Thursday, October 31, 2013

The Masterful 1889 West-Park Presbyterian Church

photo by Alice Lum


In 1854 when the 15-member 84th Street Presbyterian Church first opened its doors on the corner of 84th Street and West End Avenue, the Upper West Side, then still called Bloomingdale, was still only scantily developed.  The small wooden chapel used by the congregation was for the time sufficient; yet the relentless northward march of New York City was not all that far away.

As the 1880s approached Central Park was completed and the elevated train made its appearance along Ninth Avenue (later renamed Columbus Avenue).  The district saw the beginnings of rapid development. Initially the upheaval caused by the development in the neighborhood had a negative impact on the church.  As Broadway (then “the Boulevard”) and other major arteries were cut through, some long-time residents were uprooted.  But the little church clung on.

When Anson Phelps Atterbury was hired as pastor in 1879, things would begin to turn around.  Atterbury was a member of the socially and financially powerful Phelps-Dodge family which made its fortune in mining.   Atterbury’s presence in the pulpit coupled with the steadily-increasing population within the next few years eventually made the little chapel insufficient.  On May 30, 1883 the New-York Tribune reported that “D. Willis James has sold to the Eighty-fourth Street Presbyterian Church property on the northeast corner of Tenth-ave. and Eighty-sixth-st., which comprises about five city lots.”  The church paid James $30,000 for the large plot—about $600,000 in today’s dollars.

Architect Leopold Eidlitz was hired to design the new church.  Not only had Eidlitz been responsible for the original wooden building; he had by now established a firm reputation for himself with works like his magnificent Temple Emanu-El on Fifth Avenue and St. Peter’s Church in the Bronx.  For the still-small congregation Eidlitz produced a small brick chapel in the Victorian Gothic style on one side of the building site.

On November 10, 1884 The New York Times reported on the completed structure.  “The edifice is a brick structure, 35 by 85 feet in dimensions.  The congregation room is up stairs, and the pews are finished in oak.  The walls are terra cotta and bronze.  The lower room is used for the Sabbath school, and it is finished in cherry.”

The New York Times recalled the difficulties the little congregation had endured.  “The church had a hard struggle for existence by reason of the fact that the Bloomingdale neighborhood was largely depopulated by the laying out of new streets, the Boulevard and the Riverside Drive, but it held its own and began to prosper with the ministration of the present Pastor, who was ordained five years ago.”

Now, however, the church was thriving.  The building was entirely paid for before the doors were opened.  Five ministers were present during the dedicatory service on November 10 and in his sermon the Rev. Dr. Charles S. Robinson reminded the congregation that the building was less important than the souls of those who worshiped within it.  He likened the structure to a lighthouse and told the story of a keeper who was reprimanded for tending the lights rather than trying to save the lighthouse during a great storm.  “The Government put me here to save ships, not the lighthouse,” was his response.

Robinson took the opportunity to gently chastise the congregation about giving sparingly to the church.  The Times quoted him “The interest on the value of a sealskin sacque is $36 a year, but no woman will give that amount for pew rent.”

The building was used for other gatherings as well.  Three months later, on February 12, 1885 General Alexander S. Webb, President of the College of the City of New York, presented an illustrated lecture on “Gettysburg;” a subject still remembered by many of the neighborhood residents.

That the church never intended that Eidlitz’s brick structure be its permanent home was evidenced in testimony made on April 9, 1887 in the State Supreme Court.  There was some untidy business going on after William E. Stokes, a relative of Anson Phelps Atterbury, sued the church and the Phelps Mission.  Court papers said “That the said 84th Street Presbyterian Church now professes to be the owner of four lots of ground on the north-east corner of 86th Street and 10th Avenue, upon which there is now erected a chapel; that it has no regular church edifice or building whatever, but uses the said chapel for the purposes of church service until a church shall be erected…”

Two years after that description, the congregation deemed itself ready for a “regular church edifice.”  Architect Henry Kilburn received the commission to design a large main church building.  He was given the direction of incorporating the existing chapel into the design.  When he was finished there was no hint of Eidlitz’s Victorian Gothic structure hidden in his own Romanesque Revival design.

The church had, by now, been renamed the Park Presbyterian Church.  Its new structure, completed in June 1890, was a massive medieval-looking pile of ruddy-colored sandstone.  Hefty arches and rugged stonework supported gables and towers—a delight of asymmetrically-placed openings and angles.  Anchoring it all was a monumental corner tower culminating in a bell-shaped cap.

photo by Alice Lum

The little church of 15 congregants had come a long way in half a century.  The new building had seats for 900 worshipers.  The first service in the building, a month before official completion, was conducted with appropriate flourish.

The American Architect and Building News published this photograph of the entrance doors on July 25, 1891 (copyright expired)

The church, mostly through the efforts of Atterbury, was at the forefront of social reform and activism.  He was an insightful author, writing books like “Islam in Africa: its Effects—Religious, Ethical, and Social—Upon the People of the Country,” and had little patience for intolerance and racism.   In the 1880s New York City was overtaken by a rampant prejudice again the Chinese, often referred to as “Mongolians.”   A reporter from the New York Sun in 1880 wrote “The lower end of Mott Street is an unsavory locality, disagreeably close to the associations of vice, crime, and poverty by reason of which the Chinese are unjustly but naturally compelled by mere proximity to bear a worse reputation than they deserve.”
photo by Carolyn Scott
Atterbury responded to the “worse reputation than they deserve” by overtly campaigning for Chinese worshipers. 

On March 13, 1911 readers of The Evening World got the news that the West Presbyterian Church on 42nd Street was to “give way to a modern skyscraper.”   The newspaper said “The ‘Millionaire’s Gate to Heaven’ will be closed when the famous West Presbyterian Church, which has counted among its parishioners Russell Sage, Jay Gould, J. Hood Wright, Alfred H. Smith, E. Francis Hyde, Seth Thomas, H. M. Flagler, Robert Jaffray and a score of other wealthy men, representing $750,000,000, to which fact is due its irreverent title, shuts its doors.”

photo by Alice Lum
With no church edifice, the congregation made plans to merge with Park Presbyterian.  Three months later, on June 11, the merger was complete and The New York Times reported that “The new organization will now be known as the West-Park Presbyterian Church, worshipping at the old Park Church.” 

Later, The Sun heaved a sigh of relief when it was able tell readers “When the West Presbyterian Church moved up to the West Side and joined with the Park Presbyterian the choir remained intact.”   The newspaper reported on the high-class choir which included soprano Bertha Kinzel, who had recently sung with the Boston Symphony Orchestra “and with nearly all the oratorio societies of the East;” and singers from the Metropolitan Opera and other illustrious organizations.
photo by Carolyn Scott

Throughout the 20th century West-Park Church would continue Anson Phelps Atterbury’s tradition of responsible activism—standing up for-civil rights, nuclear disarmament, same sex marriage and gay rights, and criticizing the Vietnam conflict.  When the AIDS epidemic hit New York City, it was the original site of God’s Love We Deliver, the organization established to deliver meals to AIDS patients.

photo by Alice Lum

Around 2008 the magnificent Romanesque Revival building, considered by many to be the best example of the style in a religious building in the city, was threatened.   It was not outside developers who wanted the building demolished—it was the congregation.   The structure, nearly a century and a quarter old, was suffering.  The congregation’s solution for the seeping water and peeling paint was to convert part of the building to apartments.  The drafty and uncomfortable sanctuary was abandoned.

While the church poked around at building and renovation plans, the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission stepped in.  Against the wishes of the church, the building was designated a New York City landmark in 2010; effectively squelching any conversion plans.   Little by little the church began repairs—starting with a new boiler so congregants no longer had to wear coats during services.

Close inspection shows that the sandstone is severely disintegrating in places, like the weather-worn belfry columns -- photo by Alice Lum

In keeping with West-Park’s long tradition of activism, Rev. Robert Brashear offered the building to around 60 Occupy Wall Street protestors as a place to sleep late in 2011.  The minister soon found out that not all good deeds go rewarded when, during the first week, his computer disappeared.

The Occupiers promised Rev. Brashear to reimburse him for the stolen computer; but his compassion was strained further a few weeks later when, in January 2012, the bronze lid of the baptismal font was stolen.  Brashear told the group that he did not believe in collective punishment, but he did believe in collective responsibility.

The group was ousted from the church; although the pastor stressed that he still supported the protest.
photo by Alice Lum
Henry Kilburn’s masterful and rugged West-Park Church is little changed after more than a century standing sentinel at 86th Street and Amsterdam Avenue—a masterpiece of Romanesque Revival architecture.

many thanks to reader Carolyn Scott for suggesting this post

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

The 1831 De Forest House -- No. 26 Bond Street

photo by Alice Lum

In 1831 James Roosevelt sold the property at No. 26 Bond Street to merchant Alfred De Forest.  Whether Roosevelt was responsible for the construction of the handsome red brick mansion on the lot; or if De Forest had it built is unclear.  Whichever the case, the new Federal-style residence was exquisite.

What would become known as the Bond Street District was just developing and within a decade would be among the most exclusive residential neighborhoods in New York.  The city’s most prominent and wealthiest citizens built lavish, if stylishly-restrained, homes here; red brick edifices trimmed in contrasting white marble.  In front of each house along Bond Street two trees were planted, creating a regimented and handsome row of foliage and elegant residences.

Guests crowd around a Bond Street home after a wedding in 1857 -- http://www.merchantshouse.org/

The De Forest house would set the bar for neighboring homes built shortly after.   The Flemish-bond red brick fa├žade rose three stories to a dormered attic.   The builder spared no expense, executing the refined entranceway white marble.    Stone steps graced with elaborate cast iron railings led to the doorway with an arched Gibbs surround—an enframement interrupted by blocks of stone, in this case vermiculated (carved with wavy, wormlike lines), and named after the architect James Gibbs.
Despite the building's 20th century abuse, the exquisite marble Gibbs surround and the original stoop survive -- photo by Alice Lum
Inside intricate plasterwork adorned the ceilings and rich woodwork, marble mantels and a glass skylight above the graceful winding staircase added to the upscale tone of the home.

Alfred De Forest was the nephew of Benjamin De Forest, a wealthy merchant doing business at No. 185 South Street.  Benjamin had come to New York around 1804 and, although a shoemaker in Connecticut, he opened a shop in the harbor area at No. 31 Peck Slip know as Benjamin De Forest and Company

In 1811 he convinced his nephew to leave Connecticut as well and brought him into the business--which was now De Forest and Smith since Benjamin’s partnership with Gershom Smith in 1805.  The  uncle and nephew each had a sizable fortune.

Alfred had married the only daughter of Augustus Wright; and upon his death she had inherited a considerable fortune which, as well.   Alfred inherited her large estate when she died.

Benjamin was married to Mary Burlock, “the beautiful daughter of Thomas Burlock.”  Upon the death of Mary’s wealthy brother, Henry, she inherited a large portion of his estate.   Benjamin and Mary originally moved into Alfred’s house at No. 20 Beekman Street; but since 1826 they all had been living at No. 27 Bond Street, directly across the street from the new house.   Now, in 1831, the extended family moved into the elegant new home at No. 26 Bond Street.
photo by Alice Lum

Alfred De Forest had no children; and Benjamin and Mary had two daughters, but no sons to continue the business under the family name.   Concerned that there was no one to carry on the business under the family name, they brought distant relative George B. De Forest into the firm around 1842 or 1843. 

George had been in the dry goods business at No. 86 Cedar Street and lived at No. 30 Great Jones Street, close to the De Forest house.   In a confusing tangle of surnames, George B. De Forest married one of Benjamin’s daughters soon after joining the firm and moved into the Bond Street house with the rest of the family.

When Alfred De Forest died in 1847 he left his entire estate to Benjamin who died three years later.  Benjamin’s estate was estimated at approximately $1.5 million—about $31.5 million today.   Although George and his wife stayed on in the Bond Street house for a while, the migration of society would soon prod them northward to No. 66 East 21st Street.

In 1853 the house was sold to John Haggerty.   Two years later the leading merchants of New York set out to compile a list of all citizens worth $100,000 or more.  The New York Times said that the purpose of the resulting pamphlet was “to ascertain the capital employed in trade and the wealth at the command of and ready for use in ‘backing up’ those engaged in it.”

High on the list was John Haggerty whose assets were listed as $1 million.  The Times called him “Of Irish parentage and formerly of the firm of Haggerty & Austin, auctioneers, and the richest man in that business.”

By the end of two decades the Bond Street neighborhood had severely changed.  No longer fashionable, its millionaire residents had forged northward.  Their fine homes with mahogany doors on silver hinges were now used as boarding houses and worse. 

In 1880 No. 26 Bond Street was a boarding house run by French-born Eugene Regard and his wife Mariette.   Along with the Regard family and the eleven Swiss boarders living in the house—most of them watch case makers—was Herman H. Wolff, a Prussian.  Unlike the hard-working watch case makers, Wolff turned out to be a scalawag.

During the first week of March that year Wolff presented himself at the home of Abiel B. Marks at No. 62 West 34th Street.  Wolff was seeking a job on Marks’ household staff as a waiter.   Although Wolff presented a stack of references from the Reverend Dr. A. C. Morehouse and a number of respectable families he claimed to have worked for; Marks somewhat foolishly failed to check them out.

The New York Times later said that “from the man’s manner and personal appearance [Marks] became convinced that he had a jewel of a servant.”  Wolff was hired; much to his employer’s rapid regret.

On the night of March 26 while the household was asleep, Wolff filled a trunk with silverware, jewelry, wearing apparel, and books.  He lugged the trunk to Overin’s livery stable on West 39th Street and, telling the proprietor he needed to hire a hack for Mr. Marks, had himself and the trunk taken to No. 57 Bleecker Street.  With astonishing gall, he told the stableman “to send the bill to his employer.”

Among the rare books Wolff had stolen were three volumes of Shakespeare, a volume of Milton and the Marks family Bible.  It was the last item that most distressed the millionaire, for, as was customary, it contained the Marks family genealogy. 

Wolff shaved off his whiskers to disguise himself and went into hiding.  Detectives found the Bible and the Shakespeare volumes in a Bowery pawnshop where the thief had pawned them for $5.  The Times noted that “Mr. Marks was delighted at this discovery, and, hastening over to the pawnshop, redeemed his books, and carried his much-prized Bible home in triumph.”

The shady Wolff would not remain a free man for long.  The newspaper reported that “A number of other articles were recovered by the detectives, but the dishonest waiter kept out of the way until Saturday, when he was seen in a Bowery beer saloon and arrested.”  Pawn tickets for the rest of the items were found on him.

As commerce crept into the Bond Street neighborhood, the house was converted in 1882 to include a “workshop.”   In addition to what was apparently a retail space in the basement level, rooms were leased upstairs.  On March 18, 1883 the house was the scene of the spring meeting of the National Association of General Passenger Agents of the Railways of the United States.   It was an important meeting, since negotiations were necessary to calm disputes between the various railroad lines.

The New York Times reported that Commissioner Fink “may possibly be able to satisfy the Western grumblers and prevent the rate war which some railroad men think inevitable.”

But the once-lavish rooms were the wealthy De Forest family had lived were now not simply being used as meeting rooms.  On the night of July 25, 1888 the house was raided by detectives headed by Anthony Comstock.  On the second floor a gambling house was operating.   The New York Times reported that “Theodore Brown, the reputed proprietor; William Bascome, the dealer; and James Kelly, the lookout, were captured.  They were locked up at Police Headquarters.  Six other persons found in the room were allowed to depart.  All the gaming articles found were seized.”

The neighborhood was soon the center of the fur trade and in 1888 Herman Coney ran house furrier shop in the building.    Another furrier, Edward Metcalf of No. 18 West 4th Street, convinced an employee, William Woolsey, to rob Coney’s establishment.  Woolsey, an immigrant, had been in the country only a few weeks when he was enticed into the evil deed.   On November 6, 1888 Woolsey broke into Coney’s shop and made off with $1,000 worth of “sealskin sacques.”

Other businesses moved in to the old house within the next two years.  In 1890 another furrier, M. J. Klein & Co. was here, as well as Columbia Neckwear Co. and trimmings firm Max Blau.  Upstairs boarders still took rooms, including the widow Frances Levine.  Yet the boarders still shared the upper floors with illegal gambling houses.

In the 19th century the term “poolroom” referred to illegal gambling parlors where horse betting was held.  Telegraphed race results were received and bets won and lost in the murky rooms.   On March 25, 1890 The Times reported that George & Co.’s poolroom on the second floor here was doubly-dishonest.

When detectives arrested William J. Williams, “a telegraph operator and ‘horse fiend,’” on the technical charge of tampering with Western Union telegraph wires, the police said “The real charge, however, is tapping the wires of George & Co.’s poolroom, 26 Bond-street, so as to manipulate race-track reports, and the Central office detectives and Capt Brogan believe that an extensive conspiracy back by plenty of brains and money has been nipped in the bud.”

A year later the poolroom was still in operation; now run by William Smith, who also found himself in front of a judge on September 10.

Meanwhile, downstairs the legitimate fur dealers continued their trade.  In 1894 C. H. Lehman manufactured and sold furs here; and by 1910 fur merchant Drucker & Holmstock Co. was doing business from the address.

At the turn of the last century, No. 23 Bond Street, across the street, still retained its residential appearance -- photograph from the collection of the New York Public Library
By 1920 there were no longer boarders in the house.  Business now operated from all floors and both the basement and parlor levels had been heavily altered for commercial purposes.  The block, once tree-lined and quiet, now bustled with delivery trucks and workers.  

At some point in the 20th century the elegant parlor windows were obliterated for an industrial-looking store window -- photo by Alice Lum

Demand for small business space was such that on November 17, 1920 the agents for the property, Charles F. Noyes Company, announced that it was raising the lease amount on the building from $10,000 a year to $15,000.  The Times remarked that “This increase indicates the scarcity of space in the Lafayette Street district just south of Astor Place.”

As the garment and millinery districts overtook what had been the furrier district, the house at No. 26 Bond Street attracted small businesses like the hat shop of Paul Hendler.  The 65-year old got himself into hot water in November 1936 when he was caught selling “ash-can hats.”

Later period Greek Revival-style houses across the street were home to hat shops in the 1930s -- photograph from the collection of the New York Public Library
A two-year old law prevented “the sale of second-hand and made-over hats as new.”  A printed linen tag was required to be sewn into the hat telling the consumer that it was a refurbished hat.  Unscrupulous wholesalers, however, paid “scavengers” to search trash cans to find discarded women’s hats.  The scavengers were paid one to five cents for each hat.

Hendler pleaded not guilty, insisting he had no idea that the hats he was selling were second-hand, refurbished goods.  To his possible defense, an investigator said “It developed that many retailers had been selling ‘ashcan’ hats without knowing they had been retrieved from ashheaps and garbage cans.”

By the time Paul Hendler was dealing with accusations of cheating his customers, the once-refined homes of Bond Street that still stood were in a miserable state of abuse.  No. 26, however, retained its glorious entrance, its Federal dormers and, amazingly, much of its interior detailing.

During the second half of the 20th century the house once again saw residential tenants.  Twenty-three-year old James N. Fouratt lived here in 1967.  It was the Age of Aquarius and the idealistic Fouratt joined a group of similar-thinking youths on July 22 headed out to make a positive difference.
photo by Alice Lum

A Special to The New York Times from Newark, New Jersey reported that “About a dozen New York hippies dressed in jump suits, mini-skirts, safari hats, buttons and painted faces carried Negro children on piggy-back rides and gave out flowers and groceries today at a Negro housing project here.”

The Douglas Apartments housing project had been the site of tumult during the six days of rioting that resulted in no fewer than 21 deaths.  Now the flower children intended to spread love.  They staged a “be-in” which Newark police, already stressed, did not welcome.

James Fouratt was charged with “creating a disturbance and failing to obey a policeman while handing out leaflets.”   The New York Times reported that, like that police, not all the residents of the housing project welcomed the unrequested show of support.

“’I don’t know if its going to do us any good to have people like you on our side,’ a Negro woman told one of the hippies,” reported the newspaper.

Mailboxes and wiring insult the amazingly surviving interior details of the entrance hallway --http://streeteasy.com/nyc/sale/795910-townhouse-26-bond-st-noho-new-york
As the 21st century dawned, the old Bond Street neighborhood experienced a renaissance of a type.  The house at No. 26 was converted to a multiple-family dwelling and sold in 2013 for $10 million.  A rare surviving relic of a refined and elegant residential period; it still retains some of the interior details that hint at its former glory when its owners landed on the list of New York’s wealthiest citizens.

A "coffin niche" where the De Forest family once placed flowers or statuary survives on the gracefully-winding staircase -- http://streeteasy.com/nyc/sale/795910-townhouse-26-bond-st-noho-new-york

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

The Stephen Weeks House -- No. 147 8th Avenue




No. 147 (right) is a near match to its next door neighbor.

The extraordinary building boom of the 1820s and 1830s in Greenwich Village was pushing northward towards 14th Street by 1830.  Clement Moore’s family estate, Chelsea, had already been diced into building plots and soon rowhouses and small commercial structures would begin appearing.

In 1790 George Rapelje, the son of an early Dutch settler, had purchased land south of Chelsea from James Rivington.  The farm stretched roughly from what is today 18th Street to the north to 16th Street, and from Tenth Avenue to Seventh Avenue.  Like several other farm and estate owners north of the city, Rapelje had at least two slaves on the property.

Like Clement Moore, the Rapelje family clearly saw the coming end of rural life above 14th Street.  In 1812 the Commissioners’ Plan had laid out on paper the streets and avenues above Greenwich Village.  In 1816 paper became reality when Eighth Avenue was cut through the farm.  Nine years later, in May 1825, George Rapelje’s grandson and his wife Susanna began the process of selling off the land as building plots.

In 1827 merchant Stephen Weeks began construction on a modest store-and-residential building at No. 147 Eighth Avenue.  It shared a party wall and central chimney with its near twin next door at No. 145, simultaneously constructed for dry goods merchant Aaron Dexter.  The handsome Federal-style structure featured Flemish bond brickwork, a steeply pitched roof with two pedimented dormers, and unassuming flat stone lintels and sills.

Although Weeks sold the property to Vermont Congressman Daniel Church in 1830; he continued to operate his business from the store into the 1840s.  In 1844 he was forced to step away from the store when he was selected to serve on the jury of the sensational murder case of William Leitga.  Leitga was charged with suffocating his wife, Ann, then attempting to burn her body.  The grisly case had the attention of New Yorkers for weeks.

In 1862, a year after the Southern states seceded from the Union, a recruiting office was established at No. 147 Eighth Avenue for the Eighth Infantry.  Commanded by Captain Thomas G. Pitcher, the Eighth had enlisted about 90 men by February 10.

The little building continued its intended purpose throughout the century and in 1902 Gerald Kilp and his family lived on the second floor while he operated his furniture store at ground level.  On the third floor was the Bowers family.  By now an extension of the retail space had been constructed to the rear.

On the evening of March 28, 1902, Mrs. Bowers heard the sound of someone walking on the roof of the addition; but thought little of it.  Around 9:00 Policeman Dierkes was making his rounds and noticed a fire in the rear of the furniture store.  He aroused Gerald Kilp who opened the store.  The pair managed to put out the fire using some old carpets.

Dierkes noticed that the floor and some of the items in the store were covered in gasoline.  A cursory investigation showed that someone had poured about gallon of the fuel through a skylight in the extension, then dropped matches into the store.  The arsonist, whom The New York Times termed an “incendiary,” managed to do about $10 worth of damage.

In the first turbulent decades of the 20th century radical anarchist and socialist groups terrorized America with bombings and murders.  In 1914 The Black Hand, the organization that had assassinated Franz Ferdinand of Austria that year, was responsible for repeated bombings, murders and threats in New York City.

In the meantime the family of William J. Madden was living upstairs at No. 147 Eighth Avenue.  With him and his wife were daughters Lucy and Elizabeth.  Lucy was just 19 years old when she went to Mrs. Pulignano’s dressmaking shop on the lower West Side.  As it turns out, Mrs Pulignano’s son, Amedo, was also 19 and happened to be there.

Amedo Pulignano was a nice-looking Italian boy who aspired to become a policeman, like his cousin Ralph Micelli.  Micelli’s partner, Detective Joseph Petrosino had been murdered by The Black Hand earlier in Sicily while the pair worked undercover there.  The dressmaker introduced Lucy to her son.

Pulignano later said “I thought she was a nice looking girl.  And we kept on seeing a good deal of each other.”  “Seeing a good deal of each other” turned into marriage.  They were married on the same day that Pulignano was made a policeman, February 25, 1912.  The newlyweds moved into the apartment Pulignano shared with his brother Tony at No. 110 Christopher Street.

But before long the bride would return home to No. 147 Eighth Avenue.  Amedo told Lucy that he had to go away for a while.  “Girl though she still was,” said the New-York Tribune, “she kept on trusting him even when he told her that he must leave her on a mission which might be dangerous, might have something to do with the I.W.W.’s”  Amedo packed his bags and left and Lucy went home to her mother.

In fact the new policeman was not going on a mission involving the socialist Industrial Workers of the World.  He was going undercover to infiltrate the anarchists.  He later explained to Eleanor Booth Simmons of the New-York Tribune that he did not mention anarchists to her because he did not want to scare her; anarchists being “much worse than I.W.W.’s.”

Using the name of Frank Buldo he infiltrated the Gaetano Bresci gang in 1914.  He continued his association with the group through 1915 and lived in a furnished room with other anarchists at No. 1341 Third Avenue.  Here he joined in a plot to destroy St. Patrick’s Cathedral.  All the while he fed information to the Bomb Squad at Police Headquarters.

On March 2, 1915, Pulignano and two cohorts arrived at the Cathedral with a bomb.  Detectives were waiting, disguised as ushers.  The anarchists were arrested, convicted and sentenced to serve from six to twelve years at Sing Sing.  Finally Pulignano could go home to his faithful young wife.

The night following the successful bust, the extended family was crammed into Mrs. Madden’s little apartment above No. 147 Eighth Avenue in celebration.  “From the parlor came the sound of a one-step,” said the New-York Tribune on March 4.  “Pulignano was pounding on the piano, and two of the cousins and two of the young men were dancing.”  The reporter asked if there was any fear that the anarchists would retaliate against Amedo.

Amedo Pulignano poses on the sofa at No. 147 8th Avenue with his wife (left) his mother-in-law, and sister-in-law Elizabeth Madden on March 3, 1915 -- The New-York Tribune (copyright expired)

Mrs.Madden scoffed at the idea.  “A jolly, well-set up woman, who looks the world in the face with a courageous smile, she laughed at the notion that her son-in-law might be I danger from vengeful anarchists.”

She told the reporter, “Does that look as if we feared Black Handers or anybody like that?” nodding towards the dancers.  “As for me, I’m a suffragette, and suffragettes are not afraid of anything.  I wasn’t afraid to march in the suffrage parade, and I’m not afraid to say we’re going to get the vote next November.  Would I be afraid of a few ‘reds,’ as they call them?”

Amedeo Pulignano went on, incidentally, to build his career fighting anarchists.  By 1928 when he was promoted from detective to sergeant, he and Lucy were living fashionably at No. 3 St. Luke’s Place and he was a friend of his neighbor, Mayor James Walker.

Throughout the 20th century the tradition of living quarters on the upper floors and a shop at ground level continued.  In November 1921 two Turkish immigrant brothers, Oscar and Louis Hanpashian purchased the building and would retain ownership until 1971.  In 1974 John Santini renovated the retail space into a clever antique shop/restaurant/jazz club called Chelsea Place.  With a nod to 1920s speakeasies, Santino placed a double-door armoire in the rear of the nondescript antiques shop.  Guests passed through the wardrobe into a brassy sleek club where musicians like Harry Connick, Jr. and Greg Allman entertained diners.

In 2002 the upper floors were renovated to a single apartment on the second floor and a duplex above.  The street level remains commercial after nearly two centuries.  Along with its neighbor at No. 145 the building survives remarkably intact; a quaint reminder of when the Chelsea neighborhood was little more than a suburb of New York City.

photograph taken by the author

Monday, October 28, 2013

The Lost Reformed Dutch Church -- Washington Square and Washington Place

A stereopticon view captured the church along with tiny commercial buildings to the south -- from the collection of the New York Public Library
When George Rogers began construction of the first house on Washington Square in 1828, there were seven Reformed Dutch churches in Manhattan; all still far south of the Rogers mansion.  The oldest organization of Christians in the city, the Garden Street church was among its three principal congregations.

The South Dutch Church on Garden Street had been erected in 1807; only to be razed and replaced by a new structure later.   On December 16, 1835 members watched in dismay as their church burned to the ground.  The proposal to build along Washington Square may have seemed, to some, ill advised.  However by now the Square—a potter’s field only a dozen years earlier—was rapidly developing into one of the city’s three most exclusive residential neighborhoods.

New York University had alread decided on the square and in 1833, two years after its founding, it commissioned Alexander Jackson Davis and Ithiel Town to design its first major building.  The pair were among the preeminent architects of the day and were renowned for their historic-based designs.  The resulting structure, completed in 1836, was an impressive Gothic hall; considered the first example of “Collegiate Gothic” in the country.

Three years after the New York University hall was completed, on March 17, 1839, an equally celebrated architect would receive the commission for the New Reformed Dutch Church.    Ground was purchased at the southeast corner of Washington Square East and Washington Place, directly across the street from the university building, for $44,000—a hefty $825,000 today.

Like Davis and Town, Minard Lafever turned to Gothic Revival—yet his building would be more “archaeological” than academic.   The Gothic style was unheard of for religious structures at the time—churches tended to be Greek or Roman temples with classic porticoes and fluted columns.

History may have cheated Lafever out of bragging rights.  Richard Upjohn is conventionally credited with sparking the Gothic Revival movement in church architecture with his magnificent Trinity Church on lower Broadway.  Yet his plans were submitted on September 9, 1839—fully half a year later than Lafever’s.

The church, completed in 1840, was clad in rough-cut dark granite.  At 62-feet wide, it was an imposing presence on Washington Square.   Two massive 24-foot square towers flanked the entrance above which was an expansive Gothic window.  Lafever added hefty crenelation along the roofline and tops of the towers. 

Inside four large columns marched down either side of the aisle, supporting the 63-foot ceiling and forming part of the gallery in doing so.   The ten unusual windows were composed of ground glass.

As the structure neared completion, the church leaders applied for a name change.  On May 13, 1840 an act was passed in the State Senate and Assembly changing the corporation name from “The New Reformed Dutch Church on Washington square” to “The Dutch Church on Washington square.”

Five months later, on October 1, the $80,000 structure was dedicated.   The Rev. Dr. Mathews, the pastor at the time of the fire, and the Rev. Dr. Mancius S. Hutton served as co-pastors—a rather unlikely situation.   

The church's location among the prim Greek Revival mansions coupled with the prevalent, often narrow, Victorian views did not intimidate its open-minded leaders.  On February 21, 1846 the New-York Daily Tribune noted that the subject of a lecture to be held here the following evening would be “The Bible is so constructed that the Christian reader must kindly remember, and deeply sympathize with the Jews.”

Within a few years Rev. Mathews took a portion of the congregation and established the South Dutch Reformed Church at the corner of Fifth Avenue and 21st Street.  Thereafter the church on Washington Square was most often referred to as “Dr. Hutton’s Church.”   By now the square was fully developed with the elegant homes of wealthy families.  On July 18, 1853 The New York Times described “Washington-square, all glory in.”

The newspaper said “It is a noble reservation in one of the best parts of the City.  Flanked on the east by the marble University buildings and Dr. Hutton’s Church, and on all other sides by the residences of that comfortable class who can keep their carriages without being charged with extravagance, it is the favorite walking-ground of our wearied people; and on all pleasant days clean children trundle their hoops, fly their kits, or play ‘high spy” there, from early morning till late moonlight.”

The writer went on to mention the square’s history with ghoulish humor.  “It was once a Potter’s Field—the prowling ground of the medical men who were rollicking students many years ago—the scene of hundreds of body-snatching tales,--reason enough why the trees should grow with such rapidity there, and so early form a pleasant shade.”

A watercolor of the New York University Hall shows the towers of the Dutch Reformed Church next door.  To the left a fluted column of a Washington Square North mansion can be seen.  artist unknown, from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York http://collections.mcny.org/C.aspx?VP3=SearchResult_VPage&VBID=24UAYWRPKIX1&SMLS=1&RW=1366&RH=579&PN=3#/SearchResult_VPage&VBID=24UAYWRPKIX1&SMLS=1&RW=1366&RH=579&PN=3

On May 6, 1856 a convention of sorts was held throughout the city of Sunday School children who were subjected to a full day of oratory and preaching.  Fourteen Sunday School groups gathered at the Dutch Reformed Church—around 2,000 children in total.  The Times noted that “One of the largest contingents was the children of the Protestant Orphan Asylum.”   Even 19th century ministers apparently recognized that children would find the speeches boring.  “The speeches were varied by singing, and the young folks seemed to think it was a good time generally.”

The qualification “generally” was most likely significant.  

In 1861 the focus of the church turned to Civil War.   Early in September 1861 The Central Army Committee of the Alliance held a meeting “for the promotion of morals and religion in the camps” here.  Among the speakers was the Rev. Charles C. Goss who gave “the results of his observations among the camps in Virginia, and in the hospitals and rebel prisons,” reported The Times.

Thanksgiving that year was an understandably sober one.  Dr. Hutton’s Thanksgiving sermon addressed the torment being felt.  “How many families have been broken up by death and suffering; and, even if death has entered the household, there are hopes of a better world, and thanks to be felt therefore.”  A reporter noted that “From hence he drew the assurance that, notwithstanding our present troubles, there is to be a hopeful, joyful termination of them.”

While the Dutch Reformed congregation was still worshiping on Garden Street in 1831, the Greene Street Methodist Episcopal Church was constructed.  The structure was deemed by The Times “the most commodious place of worship belonging to the denomination in New York.”
from the collection of the New York Public Library

In 1876 Dr. Hutton retired from the Dutch Reformed Church, receiving a pension of $5,000 a year—the equivalent of a comfortable income of $95,000 today.  The church building was sold to the Greene Street Methodist Episcopal Church for $80,000—to the dollar what the structure had cost to erect over three decades earlier.

The New York Times explained on June 5, 1876 that “Owing to a great loss of membership, on account of the changed character of the neighborhood, stores having entirely superseded residences, the [Greene Street} church property was sold for $100,000, and the Presbyterian Church, corner of Washington place and Washington square—Rev. Dr. Hutton’s—was purchased…repainted, frescoed, and upholstered at an expense of $10,000, leaving the congregation fr4ee of debt and with a balance in the treasury.”

The church re-christened itself the Asbury M. E. Church, in honor of the first Methodist Episcopal bishop ordained in America.  The Times said that “The interior is handsomely fitted up, and presents a very cheerful aspect.”   For the opening service the pulpit was “beautifully decorated with trailing vines, in which flowers were entwined.  In front of the pulpit was a bed of white flowers, bearing the words in violets, 'Greene Street, 1831,' 'Asbury, 1876.'"

While the church had been on Greene Street, one of the old practices of the Methodist worshipers was to shout responses.  As times changed, the Methodist services became more reserved, in keeping with other sects.  John Forbes, however, disliked change.

The retired 62-year old lived nearby in the mansion at No. 23 Washington Square.   “Mr. Forbes, despite his advanced age, is of powerful constitution, and is particularly vigorous of lung,” noted The Times on May 67, 1884.  While the rest of the congregation remained silent, in rapt attention to the minister, Forbes erupted with “Amen,” “Hallelujah,” and “That’s so!”

Proper, refined worshipers were annoyed by Forbes’ outbursts—especially considering that his poor hearing sometimes resulted in inappropriate and awkward responses.  When and elderly and highly respected church member was near death in 1882, the pastor Dr. Ferris spoke from the pulpit of the man’s virtues and untarnished reputation.  “And now,” he concluded, “there is a sad prospect that he will pass away from us soon.”

Mr. Forbes shouted out “Thank the Lord!”

Members tried hinting that the lowering of his enthusiasm would be greatly appreciated; however Forbes forged on.   Then late in April 1884 he once again shouted out an inappropriate response that could be taken as an offense to the minister.  On his way home across the park he was intercepted by Henry Roden, Abram Belmont and James Seaman, “who took him to task for his vociferousness,” said a newspaper.

Another member, Mr. Lynn, took him aside and said “See here, Mr. Forbes, you’re an unmitigated nuisance in this church, and everybody would be obliged to you if you’d keep still hereafter.”

This time an embarrassed and hurt Forges took the hint.  He visited the pastor, Mr. Hawxhurst, saying “I shall cause no more trouble in this church.  I am going where I feel at home.”  Forbes had decided to join the fashionable St. George’s Episcopal Church on Stuyvesant Square.

The minister tried to dissuade him from leaving.  “You can’t say ‘Amen’ there,” he pointed out.  Forbes countered that he could say amen at the close of prayers and that was good enough for him.   When the pastor noted that Mrs. Forbes did not want to leave Asbury, her husband responded that she would have to.

Suddenly the congregation missed the odd, noisy man.  James Seaman admitted that “he had a very friendly feeling for Mr. Forbes, and admired his character very much.”   Rev. Hawxhurst said “he did not himself object to Mr. Forbes’s practice of responding to the service.”

Whether the wealthy and proper members of St. George’s appreciated its new member is unknown.
 
The large church building was used annually for the graduation exercises of New York University in the 1880s.   By now the neighborhood south of Washington Square had declined to one of the worst slums in New York; overcrowded criminals, thugs and destitute immigrants.  Asbury M. E. Church sought to relieve the suffering with innovative programs.

On April 28, 1890 The Times reported that Dr. Stone, the pastor of the Asbury Church, will open a free dispensary in the church edifice this morning as the first step toward general missionary work in the slums which bound Washington Square on the south.  The establishment of a dispensary is regarded as a practical effort to assist the extremely poor and the sick.” 

The following year the church established an employment agency to help locals find jobs.  Not long after, it announced that “curiously, the laborers desiring work both before and after securing it come to the services.”  A kindergarten was also set up that year—giving mothers the flexibility to secure additional income.

A confusing set of circumstances came to a somewhat tragic end here on May 15, 1892.  The church was filled at 3:00 as Sergeant A J. T. Ray of the Salvation Army arrived to deliver an address.  Ray was well-known as a pulpit orator and The Times noted that “Besides the regular attendants of the church the congregation was liberally besprinkled with maidens in Salvation Army bonnets and numerous Captains, Sergeants, and high privates in full regalia.”

In the meantime a brown Scotch terrier had made his way into the park.  “He was taking the air and enjoying the balmy Spring day in a doggish style,” said The Times.  “He probably thought that everybody else was having a good, quiet time in the shade of the old park trees.  So he had joined them.”

“When he got into the park he chased a lonesome cat and one or two birds for a little while, and then laid down to rest.”

The terrier’s decision to enter the park that day was a fateful one.  A few little boys were roller skating on the walkways.  “They were common, everyday boys.  They were dressed nicely and did not look more wicked than boys a dozen years old ought to look.”

But the boys noticed the dozing dog and decided to stone him.  The terrier tried to run away, but the boys pursued him, pelting him with rocks.  Men on the park benches laughed and cheered the boys on.  By the time the dog ran frantically toward the Asbury Church, his mouth was foaming and he was bloodied from the onslaught.

“He saw the open church door.  It looked like a haven of refuse to him.  The people inside were quiet.  They did not look cruel like the boys with the sticks and stones.  So the terrier darted into the front door and up the centre aisle.”

The huge crowd inside the church saw the foaming mouth on the disheveled dog and assumed he was mad.  They panicked and Rev. Stone dismissed the congregation.  When the church was empty, the sexton and a few members drove the dog out; where the crowd was waiting.

“When the startled dog appeared, they all chased him.  All the loungers in the park joined in.  About a thousand people raced back and forth across the park after that dog,” reported the newspaper.

“The man in the crowd who was nearest the dog was a negro with a big white stovepipe hat.”  The dog was tired and the man was not.  With only a few steps, he grabbed the dog by the tail.  “He swung the helpless brute around in the air and then grabbed him by the throat.  The dog did not resist; he only yelped.”

The dog was tossed into a garbage box near the Washington Arch and the cover slammed shut.  “Then a policeman came up and fired two shots from his big revolver into the box…The yelping had ceased.  He opened the box and lifted out a dead dog.”

The Times concluded “The populace broke into a torrent of admiring cheers.”

Nearby was the Washington Square M. E. Church.  The movement of congregants further north had resulted in both churches suffering loss of members.  On June 7, 1893 a vote was passed in favor of the proposed consolidation of the two churches.  “The united churches will be known as the Washington Square Methodist Episcopal Church,” said the New-York Tribune the following day, “and will worship in the church edifice on Fourth-st.” 

A few weeks later The New York Times explained that “The Asbury Church has an average attendance of less than 150.  The church has property valued at $216,000.”   The last service was held in the old church on October 8, 1893.  Although the property was held for awhile—it was used as a women’s shelter in 1894—the valuable land was worth more than the remarkable structure that sat upon it.

On May 16, 1895 the sale of the church property to Boehm & Coon was announced.  The developers paid $300,000 for the structure, well over its assessed value.  “The purchasers will at once remove the church building and erect a seven-story warehouse,” reported The Times.
The replacement structure survives on the site of the grand Lafever edifice -- photo by the author

The handsome loft structure that replaced Minard Lafever’s masterful Gothic church still stands; now occupied by New York University.