|photo by Alice Lum|
Joseph Schwartzler was an active real estate developer in the 1870s and ‘80s and in 1887 he replaced the two houses with a modern apartment house. Designed by architects Thom & Wilson, the handsome structure sat back from the property line like its older neighbors; providing for a inviting fenced garden space. The eye-catching design was a few years ahead of its time, making full use at the lower levels of horseshoe arches—suggesting a Moorish touch—bulbous, ballooning bases to the pilasters and piers, and flowing lines that foreshadowed Art Nouveau.
|photo by Alice Lum|
Schwartzler’s 40-foot wide apartment building was no tenement house. The five-story building was built for just ten families. The Real Estate Record and Builders’ Guide noted it had “modern improvements.”
Joseph Schwartzler’s ambitious speculations soon caught up with him. Early in 1889 he was forced to declare bankruptcy. In July five houses he erected on 97th Street west of Third Avenue were lost to creditors. And before that, in April, No. 80-82 Perry Street was sold at auction.
|The architects blended terra cotta tiles (seen at top), carved panels, and sensuous lines -- photo by Alice Lum|
By 1908 the George Washington Lewis family was here. The well-off Lewis and his wife, former Maria Elizabeth Sharkey, sent their son Leicester Crosby Lewis to Trinity School for preparation for college. Young Lewis went on to Columbia University where he busied himself in good works—as a freshman he was a Settlement Worker in the Speyer School, a year later he was Secretary of the Churchmen’s Association, and by the time he graduated would be a member of the Christian Association, King’s Crown, Barnard Literary Society and Anthon Club.
The respectful lad would do graduate work at Columbia before entering the General Theological Seminary to prepare for the Episcopal ministry.
In 1916 ethnic gangs ruled certain neighborhoods in the city. Although Edward Belli lived at No. 80-82 Perry Street, relatively far from the Italian gangs of the Lower East Side, his presence there on the night of October 6 would spell his doom.
Belli was the secretary of a vaudeville bicycle rider known as Diavalo. The Italian theatrical set often socialized in the Italian Gardens in the Occitental Hotel. The Gardens, more precisely called a saloon, was owned by Guiseppi Verrazzano. The bar was located at No. 341 Broome Street and sat across the street from the Maiori Royal Theatre, an Italian vaudeville house.
On October 6 there were about 23 men and women sitting at tables there. Among the actors and theater workers like Belli and actor Louis Badaloti was Dominico Pepo who ran another saloon at Elizabeth and Kenmare Street. Unfortunately for the other patrons, Pepo was an enemy of gangster Mike Gaimari who was being held for the murder of Michael Rofrano, a deputy street cleaning commissioner.
Word on the street was that Pepo was targeted for gangland revenge. And tonight would be the night.
Two or three men burst through the doors, drew revolvers from their pockets and began firing. Pandemonium ensued and Dominico Pepo attempted to hide “behind a table at which half a dozen actors and actresses…were seated,” said The Times.
Guiseppi Verrazzano, known as “The Big Man,” to his patrons, tried to take cover, “but toppled over with a bullet in his heart,” said The Evening World the following day. “Edward Belli…sitting at the actors’ table, fell dying with bullets in his left leg, left shoulder and back. Louise Badaloti was shot in the right leg.”
The gunmen followed Pepo as he continued to seek shelter. “There was panic in the restaurant,” said The Times, “but the men continued shooting until they saw Pepo fall.” The targeted man suffered wounds in the head and heart.
Although fatally injured, Belli identified one of the gunmen from his hospital bed.
|A scar at the second floor outlines the missing blind horseshoe arch that once mimicked the entrance below -- photo by Alice Lum|
When the United States entered World War I, Corporal Raymond J. Horton left his wife, Elizabeth, in their apartment here as he shipped overseas. The corporal’s name appeared on the list of casualties reported by General Pershing in 1918.
Throughout the 20th century the building continued to attract a wide variety of tenants. Joseph J. Carlotti, living here in 1920, was an engineer. Both James McNamara, a 22-year old who lived here in 1935, and Sylvester j. Bayer, a resident in 1948, were firemen. In 1936 Hyman N. Glickstein lived in the building, a lawyer and counsel for the Association of Workers in Public Relief Agencies.
|photo by Alice Lum|
Perhaps the most celebrated resident was Donald Cameron. An actor, he had played leading roles on Broadway for many years, working opposite actresses like Peggy Wood and Eva La Gallienne. The New York Times recalled that “During the silent film era he was leading man to a succession of actresses, including Lillian Walker and Leah Baird,” names mostly forgotten today.
After serving in World War I he had “another brief interlude in motion pictures, opposite Billie Burke, before he returned to the legitimate stage,” said The Times. His lengthy Broadway career included the plays “Peter Pan,” "The Three Sisters,” “My Sister Eileen,” and “Hamlet” with Maurice Evans.
Cameron retired from acting in 1945 and spent much of his time in West Cornwall, Connecticut. But he kept his Perry Street city apartment until his death in July 1955.
Thom & Wilson’s highly-interesting apartment building has suffered a few regrettable changes. The wonderful carved stone horseshoe arch at the second floor is gone, and the cornice has been lost leaving a scar and uncompleted look. But astoundingly, the original ten apartments, now cooperatives, remain—never divided.
|A decorative cornice would have originally completed the design -- photo by Alice Lum|