Wednesday, January 16, 2019

The 1908 Merchants' Building - 693-697 Broadway



photo by Beyond My Ken
Born in Germany in 1849, Philip Braender arrived in the United States as a teenager just after the end of the Civil War.  He began his career as a "mason builder" in 1871, but quickly moved into real estate development.  From 1877 to about 1892 Braender focused on erecting apartments, most of them for the German immigrant community.  The Real Estate Record & Builders' Guide later remarked "there is scarcely a block between 63d and 125th street which does not contain evidence of his workmanship, in the shape of five-story flats."

During the last decade of the century he had branched out into other areas of the city.  In November 1907 he purchased the three five-story buildings at the southwest corner of East 4th Street, and the two smaller buildings on the side street.  It was a corner that had seen tremendous change.  Around 1843 the upscale Waverly House hotel opened on the site, amidst the mansions of some of Manhattan's wealthiest citizens (Cornelius Vanderbilt erected his 40-foot wide home at No. 10 Washington Place nearby in 1846).

The posh hotel sat in a quiet residential neighborhood.  from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York
But the second half of the 19th century brought commerce.  The mansions disappeared, to be replaced by businesses, as did the Waverly House.  Now Philip Braender had grander plans for the corner.

On January 8, 1908 The American Architect and Building News reported that architect William C. Frohne was "preparing plans for a sixteen-story loft building."  The estimated cost, said the article, was $1 million; more than 27 times that much today.

Later that year the Real Estate Record & Builders' Guide added "The three lower stories will contain stores and have elaborate show windows.  The upper exterior will be of light brick and terra cotta, with copper trimmings."  Frohme had included all the latest amenities:  "electric elevators, high-pressure heating, and an electric power plant."  (An independent generator was a near-necessity at a time when power from outside companies was not always dependable.)

Frohne released this rendering in July 1908.  Note the elaborate cornice crowned with torches.  Real Estate Record & Builders' Guide, August 1, 1908 (copyright expired)

The soaring structure was completed before the year's end.  It was originally to be called the Braender Building; but during construction the name was changed to the Merchants' Building as evidenced in a carved cartouche above the Broadway entrance.

Each of the rusticated limestone piers sat on polished granite bases.  The cast iron show window enframements took the form of bundled sheaves.  Above the third floor cornice stern-faced owns raised their wings to uphold a decorative stone band carved to mimic the cast iron bundles around the storefronts.  The band reappeared above the 13th floor.  Fearsome lions' heads took the place of owls on the 14th floor.  Far from street level, they were executed in less expensive terra cotta, along with the banded and fluted columns of the 15th and 16th floors, which incorporated female faces into their Corinthian capitals.

photo by Phyllis Winchester

But the most striking element of Frohne's design was the effusive copper cornice, fabricated by Max Kestenbaum.   Although the original rendering showed gigantic torches lining the edge, they were downsized to a regimented row of anthemia, each the height of a man.  Upheld by enormous brackets, the massive cornice must have been blinding in the sunshine before the shiny copper obtained its green, weathered patina.

Architects' and Builders' Magazine, January 1909 (copyright expired)

Even while the Merchants' Building was under construction, apparel and textile firms scrambled to lease space.  In September 1908 the Royal Tailoring Corporation of Chicago rented two floors, a total of 18,000 square feet.  It was among the first of the more than a score of tenants who would manufacture clothing and millinery here.

Four years after moving in many of the apparel firms were rocked by a wide-spread labor strike.  Unions, which were becoming more powerful, sought improved working conditions, reduced hours, and better pay for their members.  But their strong-handed methods included intimidation of those workers who stayed on the job--too often resulting in physical injury or death. 

Workers in J. L. Taylor & Co.'s factory were terrified by mobs of union members waiting for them on the street; to the point that they were afraid to leave the building.   On January 8, 1913 The New York Times reported "At the factory J. L. Taylor & Co., 693 Broadway, where disorder occurred on Monday night at closing time, there was renewed intimidation of the workers last night.  Automobiles took away 100 of the girl employees under police protection.  Twenty men employees, it was admitted by the manager of the factory, were prepared to spend the whole night in the place for fear of being beaten by strikers if they attempted to go to their homes."

Close inspection reveals that two tenants, William Rosenbaum  & Co. and Thos. A. Sullivan & Co. placed their names in metal lettering at the fourth and fifth floors.  Architects' and Builders' Magazine, January 1909 (copyright expired)
Philip Braender died in November 1916.  The Real Estate Record & Guide said "No less than fifteen hundred private houses, apartments and fireproof commercial buildings came from his hands."  Many of those structures, including the Merchants' Building, were still owned by his estate.

It was not labor problems, but an organized band of brazen thieves that plagued apparel makers in 1918.   On November 20 The Evening World reported "Silks and woolens to the value of almost $1,000,000 have been stolen from loft buildings in New York since the first of the year...They haul their plunder away in motor trucks."

The saavy burglars were aware of new forensic techniques and used a substance on their fingers to prevent prints.  "Cases are on record where they bored through brick and plaster walls to get their booty," said the article.  "They have smashed doors that were built like safe doors and have broken strong locks.  In some cases safes have been blown apart."

The Merchants' Building was on their list of targets.  Among the victims listed by the newspaper was Mark Bros., which had lost $2,000 in goods, nearly $33,000 today.

The Braender estate sold the building in September 1919 to Max N. Natanson for $900,000--in the neighborhood of $12.8 million today.  The following year in November Natanson sold it to Morris P. Altman.  The rapid-fire turnover of the property continued until, when Edward W. Browning sold it in September 1930, The New York Times remarked "the deal marked the nineteenth time the property had been sold since 1916 [sic]."

The Evening World, November 12, 1920 (copyright expired)
Despite the frequent buying and selling of the Merchants' Building, it continued to be fully-rented to apparel and millinery firms.  The same 1921 issue of The Haberdasher reported on three new tenants--the recently formed Shapiro Brothers, manufacturers of youths' and men's clothing; Benjamine Poe, neckwear;" Matthew Rosenbloom, shirts; and the new men's clothing firm Rosen-Edison Company, makers of their "Better-Made" brand.

The Good Value Hat and Cap Company was in Merchants' Building during the Depression years.  Workers at the time were paid in cash, a practice inconceivable today.  Once a week an employee would withdraw the weekly payroll from a nearby bank and then nervously return to stuff pay envelopes for each employee.  The routine was not lost on criminals, who sometimes watched the movements of cashiers and bookkeepers for weeks and then pounced.

Such was the case on October 16, 1931 when 20-year-old Lillian Elson returned from the Bank of America at Broadway and Third Street.  She stepped into the elevator with two other passengers.  Just before the operator closed the doors, three men joined them.  As soon as the doors closed, each of the men pulled out a pistol.  They ordered the operator to stop at the third floor, snatched the large envelope of bills from Lillian, and got off the elevator.  According to the passengers, they ordered "shoot up to the roof."

The men then ran down the stairs to make their escape.  But they neglected to pocket their weapons before reaching the lobby.  E. J. Rosenwald, who was entering the West Fourth Street entrance, saw the guns as they rushed past and shouted "Stop thief!"  His calls drew the attention of a 22-year-old soda clerk, Alfred Siegel.

As it turned out, Siegel was the last person the robbers would want to encounter.  He had been a football player in 1929 at De Witt Clinton High School and was currently awaiting appointment as a policeman.  The athletic young man took up the chase, focusing his attention on crook with the pay envelope.

John Virga apparently realized he was in imminent danger of capture, so he flung the payroll to the ground, hoping to distract his pursuer.  That did not work.   After a three block run, Siegel made a flying tackle on Washington Place.  The 27-year-old Virga was arrested and the envelope--containing $1,399.55 was recovered.

The cast iron sheaves of the storefronts, now painted blue, are mimicked in the stone course above the owls.  photo by Beyond My Ken
The Paper Box Makers Union had its offices in the building by 1929.  Labor unions had still not abandoned the practice of strong-arming strike breakers and owners.   After a five-year Federal investigation, officials arrived at the office on July 6, 1934 and arrested Charles Vonie, the union's business representative, and Joseph Parisi, the business representative of the Paper Box Drivers Union.  They were charged with coercion and conspiracy.  Assistant State Attorney General Benjamin Heffner said complaints had been made by manufacturers "who had charged they had been forced to sign union wage agreements."

Another millinery firm in the building at the time was the Goldy Hat Company.  The Great Depression significantly slowed business for apparel and millinery firms as Americans cut back on non-essential spending.  Joseph Markovitz had been working at Goldy Hat Company for about two years when he reported for work on October 21, 1935.  That morning he became one more victim of the Depression when he was told, according to The New York Times, "there was no work for him."

Markovitz was stunned.  He lingered, apparently trying to figure out what he would do now, how he would pay his bills, but could not come up with a solution.  "He remained there all morning, then went into the hallway, the police reported, and jumped from a window."  He had taken the time to write a note of apology which was found in his pocket.  "The body crashed through the wooden roof of a three-story building at 8 West Fourth Street," reported The Times.

Markovitz's tragic suicide was the first of three horrible occurrences to take place in the building.  The Mill Comb Manufacturing Company was a long-term tenant in 1940.  Its foreman, Aristide Blain, was a French-Canadian, earning the 43-year-old the nickname "Frenchy" among his co-workers.  What those colleagues may not have understood, however, was that while Blain did not mind the nickname, he was overly sensitive about other things.

On February 22 a 23-year-old bookkeeper, Frances Marks, was found murdered on East 101st Street.  Before long police announced that they were looking for a suspect in the case, known on the streets as "Frenchy."  Workers at the Mill Comb Manufacturing Company began teasing Blain, saying they heard he was wanted by the cops.  Blain took it all too seriously.

On Saturday night, March 23 Blain did not return home and no trace of him could be found.  Then, on Monday morning his employer, John Litterer opened the office to find Blain's body hanging from a door lintel by his belt.  A note to his wife was found on his desk:

I am wrongly suspected of murder but I am glad that you know I am as innocent as you are.  You and your daughters know I have always been home before 12 midnight.  I have so much other trouble that I decided to end it all.

Police confirmed that he "had nothing whatever to do with the murder, which is still unsolved," reported The New York Times.

Nine months later another body was found in the building--this time a victim of a gruesome murder.
At 6:10 on the morning of December 7, 1940 Raymond Franklin, a handyman in the building, arrived for work but could not get in.  Normally the night watchman, John C. Fischetti, answered his rings and admitted him.  Franklin forced a door and upon entering found the body of Fischetti near his the chair where he normally sat throughout the night.  The pillow from that chair had been placed under his head--but it was the only evidence of kindness on the part of his murderer.  His skull had been fractured and a length of rope used to strangle him.  Police felt the motive was personal, since his belongings and a small amount of money were still on him.

It did not take detectives long to find the murderer.  Guiseppe Daviso was arrested on December 12 and charged with the crime.  The 46-year-old ex-con had asked Fischetti for a loan that night.  When the watchman refused, Daviso became enraged, striking him in the head, then strangling him.

Another victim around the time was William C. Frohne's copper cornice  By 1936 it had been removed, its scar covered over by patches of various materials.

The building continued to be home to apparel firms--like the Walforf Novelty Company which made trimmings, and the Leather Novelty Blocking & Stitching Company into the 1960's.  The owner of another, the Allied Fur Company, Norman Weissman, found a secondary way to make money.

On October 24, 1965 The Times reported "A detective posing as a fur buyer and two policewomen posing as models broke up yesterday what the police called a $200,000-a-week bookmaking operation when they raided a fifty-floor loft rented by a fur company."   While Weissman sold furs in the front offices, Arthur Sonnenschein, Martin Hirsch and Samuel Zorn ran a betting operation in the back.  All four men were arrested, and Sonnenschein was hit with a second charge of "having tried to bribe Deputy Inspector Paul F. Delise," who was in charge of the raid.

Two years later New York University owned the building.  While the school continued to lease space to manufacturers, it converted other sections for offices and storage.  When the "morgues"--or clipping libraries--of the defunct newspapers The New York Herald Tribune, The New World-Telegram and The Sun were donated to the university's School of Journalism in 1967 (more than 14 million clippings), they were brought to the 12th floor of the Merchants' Building.  Several hundred file cabinets were brought into the 8,000 square foot space to accommodate the collection.

A decade later NYU announced its intentions of converting the building to residences.  Democratic candidate for mayor Edward I Koch was not pleased.  He told the 400 guests at a gathering at the Americana Hotel on October 18, 1977 that the plan was "a clear perversion of a good objective.  We need housing but certainly not at the expense of jobs."

When New York Secretary of State Mario Cuomo asked rhetorically "Is it done in a sinister way?" Koch replied "I doubt it.  I think it's really an ineptitude."

As it turned out, Koch's opinion did not matter.  In 1980 the Merchants' Building was combined internally with nine other structures, including the 12-story 250 Mercer Street directly behind to create 277 cooperative apartments designed by architect Henry G. Greene.  Working on the exterior renovation was engineer Vincent Stramandinoli, who removed the materials from the old cornice where raw brick and the old steel frame were all that was left.

A much more reserved replacement cornice was fabricated which brings the Merchants' Building back--almost--to its 1908 appearance.

photograph by Phyllis Winchester
non-credited photographs by the author
many thanks to reader Phyllis Winchester for prompting this post

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Emery Roth's 1925 Hotel Cardinal - 243 West End Avenue




At the turn of the last century the intersection West End Avenue and West 71st Street was lined with imposing homes.  Three rather brooding mansions faced the street, and directly behind on West End Avenue were five brick and terra cotta rowhouses with much cheerier personalities.

photograph from the collection of the New York Public Library

By the end of World War I apartment living was gaining favor over large private homes.  The residence hotel offered tenants the conveniences of a hotel--maid service, hallboys, and restaurants, for instance--in their leases.  In 1924  the newly-formed 243 Corporation purchased and demolished Nos. 301 through 303 West 71st Street, and Nos. 241 through 247 West End Avenue.  The prolific apartment building architect Emery Roth was commissioned to design a replacement resident hotel on the site.

Completed in 1925, the hulking structure rose 15 stories.  Roth clad the building in clinker bricks--purposely over-fired in the kiln to produce the rough, burned look of age.  He decorated his blank Renaissance Revival canvas with glorious Spanish Colonial style elements cast in colorful terra cotta.  The nearly identical West End Avenue and 71st Street elevations wore romantic pseudo-balconies, roundels with portraits in Renaissance costumes, and intricate window framing on the lower two floors.



The Hotel Cardinal would be different from most residence hotels.  While others offered sprawling suites meant to rival private homes; the Cardinal would have large, one-room apartments.  There were 12 apartments on the ground floor, with 14 each on the floors above.  An advertisement touted "the comfort of a spacious apartment in a single room, foyer, serving pantry and bath."

The single-room accommodations were perfect for couples just starting out.  Following the wedding of Hortense Kruckman and Samuel Schwartzman on May 20, 1926, the couple announced they would be "at home at Hotel Cardinal" to receive well-wishers.

And in January 1927 Florence Goodman and Philip Isaacs moved in after their elopement.  It proved to be a rocky marriage.  When her parents learned of the marriage through a letter she wrote "at her husband's dictation," according to Florence later, her father insisted they be re-married by a rabbi.  They second ceremony was held in Atlantic City.  Then Philip told his wife that because of a "legal technicality" their marriage was void.  A third marriage was conducted by Mayor Charles J. Norris of Bergen, New Jersey.

Seven months after they moved in, Florence walked out.  In her divorce filing her lawyer said "In that time [Philip] had spent her $4,000 savings and tried to get her engagement ring to pawn for money with which to pay the rent on their apartment in the Hotel Cardinal."

Terra cotta portrait roundels dot the lower floors.

Most tenants were not similarly struggling.  Although each apartment contained just one main room, they were spacious enough to attract professional tenants, like dentist Homer C. Croscup and his wife, here in 1927.   There were, as well, several residents involved in the theatrical business.

Bruce Edwards and his wive, Gertrude, lived here at the time.  He was a childhood friend of Charles Dillingham (among New York's most well-known producers, head of the Dillinger Theatre) and for 30 years was Dillingham's general manager.

The terra cotta detailing of this delicately-wrought window decoration matches portions of the pretend balconies two floors above.. 
Edward Hecht and his wife, Hattie, were also early residents.  Hecht was a cigar dealer, "reported to be wealthy," according to The New York Times.  Hattie was good friends with opera diva Madame Marie Rappold.  Before the couple moved into the one-room space, the Metropolitan Opera soprano had often been their house guest.

On Sunday evening, September 9, 1928, Edward and Hattie headed downtown for dinner.  They entered the 72nd Street and Broadway subway station, which was unusually crowded.  Hattie was dressed for the evening out, wearing a fur around her neck.  As the train pulled into the station, a scene of horror ensued.

The New York Times reported "As the train entered the station, the crowd of several hundred waiting persons, including Mr. Hecht and his wife, surged forward."  Edward fell between the moving train cars, the third car passing over his body.  In the chaos, Hattie's fur stole disappeared.  Whether Edward was pushed to provide a distraction for the theft, or if a crook simply used the accident as an opportunity is unclear.

"Mrs. Hecht became hysterical following the accident, but said that she did not remember the fur falling from her neck."  She collapsed (as did several other women in the crowd) and was later taken back to the Hotel Cardinal in an ambulance.

The episode was too much for Hattie to bear.  Madame Rappold arrived at No. 243 West End Avenue to visit Hattie not long afterward.  She was met with bad news.  Hattie had committed suicide.  She had left a note for her sister which said in part, "And so I have decided to go to my rest and am on my way to the ocean."  Her body washed up on the South Shore of Long Island.

Vaudeville and silent film comedian Harry Philmore Langdon lived here in the early 1930's.  At the height of his career Langdon was making $7,500 per week, a veritable fortune.  But his star had faded by the time he lived here; although there was briefly a glimmer of hope.

Harry Langdon.  National Vaudeville Artists, 1923 (copyright expired)

His biographers, Gabriella Oldham and Mabel Langdon, in their Harry Langdon: King of Silent Comedy, wrote "Langdon did, however, meet with the officers of Royal Pictures when he resided at the Cardinal Hotel at 243 West End Avenue in New York.  The contract even provided for a generous $12,000 salary...But like many deals that seem too good to be true, it never materialized."

When 22-year old cornetist James Dugald McPartland and his girlfriend, fledgling songwriter Dorothy Fields, discovered she was pregnant, they married in February 1930 and took an apartment in the Cardinal.  The baby, Dorothy Hannah McPartland, was born on July 13.  But it was a not a happy marriage and Dorothy filed for divorce in 1932.  McPartland went on to work with bandleaders like Tommy Dorsey, Benny Goodman and Eddie Condon.



Born in Rochester, New York in 1883, Florenz Ames started out in vaudeville but was now appearing on the legitimate stage.  On July 4 1930 The New York Times reported that Alice O'Donnell "was married to Florenz Sebastian Kolb, known professionally on the stage as Florenz Ames, yesterday afternoon in Greenwich, Conn."  The article added "The bride said last night that both she and Mr. Ames had been married previously.  They will make their home at 243 West End Avenue."

Ames was relatively well-known to New York audiences.  The Times noted "He has had prominent roles in 'Madame Pompadour,' produced here in 1924; 'The Great Temptations,' two years later, and 'Angela,' in 1928."  He was currently appearing in the cast of Who Cares.

It would not be until 1952 that Ames was seen country-wide.  That year he appeared in his first film role in Viva Zapata! and in 1953 he debuted in television on the show Robert Montgomery Presents.  Never a leading man, he was nonetheless recognizable in his many character roles.

Ames appeared with Greer Garson on September 10, 1957 in the episode "Revenge" in the television anthology series Telephone Time.  photo originally released by ABC Television

Another theatrical figure who lived in the Hotel Cardinal around the same time was music publisher Frederick Benjamin Haviland and his wife, he former Mabel Smith.  He was head of F. B. Haviland Publishing Company and, although he was not a musician, he had an uncanny ability to judge the potential popularity of a tune.  Starting his career in 1890's, he had published hits like "The Sidewalks of New York," "In the Good Old Summertime," and "Bill Bailey Won't You Please Come Home?"

Haviland contracted influenza in March 1932 and succumbed to the disease in his apartment two weeks later, on the 31st, at the age of 64.

Wesley Eddy, whose actual name was Edward Gariulo, lived here with his wife, the former Margaret DeMarco.   He was a widely-talented entertainer, The New York Times saying "A versatile performer, he sang baritone, danced and played the violin, and entertained as a 'straight man' and as a comedian."  He had started on the stage at the age of 9 in his hometown of Bridgeport, Connecticut;  played nightclubs in New York at 16, and obtained his first film role at 17-years-old.

Eddy was tremendously affected by his mother's death in 1926.  Nearly every week he called a Stratford, Connecticut florist to have flowers delivered to her grave.  His depression worsened following his father' death in December 1932.  His brother said that when Eddy came to visit, "he would always go first to the cemetery where he frequently sat for hours beside the plot, often sobbing."

Wesley Eddy was scheduled to open in a new show at the Roxy Theatre on September 20, 1934.  His brother came to New York on the 16th and had dinner with him and Margaret.  (Their 12-year-old son, Frank. was attending a military academy in  Baltimore.)

Neither Joe nor Margaret realized the depth of Wesley's despondency.  After Joe left and Margaret went to bed, Wesley left the apartment and boarded a train to Stratford.   The following day The New York Times reported that he "was found dead in a self-inflicted bullet wound this morning, lying on the grave of his parents in St. Michael's Cemetery."  He was just 31-years-old.

Pretend quoins along the lower two floors terminate in spread-winged eagles, seemingly wearing hats.

The Hotel Cardinal was the scene of a gruesome accident on April 18, 1938.  Marion Gary, a 28-year old handyman in the building, was oiling the cable wheel of the elevator at 10:15 that morning when another hotel worker started the elevator.  Gary's leg was caught between the cable wires and the drum.

The Police Emergency Squad responded to the scene and tried to free him, but could not.  The only option was to amputate.  Dr. David Wasserman of City Hospital arrived and began the process.  The Times reported that Wasserman was "balanced precariously on a narrow girder in the elevator shaft on the tenth floor of the Hotel Cardinal."  The article noted "Although a slip might have sent the ambulance surgeon hurtling down the shaft, he decided to operate at the scene to free Marion Gary."  The man was conscious throughout the surgery and "endlessly smoked cigarettes."  The newspaper reported "Dr. Wasserman removed the leg about six inches below the knee."

The political upheaval in Europe was first evidenced at the Hotel Cardinal in the fall of 1939 when nine families of Belgian and Dutch Jews fled the increasing Nazi threat.  All of them were engaged in the diamond industry.  The Apartment Renting Company, Inc. arranged housing for the refugees, one family of which moved into the Hotel Cardinal.

Although the United States would not enter World War II until after the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, the military was already beefing up a year earlier.  On November 23, 1940 The Times reported "Never in the history of the country have so elaborate and scientific preparations been made by the Army to receive men."  The Hotel Cardinal would soon have to find a new elevator operator.

The same article said "Peter Joseph Bonovitch, 27, a volunteer, said his girl was 'pretty sore' because he was disappearing into the Army for a year.  He is an elevator operator at the Hotel Cardinal, 243 West End Avenue. 'But I think that if war comes and I have to fight, I'd be better off if I knew how,' Bonovich said.

Also leaving No. 243 for military service was Bernard Fields, who shared an apartment with his uncle, Burt G. Hoffman.  Fields enlisted in the Navy, becoming a radio man.  Sadly, he would not return.  His name appeared on the U. S. Navy's list of war dead on May 5, 1942.

A renovation completed in 1950 resulted in rooftop penthouse with four apartments.  There were now six apartments and a doctor's office on the ground floor, 13 each on floors 9 through 12, and 12 each on the 10th to 15th floors.

Although some of the apartments were now larger, the reputations of not all of the residents were as respectable.  On January 8, 1957 Irving Gilbert was indicted by a grand jury as part of a gang of six on charges of counterfeiting auto parts.  Assistant District Attorney Joseph Stone said the ring had manufactured "up to a million parts a year and had shipped the bulk to Mexico and Central and South America."

Vincent Joseph Calise was a different type of counterfeiter.  He was sent to prison for producing fake money.  But his sentence did not change his lawless ways.  On December 12, 1964 a headline in The New York Times read "Ex Convicts Named in Scheme on Stock of Wall St. Concern."  Among those arrested in "an elaborate scheme devised by former convicts to take over and sell the stock last may of a Wall street real estate corporation" was Vincent Joseph Calise.

At the same time Patricia DeAlexandro lived here.  Described by a newspaper as a "26-year-old former Playboy Club bunny," she was arrested on July 12, 1965.  Now working as a nightclub hostess, she had became involved with mobsters.  The article explained that she was "charged with trying to bribe a member of the jury that convicted Joseph Armone, Stephen Grammauta, Vincent Pacelli and Nicholas Viscardi of conspiring to smuggle more than $25 million worth of heroin into the country."  DeAlexandro faced a possible sentence of 15 years in Federal prison and a $20,000 fine.

Things did not look good for the former Bunny when, ten days later, a Federal grand jury indicted her.  She was held in the Women's House of Detention in lieu of $25,000 bail awaiting her trial.

The last of the original row of 1890's houses, designed by Clarence F. True, stands next door at No. 249.

Following its conversion to cooperative apartments in 1989 the Hotel Cardinal was rechristened the Coliseum Plaza.  The colorful days of theatrical luminaries and mobsters had drawn to a close.

photographs by the author

Monday, January 14, 2019

The Lost Manhattan Market - 34th Street and 11th Avenue


from the collection of the New-York Historical Society

In 1870 there were two large markets in Manhattan--the Washington and Fulton Markets.  But they were both far downtown, inconvenient to a city migrating northward, and markedly outdated.  The Architectural Review complained in January 1870, "The city government has decidedly failed to furnish that necessary and complete convenience of supply and arrangement of supplies, that the requirements of this large population demand."  But that was about to end.

"New York is at last to have a market, which will be worthy of the commercial capital of the continent," said the journal.   A group of "enterprising gentlemen" including Paul J. Armour, William M. Johnson and J. Eugene Flandin had formed the Manhattan Building Company and were poised to erect "a magnificent structure, at the foot of Thirty-fourth street, North [Hudson] River, and comprises about eighty city lots."  The American Builders' Journal chimed in saying "No finer location could be found in this city for the purpose, as ere many years Thirty-fourth street will be the central line of the metropolis."

The massive plot stretched from Eleventh to Twelfth Avenues and between 34th and 35th Streets.  The proposed building would be the largest under one roof in America.  To facilitate shipping and receiving, a 300-foot long dock would be erected on the river.

Architect H. G. Harrison had been hired to design the gargantuan building.  The American Builders' Journal deemed his plans "certainly very grand and imposing, and admirable adapted for the purposes intended."  Constructed of Philadelphia brick with limestone trim, it would sprout ornamental iron towers 70-feet high on the corners (The Architectural Review called the style "Byzantine" and The Manufacturer and Builder deemed it "Lombard.").  The central portion on Eleventh Avenue rose three floors to accommodate offices and restaurants.  It was topped by a cast iron flรจche.  There were 1,500 windows, 160 of them on 34th Street alone.  The cast iron elements were fabricated by Daniel Badger's Architectural Iron Works.  Three vast lattice-work iron arches created a cavernous interior space unbroken by a single column.

The cost of the project was estimated at $1 million--more in the neighborhood of $19.5 million today.   The New York Herald noted "On its ample floor an entire army corps could be paraded, and room left for 20,000 spectators besides."

Ground was broken on February 22, 1871 and one year later to the day the cornerstone of the "nearly completed" building was laid by Mayor Abraham Oakley Hall.   The New York Times called the ceremonies "impressive" and noted "The building was gayly decorated with flags of all nations.  About 5,000 persons were present."

The president of the company, Paul J. Armour, mentioned that "the Metropolis of the New World, preeminent in everything else, was most grossly deficient in its market facilities."  This one, he said, would be the largest in the world.

Mayor Hall noted in his address that the site was "curiously enough on the very spot laid out in 1807 by the city authorities as a proper site for a market in the distant future."  By now, according to the Oneida Circular on March 4, 1872, the cost had risen by another $500,000.

In August 1872 The Manufacturer and Builder described the nearly-completed building in superlatives.  The dock would be "one of the largest docks in the world."  The main arch, which rose to 138 above the floor inside, was "the largest now forming the covering of any structure known."  And the main entrance would be "ornamented by the largest clock in the world.  This indicator of time is already near to its completion, and is, at contract price, to cost $37,000."

Inside were 1,027 stalls--half for retail sellers and half for wholesale.  "These will be used by meat, vegetable and other produce vendors, who will be charged from $3 to $9 per week according to position and size," explained The Manufacturer and Builder.  But the vendors would enjoy a cooperative arrangement--sharing in the overall profits of the Manhattan Market.

The docks were decidedly less grand than the Market structure.  Here live cattle were unloaded to be butchered inside.  Harper's Weekly, July 1877 (copyright expired)
At the Twelfth Avenue end, close to the river, were the "mammoth fish market," the butcher stalls and the abattoir, or slaughterhouse.


New-York Tribune, November 27, 1872 (copyright expired)
Three blocks away was the Manhattan Rendering Company, on 38th Street and the river.  The stench of the dead animals and swarms of flies there worried a reporter.  He visited the Manhattan Market to investigate whether the same nuisance would happen here.  He happily reported on July 12 "At either side of the building and through the central line are drainways, through which all refuse will be carried to the river as often as any one or more or all of the 1,000 croton water hydrants are let play upon it."  It fact that butcher waste would be dumped directly into the Hudson River did not seem to concern anyone.

The Manhattan Market opened on November 11, 1872 with a "concert that drew together no less than 30,000 people," according to The New York Times.  By then the total cost--including the docks and outbuildings--had risen to $2 million--a staggering $41.4 million by today's standards.

Seven months after opening the stockholders reported "that they are quite satisfied with the progress" and said that half of the retail stands had been rented and four wholesale meat firms were in operation.  But the magnificent market had from its start a formidable enemy--Tammany Hall.  Politicians were financially embedded in what The Times called the "Washington Market Ring" and would later say they "attacked the scheme with every weapon available to men whose interests are imperiled."

On July 21, 1874 The New York Herald reported "For six months after the market was opened the business conducted within its walls gave flattering promises of the success of the institution; but from that time forward business began to fall off until the retail trade was abandoned."  The newspaper attributed the problem "to opposition of the owners off Washington Market, a bitter rivalry having existed between the two markets."  At the time of the article the Manhattan Market building was scheduled to be sold at foreclosure auction within the month.

The property which had cost millions was sold to Dr. Henry Draper for $250,000.  He turned his attention to increasing and improving the abattoir operations.  The New York Herald reported on the improved processes on July 29 the following year.

"Cattle are landed from barges at the dock, and driven through a tunnel into the market.  The advantages of this are obvious when the scene of the terror occasioned by the raid of Texan steers through our streets last summer is recalled."  The pens for the individual butchers are constructed in the strongest manner, and the appliances for preventing accidents are simply perfect."

Cattle were led through a tunnel from the barges directly into the abattoir.
The finished product was loaded directly onto the vessels from the dock.  Harper's Weekly, July 1877 (copyright expired)
In conjunction with the abattoir section was a new rendering room, "where the offal and fat are rendered immediately after the animals have been killed.  There is not the slightest oppressive odor arising from the process, as the work is done by means of air-tight vats."  Draper told reporters that he intended "to leave no stone unturned to make it the model market of the metropolis."

The Board of Health was pleased with the remodeled facility.  At a meeting in February 1876 Sanitary Superintendent Dr. Day reported "on the very admirable conditions of the immense abattoir in the western half of the Manhattan Market," according to The Medical Times & Register on February 5.  "This seems to be quite a model institution."

But while the abattoir portion of the building was going well, the market proper was still under siege from political forces.  A letter to the editor of the New York Times published on February 24 1878 suggested that the building could best be used as an armory.

In his article "A Day on the Docks" in The Century on October 1879 Charles H. Farnham wrote "The great, useless Manhattan Market was the single exception to general activity.  It was empty, quiet as a cathedral, and even more spacious.  The market-scene contained two Sisters of Charity, pacing silently over the pavement to a solitary butcher's stall."  Within the year it was closed altogether, including the slaughterhouse.

But not everyone was willing to cave into political corruption.  On March 6, 1880 Harper's Weekly reported "For some time past there has been a movement going on for the re-opening of Manhattan Market...and at length a company for this purpose has been formed under the name of the 'Metropolitan Market Company.'"   Newspapers and individual businessmen were supportive, none more so than The New York Times, which was traditionally anti-Tammany.  The newspaper laid the blame of the closing directly on Tammany leader John Kelly, "who scented the danger to the interests of the Market Ring."

The New-York Daily Tribune joined the push for re-opening, interviewing produce vendors and butchers and printing their favorable comments on May 16, 1880.  The communal efforts were successful and on August 31 The New York Times happily reported "The opening of the Manhattan Market is fixed for Tuesday, Oct. 5, but on Monday evening, Oct. 4, the building will be illuminated and thrown open to the public for inspection."

Tammany Hall, unaccustomed to defeat, was not a foe to be casually dismissed.  At midnight on Wednesday, September 8 fire broke out in the building.  It was not completely extinguished before Thursday noon.  "When the engines were taken away they left behind them two blocks of ruins--one block of ashes and twisted beams and tottering walls representing the finest market-house in America, and one of the handsomest and most prominent public buildings in this City," said The Times.  The new owners surrendered, telling reporters on September 21 they had "decided to dissolve the company, wind up its financial affairs as soon as possible and allow the property to revert to its former owners."

It was, however, not the last breath for the structure.  On April 30, 1881 The American Architect and Building News reported simply "Manhattan Market is to be rebuilt."  Three days earlier the New-York Central and Hudson River Railroad had filed plans "for the erection of 26 buildings on the ground former occupied by the Manhattan Market."  The New York Times reported "They are to be used for market purposes, will be built of brick and stone, and be two stories high."  Architect Joseph Richardson drew up the designs, utilizing as much of the surviving facade as possible.  The reconstruction cost the equivalent of $2.85 million today.

While the main structure was gutted, Richardson was able to salvage much of the 11th Avenue facade. Frank Leslie's Popular Monthly, April 1883 (copyright expired) 
Frank Leslie's Popular Monthly commented on the rebuilding, saying "The immense arching roof has disappeared, and along either side of the block...extends a roof of lofty, roomy stores for the storage of hay, and produce of all sorts."   The Manhattan Hay and Produce Exchange moved in, along with meat vendors, including the Manhattan Beef Company, the Chicago Beef Company, George Hotonkiss & Co., and Armour & Co.

The railroad's interest in the building was its location--perfectly situated on the Hudson River for the receipt, storage and shipment of freight.  Tracks were laid on the river side and loading platforms formed a U around the western portion of the building.

Once a year a highly-anticipated auction of unclaimed freight was held here.  On March 6, 1884 The New York Times reported "Eighty-four men, eleven women, and a precocious boy shouted at a voluble auctioneer for five hours, yesterday, in the Manhattan Market."  Among the successful bidders was a restaurant owner who purchased a "mammoth signboard for 25 cents," a sailor who bought a crate of plug tobacco for 70 cents, and a woman who picked up an "old-fashioned piano" for $10.

The renovated building continued to house both the railroad and market vendors.  In 1904 the Butchers' Advocate announced that "Plans have been filed...by C. Wellesley Smith, architect of the New York Central Railroad Company, for improvements to be made to the Manhattan Market."  The article noted "It is to be equipped with two new storage coolers, new fronts and put into decidedly more modern shape."  Also included in the renovations were new stairs and elevator, and insulated floors.

The Edwardian modernization did away with the cast iron towers. West Side Studies, 1914 (copyright expired) 
The structure that stubbornly resisted eradication survived for three more decades.  A portion was demolished in 1932 and the last remnants of what had been the most magnificent market building in the world were razed in 1938.

The Manhattan Market looked rather beleaguered on May 17, 1927.  from the collection of the New York Public Library 
Part of the structure was already being demolished on February 7, 1932.   from the collection of the New York Public Library 
Its site today is occupied by another gargantuan structure, the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center.

photo by Javitscenter


Saturday, January 12, 2019

Beleaguered Twins - 206 and 208 East 35th Street


Despite the ill-designed replacement stoops and the lost window details of the second floor, the houses retain much of their former charm.
At only 12-and-a-half feet wide, the mirror image brownstones at Nos. 206 and 208 East 35th Street were intended for middle class families.  Yet their up-to-date Italianate design featured elements seen in much more upscale homes.  The high stone stoops led to a rusticated parlor level where the entrances were not embellished with fussy brackets and pediments, but quiet, splayed keystones which were echoed over the windows.   A prominent sill course separated the planar-faced upper floors where the openings wore handsome molded frames.

A single cast metal cornice unified the two homes.  The architect further downplayed the narrowness of the residences by placing their entrances on opposite sides.

More affluent families were already enjoying running water from the Croton Reservoir when these homes were built.  But that was not a luxury shared by the owners of Nos. 206 and 208.  And when the Sanitary Police checked the outhouses on April 24, 1860, No. 206 did not pass muster.  A citation ordered "that the owners have the regular three days' notice to renovate their premises, after which time they will be liable to be cleansed at public expense."

It is unclear whether the Kirk family lived at No. 206 during the horrific five-day long Draft Riots that began on July 11, 1863; but they would be tragic victims.   On July 17 The New York Times printed a full-page account of the atrocities that had occurred the day before.

At around 5:00 that evening a violent mob had reached the neighborhood of 29th Street between First and Second Avenues where "they were robbing and plundering all the stores in that vicinity."  The State Militia moved in, but "they found the rioters were too strong for them, and after contesting the field for half an hour, they were ordered to withdraw."

Terrified citizens locked themselves within their homes, hoping against hope that the mob would not find a reason to break in.  But for some reason one or more of the Kirk family was outside.  Among the long list of fatalities and injuries printed in The Times was "Ellen Kirk, a child two years of age, accidentally shot by the mob, at No 206 East Thirty-fifth-street."

While No. 208 held on as a private home (it was home to city inspector Michael G. Murray in the 1880's), No. 206 was being operated as a boarding house by Mrs. B. Brashen at that time.  Among her boarders in 1884 was 21-year old Fannie O'Keefe, whose deceased father, Frank O'Keefe, had been a City Coroner.

Despite her young age and having had only "some experience in teaching," Fannie was the Acting Principal of the Industrial School of the Children's Aid Society on West 18th Street.  She was filling in while the school's principal was "recruiting her health in the South," according to The New York Times.

Children who attended industrial schools came, for the most part, from impoverished families.  They had little training in appropriate behavior nor respect for authority.  It was a condition that would lead to Fannie's becoming infuriated on the afternoon of March 31, 1884.

Ida Miller, according to The Times, had "not learned her lessons well and was refused marks."  She was instructed by Fannie to remain after school.  At closing, the 12-year-old headed out but Fannie pursued her, brought her back to the classroom, where the child was told to "properly sit."  The rebellious girl turned her back on her teacher, challenged her to strike her, and then "dared the teacher to prevent her leaving and called her 'a dirty, big-mouthed thing.'"

The insult earned Ida a slap across the face.  Fannie then ordered another student, John Cavanagh, to hold Ida's left hand while she beat her with a cane.  It would seem that Fannie O'Keefe's disciplinary fervor got the best of her.  "Ida fell on the floor nearly insensible."

Streetwise beyond her years, Ida knew the ins and outs of the system.  She marched off to the Society of Prevention of Cruelty to Children where she lodged a complaint and exhibited her evidence.  "The right side of her face was swollen, and a hand had left the marks of fingers on her cheek.  Her right hand was black and swollen and there were black streaks on her arms and shoulders," reported The Times.

On April 1 a warrant was issued for Fannie's arrest.  She told the judge that Ida was a "wayward girl" and recounted the girl's actions and insults.  "This," said The New York Times, "Miss O'Keefe believed warranted her in thrashing the girl."  Justice Patterson disagreed, saying "however great the provocation, the punishment inflicted was too severe."

At around the time of that incident Mrs. Brashen rented a back parlor to Mary Edrup, a dressmaker.  An English woman, she said her husband had abandoned her and that she had subsequently obtained a divorce.  Other than that, her landlady and the other boarders knew little about her.  She was characterized as being "reticent about herself."

Mary was described by a newspaper as "a comely brunette, quiet in manner and tasteful in her attire."   She left on "a hasty trip to England" in February 1885 and afterward she returned to her room at No. 206.   None of the others living in the house realized that she was deeply troubled.

Then, on Saturday morning, July 18, The New York Times reported "Mrs. May [sic] Edrupt [sic], of No. 206 East Thirty-fifth-street, tried to kill herself at 11:30 o'clock last night by shooting herself in the left breast."  The gunshot had wakened everyone in the house and they rushed to the room.  There, according to the article, "she was found lying across the bed in her room, clad in a wrapper.  She moaned and said: 'This puts an end to my troubles.  I was so unhappy.'"   Two days after shooting herself doctors held little hope of her survival.

Still a private residence, No. 208 was home to Colonel Theodore B. Mills by 1906.  The corpulent 67-year old (The Sun estimated his weight at "more than 300 pounds") hailed originally from Ashtabula, Ohio.  Prior to coming to New York City he established a real estate business in Topeka, Kansas, had been involved in land and mining operations in New Mexico, and was a major real estate operator in El Paso, Texas.   In Manhattan he was best known for his political activities.

He was elected a delegate to the Independence League Convention in 1906.  The event was held in Carnegie Hall on September 11 and as hundreds filled the auditorium it became, according to one account "insufferably hot."  Mills told some friends, including his daughter, that he was "pretty nearly all in" and said he was going outside for air.

Although he complained of "a slight dizziness," according to The Sun, he seemed to have been recovering and was conversing on an upper step with another delegate.  The newspaper recounted "A band was blaring, red fire was burning, everybody was cheering and there were so many evidences of enthusiasm that Mr. Mills remarked to Delegate Rose: 'There is going to be tremendous crowd here to-night.'  Then he sank down and died almost instantly."

Not even the police were allowed, by law, to remove a body until the Coroner had arrived.  So as throngs of delegates filed up the steps and into the hall, they were forced to pass the corpse.  A policeman was sent to a nearby livery stable to borrow a horse blanket with which to cover Mill's body.

Someone went inside to tell Mills's daughter, Mrs. C. O. Horner, what had occurred.  "When the news of her father's death was communicated to her she nearly collapsed," wrote The Times.  "She had to pass through a throng of laughing, chatting delegates, for few of the men in the hall knew what had occurred. A policeman accompanied her to the Colonel's house."

In 1937 both houses were slapped with a Multiple Family Violation, suggesting that by now they were being operated by the same owners.   Alterations in 1952 resulted in one apartment per floor, a configuration which survives.

It was most likely at this time that the stoops were replaced with side-facing brick versions.  The narrow proportions of the houses resulted in the stoops sharing the bottom step and preventing more than one person entering or leaving at a time.  The same renovation was probably responsible for the window surrounds of the second floor being inexplicably shaved off.

photograph by the author

Friday, January 11, 2019

A Skinny House With a Notable Past - 125 East 36th Street





As the Murray Hill neighborhood developed with fine brick and brownstone faced homes, speculators Kennedy & Haw erected five rowhouses on the north side of East 36th Street between Lexington and Park Avenues.  The Italianate-style residences exhibited the handsome architectural accouterments of upscale homes: pedimented doorways, molded lintels and bracketed sills, and stylish cornices.  Nevertheless Kennedy & Haw scrimped on the square footage.  At just 14 feet wide, the houses were significantly narrower that their more commodious neighbors.  The developers managed to create a fifth house on a property where other operators might have placed four.

Completed around 1856, the house numbered 125 was sold to Margaretta L. Brown.  It would not be until the 1870's that a resident of note, Dr. Austin Flint, Jr., arrived at the address.

Born in 1836, Flint had graduated from Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia in 1857.  His father, Austin Flint, Sr. a physiologist and educator, had helped found Bellevue Medical College.  In 1862 he married the former Elizabeth B. McMaster.  The couple would have four children, one of which was also named Austin Flint and became the fifth in the direct line of Flint physicians.

Dr. Austin Flint, Jr.  original source unknown, photo via braceface.com
By 1871 both father and son were attending physicians at Bellevue.  In 1874 the younger Flint was appointed Surgeon General of New York.  While he was an expert on diseases of the organs, writing, for instance, the six-volume Chemical Examinations of Urine in Diseases, and Experiments Regarding a New Function of the Liver, he increasingly focused on physical fitness as a component of good health.

In the summer of 1873 he helped found and became the first president of the National Amateur Gymnastic and Athletic Tournament Association.  Its published goals were the "fostering and developing a taste for all athletic exercises tending to a higher order of physical culture."

By May 1897, when the Flints leased their first cottage in Newport (The New York Times mentioned "though frequent visitors to Newport, [they] have never been cottagers, though they are well known in society.") they had left East 36th Street.   The house was owned for a time by Sarah W. Swords, who sold it for $30,000 to the recently-widowed Ruth D. Draper in April 1902.  The sale price would be equal to about $882,000 today.

Ruth was the daughter of Charles Anderson Dana, author, former Assistant Secretary of War during the Civil War, and editor and part-owner of The Sun.  Her husband, Dr. William H. Draper had died a year earlier, on April 26, 1901.  Her purchase of No. 125 knocked over the first domino in what would be an astounding string of occupants with close-knit relationships.


Ruth Draper had become close to the extended Roosevelt family through her husband's friendship with Theodore Roosevelt.  Four years earlier The Sun had reported on the annual dinner of the Daniel Boone and Davy Crockett Club.  The newspaper explained that the 75 members who attended were "fond of hunting big game."  "It was expected that Theodore Roosevelt, Assistant Secretary of the Navy, who is acknowledged by his fellow members to be the most daring hunter of the club would be present, but he wasn't able to leave Washington."  Among those who did attend were Dr. William K. Draper, and J. P. Morgan (who lived just down the block from Ruth's new home). 

Also at the dinner was Dr. Alexander Lambert.  It is notable that he was also among those who attended Draper's 1901 funeral.  He was by then was the personal physician of Roosevelt.

If Ruth Draper intended to move into the 36th Street house, she changed her mind.  Instead she leased it to Dr. Lambert and his wife.  Lambert was nationally-known at the time, partly because of Theodore Roosevelt, Jr.'s brush with death a few months earlier.  On February 10, 1902 the doctor was summoned to Groton, Massachusetts where the young man's chances of recovering from double pneumonia were questionable, despite being attended to by two physicians.

The New-York Tribune reported "This sudden and unfavorable turn warned the President that the most skillful medical treatment was necessary, and so to-night he called to the aid of Dr. Shattuck and Warren his family physician, Dr. Alexander Lambert, of New-York, an eminent practitioner and a man well acquainted with the boy's physique."

Young Roosevelt did, of course, recover.  On February 12 the New-York Tribune reported on his improvement, saying "At an early hour this morning [the President] left the house to visit and patient and escort his wife to breakfast.  Dr. Alexander Lambert, of New-York, whom the President summoned yesterday to attend his son, was the first to greet him and tell him the favorable news."

Dr. Lambert in uniform during World War I when he served as Medical Advisor.  from the collection of the Library of Congress
The terrifying incident may have enhanced the already close relationship between Lambert and Roosevelt.  The Lamberts were regular guests at Sagamore Hill, the Roosevelt's country estate in Oyster Bay, Long Island.  And in September 1904, when Theodore, Jr. embarked on a moose hunting expedition to Canada before going back to college, he took along Lambert.  The Sun reported on September 15 "On the hunt he will be in the company of Dr. Alexander Lambert of New York, an expert shot and an experienced moose hunter.  Dr. Lambert was a house guest at Sagamore Hill a few days ago and while there he practised with Teddy at rifle shooting."

The Lamberts were guests of the Roosevelts not only at Sagamore Hill.  Earlier that year, on January 28, the New-York Tribune reported on a state dinner given by the First Family for the members of the Supreme Court.  Also attending were Dr. and Mrs. Lambert, whom the newspaper described as the Roosevelts' house guests.

Dr. Lambert's accompanying Teddy to Canada to hunt moose paled in comparison to the bear hunt with the President in the spring of 1905.  The month-long vacation through the West and Southwest began on April 3.  The New-York Tribune reported that along on the expedition was Dr. Alexander Lambert.  Newspapers nationwide followed the party's progress and photographs documented the hunt.
Dr. Lambert (foreground), the President and P. B. Stewart (right) in bear country. from the collection of the Library of Congress 
Like the President, Lambert was a true sportsman, well accustomed to the out-of-doors.  On May 6, the last day of the trip, he and Roosevelt, accompanied by the President's courier, P. B. Stewart, rode 30 miles on horseback.  The New-York Tribune reported the following day that the party had killed ten bears and four bobcats.  "Of the bears killed the President shot four and Dr. Lambert the others."

Although he was far away, drinking coffee brewed on an open fire from a tin cup and shooting game, Lambert had been negotiating a permanent home.  (Although in all reality it was most likely his wife who did all the footwork.)  On the very day that he rode the 30 miles on horseback, The Sun reported that he had purchased No 36 East 31st Street.

The Draper house, suddenly available, became the interest of another Roosevelt.  Franklin D. Roosevelt had grown up a block away, at No. 200 Madison Avenue at 35th Street.   A month before the Roosevelt-Lambert bear expedition he had married his fifth cousin, Eleanor Roosevelt, niece of the President.  Franklin's mother, Sarah, still lived at No. 200.  This branch of the family, too, were close friends of Ruth Draper.

In her 2007 FDR, Jean Edward Smith reveals that while on their honeymoon, the newlyweds lobbied Sarah to try to obtain No. 125 for them.  She quotes a portion of a letter from Franklin to his mother saying "It is just the right situation and size for us" and Eleanor added separately  "you are an angel to take so much trouble about the house, but I am glad you are going to see it and I do hope you will take it if it is possible."  Sarah did get the house, which she leased from Ruth Draper for the couple.

(Ruth, incidentally, was living with her her unmarried children at the time at No. 18 East 8th Street, near her childhood home on East 9th Street.  Their summer home was in Dutchess County.)

The Roosevelts' stay at No. 125 was always intended to be temporary.  At Christmas that year Sarah announced that she was building a townhouse for them, a "Christmas present from Mama."  (In the end it would be a double-mansion, half for herself--all the better to maintain control.)  Nevertheless the couple was here from 1905 through 1908--long enough for James and Anna to be born.  Reportedly Franklin called No. 125 his "fourteen foot mansion."

When the Roosevelts moved out, Ruth Draper's daughter Martha moved in  She was highly active in social issues, serving on the governing board of the Consumer's League of New York City, and sitting on the board of the Department Store Education Association.

photo by Wurts Bros., taken on December 14, 1949.  from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York
The latter organization was formed in 1914 by Anne Morgan.  The daughter of J. Pierpont Morgan, she had grown up at the corner of 37th Street and Madison Avenue, a block north of Sarah Roosevelt's house.  The association had the goal "of developing salesmanship as a skilled occupation for women."

Attorney and politician William Traverse Jerome followed Martha Draper at No. 125 East 36th Street.  A partner in Jerome, Rand & Kresel, he was a cousin of Jennie Jerome, now Lady Churchill and the mother of Winston Churchill.  Jerome was married to the former Lavinia Taylor Howe.  They had one son, William Travers Jersome, Jr.  Their country home was in Yonkers.

Jerome had been New York County District Attorney from 1902 to 1909, had served on the State's Lexow Committee which ferreted out and prosecuted corruption in the police force, and was highly effective in fighting illegal gambling.  Jerome's passion to stamp out corruption and vice early in his career was highly influenced by the then Police Commissioner, Theodore Roosevelt.

Mary Cummings, in her Saving Sin City, wrote "Jerome had watched from the sidelines as Theodore Roosevelt, Mayor Strong's choice to head the new city Police Board, set about enforcing every one of the city's blue laws, chasing down Sunday beer drinkers and casual card players and alienating ordinary New Yorkers who liked their beer, sex and cards."

Nevertheless, their identical goals clashed.  "Though he and Roosevelt had much in common--upper-class backgrounds, triumph over youthful frailty by sheer force of will, intelligence, audacity, inexhaustible energy and high political goals--a strong sense of rivalry was inevitable," according to Cummings.  Jerome came to dislike Roosevelt, considering him "laurel-grabbing."

Standing out among all his accomplishments in his long career was a single, famous court case.  It was Jerome who successfully prosecuted Harry K. Thaw, sending him to prison for the murder of Stanford White.

William Traverse Jerome - photograph by Pirie Macdonald from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York

In January 1934 both William and Lavinia caught colds while at the Yonkers residence.  While she remained, he returned to New York.  After suffering from pneumonia for two weeks, William Traverse Jerome died in the 36th Street house on February 13 at the age of 75.  His obituary in The New York Times engulfed half a page of print.  A private funeral was held in the house two days later.

No. 125 became home to socialite Mrs. Stewart Elliot, who sold it to Herbert J Smythe, senior partner in the law firm of Wellman & Smythe, in June of 1950.   Smythe maintained a summer home in Stony Brook, Long Island where he was a governor of the Long Island Senior Golf Association.

The widowed attorney may have surprised society when he married Barbara G. Dawson, widow of Federal Judge Archie O. Dawson, on December 17, 1965.  The wedding was performed in the 36th Street house.

Much of the interior detailing beautifully survives.  photos via corcoran.com
A much different resident came along in 1977 in the form of Fanny Farkas who opened her Murray Hill School of Cooking in her kitchen.  Born in Sweden, she accepted up to eight students per class, who paid $120 for six lessons.  The New York Times food critic Mimi Sheraton noted on September 1, 1977 "This is not the most precise and exacting of courses.  The menus include dishes that are interesting to serve at parties.  There is some emphasis on Hungarian dishes here, along with the general European mix...This is a good course for beginners."

Despite the intimate conditions, or perhaps because of them, Farkas's cooking school thrived.  Three years later Sheraton reported on it again.  On September 10, 1980 she wrote "Courses are held in a fully equipped basement brownstone kitchen which has just undergone renovation.  It has a center counter and seating at a dining table.  Full participation is encouraged."

Three of the original row survive intact (No. 125 is at right).
New owners restored the house in the 1980's.  In 1994 it received the Murray Hill Architectural Award from the Murray Hill Landmarks Committee in recognition of the "outstanding renovation work."  The skinny house with its broad history continues as a single family residence.

photographs by the author