Saturday, October 19, 2019

The Hill & Co. Dry Goods Store - 581-583 Sixth Avenue

In the first years following the end of the Civil War John H. Dresler operated his substantial bakery from the converted house at No. 261 Sixth Avenue.  The bakery was conveniently located only about three blocks from No. 119 West 13th Street where Dresler and his wife, Sophia, lived comfortably with their daughters.  

The scope of his business was evidenced in the spring of 1874 when thousands of poor New Yorkers faced literal starvation following the onslaught of the Financial Panic of 1873.  Soup kitchens were opened, clothing drives were initiated and donations of money were petitioned by newspapers.  Local police precincts ran certain soup kitchens and on March 13 Captain John H. McCullough of the 29th Precinct announced that John Dresler had donated 80 loaves of bread.

The avenue saw the rise of lavish dry goods and department stores in the third quarter of the century.  Dresler responded by demolishing the old house and the one next door at No. 259 and commissioning architect John E. Terhune to erect a modern commercial building on the site.  His plans, filed on April 3, 1891, called for a "five-story iron and glass store" to cost $40,000--or about $1.14 million today.

Completed in 1892, Terhune had designed a striking cast iron front that allowed for vast expanses of glass.  Unusual hefty banded piers flanked the ground floor.  The pilasters of the second floor were decorated with blank shields and delicate ribbons.  Between the two-story pilasters of the third and fourth floors, twisted single-height engaged columns separated the paired openings.  The spandrel panels between the floors were decorated with elaborate Moorish designs.  Above a projecting cornice, the fifth floor carried on the motif of twisted columns, its arched windows creating rhythm to the design.

The dry goods firm Hill & Co. leased the building; however Dresler seems to have been reticent to entirely move his bakery from the location.  On February 27, 1892 the Real Estate Record & Builders' Guide reported that he had hired B. F. King to install "two bakers' ovens."  The coexistence of the upscale store and the bakery does not seem to have survived long.

The year after Hill & Co. moved in another economic downturn, the Financial Panic of 1893, hit.    On September 22, 1893 The Evening World reported "Although times may be hard, Hill & Co., of 259 and 261 Sixth avenue, seem to have decided that women will wear just as pretty hats and buy as many as ever before, for seldom have there been such fine displays as at the opening this year."  The article mentioned that even the women who did not intend to buy a new hat dropped in just to see what was new--"many of the most fashionable visited the popular house to at least learn what the styles for the season will be."

The paddock suits shown here cost the equivalent of $270 to $361 in today's dollars.  The Evening World, April 6, 1894 (copyright expired)

The Ladies' Mile saw a change in shopping trends as dry goods stores--which traditionally sold clothing, accessories and linens--branched out, adding departments for unrelated items like furniture, housewares and shoes.  Hill & Co. joined the department store trend in the fall of 1894, introducing a "carpet and curtain department."  The store kicked it off with an aggressive advertisement in The Evening World on October 15:


We are 25% cheaper than any other carpet house in the country.  It will pay you to call and examine the new carpet and curtain department of Hill & Co.

In 1900 Hecht Bros. department store took over the building.  Run by brothers Meyer and Bernard Hecht, the store continued to buck retailing tradition along Sixth Avenue by offering mens' and boyswear.  Gentlemen's outfitters had for years lined Broadway near Union Square, while Sixth Avenue catered to the feminine shopper.  Hecht Bros. offered both men's and women's fashions.  And they offered payment plans, as well.

Hecht Bros. proposed that "The Swellest Dresser In New York" shopped at its store.  The World, November 8, 1901 (copyright expired)

The Brooklyn Daily Eagle reported "The first surprise was the opening of a large establishment entirely devoted to specializing outer and under apparel for every member of the family and extending the privileges of credit to every patron."

An advertisement in The World on November 8, 1901 explained "We not only provide clothing of the dressiest character for the entire family at astonishingly low prices, but we offer you the advantages of our charge system, which permits of small, convenient payments."  The payments were, no doubt, necessary for some patrons.  A "high-class suit" of "splendid fabrics" listed in that advertisement was priced at the equivalent of $762 today.

Hecht Bros. remained in the building until 1907 when John Dresler's daughters, Sophia and Emma, took it in a different direction.  By now the grand emporiums of the Ladies' Mile had moved northward.  In response the women hired architect H. W. Cotthaus to make what the Record & Guide described as "extensive alterations to the department store."  The New York Herald announced on September 11 that Cotthaus's plans called for "making over the fire story department store Nos. 259 and 261 Sixth avenue...into a studio and office building with sales rooms on the ground floor."

The renovated building became home to Miles Bros., motion picture makers and outfitters of motion picture theaters.  Bachelor brothers Harry J. and Herbert L. Miles not only provided films, but the equipment on which to screen them.  The Sun remarked "The firm is well known in the moving picture trade throughout the country.  The brothers came here from San Francisco."

In 1907 they marketed their Picturephone, an early attempt at talking pictures.  An advertisement that year touted "Here It Is!  Singing and Talking Moving Pictures."

The windows of the Miles Bros. branch office on East 14th Street lists its variety of motion picture items. from the collection of the University of California, Berkeley,  Bancroft Library 

The Picturephone, which cost a significant $15,200 in today's dollars, came "complete with especially wired Phonograph."  An advertisement explained:

Remember, this marvelous instrument is sold under the guarantee of our firm that it is the greatest possible added attraction to any Moving Picture or Vaudeville Theatre.  The moving pictures, acting in harmonious conjunction with a perfect synchronizing a complete performance of solos, dialogues, duets, concerts, operas and dramas.

Despite the firm's success and renown, Harry J. Miles suffered depression--possibly because of his diagnosis with epilepsy in the fall of 1907.  He and Herbert lived in an apartment on the seventh floor of the Concord Hall apartment building on Riverside Drive at 119th Street.  At 10:30 p.m. on New Year's Day, 1908, the 40-year-old said goodnight to his brother and went to his room.  An hour later John Noyes, a hall boy, heard a crash in the inner courtyard. Harry had jumped to his death from his window.   Herbert continued running Miles Bros. at least through 1916.

Another set of brothers, Jacob and Samuel Liberman leased the store in November 1910.  Lieberman Bros., clothiers, ignored the flight of other dry goods firms from the district. 

By 1921 the store was home to May & Co.'s furniture store.

The Evening World, March 30, 1921 (copyright expired)

Sixth Avenue was renumbered in 1926, giving the building its new address of Nos. 581-583.  The most notable tenant in the upper floors came in 1932 when Walter Quirt leased two floors of the building.  Quirt was the secretary of the National Students League, founded a year earlier.   Renovations resulted in a workshop, gallery and meeting space.  Although the League staged exhibitions in the gallery space, its agenda went far beyond art.

In 1934 The Examiner called it "an organization of radical writers and artists," and "a Communist students' organization."  The publication noted it "has sympathizers at 129 American colleges."  In his 1997 book Student Politics in America: A Historical Analysis, historian Philip G. Altbach writes "From its beginning, the NSL was controlled by the Communists and echoed Communist policy on both campus and national issues, although it never openly acknowledged its Communist leadership."

The National Students League staged protests and demonstrations, aired radio shows and held meetings in its Sixth Avenue space.  Among its demands in 1934 were "1. Lower tuition fees, a free college in every city, 2. Academic freedom for all students and instructors, and 3. Abolition of all forms of compulsory religion services in college" among other goals.

In May 1933 what the Daily Worker described as a "mass memorial meeting" for Japanese Communist Takiji Kobayashi was held here.    A leading force in the Communist community in Japan, he was a writer, lecturer and organizer.  Arrested in May and August 1930, he was tortured by the Imperial Police.   After being tortured again after a subsequent arrest in February 1933, he was brutally murdered by the Imperial Police.  

Early in 1934 the National Students League moved to 14th Street.  The building was sold in 1938 and by 1941 the ground floor was once again a furniture store, Forman's.  The tradition was continued in the 1980's and '90's when Furniture Gallery was a neighborhood fixture.

New York Magazine, April 16, 1984
At the time Bob Giraldi Productions operated from an upper floor office.  It was renamed Giraldo / Suarez Productions sometime around 1994.

Today a casual clothing store operates from street level.  The more than 125-year old cast iron facade is stained with rust--a condition that could be rectified by a coat of paint.  Despite the neglect, the Hill & Co. dry goods store retains its 1892 dignity.

photographs by the author

Friday, October 18, 2019

Buchman & Fox's 1906 Cast Iron Beauty - 1026-1028 Sixth Avenue

On March 9, 1906 the New-York Tribune reported that owners Charles Land and Leopold Heilburn had taken the first steps "for making over the two five story and basement dwelling houses Nos. 662 and 664 Sixth avenue into an office building with stores on the ground floor."  Architects Buchman & Fox had prepared the plans, which included "a facade of ornamental galvanized iron and glass and a central marquise entrance."  They included "an elevator and a new plumbing plant."  The cost of transforming the old houses into a commercial structure was projected at $50,000--about $1.44 million today.

The remodeled building, sitting mid-block between 38th and 39th Streets, was completed within a year.  Buchman & Fox had designed a sumptuous cast iron facade in the quickly waning Beaux Arts style.  Other than the tantalizing promise of an iron and glass marquise, there seems to be no existing evidence of the appearance of the store level.  The overall tripartite design survives above, however.

The midsection, three stories tall, is divided into three vertical sections each two bays wide.  They are framed in delicate foliate sheaths and each floor separated by elaborate spandrel panels.  The fifth floor features three three-bay arcades, the openings separated by paneled pilasters.  The ornate terminal cornice is supported by two deliciously opulent brackets on either end.

Among the original occupants was Charles Lang, himself.  C. B. Kleine was another.  The firm rented and sold everything necessary for motion picture theater operators.  An advertisement in The Moving Picture World on May 4, 1907 urged customers to send for Catalog F to order "Kinetoscopes, Cameragraphs and Stereopticons [and] Films of all makes.  Everything in supplies." 

One of the fourth floor occupants, Henry Schultz, was carrying on a less savory business.  The firm appeared to be an "exchange" office; but in truth, according to The Sun on June 11, 1907, it "has long been known as 'Dutch' Henry Schultz's poolroom."  The term poolroom referred to an illegal gambling operation.  

According to police Schultz's office was was affiliated with "the big 'Bob' Davis poolroom syndicate." It was a sophisticated operation, containing a switchboard with ten telephones for reporting race results and taking bets.

On June 11, 1907 the New-York Tribune reported that Police Lieutenant and his men had made a raid on the office the day before.  "They climbed the stairs to the top floor and broke in the door of the alleged exchange."  They surprised six operators sitting at a switchboard.  "The police ripped the telephone instruments from the switchboard," said the Tribune.

According to The Sun this was an integral piece of organization.  It reported that "the official notion is that it was the receiving centre for all the Bob Davis syndicate's news from racetracks outside of New York and the distributing point for all the poolrooms and a great number of handbooks in Manhattan north of Twenty-third street."  A bankbook found in the office showed that it was taking in about $20,000 per month--a staggering $550,000 in today's terms.

By 1908 one of the retail spaces was home to the Wallace Eating-house, run by Ellsworth Childs.  He ran a string of 15 restaurants at the time, each one painted green.  Before long he and his brothers would consolidate their businesses into the famous chain of Childs Restaurants.

By 1909 George Kleine was representing three motion picture companies, Gaumont, Urban and Eclipse Films.  He prompted would-be theater operators to enter the field with an ad in The Sun on March 7, 1909.  "Today it is the subject that interests, not only the novelty of the invention.  Complete plays are enacted upon the curtain with specially written music that sometimes ranks with the classics."  

For "absolute new films and new subjects," theater operators paid $25 per reel.  For "fair quality films in good condition, not new," they paid $20.  Kleine offered an ongoing service whereby subscribers received "three changes weekly."

Twenty-two year old Alfred Kelly miraculously escaped death here on Friday 21, 1913.  He somehow became trapped in the elevator shaft, with the car descending.  Seconds before the young man's body was crushed, another employee named Hoffman shut off the power to the elevator.  The Newtown Register reported "It was feared, at first, that the young man’s injuries would be mortal...Kelly was crushed internally, and besides several ribs were fractured, as was his right arm.  He also suffered cuts about the head and body."  Miraculously, a week later he was "getting along comfortably" in Bellevue Hospital.

Two months later Philip Levy signed a 10-year lease on Ellsworth Childs's former restaurant space.  The Record & Guide reported "after extensive alterations he will open this place as a first-class bakery and lunch room."  Levy was the head of the A. B. Bakery & Lunch Room Co., Inc.

In the meantime George Kleine was enjoying great success, and produced his own films under the name Ambrosio.  On November 23, 1913 The New York Times noted "George Klein originally intended to cover the United States with twenty-two companies of the Ambrosio photo drama, 'The Last Days of Pompeii,' but the success of the venture has compelled him to organize two and three special extra companies in several sections."

A month later he initiated an international "moving picture scenarios contest."  Kleine hoped to get fresh screenplays by offering writers $1,000 for "the best scenario written by an American."  His continued success led to his moving uptown by 1916.

Other tenants in the building by then were the Regent Phonograph Co., headed by Henry Waterson; and the less glamorous Star Window Shade Co.  

The gradual transformation of the area into the Garment District was evidenced with the arrival of the Snappy Dress Company.  In 1920 B. Goldsmith & Co., dress manufacturers, was also here.  It was around this time that the building was first referred to as the Sperry Building.  On April 13 the New-York Tribune reported that the entire building had been leased to Aaron Kosofsky for 21 years.

Kossofky had headed the Hudson Bay Fur Company for decades.  He was quick to change the appellation of the address, listing the location in his advertisements as the "Hudson Bay Building."

The colorful Kossofsky came up with a marketing gimmick that he hoped would draw major attention to his business.  It did--but not in a good way.  On January 12 1922 Printers' Ink reported "An example of the extent to which men will sometimes stoop to get publicity was witnessed in New York City last week when a furrier named Aaron Kossofky, president of the Hudson Bay Fur Company...turned a fox loose on Fifth Avenue at one of the busiest corners in the world."

The journal lamented "This is a typical, old-time press-agent idea.  Anything that got a business into the newspapers, even though in an ignominious way, was regarded as desirable publicity."  No one else shared Kossofsky's enthusiasm.

The New York Times had reported on January 8 "Two days in jail and a fine of $100 was the punishment imposed yesterday by Magistrate Corrigan upon Aaron Kossofsky...who pleaded guilty to a charge of cruelty to an animal.  The judge did not hold back in his opinion of the stunt.

"Never has the public indignation at an act of cruelty to a dumb animal been aroused as in this case," he said.  The treatment of the fox was much worse than simply letting him loose on a crowded urban street.  The judge pointed out that "the winding of a twine muzzle through the animal's mouth, partly cutting off its breath and causing pain, was enough to convict the defendant."  But even worse, one of the fox's forelegs had been broken under the wheel of a limousine.

Kossofsky appeared in press again a few months later.  He applied to the United States Patent Office to trademark the term "Hudson seal," which, he said, he had been using since 1906.  The problem for the Government was that his "Hudson seal" referred to "muskrat dyed to imitate seal," according to the documents.  The New York Times, on June 9, cited officials who suggested "the trade-mark could not be properly registered in any case, inasmuch as it misdescribes its object, since 'Hudson seal' is no seal at all."

Despite his several problems, Kossofsky and the Hudson Bay Fur Company remained in the building for years.  In 1925 Sixth Avenue was renumbered, giving the building its new address of 1026-1028.

Throughout the remainder of the 20th century the area around the building declined.  Yet despite the obliteration of the store level, added fire escapes and jutting window air conditions, Buchman & Fox's lavish cast iron facade survives essentially intact.

photographs by the author

Thursday, October 17, 2019

The Thomas M. Mulry, Sr. House - 245 West 13th Street

The paneled doors are original to the building.

Mary Ann C. Rogers was a player in the nearly men-only real estate development game in the decades before the outbreak of Civil War.  In 1854 she erected a row of six 21-foot wide Italianate style residences on the north side of West 13th Street, just east of Greenwich Avenue.  Like its identical brick-faced neighbors, No. 245 was three bays wide and three stories tall above a rusticated brownstone basement.  The high stone stoop led to the segmentally-arched, double-doored entrance.  Its horizontal cornice topped by undecorated blocks was a departure from the carved pediments and foliate brackets so popular in the Italianate style.

By the end of the 1860's No. 245 was being operated as a boarding house.  The upscale nature of boarding houses was often judged by the number of tenants and their allotted space.  Boarders at No. 245 paid for suites encompassing entire floors.  There were, therefore, no more than two paying families at any time (the landlady would have lived on the parlor floor or basement).  

The proprietor left in the spring of 1869, leaving the owners of the house scrambling for a new proprietor to run the boarding house.   An advertisement in The New York Herald on April 28, 1869 read "To Let--Furnished--A three story high stoop House, modern building; rent reduced; part taken in board, and boarders that will remain."

In 1870 the new proprietor, apparently a Mrs. Gilchrist, advertised the "pleasant rooms" with "good Board" from $1 to $4 per week; or just over $1,000 a month today.

Among her boarders in 1872 was the family of Henry Evesson, Jr.  He and his wife, the former Florine Augusta Bassford, had four children, Isabelle, Estelle, and Harry (another son, Charles, came along in 1874).  Both Isabelle and Estelle would go on to careers in the theater.  Isabelle had a successful stage career and appeared in two silent films.  Estelle would also be an actress, as well as a playwright.  One of her plays, A Puritan Romance, was written as a vehicle for herself and her sister.

In January 1882 William Mulry purchased No. 245 for $9,740, or just over a quarter of a million in today's dollars.  Mulry was well-known in real estate circles, a member of the Real Estate Exchange and a member of the building firm of Mulry Bros.  Interestingly, it was not William, but the family of his brother, Thomas Maurice Mulry, who moved into the house.  

The Mulry brothers were devout Catholics who had arrived in New York from Ireland in the 1840's.  They earned their living as hard-working construction laborers know as “cellar-diggers.”  Thomas Mulry, Sr. met and fell in love with Parthenia M. Crolius.  They married, despite the objections of her father, Clarkson Crolius.  According to the New-York Tribune later, “He came of Dutch and Quaker stock, and, being a stanch Protestant, was strongly opposed to the marriage of his daughter to the young Irish Catholic.”  Crolius was, no doubt, even more deeply concerned when Parthenia converted to Catholicism at the time of the marriage.

There would eventually be 14 children in the Mulry household.  Four sons would go on to become priests and two daughters would become nuns.  By the time Thomas and Parthenia moved into No. 245 their children were grown.   Following William's death in 1893, the firm was renamed Thomas Mulry & Son, with Thomas, Jr. as a partner.

Parthenia died on May 23, 1902.  Her funeral was held in the house three days later, followed by a service at St. Francis Xavier's Church where, according to the New-York Tribune, "a solemn mass of requiem will be offered for the repose of her soul."

Following his father's death four years later, Thomas Mulry Jr. sold No. 245 on June 16, 1906 to Mary J. Mitchell.  The price, around $425,000 today, reflected the still respectable tone of the neighborhood--one that would draw the attention of the Florence Crittenton Mission for Fallen Women.

The organization had been founded in 1883 "to aid and encourage destitute, homeless, and depraved women who wish to seek reformation."  Its home and mission had been at Nos. 21-23 Bleecker Street from its inception; and now looked to open a branch home.   The 1909 Sixty-Fourth Annual Report of the Prison Association of New York listed the Florence Crittenton Mission as running a "home for the reformation of fallen women and young girls" here.

On May 14, 1913 The New York Press reported that Mary Mitchell had sold No. 245 to the Mission.  The article noted that the group has recently sold the Bleecker Street property which "it occupied for about thirty-five years."  As owners, the Mission was now free to make changes to the house.  "Extensive alterations will be made to the building, including an extension in the rear part of the lot."

Some of the women who received the services of the Florence Crittenton Mission lived in the building (termed inmates).  The organization also held gospel services here.  The managers attempted to help the prostitutes and unwed mothers get back on their feet.  The Mission espoused its goal in 1912 as "Not to lock people up away from society, but to help them to become useful members of society."

Living here was not a free meal ticket.  Household tasks were allotted to the residents.  "One girl attends to the laundry of the household articles, another does the porches and parlor, two share the chamber work, another takes care of the dining-room, and so on," explained a matron, Miss M. M. Hinchcliff to The Evening World.

On November 28, 1913, the New York Evening Telegram reported on the first Thanksgiving here.  "The Florence Crittenton Mission, in its new home at No. 245 West Thirteenth street, provided for the feeding of three hundred, including the girl inmates and other worthy poor."

The policies of the Mission would receive criticism decades later as attitudes towards unwed mothers changed.  At the time, many families saw the Mission as a place to send their pregnant daughters, thereby hiding their condition and avoiding shame.  The women were required to give up their babies for adoption.

The Mission moved out in 1919 and leased the house for a year.  In June 1920 it was sold to Charles F. Goetz who almost immediately resold it to Henry Mundt.  By the early Depression years the residence was being operated as a rooming house.

Among the tenants in 1935 was 25-year old Stanley Wescott.  He and 20-year old Joseph Fletcher made their livings in a daring way--payroll robberies.  Workers were paid in cash until the second half of the 20th century.  Wescott and Fletcher had successfully stolen the $7,500 payroll of Swift & Co. on August 23, 1934 (more than $141,000 today), and now they plotted to rob a Pennsylvania coal mining payroll.

After doing their research, the two men learned that payroll for the coal workers arrived at the Cambria County Post Office.  They just were not quite sure on which day.  They took a hotel room in St. Michael, Pennsylvania, then dropped into the post office every afternoon, asking if they had any mail.  

But their "flashy clothes" drew the suspicions of the postmistress, who did some investigation.  She finally took her concerns to the constable, noting they "hung around town with no visible means of support."  On September 16, 1935 the New York Post ran the headline "Slickers Trapped by Postmistress."  Weapons were found in their hotel room.  They were not only charged with attempted robbery,  but were identified in the Swift & Co. theft as well.

In 1946 the house was converted to a duplex in the basement and first floor and one apartment each on the upper floors.  Then, in 2014 it was reconverted to a single family house by artist Angel "Vlady" Oliveros.  To replace the lost interior elements, he recycled artifacts like banisters from the Plaza Hotel and an "antique earthenware soaking tub from the 1920's," according to a realtor.  Oliveros put the house on the market in 2016 for $16.75 million.

photographs by the author

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

The Dr William Travis Gibb House - 42 West 75th Street

Developer James T. Hall completed an ambitious row of ten upscale residences on West 75th Street, between Columbus Avenue and Central Park West in 1890.  That he targeted well-to-do buyers was evidenced in the cutting edge amenities like the complex indoor plumbing featured in a full page article in The Engineering and Building Record on August 30, 1890.  It described how each house had a copper-lined tank fitted into a "special alcove" in the attic, filled by pumps in the rear extension.  The new homeowners would enjoy hot and cold running water, flush toilets, and state of the art laundry facilities.

The article ended by noting that "George H. Budlong...was the architect of the houses."  No longer a household name, Budlong had designed the string of homes in--basically--the Romanesque Revival style.  While some designs were repeated, he made no attempt at a balanced pattern and mixed them seemingly indiscriminately.

No. 42 was faced in rough-cut stone which added to the medieval flavor of the style.  A tall stone stoop led to the arched double-doored entrance.  Budlong gave a nod to the Queen Anne movement by filling its transom and that of the wide parlor window with colorful stained glass.

A rounded bay filled the second floor.  It was ornamented with Romanesque details and a decorative rope molding.  Unlike the other flat-topped bays along the row, this one wears a stone hood, seemingly original.  The arched openings of the third floor appeared larger by Longbud's use of beefy stone voissoirs.  Above the group of three fourth floor windows, a tiny, stone-framed opening pierced the attic gable.

The diminutive attic window is a delightful, nearly tongue-in-cheek, detail.
The house became home to the Joseph Carmoreau Hatie family.  Hatie was secretary of the Mutual Fire Insurance Company and he and his wife, the former Mary G. Heyl, had two children, Lillian Stafford and Joseph, Jr.   Hatie was descended from what one newspaper termed "an old New York family." 

Mary's family were decidedly military.  Her brothers were Dr. Theodore C. Heyl, a retired surgeon of the United States Navy (whose son, Ashton, by now was an assistant surgeon in the Army), Army Captain Charles H. Heyl, and Colonel Edward M. Heyl, Inspector-General of the Army.  

Like all well-to-do families, the Haties escaped the city's heat at fashionable watering holes each summer.  But they also took a break from its frigid cold, as well.  On February 1, 1894 the Sacramento, California newspaper The Record-Union, noted that "Mr. and Mrs. J. C. Hatie, Miss Hatie, [and] Master J. C. Hatie, Jr." had arrived at the Golden Eagle Hotel.

Among the training necessary for teen-aged children of society to function easily in their upcoming whirl of debutante entertainments, weddings and other affairs was dancing.  Dance classes were organized by socialites to handle that issue.  On February 7, 1893 The World reported "Mrs. J. Carmoreau Hati [sic] of No. 42 West Seventy-fifth street gave a luncheon yesterday to the patronesses of the Wednesday evening dancing class."  It was a decidedly French-themed event.  "This was a mignonette luncheon and the flowers and embroidered table drapery carried out in detail the green and white effect."

Late in 1895 the Haties had house guests, Navy Lieutenant William Stetson Hogg and his wife, the former Clara W. Heyl.  Clara was the Mary's niece, the daughter of Theodore C. Heyl.  Her marriage to the Navy man had added to the military tradition of the Heyl family.  

On December 17 The Press reported "Miss Hatie, daughter of Mrs. J. C. Hatie of No. 42 West Seventy-fifth street, will give a dance this evening at her mother's home in honor of Mrs. William Stetson Hogg."

In 1896 the Haties again took a February trip.  The New York Press reported that they "leave town on Friday evening for the Mardi Gras festivities in New Orleans.  They will also spend some time in St. Augustine, Fla.  They will return in three weeks."

The family returned just in time for another house guest--Theodore C. Heyl.  The visit ended tragically.  On March 23, 1896 The Record-Union reported "Dr. Theodore C. Heyl, a surgeon (retired) in the United States navy, died suddenly last night at the home of his brother-in-law, J. C. Hatie, 42 West Seventy-fifth street.  Death was due to heart disease."

The military tradition of the family continued when Lillian's engagement to Lieutenant Edmund Luther Butts of the United States Army was announced on February 19, 1899.  The wedding was held in the house on December 1.

And Joseph, Jr. would eventually go on to a distinguished military career, as well.  By the time of his marriage in 1921 he had achieved the rank of major in the Army and was recognized for his performance during World War I.

But long before that the Haties had left West 75th Street.  No. 42  was sold in February 1900 to Thomas J. Brady and his wife, the former Emeline Wolfe.  The 61-year old Brady had a long and distinguished career by now.  He served in the Civil War and was promoted to brevet brigadier general just before its end.  He had served as consul to St. Thomas and was appointed by Ulysses S. Grant as second assistant Postmaster General in 1876.   By now he held the post of Building Commissioner and was president of the Board of Buildings.

Before the end of the month the couple held their first entertainment.  A newspaper reported "Mr. and Mrs. Thomas J. Brady gave a reception at their new residence, No. 42 West Seventy-fifth street, on Wednesday last."  The event was in celebration of their wedding anniversary and "also as a 'house warming.'  An orchestra provided music for dancing, and there was vocal music by Miss Mulligan and Miss McCormick."

Thomas Jefferson Brady -- from the collection of the Minnestrista Heritage Collection

On April 1, just two weeks after moving in, Brady retired.  At 6:00 on the evening of May 1 the doorbell rang.  On the stoop stood "a large delegation of the [Building Department] attaches."  The unexpected group pushed in, bringing with them "a rich silver tea service," as described by the Record & Guide.

"The service was spread upon a table in the parlor by several of the inspectors, and one of their number asked Mr. Brady to accept it as a token of the regard which the entire department staff bore toward their former chief."  In fact, more than 300 employees had contributed to the pricey gift.  Made by the Gorham Mfg. Co., it included a "large tray, with a tea kettle, coffee and tea pots, sugar bowl, cream pitcher and waste bowl."  Each of the pieces was decorated with Brady's monogram and the tray was inscribed with presentation details.

On February 28, 1904 the New York Herald reported that the Bradys had celebrated their 20th anniversary with a reception.  "The house was tastefully decorated.  One of the pleasant incidents of the evening was an address given by the Rev. Charles McCready, D. D. who married Mr. and Mrs. Brady twenty years ago."  It was perhaps the last entertainment by the Bradys.  Thomas Jefferson Brady died two months later on April 22.

No. 42 was sold in 1906, becoming the home of Dr. William Travis Gibb and his family.  He was born in 1862 and since 1891 had been examining physician for the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children.  He was also an instructor in women's diseases at New York University from 1889 to 1899; and was appointed visiting surgeon at the Workhouse and at the City, Home and Pension Hospitals.

Gibb had married Alice Elizabeth Stearns on May 14, 1896.  The couple had four children, Alice Stearns, John Alexander, William Travis, Jr. and Frances.  Little Frances was just one year old when they moved in.  Living with the family was Dr. Gibb's widowed mother, Melissa Jane Huntington.  The family's summer estate, Belle Terre, was in Port Jefferson, Long Island.

Most important was Gibb's work in children's and women's diseases; both of which received little attention.  He was among the first to recognize and speak out against sexual assault on children.  In 1894 he complained that doctors routinely diagnosed vaginal discharges in little girls as vaginitis--resulting in child predators going unreported.   When girls became infected with diseases like gonorrhea, their doctors were reticent to accept there had been sexual contact.  They developed the term "innocent" infection, attributing it to bad sanitation.  Gibb lobbied for the investigation into incest in such cases.

Dr William Travis Gibb, from Empire State Notables, 1914 (copyright expired)

Gibb was honored on February 25, 1909 when the Gibb Operating Pavilion on Blackwell's Island was dedicated.  The state of the art facility included x-ray rooms, laboratories and a sterilizing room.

Melissa Jane Huntington died in the 75th Street house on November 18, 1909.  Her funeral was held here three days later.

Dr. Gibb continued to advocate for women and children.  In February, 1910 a three-year-old boy was found wandering on Fulton Street and Broadway.  He was able to tell police that his name was Harry Hanley and that his father had left him and his six-year-old brother, Claude, on the streets several days earlier.  He did not know where Claude was.

Police tracked down the father, 32-year-old Frederick Hanley in Bayonne, New Jersey. The boys were from a previous marriage.  Hanley had married his current wife, Jennie, five months earlier.  He explained to the authorities that his "wages were small and that in addition his wife and he himself were frequently ill."  The New-York Tribune reported that both were arrested.

Dr. Gibb was called in to examine little Harry.  He "found marks on the boy's back, believed to have been inflicted with a strap, and his left eye is discolored," reported the Tribune.  "The police and agents of the [Children's Society] are now looking for Claude."

By the 1920's the Gibb children were growing up.  Newspaper articles describing the debutante fetes of the 1924-1925 mentioned that Frances attended several of the dances and receptions.  

Alice Stearns Gibb died in 1924, the year Frances was graduated from the Spence School and Alice from the Cornell Medical College.  That winter season should have been festive, with France's introduction to society.  Her sister was determined that Frances would have her coming-out; and on April 14, 1925--noticeably late in the season and following the family's period of mourning--The New York Times reported "Miss Alice Gibb, daughter of Dr. W. Travis Gibb of 42 West Seventy-fifth Street, gave a luncheon yesterday at Pierre's to introduce her sister, Miss Frances Gibb.  A reception was held in advance of the luncheon."

Now a doctor, Alice followed closely in her father's footsteps.  She would go on to be on the staff of Elizabeth General Hospital and to sit on the board of the Family and Children's Society and the Visiting Nurse Association of Elizabeth.  William, Jr., too, pursued a medical career.  In 1925 he was enrolled in Cornell Medical School.   

That summer Dr. William Gibb, his daughters and John Alexander went abroad.  It would be the last trip they took together as a family.  Five days before departing Dr. Gibb had announced the engagement of Alice to Dr. Henri Ernest Abel.  Alice and Henri had been classmates at Cornell Medical College.   A progressive female, Alice continued to use her maiden name following the wedding.

Frances's engagement to John Howard Neely, Jr. was announced on December 12, 1926.  The wedding took place in the 75th Street house on May 17, 1927.  The New York Times remarked "Spring flowers in shades of orchid and yellow combined with palms and ferns decorated the house."

By the time William, Jr. was married to Margaret B. Kies on October 4, 1930 he had become an attending physician at the Knickerbocker Hospital and a member of the staff of St. Luke's Hospital's outpatient unit.  His brother, John, served as his best man.

After a career spanning 53 years, Dr. William Travis Gibb died on July 6, 1939.  He was 76 years old. 

The following year, on October 3, the New York Sun reported that the Gibb estate had sold No. 42 to "a realty corporation."  Within the year a renovation resulted in the stoop being removed and the entrance lowered to the basement level.  There were now two apartments there, three on the parlor floor, two apartments and two furnished rooms on the second floor, and one apartment and three furnished rooms each on the upper floors.

The configuration remained, with some tweaking, until 1985 when another renovation created two apartments each on the lower three floors and a duplex above.  The removal of the stoop and the stained glass transoms are more than regrettable.  More than a century of grime gives the sadly abused structure a charred appearance, disguising the fascinating history of the families who once lived here.

photographs by the author

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

The Richard F. Hoyt House - 44 East 71st Street

The angled ground floor bay to the left is actually a cleverly-disguised garage door.

The Presbyterian Hospital engulfed the block between Madison and Park Avenues, and 70th to 71st Street until moving far uptown in the mid-1920's.  Suddenly valuable real estate was available.  Developer Alfred Rheinstein obtained a large midblock parcel extending from 70th to 71st containing seven building plots.  He chose architect Aymar Embury II to design his own house, at No. 44; and then convinced five of his buyers to go with the same architect in order to achieve continuity.  And he went a step further.  He wrote restrictions into the deeds to preserve one common park-like backyard for the use of all the homeowners--a similar plan to what had previously been done on Sutton Place.

Among his buyers was Richard Farnsworth Hoyt and his wife, the former Katharine Stone, who purchased the plot next door to Rheinstein at No. 44.   Construction on their 34-foot wide residence began in 1928 and was completed the following year.

Embury produced a five-story neo-Georgian mansion that melded into the enclave.  The marble base with its stately arched entrance surmounted by a swan's neck pediment supported four stories of ruddy red brick trimmed in marble.  A complex iron balcony stretched the width of the second floor.  A parapet broken by blind panels hid the roof garden from view.

The Hoyt residence fit in harmoniously with its Embury-designed neighbors. photo by Samuel H. Gottscho from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York
To house Hoyt's vehicles, Embury installed a three-car garage within the ground floor.  It was cleverly disguised by a folding door that matched the angled bay window on the opposite side of the entrance.  Unless the door was opened, no passerby would ever suppose that was anything other than a window.

The curb cut gives away the secret of the covert garage entrance.  photo by Samuel H. Gottscho from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York

When The New York Sun reported that the Hoyts had sold their former home at No. 32 East 67th Street "to Lady Laura Anne Allom and daughters of Totteridge, Herts, England," it added "Mr. and Mrs. Hoyt now reside at 44 East seventy-first street, which is one of the notable group of private houses that now occupy the site of the old Presbyterian Hospital."

Wealthy, adventurous and handsome, Hoyt was born on July 3, 1888 in Revere, Massachusetts.  He was a partner in the brokerage firm of his father-in-law, Hayden, Stone & Co., and a director in more scores of others.  The Hoyt summer estate, the Anchorage, was at Marion, Massachusetts, on Buzzard's Bay.  He and Katharine had four children, Eleanor, Virginia, Constance and Galen Stone Hoyt.

At the country house Hoyt let loose his passions--automobiles, airplanes and motor boats.  Following World War I, when he had been stationed at McCook Field in Dayton, Ohio working on war aircraft and motor development, he became a director in the Wright Aeronautical Corporation.  He played an active part in developing powerful engines for airplanes and boats.  On August 16, 1929 The New York Times reported he had been elected chairman of the board of the Curtiss-Wright Corporation.

Hoyt's study was decidedly masculine with pine paneling, leather chairs and a hunting scene painting.  photo by Samuel H. Gottscho from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York
His interest went further than merely an engineering or administrative point of view.  On July 20, 1928 The New York Times reported "Delivery of an amphibian plane with a Wright Cyclone engine and luxurious cabin accommodations to Richard F. Hoyt, broker and speedboat fan was announced yesterday...Mr. Hoyt plans to use the plane to commute between New York and a Summer home at Marion, Mass."

18th century furniture like the handsome highboy and the Chippendale ladder back chairs in the master bedroom carried on the architectural motif. photos by Samuel H. Gottscho from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York

And, indeed, a month later, on August 20, Aeronautics wrote that between Manhattan and Massachusetts "Richard F. Hoyt commutes at 100 miles an hour.  He...sits lazily in a cabin finished in dark brown broadcloth and saddle leather, with built-in lockers containing pigskin picnic cases."  At times, said the article, Hoyt took the controls himself.

He was an avid motorboat racer and in 1929 set a speedboat record in the annual President's Cup Regatta.  He was invited to the White House where President Herbert Hoover presented him with a massive trophy cup on the lawn.

President Hoover presented Hoyt with the President's Cup on the White House lawn on October 10, 1929.  Daughter Eleanor is directly behind the President.  from the collection of the Library of Congress

Katharine was athletic as well.  Her favorite sport was tennis and in 1931 she and six other socialites founded the Court House.   Their husbands funded the building of the $1 million clubhouse on East 65th Street which, according to Popular Photography magazine in January 1947, housed "the biggest indoor tennis court in New York, a swimming pool, squash courts, and a tremendous double-storied, wood-paneled sumptuously furnished reception room."

The Court House proved the perfect venue for Eleanor's debutante ball on December 27, 1930.  On the day of the party the New York Evening Post was frustratingly teasing in saying "several unique features are planned for the dance Mr. and Mrs. Richard F. Hoyt of 44 East Seventy-first Street are giving tonight to introduce their daughter, Miss Eleanor Hoyt, at the Court House."

Eleanor, educated at the exclusive Miss Chapin's School, had grown up in the privileged surroundings of other debutantes.  But unlike most others, she had the adventurous spirit of her father.  She could fly an airplane, for instance.  And it may have been that connection that had sparked a connection between A. Felix du Pont and her a few evenings prior to the Court House ball.

Du Pont was a son of the vice-president of E. I. Du Pont de Nemours & Co.  He was a guest at a dinner-dance for Eleanor where they met.   He was also a flyer.

Just two months after her coming-out, Eleanor's parents announced her engagement to du Pont.  The couple was married at The Anchorage on August 28, 1931.  The New York Evening Post remarked, "the wedding will climax a romance of flying fields.  Miss Hoyt is the only girl except Mrs Lindbergh to have piloted Colonel Charles a. Lindbergh.  Mr. du Pont was formerly as employed at the airport of the Ludington air lines in Washington."

The wedding came at an awkward time within the family.  Katharine had obtained a divorce from Richard that spring.  On June 22 Martha Nicholson Doubleday divorced her publisher husband, Nelson Doubleday in Reno.   Seven days later she and Richard F. Hoyt were married.

In the divorce Katharine received both the East 71st Street mansion and The Anchorage.  Richard and his new wife moved into No. 206 East 65th Street.  

Two views of Katharine's pretty boudoir with its hand-painted wallpaper and paneled fireplace wall. photos by Samuel H. Gottscho from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York

Katherine continued her social routine with no apparent bumps in the road.  She was visited by the New York Sun's "Garden Scout" in the spring of 1933.  The anonymous columnist informed readers "Mrs. K. Stone Hoyt's garden at 44 East Seventy-first street is entirely bordered with the most flourishing and richly green rhododendrons.  On this garden the pool was at the back and the borders held in by a low marble curb."

Virginia's coming-out would take place that winter season.  Known popularly as Ginny, her December 29 debut was as impressive as her sister's had been.  The New York Evening Post reported that before the ball, Katharine would host a dinner in the 71st Street house for "about one hundred" and "several hundred additional guests will attend the dance."  The writer expected the event to be "one of the smartest and most interesting of the debutante parties of the season."

Like Eleanor's, it was held at the Court House, described by the Post as "that most exclusive of city clubs."  The article noted "It is a rule of the club that when any one of the members is entertaining the entire house will be turned over to him and his guests, and since there are but seven, one for each day of the week, there is not likely to be any conflict among them."

Despite his earlier infidelity, Richard Hoyt and his former wife seem to have enjoyed an amiable relationship.  So much so that following his death on March 7, 1935, Katharine received $1.5 million from his estate--more than 20 times that much in today's dollars.

Katharine was at The Anchorage in July the following year when she unexpectedly died.  She was 45-years old.

No. 44 was purchased by David Sarnoff, businessman and American radio and television pioneer.   He was the founder and head of the Radio Corporation of America, known today as RCA.  He and his wife, the former Lizette Hemant had three sons, Robert, Edward and Thomas.

The garage door is slightly opened in this shot.  photo by Chang W. Lee, The New York Times December 20, 2012

The Sarnoffs were married on July 4, 1917.  Theirs was a touching love story.  Lizette's family had just arrived in the Bronx from France and were neighbors of David, his widowed mother, and brothers and sisters.  Years later The New York Times said "At that time she spoke little English, but recalled later that Mr. Sarnoff, who spoke no French, learned just enough from her to make his proposal in French."

The onset of World War II immensely affected the Sarnoff household.  David was appointed to General Dwight D. Eisenhower's communications staff and sons Robert and Edward joined the Navy and Army respectively.

Many engagements and marriages were fast-tracked by the possibility of deployment and such was the case with Robert.  A graduated of Philips Academy in Andover and Harvard University, he was attending the Naval Officers Training School in Washington, D.C. when, on March 25, 1942, the New York Sun reported that he had been married to Esme O'Brien in a civil service ceremony.  Only the couple's parents were there.

Before long both Robert and Edward were serving in the South Pacific.  Robert was by now a lieutenant and he was sent to an Army communications installation in Guadalcanal in April 1944 in relation to his Navy job.  When he bumped into a soldier in leaving the Quonset hut office and turned to apologize, he stood face-to-face with his brother.

Both, it turns out, were following closely in their father's footsteps.  The New York Sun wrote, on April 5, "more surprising, they learned that each was working on the same project--the development of regular broadcasts and radio news-copy transmission to the States--from different angles.  Robert is "more interested in the administrative end'--the arrangements for setting up field stations here and on other islands.  Edward, a Brown University-trained electrical engineer, helps to construct and maintain stations."

Their father was busy in the meantime.  He expanded radio circuits for NBC to transmit news from the invasion of France three months later, reestablished Radio France after its Paris station was bombed, and headed the construction of a powerful radio transmitter that could reach all European allied forces--Radio Free Europe.   His war work earned him the Legion of Medal in 1944 and the rank of Brigadier General in 1945.

Sarnoff was named Man of the Year by Time magazine in 1951.

Back home Lizette worked for the Red Cross and for the Free French cause.  For her efforts she was awarded the medal of honor of the French Women's Army.

Among Lizette's other worthy causes was, most notably, the New York Infirmary in which she first became actively involved in 1939.  She was hands-on, starting out as a nurse's aide.  She was as well a member of the executive committee of the United Hospital Fund.

Upon David Sarnoff's death on December 12, 1971 newspapers nationwide ran full page obituaries and printed tributes from the highest ranking men in politics, industry and communications.  His sizable estate was left, mostly, to Lizette.

Although she retained possession of No. 44 East 71st Street, Lizette moved to No. 1 Sutton Place where she died on January 9, 1974 at the age of 79.

The Sarnoff estate sold the house in the fall of 1977 to jeweler Jacques Mazard for $1.45 million.  In reporting the sale The New York Times remarked on the indoor swimming pool.

The mansion was sold again fifteen years later in what The New York Times called "the largest sale in 1992."  The Republic of Korean  spent $10.8 million on the house for its Permanent Mission of the Republic of Korea to the United Nations.  The Mission remains in the house today.  Although most of the interiors have been preserved, expected alterations for offices and meetings rooms have been made.

photograph by the author