Monday, February 28, 2011

Helen Gould's Secret Gift - Stanford White's 1899 Gould Memorial Library



When financier Jay Gould died in 1892, he not only left his four children a fortune estimated at between $65 and $70 million, he left a legacy of cold-hearted, cut-throat business dealings and sometimes unscrupulous tactics.

While her siblings spent lavishly and enjoyed summers in Newport and the glittering New York social life, Helen Miller Gould lived quietly. She preferred to give generously to charities and other causes in hopes of diluting her father’s tarnished reputation.

Helen Gould attended the New York University School of Law in a program reserved for female students, graduating in 1895. That same year ground was broken for the university’s new library building far uptown where the “rural” branch campus was planned.

An estimated crowd of 5,000 visitors, dignitaries, collegians and alumni attended the event. “Nearly one half of the visitors were women,” said The New York Times, “many of them young and charming, and all distinguished and attractively garbed.”  In his remarks, the university’s Chancellor Henry McCracken gave only a hint at the benefactor who donated the building. “The special gift of this occasion is by a citizen whose name is withheld, but who has carefully studied our situation,” he said.

Chancellor McCracken was the driving force behind the University Heights campus. At a time when Columbia University planned to abandon its downtown campus for an airy, open space uptown, McCracken envisioned the University Heights campus with its striking views of the Harlem River as a necessary complementary facility.

McCracken commissioned Stanford White to design the initial buildings, including the library which was to be the focal point of the campus. White drew on Rome’s ancient Pantheon for inspiration. Using beige brick and limestone, he designed what the New York Landmarks Commission called “Classical dignity and monumental grandeur.”

Early postcard view of the Gould Memorial Library - (author's collection)


Inside, White melded the Pantheon’s refined architecture with Renaissance pizzazz. Tiffany Studios produced the stained glass, the metalwork, painting and the gilding of the elaborate Corinthian capitals of the sixteen two-story Connemara Irish green marble columns.  In the central reading room, under theTiffany glass oculus of the dome, a glass-block section of the floor, encircled by a Greek-key bronze frame, allowed light into the chapel below.The green marble columns, the gold-toned coffered dome, the multi-colored stained glass and mosaics blended into a lush symphony of color.

photograph kindly provided by Stan Wolfson, CUNY Office of Communications & Marketing
Two years after ground-breaking, The Times updated its readers on the progress. “In the midst of the rolling country of Upper New York, where only sections have as yet taken on a semi-city appearance and nearly all is still a practical park, the New York University is slowly rising.”  The article described the rising library “with its towering Greek dome. In general the lines of the Parthenon [sic] have been chosen for this building, though the interior of the circular reading room has been modeled on the Reading Room of the British Museum; in fact, it is to be a close copy of it.”

White designed the three main academic buildings connected by a classical colonnade, The Hall of Fame with its bronze busts of great Americans, as an ensemble. Helen Gould supplemented her original gift of $250,000 for the library with $68,000 in 1899 to cover additional expenses. It was all, still, kept secret.

On December 8 of that year Chancellor MacCracken told the press “I am pledged not to reveal the name of the donor ‘till the building is erected. This will probably not be ‘till next Summer.”

photograph kindly provided by Stan Wolfson, CUNY Office of Communications & Marketing
 Helen Miller Gould’s generous gift was eventually made public and the library became known as the Gould Memorial Library. In tribute to the murdered White, memorial bronze doors to the architect were designed by his son, Lawrence, featuring eight reliefs designed by White’s colleagues.

The Memorial Doors to Stanford White - NYPL Collection
As the 20th Century progressed and the university expanded, the library not only became too small, but it no longer met building codes which allowed only 75 persons in the upper floors.  The building sat unused.

During an anti-war rally in 1969, a Molotov Cocktail was tossed into the auditorium (formerly the chapel) below the central reading room.  The Tiffany panels in the rear were blown out, the glass floor collapsed and hot air that blasted forth shattered he stained glass within the dome.  The auditorium was totally gutted. 

By the time the City University of New York acquired the campus in 1973, the Gould Memorial Library was empty and neglected.  On upper floors, which were essentially derelict, the plaster and paint was falling away from walls.  In 2007 Carolyn Williams, then Bronx Community College President, lamented that “we have beautiful facades, great looking buildings, but once you walk inside you will see that they are truly neglected and in need of a great deal of repair—not just renovation, costly restoration.”


In 1996 the Bronx Borough President’s office and the City Council provided $1.4 million for the restoration of the roof and the basement auditorium.  A grant from the Getty Trust in 2004 provided a restoration plan and partial funding, however it severely fell short of the total restoration cost estimated at $50 million.

FaçadeMD headed up a team of conservationists to analyze, restore and repair the windows and ceiling. The intricate, swirling coffered dome and roofs were restored as were the plaster statues ringing the reading room and the Tiffany windows, some of which feature 3-dimensional design.

One of the many Tiffany windows now restored
The Gould Memorial Library--the building some regard as Stanford White's masterpiece--is coming back to life.  The restored auditorium is now a functioning lecture hall and several administrative offices are on the upper floors.

Preservation architect Lisa Easton remarked that “The Gould Memorial Library is one of the most beautiful, pure Renaissance-influenced pieces of architecture and clearly illustrates the ideas of campus planning and the influence of educational planning and architecture at the time.”

Helen Miller Gould’s secret 1895 gift is beginning to gleam again.

non-credited photographs taken by the author

Saturday, February 26, 2011

The 1931 Art Deco Brill Building -- Tragedy and Musical History


Nothing, it seemed, could go wrong for Abraham E. Lefcourt prior to 1930. Born on New York’s Lower East Side, he started business manufacturing ladies’ apparel. In 1910 he built his first building, a 12-story structure at 48-54 West 25th Street that housed his factory on two floors.

In 1914 he created the Alan Realty Company--named after his 2-year old son--and continued building, erecting structures throughout the Midtown area. In 1924 Lefcourt gave his now 12-year old son ownership of a $10 million office building being erected at Madison Avenue and 34th Street. His purpose, he said, was to “inculcate in his son…a sense of thrift and responsibility.”

By 1929 Lefcourt not only commanded a vast real estate empire, but was president of the Lefcourt National Bank & Trust Company. On October 3 of that year he announced that he would build the tallest building in the world at the northwest corner of Broadway and 49th Street – the Lefcourt Building. Exceeding the Chrysler Building by four feet in height, it was to cost an estimated $30 million. Negotiations began for leasing the land from brothers Samuel, Max and Maurice Brill, where their Brill Brothers clothing store stood, and the architect Victor A. Bark, Jr. was commissioned for the project.

Nothing, it seemed, could go wrong for Abraham E. Lefcourt.

Suddenly, however, Lefcourt’s fortunes plummeted. Three weeks after his announcement, the stock market crashed. The plans for the skyscraper were quickly reworked, reducing the structure to a $1 million, 11-story office building.

Tragically, one month after the lease of the site was finalized in January 1930, 17-year old Alan Lefcourt died suddenly of anemia. Coupled with the intense grief caused by his son’s death, Lefcourt was forced to deal with a crumbling empire. In August he resigned his bank presidency to devote more time to his real estate holdings. By the end of the year he had sold no fewer the eight Manhattan buildings and investors brought suit against the bank alleging “improper investments.”

The developer continued to lose millions even as the Lefcourt-Alan Building was completed in 1931. By the fall of that year Lefcourt defaulted on the agreement with the Brill Brothers, who foreclosed. The building which he intended as a monument to his son was renamed the Brill Building.

In November 1932, with a judgment pending against him and his world collapsing, Lefcourt suddenly died. While the official report blamed a heart attack, rumors of suicide persisted. His one-time $100 million fortune was reduced to a few thousand.
The polished brass portrait bust of young Alan Lefcourt over the main entrance
Completed in 1931, the striking Art Deco Brill Building remained, in a sense, a memorial to Alan Lefcourt. Above the entrance doors an elaborate niche holds a brass bust of the handsome youth. Another, larger bust, possibly terra cotta, graces façade at the 11th floor. Only the smaller bust is documented as being of Alan (mentioned in Abraham Lefcourt’s obituary in The New York Times as “his son’s bust over the entrance”); however the New York Landmarks Commission feels the evidence suggests the larger bust “too, represents the son, or, perhaps, an idealized male tenant.”
The Lefcourt-Alan Building rises above Broadway on September 10, 1930 with the upper-story bust in place -- photo by Edwin Levick -- NYPL Collection
Perhaps more significant than the Brill Building’s striking Art Deco architecture, with its contrasting brass and polished black granite, and terra cotta reliefs, it is subsequent place in American music history.

Early tenants were music publishers, many having roots in Tin Pan Alley. Cab Calloway, Duke Ellington, and Tommy Dorsey had offices here along with their music publishers.


By the 1950’s radio disk jockey Alan Freed and Nat King Cole leased space here. Leiber and Stoller wrote for Elvis Presley here; Red Bird Records, famous for its “girl groups” was on the 9th Floor, and Burt Bacharach and Hal David met here in 1957 after which they wrote over 100 songs together.

Throughout the years the building was home to publishing houses such a Lewis Music, Mills Music and Leo Feist, Inc. and composers Johnny Mercer, Billy Rose, Neil Sedaka and Rose Marie McCoy. By 1962 there were 165 music businesses here.
The larger, possibly terra cotta bust above the top floor
Initially the entire second floor –approximately 15,000 square feet—housed The Paradise, a cabaret where music for the floorshows was supplied by bands like Glenn Miller and Paul Whiteman.

Later it became the Hurricane with tropical palms and flowers, headlining Duke Ellington. In 1944 it was Club Zanzibar where Nat King Cole, Cab Calloway, Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Jordan and the Ink Spots entertained guests in evening attire.

In the 1960’s the songs for the girl groups and teen idols that emanated from the offices here gave rise to what was called “The Brill Building Sound.” It was, according to Robert Fontenot, “poppier, more laden with strings, more giddy with romantic possibility than some of the earthier R&B stuff…This was, in other words, sophisticated pop for teens in the first blush of love, and it’s precisely that combination of classic songwriting technique and post-rock modernism that helped it get over and kept it fresh and exciting in the years since.”

Abraham Lefcourt’s striking Art Deco monument to his son was designated a New York City landmark in 2010.

non-credited photographs were taken by the author

Friday, February 25, 2011

West End Collegiate Church - West End Avenue and 77th Street

photo Alice Lum
In 1880 the Upper West Side was still sparsely-settled farmland. A decade later, however, the area was alive with new construction, pioneered by the 1884 Dakota Apartment building on Central Park West.

Most residents had to travel back downtown to attend church services while the neighborhoods were developing. In response, on October 16, 1890, the Consistory of the Collegiate Church formed a committee to search out a site for a new church and school. Three months later the committee had purchased, for $89,000, four residential-sized lots on West End Avenue and three adjoining lots on 77th Street.

Architect Robert W. Gibson, who was given the commission, veered far from the customary Gothic Revival or Romanesque churches expected on New York streets. Drawing from the city’s early heritage, the firm designed a charming Dutch Colonial structure with a stepped gable and Baroque finials.

The cornerstone of West End Collegiate Church was laid on October 24, 1891, at which time The New York Times predicted that “The new church and school will be one of the finest religious edifices in the city.” Designed to accommodate 750 worshippers, the newspaper went on to say that “The entrances will be by porches and vestibules, so arranged as to exclude draughts without making necessary the use of storm doors….The windows are large, with mullions suitable for stained glass. The roofs are steep, with gables and dormers much as in the Gothic style.”

Based on the 17th Century Vleeshal, a butcher’s guildhall, in Haarlem, it used “long, thin brick of a Roman pattern and brown in color, trimmed freely with quoins and blockings of buff terra-cotta,” as described in the church’s yearbook the next year. The congregation approved an additional $5,000 to use tiles rather than slate for the roof. The yearbook went on to say “Some very picturesque panels carved with the coats-of-arms of the church and of past benefactors are also in terra cotta.”

The interior would be as unconventional as the outside. “The church will have a gallery over the vestibules and porches, without any columns to interfere with the ground floor,” said The Times. “The roof is in open timber work of trusses supporting beams formed in panels. To the east of the church are the ladies’ parlors, chapel and school.”
photo NYPL Collection
Completed 1892, the church was dedicated on November 21 with an overflow crowd. Using words like “quaint” and “picturesque,” The Times gave a flowery description of the finished structure, “…and from its peaked roof there turns to the wind an ancient weathercock, which has ornamented the spires of several of the old churches, not long passed away, and which were once conspicuous buildings in the lower part of the city.”

The connected school building -- photo Alice Lum
West End Collegiate clung to its Dutch connections and during World War II established itself as a headquarters for aid to Dutch refugees and relief efforts. Twice during this period Princess Juliana of the Netherlands visited the church.

A fire in the sanctuary during the 1980s necessitated extensive restoration and reconstruction, headed by Hall Partnership Architects, LLP. and in 1999 another restoration was initiated, focused on the roof and terra cotta, by LZA Group.

The beautiful church and school were designated New York City landmarks in 1967, at which time the Landmarks Designation Commission said that “this group of buildings gives an aura of old world charm to the residential area in which it is located.”

Thursday, February 24, 2011

The 1861 Devlin & Co., Building - No. 459 Broadway at Grand


Daniel J. Devlin moved to New York from Louisville, Kentucky just as his brother, Jeremiah, was arriving from Ireland. The two opened a men’s clothing store in 1843, D. & J. Devlin, at the corner of Nassau and John Streets.

Business flourished and in 1854 they moved to an impressive new store on Broadway at Warren Street, changing the name to Devlin & Co. Only four years later the brothers began construction on a sister store at 459 Broadway, at the corner of Grand Street.

Completed in 1861, the five stories building was, as the AIA Guide to New York would later describe it, “A late Italianate temple of commerce whose beautifully weathered stone surfaces are pierced with ranks of finely proportioned rounded windows.” From both stores the Devlins catered to gentlemen and boys alike. An advertisement outlined the three specialized departments:

Ready Made Department: Dress, frock, cutaway and sack suits. Also, trousers for men and boys.

Custom Department: Large stock of piece goods for garments cut to measure.

Furnishing Department: Shirts, underwear, collars, cuffs, umbrellas, neckwear, etc.

Samples were sent by mail “upon application, with full directions for ordering garments custom made.”

Shoppers in the store received a scare when, on October 22, 1866, the four-story stone building being constructed next door on Broadway collapsed “producing great fright among the workmen employed in the building, and not a little excitement in the street outside,” reported The New York Times.  The Devlin building, luckily, went unharmed.

The week before Christmas in 1874 the newspaper commented that “The high class and moderate prices of all their goods, no matter in what branch, offer such temptations as to command purchases."

“In fact,” the article went on, “gentlemen and lads can walk into Mssrs. Devlin’s stores, and in five minutes walk out again, arrayed in all the glories of the well-dressed man of the period.” Devlin & Co. remained in the building at No. 459 Broadway until 1879, when they consolidated it with the Warren Street store.

Despite the move, the neighborhood where the building was located was an active commercial area. In his 1882 “New York by Gaslight,” James McCabe Jr. described Broadway north of Canal Street. “The eyes take in the long lines of stately buildings, the constantly moving throngs of pedestrians and vehicles, and the ear is deafened by the steady roar which goes up unceasingly from the streets, for this is one of the busiest parts of Broadway."

For decades apparel and accessories firms were headquartered in the building. In 1892 the Hodgman Rubber Company, manufacturers of “mackintoshes and rubber goods” – in short, rain gear -- was here. A long dry spell that year caused George F. Hodgman to complain that “the weather conditions…have so far not been in our favor. A good general rain for several days would make things lively for us.”

By the turn of the century, Pratt, Hurst Co., Ltd, an English importer of “laces, nets and curtains” had its New York headquarters in the building and three years later the firms of Mannheimer Brothers and S. Fox “dress goods” was here.

The neighborhood retained its integrity as World War I approached, with A. L. Silbertstein’s cutlerly store in the building.

Things would not continue so favorably, however.

By the late 20th Century the SoHo area north of Canal Street had drastically deteriorated. Tawdry electronics shops and discount stores slapped garish signs at street level while the upper floors of the once-grand buildings were reduced to storage or miscellaneous small business. An aluminum storefront obliterated the graceful arched first floor of No. 459 and only the soot-covered upper floors hinted at the building’s former grandeur.

In 2006 application was made to the Landmarks Preservation Commission for restoration of the building. Joseph Pell Lombardi Architects set about recreating the original Broadway and Grand Street arcades, restoring the granite sidewalks and the graceful sandstone façade. Fire escapes, and small rooftop addition and other 20th Century modifications were eliminated. Original cast iron with wood infill was used to replicate the original first floor façade.

The extensive project was completed in 2011, resulting in commercial space on the ground level and residential units above. Jeremiah and Daniel Devlin’s handsome pre-Civil War period emporium has regained its dignity.

non-credited photographs taken by the author

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The 1857 Arnold, Constable & Co. Building - Canal and Mercer Streets


When British-born Aaron Arnold opened his dry goods store on Pine Street in 1825, he began what would become the oldest department store in America. In 1842 James Mansell Constable bought into the business and it became Arnold & Constable, Company; although sometime after the Civil War the ampersand would be replaced by a simple comma – Arnold, Constable & Company

By 1856 not only had the Pine Street store become too small for its impressive trade but the commercial district was moving uptown. Arnold & Contable commissioned a grand new emporium on Canal Street at the corner of Mercer. The façade was clad in white marble, giving it the familiar name “Marble House.” Five stories tall, it was elegantly designed with corner quoins; arched, carved window lentils and a flat roof with a modest cornice. The Mercer Street side mimicked in red brick the design of the Canal Street façade.

The store opened in 1857 boasting a product line offering “Everything from Cradle to Grave.” The company ledgers would list the names of Astors and Vanderbilts, and Mary Todd Lincoln would become an oft-seen shopper. In March 1860 the store advertised the “splendid new silks of the season…The organdies for the coming Summer are gorgeous in bright colors and are large in pattern.”

Later, in August of that year, The New York Times commented on the “beautiful assortment of evening silks. Some of white taffeta, with a shower of tiny golden stars, were very striking. A new silk, and one which will be very much worn, is the striped watered silk,” it said. Indeed, the well-heeled ladies of New York could purchase the latest fashions of Paris in Arnold & Constable’s white marble emporium.

Early that same year on February 22, as the storm clouds of the Civil War gathered in the South, an article appeared in the Atlanta-based Southern Confederacy newspaper. Among the New York stores the paper insisted should be boycotted was “Arnold, Constable & Co.”

“We do this for the reason that we know no Southern merchant will expend the money that he has obtained from Southern slaveholders in building up and enriching a class of men who are stabbing at the vitals of this section,” the paper said.

The boycott did little harm to business and in 1862 a perfectly-matching addition was added to the east.

In May 1869, while Arnold, Constable & Co.’s immense second store was rising uptown on Broadway at 19th Street, three men walked into the Canal Street store at 11:00 am and boldly walked out with an entire display case. The case, filled with $500 worth of goods, was loaded onto a butcher cart waiting at the curb and the thieves casually drove away.

The firm kept Marble House long after the grand opening of the magnificent Broadway store. While the great emporiums like Lord & Taylor were focusinging their retail efforts around Union Square or 6th Avenue, Arnold, Constable & Co. kept the Canal Street store open as an option for its shoppers. As late as 1878 Goulding’s New York City Directory listed both addresses for Constable Dry Goods.

In 1914 the Canal Street store closed and little by little the neighborhood deteriorated from grand stores to tawdry shops peddling electronics, cheap handbags and knock-off perfumes. By the 1960s a patchwork of signs were plastered along street level of the once-elegant Marble House and graffiti was scrawled on its brickwork. The AIA Guide to New York City lamented that “Years of déclassé retailing numb most viewers to the lyrical architecture of this once elegant block-long bazaar.”

The Arnold, Constable & Co. Building before restoration - photo nyc-architecture.com
Almost everything in New York City is cyclical, however, and in 2005 when the United American Land Company purchased the building, it began considering the possibilities of the former Marble House.

PKSK Architects were brought in to convert the Canal Street entrance to a retail space and to convert the upper floors to rental apartments. The unsightly fire escape was removed and the glazed storefronts and arched bases were restored. The project was completed in 2008.

A year later, architect Sherida Paulsen explained to Margaret O’Donoghue Castillo of the American Institute of Architects “We compared the worn-out facades to an 1855 ad and were stunned to see that the building had changed very little. We removed some ill-conceived storefronts and a fire escape, and restored the architecture. This building could spark a line of rebirths along that busy thoroughfare.”

Indeed, the blocks along Canal Street near the old Arnold, Constable & Co. building are undergoing a renaissance. Ornate cast iron and masonry buildings are re-emerging from under decades of soot, metal and plastic signs, and fake facades. A bank is now housed in the street-level space where Mary Todd Lincoln once shopped.
Mercer Street facade in 2011
The New York City Landmarks Commission noted that this remarkable building’s “style, scale, materials, and details are among those features that contribute to the special architectural and historic character of the SoHo-Cast Iron Historic District.”

non-credited photographs taken by the author

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The 1914 Alfred L. Seligman Fountain -- "The Bear and Faun"

photo nycgovparks.org
Banker and musician Alfred Lincoln Seligman was highly respected as Vice President of the National Highways Protective Society. Seligman had also been deeply interested in the children of New York and devoted much of his time to providing musical instruction for them. In 1911 The New York Times reported on his plans to donate a fountain to the City of New York for the enjoyment of children. California-born artist Edward Edgar Walter would design a sculptural, child-pleasing fountain.

The plans were abruptly halted when, in a cruelly ironic twist, Seligman was killed on June 24, 1912 in one of the first documented automobile accidents.

The National Highways Protective Society took up the cause, donating additional funds to the $2000 project. Cast at the Roman Bronze Works, Walter’s finished 7-foot sculpture was both functional and incredibly charming. A young faun rests in a grotto, his pan pipes at his side, while an inquisitive bear peeks over the rim at him.  It included a drinking fountain for humans and a basin for thirsty dogs.

On May 17, 1914 The New York Times reported that “The bronze fountain at Morningside Park and 114th Street, which was given to the children of this city by the late Alfred Lincoln Seligman, a former Vice President of the National Highways Protective Society, was dedicated at noon yesterday.”

Frederick R. Coudert, President of the Society, presented the gift to the Parks Commissioner, Cabot Ward. “Alfred Lincoln Seligman sought not for fame, but in his comparatively short life he devoted much of his time to the young people of the city…It is because of his attitude toward the children and his work for their safety, health and happiness that this monument to his memory is peculiarly appropriate,” he said.

After sixty years in its picturesque setting at the foot of a staircase in the park, the fountain was restored in 1997 by the City Parks Foundation Monuments Conservation Program with financial aid from the Florence Gould Foundation.

The naturalistic Alfred Lincoln Seligman Fountain, also known familiarly as the Bear and Faun, is one of the most enchanting outdoor sculptures in the city.

Monday, February 21, 2011

The George C. Flint Furniture Co. Building - No. 43 West 23rd Street


Carriages wait for ladies shopping at Flint's Furniture in 1895 -- King's Photographic View of New York (author's collection)
 One of the best-known furniture makers in New York in the 19th Century, George C. Flint opened his impressive showroom in 1868 at No. 106 West 14th Street, surrounded by other grand emporiums. Within ten years he would have a workshop No. 154 West 19th Street and a leased warehouse at No. 304 West Street. Flint’s key to success was to provide the public with attractive, up-to-date designs at affordable prices.

By the 1880’s the retail district was slowly moving northward from 14th Street along 6th Avenue; the area which would be familiarly known as The Ladies’ Mile. In 1886 R. J. Horner, arguably Flint’s strongest competitor, had erected a stylish cast iron store on 23rd Street, following the upward movement.

Although Flint held out on 14th Street for a while, by 1893 it became obvious that a new store was necessary. The New York Times reported that “The George C. Flint Company has found its present large store entirely inadequate for the proper display of the great and varied stock which the firm carries.”

Flint commissioned the esteemed architect Henry J. Hardenbergh to design his new structure. Eight stories tall, the facade would be fashioned of limestone rather than the cast iron used in Horner’s store just down the block. Large show windows on the first and second floors allowed a flood of sunlight into the showrooms. Gracing the upper portions of the four two-story ground floor piers, were ornate carved cartouches featuring demonic-looking feline heads. Hardenbergh used Ionic pillars, Corinthian pilasters, arches and an elaborate, deeply overhanging metal cornice to create a stately and visually appealing structure.


On August 22, 1894 Flint opened his doors for business in the new store, which extended through the block to 24th Street. “The store is so large,” said The Times, “that each piece on display stands by itself, and can be inspected from every side without delay or inconvenience. On each floor there are special exhibition rooms where the suits of furniture can be placed to show how they appear when arranged in the homes of purchasers.”

Flint had borrowed the idea of arranging furniture in room settings from his rival, Horner. Here were displayed parlor sets in the Louis XV and Louis XVI styles, “Bagdad and Turkish rugs,” mahogany dining room sets in the Chippendale style or oak sets “of the German Renaissance.”

“The firm is a present showing a special line of bedroom suites, in bird’s-eye maple, birch, mahogany, and oak. Many of the suites have twin beds, which are popular now instead of the single wide bed,” said The Times.

Flint’s business was not limited to the design, manufacture and sale of furniture. He kept a crew of craftsmen who installed interior woodwork in public and residential buildings. In 1880, Flint designed and installed the magnificent entrance hall and staircase of the Park Avenue Armory.

Problems arose in 1895 when his cabinet makers were working on the Presbyterian Building, being constructed on 5th Avenue at 20th Street. When the electrical workers went on strike, work on the building abruptly halted. The portion of Flint’s factory which was manufacturing the cabinetry also ground to a stop.

Rather than lay the men off during hard times (the Depression of 1893 was still being felt), the company put them to work manufacturing furniture which it put on sale at cost.

Disaster struck on November 6, 1906 when Flint’s factory and warehouse on West 29th Street caught fire. Fireman had problems with the water tower and for at least ten minutes could not get water on the blaze. Within a few hours the entire structure had burned to the ground, destroying everything. The lost furniture alone was valued at $250,000, much of it European antiques.

Shortly afterwards, Flint and Horner joined forces to become Flint & Horner. By the end of World War I both of the 23rd Street showrooms had been left for space uptown.


Hardenbergh’s beautiful building at No. 43 West 23rd Street has been little altered. Appropriately, the building where fashionable ladies once shopped for “fancy chairs in rich upholstering, easy chairs, desks for ladies, fancy curtains, etc., without number, all worthy of a place in a palace,” as The Times reported, today houses a furniture store.

non-credited photographs were taken by the author

Saturday, February 19, 2011

The 1831 New York City Marble Cemetery

photo by Demadeo
By the 1830s the residential neighborhood known as the Bond Street Area featured handsome Federal style mansions and merchant-class homes filled with furniture by Duncan Phyfe and Joseph Meeks. On 2nd Avenue, hidden behind houses with only a narrow passage marked by a wrought-iron gate, the New York Marble Cemetery was established in 1830.

A severely conservative space, it was surrounded by a rubble stone wall in which three tiers of marble plaques documented the names of the interred. No monuments or headstones were allowed, leaving the burial ground to appear as a grassy lawn.

A year later, around the corner on East 2nd Street between 2nd and 1st Avenues a second cemetery was begun on property possessed by Samuel Cowdrey who already owned a vault in the 2nd Avenue grave yard. Organized by a group of well-to-do businessmen including Thomas Addis Emmet, Garret Storm, Henry Booraem, Samel Whittemore and Evert Bancker, it had the confusingly similar name The New York City Marble Cemetery. It would be the second non-sectarian cemetery in the city.

According to historical commentator Helen Henderson in her 1917 book “A Loiterer in New York, it “was started as a rather potent rival…In this cemetery tombstones and monuments were allowed, and the vault owners seem to have been at some pains to show how really lovely such memorials could be made, and how worthy of a place in the city beautiful.”



By 1835, additional lots of land had been added to accommodate 25 vaults. A high brick wall ran around three sides while the 2nd Street side was guarded by an elegant cast iron fence and gate. Long walks separated the lines of vaults and the New York City Marble Cemetery became a fashionable burial site for New York’s wealthy families.

As the century progressed beautiful marble monuments appeared marking the graves of notable New Yorkers – New York City mayor and New York State governor Stephen Allen, James Lenox, Revolutionary War hero Marinus Willet, Samuel Kip (remembered in the name of Kip’s Bay) and all of his family, six Roosevelts, and Mayor Isaac Varian.

The “Ministers’ Vault” held the remains of the Dutch settlers disinterred from their original resting place Church far downtown. “One of the most graceful monuments,” according to Henderson, “is to the memory of preserved Fish, a shipping merchant.”

Other notable persons buried here were John Lloyd Stephens, the archeologist who pioneered exploration of Mayan Mexico, John Ericsson who invented the Civil War ironclad Monitor (his body was later removed to Sweden), Stephen Decatur, James Watson Webb, Jonathan Ogden and Moses Taylor.

One of the first persons buried in the new cemetery was former President James Monroe who died in New York of tuberculosis and heart failure on July 4, 1831; the year the burial ground was opened. Thirty-three pall bearers carried his coffin, followed by an impressive stream of veterans, dignitaries, and family. Thousands crammed the streets to view the procession up Broadway to Monroe’s son-in-law’s crypt. Church bells tolled throughout the city and cannons from the Battery were fired.

The State of Virginia, 27 years later, petitioned for reburial of the president in his home state. On July 2, 1858, the body was exhumed and the following day loaded on the ship Jamestown for its journey home.

In the decades after the Civil War the Bond Street area lost its favor as prosperous families moved further uptown. Beginning in the 1870's some relatives removed the remains of their families to cemeteries in more fashionable districts.

With the neighborhood changing, concerned lot owners formed a group of Trustees to ensure the care and maintenance of the cemetery and subscriptions were sold for its upkeep. Rumors in 1890 that the valuable real estate would be sold for development were quickly dispelled by Erasmus Sterling, Secretary of the Trustees. “The lot owners have inherent rights,” he said, “which cannot be abrogated. We have the financial means to keep the cemetery in permanent good order and the grounds will be cared for by a competent Superintendent.”

At the time there was a comfortable $17,000 in the permanent fund, greatly assisted by a bequest of $5,000 from William C. Treadwell’s estate.

By 1897 the cemetery, while carefully maintained, was little used and hemmed in by tenement buildings. The elegant brick homes with marble trim were long a memory. That year when the body of millionaire Reuben B. Withers was returned from Paris for burial here, the ceremony -- now no longer routine -- caused a stir. The New York Times commented that a “burial, a rare occurrence in these days for the place, occurred yesterday in the quaint old New York City Marble Cemetery in Second Street, Between First and Second Avenues.

“Women and children thronged the windows and fire escapes of the tenements which look down upon the cemetery, and street urchins crowded about the iron fence to see the burial,” the newspaper said.
Tenements press in along the walls of the New York City Marble Cemetery in the early 20th Century - photo by Victor Volnar -- NYPL Collection 
The trustees of the cemetery held annual meetings and refused to allow the New York City Marble Cemetery to fall into neglect, as had the earlier New York Marble Cemetery nearby. On March 19, 1905 The Times reported that the older cemetery was in derelict condition. “Some of the vaults have fallen in,” it said, “and in the course of time others may do so; the wall surrounding the cemetery has commenced to fall and there are no funds for repairs.”

The newspaper went on to contrast the two burial grounds, saying of the New York City Marble Cemetery, “Unlike the other cemetery, this place is a veritable beauty spot in Summer, splendidly laid out with flower beds, with a great abundance of creeping ivy, shrubs, and vines, several lindens, a few monuments – a well-kept place.”

Helen Henderson, in writing about the cemetery in 1917, agreed, saying “The walls too are covered with vines and most appropriate shrubs and trees, in the weeping willow style, and have been well cared for during eighty-odd years.”



The quiet and picturesque little cemetery, which was given landmark status in 1969, was jolted into public awareness in 2010 when a maintenance worker discovered a garbage bag containing what the New York City Police Department Bomb Squad identified as C-4 military-grad explosive bricks. The plastic explosives, more powerful than TNT, were removed without incident.

This picturesque page from New York's genteel past is still lovingly maintained yet widely unknown.

non-credited photographs were taken by the author

Friday, February 18, 2011

The 1801 Catholic Church of the Transfiguration -- 25 Mott Street

photo transfigurationnyc.org
The neighborhood around Mott Street in 1800 was had little to offer. The 48-acre Collect Pond, once a bucolic picnic spot was now a dumping ground for the waste from nearby tanneries, breweries and slaughterhouses; creating in effect an open, rancid sewer.

Yet it was here that a group of English Lutherans opted to build their new church. The group had broken away from its downtown congregation which conducted services only in German. Costing $15,000 and completed in 1801, the English Lutheran Church Zion was a Georgian-Gothic field stone structure with handsome stone framing around the window and door openings. Within six years the congregation had broken away from the Lutheran church entirely, converting to Episcopalian.

On August 31, 1815 a catastrophic fire swept through the area, destroying 35 homes and essentially gutting the church. The attempts to rebuild made by the rector, Rev. Ralph Willston, were so financially crippling that he was forced to resign in 1817 and the property was sold under foreclosure at public auction at the Tontine Coffee House on Wall Street.

Peter Lorillard purchased the building and reassured the concerned parishioners that he “would retain the property until some friends of the church would stipulate to finish rebuilding, and then restore it to its former ecclesiastical organization.” Six congregants stepped up with sizable donations, aided by a $10,000 loan from Trinity Church.

The renovated structure was completed in 1818, dedicated by Bishop Hobart on November 16.

The neighborhood, however, remained rough. By the 1840s the Five Points section was one of poverty and crime. Finally, in 1853, the Zion Protestant Episcopal Church gave up and relocated further uptown, having decided that “the permanent resuscitation of the parish in that locality was a hopeless undertaking.”

photo transfigurationnyc.org
The Roman Catholic Diocese of New York purchased the building for the Parish of the Transfiguration. The Cuban-born founder of the parish, Father Felix Varela, died that same year, after which the church was led by a succession of Irish, then Italian, pastors throughout the 19th Century who worked with the poor Irish residents of the area.

The parish commissioned Henry Engelbert , who had just rebuilt the old St. Patrick’s Cathedral after a devastating fire, to design a bell tower in 1868. On February 13, 1871 the blessing of the 1,500-pound bell for the new tower was conducted by Archbishop McClosky. The bell was swung on a derrick in front of the altar and “notwithstanding the inclemency of the weather,” according to The Times, “the edifice was filled to repletion, although admission was only to be secured by tickets at fifty cents each.”

The imposing ceremony was “quite lengthy.”

In 1882 another consecration was held, this time for the new altar. “The general appearance of the altar is similar to the one in St. Ann’s Church, in East Twelfth-street,” reported The Times. “It is of Carrara marble, on a base which is reached by three clouded marble steps. On the front and centre of the altar is a niche in which is a marble recumbent figure of the Savior of the tomb. It is flanked on either side by scenes in the life of the Savior elaborately wrought in the marble. The canopy over the tabernacle is supported by four columns of mottled red Vermont marble. Its roof terminates in a foliated pinnacle, at the summit of which is a crucifix, the figure of the Savior being wrong in gold on a marble cross.”

By the 1890s more and more Italian immigrants were settling in the Five Points area. The Irish leaders of the parish refused to allow them to worship in the main sanctuary; forcing them to hold services in the basement. Finally in 1902 when Rev. Ernest Coppo became pastor, the Italians were allowed upstairs.

In the meantime, however, the Chinese were now infiltrating the neighborhood in large numbers. In response, the Rev. Dr. McLoughlin of Transfiguration spoke before the Board of Local Improvements of the Tenth District in March 1899. Explaining that he was the guardian of over 5,000 souls, “mainly English-speaking and Italians,” he rallied for the removal of “the Orientals” to another quarter.

“I am kept awake night after night in the summertime by the noise of these Mongolians, by their vile music, by the clatter of their tongues, by their dominoes, their unauthorized midnight processions, and by the shrill laughter of their white women. Hence I know fully whereof I speak when I pronounce Pell and Doyers Streets cesspools of immorality vile enough to bring a curse upon the entire community.”
photo by Alice Lum
McLoughlin’s intolerant rants did not produce his desired outcome and not only did the Chinese stay in the neighbor, within a few years the Salesian Society took over the staffing of Transfiguration. An Italian issionary society, the Salesians immediately sought ways to include the Chinese into the parish. Before long a Chinese-speaking pastor who had done missionary work in China was brought in to help.

By the 1940s the Maryknoll Fathers, respected for their missionary work in China, managed the church and a Chinese school was established.

photo by americasroof
Today the neighborhood around the Church of the Transfiguration is greatly changed. It is a multi-cultural district with a rich blend of ethnic and racial heritage and tradition. In designating the building a landmark, the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission called it not only “a fine example of Georgian-Gothic architecture” but “one of the finest ecclesiastical buildings of its time.”

Thursday, February 17, 2011

The New York Public Library's Monumental Flagpole Bases

photo museumplanet.com
Included in Carrere & Hastings’ design for the monumental white marble New York Public Library were two decorative bronze flagpole bases on either end of the broad balustraded terrace outside the main entrance. Designed by Thomas Hastings, the ornate sculptural bases teemed with allegorical and symbolic representations in keeping with the Beaux Arts style of the building itself.

Sitting on pedestals of Tennessee marble, each base rests upon the shell of four bronze turtles, representing Time. Figures of Discovery, Conquest, Civilization and Adventure sit at each corner, while between each figure is a medallion of one of the four races: Asian, American Indian, Caucasian, and Negro. Above each figure is an owl, symbolizing Wisdom and encircling the base of each pole are the signs of the zodiac.

The bases were executed in the studios of the Menconi brothers and cast at the Tiffany Studios foundry in Long Island City. While Raffaele Menconi was the sculptor of the finished bases, his brother Joseph assisted with the plaster models. Italian-born Raffaele had a reputation for his clear understanding of the 16th Century Italian Mannerist style basic to Hastings’ design.
One of the Menconi plaster models in preparation for forging.  The medallion of the American Indian and Caucasian can be seen between the figures as well as the turtles below symbolizing Time -- NYPL Collection
The 85-foot tall poles of Oregon pine were put in place on December 10, 1911 and on December 26 the American flag and the New York City flag were hoisted. To support the weight of each five-and-a-half-ton pole along with its ponderous bronze base, a concrete foundation 14 feet deep was necessary.

The extraordinary bases were broadly acclaimed the most beautiful in America.

At 1:00 am on April 27, 1941 the pine flagpoles were replaced with two tapered steel poles as memorials to Mayor John Purroy Mitchel who served the city during World War I years of 1914 through 1917.

As part of a $50 million Library restoration completed in February 2011, the magnificent bronze flagpole bases were cleaned and preserved.  Often overlooked in the visual overload provided by Carrere & Hastings’ epic marble masterpiece, the bronze sculptural flagpole bases are extraordinary works of art.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The Lost "Church of the Holy Zebra," Mould's Unitarian All Soul's Church

The Unitarian Church of All Souls in 1893 -- (from "A Loiterer in New York," author's collection)
Jacob Wrey Mould had been in the United States only a year in 1853 when he was consulted by Moses H. Grinnell regarding plans for a new Unitarian Church of All Souls. The church, under the strong guidance of Rev. Dr. Henry Whitney Bellows, had been searching for an adequate design.  When architect C. F. Anderson presented his plans, Grinnell, the president of the trustees, was less than impressed.

Although the trustees had approved Anderson’s design, they were vetoed by Grinnell.

Mould had been hard at work designing decorative elements for the Crystal Palace Exhibition in Bryant Park. His vibrant, colorful work was novel to New Yorkers and, for some, would prove over-the-top.

Three months later when, on July 8, 1853, his plans were exhibited to the board of trustees Grinnell convinced a wary Bellows to accept them. Bellows would remark that Grinnell was “bewitched by the architect.”

Accustomed to comfortable Gothic Revival and Romanesque church designs, the congregation and the public at large was taken aback by Mould’s unconventional plan. As Helen W. Henderson explained in her 1917 “A Loiterer in New York,” “This was in the year 1854, long before New York had become accustomed to see planted, on her stern rock foundations, those exotics that now bloom so easily in the strong sea-light of the island city.”

Built on the southeast corner of Fourth Avenue and 20th Street it was completed in 1855. Although contemporary critics termed the style “Byzantine,” it was actually Italian Romanesque, modeled loosely on the 14th Century Basilica di San Giovanni Battista. In fact, the church would proudly display for decades “elaborate drawings of both San Gio Battista and All Souls,” according to Henderson, to demonstrate the similarities.

stereopticon view of All Souls around 1869 - NYPL Collection
With his design, Mould had indeed stepped out of the box. By using alternating courses of deep red Philadelphia brick and beige-yellow Italian Caen stone he created a striped overall effect which, according to the “Oxford Dictionary of Architecture and Landscaping,” “introduced structural polychromy to the USA.”
With its striking central dome, it was by far a building not to be overlooked. Dedicated on Christmas Day of 1855, Dr. Bellows spoke of it as “a building in which mean economy, superficial show, worldly artifice and fraud, should not enter—a building religious in its structure, from cornerstone to dome; and if a consummate skill, an unfailing taste, an unsparing devotion, a self-possession which neither ridicule nor blame could disturb, and a zeal which neither sickness nor pain could impair—if these deserve fame, then indeed the modest architect of this Christian temple has achieved it.”

Critics, however, were quick to react. It was called by one, “the most unfortunate ecclesiastical edifice ever to be erected not only in New York, but anywhere else in the world for that matter.” The congregation, who felt they now owned a “white elephant,” according to Henderson, was even more shocked when it was revealed that Mould had gone $48,000 over budget.

It was Grinnell who helped relieve the financial crisis from his own pocket; however the lofty campanile the architect had originally intended, matching the one at the Basilica, would never be built.

Bellow’s daughter, years later, would remember that she “found the church handsome and unique, though it excited much derisive comment and received many nicknames.” Among those irreverent nicknames, the two that quickly gained popularity were The Church of the Holy Zebra and the Beefsteak Church.

Dr. Bellows died in 1882 and four years later a bronze memorial table with a life-sized relief of the minister by Augustus Saint-Gaudens was unveiled in the sanctuary.

Augustus Saint-Gaudens' life sized bronze memorial of Dr. Bellows -- (from "A Loiterer in New York," author's collection)
By the turn of the century New Yorkers had grown accustomed to the exotic architecture of All Souls. When, in 1913, rumors spread that the congregation would possibly sell the valuable property, now surrounded by modern lofts and wholesale businesses, The New York Times lamented, “When the church does go, the city will lose one of the most remarkable architectural creations ever placed upon Manhattan Island. It was built in 1855, in the Byzantine style of architecture, and with its sharply definite lines of red brick and white caen stone, has often been called the zebra striped church.” Later the book “Dr. Bellows and All Souls Church” remarked that “architecturally [it] is of exceptional interest.”
The building, however, was in trouble. In 1917 Henderson wrote that “All Souls’ Church looks, on the week-day, neglected and shabby. Its stone work is scaling off, its garden is overgrown, and its gates padlocked and rusty.”

Early in 1929 the congregation sold the property to a developer for $475,000. The church sat empty and neglected for two years before being destroyed by a fire on August 23, 1931. As The Times had predicted, New York lost “one of the most remarkable architectural creations ever placed upon Manhattan Island.” Jacob Wrey Mould’s atypical and wonderful Church of the Holy Zebra was lost forever.

copyrights for photos from "A Loiterer in New York" have expired

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The Methodist Book Concern - 150 5th Avenue

The Methodist Book Concern Building in 1895 -- King's Photographic Views of New York (author's collection)
In February 1887 the Methodist Book Concern and the Missionary Society began considering leaving the building they had owned and occupied for nearly 20 years at Broadway and 11th Street. A new facility, it was argued, could combine the offices with the printing and binding departments of the Book Concern which had been housed on Mulberry Street for 40 years.  At the time the Methodist Book Concern was, by some reports, the largest publishing firm in the world.

By November a committee had selected the southwest corner of 5th Avenue and 20th Street and purchased the land for about $65,000. The location was ideal, for by this time the strip of 5th Avenue from 13th Street to 23rd Street was already being lined with religious-based office buildings – printing and publishing houses, missionary offices and church headquarters – earning it the nickname Paternoster Row.

Demolition of the existing buildings was completed by spring when construction commenced. The New York Times commented on the planned building. “There will be stores on the avenue and offices and meeting rooms above…[used] three-fourths by the Book Concern and one-fourth by the Missionary Society.”

Edward Hale Kendall, who had designed the Gorham Building on Broadway and 19th Street four years earlier, received the commission to design the building and on Mar 23, 1888 the cornerstone, containing issues of all the religious weekly publications, was laid.  Kendall produced a robust Romanesque Revival structure that was completed two years later. Two floors of rusticated pink granite formed a base for four stories of red brick. A trio of three-story bay windows nestled in long four-story brick arches on the 5th Avenue front gave movement to the façade. Above the top floor a classic balustrade with stone urns encircled the roof.

In his 1894 book "The Outlook," Francis Rufus Bellamy described the building.  “It has a front of 104 feet and a depth of 170 feet, and is thus a huge structure even in the neighborhood of great buildings.  It is eight stories high, and absolutely fireproof.  The lower stories are of stone and the upper of brick.  If spread out, its floor room would cover over three and a half acres.  The ample offices for the missionary officials within, and the facades on Fifth Avenue and Twentieth Street, without, present a cheerful and comfortable aspect as  befits the stronghold of the Methodist Episcopal Church.” 

The Methodist Book Concern printed periodicals like The Christian Advocate (“Official Newspaper of the Church”) and the Sunday School Journal.  Yet despite the virtuous publications that were produced here, the Concern was not immune to scandal.  In 1896 Methodists were shocked by the publication in Baltimore of the Rev. Dr. John Lanahan's book "The Era of Frauds of the Methodist Book Concern at New York" in which he made accusations of "great corruption and fraud, involving losses of several hundred thousand dollars."

In 1916 the head of the Concern, the Rev. Dr. George P. Mains, was accused of heresy when his book "Modern Thought and Traditional Faith" espoused advanced views on evolution and science, and suggested that Genesis was mostly "myth."  Mains countered his detractor, the Rev. George A. Cooke, by saying that his doctrines were "displeasing only to those individuals who take literally every line of the
Scriptures and believe that mistakes of grammer in the King James version are inspired, and that Jonah was literally swallowed by the whale."

Three additional floors were added in 1909, including medeival-style ornamentation and the decorative monogram MBC on the Fifth Avenue facade.

The building continued to house printing firms throughout the first half of the 20th Century. In 1951 Abingdon-Cokesbury Press was headquartered here when it published the first of twelve volumes of “The Interpreter’s Bible,” the first multi-volume Bible commentary printed in 130 years. Although the Methodist Book Concern moved to Nashville in 1939, a wholesale office and bookstore remained until 1962.

By the second half of the century, however, the neighborhood and the building was changing. The Amalgamated Laundry Workers Health Center was here in 1953 and by 1960 it housed the headquarters of Ideax Corporation, a camera and photography equipment distributor. Thirteen years later, on December 4, 1973 a bomb exploded in the offices of the United States Committee for Justice for Latin American Political Prisoners, injuring two staff workers.

Unsympathetic street level renovations caused The AIA Guide to New York City to complain that "the ground floor entrance has been modernized with misunderstanding."  However in 2001 new owners L& L Acquisitions commissioned architects HLW International to do a $6 million restoration and renovation.  The facade and entrance were restored (the granite had been painted gray and the arched entrance had been boxed over), and the lobby was redesigned with a vaulted ceiling and stone floors.




photo by Beyond My Ken

The building was purchased only a year later by a German institutional fund for more than $102 million. Today No. 105 Fifth Avenue has regained the dignity of its street level and is a stately reminder of the long-gone Paternaster Row.


photograph by Alice Lum


Monday, February 14, 2011

The Hans Christian Andersen Statue, Central Park

photo by Dismas
In the 1930s the Danish American Women’s Association spearheaded an annual radio broadcast in celebration of the birthday of Hans Christian Andersen. Aimed at New York’s school children, it featured information on the author’s life, songs by Andersen and, most importantly, a reading of his beloved fairy tales.

The event gained wide-spread attention when, on April 1st, 1936, Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia pronounced the next day “Han Christian Andersen Day” and instructed children to listen to the program the following morning. Children continued to tune in throughout the war years when a War Bond of $25 was awarded to the child who created the best essay on Andersen.

With Andersen’s 150th birthday approaching, the DAWA formed a committee in 1952 to investigate the creation of a statue to Hans Christian Andersen in Central Park as a “story telling center.” The members of the “H. C. Andersen Statue Fund” feared from the start that they would have a difficult time convincing Parks Commissioner Robert Moses. Moses had refused for thirty years to add any new statues to the park.

Minutes of the committee meeting on May 13, 1952 included the notation that “This group had spoken to the well-known sculptor, Georg Lober. As to the cost it was difficult to state off-hand, but not to count on less than $50,000, more likely over.”

Exactly a year later the committee visited Lober’s studio to see the first model of the statue. Meeting minutes revealed that “All were delighted.” The Art Commission of New York viewed the model on June 8th and it was “accepted with highest commendations.”

Yet there was still the Parks Commissioner to deal with.

On June 4th, committee member Baroness Alma Dahlerup broke the good news. Commissioner Robert Moses “had seen the model and was extremely interested.” The following day Moses sent a letter to the sculptor admiring his work and predicting it would “be of value to the Park.”

Fund raising started immediately. Georg John Lober, upon receiving his first payment of $1000, revised his cost estimate to $67,000. Despite earnest appeals and repeated fund raising events, the committee faced difficulties raising the necessary funds. In 1954 the idea was formed to involve Danish school children – their contributions making the statue a gift from Danish school children to American school children. It was decided that the statue would be a gift from the children, while the “story telling center” would be paid for by the American contributions.

On July 26, 1955, the total contributions from the Danish children was reported: $15,000. The statue fund was still substantially below the figure necessary.

A year later the treasurer of the committee received a check from “the school children of Great New York.” According to Baroness Dahlerup the next year, “It was a great surprise to find that the check was a large sum of almost $12,000.00, which had been collected in amounts of from one cent to not more than five cents.”

The statue was unveiled in a ceremony headed by Commissioner Moses with Mayor Robert Wagner, the Danish Ambassador, the Danish Consul. The Danish Minister of Education, Julius Bombolt, who had come to New York for the event remarked “There are moments one never forgets and one of my most happy ones is the unveiling of the H. C. Andersen statue in Central Park. It is placed in the most beautiful spot in the park and here it will continue to tell about mutual understanding, friendship and goodwill.”

Cast in the Modern Art Foundry in Queens, Lober’s statue depicts a larger-than-life Hans Christian Andersen seated on a stone bench with a copy of The Ugly Duckling on his knee. At his feet, the ugly duckling himself stares up at the author.

Danish entertainer Victor Borge read the first story from the site to children, followed over the years by performers including Fanny Hurst, Celeste Holm and Eva la Gallienne.

In 1964 two 19th Century Danish street lamps were donated by the City of Copenhagen that flank the statue. In reciprocation Parks Commissioner Henry stern gave two New York City streetlamps to Dantes Plads in Copenhagen.

Over the years King Frederik and Queen Margrethe II and well as other Danish royals have visited the statue, the knee of which has become polished by the rumps of enchanted children who sit on its lap. The wife of Denmark’s Premier Jens Otto Krag read “The Princess and the Pea” here in 1964.

In 1973 the ugly duckling was stolen from the statue, breaking the hearts of New Yorkers city-wide. Dorothy Strelsin, whose apartment looked down on the statue on 5th Avenue, offered to donate the money to replace the bronze baby swan. Luckily, the piece was recovered and restored.

No longer simply an annual event, the free storytelling is done every Saturday at 11:00 am from May through September when bright-eyed children and parents listen intently to the words of the famous author.  The statue is located near 72nd Street and 5th Avenue in the park.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

The 1904 John H. Young Studio Building - No. 536 West 29th Street


Prior to 1904 John H. Young worked in a studio tucked away in the fly-loft of the Grand Opera House on 8th Avenue at 23rd Street where, along with this staff, he designed the sets for stage plays.

Young’s attention to detail made him a favorite among theatre producers, among them David Belasco and Florenz Ziegfeld. By 1902 he had amassed a library of 10,000 photographs and 800 books which he used as historical and geographical reference. Rather than resort to exotic travel, he sometimes would send off to American Consuls, paying them for photographs of palaces, gardens, fisher huts, statuary and landscapes. The designer also kept antique weapons, armor and costumes as reference tools.

It was this strict adherence to detail that finally required Young to move. For each set that was to be designed, he would first assemble a tiny model using the scale of one-half inch to the foot. Young would initially meet with the producer, who would give him a synopsis of the acts and scenes. In some cases he read the scripts to ensure that every detail necessary to a scene would be included.

Then the miniature sets were meticulously fashioned – “the result being a degree of exactitude marvelous to contemplate,” wrote The New York Times in 1902. Tiny panes of real glass, carved doorways and staircases with diminutive balustrades were all included.

Because Young never discarded a model, several hundred of them being numbered and filed on shelves, and because his reference library of books, photographs and other artifacts continued to grow, he commissioned architect Arthur G. C. Fletcher to design a new studio at 539 West 29th Street.

Here, on a street lined with stables and small factory buildings, Young’s studio followed the basic architectural motif of its neighboring stables. Double doors on the street level allowed the large frames of painted canvas to be moved out – the average frame being fifty feet long and thirty feet high. The great expanse of glass in the large arched fourth floor loft window provided a wash of northern light by which to work.

Over the door a terra-cotta plaque announced “John H. Young Studios 1904.”



Here Young and his staff worked on the tiny models (which he said was “a feature of scene painting of which the public is wholly ignorant”), and the full-size backdrops. The producer was charged separately for different aspects of the set. Painting the canvases normally cost $500, the building of the set by a carpenter was another $400 and a fee for attaching the canvas to the paint frame and removing it again ran about $40. (The $40 fee had been free when Young or his staff did the work, however the Carpenter’s Union complained.)

In August 1910 Young risked losing his studio when his friend Edward T. Rosenheimer struck a buggy with his automobile, killing a young girl. To furnish his $25,000 bail Rosenheimer’s mother, Catherine Knobloch put up her home and Young offered his studio, “worth $38,000.”

John H. Young retired in 1919 and died in 1944. As the once-seedy neighborhood around No. 536 West 29th Street experiences a renaissance, Young’s studio building is once again producing artistic designs, now home to fashion firm Lopez Knudsen, Inc.

non-credited photographs were taken by the author

Friday, February 11, 2011

The Forgotten Vaults Under No. 675 Hudson Street

No. 675 Hudson Street (right) in 1927 shortly after the vaults were sealed (photo by Percy Loomis Speer -- NYPL Collection)
Commercial sailing ships arriving from Europe and England in the 19th Century carried small cut stone blocks as ballast. As the ships were loaded with American goods, the ballast stones were offloaded and abandoned. The city, in turn, used the uniform, rectangular stones as paving bricks, creating the cobblestone streets seen throughout many sections of the city even today.

Early in 2005 on 9th Avenue in the Meat Packing District one of the stone curbstones suddenly collapsed into a void. The cobblestones abutting it began sagging towards the hole. The area was fenced off and bus traffic routed away. And the ancient vaults beneath the streets were rediscovered.

Workers gained entrance through the basement of No. 675 Hudson. The 1848 vernacular Neo-Greco building is an attention-grabbing triangular structure bounded by 9th Avenue, Hudson Street, 14th Street at its point, and West 13th Street. At the time of its construction the neighborhood was changing from one of small Federal houses to a bustling commercial district a few blocks from the riverfront. By the early 20th Century the area would become known as the Meat Packing District.

Originally No. 675 housed factory space with, possibly, rooms rented above for sailors and workers. In 1892 Gardner & Estes shoe manufacturers employed 175 workers here.

When built, the building had access through the basement to the great brick-lined vaults that stretched underneath the busy streets above, crisscrossing and interconnecting. Vast brick arches and square masonry pillars were hefty enough to withstand the enormous weight of the horse-drawn freight drays and coal sleds above.

Predating No. 675 Hudson by almost a decade, the vaults were used for a variety of purposes in the years before the Civil War. Horses were stabled here, cargo and supplies were stored, and according to one account, a foundry operated. Then around 1920 they were abandoned and sealed, for the most part to be forgotten, although small portions of the old vaults were still available and used for storage by the business in the triangular building.

By the time the curbstone fell into the vault, the Meat Pacing District was experiencing a renaissance. The area that had become seedy and crime-ridden towards the end of the 20th Century was now filling with high-end boutiques and trendy clubs.

Ari Ellis who owned No. 675, now called the Triangle Building, was intrigued by the subterranean space. He and the city talked and it was decided the space belonged to him – a gargantuan area of up to 6,500 square feet.

Ellis initiated extensive structural repairs, restoring the pillars, arches and brickwork, waterproofing, and adding support where necessary; all to the eventual satisfaction of the Department of Transportation.

Ellis partnered with Matt Abramcyk to convert the distinctive space into 675 Bar, 40 feet under 9th Avenue. Abramcyk designed the lounge which opened a few years later, making use of the unique ambience in its several rooms.
Bar 675, 40 feet below 9th Avenue -- photo joonbug.com
Meanwhile, above, No. 675 was discovered by movie makers. This was the setting for the apartment of Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction, in The Hours Ed Harris jumps from a window on the north corner and in Serpico, Al Pacino nabs Rudi Casaro here.
No. 675 Hudson as seen from West 13th Street -- photo Alice Lum
Now part of the Gansevoort Historic District, both No. 675 Hudson Street and the once-forgotten vaults beneath the streets around it are active once again.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

The Greek Revival 1834 St. Joseph's Church

photo by Alice Lum

When John Doran designed the Greek Revival St. Joseph’s Church for the four-year old congregation in 1833 the extensive parish boundaries stretched from Broadway to the Hudson River and from Canal Street north to 20th Street. The church was completed a year later and was the largest church in the city after the old St. Patrick’s Cathedral on Mott Street.

Doran’s Greek temple design featured two large fluted Doric columns supporting a closed classical pediment above a recessed entranceway. The front façade featured two large arched windows with delicate Federal-style tracery and ornamental ironwork with decorative sunflowers (now sadly gone).

Some of the early pastors of the mostly Irish-American congregation went on to prominence. Father John McCloskey, for instance, would become the first American cardinal. Charles Constantine Pise was the first Catholic chaplain of the U.S. Senate. It was, however, Thomas Farrell, who made the most waves. The liberal Farrell, who serviced from 1857 to 1880, aggressively espoused his progressive views.

During the Civil War he pushed for political rights for freed blacks and supported emancipation. Upon his death he bequeathed $5,000 to found a new parish for New York blacks, resulting in the establishment of the Church of St. Benedict the Moor in 1883.

In 1873 he aroused the wrath of other priests when he publically supported public schools for Roman Catholic students. The public schools, he said, have “ample means, they can procure better talent and they do not interfere with the religious belief of their pupils.” He called "sinners" those priests who threatened parents who considered public education for their children; saying they were “impressing ignorant minds with the belief that the public schools were mediums for perverting the minds of Roman Catholics and in seeking to perpetuate ignorance instead of grappling with and crushing it out.”

It was Father Farrel’s involvement with “the Accademia” that caused him problems with Cardinal McCloskey, however. The Accademia was a group of priests who regularly met at St. Joseph’s and openly discussed radical modifications in the Church such as discarding the tradition of priestly celibacy and the Latin liturgy, questioned the infallibility of the Pope and, among other things, wondering aloud how nuns were capable of instructing future wives and mothers.

While the exterior of St. Joseph’s remained essentially unchanged, the interior did not. Extensive damage was done in 1855 and in 1885 by fire. The early paneled and gated pews were brought in after the second fire, most likely from a demolished church a few blocks south on 6th Avenue. A fresco above the altar was part of the ornate Victorian décor, subsequently painted over then the interior was toned down in the 20th Century.
St. Joseph's Church behind the old 6th Avenue elevated train on March 15, 1932 -- NYPL Collection
In 1972 another renovation was done to the interior at which time the 1880s fresco – a copy of Raphael’s Transfiguration in the Vatican -- was rediscovered and restored. A subsequent remodeling in 1991 trashed the charming crystal chandeliers in the galleries, miniature versions of the larger chandeliers still existing over the main aisle.

St. Joseph’s is a remarkable example of early Greek Revival religious architecture and has been a moving force in the Greenwich Village community for nearly 200 years.  Since 2005 it has been The University Parish of St. Joseph, restructured to serve the Catholic students of New York University, Pace University, New School, and Cooper Union.