Monday, July 20, 2015

The Lost Parepa Hall -- 201 East 86th Street

A tiny brick house on Third Avenue and a rural frame residence on 86th Street testify to the character of the undeveloped area.  photographer unknown, from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York[Northeast%20corner%20of%2086th%20Street%20and%203rd%20Avenue.]-2F3XC5IOH532.html

Three years after the end of the Civil War construction and development of New York’s Upper West and Upper East Sides were once again well underway.  On May 9, 1868 the Real Estate Record and Builders’ Guide pointed out that “Our city real estate owners have at least hit upon a plan to protect their own interests, and at the same time help forward all needful metropolitan improvements.”

It started with the West Side Association—a group of real estate operators who balked at the extension of the grid plan of streets and avenues above West 59th Street.  The Record and Guide reported “The happy results derived from the organization of the West Side Association, has led to the formation of an East Side Association…These gentlemen have definite and worthy objects in view, and deserve and will no doubt achieve success.”

The Record and Guide predicted that “when the Island is built up” these organizations will have been responsible for “a noble system of piers and wharves, steam roads where they are needed, streets parallel with Broadway, a wise and cheap ferry system, an abolition of overcrowding nuisance in our city cars.”

The East Side Association was incorporated on February 29, 1868.  The first act of incorporation set forth the construction of a headquarters and library, not to exceed $250,000—an astounding amount in post-Civil War dollars.

In November that year the Association spent $60,000 for four plots of ground at the northeast corner of 86th Street and Third Avenue “on which they propose to erect a large building to cost in the neighborhood of $80,000 or $90,00 for a public hall, library, reading-room, lodge-rooms, stores, etc.,” said the Record and Guide.

The publication editorialized “This is something very much needed in Yorkville and will have the effect of exciting an interest and activity among the property-owners of that section of the city.”

What resulted was less a real estate operators’ “clubhouse” than an all-encompassing community center.   Located in a still sparsely-developed neighborhood, the new building, Parepa Hall, commanded attention. The entrance portico was centered on the 86th Street side, flanked by the stores that comprised the entire street level.  Cast iron columns were separated by surprisingly large plate glass shop windows.

Above, two floors of brick and contrasting stone were punctuated by lancet-like openings, grouped in bundles of three and four.  A nearly-vertical mansard, covered in polychrome slate tiles arranged in geometric designs, was interrupted by gables and towers—most notably the corner tower with its four-sided roof.  A most unusual feature were the flaps of the mansard, propped open by heavy brackets, which served as permanent awnings.

In addition to the library, reading rooms and Association offices, Parepa Hall offered offices to groups and businesses, a large lecture hall and auditorium capable of seating 1,000, and other leasable spaces.   The Yorkville Young Men’s Christian Association moved in, and hosted lectures as part of its services to the community. In November 1874, for instance, George Vandenhoff gave a “reading from Shakespeare, the poets, and Dickens.”

Unfortunately for the East Side Association, Parepa Hall was losing money.  They lost the building in foreclosure in April, 1874.  Charles E. Quackenbush and two partners purchased it for $103,000.  The men turned the property around financially, successfully marketing the Hall as a multi-purpose venue.

On April 7, 1875 the Yorkville Masonic Lodge, called the Architect Lodge, took space here.  “The event was a grand one,” reported the Masonic Standard.  The Lodge would remain in the building until 1894.

A month after the Masons moved in, Ann Eliza Young gave a lecture in Parepa Hall.  Hers was undoubtedly one of the most startling to date.  The New York Times reported that on May 17 “Mrs. Ann Eliza Young (nineteenth wife of Bringham Young) will lecture at Parepa Hall…Subject—‘My Life in Bondage.’”

Ann Eliza Young would become an outspoken opponent of polygamy -- photo from the collection of the Library of Congress

As churches were still scrambling to provide places of worship in the rapidly-developing area, the Y.M.C.A. conducted services at Parepa Hall.  In 1877 Rev. A. J. Palmer praised their efforts.  “Their service of song in Parepa Hall, every Sunday at 4 P. M., is regularly attended by vast congregations.”

Also catching up with the needs of the growing population was the New York City Police Department.  In 1878 Rooms 1 and 2 in Parepa Hall were being leased for $360 quarterly “for use of Third Inspection Police District.”

A variety of political, social and neighborhood groups met in Parepa Hall.  The Yorkville Citizens’ Association was among them.  Among the issues they addressed in their November 14, 1879 meeting were expensive elevated train fares and liquor in Central Park.

A member reported on the response he received from Parks Commissioner Wenman when he questioned the selling of liquor in the park.  Wenman lashed back “There are a great many old fanatics fooling around to see what they can find out, and if they want to run things, they had better come down here and run the department themselves.”

The same man was no more successful when he reported on a meeting with the Directors of the Roads, regarding a reduction of fares on elevated railroads.  “The officers of the company had asserted that they thought they had done a good deal in acceding to the wishes of the community by reducing their fares to 5 cents during the hours when the working classes were going to and from work, and they thought that was all the public should ask for until the roads had a chance to see what the effect of the wear and tear’ on the roads would amount to.”

During the Presidential election year of 1880, the Parepa Hall Garfield and Arthur Campaign Club was organized and met here.  It was the beginning of a long tradition of political groups meeting in the hall.

Theaters, opera houses and music halls were inconveniently downtown; so Parepa Hall doubled as a concert hall for Upper East Side residents.  On February 27, 1881 conductor Leopold Damrsch, father of Walter Damrosch, conducted The Harlem Mendelssohn Union here. The Times deemed it “an excellent organization.”

The Y.M.C.A. was still here and hosting lectures in 1882 when it scored a coup in obtaining Oscar Wilde as a speaker.  Wilde appeared in Parepa Hall on November 27 that year giving the cumbersomely-named lecture “On the Practical Application of the Principles of Home Decoration with Observations on Personal Dress and Ornaments.”

According to the New-York Tribune the following day, “He said this century was responsible for more bad art than all the other ones put together.  Modern statues with their double-breasted bronze waistcoats added a new horror to death...Instead of teaching children that criminal record of Europe which is still called history, and getting them to learn the names of countries they would never care to see—a study entitled geography—children should be taught to use their hands in the practice of some handicraft.”

While Wilde was in New York in 1882 Napoleon Sarony photographed him in the same velvet jacket, knee pants and silk stockings he wore to Parepa Hall photograph from the collection of the Library of Congress

Wilde instructed the audience on how to dress, recommending “an eclectic method n choosing dress from other ages, and mentioned Athens, Venice and England during the last century as excelling in various particulars.”  It was perhaps this part of his lecture that prompted all of the New York City newspapers to describe his own attire.  The Tribune reported “He was dressed in the suit familiar to former audiences, consisting of a black velvet coat with a profuse ruffle, knee-breeches and low shoes.  He wore black silk stockings.”

The police department had increased its rented space in the building by 1885.  Parepa Hall now housed the Third and the Fourth Inspection Districts; however the rent had been lowered to $480 per year.  The same year the Board of Education was paying $2,000 a year for rooms used as Grammar School No. 37.

By 1886 the Hall became home to the Pastime Athletic Club.  The organization routinely staged boxing and wrestling tournaments. In November 1887 featherweight Little Billy Burke was preparing for a Pastimes tournament when his trainer realized he was four pounds overweight on the morning of the bout.

He told a reporter from The Evening World, “I put him in a Turkish bath.  It only took a pound and a half off; so I slapped him in again and got off another pound and a half.”

It was now 6 a.m. and the boxing match was scheduled to start in two hours.  Still a pound and a half too heavy, the boxer was put in a heavy overcoat and his trainer “made him run in the slush from Broome street to Eighty-sixth street behind a Third avenue car, while [his trainer] stood on the back of the platform.”  

Little Billy Burke weighed in at half a pound within the limit.

The Metropolitan Rowing Club established its clubrooms here, as well.  On January 19, 1889 it hosted an athletic exhibition that included “unscientific youths” who “pummeled each other with very fat gloves,” according to The New York Times.  The newspaper reported on other events that night.  “Prof. Kimble gave an exhibition of club swinging, the Metropolitan Quartet sang to songs of religious sentiment, George Oman lifted heavy dumbbells, and Wallace Ross nearly wiped a rowing machine out of existence in showing various styles of rowing.  Messrs. Leonard and Henry engaged in some Lancasture wrestling, in which Henry, although the lighter, proved himself the better man.  The affair was well attended.”

Actress Etta Shackelford found herself in an uncomfortable position here in April 1891.  She was performing with the Lake Specialty Company and while on stage, a sneak thief stole her street clothes and hat from the dressing room.

On April 22 The Sun reported that Policeman Mullen had caught William C. Dessell, “but did not recover the property.”  The newspaper said “Miss Schackelford had to go hone in her stage costume and a borrowed bonnet.”  The thief’s mother later found the stolen clothing and returned it.

By the spring of 1891 wholesale grocers Sonn Brothers had branched out into real estate investment.  In May that year they purchased Parepa Hall for “between $110,000 and $120,000” according to the Record and Guide.   “The purchasers contemplate extensive alterations and improvements which will include passenger elevators, etc.” it reported.

Among the changes made by the Sonn Brothers was the name—it was now called Renwick Hall.  Here on December 5, 1892 Frank Damrosch organized a uptown branch of his People’s Singing Classes.  The New York Times estimated that 800 persons gathered for the classes.  “They ranged from the young and giddy to the elderly and sedate.”

The venue continued to be a favorite of political groups, like the mass meeting of German-Americans on January 23, 1894 who gathered to endorse the nomination of Isidor Straus, co-owner of Macy’s Department Store, and William L. Brown for Congress.  And it was here that Theodore Roosevelt addressed a crowd on October 12, 1895, saying in part “Tammany stands straight and square upon a platform which favors a dishonest enforcement of laws.”

The school board was still playing catch-up in regard to school buildings and the growing population.  On October 26, 1896 Superintendent John Jasper addressed the problem of 431 children who were turned away from School No. 77 for lack of space.  “There is Renwick Hall on Third avenue and Eighty-sixth street,” he wrote, “which was formerly used as a school, also a church, Eighty-sixth and Lexington avenue, one of which might be rented.”
When the Hall was sold again in April 1899 the Real Estate Record and Builders’ Guide said “This comprises a splendid hall with galleries, and a number of stores, offices, etc., and is one of the most valuable corners on 3d avenue.”

As had been the case in 1891, the sale to the New York Life Insurance Company would result in a name change.  Now called Lyceum Hall it continued its function as a multi-purpose facility and became a favorite of the ever more powerful labor unions.   In 1916 Lyceum Hall was the center of union activities when thousands of New York traction car employees went on strike, partially paralyzing mass transportation.  No sooner had that labor problem been settled than the Subway-Elevated Motormen struck.  Meetings and negotiations for that dispute were also carried out here.

By 1929,when this photograph was taken, the building was barely recognizable -- from the collection of the New York Public Librar.

The glory days were quickly drawing to an end for the aging structure, however.  In the 1920s the fully-developed Upper East Side was filled with modern office buildings and theatres.  The Victorian pile had outlived its usefulness as originally intended.   By the dawn of the Great Depression its 19th century architectural elements--including the quirky corner tower--had been removed and the brick and stonework stuccoed over.  In 1937 the once-impressive Parepa Hall was converted to a bakery.

In 1986 the unrecognizable building was replaced by the 35-story apartment building, The Colorado.


  1. the absolute best buildings are always the first to go! That kind of architecture is what i refer to as "dream architecture". the stuff you see tucked away in old storybooks or a person's dream. Reminds me of the old courthouse in my hometown of Salisbury, MD. Do you have Flickr ? Or any other type of photo account with New York pictures?

    1. I do not have any photo account like that. Sadly.