Tuesday, July 3, 2012

The Somewhat Eerie Nos. 33-35 West 46th Street

photo by Alice Lum
Lorenz Weiher acted as his own architect and the prolific developer was responsible for numerous apartment buildings, commercial structures and even nickelodeons throughout New York City.   In 1915, though, he worked for another developer, the Ritz Realty Corporation, in designing a wide loft building on West 46th Street.

A generation earlier the block between Fifth and Sixth Avenues was part of the most exclusive residential neighborhood of the city.  But by now high-end commercial establishments had crept up Fifth Avenue and the wealthy homeowners had fled northward along Central Park.  Although the 19th century brownstone houses still mostly remained on 46th Street, they were being one-by-one converted to business uses or demolished.

In January 1916 Weiher’s building was nearly completed.  Spanning the lots at Nos. 33 and 35 it replaced two of the brownstone residences, rising nine stories above the sidewalk.  The architect lavishly clad the fa├žade in white terra cotta that erupted in Neo-Gothic ornamentation.   The steel framing of the building coupled with the cast iron window supports made possible vast expanses of glass; allowing sunlight to pour into the loft spaces.

A frightening half-man, half-bat crouches ready to spring onto pedestrians below -- photo by Alice Lum
Above the second floor windows a monstrous bat-like creature loomed menacingly over passersby and two Medieval-looking figures scrunched  below the cornice at that level.  Intricate Gothic motifs including canopies, shields and more grotesques rose to the spiky parapet above.

A medieval-looking figure strains to uphold the cornice -- photo by Alice Lum
The eye-catching building would cost Ritz Realty about $110,000; but with construction still underway in January the firm tripled its investment by selling it for $375,000.  Or so it thought. 

photo by Alice Lum

The deal fell through and Ritz Realty began filling the gleaming white building with a variety of tenants.  A month later Cobb & Jenkins, importers of English woolens, leased the 6th floor for a period of ten years and in September Windsor Furniture Company leased the eastern portion of the ground floor retail space, at No. 33, for $5,000 a year.  S. Cottle Company, jewelers moved in as well.

The next year the United States declared war against Germany and the resulting anti-German sentiments caused tension.   The stores of Rochambeau and Lady Teazle Shop shared retail space at sidewalk level and in June 1918 both establishments displayed placards in their store windows:


The French-born owner of Le Brun directly across the street at No. 48, Mr. Joire, had returned to New York only a few months earlier, having been gassed twice in the Battle of the Aisne.  He pointed to the placards and announced to The New York Tribune “It is safe to say there are no English-language newspapers published in Berlin to-day and that speaking the English language is not permitted there in public.

“Every store in the city should post these signs.”

High above street level are additional agonized figures -- photo by Alice Lum
The same month 19-year old Irene Kehoe brought publicity to the building again.   The teen was working as a bookkeeper in the wholesale jewelry store of Alfred A. Casse.   On the afternoon of June 4 a young man entered the business saying he was looking for a job.  But when Irene approached him, he grabbed four gold vanity cases set with diamonds, valued at $2,000, and ran out the door.

Spunky Irene Kehoe was not having it.

Despite her long Edwardian skirt and high-buttoned shoes, The New York Tribune reported that “Miss Kehoe gave chase, treating Fifth Avenue to an actual demonstration of the theory woman is the hunter and man the hunted.”

A larger and larger crowd of upscale shoppers joined in the chase along Fifth Avenue and then “Miss Kehoe made a daring flying tackle just as a policeman arrived,” said The Tribune.   As he fell, the four vanity cases spilled onto the sidewalk.  The Sun added that “The girl preferred charges of theft against him.”

Other winged figures adorn the piers alongside the diadem-like parapet -- photo by Alice Lum
The building continued to attract a diverse mix of tenants.  In 1919 Arthur A. Marshall & Brother leased the entire ground floor store; Kleinberger Brothers took the fifth story loft and William Hartman Woodin, Jr., leased half of the second floor (Woodin’s father at the time was President of the American Car and Foundry Company, but would resign to become Director of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, then Secretary of the Treasury under Roosevelt).

On December 22, 1921 two masked gunmen entered the business of W. E. Ball & Co, making off with $15,000 worth of goods.  They were caught 17 days later while holding up Charley Kee’s Chinese Restaurant on the second floor of 803 Broadway.

The Praemafix Corporation of America was operating from an upper floor at the same time, a manufacturer of embossing machines.

The following year E. Hemmendinger, Inc. advertised space in the building “Desirable, well lighted small space, suitable for watchmaker or designer; excellent location, sixth floor.”    At the time the store and basement were home to The Fenimore C. Goode Company, a printing company founded that year; and among the tenants upstairs were milliners B. C. Olson, Inc; A. & S. Espositer, “expert lapidaries” who paid “highest prices…for fine rough gem material;” and the industrial research laboratories of Inecto, Inc.

Inecto Rapid promised 1920s women they could keep their youthful looks.
Inecto would be in the building for over a decade, manufacturing and marketing Inecto Rapid—a solution that promised aging flappers and society dowagers renewed youth.  An advertisement in Harper’s Bazaar sympathized:

Gray Hair comes like a thief in the dark, stealing youthful looks while a woman is yet young in body and in spirit.  It is unfair to yourself to have this handicap in life.

But there was hope!  The ad went on to say “A prominent society woman said: ‘I discovered Inecto Rapid when we were in Europe last Summer and my husband says—‘It has taken twenty years from my appearance.’”

As the century progressed, however, the jewelry firms and millinery companies gave way to less high-end leasers.  By the 1940s the building housed G. V. Corporation, distributors of the Adams chewing gum and the Cleevelandt Corporation which offered the gaudy “good luck cigarette case,” a novelty item that held 19 cigarettes and was encrusted with “all the good luck charms.”  Called by Cleevelandt “the newest item under the sun” it retailed for $1.00.  At the same time Rolls Razor was here, makers and distributors of the ingenious safety razor that honed itself as it was removed and replaced into its holder.

Through the late 1950s The National Sports Council had its office here.   The ads were familiar to every boy who picked up a Boy’s Life magazine or flipped through the ads for x-ray glasses and cap guns in the back of comic books.    With headlines like “We’ll show you how to take care of yourself” and “Your mirror will show muscles of iron in just 10 days,” the ads prompted boys to send $1 for the Conditioning Secrets by Ten Champions.

The ads assured “We promise to help you…as we have done for thousands of other fellows.  In a few exciting weeks we turn flabby muscles into steel.”

photo by Alice Lum
With expected alterations to the street level, Lorenz Weiher’s surprising building at Nos. 33-35 West 46th Street—at once beautiful and a bit macabre—survives essentially intact.  And the sinister bat-man creature above the second floor still sends shivers up the spines of passersby who glance up.


  1. Wonderful details and remarkably intact terracotta running all the way up the facade to the crenelated parapet.

  2. Really an eye catching building with one the finest architecture..

  3. A new large glass skyscraper has recently gone up a few doors west of this stunning building. The contrast is almist overwhelming.