Saturday, February 22, 2014

The 1890 Hudson Building -- No. 342 West 14th Street

The imposing mass of the building is, technically, the backside -- Nicolas Lemery Nantel /

Industry was no stranger to West 14th Street near the Hudson River in 1890.   For years the Astor family had built markets, warehouses, and related business buildings on its large land holdings throughout the area.   But the six-story structure planned by real estate developer John Pettit would be something out of the ordinary.

Pettit’s speculative building would not merely provide lofts for warehousing and manufacturing; it would offer office space as well.   The concept was nearly unheard of in the area that would become known as the Gansevoort Market; but Pettit sensed change in the air.

Commercial architect James Farnsworth designed the building which would have a surprising footprint and three addresses.   Originally called the Hudson Building, it filled the 111-foot Hudson Street block from 14th to 13th Street (Nos. 666-670 Hudson Street); stretched 150 feet east along West 13th Street (No. 339 West 13th); and elbowed a 25-foot sliver of a presence among the buildings on West 14th Street (No. 342).
The 14th Street elevation (and main address) is just 25-feet wide -- Nicolas Lemery Nantel /

Farnsworth’s buff-brick façade featured grand expanses of glass—made possible by the relatively new construction technique of load-bearing masonry walls and iron beams.   Cast, decorative panels between floors contained graceful foliate shapes that repeated their rolling design like breaking waves.
Nicolas Lemery Nantel /

Despite the elegant lines and decorative cornice and panels, Pettit and Farnsworth did not forget that this was also a utilitarian structure.  Hudson and 13th Street sides were lined with loading docks protected by deep overhanging permanent awnings.   The Hudson Building announced that the days of small buildings for individual businesses in the area were coming to a close.

Among the first tenants was The American Type Telegraph; a manufacturer of “printing telegraph instruments.”  The firm would stay on in the building through the turn of the century.   The company hired a 17-year old electrician, Edward Clauschmidt, who lived with his widowed mother.

The teenager got around the city on a bicycle and, although city ordinances required that the vehicles be outfitted with “a lamp;” he did not have one.  It proved to be a tragic oversight in May 1893.

Mrs. Mary McGlynn and her 9-year old daughter, Katie, stepped off the street car on 67th Street the night of May 31.  As they started across the street they heard a shout and the frantic ringing of a small bell.   Philadelphia’s The Sporting Life reported that “Mother and daughter stopped and looked around in afright.  The next moment they saw a bicycle only a few feet away.”

In the darkness and with no light on Clauschmidt’s bicycle, they were unable to react quickly enough.  “The mother tried to drag the little girl over to her, but as she did so the swift-running machine struck Katie and knocked her down, the back of her head striking the hard roadbed.”

Edward Clauschmidt was knocked off the bicycle by the collision.  He helped the little girl up and the three walked together to the 68th Street Precinct.  Although little Katie had initially appeared not seriously hurt; she now complained that her head hurt and she began to vomit.

Police Office Jose took the girl in his arms, boarded a horse car and took her to Roosevelt Hospital.  She soon lost consciousness and died around 1:00 in the morning.  The teen-aged bicyclist was charged with homicide.

On May 11, 1894 John Pettit sold his building to “a Western capitalist” for $300,000—approximately $7 million today.  Rent revenues that year amounted to $34,900.
Nicolas Lemery Nantel /

In the Hudson Building at the time was the Zinn family – Simon, Arthur and Martin.  The brothers manufactured metal goods, such as their “pocketbook frames” and safety razors.   Martin Zinn was called away from work on May 12, 1896 when he was summoned to appear as a potential jurist in a murder case.

On August 30, 1895 Mary Alice Almont Livingston Fleming had, so prosecutors alleged, poisoned her mother to death.   Now lawyers grappled with a substantial problem—finding a jury of men willing to hang a woman for murder.  When Martin Zinn was called nearly 200 men had already been interviewed and dismissed.

“Are you opposed to capital punishment,” he was asked by Assistant District Attorney McIntire.

“I am opposed to capital punishment as far as regards women,” Zinn replied.

Martin Zinn's frank reply freed him to resume his work in his metal goods factory.

Other metal making companies filled the lofts.  In 1901 Paul E. Carbaret’s brass and bronze goods factory was here; as was the Gem Cutlery Company, makers of the “Gem safety razor.”

In 1908 a small fire broke out in the Zinn factory on the third floor.   The Sun reported on July 17 that “The firemen found a little blaze and put it out quickly.”  The problem now was not the fire; it was the new-fangled automatic fire sprinklers.

Although the flames were quickly extinguished, they had set off the sprinklers which continued pouring water that flooded down through the three floors.  “The water was shut off at the tank on the roof, but there were gallons in the pipes which had to keep running,” explained the newspaper.  “While little damage was done by the fire three firms lost $20,000 by water.”

In addition to Zinn, the three water-soaked firms included its competitor Paul E. Carbaret & Co., and the H. C. Miner Lithographing Company.  Two years after the incident, the Zinn brothers built their own factory building and left.

By now the paper box companies were moving into the area.  Hefter & Co. was one of these and in the summer of 1911 the firm ran into severe labor troubles.  The company’s contract with the union workers expired on June 15 but, according to The New York Call, “no action was taken toward a renewal because the union had other troubles on its hands.”
The newspaper was unsympathetic with the paper box company’s management.  “However Hefter was not long in seizing the opportunity to lay off seventy-five workers on the excuse that business was dull.  Heftner followed up this move by making a cut of 10 per cent in the price of one style of box.”

The union protested, Heftner stood firm and a strike loomed.  “A committee then went to see Hefter with a view of arriving at a settlement, but when the employer refused to meet with them, the 500 workers were called out.”

Fixed awnings originally sheltered the loading docks that wrapped the Hudson and 13th Street sides -- photograph from the collection of the New York Public Library
Another firm having problems that year was the Anchor Novelty Company, which went into involuntary bankruptcy in October 1911.  Hard hit was the newly-elected president James O’Neill who had recently put about $30,000 into the business.

Most interesting to readers of The New York Times was that O’Neill was involved in the company at all.  He was a well-known actor “who for two generations has played the part of Monte Cristo,” reminded The Times.  “James O’Neill is now in his sixtieth year and has played the role of Monte Cristo more than 6,000 times.”

By the following April Heftner & Co.’s workers were all back at their jobs; however the firm told The Paper Box Maker and American Bookbinder “trade is slow at present, but bears signs of an improvement.”

The store on the West 14th Street side was taken by the Atlantic Hotel Supply Company in 1917.

As the 1920’s dawned the name Hudson Building was dropped (a new Hudson Building was erected further uptown).   New firms in the building now would include the Mendosa Fur Dyeing Works, Inc.; American Paper Box Company; the Glass Products Company; and the Linen Shrinking Company. 

photograph from the collection of the New York Public Library
In a surprisingly early effort at air pollution reduction the Health Department established a “Smoke Abatement Commission” in 1931; the goal of which was to clean the air of furnace output.   It was a positive move for the city and its residents; not such a welcomed turn of events for the former Hudson Building.    On November 30 building management appeared before the Health Departments trial board for smoke ordinance violations.

For a large part of the 20th century the entire building was home to a printing firm.  Then, in 1998 construction began on a renovation that converted the old factory and office building to luxury condominiums.  An additional story was added for seven penthouse duplexes, each having a private terrace.
The first floor loading docks were nearly seamlessly removed, as seen here on the Hudson Street side -- Nicolas Lemery Nantel /

The conversion was completed in 2000, bringing the dingy façade back to its handsome 1890’s appearance—except for the rows of freight docks were deftly melded into the façade.  James Farnworth’s clean, industrial building is a reminder of a time when the neighborhood rattled with delivery trucks.  And the $9 million price tag placed on a 3-bedroom apartment in the building in 2011 is a reminder that times have changed.

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