Saturday, November 28, 2020

The William G. Sutherland House - 331 West 18th Street

 


Born in February 1776, William G. Sutherland made his living as a shoemaker.  By the first years of the 1850's he was successful enough to purchase the fine three-story brick home at No. 221 West 18th Street (renumbered 331 in 1868) in the developing Chelsea neighborhood.  The 23-foot wide home featured the expected elements of the Greek Revival style like the Doric brownstone pilasters which upheld the heavy entablature.

By 1853 Sutherland had retired.  His sons, William and James who ran a fruit business downtown on Front Street, also lived in the house.  A daughter, Margaret, had married Matthew Winters in 1821.   

In 1862 it appears that James moved out.  His name disappeared from the directories that year and a boarder, broker Edmund J. Wade, took his place.   That same year, on March 3, William G. Sutherland died while at Rockland Lake, New York at the age of 85.  William Jr. remained in the house until 1867 when he moved to West 21st Street.  He sold the 18th Street house to Joseph M. Schute and his wife, Mary.

Schute was a well-do-to entrepreneur who ran two separate but related businesses.  A builder, his office was at was No. 387 West 18th Street.  He also operated a pipe business at No. 417 West 18th Street.  It was most likely Schute who updated the house by adding Italianate details.  The parlor windows were extended to the floor and pressed metal lintels were added to the openings.

Living with Mary and Joseph was their second son, John A. Schute.  He died at the age of 27 on January 9, 1874.  As was the custom, his casket sat in the parlor until his funeral which was held there four days later.  A member of the family would have sat vigil day and the night at by the casket--the ritual known as a wake.

Not long afterward the Schutes sold the house to carriage maker Frederick R. Wood and his wife, Mary.   Wood had founded F. R. Wood in 1848.  The house was conveniently located near his carriage factory at Nos. 219-221 West 19th Street.

The firm had been renamed F. R. Wood & Son by 1888.  Rather than manufacturing elegant carriages and buggies, it focused on more industrial vehicles.  The July 1, 1888 issue of The Hub noted "They are making mostly light delivery wagons and are doing a good share of repair work."

On March 12, 1893 Frederick and Mary announced the engagement of their daughter Blanche Estelle to Daniel Kirk Valentine.  Although the wedding was scheduled for the following month, for some reason it did not happen until January 15, 1895.

The Woods sold No. 331 for $18,000 in October that year to Philip G. Becker.  The sale price would be equal to about $565,000 today.  

An interesting side story is that shortly after selling the house Frederick Wood's firm became involved with electric delivery vehicles and "invalid coaches."  In 1900 it was no longer listed as a carriage maker, but as an "electric motor vehicle manufacturer."  It built the first electric ambulance in America in 1901.

It appears No. 311 was being operated as a boarding house in the pre-World War I years.  It was home to Peter Vingel, who made his living as a street car conductor in 1916 during a vicious labor dispute.  Strikes often involved violence, especially when management dug in against the union demands.  On September 13 The Evening World ran a front page banner headline that read "FIGHT UNION TO THE LAST, TRACTION HEADS DECIDE."  The article reported that all the street railroad companies had banded together against the unions.

The tension caused problems for the workers like Vingel who remained on the job.  A separate front page article was entitled "500 Men And Boys Attack Car Crew On Fourth Avenue" and told of the mob that tried "to pull motormen and conductors from surface cars."  A "pitched battle between police and strikers" near Madison Square broke out as the streetcar employees were attacked.  Peter Vingel was among the targets, but he managed not to be wrested off the platform of his car at 23rd Street and Madison before being rescued by police.

Following the First World War most of the once upscale homes on the block were converted to rooming houses or apartments.  Change came to No. 331 in 1924.  On September 18 the New York Telegram and Evening Mail reported "The Margaret and Sarah Switzer Foundation for Girls purchased from Mary Coleman the three-story house at No. 331 West Eighteenth street."  

Sisters Margaret and Sarah Switzer had arrived from Ireland in the 19th century.  They found work as seamstresses and, according to a report in 1911, "reached the head of their profession, the dressmaking profession, and they made a fortune."  The women used their money for the benefit of working women.  After Margaret died, Sarah pushed forward with their vision.  In 1911 she built the Margaret and Sarah Switzer Institute and Home for Girls at Christopher Street and Waverly Place.

Sarah Switzer died on February 27, 1920, but the institute went on.   The Hospital Social Service noted in 1924 "The Margaret and Sarah Switzer Foundation for Girls has opened a New York City office at 331 West 18th Street."

It is unclear how long the Institute remained in the house; but by 1957 it was home to an even more unexpected tenant.  On April 2, 1957 an Associated Press article reported on the arrival of Betsy, "the nation's No. 1 fingerpainting chimpanzee," in the city.  The article said "On arrival in New York, Betsy and her entourage, motored to an exclusive 17-room animal hostel (Animal Talent Scout Shelter, 331 West 18th St.) where Betsy was shown to a room with private bath."

The Animal Talent Scout Shelter was run by Lorrain and Bernie D'Essen.  They acted as casting agents for non-human performers for television, motion pictures, operas, plays and advertisements.  The couple boasted they could book anything "from a mosquito to an elephant."

The presence of the Animal Talent Scout Shelter must have been a constant source of comment for the neighbors.  On November 7, 1970 The New York Times noted "The menagerie from time to time has had lions, llamas, kangaroos and timber wolves, along with a score or more of dogs, cats and deer."


The survival of the Sutherland house may be endangered.  An application to replace the building with a new structure in June 2017 was disapproved; however new plans were filed in November 2019.

photographs by the author

Friday, November 27, 2020

The 1931 Wildenstein & Co. Building - 19-21 East 64th Street

 

photo via zillow.com

Nathan Wildenstein was a tailor in Paris when his career took a surprising turn.  He promised a well-heeled client that he could sell an Old Master painting for her although (most likely unknown to her) he knew little about fine art.  After spending hours in the Louvre Museum to educate himself, he sold the painting and used his commission to begin an art gallery.

Wildenstein became an authority of 18th century French art and his firm, Wildenstein et Cie, was among the foremost dealers in Europe.  In 1903 he opened a Manhattan branch, headed by his son George after 1912.  (Interestingly, Nathan would never cross the ocean to visit the United States.)

George slightly changed the face of Wildenstein & Co.  While he was as impassioned about the Old Masters which made his father's gallery famous, he embraced modern movements as well--such as Impressionism and Realism.  American tycoons routinely acquired works of arts from the gallery.  The New York Sun later commented that it "added extensively to the Altman, Henry Clay Frick, E. J. Berwind, Jules S. Bache and William Randolph Hearst collections.

Benjamin Altman, for example, had purchased Velasquez's The Christ and the Disciples from Wildenstein & Co., Henry Frick acquired Jean-Baptise-Simeon Chardin's La Serinette and the Portrait of Madame d'Haussonville by Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres.

Portrait of Madame d'Haussonville by Ingres.  Frick Collection

Felix Wildenstein had been associated with the family business since 1902.  In 1925 he was named president of the New York branch.  (George had moved on to spearhead the international business.)  The firm had been renting space its gallery space for years, the lease set to expire in 1932.  Wilderstein would not renew it.

On May 12, 1931 The New York Times reported, "An important upper east side real estate transaction that foreshadows the erection of a fine building designed especially to exhibit objects of art was disclosed yesterday through the purchase of 19 and 21 East Sixty-fourth Street by Wildenstein & Co., Inc., art dealers, now at 645 Fifth Avenue."  The two old buildings sat within a block from Central Park amid the mansions of Manhattan's social elite.  Wildenstein & Co. paid about $800,000 for properties, about $13.4 million today.  (A significant outlay in the Depression years.)  

Wildenstein & Co. handled the delicate issue of inserting a commercial structure into an exclusive residential block by hiring society architect Horace Trumbauer to design the building.  Based in Philadelphia, he was responsible for some of Manhattan's most lavish mansions, including the James Speyer residence and the James B. Duke mansion.

Completed the following year, the Wildenstein & Co. gallery building gave no hint that it was anything but a private mansion.  At a time when other architects were working in the jazzy Art Deco style, Trumbauer turned the clock back, designing a neo-French Classic structure that appeared to have been on the site for three decades.  The stone-faced structure rose five stories including a mansard level.  Three arched openings pierced the base, each of which was adorned with a Versailles-worthy portrait keystone.  Two-story pilasters separated the windows of the mid-section.  The fourth floor and mansard sat behind a stone baluster atop the cornice.

The sedate French façade was not the only deception.  Trumbauer's plans and subsequent Department of Buildings documents described an art gallery on the first floor and "showrooms" throughout the rest of the building, with no residential space.  That was a notable stretch of the truth.  In fact, the upper floors (which like the exterior were lavishly decorated in turn-of-the-century French style) included space intended as the home of the Wildenstein family.

photo via zillow.com


The galleries were routinely the venue for charity events, among the earliest being the exhibition of paintings by Giovanni Boldini for the benefit of the Child Welfare Committee of Belleville Hospital in March 1933.   Works were loaned by socialites and organizations like Mrs. Charles T. Barney, Virginia Fair Vanderbilt, Baron Maurice de Rothschild, the Brooklyn Museum and the Paris headquarters of Wildenstein & Co.

The Great Depression did not necessarily affect large sales for the firm.  On December 6, 1934, for instance, The New York Sun reported that the Metropolitan Museum of Art had purchased Antoine Watteau's Le Mezzettino which had been purchased by Catherine the Great in 1767.  The museum disclosed only that it had paid "less than $250,000" for the masterpiece (about $4.77 million today).

Le Mezzetino, collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Among the other important events held in the galleries was the exhibition of Eduard Manet in February through April 1937.  The New York Sun noted "This is the first large and important Manet exhibition ever held in this country."

An anticipated annual event here was the Hallmark Art Award exhibition.  Sponsored by the greeting card company, it offered cash prizes to artists, but more importantly provided funds for various charities.  In 1949 the proceeds went to the New York Chapter of the American Red Cross.  That year the firm offered $28,000 in awards for Christmas-themed paintings with the first prize being $3,500.  

photo via zillow.com

The competition drew major names in the art field.  In 1957 artists like Andrew Wyeth, Loren MacIver and John Wilde submitted works.  The first prize that year went to Edward Hopper.

As the Wildenstein & Co. galleries exhibited and sold high-end art for decades, the family continued to live in the upper floors.  At one point there were 11 members in the house, prompting art dealer Harry Brooks to quip in New York Magazine in 1997 that it was "the most expensive tenement in Manhattan."

In 2013 the David Wildenstein entered into negotiations with the Government of Qatar to purchase the property, but the talks ended with no deal.  It sold in 2017 for $79.5 million to the Chinese conglomerate HNA, which intended to convert it to offices.  Then the firm changed its mind.  Less than a year later, on February 15, 2018, Curbed New York reported that it had sold again, this time to billionaire Len Blavatnik who paid $90 million.

photo by Jim Henderson

In January 2019 another art gallery, Skarstedt, moved into former Waldenstein & Co. space.  Founded in 1994, the gallery features contemporary European and American artists.


Thursday, November 26, 2020

The 1870 Nichols, Bartnett & Co. Building - 477-479 Broadway




In the early years of the 19th century the Rhinelander family was one of the oldest and wealthiest in New York.  Philip Jacob Rhinelander had arrived in New York in 1686.  He amassed considerable property holdings and his son, William, augmented the family fortune in the sugar business.


William's son, William Christopher Rhinelander, married Mary Rogers on October 4, 1816 and moved into a fine home at No. 477 Broadway.  The property stretched through to Mercer Street where the family's carriage house stood.  But, as The Sun explained decades later, "That neighborhood, which was then a residential one, was soon afterward invaded by business."  In 1840 Rhinelander commissioned Richard Upjohn to design a spacious mansion far north at No. 14 Washington Square.

Typical of the Rhinelander family, William did not dispose of the Broadway property, but leased it.  Following the upheaval caused by the Civil War he demolished it and the abutting house at No. 479 and hired the architectural firm of H. W. Smith & Sons to design a modern replacement structure.

The architects chose cast iron facades for both the Broadway and Mercer Street elevations.  The decision contributed to the speed of construction.  Started on July 12, 1869, the building was completed only eight months later, on March 31. 1870.

Five stories tall, the structure featured elements of the French Second Empire style.  Each floor was delineated by a molded cornice.  Engaged Corinthian columns separated each of the gently arched openings.  The complex terminal cornice featured foliate brackets and dentil molding.

The ground floor held two retail shops.  One became home to the Nichols, Burtnett & Co. fancy goods store which manufactured goods on the upper floors.  On August 21, an advertisement in The New York Herald sought "Muff Finishers--Six muff finishers wanted; high prices and stead work.  Apply to Nichols, Burtnett & Co., 477 Broadway."


New-York Tribune, December 22, 1871 (copyright expired)

In the second store was another well-known fancy goods merchant, Hugh O'Neill.  In April 1871 the firm was looking for "An experienced man, who thoroughly understands the lace and fancy goods trade."

Operating from the upper floors in the mid-1870's were Ball & Ray, milliners; artificial flower importers Berliner & Karcher; and apparel manufacturers Isaac & Hackes.

By 1879 one of the stores was home to another fancy goods dealer, Henry Levy & Son, operated by Henry and Sampson H. Levy.   Like Nichols, Burtnett & Co. it also had manufacturing space in the building.  The New York Times said "Besides importing fancy goods they manufactured fine plush and leather goods."

The store was the victim of a clever con artist that year.  On December 15 the New York Herald reported "Sometimes [Frank] Fox, occasionally [James L.] Jones, more frequently [Morris] Cohen, but under one name or another a strange, eccentric being, has for months been projecting himself into the experience of confiding shopkeepers and credulous officials."

The man posed as a newspaper reporter and finagled free or discounted goods from store keepers.  Police supposed he would be easily tracked down by the consistent descriptions.  "He was lame, they all agreed; had dark hair, a scar on the cheek and a deformed jaw--altogether an unprepossessing creature, one would suppose; and besides all this, they said, he had an abnormal development of brass [i.e., boldness].  On the last feature opinion was unanimous," said the New York Herald.

On November 28 he walked into Henry Levy & Son and presented a calling card inscribed "Frank Fox, New York Herald."  He told Henry Levy that he was doing a report on revival of trade (the country was coming out of the Financial Panic of 1873).  After the interview he promised to give the store good coverage in both the Herald and the New York Telegram.  But then he was hard to get rid of.

"But the pseudo reporter lingered.  He bowed himself toward the door, but he lingered still, and it was only when his loudly expressed admiration of a four-dollar pocketbook had been rewarded by a  present of it that he took himself off."  The scam interview cost Henry Levy & Son the equivalent of about $100 in the item.

After having been in business for more than two decades, Henry Levy & Son surprised the industry when it went bankrupt in December 1884.  The New York Times commented, "The failure was unexpected...The causes were the general stagnation in business, poor collections, and depreciation."

The building continued to house garment manufacturing firms.  In the first years of the 1890's the cloak manufacturing firms of Lewis Gruer & Co. and H. Abrams & Co. were here.  Both had significant problems to deal with.

In the summer of 1890 a strike of 26 cutters at Meyer Johnasson & Co.'s cloak factory dominoed into a general walk-out of more than 10,000 workers city-wide.   In response, Lewis Gruer & Co. and some other firms locked its union employees out.  The scheme backfired as the non-union workers joined the cause.

"These manufacturers were to-day surprised to learn that the tables had been turned upon them and that they themselves were now the locked-out parties, as the result of an amalgamation of employees of the trade to aid their previously locked-out fellow craftsmen," reported The Evening World on June 16.

Harris and Morris Abrams had founded H. Abrams & Co. in No. 477 Broadway in January 1871.   Only a year later, in October, the firm was in serious trouble.  As creditors pressed for payment, the men assured that they had $25,000 worth of goods in stock.

Yet when the sheriff arrived on October 22 to "take charge of their store," he "could find only about $3,000 worth in the store," reported The Sun.  Lawyers for one of the creditors accused the Abrams brothers of "fraudulently shipping their goods out of the State and preparing for a failure."

And, indeed, investigators were able to track down shipments of the goods to various locations in Pennsylvania.  It was returned to New York and sold for the benefit of the creditors.  Now what could not be tracked down was Harris Abrams.

While his brother stayed and faced the music, filing personal bankruptcy in November 1899, Harris Abrams and his wife fled town.  He personally owed Boessneck, Broesel & Co. $6,000--more than $190,000 in today's money.  The firm hired a detective to find him.  Charles T. Pfaltz discovered the pair living in Toronto on February 22, 1893 where Abrams was arrested.

At the turn of the century the lace and "novelties" importing firm of Sidenberg & Co. was the major tenant.  The success of Richard Sidenberg's operation was reflected in his sumptuous summer home in Greenwich, Connecticut, abutting the property of millionaire H. O. Havemeyer.  The firm remained in the building through until 1909, after which it moved to Fifth Avenue and 17th Street.

The Sun, March 7, 1909 (copyright expired)

Following the removal of G. Sidenberg & Co. the embroidery firm of Stein, Doblin & Co. leased the entire building from the Rhinelander estate.  It sublet space to shirt maker L. Loery & Son.


Fairchild's Men's Wear Directory, 1911 (copyright expired)

The partners of Stein, Doblin & Co. incorporated in 1912 and almost immediately relocated to No. 935 Broadway.  Although its former landlord was gone, L. Loewy & Son remained.  As had been the case with Lewis Gruer & Co. years earlier, the firm was hit with a labor strike in 1913.

After ten weeks of no budging on either side, the employees were infuriated when L. Loewy & Son hired non-union employees.   The Evening World said "There have been frequent encounters between the strikers and guards and strike breakers and many windows in the firm's big plant, which extends through from Broadway to Nos. 50 and 52 Mercer street, have been broken by stones thrown in these fights."  On April 10 tempers boiled over and took an ugly, violent turn.



The Evening World reported "Three times this morning the police had had to drive crowds of pickets away from the Broadway plant, and shortly after 10 o'clock when three strikebreakers started for their homes a crowd followed them.  They booed and hooted at them and finally took to throwing bits of brick and refuse from the street, and in Crosby street the men turned on their assailants."

Fearful, two of the non-union men drew revolvers.  The strikers fled for cover as about six shots rang out.  One of them did not move quickly enough.  "Only [Isidor] Streir remained behind, toppled to the sidewalk by the bullet, which struck him like a club in the back, and firmly convinced that he had been killed, the strikebreakers fled."

Two policemen and a throng of strikers chased the men into the subway where they were captured.  In the meantime, Streir "lay on the sidewalk moaning that he was shot and dying."  In fact, he was barely injured, thanks to his heavy clothing.  The bullet "had torn through his overcoat and been stopped there partly by the heavy wadding over the shoulders."  It did not break the skin, but merely bruised it.


The Seventh Regiment Gazette, November 1918 (copyright expired)

L. Loewy & Son, Inc. remained in the building into the 1920's.  The Depression years saw Wellmade Leather Goods Co., Inc. and the Century Curtain Company as tenants.

The two separate store spaces survived in 1941.  photo via the NYC Dept. of Records & Information Services.

In a surprising coincidence, Stein Doblin Lace Co. was organized in 1994 in the building its predecessor had left more than half a century earlier.  In 2003 Pearl River Mart opened in the ground floor.  Described by The New York Times as "a Chinese department store," it had been on Canal Street for seventeen years.  Marianne Rohrlich, writing in The Times on March 6, said "A vast assortment of bamboo or straw window shades and shoji blinds are available" and "an enormous kitchenware department offers a large array of chopsticks, and there are bargains on ceramic dinnerware."

The store remained until 2015 when it was forced to close due to a "significant rent increase."  On December 19, 2018 Dolby Soho opened in the space.   The three-month pop-up was self-described as "an experiential space where science meets art and technology meets imagination."



After 150 years the handsome cast iron building is remarkably intact.

photographs by the author

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

The Altered John Q. Aymar House - 680 Broadway

 



John Quereau Aymar was a son of John Patrick Aymar who had made his fortune in importing enormous amounts of West Indian cargo--rum, sugar and such--from the West Indies.  In 1821 John and his brother Benjamin formed B. Aymar & Co. which sailed clipper ships between New York and California, and to the West Indies.  Like their father, they imported brandy, mahogany, coffee and port wine.  

John married Elizabeth Dickson in 1825 and they would have three children, Mary Dickson, Elizabeth, and John, Jr.  He and his family lived in the elegant residence at No. 42 Greenwich Street.


John, Elizabeth and their two daughters posed in the Greenwich Street house around 1833.  attributed to George W. Twibill, Jr., from the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art

The family suffered tragedy when John, Jr. died on January 12, 1830 at 15 months of age.  At the time the Greenwich Street neighborhood was becoming increasingly commercial.  Wealthy families were moving north to the neighborhood around Broadway, Lafayette Place and Bond Streets.

Around the mid-1840's the Aymar's moved to No. 680 Broadway, between Great Jones and Bond Streets--among the most exclusive residential neighborhoods in the city.  Faced in white marble, the Italianate style house rose three stories above a high English basement.  Its floor-to-ceiling parlor windows were most likely fronted by a cast iron balcony.

Mary Dickson Aymar married Joseph Gaillard, Jr. around 1854 and the newlyweds moved into the Broadway house.  The couple went to the Powelton House near Newburg, New York in the summer of 1856.  It was there that Mary died on July 26 at just 29 years old.  Her funeral was held in St Bartholomew's Church, then nearby on Lafayette Place, on three days later.

Joseph Q. Aymar involved himself in charitable causes and by 1855 was the treasurer of the Eye and Ear Infirmary on Mercer Street.  He and Elizabeth lived quietly in their refined marble mansion, rarely appearing in society pages.

Once again the Aymars saw their neighborhood being invaded by commerce in the years preceding the outbreak of the Civil War.  In 1859 they moved to No. 102 Fifth Avenue and sold the Broadway house to the East River Bank, which had been founded seven years earlier on Third Avenue.

The bank altered the house for business, removing the stoop, and converting the elegant interiors to commercial space.  Among its first tenants in the upper floors was physician A. Van Antwerp whose medical office was in the building in 1861.

In 1868 the famed photography studio of Sarony & Co. moved its gallery into No. 630 Broadway.  Born in Quebec in 1821, Napoleon Sarony had come to New York City around 1836.  He became known for capturing the images of some of the most famous people of the period.  The Evening News said decades later "Among his first sitters were Peter Cooper, William Cullen Bryant, Longfellow, Charlotte Cushman, Forrest, Booth, John McCullough and Ristori."

This photo of actress Charlotte Cushman was made in 680 Broadway around 1870.  from the collection of the Library of Congress

Sarony & Co. was joined in the building in 1869 by M. J. Paillard & Co., dealers in music boxes.  In evenings after dinner well-heeled families entertained themselves in their parlors either by piano music (normally played by a daughter) or by an expensive music box.  The often-complicated machines played several tunes and many had interchangeable rolls, increasing the number of available songs.

In July 1869 an article in the American Phrenological Journal announced "the celebrated Schreiber Cornets and Band Instruments with water valves are sold by the well-known firm of M. J. Paillard & Co., No. 680 Broadway, New York.  They are noted for their purity of tone, ease with which they may be blown, uniform direction of bell, and beauty of appearance."  Depending on the model, the music boxes could imitate "from six to twenty" band instruments.

An ad in The Nation on September 9, 1869 announced Sarony & Co's new "College Department" for class pictures, run by Napoleon Sarony's son, Otto.  copyright expired

M. J. Paillard & Co. manufactured its music boxes in St. Croix, Switzerland.  An article in The Christian Union on December 11, 1878 began, "The acknowledged headquarters for Musical Boxes in this city is the store of Messrs. M. J. Paillard & Co., 680 Broadway, opposite the Grand Central Hotel."  It went on to say, "Their stock includes both large and small boxes.  In the larger ones, in addition to the cylinder, are introduced bells, drums, castanets, reeds, and a bellows arrangement, concentrating in some of the more costly styles the effect of a complete orchestra."

Guide to the City of New York, 1872 (copyright expired)

Sarony & Co. moved northward in the mid-1870's, but M. L. Paillard & Co. remained for decades.  As technology changed, the firm adapted.  In 1898 it advertised that it was now selling Gram-o-Phones.  Nevertheless, changing tastes in home entertainment doomed the once globally-famous firm.  In April 1900 a days-long auction was held in the premises.  An announcement in the New-York Tribune on April 16 listed not only a striking variety of music boxes, but the show cases, desks, safes, chandeliers, typewriting machines and all the other fixtures.

In the meantime, the East River Bank continued on in the ground floor.  By 1917 it had become the Bower & East River Bank, and by 1921 the East River National Bank.  

A renovation was initiated in 1920 to extend the banking room into the building next door at No. 682 and install a new storefront.  At the time the upper floors held a millinery firm, an apparel manufacturer, a feather wholesaler (important to the millinery businesses in the neighborhood), and a coffee importer.

Astoundingly, as 20th century loft buildings rose all around it, the Aymar house survived.  During the Depression years a branch of the National City Bank of New York occupied the ground floor.  Then a renovation completed in 1942 resulted in "light manufacturing" on the first floor with the second through fourth floors "to be vacant," according to Department of Building documents.

In 1975 the building was home to the newly-formed Ace Banner & Flag Co. in 1975.  While the firm manufactured mainly nylon flags with embroidered stars and gold fringe, for example, it marketed a clever novelty in 1978.  The Truce Flag was a small white flag, signifying a peace offering.  An article in The New York Times on July 26 suggested that if a reader needed to apologize or end a spat, "personal or business, what you could do is get a little white flag, and put it on the bed table or your office desk."

The final decades of the 20th century saw another major change in the Broadway neighborhood.  In 1981 the owners were given permission from the city "to convert the oversized building at 680 Broadway from manufacturing to residential use," as reported by the Village Voice on December 24.  The renovation, completed in 1982, resulted in commercial space on the ground floor and living/work quarters for artists in the upper portion.


Today the 1920 storefront is virtually intact and, amazingly, the marble façade and cornice of the upper floors survive, although the Victorian details of the openings have been shaved flat.

photographs by the author

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Martin Ferdon's 1895 646 West End Avenue



 

In 1895 developers Powers & Welcher hired architect Martin V. B. Ferdon to design a five-story flat house at No. 646 West End Avenue, just north of West 91st Street.  At 28-feet wide and 100-feet deep, the structure went up with blazing speed--completed within just four months.

Ferndon married Renaissance Revival and Romanesque Revival in designing the building.  The brawny, uncut stone blocks that faced the first floor and the clustered columns upholding the arched entrance, for instance, drew from Romanesque.  But the delicate carvings within the spandrel panels were pure Renaissance Revival.

The treatment of each of the upper floors was slightly different, with the arched top floor openings echoing those of the first floor and creating a happy balance.  Ferdon had the unusual opportunity to add fenestration and jutting bays to the south elevation because of the old lane which was not included in either this property nor that of the plot to the south of it.  The venerable pathway had originally joined the Bloomingdale Road to what is today the West Side Highway.

Each of the apartments in the building contained eight rooms, all of which, because of the lane, received natural ventilation and light.  Tenants enjoyed not only electric lights, but a passenger and a service elevator.

The building filled with white collar tenants, among the earliest of which was German-born musician Hermann Hans Wetzler.  His apartment doubled as his studio, where he taught "piano, harmony, composition and organ."  (His organ lessons were no doubt conducted elsewhere, although he very likely had a "parlor organ" in his suite.)

Hermann Hans Wetzler, Baker's Biographical Dictionary of 20th Century Classical Musicians


Wetzler did not rely solely on lessons for his income.  He was as well the organist at Trinity Church and a favorite among socialites for their musicales.  As the summer season drew to a close in 1897, for instance, the Newport, Rhode Island Herald noted:

There has been more good music this season at Newport than ever before.  Among the numerous musicales those given by Mr. and Mrs. O. H. P. Belmont, at Belcourt, were the most prominent.  Mrs. Belmont had engaged Mr. Hermann Hans Wetzler, of New York, to arrange and conduct her musicales and to play the beautiful large organ in her house, and showed rare artistic judgement in this choice, as well as n the general management of her musical entertainments.

A few weeks later, on September 22, 1897, the Musical Courier announced "Mr. Wetzler has returned and is again busy at his charming residence studio, 646 West End avenue, where there is a constant procession of pupils and musical folk."

Dr. Frank S. Grant and his wife lived in the building at the same time.  Born in Akron, Ohio in 1852, he was educated and the College of the City of New York and the College of Physicians and Surgeons.  He was the medical director of the Provident Savings Life Assurance Society, his financial success being reflected in his memberships to the Atlantic Yacht and the New York Canoe Clubs.

Other tenants included De Wit C. Baker, a long-time member of the New York Southern Society; merchant Albert E. McMulkin; and attorney George A. Heaney.  McMulkin was a partner in Francis McMulkin & Co. founded by his father in 1861.  The firm dealt in meat and poultry at the West Washington Market.  

Attorney George A. Heaney was a graduate of Columbia Law School and had offices at No. 15 William Street.  In 1903 the new Superintendent of Buildings, Henry S. Thompson, appointed him as his secretary.  The position added a yearly salary of nearly $75,000 in today's money to Thompson's income.

On the cold morning of February 18, 1904 The Globe and Commercial Advertiser ran the front page headline: "Peril After Main Breaks / Flood on Upper West Side Block Endangers a Number of Lives."  The article went on to report that the largest water main in the city had burst at around 4:00 that morning at Broadway and 92nd Street.  It "not only did thousands of dollars worth of damage to the neighboring property, but caused all heat to be stopped, narrow escapes from drowning in the basement flats, [and] loss of all early morning supplies of milk, rolls, and eggs to the tenants."

The article noted "At 646 West End avenue, an apartment house, the basement was flooded for five feet."  The janitor's apartment was there, and he, of course, was peacefully asleep.  "Janitor Buskey had a narrow escape," said the newspaper.

Onlookers watch the spouting water from the basement of No. 646 West End Avenue.  The Evening Telegram, February 19, 1904 (copyright expired).

The Evening Telegram added "Through this house most of the water found an exit after travelling through the cellars in that block.  The water burst open the basement door with such pressure that it spouted up to a height of several feet and appeared not unlike a geyser."

In 1914 Dr. Katherine Arends moved into an apartment and opened her medical practice here.  Three years later, on the night of May 21, 1917, she attended church services.  While she was away a burglar sneaked into her apartment by means of the fire escape.

When Katherine returned and opened her front door, she saw the shape of a man in the dark room.  Rather than scream and run, the 50 year old woman attacked.  The New-York Tribune reported "When Dr. Arends discovered the intruder she grappled with him and cried for help.  He struck her in the face, but she continued to hold him until he had choked her."

The confrontation was so intense that it was heard on the sidewalk and passersby notified an officer.  Patrolman Kies broke open her door and revived Arends, who was unconscious.  She was taken to Mount Sinai Hospital with a broken nose, scratches and bruises.  While the would-be thief escaped, he did so empty-handed.

As it turned out, Katherine's burglar was a psychopath.  His normal scheme was to answer ads placed by single women looking to share their apartments with another female.  Posing as the brother of a fictitious young woman who needed a place to live, he gained entrance.  Once inside the apartment he brutally attacked his victims before stealing their valuables.

The last of a string of complaints came from the widowed Juanita Tramanna.  The New-York Tribune reported "as in the former cases, [he] represented that he had a sister working in Wall Street, who was looking for a room...When Mrs. Tramanna led him to it he flung her down and beat her almost into unconsciousness.  He nearly tore her clothes from her in his frantic search for jewelry, but finally was frightened away by her screams."

In a period of three months he had stolen more than $3,000 in jewelry (nearly $60,000 in today's money) from women whom he also savagely battered.  Detectives laid a trap, placing eight decoy ads in newspapers then stationing an officer in each apartment.  One of those was in the apartment of Juanita Tramanna's sister, Martha Trautman.  Juanita waited silently in the bedroom with Detective Richard Golding.  And finally a knock came at the door at 8 p.m.

Martha answered it to find 18 year old John Horvath, who explained that his sister needed a room and he was there to pre-inspect it.  As soon as he was brought into the parlor, Golding confronted him.  The detective immediately noticed that Horvath was missing three teeth, as had been described by his victims.  As he started to handcuff the teen, Juanita Tramanna burst out and shouted "That's the man!"

The distraction gave Horvath an opening.  He "sank his teeth in the detective's arm.  Through the door they struggled and out into the small reception hall, were Horvath managed to wrest Golding's blackjack from him and brought it down across the detective's right eye, almost felling him."  Tenants poured out from their apartments to assist the officer.  One ran to the street to find help.  The New-York Tribune reported "Detectives Finan and McGowan arrived in time to aid in beating Horvath into submission."

Horvath's resolute resistance sent two officers to the hospital.  "Golding, whose arms were a mass of bite wounds, and Cannon, suffering from scalp lacerations, were taken to the Knickerbocker Hospital."  When Horvath was brought to trial on a long list of charges, Dr. Katherine Arends testified against him.

A renovation completed in 1920 reduced the size of the apartments to three rooms and a bath.  An advertisement in The New York Times on January 27 that year announced "Just Completed - Possession At Once" and touted "Real Kitchens."  Rents ranged from $1,320 to $1,800, or about $1,916 per month for the most expensive in today's dollars.

Despite the smaller apartments, the tenants continued to be professionals.  Among the initial residents was economist Lewis H. Haney, who had been a member of the exclusive Cosmos Club since February 1917.  Members of the social club had distinguished themselves in "science, literature and the arts, a learned profession or public service."  

Other tenants in 1921 were oil man J. Edward Jones, a graduate of the University of Kansas; and Dr. Warren B. Chapin, described by the New York Evening Post as a "well-known diagnostician."  He had graduated from Princeton in 1885 and then from the Medical School of New York University.


Housing laws at the time prevented landlords from discriminating against families with children; however the practice was still rife.  In 1921 the Daily News sent investigative reporters, masquerading as apartment hunters, into the field.  On October 21 the newspaper's findings said in part, "At 646 West End Avenue, three furnished rooms, in the back of the house, rent for $160.  But the superintendent scowled inhospitably at the mention of children.

"Miss Von Winkle, the owner, positively will not take children," he said.  "If you have children you must leave them somewhere else.  The last tenant had a child who broke up the furniture and ruined the wall paper.  No more children here."

That year the well-to-do attorney Allen T. Hopping and his wife, the former Genevieve McMaster, separated.  Genevieve moved into her mother's three room apartment at No. 646 West End Avenue with their four year old daughter, Mary Genevieve.  Genevieve found a job in a wholesale millinery firm making $35 a week.

Allen took Genevieve to court in a custody battle that would last six years.  As it turned out, neither would triumph.  On March 23, 1927 The Yonkers Statesman reported that Supreme Court Justice Mahoney had given custody of the now 10-year-old to her grandmother, Emma Louise Tilton Hopping of Hastings-on-the-Hudson.

Emma was the widow of millionaire Andrew Howard Hopping who had left her his entire estate.  The ruling said "These are advantages which could not be given either by the father or mother.  In my opinion the child should not be deprived of them solely because of the opposition of the mother, whose chief objection arises from an alleged love for the child and a desire to have her constant companionship."  He called Genevieve's motives, "selfish."

Sadly for Genevieve, she was allowed to see her daughter only on the last weekend of each month, and could have her from 4:00 p.m. on Christmas Day to the same time on December 31.

No doubt the most celebrated tenants were the New York Yankee's pitcher Vernon Louis "Lefty" Gomez and his wife, Broadway star June O'Dea.  The couple was married on February 26, 1933 and leased an apartment in the building. 

Lefty had debuted on the mound for the Yankees on April 29, 1930.  According to him, trouble between the couple had to do with their conflicting careers.  He wanted her to accompany him on road trips, but she desired to continue her stage career.  According to June, it had more to do with the hurler's drinking and "self destruction" problems.

Vernon "Lefty" Gomez and June O'Dea smile for the cameras.  original source unknown

She said in court in May 1938 that twice she had pulled him from a window sill before he could jump.  And once while driving home from a Brooklyn game he said to her "Maybe it would be a good thing if I would wreck this car and kill us both."  June claimed that when he drank, his temper overtook him.  She testified, according to The New York Sun, "One day, during the pitcher's 1935 season, he tried to beat up two Negro boys at their apartment on 646 West End avenue, but she managed to get him into the house.  That was the time she received the black eye."  Despite the highly-publicized proceedings, the couple reconciled and had two daughters and two sons.

For the next few decades professional tenants came and went.  Among them in the 1940's was Charles Joseph Herman, the chief clerk of the Upper Park Avenue Branch of National City Bank, in charge of operations.  And when World War II broke out, John T. Brickley left No. 646 to join the Marine Corps.

In 1941 the stand-alone structure was overshadowed by its neighbors.  via the NYC Dept of Records & Information Services

Brickley had attended Dean Academy in Franklin, Massachusetts where he was a star football player.  He got his talent naturally, his father Charles E. Brickley having been "one of Harvard's gridiron immortals," according to The New York Sun.  Another student, Rodney D Sadler was never able to get a regular position as tackle on the team, overshadowed by "the huge form of John T. Brickley," according to The New York Sun.  

In an amazing coincidence, the two men were in the same Marine regiment, stationed in the South Pacific. They participated in the battle of Guadalcanal and now their old rivalry resumed.  The New York Sun reported on June 29, 1943, "Today Private first class Sadler is a second string tackle on a Marine regiment eleven--still trying to take the 'Varsity' assignment away from his friendly rival, Private First Class Brickley, U. S. M. C."

In the early 1980's the building was purchased by the West Side Kollel Torah, or Kollel Yisroel V'Shimson.  A synagogue was installed in the basement level.  It was the destination of jeweler Moses Dyckman each day as he attended the 6:45 service before he headed to work.

On the morning of September 15, 1981 Dyckman was walking to the synagogue when a car pulled up and two men dragged him into it.  Later the man's family received a telephone call demand for $10 million in ransom.  While the kidnappers waited, detectives received a tip that led them to an abandoned building in Harlem.  There they found the 86-year old handcuffed, gagged and with a paper bag over his head, but unharmed.

Unaware that Dyckman had been rescued, the kidnappers continued calling his home, eventually negotiating a drop-off point and a scaled-down ransom amount.  News coverage tipped off the crooks and they temporarily escaped capture.  But on October 7, 1981 The New York Times reported that two men had been arrested and a third, whose identity the police knew, was being sought.


The owners completed a renovation in 1984 that resulted in four apartments per floor, and another in 2009 that converted the first floor to classrooms, offices, and two apartments.

photographs by the author