Saturday, June 6, 2020

An 1872 Tenement Turned Upscale Home - 347 East 52nd Street




The Turtle Bay section of Manhattan, once an area of summer homes of wealthy New Yorkers, saw tremendous change following the end of the Civil War.  By 1868 modest dwellings and rows of flat buildings had been erected to house the workers who moved north to work in the gritty businesses that took advantage of the riverfront.  Immigrants found jobs in breweries, cigar factories, gasworks, slaughterhouses and cattle pens, and piers.  At one point there were 18 acres of slaughterhouses (or abbatoirs) along First Avenue alone.

In 1872 operator Dennis Loonie completed three brownstone-fronted flat houses on the north side of East 52nd Street between First and Second Avenues.  Five stories tall, each was an attractive example of the Italianate style, with architrave framed windows and bracketed metal cornices.  The double-doored entrances, above a three-step stoop, featured an arched overlight and a robust Italianate pediment supported by foliate brackets.  An advertisement offering an apartment in No. 347 that year described the building as "a fine brownstone house."  


Around 1941 the house still retained its 1872 appearance.  photo via the NYC Dept. of Records & Information Services

When Loonie sold the three buildings a decade later in December 1882, the Real Estate Record & Builders' Guide was more direct in its description, calling them "five-story stone front tenements."

Unlike those living in tenement buildings in Manhattan's more notorious neighborhoods like Hell's Kitchen or Five Points, the residents of No. 347 seem to have been hard-working and law abiding.  Their social and financial standings were reflected in the jobs they sought through daily newspaper ads.  In 1906 three women were looking for work--one as a dressmaker, another a nurse (who "understands all bottle feeding"), and the third a laundress.  The latter apparently had children to take care of.  She asked for an "out by day" position, meaning she would do the "washing and ironing, open air drying" at her own home.

The building was owned by Max and Bertha Roth at the time.  The couple lived in the building, the title of which was in Bertha's name.  While she managed it, Max ran a wholesale liquor business.

William Southard was among the Roths' tenants.  At a time when motor-powered taxicabs were just making their appearance on city streets, he landed a job as a cabbie.  Unfortunately he had a serious accident with his employer's vehicle on June 26, 1909.  The Brooklyn newspaper The Daily Standard Union reported "A break in the steering gear of a taxicab at Ocean parkway and Kings highway last night caused the machine, driven by William Southard...to crash into a tree."  Luckily he had already dropped off his fare so the cab was empty and no one was not hurt.  Although it appeared the accident was not his fault, he would have to explain the damages equal to $1,450 today to his employer.

Resident Thomas F. Gannon was appointed to the New York Police Department on November 16, 1916, earning an annual salary of $1,920 (just over $46,000 today).  Five years later, when he received a satisfying $320 raise, the seeds of change for the neighborhood had been planted.

On December 26, 1920 the New-York Tribune broke rather shocking news, saying “A group of well known folks…have become interested in a little cluster of homes in the shadow of the massive Queensboro Bridge, on Sutton Place, a little byway of the city known by comparatively few New Yorkers.”

As the elegance of Sutton Place spread south to Turtle Bay, the tenant list at No. 347 changed.  A renovation completed in 1953 resulted in a duplex apartment on the first and second floors, and two apartments each on the upper floors.

Among the new residents was Maggy Fisher, a talent agent who represented entertainers like singer Ken Remo.  He recorded two singles for M-G-M in 1953, "My Heart Is A Kingdom" and "Mexico."  Billboard gave him a mixed review, saying "Mexico" was a "Latin-flavored novelty" with a "forthright vocal," and that "My Heart Is A Kingdom" was a "pretentious ballad, [with] schmaltzy fiddles and a belting vocal by Ken Remo."

Also in the building in 1953 was ceramist Gertrude Englander, who preferred to be called a "craftsman."  A member of the New York Society of Craftsmen, she later taught ceramics classes at The Craft Students League.


Gertrude Englander exhibited this bottle  in the exhibition of the New York Society of Craftsmen.  Ceramics Monthly, July 1954
By 1958 Modernist architect George J. Sole and his wife, Antoinette, lived at No. 347 East 52nd Street.  Best known for his ecclesiastical buildings, Sole was born in Naples, Italy and brought to the United States while an infant.  Among his best known works are the United Nations parish church, the Church of the Holy Family, and the Chapel of Our Lady of the Skies at Kennedy International Airport, both dedicated in 1965.

George and Antoinette Sole remained in the building for years.  When George died on April 21, 1973 at the age of 65, he was responsible for more than 40 churches and several synagogues.  The New York Times noted "He had also designed public elementary schools here, a police stationhouse for the 25th precinct in Harlem, apartment houses, and residences."

Another celebrated resident died the following year, on November 13, 1974.  Hazel Jones was a character actress who first appeared on the London stage at the age of 12.  She made her American debut in 1945 at the Barrymore Theater, sharing the stage with Gertrude Lawrence and Raymond Massey in George Bernard Shaw's Pygmalion.  In reporting on the death of the 79-year old, The New York Times listed among her co-stars Noël Coward, Sir Laurence Olivier, Claude Rains, and Leslie Banks.

By the time that brother and sister Jeffrey Reich and Randi Kahn and their spouses purchased No. 347 in 1995 for $650,000 it had received a pseudo-modern veneer of black marble and the 19th century interiors were gone (just one mantel had survived).  After the leases of the rent-stabilized tenants had run out, the family embarked on a gut renovation.  Completed in 1999, there were now a triplex on the first through third floors, and a duplex above.  



Outside, the black veneer was replaced with one of warm light brown brick.  The architrave frames of the openings were preserved as was the arched form of the doorway.

photographs by the author

Friday, June 5, 2020

The 1906 Arts Club Studio Building - 119 East 19th Street



The National Arts Club was formed in March 1898 and incorporated the following year.  At a time when most collectors and dealers still looked to Europe for artworks, the club sought to "stimulate and guide" the "artistic sense of the American people."   It would provide exhibition space not only for the fine arts, but for applied and industrial arts, so crucial for the livelihood of emerging artists.

The National Arts Club was composed not merely of artists, but of architects and supporting businessmen.  Its first president was esteemed architect George B. Post.  The group acquired and renovated space at No. 37 West 34th Street as its clubhouse.

In 1905 the need for more space prompted the members to relocate.  The Record & Guide noted the club "has outgrown its present accommodations, both in membership and business.  It has a membership of about 1,300 and the facilities of its galleries, reading rooms, and restaurant are taxed to the limit."

On March 24 the New-York Tribune reported that the National Arts Club had bought "the Samuel J. Tilden house, Nos. 14 and 15 Gramercy Park, one of the most famous dwelling house landmarks in this city."  A week later the newspaper added "A new and ingenious combination is proposed by the club.  While there have been clubs before, studio buildings and rooms for organization work, never before, it is asserted, has there been a proposition to combine them in a way that will be mutually beneficial."

Included in the club's purchase was Tilden's expansive gardens in the rear which opened onto East 19th Street.  "It is the purpose of the organizers...to erect a studio building, with all modern conveniences, and at the same time have in it direct connection with the gallery and an art club in the membership of which are to be found many of the city's best known connoisseurs," said the article.

The Arts Club Studio building would include clubrooms for "affiliated societies," exhibition space, and artist studios.  "The studio building in 19th-st. will be so placed as to have the north studio windows toward Gramercy Park.  Thus the artist will be assured that his light is forever protected."

Not surprisingly, George B. Post & Son was given the commission to design the Arts Club Studio.  On October 29, 1905 the New-York Tribune updated its readers on the progress.  The estimated cost of the project, including construction and property costs, was $500,000--or about $15 million today.

"The studio building...will be a fireproof structure, seven stories [sic] high, with a mezzanine floor.  It will have a gothic entrance adorned with an arch and columns, and the facade will be of sculptured Belleville gray rock at the first story and ornamental brick with terra cotta trimmings above."  Because the northern-facing studios sat higher the former Tilden mansion, their residents could be assured their natural light was protected.

As construction neared completion on July 22, 1906 the New-York Tribune explained "The 19th street structure, which will be known as the Arts Club Studios...contains twelve large studio apartments, comprising studio, sitting room and library, with mezzanine bedrooms and bath, six smaller studio apartments, with studio, alcove and bath, ten bachelor apartments and fifteen single rooms, most of which are rented under long leases."  The newspaper predicted it would be "a landmark in the neighborhood of Gramercy Park."


New-York Tribune, July 22, 1906 (copyright expired)
The Arts Studio Building and the renovated Tilden mansion were formally opened on November 8, 1906.  By then, according to the New-York Tribune, the financial outlay for the combined project had reached "nearly $750,000."

The upper floors of George B. Post & Son's 15-story building were relatively unadorned.  Faced in brown-brick, the decoration relied mostly on a stone band course above the 13th floor and an elaborate cornice.   The architects focused their decorative attention on the neo-Gothic stone base.  Here the entrance sat within a pointed Gothic arch.  Flanking paneled piers were adorned with Gothic tracery and protruding gargoyles.  Directly above the entrance an arcade of pointed arches was topped by a deeply carved frieze of somewhat humorous faces peering from among swirling leaves.



The Arts Club Studio Building immediately staged exhibitions as the studios filled with artists and the clubrooms with arts-related groups.  Among the first group to take space was the National Society of Craftsmen, which had its own exhibition space and galleries.  The 1913 American Art Directory listed it along with the National Arts Club and Municipal Art Society at the 19th Street address.




They were joined by the American Institute of Graphic Arts before World War I.  The conflict diverted the focus of all the groups in the Arts Club Studio building as they turned to supporting the war effort.  In the spring of 1918, for instance, the American Institute of Graphic Arts spearheaded the "war savings stamps poster competition" the object of which was "to obtain striking posters and cards for use in promoting the sale of thrift stamps," according to the New-York Tribune on April 14.

As submissions poured in, the posters were exhibited in the Arts Club Studio.  At the time of the Tribune's article more than 1,000 had been received, some of them from America's top artists, including Maxfield Parrish, Charles Dana Gibson, photographer Clarence H. White, and Hilda Belcher.

The post-World War I years saw artists like Susan Ricker Knox, Ethel Wright, Jean Hafer and Arthur S. Allen living here.  Allen was president of the American Institute of Graphic Arts and was here as late as 1921.  In the building at the same time was Joseph Howland Hunt, son of famous architect Richard Morris Hunt and partner with his brother, Richard, in the architectural firm of Hunt & Hunt.  He was, as well, the president of the Municipal Art Society.


Susan Ricker Knox's The Conspirators was most likely done in her studio here.
Among the ongoing stream of exhibitions in the Arts Club Studio building was the 1922 show of The Fireside Industries of Berea College.  The New York Herald announced that it included "bedspreads and a variety of weavings, as well as a large collection of baskets made by the mountaineers."  And in 1928 the National Arts Club mounted its "Humorists' Exhibition."  The Evening Telegram explained on February 18 that its object was "to show what the artists of New York are doing in the way of making fun for the public or in the way of having fun themselves."

During the 1920's and '30's other groups took space in the building, including the League of American Artists, the City Gardens Club, and the National Council for the Protection of Roadside Beauty.

The last quarter of the century saw problems emerging.  The Gramercy Park building suffered serious neglect.  A 1999 study recommended a $2 million stabilization for the facade.  And the problem extended into the Arts Club Studio Building.  In 2004 frustrated members of the Arts Club reached out to city agencies, newspapers and preservation groups for help.  In a letter to city governmental agencies the members complained that the then-president of the club, O. Aldon James and his brother John were using many of the apartments as storage.  With no maintenance, ceilings collapsed from water damage and studios were piled high in trash.

Aldon stepped down in June 2011 and renovations began on the apartments.  A spokesman said that they would no longer be necessarily restricted to artists, "but the people who will really want to rent them will be those with a true appreciation for the history of New York.”
The initials of the National Arts Club appear above the delightful carvings.
Today George B. Post & Sons' eye-catching neo-Gothic facade is little changed.  The tongue-in-cheek faces which poke out of the leafy frieze are too often overlooked by rushing passersby.

photographs by the author

Thursday, June 4, 2020

The 1824 Andronicus Chesebrough House - 33 Howard Street





Based on tax records it appears Andronicus Chesebrough erected his three story home at No. 33 Howard Street around 1824, an early example of Greek Revival.  Three bays wide, its brick facade was trimmed in stone.  A dentiled, molded cornice completed the design.

Chesebrough was a partner in the drygoods firm Chesebrough & Van Allen at No. 158 Pearl Street.  He also invested in real estate.  Decades later The New York Times would say that he "held much land on Manhattan Island in the early days of this century, which became very valuable as the city grew."  He and his wife, Margaret, had two sons, Blasius and Charles.  On June 18, 1835, Andronicus Chesebrough died at the age of 53.  The following afternoon his funeral took place from his Howard Street home.

By the mid-1850's the Howard Street block was no longer quiet and respectable.   The drastic change was evidenced on the night of July 21, 1857 when rookie police officer Eugene Anderson surprised a gang of burglars breaking into a shoe store.  One of the men, Michael Cancemi, fired two shots at Anderson, killing him instantly.

Peter Marrin was in the bunk room of Engine Company No. 40 at the time.  He and another man, J. Racey, helped carry the body to the station house, then went on a search of the murder weapon.  In court on September 25 he testified "J. Racey found the pistol in the basement of 33 Howard street;  he gave it to me, and I handed it to officer Wemyse; the pistol was discharged."

How the gun ended up in her basement is unclear; but it seems to have been the last straw for Margaret Cheseborough.  About two weeks later an advertisement appeared in the New York Herald:

To Let--On Account of Breaking Up Housekeeping, a very neat house, with all the modern conveniences, in excellent order, furnished or unfurnished, at 33 Howard street, first block from Broadway.  Rend moderate.  Particulars on premises.

Margaret moved to No. 139 East 17th Street, but she retained possession of No. 33 Howard Street.  She died on November 10, 1860 at the age of 71 leaving her two sons an estate valued at $4 million--more in the neighborhood of $127 million today.

At the time the parlor floor of her Howard Street house had been converted to a saloon.  The New York City Directory of 1859 listed Charles Heinzel "liquors" in at the address.   He placed a Help Wanted ad in The New York Herald on June 19, 1862 seeking "A Good Barkeeper from experience, and good reference, about 30 or 40 years of age, with good pay, at 33 Howard street."

Heinzel most likely needed a veteran bartender because of the rough customers--both men and women--who haunted the saloon and what appears to have been a brothel upstairs.   On December 30 that year the New-York Daily Tribune reported "Yesterday an inquest was held on the body of Mary Demarest at No. 33 Howard street.  Her death was the result of violence at the hands of Patrick Boyle, an Irishman."

The saloon remained at least through 1863; but by 1866 the house had been converted for business purposes.  Charles Chesebrough moved his office into his childhood home, where he now ran his real estate business.  He had inherited "a large quantity of real estate at Fort Washington, New-York City, and elsewhere," from his mother, according to The Tribune Monthly.  Joining him was Henry Trowbridge & Co., which helped administer the Chesebrough estate and properties.

By the mid-1870's furrier E. C. Boughton operated from an upper floor.  He had opened his business in 1855 and was, according to The Fur Trade of America, "best known in connection with the wholesale handling of raw furs."  Boughton also colored furs.  His ad on November 11, 1878 read:

Fine seal sacques redyed in the best manner, darkest shade and highest lustre, and lengthened out with seal, otter, beaver or Alaska sable; time for redyeing 10 days.

While Charles handled the significant real estate left to him by his mother, Blasius led the life of a bon vivant.  He changed his name to George M. Chesebrough and, according to court papers decades later, he "claimed to have purchased a title of nobility in Austria, and liked to be known as 'Count.'"  His own lawyer described him as "a very eccentric man, bombastic, pompous, and extravagant."

George continually scandalized the family name.  It had begun in 1853 when the 35-year old George met Josephine Cregier.  The 16-year old was attending dancing classes in the Bond Street building where he lived.  Court papers later said "she stayed with him in his rooms that night, and lived with him some time afterwards before any pretense of marriage."

They stayed together until 1858 when she left him.  "At times when drunk he was very violent, and treated her with great abuse," according to court papers when Josephine sued him for support of their daughter, Leonora. "He was dissipated, a frequenter of bawdy houses, and an associate of lewd women."

George Chesebrough died in 1866.  Two decades later Leonora, now married, was still attempting "to show that she is the lawful daughter of 'Mad Count Chesebrough and heiress to the millions left through his mother's will,'" as worded in The New York Times on June 17, 1886.  The newspaper recounted numerous testimonies supporting her claims as well as Chesebrough's drunkenness, eccentricities, and abuse of his wife.  "There is an almost countless number of witnesses yet to be called."  Despite that endless parade of witnesses, Leonora lost her case.

E. C. Boughton closed his business in 1889.  He was replaced in the former house by Eli M. Goodman, "tailors' trimmings."

Charles A. Chesebrough died on December 6, 1900.  In reporting on his death The New York Times reminded readers that "Count" Chesebrough "died many years ago after attracting considerable attention by his lavish manner of life."  Charles's estate did not liquidate the vast properties, but continued on in the Howard Street office, administered by Whiteside Hill who moved into the office space.

The transformer from domestic to commercial use brought a cast iron base to the building.  via the NYC Dept of Records & Information Services
At the time of Chesebrough's death residents of the East Coast were fascinated by the West.  Dime novels and touring Wild West shows romanticized the lives of cowboys and Indians.  Stephen A. Frost, a former dry goods merchant, traveled West to trade with Native American tribes.  He opened a retail store where he sold baskets, beadwork, willow ware, and textiles.

S. A. Frost's Son, now operated by his son, Dan, was in the building by 1906.  In 1910, when Dan Frost was chosen for the jury in the Government's case against The World for "having criminally libeled Theodore Roosevelt, President Taft, Douglas Robinson, brother-in-law of Mr. Roosevelt" and others the New-York Tribune described him as a "trader in Indian beads."

One of the foremost dealers in Native American wares, S. A. Frost's Son remained at No. 33 Howard Street until it closed forever in 1949.   The Chesebrough Estate offices were still here as late as 1928 and the family retained ownership of the building until 1953.

A renaissance of the neighborhood in the latter part of the 20th century caught up with No. 33 by 1973 when Primitive Theater was presenting Off-Off Broadway plays.  The storefront, once a gritty saloon, was home to the Opening Ceremony boutique in 2010.



photographs by the author

Wednesday, June 3, 2020

Bennett's Oyster House - 494 Hudson Street





Peter Sharpe was a mover and shaker in New York City.  A partner in the horsewhip making firm of Sharpe & Sutphen, he was founder of the Mechanics Society.  Additionally he served as State Assemblyman and in the House of Representatives, and in 1826 was a candidate for Mayor.  The following year he completed a row of six brick-faced homes and shops on Hudson Street between Grove and Christopher Streets.  

Like its nearly identical neighbors, No. 494 was 21-feet wide and three-and-a-half stories tall.  It was designed with a storefront on the ground level.  Three matching arched openings accommodated the shop entrance, the store window, and the elegant residential doorway with its semi-engaged Ionic columns, sidelights and fanlight.  A single dormer punched through the peaked roof.

By the early 1840's it was the home to the family of Charles Pavey.  Pavey was an inventor and manufacturer.  The C. Pavey factory was located at No. 477 Pearl Street, where it made "C. Pavey's justly celebrated waterproof composition, for Harness and Carriage Heads, Self Shining Harness Liquid, Polishing Paste, &c. &c.," according to an advertisement in 1843.

Pavey apparently did not exaggerate concerning the quality of his products.  In 1848 he was awarded a silver medal "for water-proof leather preservative" at the exhibition of the American Institute; and in 1851 he his "composition for preserving and cleaning harness" won another award.

It was quite possibly Pavey's products that 
brought him into contact with Edwin Beck.  In 1847 Beck moved his "leather and finding" shop into the storefront.  

Around 1853 Pavey sold No. 494 to Beck who now moved his family into the house.  The family seems to have taken in two boarders, one of whom was most likely an employee.  John Bastow was here in 1853 and '54, listing his profession as "leather."  Also residing with the family was Isaac Emmens, a clerk.

The Becks remained until 1856.  On March 12 that year an advertisement in The New York Herald offered "A rare chance--To let, the large store and back room, 494 Hudson street; was occupied as a leather and finding store the last nine years, suitable also for any other business.  If desired the dwelling part will be let with it."

George Battleson moved his family in and installed his upholstery store in the ground level space.  Sharing the residential portion was William E. Blauvelt, a silversmith whose business was at No. 6 Liberty Street.  Battleson did not remain for long.  On March 26, 1860 the store was advertised for rent.

It became home to Christian Vogel's furniture store.  Vogel lived in Hoboken, New Jersey.  The upper floors were operated as a boarding house.  Among the tenants in 1861 were Phele Acker, a nurse; Frederick S. Pelton, "foreman," and William Dunham who enlisted in the Tammany Regiment to fight in the South.  

The Confederates in charge of Libby Prison in Richmond, Virginia allowed Captain Timothy O'Meara of the Tammany Regiment to send a letter to New York with a list of the Union prisoners held there.  Most likely to ensure his letter made it through, he included the line "The people down here are not so cruel as people in the North would make them."  As a matter of fact, however, Libby Prison earned a reputation for its inhumane conditions.  Among the 91 names was that of William Dunham.


The 1827 Federal style doorway survives.

The boarding house's landlady was most likely "Mrs. Linen."  She was running it in June 1864 when one of her boarders dropped a gold breastpin on the ferry from Hoboken.  Within the year Caroline H. Tower, widow of Lucien N. Tower, had taken over as landlady.  Around this time the store was converted for a restaurant.

The relatively rapid succession of owners and businesses would come to an end in May 1868.  An advertisement offered "For Sale--the valuable house and lot, together with the good will and fixtures of the restaurant, 494 Hudson street."   It was purchased by the Bennett family.  John Bennett ran the Bennett Oyster House on Eighth Avenue at the corner of Horatio Street, and his brother Abram F. Bennett owned a restaurant on Barclay Street.

John Bennett moved the oyster house into the restaurant space and the extended Bennett family lived upstairs.  George W. Bennett also owned a portion of the property, although it is unclear whether he lived on site.

Bennett's Oyster House was successful and popular.  John placed ads several times, like the example on October 5, 1872 that read "Wanted--At Bennett's Oyster House, 494 Hudson st., a man to open oysters and make himself generally useful."

In the summer of 1885 John Bennett jumped through a few bureaucratic hoops to get his application to "erect a storm-door" in front of his restaurant approved.  The problem for the Board of Alderman was that a storm door was in fact a semi-permanent version of the temporary structures we see today in front of restaurants and bars that prevent cold air from sweeping in.  The extension would necessarily "intrude" on the public sidewalk.  On August 31 Mayor William Russell Grace granted permission as long as the work was done "at his own expense, under the direction of the Commissioner of Public Works."

Although the Bennetts continued living on the upper floors, in 1896 Bennett's Oyster House closed its doors after having been here for nearly 30 years.   The space was leased to H. K. Sprott for his restaurant.   

It may have been that John Bennett was already showing signs of dementia.  It was a disease that was not understood at the time, called "confusion" at best and "insanity" at worst.

On March 26, 1900 The New York Press entitled an article "All Night In The Streets / Old Man Wandered for 24 Hours After Leaving Home."  The article began "Nearly dead from exhaustion, John Bennett, 77 years old, of No. 494 Hudson street, was found yesterday by a policeman of the West Sixty-eighth street station at Sixty-fifth street and Amsterdam Avenue."  The family had been looking for him since he had left the house on Saturday afternoon.  Bennett's son brought him home from Roosevelt Hospital.

Five months later Bennett wandered away again.  On August 27 a New Jersey detective spotted him on the railroad tracks just north of Hoboken.  Fearing he would be hit by a train and then realizing he was confused, the officer took him into custody.  This time John had been missing for a week.  

At the station house John declared he was 102-years old and in the oyster business.  Officers asked him why he was in Hoboken.  "Looking for oysters, I s'pose," he replied.

On Monday August 27 Detective Fenson brought Bennett home.  The New-York Tribune reported "the detective reported that they were greeted at the house by Bennett's sister, who gave her age as ninety-seven years.  Bennett's son, sixty-seven years old, was also there, and said his father and a brother had wandered away from home on Monday of last week."  The brother was presumably Abram, but where he was now is unclear.

The Bennetts sold No. 494 in 1903 to Leon Wilner who resold it and five other nearby properties (including No. 496 next door) in November 1908.  The second floor was converted to a social hall where dinners and political meetings were held.

On October 23, 1909, for instance, the New-York Tribune reported on the busy schedule of Mayoral candidate Otto T. Bannard.  "He will speak at a noonday meeting at No. 494 Hudson street," it announced.

Not all press coverage of the club was good.  On November 12, 1912 the New-York Tribune noted that "There have been many complaints against the place by persons who live in the neighborhood."  Police had raided the club early that morning after screams of a girl crying for help were reported. 


In 1912 the building was remarkably intact.  A junk store operated from the ground floor.  The social club on the second floor was either in the rear, or simply had deceptively domestic-looking window shades.  Construction of Public School No. 3 has begun next door.  photo from the collection of the New York Public Library

Initially one policeman responded, but the door was barred.  He sent for reinforcements "and the door to the club was forced."  The newspaper reported "the police had a sharp fight after they got in the place, but many of the young men ad women who had been dancing ran away through a rear door.  Five young men and three girls were arrested."

In 1914 Norah Foley leased the store, but she had no intention of opening a shop.  On April 27 the New York Herald announced that the Women's Political Union had "yesterday opened a suffrage shop and meeting place at No. 464 Hudson street."  An unexpected spokesperson for the group was 8-year old Katherine Tomkins who "will make suffrage speeches daily in front of a tiny doll house which has been set up inside the suffrage shop."  The article said "Prominent suffragists will be on hand daily to conduct the meetings."

In the first years of Prohibition the upstairs space was home to the Whitney Social Club, a venue that kept police on their toes.  On February 21, 1920 police shut down a dance here.  Two of the patrons, longshoreman John Gillen and his 18-year old fiancée Elizabeth Seely, moved on to the Cinderella Tearoom, a speakeasy on Cornelia Street.  John never went home that night.  He was gunned down at the doorway as he left.

On Saturday night, December 9, 1922 19-year old Anna Sullivan went to a dance in the Whitney Social Club.  She met a man called "Dutch" there and ended up in his room at the Terrance Hotel on West 23rd Street.  Two days later The New York Herald reported that she was in serious condition "from a bullet wound inflicted early Sunday."  "Dutch" had taken off and could not be found.  Anna claimed "he was showing her a revolver in the room when it accidentally discharged."

It was around this time that the attic was raised to a full floor and a large studio window was installed.  The Whitney Social Club was soon gone and over the next few years businesses like the Hudson Skylight & Roofing Co. and the Hardon Caster Co., Inc., makers and sellers of furniture casters, operated from the building.  


In the 1940's the Federal style openings, including the fanlights, still survived.  photo via the NYC Dept of Records & Information Services.

In the 1970's the Greenwich Village neighborhood had greatly changed.  Trendy t-shirt shops, restaurants and bars now operated from the storefronts and young renters flocked to the apartments.  But the carefree atmosphere around No. 494 changed when the city moored a ferry boat at the foot of Christopher Street, three blocks away, from which it dispensed methadone to heroin addicts.

Residents complained that the addicts who came to the "meth boat" did not leave.  "The area's become another 42nd Street," said one.  One local who was not unnerved by the change was 28-year old Roberta Block, a copywriter for Macy's who lived in a second floor apartment in No. 494 with her boyfriend, Ronald Marin.

A neighbor explained "She was too happy with life to be worried, and she felt that her three Afghans and her apartment's front view would protest her."  The three Afghans earned Roberta the nickname "the girl with the dogs" in the neighborhood.


Surprisingly, the three arched openings of the ground floor have endured.
Each afternoon Roberta would pick up lunch and come home to the apartment to eat with Ronald.  On August 8 she found the street door wedged open by a brick.  A few moments later she staggered to the street, screamed "Somebody help me!" and collapsed.    Raimundo Lemus, who owned an antique shop half a block away rushed to her aid.  "I ran to her, but I knew she was dead," he said.  "So I ran back to my store and called for an ambulance, then I came back with a blanket and covered her."  Roberta's lunch was spilled across the pavement.  Within a few minutes, Ronald arrived.  The New York Times reported "'It looks like Roberta,' he said, and then realized what had happened.

Hosie Gene Turner, a 39-year old heroin addict with a long history of robbery, burglary and rape charges was found hiding nearby.

Throughout the 1990's the store was home to Fratelli Ravioli where fresh pasta could be purchased.  By 2014 the Italian restaurant shop Sanpanino had moved in, which remains.



In the meantime, the easily-overlooked 1827 building is covered with stucco, hiding its Flemish bond brickwork.  But amazingly the arched openings of the first floor survive, as does the wonderful Federal style doorway.

photographs by the author

Tuesday, June 2, 2020

The Frederick H. Parks House - 10 West 76th Street





In 1899 Cornelius W. Luyster commissioned architect John H. Duncan to design two impressive residences at Nos. 8 and 10 West 76th Street, just west of Central Park West.

Completed in 1900, the opulent Beaux Arts style homes shared elements--the seamless flow of the rustication of the first three floors, for instance--while steadfastly maintaining their own personalities.  Each was 25-feet wide and five stories tall above the basement level and faced in limestone.


The residences held their own with the lavish French-style homes on the east side of Central Park.

A short stoop led to the French-grilled doors of No. 10.  The entrance sat below a prominent hood with carved swags.  The fourth floor sat back from the angled facade of the lower floors, and the fifth took the shape of a high mansard.

The mansard included a double-windowed dormer. New-York Tribune October 13, 1901 (copyright expired) 

Luyster sold No. 10 on April 12, 1900 to Frederick Hewitt Parks and his wife, Arabella.  The New-York Tribune reported the price at $82,000--about $2.53 million today.  As was customary with well-to-do families, the title to the property was put in Arabella's name.

Parks was first vice-president of the massive International Paper Company.  When it was incorporated on January 29, 1898 it acquired "almost all of the important mills which manufacture news paper in the Eastern States," according to the New-York Tribune.  By now it had added properties--paper and pulp mills, woodlands, and such--throughout the Eastern and New England States.

The couple had a daughter, Florence Louise.  A year after moving in, on November 22, 1901, the Florence's parents announced her engagement to Frank Ray Kimberly.

The family's summer home was at Glen Falls, New York, where Frederick engaged in his passion for race horses.  In the fall of 1901 he bought a young trotting gelding named Major Delmar from the William E. Spier estate for $2,950.  The New-York Tribune later wrote "he developed Major Delmar, the two-minute trotting gelding.  The next season he took over $23,000 in purses on the Grand Circuit."  Parks made a substantial profit on the horse when he sold it to E. E. Smathers for $40,000--a startling $1.23 million today.

During the winter seasons Arabella was active in West Side society, hosting, for example, an evening reception on February 8, 1903.  She apparently kept active, as well, and was a member of the Roller Skating Club.

In the fall of 1905 Frederick fell ill and was diagnosed with Bright's Disease, a serious kidney condition known as acute nephritis today.  He and Arabella spent that winter in California, but while there his condition worsened--so much so, in fact, that they returned home on a special train in May 1906.  The couple were home only a few days before Frederick Parks died in the 76th Street house just before midnight on May 25.

Arabella remained in the 18-room house until December 1908 when she sold it to the widowed Estelle Blumenthal.  After two decades here she sold the house in May 1929 for the equivalent of $1.47 million today.

By 1940 No. 10 was owned by the Rev. Frederick J. Toomey.  He used the house not only as his residence, but as the headquarters of the Catholic Boys Brigade of the United States.  Founded in England and Ireland in 1896, the goal of the Catholic Boys' Brigade was to steer boys away from idleness and crime by providing after-school activities and discipline.   

The 76th Street house was used for the national administration functions of the group while the local hands-on work with the boys was conducted at No. 316 West 85th Street.  It was a significant organization.  In reporting on the election of officers here on March 6, 1940, The New York Times noted "The Catholic Boys Brigade has a membership of more than 40,000 boys between the ages of 12 and 16."

On April 13, 1944 The New York Times reported that Rev. Frederick J. Toomey had sold No. 10 to Ferdinand Muller, "who will occupy it as his home."  Muller made renovations and when he sold the house two years later it was described by The New York Times as "containing a duplex and a triplex apartment."  

The buyer Mrs. Margaret H. Le Boutiller seems to have returned it to a single-family home.  When she divorced her husband, Bronson Williams, the courts allowed her to retake her maiden name.  

The divorcee's life was not romance-free.  On May 15, 1949 The New York Times reported "Announcement has been made of the secret marriage of Mrs. Margaret H. Le Boutillier of 10 West Seventy-sixth Street...to Joseph Norman Kearny of Ridgewood, N. J."  Kearney was an architect and aircraft engineer, president of the Kearney Development Company.

In July a small group of investors headed by Minnie Small purchased No. 10.  The Times reported they "plan to remodel the building into small apartments."  The conversion, completed in 1955, resulted in a doctor's office in the basement and three apartments per floor above.  It was most likely at this time that the mansard level was brutally remodeled into a grotesque blank-faced bunker.


Other than that disfigurement, the Parks house survives mostly intact on the exterior--a reminder of when this block steps from Central Park was home to some of the city's wealthy citizens.

photographs by the author

Monday, June 1, 2020

The Lost Brougham's Lyceum (Wallack's Theatre) - 483-485 Broadway


Illustration from Memories of Fifty Years by Wallack, Lester and Laurence Hutton, 1889 (copyright expired)

Born in Dublin in 1814, John Brougham was reared by an uncle.  He was sent to Dublin University to become a surgeon but, according to a biographer, "misfortune came upon his uncle, and so the youth was obliged to provide for himself."  Desperate and destitute other than his fine clothes, he accepted the offer of an actress friend, Madame Vestris, to appear on the stage.  He became successful not only as an actor, but as a playwright.

In 1842 Brougham arrived in New York City where he worked with several acting companies, wrote plays, and later managed Niblo's Theatre.  Then in 1850 he took the bold step of erecting and opening his own theater, the Brougham Lyceum at No. 485 Broadway, between Broome and Grand Streets.

Four stories tall, the main feature of the brick-faced structure was the full-width colonnade which sheltered theater-goers from the elements.   It opened on the evening of October 15, 1850 with Esmeralda starring Julia Gould. 

The venture promised to be a success.  On January 11, 1851 The Evening Post wrote "Brougham's Lyceum is crowded nightly; despite rain or muddy streets, for the doors open directly on Broadway, and there are no dark and dirty bye [sic] streets to travel to reach it.  Ladies step at once from a carriage or omnibus into a warm and comfortable hall, and thence pass to their seats without soiling even a satin slipper."


A turn of the century cigarette card remembered Brougham's Lyceum.

Ticket prices ranged from 25 cents for the family circle to an astonishing $5 for "orchestra stall seats."  The cost of those pricey seats would equal $173 today.


The balcony of Brougham's Lyceum is packed with people watching the Fourth of July parade in 1851.  (At the lower right men fire guns into the air, a common means of celebrating the Fourth for decades.)  Gleason's Pictorial Drawing-Room Companion, September 6, 1851 (copyright expired)
But circumstances out of Brougham's control caused attendance to drop off.  According to the 1886 Dictionary of National Biography, "the demolition of the building next to it made it appear to be unsafe, and the business gradually declined, leaving him burdened with debts."  

In Brougham's company at the time was the actor James William Wallack.  He purchased the property from Brougham following the 1851 season.  Before long he gave his son, John Lester Wallack "the onerous positions of stage-manager and leading man," according to theater historian Julian Magnus in 1896.

According to the 1893 The Memorial History of the City of New-York, "The hand of a master was visible in every production, and the taste, elegance, and propriety displayed about the whole establishment gave it a position of respectability never hitherto enjoyed in New-York, except at the Old Park Theatre."

Part of Wallack's immediate success had to do with a brilliant marketing idea.  New Yorkers had followed the messy divorce of world-famous actor Edwin Forrest and Catharine Forrest.  Word-for-word testimonies reprinted in newspapers told of infidelities on the parts of both, and of scandalous "musical parties" Catharine held in their elegant West 22nd Street home when Edwin was traveling.  

Although she had no experience, Wallack hired Catharine, who took the stage name of Mrs. Catharine Sinclair.  He announced in December 1851 that she would appear as Lady Teazle in Sheridan's The School for Scandal.  On December 12 the Daily Standard reported "We understand that Mrs. Forrest has been taking lessons, for some time past, privately...Her appearance will, no doubt, create great sensation in theatrical and other circles."

Indeed it did.  On opening night, February 2, 1852, 150 policemen were stationed around the theater.  Overall her performance was warmly received.  But, according to the New-York Daily Tribune the next morning, "The persons opposed to Mrs. Sinclair were chiefly in the upper tier, and when she appeared, there were some noisy demonstrations, and some apparent desire to raise a row.  But the Police promptly removed the noisiest; and after getting them to the street, kicked them homeward."

Catharine was an enormous draw.  Just over two weeks later, on February 20, the New-York Daily Tribune reported "Mrs. Sinclair has already earned $4,000 (so they say,) at Brougham's Lyceum.  That may be deemed a good test of the correctness of her judgment as to her future course."  (Her earnings in less than a month would equal $137,000 today.)

With the opening of the fall season of 1852 the name of the theatre was changed to Wallack's Lyceum.  Newspapers extolled Wallack's productions and his selection of actors.

On November 17, 1852 The New York Herald wrote "The success of the Lyceum, for the first few months after its re-opening, satisfied the most sanguine hopes of its manager, and was the best evidence of the talent, tact and liberality, with which its internal affairs were conducted."  It praised the debut of actress Laura Keene, saying "With such principals and auxiliaries it is not to be wondered that Wallack's Lyceum has become such a fashionable resort."  (Laura Keene, it will be remembered, was starring in Our American Cousin at Ford's Theatre 13 years later when President Abraham Lincoln was assassinated.)

In its February 1854 issue Places of Public Amusement wrote, "Great attention is always paid to the production of pieces at this brilliant little house, and the costumes and scenery form an important part of the attraction.  English comedy and domestic dramas form the chief attractions at Wallack's, and the house is generally full."  The article noted "every thing offensive to the most delicate taste [is] carefully excluded from the stage."

In 1861 Wallack gave up the Lyceum and erected a massive new venue, Wallack's Theatre, at Broadway and 13th Street.  The former Lyceum became the Broadway Music Hall, a vaudeville theater.  Just some of the acts it presented on the evening August 24, 1861 were:


The Broadway Minstrels,
in a choice selection of Songs, Glees, Choruses, &c.
The Orrin Family,
In a beautiful display of Classic Gymnastics.
Signorita Galleti and Mons. Velarde in the beautiful Fairy Ballet of
The Fisherman's Dream or The Enchanted Lake
Billy Birch and Ben. Cotton, 
In their multifarious Negro Oddities


In 1867 the colonnade had been removed and businesses operated from the upper floors.  Julia Dean was appearing in The Woman in White.  from the collection of the New York Public Library
By 1867 the name was changed to the Broadway Theatre, which survived two more years.  By then the entertainment district had moved northward and the immediate neighborhood was being overtaken by commercial interests.  The theater was replaced by a modern loft building designed by Robert Mook, which survives.


photograph by the author