Friday, June 6, 2014

The 1877 Harwood & Son Bldg - No. 175 West Broadway

photo by Alice Lum

Since 1843 Jerome B. King had dealt in plaster in New York City; branching away from his wood planing business.  Throughout the next few decades plaster would be an important part of Victorian architecture, not only covering walls; but adorning ceilings with elaborate medallions and moldings.  By the time of his death in 1875 he had amassed a comfortable fortune and owned rental real estate in Manhattan.

Among his properties was No. 175 West Broadway, a two-story frame house that had survived from the area’s residential days.  Now converted for business, it was being leased to Samuel A. Harwood, a manufacturer and dealer in canvas awnings and window shades.  Like his landlord, Harwood’s product filled a much-needed niche.  A century before air conditioning, the direct rays of the summer sun heated the interiors of Victorian buildings.  Awnings and shades not only reduced the stifling heat; but protected costly textiles and furnishings inside from fading.

King’s widow, Eliza, who lived in New Jersey, inherited a life interest on the real estate.  Two years after his death the family decided to replace the small outdated structure with a modern commercial building.  A deal was struck with Harwood and he moved almost directly across West Broadway while construction commenced.

The King family commissioned the Newark-based architectural firm of Scott & Umbach to design its new building.  While the neighborhood was filling with cast iron-fronted loft buildings; this one would be far different.  The architects chose brick as their medium and used it to create a striking creation like none other in the city.  Deftly relieving the red brick with white stone, they create a polychromatic fa├žade made three-dimensional by elaborate brickwork.

The architects used brick as a nearly-sculptural medium with outstanding results -- photo by Alice Lum
The segmental arched openings were highlighted by layers of dentil molding strung together by rows of undulating stone.  Above it all was a fantastic, unique entablature of creative brickwork—a masterwork of Lego-like corbels and brackets.

The building was begun in 1877 and completed before the end of the year.  Harwood & Son moved back in.  It would serve as the company’s offices and, probably, showroom and they maintained another store at No. 68 West Broadway.  Although Harwood was the major tenant in No. 175; there were other businesses here too.  In 1897 Francesco Devino listed the building as the address for his “barber fixtures” business.

In the meantime, Harwood ran a mail order business from No. 175 and marketed a variety of canvas items—tents, tarpaulins, horse covers and cart covers.  When Samuel Harwood died in 1903, his son Warren took the reins of Harwood & Son.  At the time there were three trunk manufacturers also in the building—H. Rohrmoser; George Schoen; and the Fiber Specialty Mfg. Co.

In 1905 Harwood & Son won the bid to supply the City with 200 voting booth covers.  The commission grossed the firm $312.00--$1.56 per cover; about $40 each today.

The King family and the Harwood firm struck another deal in 1909 when Warren Harwood purchased the building.  As the neighborhood changed around it, Harwood & Son remained in its wonderful headquarters for another half century.  While the company left in the 1950s; the family held on to the building until 1972 when the granddaughter of Warren Harwood sold it.
Another remarkable survivor from the block's Federal period sits next door -- photo by Alice Lum

Despite the abuse many of the area buildings suffered in the mid-to-late 20th century; No. 175 survived nearly intact.  An architectural design firm currently is housed in the space where Harwood & Son displayed its striped canvas awnings. 

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