|The building, seen here in 1905, is barely changed today. from the collection of the Library of Congress|
Depau Row in the 1890s -- New York Historical Society The Mills House -- Avery Library
In 1896 Mills razed the houses and began construction on Mills House #1, employing architect Ernest Flagg. His choice of Flagg resulted from the architect's progressive interest in advancing sanitation and health through his designs. For improved ventilation Flagg employed two ten-story airshafts, or smoking courts, covered with huge glass skylights that could be opened or shut as the weather demanded. The walls of the 1,554 rooms did not meet the ceiling in order to enable air circulation throughout.
|Men, most wearing hats, read their newspapers or smoke one of the two courtyards. from the collection of the New York Public Library|
Although he was giving the men a helping hand, Darius Mills insisted that they help themselves. "No patron," he said at the opening ceremony, "will receive more than he pays for, unless it be my hearty good-will and good wishes. It is true that I have devoted thought, labor and capital to a very earnest effort to help him, but only by enabling him to help himself." He had no intention of encouraging sloth -- every resident should be out during the day either working or seeking work. For that reason the hotel was locked from 9 am until 5 pm.
|A typical menu. The special was Fried Oysters with Saute Potatoes. from the collection of the New York Public Library|
For decades Mills' pioneering concept of helping men by enabling them to help themselves rather than by giving charity flourished at Mills House #1 and the two subsequent Mills Houses.
In the 1970s the building at 160 Bleecker was converted to apartments; however the facade remains virtually untouched including the deeply overhanging copper cornice with its graceful scrolled iron supports. Inside, the roomy courtyards and great glass skylights survive -- reminders of a time a century ago when men, hard on their luck, found an affordable place to stay.