Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The Hallenbeck-Hungerford Bldg - 80 Lafayette St





photo by Alice Lum
U. T. Hungerford was the guest of honor at a banquet on Wednesday night, December 14, 1922 at New York City’s Hotel Biltmore.  It was a celebration of the metal mogul’s 80th birthday.  Hardware Dealers’ Magazine summed up the industry’s estimation of the man saying “Because of his prominence and years of uninterrupted service in his chosen field, Mr. Hungerford is by many called the ‘Dean of the Brass and Copper Industry.’”

photo Hardware Dealers' Magazine, January 1922 (copyright expired)

By the time of the dinner, Hungerford was also president of the Hungerford Securities Corporation, founder of the Hallenbeck-Hungerford Realty Corporation, and was involved with several other firms related to the copper industry.

Hungerford was born into the copper business.  One of 12 children of John and Charlotte Austin Hungerford, his father had built the first brass mill in Torrington, Connecticut in 1834.  U. T. Hungerford arrived in New York in 1865 as the representative and manager of Wallace & Sons, a brass and copper rolling mills in Ansonia, Connecticut; then established the U. T. Hungerford Brass & Copper Co. in 1895.

The firm’s success was unparalleled and by 1909.  Its 10-story building at the southeast corner of Park and Pearl Streets bordered on the area condemned for the construction of the new Court House.  The City tossed around the possibility of including the U. T. Hungerford building as part of an extended site.

Frustrated, Hungerford and his partner in the real estate firm of Hallenbeck-Hungerford took matters in their own hands.  They purchased land on the southwest corner of Lafayette and White Streets, extending through to Franklin Street, and began plans for a new structure.  “Harry C. Hallenbeck stated last week that he has waited upon the city for about four years to formulate a decision as to what it intended doing, and had become so tired of the delay that he proposed to begin the reconstruction of the lower portion of the Park and Pearl Streets building,” reported The New York Times on July 20, 1913.

The Real Estate Record & Builders' Guide published a sketch of the proposed building on May 23, 1914 (copyright expired)

The plans for the new building were well underway by the time of The Times article.  In January that year The Bridgemen’s Magazine had announced that W. E. Austin had filed plans for a 17-story printing house with an estimated cost of $1.2 million—a jaw-dropping $27.5 million today.

On May 23, 1914 the Real Estate Record & Builders’ Guide reported that the tenant list of the uncompleted building was already filling.  “U. T. Hungerford Brass & Copper Company will occupy the ground floor, basement and second floor.  The Wynkoop, Hallenbeck, Crawford Company will occupy about four floors.  Several leases will probably be signed with other tenants within the next few days, as the demand is heavy for space from lithographers, printers, publishers and the diamond trades.”

A real estate advertisement cautioned prospective tenants that space was almost gone -- New York American Real Estate Review and Forecast 1915 (copyright expired)
By now the cost of construction had risen to $2 million.  The Guide called William E. Austin’s design “the most modern building in all its appointments downtown, and is particularly adapted for tenants using heavy machinery, where strength is necessary.”

The New York Times anticipated on April 26, 1914 that the completed building “will be the finest manufacturing building down town.”  It mentioned modern conveniences like “fast contraction elevators, mail chutes, lowerators, ventilating system, etc.”

Architecture & Building published two views of the completed building in December 1915 (copyright expired

The new Hallenbeck-Hungerford building was completed before January 1915 when Architecture and Building reported on its structural integrity and mechanical operations.  It paused in its engineering report to notice that “The marble work, mosaic and tile work was done by D. H. McLaury Marble Company, the hallway on the Lafayette Street side being paneled in marble of rich appearance.”

The lobby was decidedly no-nonsense despite the gnome-shaped brackets and "marble of rich appearance" Architecture and Building December 1915 (copyright expired)
Austin had used granite for the three-story Gothic base.  Cast metal spandrels, two-story arches and carved stone details carried on the Gothic motif.  Above, nine stories of buff brick were barely ornamented; but were capped by three stories of exuberant terra cotta that picked up the Gothic theme.

High above the street whimsical gnomes and heraldic shields carry on the Gothic theme -- photo by Alice Lum

Like Architecture and Building, The Inland Printer, in March 1915, was most interested in the engineering aspects of the structure.  But it made special note of one innovative item.  “Rest-rooms have been provided for women employees.”

As intended, the building’s ability to support massive loads drew lithographers, printers and related firms.  Among the first tenants was Craske-Felt Company, Inc., electrotypers.  “Curved lead mould a specialty,” announced an advertisement in 1917.

In January 1918 the United States Marine Corps took over the Ford Instrument Company when a strike got out of hand.  The plant was manufacturing wartime articles necessary for national defense which were deemed “highly confidential.”  When 250 men walked out because a foreman had fired a fellow employee, manufacturing could not cease.

According to The Sun on January 12, Ford Instrument officials called the police for protection.  “The dilemma was then referred to the Department of Justice, which in turn communicated with the Navy Department at Washington.

“As a result, for the first time since the beginning of the war a company of United States marines marched into the city last night and took charge of the plant.”  The presence of the military changed the minds of the strikers.  “At a later hour in the night Jules Breuchaud, president of the concern, and John B. Goldsborough, treasurer, said that the trouble had been adjusted.”

photo by Alice Lum

A month after the marines left Lafayette Street, the Hallenbeck-Hungerford Building would have something even more serious to contend with.  As the structure was still rising Building Systems Design had reported on the innovative air cooling system that used cool water from a deep well in the building’s basement.  The water would also be used for “flushing purposes.”

But someone decided that the artesian well water could be used more generally.  The Sun, on February 20, 1918, wrote “the owners sank an artesian well on the premises in May, 1915.  Water was pumped to the roof and distributed to washrooms and drinking faucets.”

What seemed like an efficient use of free, clean water turned out to be disastrous.  Julia Healy was 24-years old in 1915.  She and her sister, May, were both employed by Lupton Press in the building.  In August that year the sisters and other girls employed in the firm began to notice a strange taste and color to the water.

Julia and May Healy died within 14 hours of each other on September 13, 1915.  A Board of Health inspector found colon bacilli in the water—the sisters had died of typhoid.  At least a dozen other girls working in the Hallenbeck-Hungerford Building contracted the disease.

On February 19, 1918 a jury ruled in favor of Dennis Healy, the girls’ father, in a lawsuit against Hallenbeck-Hungerford Realty.  He was awarded $5,000 for Julia’s death.  A similar suit for May’s death was still pending.

The publicity of the tragic deaths may have discouraged some applicants when their former employer ran an advertisement in the New-York Tribune on September 14, 1919.  “Good pay, congenial surroundings, permanent positions, opportunity for rapid advancement for intelligent young ladies over 16 years…F. M. Lupton, Publisher, 80 Lafayette st. N.Y.”

The year 1919 was one of intense labor disputes within the printing industry and tenants of the Hallenbeck-Hungerford Building had their hands full.  On October 1 The Evening World reported “Further walkouts of compositors were features of the day’s developments in the labor disturbances in New York’s printing industry.”  The workers demanded a 44-hour work week and $50 scale.

At some companies, workers walked out en masse; at others foremen were informed by workers one-by-one that they were “going on a vacation.”  Among the printing firms struck that day was that of Isaac Goldman in the Hallenbeck-Hungerford Building.  Four days later the compositors of Lipschitz Press walked out, to be followed on October 9 by the workers at Bradstreet’s “in a demand for shorter hours,” explained The Sun.

The Hallenbeck-Hungerford monogram appears in the arch spandrels -- photo by Alice Lum

In the meantime U. T. Hungerford Brass Co. continued to prosper.  The successful operation demanded skilled office help and on March 14, 1920 an advertisement was placed in the New-York Tribune for a Dictaphone operator.  “Experienced, accurate transcriber, able to turn out neat, well-written work; hours 8:30 to 5; half day Saturday; state age, experience and salary desired.”  Five months later the firm was looking for typists.  “Experienced operators on Underwood machine.”  The hours were the same; but salary was “depending upon ability to produce.”

The building continued to attract large printing firms.  In August 1922 the Klim, Lindner & Bauer lithographer firm took the entire 15th floor, signing a 10-year lease at $200,000.  The same year McClure Publishing, producers of McClure’s Magazine, was in the building.

Gardiner Binding was also here in 1922--a long term tenant -- American Printer and Lithographer December 20, 1921 (copyright expired)

Around 1970 the tenant list changed from printers and publishers to governmental offices.  The Department of Consumer Affairs, the Union Dental Center and the Child Welfare Administration all had their offices in the building until 1998.

photo by Alice Lum
Then, in 1999, New York University converted the massive structure to Lafayette Hall, a residence building housing nearly 1,100 upperclass students.  It was the scene of a bizarre accident in November 2013 when student Asher Vongtau, 19 years old, went missing for two days.  He was found wedged at the bottom of a 2-foot wide shaft between the building and a parking garage.  Somehow Vongtau had fallen off the roof and become stuck between the buildings where he was trapped for 36 hours before being discovered.

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