Thursday, April 16, 2015

The Phelan & Collender Bldg -- No. 738 Broadway

In 1841 the handsome brick-faced house at No. 738 Broadway was owned by Isaac Jones.  He and his wife, Mary Mason Jones, had moved into No. 734 Broadway in 1839.  There Mary reigned as the queen of New York society in the years before the rise of socialites like Caroline Schermerhorn Astor and Mrs. Stuyvesant Fish. 

James Westerfield leased No. 738 from Jones in the 1840s; but soon subtle changes were being seen in the neighborhood.   The Protestant House of Mercy took over the house in 1855.  On November 10, 1860 The New York Times remarked “Within its walls 187 girls and women have found refuge, and of this number 63 are believed to be doing well.  Twenty were confirmed drunkards when they were received; six have died, and nine are married.”

Along with vice, commerce was inching up Broadway into the once-refined residential neighborhood.  Among the first houses to fall to the new trend was No. 738.   In 1866 real estate investor Augustus M. Selden commissioned architects John Warren Ritch and Evan Griffiths to replace the house with an up-to-date loft and store building.  Completed in 1867, its five-story white marble Italianate façade was a near match to other loft buildings being constructed further downtown.  They would be the prototypes for dozens of cast iron facades in the years to come.

The facade would reappear in cast iron in dozens of similar Soho structures.

Around 30 years earlier Christopher O’Connor had arrived in New York.  He brought with him the knowledge of billiard table construction at a time when the game was nearly unheard of in the U. S.  He founded a billiard table manufacturing company and soon partnered with Hugh Collender, creating O’Connor & Collender.  Then in 1854 another Irish immigrant, Michael Phelan was brought into the firm.  Their consistent improvements to the construction and action of the billiard table, coupled with the fine craftsmanship and materials used, took the company to the pinnacle of success.

After Phelan bought out O’Connor, the firm took the name Phelan & Collender.  Now it moved into the new building at No. 738 as its new “warerooms” and offices.  The Great Industries of the United States wrote “This new and admirably appointed warehouse, at 738 Broadway, New York, is five stories in height, and covers a ground area of twenty-five feet wide by one hundred and six in length, the first and second floors being for the business offices and warerooms, the third for the ivory room, and the fourth for the stock room.”

The company’s massive pool table factory engulfed the entire block on Tenth Avenue between 36th and 37th Streets.  According to The Great Industries of the United States, “From seven hundred to one thousand billiard tables are here made in a year, besides an immense amount of balls, markers, cues, etc.”  There, the same year that the Broadway building was completed, the firm constructed one of its most magnificent pieces.

Across the front of the mammoth 10th Avenue factory reads "Ware Rooms 738 Broadway"  Great Industries of the United States 1874 (copyright expired)

On May 15, 1867 The New York Times reported that “Messrs. Phelan & Collender forwarded yesterday to Gen. Grant, at Washington, a superb billiard-table, which was ordered for his personal use when he was here.”  The newspaper said that it was similar to the others produced in the factory, “but in elegance of ornamentation we presume this has never been approached.”

“The case is of solid blistered and highly polished black walnut; at the joints are plates of gold; at the corners, gilded, are the arms of the United States; on the sides, the General’s monogram; and at the ends a gold plate with the patent and other formal inscriptions.”  The high-end details extended to the accessories as well.  “The appointments of the table are choice and tasteful.  The pockets are of silk netting, the cues white ash inlaid with black walnut, the legs beautifully turned and ornamented like the body.”

While the firm put the value of the table at about $1,400 (nearly $23,000 today), the newspaper assumed it would be “a present from the firm of whom Gen. Grant ordered a plainer and less expensive one.”  The Times felt it necessary to comment on Grant’s pool game, saying he was “by no means a brilliant operator, [but] handles his cut very nicely for an amateur.”

The table depicted above in 1874 was one of the firm's more modest models.  Great Industries of the United States 1874 (copyright expired)

The game had taken hold and by now richly decorated Victorian “pool saloons” had opened throughout the city--enough that later that year the proprietors came together at Phelen & Collender’s offices to standardize the prices for play.  “Some of the room-keepers were in favor of charging 75 cents per hour, but the majority thought that the better policy would be to charge the same as in Boston, Washington and other cities where the time system has been introduced, and it was thereupon resolved that the price should be 60 cents,” reported The New York Times on August 23, 1867.

To solve the problem of space in middle-class homes and, no doubt, to end many a husband-and-wife disagreement, Phelan & Collender developed the "parlor billiard and dining table."  Great Industries in the United States said that "by means of portable leaves and an easily-operated crank, it is made to subserve the purposes of the two tables in one."

The financial success of Phelan & Collender was reflected in the loot stolen by burglars from the office safe here on July 15, 1869.   In addition to the $205.50 in cash were “a few diamond rings, valued at $500,” a gold and silver medal won at the American Institute, another of solid gold presented by the State Society of California, and a quantity of silver plate.  Also taken from the office was a solid silver and gold model of a steam engine, valued at $2,000 and “kept as an ornament in the office” and a small silver billiard table, worth $100.  In total the thieves made off with the equivalent of about $50,000 in plunder in today’s money.

In 1870 Michael Phelan, who came to America penniless with his family when he was just seven, was wealthy beyond his wildest dreams.  That summer he was sailing his yacht in New York’s Lower Bay when the steamer Herald ran full-steam into it.  Phelan was thrown overboard.  The millionaire billiard table manufacturer would never fully recover.

The Sun wrote a year later “Although able to be at his place of business nearly every day, he was always suffering.”  In September 1871 he was confined to bed and within three weeks he died.

An accounting a few weeks afterward listed the physical assets of the company at $79,345.62.  Hugh W. Collender agreed to pay $40,000 for his partner’s half share.  He rapidly changed the company name to H. W. Collender.

An advertisement, shortly after the firm's name was changed, carefully depicted billiards as a respectable family pastime.  The Tribune Almanac and Political Register, 1871 (copyright expired)

When George F. Slosson beat world billiard champion M. Vignaux in March 1882, Collender helped put together a nation-wide fund raising push for him.  The Times reported on March 12 that “The friends and admirers of George F. Slosson have determined to signalize his recent victory over Vignaux at billiards b y presenting him as large a purse of money as can be raised by national contribution.”  It added “H. W. Collender, No. 768 Broadway, New-York City, will receive subscriptions for this purpose.”

Three years earlier Collender had merged his business with that of J. M. Brunswick & Balke Company.  In 1884 they changed the names to the Brunswick-Balke-Collendar Company, or simply the B.B.C. Co.  By the second half of the 20th century the Brunswick Corporation would be a billion dollar conglomerate.

The massive Tenth Avenue Phelan & Collender factory was destroyed by fire in 1883 and it appears that within the year Hugh Collender left No. 738 Broadway and the business offices and showrooms were consolidated into the J. M. Brunswick & Balke space at No. 724 Broadway.

In April 1885 the store and basement were leased to Henry V. Allien & Co. for five years at an  initial rent of $3,000.  A sword cutler and military outfitter, since the end of the Civil War Allien & Co. made mostly ceremonial and officer’s swords.  Later that year Snowden & Bloch, leasing space upstairs, paid $205 to have an iron bridge installed, connecting No. 738 to No. 47 Lafayette Place, directly behind.

The garment industry was beginning to engulf the neighborhood by now and in 1891 the owner of No. 738, Frederick Bauer, hired architect T. Englehardt to update the interiors; no doubt to attract potential commercial tenants.  The $500 in upgrading included an elevator and when the second floor loft became available in 1895, the improvements were obvious.  An advertisement in Clothiers’ and Haberdashers’ Weekly promised “steam heat, electric light, rapid elevator, etc.”

By 1893 the Saulson Cutting and Grading School had moved in.  Pointing out that “it is one of the highest salaried professions,” the school advertised in The Sun on February 23 that year.  “The cutting and grading of gentlemen’s garments taught by an exact science; mathematicians and cutters can be convinced of this fact by calling.”

In 1897 the building was filled with apparel firms, including J. Bernard’s Sons, clothing manufacturers, on the third floor; Davidson & Blankfort; and Carl Buschner, manufacturer of "tassels and drapery" on the fourth floor.  (Davidson & Blankfort was a gentlemen’s clothing manufacturer and in the spring of that year their tailors walked out on strike.)  

On July 27, 1898 fire broke out in J. Bernhard’s Sons shortly before 8:00 at night.  As horse-drawn engines galloped up Broadway, the fire extended upwards into Carl Buschner’s factory.  The New York Times reported “Two alarms were sent in, filling Broadway with fire engines, hose carts, and hook and ladder wagons for two or three blocks and stopping cable cars for more than half an hour.”  The resultant damage was $12,000 to stock, fixtures, and the building.

As the turn of the century came and went, Henry H. Roelofs & Co., hat sellers, operated from the ground floor shop.  J. Bernard’s Sons remained in the building until 1903 when David W. Bernard filed for bankruptcy.  The company was described at the time as “wholesale dealers in Summer clothing.”

The Greenwald Display Fixture Company manufactured and sold “clothing cabinets, wall cases, floor cases and general store equipment.”  On July 12, 1910 “by mutual consent” partners Isador Shafran and Harry Schwartz removed themselves from the company.  Moie Greenwald continued the business here using the same name.  The following year he “made connections with M. I. Himmel & Sons” of Baltimore to represent their line as well.

The Clothier and Furnisher reported “One of the features of their showing at 738 Broadway will be the all-in-sight wardrobe, which has the revolving fixture, giving two hanging rods with the carrying capacity of 120 suits in a floor space of 7 feet by 4 feet.”

A sidewalk bridge is evidence of the last restoration touches in early 2015.

Another fixture company, the See & Ell Clothing System, moved into the second floor loft in 1912.  Upstairs, Morris Findlestein and Hillel Pinefsky operated their Universal Clothing Company, making wearing apparel.

J. Wall was leasing the fourth floor of the building in 1920 when, on January 21 that year, he noticed a personal advertisement in The Sun by “E. P. M.”  The writer inquired as to where “he could buy some very fine bethabera.”   The ad referred to the highly elastic “Bethabera Wood” which a year earlier the Federal Reporter described as “of close texture, hard and resilient and comes from British Guiana.”  The wood was imported into the United States solely for the purpose of making fishing rods.

Wall immediately placed his own advertisement.  “If he will call and see me some afternoon between 2 and 4:30 o’clock I might spare a few pieces of choicest quality, thoroughly seasoned.  I am not a dealer, but an amateur in making rods.”

By the time Bernard S. Deutsch purchased the building in September 1926, the garment district was already moving out of the Broadway neighborhood.  The rental income that year was $12,000, just under $160,000 today.  But there were still a few apparel firms hanging on.

S. Hindleman, a tailor, was in the building as the Depression cast its pall over the nation.   And he seems to have been keeping his head above water.  On April 1, 1932 the Society of Independent Arts opened an exhibition in the Grand Central palace which was deemed an “anti-depression strategy.”  The idea was for struggling artists to trade their artwork for goods and services in lieu of money.

The New York Times reported that the preview of the exhibition “had not been on for an hour before the first barter was effected.  A modernistic drawing by A. S. Baylinson, secretary of the society, was bought by S. Hindleman, a tailor of 738 Broadway, for a suit of clothes.”

Hindleman suggested to reporters that he “was beginning a modern art collection and tentatively selected a half dozen other pictures.”

But before long there were no longer any apparel-related firms in the building.  In the late 1930s Knickerbocker Crafts was here, developing photographic film.  In 1938 it offered “Free de luxe album, negative file and two enlargement coupons” with each order.  Its advertisement promised “prompt service.”

The building was so damaged by fire in the spring of 1941 that demolition seemed imminent.  On May 15 William D. Kilpatrick purchased the charred structure, only to resell it the following day.  The Times noted that “as part of the contract of sale the buyer agrees to erect at least a two-story taxpayer on the site.”

But instead, the new owner repaired the damage and the venerable marble building survived.  It was purchased by the American Bible Society a decade later.

In the 1980s the Noho neighborhood was rediscovered and rusting cast iron buildings found new life as record shops, restaurants and trendy stores moved in.  No. 738 Broadway was well-known to the New York University students for Buss & Co. on the first floor.  The store sold vintage clothing, mostly army surplus, which New York Magazine termed “Surplus Chic.”

Artists and students moved into the former loft spaces upstairs.  One of them did not fit the expected mold.  Craig Medoff was a 32-year old investment banker who, in March 1992, was the suspect in a rape case.  Around 3:30 in the morning of March 4 police officers knocked on his door.  Medoff opened the door “wearing shoes, pants and a military-issue armored vest.”  He had no intention of going peacefully with the police.

Before the sun came up he was “charged with three counts of attempted murder of police officers, first-degree rape, first-degree sodomy, wearing a flak jacket in the commission of a crime and criminal possession of a weapon,” reported The Times on March 5.

In 2013 the building was restored and converted to eight condominium units by the Chetrit Group.  Designed by architect Karl Fischer with interiors by Andres Escobar, the apartments were listed at between $6 and $7.5 million.

The lofts where cloaks and hats were once manufactured are unrecognizable.  photograph
Today the building where wealthy gentlemen shopped for high-end billiard tables may be a bit overly-restored for some; however its survival on this remarkable block of Broadway is a delight.

non credited photographs by the author

No comments:

Post a Comment