the house...where he went in."

At 6:00 on the morning of Thursday, July 6, 1893 Annie was lying in wait outside Mrs. Burke's boarding house when her husband emerged.  She took him directly to the law office of her brother, Harry Morris.  "When he arrived there he found a detective, who arrested him and took him to Yorkville Jail, where he was locked up."

The New York Times ran the headline "MUST PAY OR STAY IN JAIL" and reported that Etienne agreed to pay Annie and their two children $60 a month.  But he did not have the cash.  "If Hunter does not secure a bondsman to qualify for him this morning, he will be sent to Blackwell's Island for a term of several months."

The first decades of the 20th century saw a decline in the Mercer Street neighborhood.  In the 1930s No. 19 was home to The Waterbury Chemical Company, which used the entire building "for baling of cotton waste."

 In 1975 the Soho Repertory Theatre, also known as Soho Rep, was founded by Jerry Engelbach and Marlene Swartz.  It moved into No. 19 Mercer Street and by 1979 had the largest subscription audience of any Off Off Broadway theater.    Its success was such that in 1985 it was forced to move to a larger venue.

A conversion in 2000 resulted in a recording studio and lounge on the ground floor, and joint working-living space above.  Rather amazingly, however, the ground floor storefront was never abused, other than the loss of the Corinthian capitals of the pilasters.  And other than a distracting iron fire escape, the especially impressive 1861 structure survives wonderfully unchanged.

photographs by the author

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

The Flamboyant Mattern House -- No. 46 West 88th Street

In 1887, as the Upper West Side was emerging as a popular new suburb, developer James J. Spaulding embarked on an ambitious and costly project.  He purchased 19 building lots on West 88th Street between Central Park West and Columbus Avenue and set architects Thom & Wilson to work designing fashionable brownstone dwellings.  Completed a year later, the row paraded every bell and whistle a late Victorian homeowner could want in residential architecture.

Holding its own with its neighbors homes was No. 46.  The architects held nothing back in the Renaissance Revival style brownstone.  Four stories high over an English basement, it boasted chunky stone stoop newels elaborately carved with bows and fruits; a rounded, parlor floor oriel complete with a bearded telamon and domed copper roof; muscular brackets in the shape of lions and scrolls on either side of the entrance; and upper floors embellished with Corinthian pilasters--rusticated at the second floor, paneled at the third, and unadorned at the fourth--and a profusion of rosettes, carvings and arches.

The residence became home to the Jacob Mattern family.  The well-to-do owner of the Jacob Mattern Wagon Company, he and his wife, Theresa, would have two daughters, Anne and Therese.

Not far away another carriage maker, George Meyer lived in what The Evening World deemed "pretentious style" at 80th Street and Amsterdam Avenue; saying that he "was always reported to be very wealthy."  On October 23, 1893 the newspaper noted that his firm, George Meyer & Co. "enjoyed an excellent reputation."

Thom & Wilson pulled out all the stops at the parlor floor level, creating a virtual onslaught of decorations.
But the headline that day told of serious problems.  "GEORGE MEYER GONE."  The article explained that the carriage maker had vanished and "the greater number of his friends say he has fled."  He left behind more than $100,000 in liabilities and The Evening World said "The accounts are in the most tangled-up condition and nothing in fact can be done until he appears and straightens out the firm's affairs."

While the mystery played out, 41-year old Jacob Mattern wasted no time in taking advantage of the unexpected opportunity.  Three days earlier he was awarded possession of Meyer's property by the Sheriff.  His carriage business was suddenly enormously enlarged and he had one fewer competitors.

Mattern invested in real estate as well.  And as the years went by, Mattern adapted with the changing times.  As automobiles and trucks replaced horses, by 1918 his six-story factory building at Nos. 215-217 West 53rd Street doubled as a Goodyear Truck Tire Service Station.  A year later, on June 20, 1919, the New-York Tribune reported he had purchased the adjoining four-story stable at No. 219.  "With this purchase Mr. Mattern controls a site 75x100.  He plans to alter his recent purchase for use in connection with his automobile wheels and rims business."

On November 23, 1921 Therese was married to James L. O'Connor in the Church of St. Gregory the Great on West 90th Street.  Anne served as her bridesmaid.  Perhaps because of the large guest list (there were 200 people at the ceremony) the Matterns hosted the wedding breakfast at the Hotel Astor rather than on West 88th Street, as might have been expected.

Jacob Mattern died on Monday, August 4, 1924 at the age of 71.  His funeral was held in the house three days later prior to a solemn requiem mass at the Church of the Assumption.

By 1934 the Mattern residence had become home to physician John Abraham Jenney.  While, by now, most of the houses along the 1889 row had been converted to apartments or rooming houses, No. 46 would survive as a single-family house for another decade.

It was sold in 1944 and alterations were started immediately.  They resulted in two apartments on each floor.  Among the first residents were Simon Frankel and his wife.  Hattie G. Frankel was active in Congregation Emanu-El, on the opposite side of Central Park, and sat on the Board of Directors of its Women's Auxiliary.

The Mattern house was altered again in 1989; now containing a duplex in the basement and parlor floors, one apartment each on the second and third, and two on the fourth floor.  Sadly, little remains of the Thom & Wilson Renaissance Revival interiors.  But from the sidewalk, No. 46 West 88th Street is little changed; still flaunting its flamboyant presence as it did more than a century ago.

photographs by the author

Monday, November 28, 2016

The Lost 1824 Phenix Bank Building - Wall Street and Broad

Martin E. Thompson's white marble edifice was perfectly proportioned.  from the collection of the New York Public Library

In 1812 the Phoenix Bank was established and within only a few years became one of New York City's principal financial institutions.  Along with other banks, it established a branch far to the north in Greenwich Village at the time of the devastating yellow fever epidemic of 1822.  The concentration of these branches on one street, far away from the dangerous conditions, led to its being renamed Bank Street.  By now Phenix Bank had lost its "o."

Somewhat surprisingly, perhaps, it was about the same time that Phenix Bank began construction of its noble new headquarters on the south side of Wall Street near the corner of Broad.  The bank commissioned architect Martin Euclid Thompson to design its building.  Thompson had been a partner with Ithiel Town and both architects were influential in the introduction of the Greek temple style.

The completed Phenix Bank building is credited by some historians as the first example of the Greek temple style to appear on Wall Street.  Perfectly proportioned, it featured an impressive portico of four fluted, Doric columns.  A classic triangular pediment perched above the Grecian-style entablature.

The Phenix Bank narrowly escaped destruction on December 16, 1835 when fire broke out in the store of Comstock & Andrews at No. 25 Merchant Street.  Before morning 13 acres of downtown Manhattan had been burned; 528 structures were destroyed and the total lose was estimated at $17 million.  The inferno had stopped at Wall and Williams Street at the opposite end of the block from the Phenix Bank.

Former mansions, converted for business purposes, abutted the bank building.  print from the collection of the New York Public Library

It was not fire nor even financial panic that most threatened the institution--it was corruption.  On March 1, 1838 readers of the Morning Herald learned that Senator Verplanck had opened a state investigation "into certain charges against the Phenix Bank of the city of New York."  The list of accusations which included overcharging on exchange rates was so lengthy that the newspaper simply wrote "&c. &c."  (The exchange rates mentioned involved the various currencies of states and territories--it would not be until February 25, 1863 that the National Currency Act established the federal dollar.)  The senator's push for an investigation was followed by one in the House by Representative Willis Hall.

The ugly and widely-publicized affair developed into the case of The People vs. Phenix Bank.  The Morning Herald went to the bank's defense, asserting on March 31 that every bank on Wall Street conducted business exactly as did the Phenix Bank.  "If, therefore, the transactions of the Phenix Bank in exchange are sufficient cause for the legislature to take away its effect, every charter of Wall street [would be] declared forfeited, and the great bulk of the exchange transactions, foreign and domestic, are tainted with usury, fraud and extortion."

The newspaper added "But this is not all."  The editors alleged "the movement against the Phenix Bank" was the result of "private malice and revenge" of the Whig Committee, "the omnipotent power of a party invoked to carry out the game of destruction."

The turmoil ended on April 5 when the Whigs and the Board of Trade were victorious in forcing out bank President John Delafield.   On that day he tendered his letter of resignation which began "Having been assured that the present hostility to the Phenix Bank has its origin in enmity to myself, and that unless I am sacrificed, the interest of the stockholders and of the commercial community will suffer serious consequences; I am willing, though conscious of the rectitude and legality of all my operations, to offer up my office."

In reporting on his resignation, the Morning Herald was indignant.  "A more paltry, personal, and vindictive crusade was never undertaken than the one set on foot by the Board of Trade against Mr. Delafield."

Bank security in 1842 was weak, certainly in comparison to the alarms, plexiglass partitions and surveillance cameras patrons are accustomed to today.  And so it was easy for Thomas Conroy and Charles Wheeler to rob the Phenix Bank of $1,900 (about $57,000 in 2016 dollars) in February that year.

The New York Herald reported "The money missed from the Phenix Bank was in Highland Bank notes...and had been placed in a package on the inside of the bank counter on the day it was stolen."  On March 6 the newspaper noted "It was ascertained a few days after that the rogues who took it had proceeded to the Long Island Bank, at Brooklyn, and obtained other notes in exchange."

Not long after the incident the Phenix Bank laid plans for an updated headquarters at the corner of Wall and William Streets.  On September 13, 1845 The New York Herald mentioned "The building of the Phenix Bank, in Wall street, is rapidly progressing.  A good part of the front is already raised.  The whole front is to be of pecked brown freestone, and will present a neat and substantial appearance."

The new brownstone-clad Phenix Bank building as it appeared in 1855.  In the foreground, part of the 1841 Merchants Exchange building can be seen.  The Bankers' Magazine, June 1855 (copyright expired)
The old Greek temple-style building survived until 1872 when it was demolished along with six other structures to make way for the marble Drexel Building, designed by Arthur Gilman.  That building was razed in 1912 to be replaced by the still-standing J. P. Morgan & Co. building designed by Trowbridge & Livingston.
photo from the collection of the Library of Congress

Saturday, November 26, 2016

The 1842 Edmund Hurry House -- No. 613 Hudson Street

In 1842 architect Edmund Hurry designed and built his own brick-faced, three story home at No. 613 Hudson Street.  The modest Greek Revival dwelling sat above a shallow brownstone English basement and featured a handsome entranceway with unassuming pilasters and sidelights.

In addition to his architectural business, Hurry served as a Commissioner of the Common Schools in the Ninth Ward while living here.  He moved out in 1851, just as his career was reaching its peak.  The following year he would be appointed the Consulting Architect for the New York Crystal Palace; his crowning achievement.

Five months after the Confederate Army opened fire on Fort Sumter, life on Hudson Street continued as normally as possible.  At 10:30 on the morning of September 26, 1861 auctioneer George Holbrook sold the entire contents of No. 613 Hudson Street; its former owner apparently having died.  Holbrook's advertisement in The New York Herald promised “all the genteel parlor, chamber, dining room and kitchen furniture, &c. of the above house.  Dealers, as well as others, are invited, as all must be sold and the house vacated.”

The house was the scene of the funeral of Smith Bryant on Monday, May 13, 1872 at 1:00.  Bryant had died of a heart attack the previous Friday.  Three years later, on April 8, 1875, Sheriff William C. Connor conducted the sale of the house in a foreclosure auction.  Somewhat surprisingly, it was the sheriff who bought it.

Conner conveyed title to Jessie, “wife of Daniel Clark,” the following July.  The sheriff had been operating No. 613 as a boarding, or rooming house.  Among his tenants was Elia Jane Huling, who taught in the primary department of Grammar School No. 47 on East 12th Street.

The Clarks lived in Jersey City.  Three days after Jessie received the title, she transferred it to Sarah Crygler, possibly a relative based on the “nominal” monetary exchange.   The rapid-fire ownership continued as Crygler sold the house to Henry B. Welcher, of Peekskill, New York, who sold it to William C. Carpenter on August 20, 1877 for $5,000.  The sale price would translate to about $117,000 in 2016 dollars.

Carpenter ran a “lodging house” at No. 613.  The term differentiated it from a boarding or rooming house.  Lodging houses offered no amenities like meals or common space.  Instead, for a much cheaper fee the lodgers received an over-night bed with (hopefully) fresh sheets.  Carpenter and F. S. Carpenter, most likely his son, operated the lodging house at least through 1898.

Independence Day celebrations in New York City at the turn of the century were filled with danger and mayhem.  Boys and men fired pistols wildly in the streets and fireworks were uncontrolled.  In 1912 Robert Haven Schauffler, in his book Independence Day, recalled “It then seemed to be a day wholly devoted to boyish pleasure and mischief, sure to be followed by reports of hairbreadth escapes and injuries more or less serious, sometimes even fatal.  The day was one of terror to parents, who, while deeming it unwise to interdict to their sons the enjoyment of gunpowder, dreaded to see them maimed of disfigured for life by some unlooked-for accident.”

On July 5, 1906 The New York Times reported “Nearly five hundred accidents due to fireworks and at least one of which ended fatally were reported to the police as incidents of the Fourth of July celebration in Manhattan alone.”  Among those injured was a roomer at No. 613 Hudson Street, Henry Buhrens, who was treated at St. Vincent’s Hospital for a “wound of the hand.”

It was around this time that the house was purchased by Louis Dern and his wife, Lizzie.  The couple had three children, Arthur, Lilian and Jessie.   They apparently continued to rent to roomers.  Louis died in the house on December 1, 1916.  Lizzie and the now-adult children (Arthur R. Dern was 29 year old at the time of his father’s death) remained here for just over three years. 

When Lizzie sold the house on February 21, 1920 to Catherine Cook, it was described as a “three story brick tenement.”  While the Cooks lived in Gillette, New Jersey, M. S. Cook had run a wholesale stationery business in New York for years.   Among his customers was the United States Government in 1907.  In 1922 the Educational Red Book—a buyer’s guide for school superintendents—listed M. S. Cook’s stationery business at No. 631 Hudson Street; most likely in the basement level.

Hudson Street in 1922 was nothing like the street where Edmund Hurry built his home in 1842.  Brick houses had been razed or converted to commercial establishments, and produce wagons and delivery trucks replaced the carriages of 80 years ago.  As the neighborhood continued to change, No. 631 resisted the trend.  Residents in rented rooms came and went throughout the 20th century.

In 2002 a renovation was completed which brought Edmund Hurry’s house back to a private residence.  The stoop, removed in the 20th century, was reproduced and six-over-six mullions were installed in the windows--as closely as possible restoring the picturesque brick house to its 1842 appearance.

photographs by the author