Saturday, December 31, 2016
P. H. Frost was a minor player in the real estate game in 1861. That year he (or a relative--the deed reads "R. H. Frost," a possible typo) purchased the property at No. 262 Canal Street. Frost became a pioneer in the trend that was transforming Canal Street from a neighborhood of small brick houses and shops to a commercial thoroughfare.
Within the year he had replaced the old building with a modern cast iron fronted store and loft structure. The tripartite design included the ground floor storefront, and near-matching sections of two-story arcades. The openings were vertically separated by paneled pilasters, and horizontally by spandrel panels decorated with blind arcades. The elaborate modillioned cornice included foliate scrolled brackets and a handsome paneled frieze.
Frost invested well. The property which was assessed at $9,000 when he bought it was now assessed for tax purposes at $22,000--more than half a million in today's dollars.
Nevertheless, it appears P. H. Frost may have had a bit of trouble finding or keeping tenants. And he still called the ground floor space a "new store" in advertising its availability in March 1868. A year later the retail space and the floor above it were still vacant. He advertised in The New York Herald on April 8, 1869 "A first loft New Store--262 Canal Street, near Broadway, to let; low price."
Frost, whose real estate office was nearby at No. 31 Crosby Street, eventually filled his building. By 1871 J. E. Deacon had moved his dry goods store from No. 13 Barclay Street to the ground floor, and dry goods importers Smith & Lupton had taken space upstairs.
Frederick W. Smith and James Lupton had two other locations-- one at No. 22 Walker Street and another in London. The firm apparently overspent in 1871 when it purchased $5,000 worth of merchandise from London wholesalers James and John Fletcher.
In a desperate attempt to be paid, John Fletcher traveled to New York in September 1873. He was frustrated when the accounting books were moved from one location to another. Finally the trans-Atlantic law suit landed in New York Supreme Court in 1874.
While the Smith & Lupton case was being heard, J. E. Deacon had his own problems. On Monday, February 2, 1874 a delivery of goods was unloaded onto the sidewalk in front of the store. A thief made off with one of the boxes. More than a week later the expensive goods had not been recovered.
Deacon placed an advertisement in The New York Herald offering a $250 reward for "one Case containing 24 pieces of pepper and salt mixed Cassimere...Stolen from Front of store No. 262 Canal street." Desperate to recover his expensive fabric--known as cashmere today--Deacon's reward would equate to more than $5,300 today.
In 1905 the New York Woven Label Manufacturing Co. was in the building. The firms operations were large enough that that year it bid on a contract for U.S. Naval goods.
Within two decades carpeting dealers settled on the Canal Street block. The Empire Carpet Co. operated its showroom at No. 268; and by 1922 the National Carpet & Rug Store was in No. 262. In 1926 the Lack Carpet Company shared the building as well.
A "motor truck" driver for Lack Carpet Company that year was Nathan Brown. While making a delivery on August 23 something went horribly wrong. As he approached the intersection of Grand and Clinton Streets Brown lost control. The truck slammed into a street car, throwing the passengers to the floor and causing chaos and panic.
The New York Times reported "Several girls had been thrown down and trampled on when Patrolman Charles Mencken of the Clinton Street Station, aided by several civilians, restored order." Of the 40 passengers several were injured, as were five people standing on the platform including a policeman.
Apparel manufacturers replaced the carpeting companies in the 1940s. Avi Wear Manufacturers, Ltd. and Dee Bee Manufacturing Co. shared the building in 1946 with the patriotically-named Victory Bed Lamp Co.
That year a freak accident killed a mason doing repairs in the building. Brickwork on the third floor was being repaired by 36-year old Emilio Massi on August 20. As he leaned into the open elevator shaft, the cables holding the elevator on the fourth floor snapped. The car plummeted, striking and killing him.
Throughout the next few decades the building was home to a variety of small businesses. Pablo Adler, importers; Murray Distributors, "general merchandise;" and Elgin Instrument Case Co. were all here in the 1950s; and in 1962 United Artificial Fruit, Inc. took space.
Major change came around 1984 when McDonald's took over the entire building. The cast iron store front was most likely already gone by now and an applaudable effort to mimic the upper floor arches in brick was made. The restaurant engulfs the lower two floors, its mechanical room the third, and the top floors are vacant, hidden behind blacked-out openings.
While restoration of other cast iron buildings in the immediate vicinity included light colors; the facade of No. 262 Canal Street was painted a funereal black--making it the Darth Vadar of the block. Nevertheless, the early commercial structure holds its own among the more grandiose structures in the neighborhood.
photographs by the author
Friday, December 30, 2016
Things were changing in the first decade of the 20th century. New Yorkers were seeing gas lighting slowly being replaced by electricity, the use of telephones in offices and even in apartment buildings, and the gradual edging out of horse-drawn vehicles by automobiles and trucks.
The block of East 83rd Street, between Park and Lexington Avenues, was a mish-mash of private carriage houses, old three-story houses, and tenements. At No. 127 East 83rd Street a narrow tenement building stood next to a vacant lot. John Henry Yockel recognized a need and purchased the two properties from Charles Gulden and Andrew Smith in May 1908. The New-York Tribune noted "the buyer will improve with a five story fireproof garage."
There were between 200,000 and 400,000 motor vehicles in America that year; and another development was in the works. Only the wealthy had been able to afford an automobile--the average car costing about $2,500 or around $66,400 today. But in 1908, the same year Yockel laid plans for his garage, Henry Ford introduced the Model T, priced for the masses at $825. The age of the car garage was dawning.
Architect John Hauser completed plans for the "four-story brick and stone garage" in July. The Engineering Record noted construction costs would run $50,000, in the neighborhood of $1.3 million today. What might have been a surprising figure, considering the utilitarian nature of the structure, was partly due to the engineering necessary for a building holding the weight of 100 automobiles. And it also had to do with Hauser's lavish design of the facade.
The exuberant Beaux Arts building sat on a stone base with four wide elliptically arched bays, each with a hefty scrolled keystone. Above, two three-story arches dominated the red brick facade, the spandrel panels of which overflowed with rich terra cotta cornucopia, ribbons and cartouches. Below the crenelated parapet was a frieze of terra cotta arches, each containing a shell in deep relief. The machinery for the elevator and other functions were housed in a rooftop tower. The New York Times mentioned one engineering feat inside, saying "The ground floor forms a large open floor space without any pillar obstructions."
It appears that John H. Yockel overextended himself in the ambitious project. Foreclosure action began in 1909, and when the property was scheduled to be auctioned on February 24, 1910, Yockel owed more than $86,000 in two mortgages, plus taxes and other costs at more than $4,400.
John H. D. Meyer paid $89.425 for the garage, a significant $2.3 million in 2016 dollars. He quickly transferred title to the Duford Garage Company, which not only stored its clients vehicles, but serviced them.
In November 1910 Engineering Review noted that the Duford Garage had installed a "very successful appliance, consisting of a combination oil separator and sewage ejector." The article explained in length the environmentally-friendly system which handled petroleum waste products while ensuring they did not make their way into the sewers.
|Engineering Review was impressed with Duford's innovative waste system. November 1910 (copyright expired)|
"The Duford is one of the most up-to-date garages in the city, accommodating about 100 cars, and is provided with a waste stand on each floor connected to a 4-inch main waste line, which connects with the separator." The complicated system was designed "to avoid any possibility of the oils passing through the discharge lines to the sewer."
The new owners continued to make improvements, and in April 1911 commissioned architect William M. Farrar to "alter toilets" and make other interior adjustments. The renovations to the still-new structure cost $4,000.
Millionaire George Gould housed his vehicles in the Duford Garage, although his mansion was relatively far away at No. 857 Fifth Avenue at 67th Street. Following his daughter Marjorie's marriage to Anthony Drexel, Jr. in April 1910, he shipped a touring car to Europe with them so they could motor from country to country at ease. British chauffeur Beresford Watson was hired to drive the newlyweds on their honeymoon. When the Drexels returned home, their driver and "the machine" came along. The Sun noted that Watson "came to this country and obtained employment with Mr. Gould."
In addition to being a capable driver, George Gould's new chauffeur was apparently resourceful. In January 1911 the metal license plate on the same car that Watson had driven in Europe fell off. Gould wrote to the Secretary of State for a replacement. In the meantime, Watson knew he could not drive a plateless car, "so the chauffeur made a leather one of the required size and painted the proper number on it," according to The Sun.
On February 7 Beresford Watson retrieved the touring car from the Duford Garage. He soon discovered that not everyone appreciated his inventiveness. "He was running through Central Park on Tuesday, when Policeman McGuire served him with a summons," reported The Sun.
Watson explained to the judge, "We have done all we can do to comply with the law." Magistrate O'Connor agreed, saying "There is no evidence here that this man intended to break the motor vehicle law and I discharge him."
|An advertisement listed the many services available. The Tammany Times, February 24, 1912 (copyright expired)|
The Duford Garage assisted its clients in selling their vehicles, as well. On November 3, 1912 an advertisement appeared in the New-York Tribune, offering the "Latest model six-cylinder Fiat touring" car. The vehicle, which had cost its owner $5,000, was selling for a bargain $3,000. A few years later, in 1920, David Helier offered his Alco five-passenger touring car, in "good condition" at a "very reasonable price." Helier suggested that a new owner might convert the chassis "into Truck or Working Car."
|A wonderful detail is seen in the two large leaves which spill from below the carved shells onto the scrolled keystones of the upper arches.|
The expensive automobiles housed in the Duford Garage were threatened in April 16, 1914 when a massive explosion occurred just outside its doors. The New-York Tribune reported "A gas pocket, which had formed in the sewer under East 83d st., exploded last evening with a force which blew every manhole cover between Lexington and Park aves. forty feet into the air...Windows all along the block were shattered, and sheets of flame shot into the air."
A policeman named Kupec was blown into the street and badly bruised. The concussion threw a plumber, Joseph Bernard, who was working in the basement of No. 131 East 83rd Street, against a boiler, badly burning him. "He may lose his sight," noted the newspaper.
In the meantime, employees at the Duford Garage scrambled. A massive gasoline tank was located directly under the 83rd Street sidewalk. Should it explode, the results would be disastrous.
The Tribune said garage men "stood guard with pails of sand while the gasolene was pumped from a tank underneath the sidewalk to one in the rear of the garage." The threat was made more obvious when it was realized that the gas pipe line supplying the tank "was warped and broken."
John Stafford, treasurer and director of the Duford Garage, was 42 years old when the nation entered World War I. Despite his age, he volunteered for service in the Army and on October 29, 1918 was made a Second Lieutenant with the Motor Transport Corps.
Stafford ran the Duford Garage until 1931 when he retired at the age of 55 "to enjoy the leisure that he had always promised himself," according to The New York Times. He and his wife, Grace, lived in a "large semi-colonial structure" in Flushing, Queens, and he now spent his time working on the lawns and flower beds. In May 1932 he started the project of painting the trim on his large brick home.
He had been painting a kitchen window on May 31, standing on a wooden box. When he quit for the day, he left the crate there. The seemingly innocuous move proved fatal. As the Staffords were sleeping, a burglar made use of the box to cut a hole in the window screen and enter the house.
Around 3:45 in the morning, Grace woke and noticed Joseph was not in his bed. "A moment later, she was terrified by a flash of light and a pistol shot coming from the darkness of the guest bedroom across the hallway," as reported by The Times. Stafford had surprised the burglar, who rushed past Grace in the dark hallway.
"Mrs. Stafford ran into the bedroom, switched on the light and saw her husband's body lying on the floor. He had been shot in the head at close range." Just one year after selling the Duford Garage to enjoy his retirement, John Stafford was dead.
The garage played a part in a murder investigation in 1995. A female jogger was murdered in Central Park in September and investigators scrambled for clues. A suspect had been spotted on Fifth Avenue and investigators told reporters he "might still be found with the help of the witness, tentatively identified as John T. Steuerer, 50," who had initially given police his report; but had been lost.
On September 23 The New York Times reported "On Thursday, [Police Commissioner William J.] Bratton made a public plea to the witness, who was driving a 1992 gray Nissan with a personalized license plate that began with the word SOBER, to come forward and repeat his story."
Within hours an anonymous tip came in, saying the car was at the 83rd Street garage. Steuerer was found (his license plate was SOBER82) with the help of garage attendant Robert Lawson. He had been unaware that the police were looking for him. Later Assistant Chief John J. Hill said he had been "very, very helpful."
The operation here continues its venerable tradition by calling itself the Duford Studios (sounding a bit more residential than the garage it is). And other than a coat of paint on the ground floor stonework and a joining of the two western-most bays; little has changed to John Hauser's ebullient 1909 structure where the limousines of millionaires and the Toyotas of the not-so-rich have come and gone for more than a century.
photographs by the author
Thursday, December 29, 2016
By the Civil War years, thousands of immigrants were pouring into the Lower East Side. The three-story brick house at No. 80 Forsyth Street and the little two-story dwelling in its rear yard were home to a few of them. The family of one tenant in the back building, however, had been in New York at least for one or two generations. In her advertisement for work in The New York Herald on October 3, 1865, she clearly differentiated herself from her neighbors.
HOUSEKEEPER'S SITUATION WANTED--By An American widow woman. Call at 80 Forsyth street, in rear, first stoop.
By 1874 the property was owned by the Schwartz family. That summer C. Schwartz hired builder A. Shappel to convert the front house to accommodate a store for Anthony Schwartz. The alterations cost $200. Schwartz described his shop as selling "furniture, &c." And he proudly listed "two pianos" among the inventory the following year--surprisingly upscale items in the impoverished neighborhood.
At the time the immigrant population in the neighborhood was changing. Between 1859 and 1880 the number of Jews who settled in New York City had doubled--from 40,000 to 80,000. Before the turn of the century, Forsyth Street--only about eight blocks long--would see the arrival of several synagogues.
On March 28, 1881 the Congregation Kol Israel Anshe Poland (Community of Israel, People of Poland) purchased No. 80 Forsyth Street for $12,000, about $287,000 today. The small congregation took out a mortgage for 50 percent of the cost.
Their renovations made the old brick structure nearly unrecognizable, other than the Italianate pressed metal cornice. Two story Gothic-arched windows at the upper floors were separated by round openings--all of them filled with stained glass originally, no doubt. They were united by a single, slightly protruding brick eyebrow. Wrought iron fire escapes incorporated stars of David into the design.
|Close inspection reveals the Stars of David within the wrought iron fire escape designs.|
The conversion, completed by summer of 1882, included a mikveh, or ritual baths, on the ground floor where Anthony Schwartz had exhibited his two pianos. Congregation Kol Israel Anshe Poland did not intend to operate the baths, however; and in August signed a 10-year lease with Solomon B. Oschinsky, charging him $400 per year. What must have seemed to be a savings of time, expense and trouble would cost the synagogue in the end.
The City taxed the congregation $670.30 on the property every year from 1881. So Congregation Kol Israel sued in 1885, "asserting that as the property was used for religious purposes, it ought not to be taxed," said The New York Times.
Prior to the trial, which was not held until May 2, 1888, the City did some investigating. While "the congregation said that the baths were a feature of its religious ceremonies and that the expense of sustaining them was defrayed by the members of the congregation," officials found that Solomon Oschinsky was operating it as a business.
"But the city proved that the baths were used, not only by the members of the congregation but by all Hebrews who wished to use them," reported The Times. Upon that evidence, Judge Lawrence decided that the synagogue was liable for the taxes.
All the while the synagogue was the scene of weddings, funerals and services. Later that year, for example, on October 18 the "happy synagogue wedding," as described by The Evening World, of Rachel Rosenthal to J. Doniger was celebrated here.
The somewhat lavish event was in stark contrast to the often-gritty surroundings. The newspaper noted "The bride wore a dress of white satin, with trimmings and draperies of cream plush and white lace. A long bridal veil was fastened in her hair by a wreath of orange blossoms. Her ornaments were diamonds and pearls." After the ceremony the guests "were received in Everett Hall, where they sat down to a bountiful supper, after which they danced for several hours to the music of Wollenberg's orchestra."
Among the first congregants in the synagogue were Samuel A. Samuels and his wife. In 1882 he purchased two pew seats, both given the number 10. A clause in the pew deed clearly noted that should the congregation ever relocate, "the said Samuel A. Samuels shall be entitled to the same seat in such other Synagogue." The trustees of the congregation apparently did not take the wording so literally as did Samuels.
In 1892 Congregation Kol Israel Anshe Poland sold the synagogue, as it moved into its new, expansive shul at Nos. 20-22 Forsyth Street. Samuels was enraged when he realized that the pews allotted to him and his wife were numbered 20--not 10--and he demanded his rightful numbers. The trustees refused, explaining that the relative location of the pews was the same, just not the numbering.
Samuels was unmoved and sued Congregation Kol Israel Anshe Poland to "redress the wrong which he claims to have suffered by reason of not having been allotted seats No. 10," according to court papers. Although lawyers for the synagogue argued that the wording "same seat" referred to location and not specific number; the courts ruled in favor of Samuels. What is unclear is whether the synagogue had to renumber all the pew seats; or whether Samuels and his wife were simply relocated.
In the meantime, No. 80 Forsyth Street became home to Beth Hamidrash Sha'arei Torah, also known as Sharo Torah. An early New York congregation, it had been formed in 1856. In 1906, the same year it celebrated its jubilee, it hired architect Nathan Langer to make "extensive alterations" to the synagogue, as described by the Record & Guide on March 24.
Many of the tenements in the neighborhood were dangerous firetraps. Such was the case with the five-story building at No. 69 Forsyth Street, nearly opposite the synagogue. At around 3:30 on the morning of June 21, 1925, fire broke out here. The New York Times reported "All the six families in the house were aroused from sleep to find their rooms ablaze at the side and rear, and exit by the stairs cut off by flames that extended from the street level to the top." Among those trapped were the widow Freda Marks and her three sons, one of whom was an invalid, on the fifth floor.
Because the fire originated in the entrance hall on street level, the wooden stairs quickly burned through all the floors. One of Mrs. Marks's neighbors, Louis Rosen, lived on the second floor with his wife and two children. He later told reporters that he "opened his door to the hall and stair and was met by a gust of flame. There were no rear fire escapes and his rooms at that end were afire."
Rosen tossed his children from the front windows to the arms of men on the sidewalk. Then he lowered his wife and dropped her before jumping to the street himself.
Firemen found the Marks boys, 19-year old Alexander, "a semi-paralytic," Theodore and Benjamin all unconscious on the floor. The Times reported "Mrs. Marks, who was 55 years old, was found dead on her bed, suffocated by smoke." With the smell of smoke from the burned out building still pungent, the funeral of Freda Marks was held in the synagogue later that afternoon.
By 1930 Sharo Torah would leave Forsyth Street and by 1946, when the Manhattan Store Fixtures Company purchased No. 80 Forsyth Street, it was described as a "loft building." The neighborhood would see incredible change beginning in 1965.
In 1882 the Government had passed the discriminatory Chinese Exclusion Act which essentially banned all immigration from China. The restriction was slightly eased in 1943 when exactly 105 Chinese per year were allowed. Then, in 1965, the Federal Government did away with the quota system and, as had been the case with Eastern and Middle Europeans a century earlier, Chinese arrived by the thousands and settled in the Lower East Side.
Two years before the change in immigration law, the former shul at No. 80 Forsyth Street had been purchased by abstract artists Milton Resnick and his wife Pat Passlof. They converted it to two apartments--a duplex in the basement and ground floor, and another on the top floors.
Resnick and Passloff lived in worked out of No. 80. His works are represented in prestigious galleries like the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington D. C., the National Gallery of Art, and the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. Passlof, an abstract expressionist, had studied with Willem de Kooning. Resnick died in 2004; and Passlof died of cancer at the age of 83 on November 23, 2011.
The building was sold in 2013 to, according to a Wall Street Journal article, "help fund a foundation to showcase [Resnick's] artwork and advance the legacy [Pat Passlof] thought he deserved." The sale helped form the Milton Resnick and Pat Passlof Foundation, a non-profit organization to preserve, exhibit and publish works by the two artists, was well as "other painters working out of that tradition."
Today the former synagogue is painted an industrial green, and is surrounded by vinyl awnings with store names printed in Chinese characters. The venerable structure which has seen such tremendous change is easily overlooked by the casual passerby.
photographs by the author
Wednesday, December 28, 2016
In 1830 the house of dentist John M. Howe was erected at No. 104 Grand Street, at the corner of Mercer Street. By 1875 it had been replaced by a two-story brick "store." John Melchers operated his saloon here. He ran afoul of the Excise Sunday Law on March 12, 1876.
Before turning his men out that evening, Police Captain McDonnell instructed his patrolmen "to watch all liquor stores on their posts carefully," according to The New York Herald the following day. Liquor was pouring freely in the Grand Street saloon, and Melcher was arrested.
Six years after the incident, on December 11, 1892, real estate operator James Sterling Bearns purchased No. 104 Grand Street from Henry W. Niemann. He paid $40,000 for the property, an astonishing $1 million in today's terms. The value was not in the two-story building; but in the corner plot in a neighborhood which was by now filling with modern commercial structures.
Bearns commissioned architect Julius Kastner to design a replacement building. The two men would work together on other such projects in the coming years. The Grand Street building was completed in 1893. Kastner had produced a five-story brick, stone and cast iron building which married Queen Anne and Romanesque Revival styles.
The ground floor was highlighted with stone courses which produced a striped effect. A slightly projecting bay at the second floor distinguished the Grand Street elevation. Grouped openings continued uninterrupted for three floors, embraced by cast metal. The elliptical arched openings on the Mercer Street side with were trimmed mostly in brick; although the fourth floor windows received stone sills, and rough-cut stone keystones set off the second story openings. Here Kastner created dimension by inwardly-telescoping the brick window framing. The top story changed course, turning to groupings of three Romanesque arched windows which sat snugly upon a plain stone cornice.
Bearns quickly leased the ground floor space to George N. Rottmann. The five-year lease cost Rottmann $5,700 per year. Like John Melchers, he opened a saloon.
The upper floors, accessed on Mercer Street, were leased to manufacturers and wholesalers. In 1890 the second floor was home to silk merchants John Lutz & Son; the third floor was leased to Herbert West's "tailor's trimmings" store; and Lapidus Brothers was on the fourth floor. Owned by Abraham and Hyman Lapidus, the firm manufactured pocketbooks.
Herbert West had only been in the building for a year (he had moved his business from No. 814 Broadway in 1889) when he suffered about $1,000 in damage to his stock. On March 22, 1890 Policeman Michael Savage was walking by the Mercer Street doorway when he noticed water flowing out from beneath it.
He propped a ladder against the fire escape, then climbed upwards, peering into the windows until he found the source of the problem. Someone had left a faucet running all night in the Lapidus Brothers factory. The water "had flooded the greater part of Herbert West's store," reported The Sun the following day.
Luckily for the other merchants, after ruining West's stock, the water flowed down the stairs instead of pouring through the ceilings below. The Sun said no harm was done to John Lutz & Son's silks and satins, "or to the frescoing in George Rottmann's saloon on the ground floor."
Herbert West knew where to point blame for the negligence. He told a reporter "I shall be getting my bill for Mr. Lapidus ready by and by."
Lutz & Son was still doing business here as late as 1908. They were joined by leather merchant Harris Weisbaum around that time. Weisbaum's declaration of bankruptcy in 1912 would seem to most to have been the worst of his problems. It was only the beginning.
On November 21 he was convicted of fraud after it was discovered he had hidden $3,100 worth of merchandise from auditors. Judge Mayer "ordered the bankrupt to be kept in prison until he turned over to the creditors $3,100, the value of merchandise which Wiesbaum secreted from [them]," according to the New-York Tribune on November 21.
The creditors' attorney told reporters that "this was the beginning of a movement on the part of wholesale leather dealers to rid the trade of fraudulent bankrupts."
Much less controversial was tenant McMann & Taylor, which was here at least until 1918. Dealers in plumbing apparatus, specifically pipes and fittings, the firm had been in business since 1862, starting out as Norris, King & McMann.
The employees of many manufacturers at the time formed their own athletic teams for after-work relaxation. McMann & Taylor's employees formed a bowling team to participate in the New York Supply Trade Bowling League. They were apparently better at selling plumbing supplies than in bowling. In 1906 Sanitary and Heating Age reported on its losses to two other teams on January 9.
By 1920 the Mercer Lunch Co. ran its luncheonette in the space once occupied by George Rottmann's saloon. Among the tenants upstairs were the American Christmas Tree Outfit Co., and the Star White Goods Mfg. Co.
James S. Bearns had been married to the former Ella Louse Darlington. Following his death the Grand Street property passed through the family until Ella's estate sold it in June 1943. The New York Times remarked "this was the second conveyance of the property in 113 years." At the time the property was assessed at $16,000 (in the neighborhood of $220,000 today).
The new owners, J. Kalfus Co., commissioned architect Herman Wolff to update the old structure. The $4,000 in improvements, the plans for which were filed in August 1950, were to include "store, offices and storage."
By the third quarter of the 20th century the Soho neighborhood around No. 104 Grand Street was experiencing a rebirth. Old factories and warehouses were converted to art galleries and residential spaces. In 1997 Mimi Sheraton of The New York Times remarked "Although it lacks immigrant fervor, this segment of Grand Street is home to strivers of another kind, those with dreams and aspirations in the creative arts: painting, sculpture, fashion, designs in graphics and home accessories, and cookery.
A 1975 renovation at No. 104 Grand Street resulted in "joint living-work quarters for artists" on the upper floors. By the time of Sheraton's article, George Rottmann's former saloon was home to Cucina Della Nonna; a restaurant whose menu was inspired by Italian grandmothers.
Today Marissa Webb's stylish women's apparel and accessories boutique is in the ground floor behind vast show windows which replace George Rottman's saloon front, long ago erased. Otherwise, Julius Kastner's small, eye-catching 1884 structure survives little changed; a surprising presence among Grand Street's expansive cast iron and stone-faced loft buildings.
photographs by the author
Tuesday, December 27, 2016
On June 7, 1892 The New York Times published an article entitled "A School With a History." It was a fitting headline. The Collegiate School was founded in 1633 by Adam Roelantsen who took the position as its first schoolmaster. The establishment of a school reflected the importance of education held by the Dutch settlers--New Amsterdam had a population of only about 100 at the time.
The West India Company funded the school. Roelantsen was succeeded by Jan Stevensen in 1639. When he returned to Holland in 1648 Peter Stuyvesant wrote to the Classis of Amsterdam pleading for "a pious, well qualified, and diligent schoolmaster." In response William Verstius was sent to fill the position of "schoolmaster, of consoler of the sick, of reader of the Psalms, and of chorister for the Dutch Church."
During the 17th century, graduation was accomplished through the public "catechising of school children." The schoolmaster was required by edict to appear in church with the scholars and "after the close of the sermon to examine the pupils in the presence of the ministers and elders in relation to Christian commands and catechism."
The transition from Dutch to English control was not so simple as modern history readers might think. The 1892 Times article noted that in the late 18th century "the English language had gained such headway in the colony that there were frequent discussions in the church over the advisability of employing teachers who should instruct both in English and in Dutch." The debate continued until the outbreak of revolution.
The Collegiate School closed in 1776 when the British took possession of the city. It would not reopen for seven years. The free school, by now, often catered to those unable to pay for instruction. The Times noted "The church undertook to provide clothing for many of the scholars, as well as to support the school by money donations."
Although operated separately from the Reformed Protestant Dutch Church, the ties between the Collegiate School and the Collegiate Church were strong. The school had seen a long series of locations when the church planned its relocation to the Upper West Side in 1890. Architect Robert W. Gibson was commissioned to design a complex of buildings including the church, a chapel, and school.
Completed in 1892 at the southeast corner of West End Avenue and 77th Street, Gibson's Flemish Renaissance Revival structures offered an unmistakable nod to the Dutch roots of the school and church. The design of the church was based on a 17th century guildhall in Haarlem. The architecture flowed uninterrupted along 77th Street to the chapel, and then the Collegiate School building.
|The school building (far right) formed part of the picturesque group of buildings. photo from the collection of the New York Public Library|
Much less grandiose than its ecclesiastic neighbor, the school was clad in matching beige brick trimmed in terra cotta and limestone. Ambitious stone voussoirs created sunburst effects above several of the openings and a Flemish gable adorned the central pavilion. Gibson completed the design with a square tower capped by an open octagonal deck. Atop it was an antique weather vane in the shape of a rooster "which has ornamented the spires of several of the old churches, now long passed away," said The Times.
The two entrances on opposite sides of the structure were explained by an advertisement in The Critic. Noting its "New School house," the ad was for the Collegiate School for Boys and Girls. The co-educational trial would be short lived, however; quickly returning to its boys-only status.
|The school as it appeared in 1904. To the left is the chapel building. Atop the tower the rooster weather vane can be seen. A Brief Account of an Historic Church, 1904 (copyright expired)|
In reporting on the new building's completion, The New York Times reminded readers that the school "is a secular educational establishment;" despite being founded by the Dutch Reformed Church. "The Faculty are all laymen of different forms of belief."
"The school house has large and handsome lecture rooms, and the top floor is taken up with a spacious gymnasium...There is also a boxing class for outsiders, and there are already several private classes of ladies and gentlemen who have taken advantage of the gymnasium lessons and instruction in the art of self-defense."
The Year Book of the Reformed Protestant Dutch Church described the building. "This School-house, designed and built for the Collegiate School, has direct light and air on four sides. The class-rooms are very large, with every detail of ventilation, heating and sanitary arrangement carefully planned and thoroughly constructed. The house is used for School purposes only, the boiler for steam heating and the janitor's rooms being in another building."
The basement held the "Lunch-room," a drillroom and a playroom, opening onto a paved yard "for outdoor exercise and drill." Twice a week, for 45 minutes, a United State Army Officer supervised military drills. "The hours are so arranged that no lessons are interfered with," noted the Year Book.
The concept of what today would be called a school cafeteria was in its infancy. The Times said "Among the innovations is the serving of a substantial hot luncheon to pupils who do not wish to bring with them the old-fashioned and indigestible school-basket repast."
Although the church and the school were officially separate (The Times had noted that if church members wanted to take advantage of the school's facilities, like the gymnasium, they had to enroll); religion was still a significant part of the instruction. The Year Book of the Reformed Protestant Dutch Church wrote "The daily opening exercises consist of a 'Recital of the Creed,' responsive reading of the Scriptures, prayer and singing. Instruction in the Bible is regularly given as part of the course of study."
The curriculum of the Senior Department, equivalent to today's high school, seems exhausting to 21st century minds. Students were instructed in "Latin, Greek, Arithmetic, Algebra, Geometry, Trigonometry, Physical Geography, Ancient and Modern History, Physics, Chemistry, English Literature, French, German, Drawing, Penmanship, Composition and Declamation."
By 1895, when principal Lemuel C. Mygatt described the school for a newspaper, it was once again teaching only boys. He noted some of the modern additions to the curriculum. "The school is equipped with all apparatus and laboratory supplied required for preparatory work in chemistry and physics." There were also "a darkroom for the use of the Camera Club, and lockers for the baseball and football teams."
Before long there would be another Club in the building--the Mycological Club. The students, interested in the study of mushrooms, met once a week. They were disappointed on May 24, 1897 when their plans for gobbling down their specimens was aborted.
"Many fine specimens of mushrooms were brought to the Collegiate School on Seventy-seventh Street last evening by members of the Mycological Club," reported The Times. "It had been promised that there would be a chafing dish at hand and the members were to have opportunity to become mycophagists--eaters of mushrooms--as well as mycologists." Sadly, school officials stepped in, pointing out a rule forbidding open flames in the schoolrooms.
In 1903 the Collegiate School reported on its status; while noting that the aim remained "to give thorough and well-ordered instruction under Christian influences." The quality of education received by the students was reflected in the 127 graduates during the past 12 years who had entered Amherst, Brown, Columbia, Cornell, Harvard, Princeton, Rutgers, Williams and Yale. The school had always kept its enrollment purposely low--at around 100 students--"that the individual may receive proper attention," according to Year Book.
The Collegiate School, now the oldest private school in Manhattan, prepared for its 300th anniversary in 1933. The present headmaster, Dr. Cornelius Brett Boock, commented that after three centuries the school was still rather conservative in its approach. "We are not a progressive school in the modern sense of experimentation with educational methods. New ideas when they have been proved good ideas are included in our programs."
The six-day celebration began included a church pageant, the unveiling of a bronze tablet marking the event, and a procession from the school to the church and back again. The guest list at a dinner held in the school on the last night of celebrations included Dr. W. P. Montyn, Consul General of the Netherlands.
No visitor was more esteemed, however, than Crown Princess Julian of the Netherlands who was honored in the school on May 23, 1944. She was given a cum laude key and certificate after morning chapel exercises. In her acceptance she mentioned "As you and I know, this school was founded in 1638 by the Netherlands West Indies Company. Through the centuries your school has been able to maintain a Dutch tradition, and even to this time many of the pupils are of Dutch descent."
The exclusivity of the school continued throughout the 20th century. In 1959 it had an enrollment of 353, increased by 25 students the following year. Headmaster Carl W. Andrews, Jr. told reporters "We have turned down many whom we would have been happy to have in past years."
The student body was composed of the sons of some of Manhattan's wealthiest citizens, including John F. Kennedy, Jr. and Eric Madoff. Perhaps surprisingly, a significant number of graduates went into the entertainment business. Included among these were Cesar Romero, Peter Bogdanovich, David Duchovny, and Jason Beghe. There were politicians--New York State Senator Bill Perkins, New York City Deputy Mayor Anthony Shorris, and U. S. Representative Paul Hodes, for example--and authors like novelist Douglas Kennedy, editor Bill Kristol, playwright John Weidman, and screenwriter David Wise.
Since 1892 the school had leased the building from the West End Collegiate Church. In 2006, according to the Observer, the church "requested back the space it had been leasing to Collegiate, declining the school's offer to buy the building." The article said the school would relocate to "a modern, new campus on an oddly shaped block of Riverside Boulevard between 61st and 62nd Streets."
An announcement from Collegiate School board on February 5, 2013 confirmed the report. Board Chairman George R. Bason Jr. estimated the move-in date for the new facility, costing between $125 and $135 million, would be the summer of 2017. It will end a 125-year tradition in Robert W. Gibson's quaint and picturesque building.
photographs by the author
Monday, December 26, 2016
|Cosmopolitan Art Journal 1860 (copyright expired)|
In 1820s the neighborhood of Broadway and Broome Street was filled with brick faced homes. At No. 495 was the boarding house of Eunitia Bicknell. Among her respectable boarders were William Purcell, sexton of St. Thomas' Church, and his wife Adelaide who worked as a milliner.
But by the middle of the century those residences were quickly being demolished and replaced with commercial buildings. Eunitia Bicknell's house was the site of the St. Nicholas Exhibition Room by 1854; where entertainments like Campbell's Minstrels and White's Serenaders were staged.
That year William Emerson Baker was in New York from Boston, where he and his partner William O. Grover manufactured sewing machine. The former tailors had improved the earlier machines, building on the 1846 patent of Elias Howe. Grover had by now received six patents of his own and the Grover & Baker machines were the fiercest competitors of Isaac Singer's devices.
The New-York Daily Tribune reported on August 10, 1854 that Baker had been approached by a man who identified himself as the Prince of Monaco. "Mr. Baker of Boston, who is now in this city with the sewing machines of Grover, Baker & Co., declares that a man answering the description of the Prince's factorum, called upon him and offered to trade rights in land in the principality of Monaco for a sewing-machine! The Prince, failing to annex his pen-patch kingdom to the United States, offered to trade his presumptive rights there-in for a Yankee sewing-machine."
Although the attempted ruse seems incredible today; the innovative sewing machines were indeed drawing the attention of European royalty. Prince Napoleon Bonaparte had purchased one from North and Avery, for constructing military uniforms; while his sister, Princess Matilda, bought a Grover & Baker model. The Tribune said "a little war is said to have taken place in the Court, all about the respective merits of the Yankee sewing machines. The Empress stood umpire to the contending parties."
By 1857 Grover & Baker had opened a showroom at No. 495 Broadway. Their machines were not only functional, but decorative. The cast iron bases were ornamental and the cabinetry was finely crafted. The New-York Daily Tribune noted on January 9, 1857 "Grover, Baker & Co. employ, to a considerable extent, the cabinetwork cases by Ross & Marshall, of this city, which makes the machine an ornament and by no means the least really valuable ornament of the sitting-room."
Newspaper advertisements for Grover & Baker's "Noiseless family sewing machines" began noting in September 1859 that they could be seen "temporarily at 501 Broadway." The reason for the short-term abandonment of No. 495 Broadway was that the firm was updating its building. George H. Johnson, architectural designer for Daniel Badger's Architectural Iron Works, fashioned a remarkable Gothic Revival facade for the formerly unremarkable structure.
|Illustrations of Iron Architecture, published by the Architectural Iron Works in 1865, reproduced the design. (copyright expired)|
Grover & Baker was in its refurbished home early in 1860. The elaborate iron facade was dominated by a screen of Gothic tracery and thin twisted colonnettes within a three-story arch. The firm's name was emblazoned on an entablature above a complex Gothic corbel table. The cornice was crowned with intricate filigree cresting.
Cosmopolitan Art Journal admired the remodeled building, saying that the firm's success was so great "that the establishment of Grover & Baker has become one of the features of Broadway--for its magnitude and beauty. The front of their edifice...is composed wholly of cast iron, arch, fret work, cornice, window frames and all, showing how beautifully this metal is adapted to building and ornamental purposes."
The material allowed for previously impossible expanses of glass. The two ground floor windows were 14 feet high and five feet wide; each a single pane of plate glass. The second floor, where the Ladies' Parlor was located, held windows 10 feet tall. Cosmopolitan Art Journal wrote "Entering the place the observer is at once in a large and elegant sales room, twenty-five feet wide by two hundred feet long. The sales room which is elegantly furnished, is lighted by seven chandeliers, of six burners each."
Along the right side were counters and cabinets for the sale of needles, thread, and other sewing supplies. The opposite side of the selling floor displayed the sewing machines.
|Ornate cabinets held sewing supplies in the elegant ground floor showroom (left). Upstairs, buyers learned how to operate their new purchases. Cosmopolitan Art Journal 1860 (copyright expired)|
Upstairs, buyers were instructed on using their new machines in the Ladies' Parlor. "Skillful and obliging lady operators are in attendance, to render necessary assistance, and an hour or two generally suffices to initiate the most inexperienced into the mysteries of the whole thing."
Testimonials reprinted by Grover & Baker seem, at times, a bit exaggerated. In November 1860 the New York Christian Advocate and Journal said "We know one lady whose appreciation of this machine, after a trial of years, is such that she would part with almost every other article of household furniture before she would allow it to be taken."
The use of the sewing machines was put towards the war effort after rebellion erupted in the South. On November 13, 1862 The New York Times advised "The Ladies Relief Association, at the Rooms of Grover & Baker, No. 495 Broadway, ask contributions in money, or material to be made into clothing for the soldiers. Donations of yarn will be very acceptable."
Grover & Baker continued to improve their product. They developed the first portable sewing machine and in 1863 were awarded their tenth patent. The Home Journal remarked on April 13 that year "we...[have] recently seen some ladies' cloaks elaborately embroidered with this Sewing machine. The work seemed to excel anything executed by hand labor. Beside being more rapidly and cheaply executed, the work has a more regular and consequently a much more beautiful appearance."
|Less expensive and more portable machines, like this one, were less ornamented. Harper's Weekly, April 11, 1863 (copyright expired)|
Things were going extremely well for the firm. In 1865 Grover & Baker was producing 1,000 machines per week. Domestic models, called "Family Sewing Machines," ranged in price from $45 to $100; about $1,500 for the most expensive model in today's dollars.
The company received a financial jolt in 1867 when fire broke out in the cellar packing room at around 6:00 on the evening of February 22. Although firemen responded quickly and "by their energetic labors, succeeded in subduing the flames before they had reached the upper floors," as reported by The New York Times, there was $25,000 in lost stock, only $15,000 of which was insured.
George H. Johnson's elaborate Gothic facade was falling from favor at around the same time. In July 1869 John Buckingham spoke on "Iron Construction" before a meeting of the New York Draughtsmen's Association. The Real Estate Record & Builders' Guide reported that he "made some very sarcastic remarks on the building on Broadway occupied by Grover and Baker, that it was 'just a big iron window stuck in front, without a particle of design about it.'"
|An undated stereopticon slide captured the unique building. from the collection of the New York Public Library|
But Grover & Baker had other problems to concentrate on. Despite their constant improvements, by 1870 their technology was outdated and their patent protections were expiring. The Financial Panic of 1873 decimated sales and forced them to leave No. 495 Broadway. Two years later the company was taken over by the Domestic Sewing Machine Co. and production of the Grover & Baker machines was halted.
No. 495 Broadway was taken over by woolen cloth merchants Edson Bradley & Co. The firm was run by Edson Bradley; his son, William G. Bradley; son-in-law Hugo Hoffman; and a Mr. Church. Unfortunately, the Financial Panic dealt a disastrous blow to their company as well.
Edson Bradley, described as "being fifty years of age, five feet ten inches in height, and weighs 220 pounds" with "grey hair and florid complexion," lived in Westchester County. On Sunday afternoon, December 21 he left in a horse and buggy, saying he was going to take a drive. But he never returned home.
After friends and family supposedly did an exhaustive two-day search, the police were notified. The New York Times said that relatives "also state that Mr. Bradley has a large amount of money in his possession when he left his home, and it is supposed that he has been foully dealt with."
What the family did not know was the creditors of Edson Bradley & Co. had been having him followed by private detectives. Bankruptcy proceedings had been discontinued when he promised that "given time he would be able to collect most of the firm's notes, and settle on a basis of seventy cents on the dollar."
When Bradley went for his "drive" that Sunday, he ended up in Brooklyn at the home of his son-in-law, where the partners of the firm, except for Church, plotted. Detectives followed Bradley and his son to the Fifth Avenue Hotel. On Christmas Day The New York Times reported "The elder Bradley escaped out of the ladies' entrance, and started for the Grand Central Depot." A detective followed him to Buffalo, where he stopped to telegraph his son, and then to the Clifton House hotel in Canada. He had with him $70,000 in gold.
On December 27 The Times updated its readers, denouncing the family's suggestions of "'aberration of mind,' 'mysterious disappearance,' and other charming theories with which the neighborhood and anxious creditors were entertained."
Hugo Hoffman confessed everything to police. When he returned to his Brooklyn home, guarded by a detective, The Times said "Here his wife and Mrs. Bradley proceeded to upbraid him in anything but gentle tones for what they termed his falseheartedness and treachery to the other members of the family." All three men were arrested and charged with a number of offenses.
No. 495 Broadway saw a rapid turnover of owners from 1887 through 1890. Butler Brothers occupied the building by 1894. Founded in the 1870s by brothers Edward, George and Charles Butler, the importing firm opened its New York location in 1880.
Like Grover & Baker, Butler Brothers would have to temporarily move out of No. 495 when its landlord, Jeremiah C. Lyons commissioned architects Buchman & Deisler to replace the old building with a modern commercial structure.
|photograph by the author|
Completed in 1898 the New Era Building, an Art Nouveau tour de force, survives. And despite its masterful design, one cannot help but wish the extraordinary Grover & Baker building were still around.
Saturday, December 24, 2016
Thaddeus Moriarty arrived in New York with his parents from his native Ireland in 1851 at the age of 8. He left school when he was 15 and took a job as an office boy. Within a year he was promoted to cashier and bookkeeper, and then to traveling salesman at just 16. Although he had learned the dry goods trade, in 1863 the 25-year old partnered with James Jordan to form the furniture retailer Jordan, Moriarity & Co.
|Thaddeus Moriarty in 1897 The Tammany Times, December 6, 1897 (copyright expired)|
In 1897 The Tammany Times would say of him “The same qualities which had made him successful in the service of others brought him success in his own enterprises and his business steadily increased.” The article noted “In `1889 Mr. Moriarty purchased three lots in East Twenty-third street, between Third and Lexington avenues.”
Twenty-third Street was the center of the retail furniture trade at the time. Well-known manufacturers and dealers like George C. Flint Co. and Robert J. Horner lined the street with their impressive buildings and showrooms. Now Jordan, Moriarty & Co. joined the trend, and commissioned architect Albert Wagner to design what The Tammany Times would call “a magnificent 7-story building” and “one of the largest furniture establishments in Greater New York.”
Wagner filed the plans in September 1890. The Engineering Record reported that the projected cost of the new building would be $100,000—in the neighborhood of $2.7 million in 2016. Construction was completed nearly a year to the day later and on September 13, 1891 Jordan, Moriarity & Co. announced its grand opening would be held September 21st through 23rd.
The announcement said in part “We have erected…a new warehouse, built especially for the furniture and carpet trade. As this is the only house ever designed and erected solely for that purpose in New York city, it is interesting to the sightseer.” It added that the items offered there were “suitable for the spacious mansion or the modest home.”
|In its opening advertisement, the firm noted "New Buildings, New Furniture." The Evening World, November 23 1891 (copyright expired)|
Albert Wagner had successfully married the Renaissance and Romanesque Revival styles into a brick, stone, and cast iron emporium. The boxy proportions of the building were eliminated by three grand arches filled with cast iron-framed openings. The Romanesque motif was carried out in the heavy cast iron masonry supports, rough-cut stone bands, and the handsome arcade at the top floor. Renaissance Revival was introduced in the delicate carved panels, the upper frieze and the bracketed cornice.
As the firm had promised in the grand opening announcement, it offered both high- and low-end furniture. In 1893 Jordan, Moriarty & Co. put its brass and enameled iron bedsteads on sale. A “very neat white enameled and brass-trimmed” bed was being sold for $5, down from $12. And a “massive white enameled and brass rod-top bedstead” could be had for $7.12. The sale ad promised it was “worth at least $15.00.” (The sale price for the lesser-expensive model would be equal to an affordable $136 today.)
|Wicker rockers were available in 1911 for $1.99 The Evening World May 3, 1911 (copyright expired)|
In 1913, exactly half a century after starting business, Jordan, Moriarty & Co. was in financial trouble. In June that year a receivers’ sale was ordered by the United States District Court. The auction continued for several days, until the entire seven floors of furniture was sold. The auctioneer’s announcement said in part “This stock consists of High-Grade Furniture, Carpeting, Draperies, etc., and must be sold as speedily as possible, regardless of cost.” Included, of course, was the fine Jordan, Moriarity & Co. Building.
The building sat vacant for months; and then on April 18, 1914 fire broke out on the fourth floor. The Insurance Press reported that the flames “spread to roof” and put the damage to the building at $25,000. The fire-damaged structure was offered at auction by the estate of Margaret Cockburn.
The War Industries Board, formed on July 28, 1917, prohibited the application for new buildings or alterations. And so the Jordan, Moriarity & Co. Building still sat vacant and charred when the union Trust Company finally sold it to the newly-formed 155 East Twenty-third Street Corporation in June 1918. It was assessed by the city at just $170,000.
Happily, five months later the War Industries Board authorized the Mayor’s Committee on National Defense to “act on all applications for new buildings or alterations to buildings where the cost of the work ranged between $10,000 and $25,000,” as reported in The Sun on November 16. The article noted that permission to alter the Jordan, Moriarity & Co. Building was given “for use of the Water’s Hospital Supply Company.”
The alterations were completed early in 1919 and Water’s Hospital Supply Company moved in. The manufacturer was founded in 1898, making “everything for hospital and surgical work.” When the renovated building opened the firm employed 93 men and 40 women throughout what was now a seven-story factory. With proper Edwardian discretion, the women worked only on the second floor. They were thus shielded from any unsavory language or behavior on the other, men-only, floors.
The Water’s Hospital Supply Co. remained in the building until 1952, although part of the ground floor space was given over to a new post office branch in 1936. When Water’s Hospital Supply moved out, the ground floor retail space became home to Monarch House, Inc., a contemporary furniture store; while the upper floors housed Childcraft Equipment Company.
The upper floors were converted to apartments in 1976. Perhaps the building’s most infamous resident was Joey Skaggs who lived here by 1981. A painter and sculptor, Skaggs began earning notoriety in the 1960s with noticeable pranks such as attaching a 50-foot bra to the front of the U.S. Treasury Building on Wall Street in 1969.
While living in Suite 405 here in 1981 Skaggs took on the pseudonym Dr. Joseph Gregor and announced he had created Metamorphosis. He purported that the “cockroach extract” would cure “arthritis, acne, menstrual cramps and enable people to survive high doses of radiation.” The hoax, like his others, was intended as a non-malicious prank on the media and public.
|Although the brick has been painting and the spandrel decorations filled over, the integrity of the upper story design mostly survives.|
Albert Wagner’s storefront survived, rather amazingly, until 2000 when it was removed and replaced with what might be described as grievous. His upper floors, however, survived embattled but greatly intact from the days when homeowners shopped for brass beds and oak dining tables.
photographs by the author