Wednesday, April 11, 2012

The Out-of-Place Stables at No. 47 West 44th Street

Yellow spray paint and a neglected appearance gives the impression that the little building's end may be near -- photo by Alice Lum
With the houses that sprouted up in Midtown above 42nd Street during the Civil War period came the accompanying demand for stables.   Grain merchants Andrew Luke and Benjamin Jones took advantage of the development in 1865 and did some real estate speculation, building four abutting stables on West 44th Street from No. 43 through 49.  According to The New York Times decades later, the block came to be known familiarly as “Stable Street.” 

The private stables were conveniently located to the home of Wedworth Clarke, who lived at 55 West 45th Street.  Clarke purchased the newly-finished carriage house at No. 47.  At least one groom or driver would have lived in the second story while Clarke’s carriage and horses were housed on street level. 

The Clarke family retained the stable for nearly two decades, then sold it to respected broker Edward Brandon, whose primary residence was in New Jersey.  Brandon had taken over the firm founded by his father, originally Joseph Brandon & Son.  The bullish broker was one of the most prominent in the city and The New York Times later commented that “Mr. Brandon at one time was one of Jay Gould’s most conspicuous brokers, and that when ‘Eddy’ Gould took his first plunges into the ocean of finance Mr. Brandon was supposed to have been his bathing master, as it were.” 

The aggressive Wall Street tactics that had served Brandon so well since 1856 backfired in 1900.  On September 1 The New York Times reported that he filed for bankruptcy.  Within the year he sold the carriage house at No. 47 to Henry G. Trevor who lived around the block at No. 6 East 45th Street, just steps from Fifth Avenue. 

Trevor, before long, would be making no friends among his millionaire neighbors as he eyed valuable Fifth Avenue properties for commercial development.  “The much feared business invasion of that stretch of Fifth Avenue between Forty-seventh Street and the Vanderbilt mansions will not be long deferred if Henry G. Trevor carries out his present plans for the improvement of the property at 588 and 590, just south of Forty-eighth Street,” reported The Times. 

He had just announced his intentions of building an 11-story business building on the block where the mansions of Perry Belmont, Charles F. Cook (head of Tiffany & Co.), Arthur T. Sullivan and Frederick Foster stood. 

While Fifth Avenue was changing, so too was West 44th Street.   

Across the street from the stable, the exclusive bachelor hotel, The Royalton, was erected in 1898.  It’s well-heeled residents found it convenient to the new club district that was germinating in the area.   Already the Harvard Club, the St. Nicholas Club and the Bar Association had built impressive buildings on the block and the New York Yacht Club was under construction. 

The old-fashioned brick carriage house at No. 47 had been converted to residential use by 1903 when Dr. William A. Downs was living there.  The New York State Journal of Medicine noted that year that the doctor “has returned from a month’s vacation.  The doctor and his wife have been visiting friends in the South.” 

The odd home was apparently an upscale one, for a year later the Medical Society of the State of New York listed John Alexander Jackson living at the address and in 1905 James H. Kenyon, a graduate of Princeton was here. 

In 1917 the red brick building became headquarters of the Twelfth Night Club; the first theatrical women’s group in the country.   The group had been founded in 1889 by actresses Alice Fischer, Vida Croly and Eleanor T. Tyndale.  According to the 1914 edition of Club Women of New York, the purpose of the women-only club was to “promote friendly relations among the members of the dramatic profession.” 

The Twelfth Night Club moved here from its rented space on the second floor of the Berkeley Lyceum building, remodeling the interiors into a comfortable clubhouse. By now its membership had grown to 150 members.  The club provided rooms to the women’s Emerson College Alumnae Club, as well, beginning that year for its monthly meetings.   

In 1919 the Club gave part of its space to Mary Dugane for Miss Dugane’s School of Lip-Reading which she had founded in 1908.  She advertised that “persons growing deaf taught to understand conversation by watching the face of the speaker.  Lip-reading should be studied by every person whose hearing is below normal.”  While the school was still sharing space with the Twelfth Night Club in 1922, it was now known as the Muller-Walle School of Lip-Reading. 

Continuing its focus on providing a venue for women’s groups, the Club began sharing the building around 1927 with the New York Newspaper Women’s Club while that group raised funds for its own permanent building. 

Squashed between two hotels, the two-story former carriage house survived because of its use as clubhouse for the important Twelfth Night Club for decades.
By 1937 the Twelfth Night Club was a firmly entrenched on West 44th Street and its peculiar clubhouse was a curious anachronism.  On April 4 of that year The Times noted “Crowded between tall commercial buildings at 47 West Forty-fourth Street is a small red-brick, two-story structure, one of the few examples of an earlier New York architecture remaining in the Times Square district.” 

The writer described the interiors.  “Richly endowed with tradition, its walls are closely hung with mementos of the forty-six years since it was founded by Alice Fischer…Photographs of stars since that day are spread like leaves of an album over the club walls, making a theatrical history that can be traced in a tour of the three rooms.  A huge photograph of Edwin Booth hangs over the fireplace in the living room, presiding as beneficently here as he does in The Players on Gramercy Park.” 

The article described photographs of Sarah Bernhardt (who was a guest here during a U.S. tour), a crayon portrait of Agnes Ethel, a painting of Henry Miller by Robert Edeson and a landscape by actor Joseph Jefferson.  These, it said, “are flanked by pictures of other stars who once thrilled audiences.” 

A smaller “living room” was designated as the “smoking room,” and in the dining room were prized treasures donated to the club.  An antique silver coffee urn, once owned by the family of Samuel Adams, signer of the Declaration of Independence, had been given by his great-great-great-granddaughter, actress Maida Craigen.  Two fluted silver dishes which had belong to the Irish playwright, Dion Boucicault were given to the club by Mrs. Ruth Boucicault. 

In 1953 the former carriage house was converted to a restaurant on the ground floor with office and conference rooms above.  By now the block was lined with multistory clubs and office buildings; leaving the two-story Victorian structure oddly out of place.

A very narrow restaurant, The Belcrep, took the place of the former actress's clubhouse -- vintage postcard
In 2001 the 12-story Iroquois Hotel, built in 1923, purchased the little building at No. 47 with the intention of converting it into an auxiliary banquet and convention space.  Over a decade later, however, the two-story carriage house along with its history of horses, actresses and female reporters still survives among its more modern neighbors.

non-credited photographs taken by the author

1 comment:

  1. I work right across the street. A plaque on the door says "Alonzo's." Perhaps another restaurant followed the Belcrep.