Thursday, December 13, 2012

The 1906 Haviland Building -- No. 11 East 36th Street

photo by Alice Lum
Robert Hoe was named after his grandfather, who had amassed a fortune manufacturing printing machines and presses.   Hoe entered the family business in 1856, taking over the firm in 1886.  But his love of books and manuscripts, not his great wealth, would be his legacy.  He helped found the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Grolier Club—a group organized for lovers of books.  And he filled his luxurious townhouse at 11 East 36th Street with rare and wonderful volumes and manuscripts.

When he died in London on September 22, 1909, his library included nearly 21,000 titles including a first edition of the “Works” of Ben Jonson printed in 1616 and of the “Comedies and Tragedies of Francis Beaumont” dated 1647.   The auction of his library, valued at approximately $1 million at the time, lasted four days with two sessions per day.

Hoe’s 50-foot wide mansion now stood empty on a block filled with equally handsome homes, just east of Fifth Avenue.   While the 36th Street block was still entirely residential, Fifth Avenue was changing.   Just steps away from the Hoe mansion Tiffany & Company’s white marble piazza had been built in 1905, as had the immense B. Altman Department store a block to the south.   With Robert Hoe’s property available, change would come to 36th Street as well.

The “crockery and glassware” district had been centered around Barclay Street, far downtown, for over half a century.  But with the high-end retailers moving further up Fifth Avenue, the china and crystal dealers took notice.   In April 1912 Bawo & Dotter, one of the country’s largest dealers, announced it would abandon its Barclay Street headquarters—where it had been since 1864—to move to West 33rd Street.    The New York Times noted that is was an indication of “the uptown movement, which has so widely developed in other trades during the past year.”

Simultaneously, Haviland & Co. made an even more shocking announcement.  Not only was the respected firm moving from 45 Barclay Street, it would open a retail store for its imported china.  No other wholesale china or glassware dealer had attempted to deal directly with the consumer.
Haviland had purchased Robert Hoe’s mansion as well as the abutting property on 37th Street—enabling a shipping and receiving entrance to the back.  By the end of May 1912 the new Haviland Building was ready for occupancy.    The stoic brown Tuscan-style structure was, perhaps, surprising.  Unlike the airy white marble Italian palaces built for Altman and Tiffany, the Haviland Building was almost industrial.  By no means did it reflect the delicate French wares that were displayed inside the four-floors of Haviland showrooms.

The Haviland Building, in 1912, noticeably interrupted the block of refined mansions -- photo Library of Congress
Yet the completed building of terra cotta, brownstone and mixed reddish-brown and buff brick was a delightful romance.   The first three floors of showrooms were regimented and balanced, the second floor being flooded with daylight through an expansive wall of glass.   Above the third floor cornice the structure broke into two, asymmetrical towers that shot upwards with arched windows, terra cotta panels and brownstone trim.   It all culminated in a quixotic Tuscan bell tower atop the taller east tower and a handsome arcade on the other.

photo by Alice Lum
The new Haviland Building advertised space in the upper eight “de luxe” floors “in this centre of New York’s most aristocratic commerce.”   An advertisement in The New York Sun on May 31, 1912 illustrated what it called “the high character of the surroundings” with a four-block map.   Along with Tiffany & Co. and B. Altman were shown the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, the Vanderbilt Hotel, Gorham & Co., Maillard’s, and the residence and library of J. P. Morgan at the end of the block on Madison Avenue.

Although Haviland & Co. catered to the carriage trade, the carriage trade did not necessarily appreciate having the commercial building dropped squarely in the middle of its sedate block.  Quickly after the construction of the Haviland Building the homes along East 36th Street were abandoned for commercial use.

Light colored bricks are sprinkled among the ruddy brown bricks -- photo by Alice Lum
A mix of tenants filled the building above Haviland’s four floors of showrooms where well-dressed Edwardian ladies shopped for pricey French china.   Among these was E. Virgel Neal who took the entire ninth floor for his executive offices on September 1917.  The Sun noted that Neal was “of Paris” and “has extensive interests in the United States and Canada.”  Readers of the newspaper who wondered about the “extensive interests” would soon find out.

Neal used the office to market Nuxated Iron, his bottled medicine that was guaranteed to make men “feel as full of life and energy as a boy of 21” and to “increase vigor, snap and staying power.  It enriches the blood, brings roses to the cheeks of women, and is an unfailing source of renewed vitality, endurance and power to men.” 

Unfortunately for E. Virgel Neal, the New-York Tribune was a pioneer in investigative journalism; actually having a department titled the Tribune Bureau of Investigations.   The newspaper explained to readers that “To appreciate the pulling power of a booze-supported medicine it is necessary to analyze the medicine.  To understand the pulling force of a testimonial-propped nostrum, it is necessary to analyze the testimonials.”  And the Tribune did just that with Neal’s Nuxated Iron.  It came to the conclusion that “They have dressed up the wrong lot of dummies.”

Within three months of Neal’s opening his office, the Tribune published an article with the headline “False Advertising Chief ‘Stimulant’ In Nuxated Iron.”   Not only did the newspaper’s chemical analysis of the medicine reveal that it was mostly alcohol, its background investigation of Neal was even more eye-opening.
The Tribune brutally exposed him as “alias X. La Motte Sage, whose meteoric career at ‘The New York Institute of has included ‘exhibitions’ of hypnotism and ‘teaching’ of palmistry, a partner in Physicians and Surgeons, put out of business by a government fraud-order; the chief operator of the notorious Force of Life Company, killed by exposure in the newspapers and interested in various other medical enterprises.”  The article said of the patent medicine “Ostensibly, it is manufactured by the Dae Health Laboratories, of Detroit, but the actual and principal output—the advertising and general fakery—is from Neal’s offices in the Haviland Building.”

E. Virgel Neal, whom the newspaper called one “of the slickest quacks in all patent medicinedom,” fought back.  In June he filed suit in the Supreme Court for libel.   The New-York Tribune used the suit to fire another volley.  It used the filing as a reason to reiterate its claims.   “The article sued on said the use of alcohol as the chief stimulant in the patent medicine trade had been succeeded in the case of Nuxated Iron by cunningly persuasive forms of advertising with unfounded claims and faked endorsements as the principal ingredients.”

The newspaper ended its latest article with a near-threat to Neal.  “Suits for millions of dollars have been brought upon articles in The Tribune, exposing fakery in advertising.  Few plaintiffs have dared to come to trial and those who have soon found the courts and juries are determined to uphold The Tribune in its campaign.  All efforts to muzzle The Tribune by commencement of libel suits have failed.”

photo by Alice Lum
Other tenants were not so colorful.  In 1918 Commissioner James S. Harlan of the Interstate Commerce Commission opened his offices in the building.  The commissioner faced a mounting problem with shipping and receiving of freight in a city rapidly outgrowing its railroad and trucking infrastructure.

Manufacturers like Scherer Mfg. and the Burroughs Adding Machine Company were in the building by the early 1920s, while Haviland & Co. continued to grow.  On February 28, 1922 The New York Times noted that the firm purchased the dwelling at 9 East Thirty-sixth Street” from Mrs. S. A. Robbins.  “Some time ago the firm acquired the property at 13 and 15 East Thirty-sixth Street, adjoining, so that they now control a frontage of 131 feet on Thirty-sixty Street.”

In 1933, however, Haviland moved out and the showroom floors became home to the Lightolier Company, dealers in electric light fixtures.  Lighting Magazine announced that the company “after more than 20 years of its 30 years existence at 569-575 Broadway, will move to new quarters at 11 East 36th Street.  The three floors which Lightolier Company will occupy are in the structure formerly known as the Haviland Building and now to be renamed 'Lightolier Building.'"

The Lightolier directors may have thought the new name would stick, but it did not.  To New Yorkers No. 11 East 36th Street remained the Haviland Building.  Five years later when Valentine & Co., leased 10,000 square feet in the building The Times still referred to it as the Haviland Building.  Valentine & Co. was the paint and varnish manufacturer whose most recognized brand name was Valspar.    With the signing of the lease the building became headquarters for the Valspar Corporation, Detroit Graphic Company, Con-Ferro Paint and Varnish Company and the Valspar Corporation, Ltd., of Canada.

For years little changed for No. 11 East 36th Street.  Lightolier remained in the showrooms for decades and various tenants like the Art Book Guild of America came and went.  Then as the 21st century dawned the building became home to The Renfrew Center of New York City, the nation’s first residential eating disorder facility.  The center was established to assist women suffering from anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, binge eating disorder and other behavioral health issues.

Almost a century after the Haviland Building opened its doors, it finally lost its name.  In 2009 the building was converted to luxury condominiums and renamed The Morgan—with deference to the nearby J. P. Morgan house and library.  Interior designer Andres Escobar transformed the former offices and loft spaces into high-end residences; no more than six to a floor.

Although the building’s developers inexplicably ignored its history in renaming it, they carefully preserved the handsome Tuscan façade.  As it did in 1912, the unusual architecture stands alone; both quirky and wonderful.


  1. Do you know if the bell tower and arcade had any use other than as purely decorative elements? And when the building was recomissioned for residential occupancy, were they put to use?

  2. Bell tower encloses the water tank for the building. The article makes no mention of when the building lost all of the fine balconies and protruding brownstone details. Those elements brought much needed depth and visual relief between the various floor levels and variety of window fenestrations. The impact of the facade is much diminished today as it looks disorganized without the balconies to separate the different facade treatments.

  3. The windows on the upper floors preserve the façade?