|photo by Alice Lum|
In 1883 the old building at No. 18 Beaver Street was about to come down. For years it had been used by businesses like Barnstorf & Co., importers of fruits. But now German-born restaurateurs Alfred Wiehl and Eugene Widmann laid plans for a new structure. They commissioned the architectural firm of H. J. Schwarzmann & Co. to design and erect their new “four-story brick and brown stone store and restaurant,” as described by The Real Estate Record & Builders’ Guide on August 18, 1883. Schwarzmann estimated the cost at around $20,000; or about $450,000 in today’s dollars.
Schwarzmann had been responsible for designing the Memorial Hall and the Horticultural Hall for Philadelphia’s Great Centennial Exhibition of 1876. The official guide to the exhibition called him “a gentleman of original thought and remarkable for beautiful designing.”
Schwarzmann’s design would stand out among its functional Beaver Street neighbors. He contrasted the red brick façade with wide courses of carved brownstone and at the fourth floor introduced pilasters dripping with ornate floral decorations. The attic floor erupted as a Northern Renaissance Revival gable surmounted by a statue of Hebe, the cupbearer to the gods.
|photo by Alice Lum|
Wiehl & Widmann quickly became a popular destination for downtown workers and seamen. The choice of the wine-pouring goddess far above the sidewalk was well thought-out. The Evening World would describe the establishment as “wine and lunch rooms,” while The New York Times simply called it a “wine saloon.”
However termed, the restaurant--which took up at least two floors--apparently served mostly German food to the lunching locals, washed down with ample amounts of wine. Meanwhile, upstairs tenants like David M. Kelly filled the office spaces. A “promoter of corporations,” he operated from an upstairs office in 1887. Udolpho Wolfe’s Son & Co., were importers of schnapps here; and Jonathan B. Curry ran an insurance office.
One of Wiehl & Widmann’s regular patrons was produce broker Hugo Mueller. On Wednesday May 9, 1888 Mueller had a bad day on the floor of the Produce Exchange. The Brooklyn Daily Eagle reported that “he was short on wheat and lost heavily by the advance in the cereal.” Following the close of business Mueller “went with friends to the saloon, 18 Beaver street.”
According to the newspaper “Wine flowed freely. Mr. Mueller remarked that he heard angels singing and added that he would inside of six hours be where he could see them, and poured some of Weyeth’s morphine pills, it is thought, out of a small vial into a glass of champagne and swallowed the contents.”
Mueller was taken home in a friend’s coupe, where he died in his bed later that evening. Alfred Wiehl testified at the coroner’s inquest on May 18 that “Mueller, while at his place, mixed a powder with his wine and afterward became flushed and drowsy,” said a newspaper.
|The stone trim has been painted white. photo by Alice Lum|
It would not be the last of the tragic deaths connected with Wiehl & Widmann’s. Anna Schmidt was described by The Evening World as “a comely German girl, employed as a pantry girl in Wiehl & Widman’s [sic] lunch rooms.” In 1891 she caught the eye of 22-year old Henry Schmidt (who was not related).
When his brother, Julius, “paid her attentions,” Henry—who made his living as a cooper--became jealous. On September 7, 1893 The New York Times explained “The rivalry between the brothers caused a great deal o trouble. Anna preferred Julius, and told Henry to cease annoying her.” The jilted lover left New York for New Orleans. But two years later, in August 1893, he returned.
On the night of August 24 Henry Schmidt showed up at Wiehl & Widmann “and renewed his suit,” as described by The New York Times, “but was rejected.” The Evening World reported “According to Anna he thereupon tried to drown his grief with drink.” Around 7:40 that evening he walked into the rear yard of the restaurant and shot himself in the temple. He died two weeks later on September 6.
The fact that Alfred Wiehl was so well liked was possibly because of the extraordinary efforts he sometimes made for his friends. Among the seafaring patrons of Wiehl & Widmann was German Captain Kurt von Geossel. The captain and Wiehl established a strong personal friendship and Mrs. Von Geossel was even a house guest of the Wiehls for a month in 1893.
Two years later, on January 31, 1895, The Evening World reported “There was gloom at the famous restaurant of Wiehl & Widmann, 18 Beaver street, this morning. This was a favorite resort with Capt. Von Goessel, who is supposed to have gone down on his vessel, and there was a strong bond of friendship between the skipper and A. Wiehl.”
|Capt. Kurt von Goessel was lost in a tragic maritime accident -- The Illustrated American, February 16, 1895 (copyright expired)|
The vessel was the North German steamer Elbe and its sinking the night before would later be called by The Cyclopedic Review of Current History “One of the most appalling of recent disasters at sea.” The Elbe was struck by the British steamer Crathie and sank within 20 minutes—taking with it 335 lives.
The Evening World said “Mr. Wiehl displayed a photograph of the captain’s wife and their nineteen-year-old daughter.”
Happier news came on the night that William McKinley was elected President, when a baby was born to the Draz family, friends of Wiehl. The baby was named in honor of the president; and as his baptism neared, Alfred Wiehl sent off a letter to the White House.
Washington’s Evening Star reported on March 19, 1897 “A funny request turned up at the White House today. Alfred Wiehl of 18 Beaver street, New York, requested that a vial which accompanied his note be filled with water from a White House faucet, the water to be used in baptizing ‘Franze Mckinley Draz’ in New York tomorrow night.”
The Times of Washington added “Secretary Porter complied with Mr. Wiehl’s request and a bottle of White House water was immediately sent to the Metropolis in order that it might reach there in time for the christening.”
In 1907 the building was purchased by Harry K. S. Williams “of Monte Carlo, Principality of Monaco,” according to The New York Times. That same year brothers Guido, Lucien and Albert Fusco began their own restaurant business downtown. But for the time being Wiehl & Widmann continued on in the building they had erected nearly a quarter of a century earlier.
In 1912 the Slavic-American League had its headquarters in upper rooms of No. 18 Beaver Street. It was here in August that year that Leonid Menstchikoff, a former member of the Russian Imperial Secret Police, told a Times reporter about corruption within the Russian police force.
“Everybody in Russian has to pay graft,” he said. “Everything is under the supervision of the police, and the restrictions and regulations upon even legitimate business are so strict and impossible that the payment of graft is necessary to get tolerable conditions. Here only the lawbreaker is compelled to pay graft.”
In 1913 The Real Estate Record & Guide reported that Alfred Wiehl and Eugene Widmann had hired architect Charles H. May to renovate the restaurant. The $300 in improvements would result in a “new grating and stairway.” But the men would not enjoy their renovations for long.
In 1915 the Fusco Brothers moved their restaurant into the building. It would appear that their landlord was now their partner, as well. A few years later The New York Times would mention that Fusco Bros. “is owned by Henry K. S. Williams.”
Unlike the restaurants which were forced to close their doors with the advent of Prohibition; Fusco’s muddled on. On July 2, 1923 the upstairs dining room was taken over by the United States Secret Service Staff for a dinner in honor of Joseph A. Palma, head of the service. About 200 persons attended the tribute to the man The Times said “made a name for himself in rounding up counterfeiters and mail bandits.”
The restaurant’s ability to stay afloat even during Prohibition was possibly explained by a raid on Fusco’s by a “flying squad” of prohibition agents on April 14, 1926. In reporting on the “padlock proceedings” The New York Times mentioned “Fusco Bros., situated in the heart of the financial district [is] said to be patronized by many brokers.”
The Mining Club occupied the third floor of the building until early in 1936. A new club, the Bowling Green Midday Club, took over the vacated space. It was a downtown businessmen’s group; and like many of the others focused greatly on providing an urbane place for lunch.
When the last of the Fusco brothers, Guido, died at the age of 77 on September 27, 1964, the Beaver Street restaurant was still going strong. Run by his sons Mario and Guido, Jr., it survived at least until 1974
Today Wiehl & Widmann’s wine and lunch rooms are home to an Asian restaurant. The lower floors have received a grisly modern makeover. But the upper floors remain relatively intact. The windows of the fourth floor have been reduced in size; but overall Schartzmann’s unique design survives. And above it all Hebe still pours a cup of wine.
|photo by Alice Lum|