Saturday, December 16, 2017

The John & Hannah Burrows House - 112 West 17th Street


Originally a stone stoop led to the parlor floor.  Very close inspection reveals the scares of the openings just above the  storefront awnings.
On November 30, 1850 auctioneer A. J. Bleecker advertised the "private sale" of the property at No. 82 West 17th Street.   Included was "The Front and Rear House and Lot Ground."  Back buildings were common at the time.  Sometimes they were a small stable or shop; but in this case it was a two story wooden house with a brick basement.

Bleecker's announcement described the newly-constructed main house as "built of brick, 3 stories high, with basement and counter cellar, finished in good style, with marble mantels in parlor, &c."  It featured an attractive convenience--running water--described as "Croton water throughout."  Bleecker noted that the houses had been custom-built, stressing "both built by the owner."

The red brick main house, designed in the lately popular Greek Revival style, was trimmed in brownstone.  Its no-nonsense wooden cornice included a simple fascia board and blocky brackets.

The property did not sell until March the following year, bringing $6,000 at auction, just under $195,000 today.  It became home to John and Hannah Burrows, a respectable middle-aged couple.

Upon her husband's death in 1857, Hannah rented rooms for income.  Her advertisement on January 18, 1858 read "A widow lady, having more room than she needs, can accommodate a gentleman and lady with a neatly furnished back parlor; board for the lady; no other boarders taken."  Why Hannah offered to feed the woman but not the man is puzzling.

Her first boarder was "Miss Tice" who was possibly a school teacher.  She moved in at a time when New York City was plagued with a rash of burglaries.  And not long afterward, in May 1857, she became a victim.

Two months later, on July 25, The New York Herald wrote "Since the arrest of Cancemi, the Italian burglar and murderer, persons who have lost property within the last few months, have been besieging the property clerk of the Police Commissioner with description of their lost property and applications to see if any of it is among the articles found in Cancemi's possession."  Among those besiegers was Miss Tice.   Her list of expensive-sounding stolen goods was identified as Lot No. 56:

Miss Tice, 82 West Seventeenth street, lost about two months since: Red crape shawl, white [crepe shawl], silk velvet cloak, set of furs, tan colored silk dress, black silk basque, 3 mantillas, plain and figured; figured silk dress, 8 lockets, one with a likeness and chain; 7 breastpins, 3 pair earrings, 2 bracelets, cameo.

Hannah Burrows was 62 years old in 1858 and it appears she needed help now that she was taking in more boarders.  An advertisement in The New York Herald on January 26 that year sought "A girl to cook, wash and iron...must be cleanly and active."  Hannah offered wages of between $4 or $5, presumably depending on experience.  It was acceptable pay for an unskilled girl, equal to about $150 a week on the higher end.

The following year another widow, Mrs. Bloodgood, had taken rooms in the house.  On December 2 she suffered an emotional loss when she dropped her pocketbook in an Eighth Avenue street car.  Inside were a pair of gold earrings, $1.65 in change and "an old American silver dollar."  She placed a plea for their return in The New York Herald offering a $5 reward.  "The Pocketbook and silver dollar were the gifts of a deceased husband," she explained.

Hannah rented the rear house to black families.  There were four families living in the two-story building in 1861.  That fall a horrific accident occurred.

Peter Johnson and his wife lived in the second floor.  She was about 40-years old and severely afflicted with rheumatism.  Alone on the evening of September 30 between 8:00 and 9:00, she was carrying a lit kerosene lamp when she fell.  The New York Herald reported "One of the occupants of the lower part of the house heard Mrs. Johnson scream murder, and ran upstairs.  On entering the room witnessed [her] on the floor, in one blaze of fire, and the flames at the same time rushing out of the bedroom."

The unfortunate woman had already burned to death.  Fire fighters extinguished the blaze, but all the families were essentially wiped out.  The article said "The greater part of their household effects were destroyed by fire and water."  Saying the house was owned by "Mrs. Burroughs" [sic], the newspaper put the damaged to the little building at $500.  Hannah's losses were covered by insurance; but sadly "The tenants were not insured."

Hannah continued to hire young girls to help with the chores.  In August that year she advertised for "A smart, tidy girl to do general housework; must be a good washer and ironer, willing and obliging."  She made certain that applicants did not intrude into the marble manteled parlors.  "Apply at 82 West 17th st.; basement door."

In 1868 West 17th Street was renumbered, and Hannah Burrow's house became No. 112.  She died there on the morning of May 18 that year at the age of 72.  Her funeral was held in the nearby home of her daughter, who was married to John Roberts, Jr., at No. 205 West 18th Street.

The new owners continued to rent rooms, and like Hannah Burrows, were particular in their boarders.  An advertisement in The New York Herald on April 24, 1872 was clear;  "Desirable rooms--three, private house, gas and water, to a good party, without children."  And two years later a similar ad listed "Four cosey unfurnished rooms, on second floor, to a gentleman and wife; house private; no children; water, gas and closets; excellent neighborhood; rent $18."  The rent would equal a little over $390 per month today.

By around 1880 the house became the property of George D. Pitzipio and his wife, the former Adriene Owens.  The Pitzipio family was well-to-do and owned several other buildings throughout the city.  Adriene was the great-granddaughter of Lt. Jonathan Owens, earning her a membership in the Daughters of the American Revolution.

By now Sixth Avenue was a major shopping thoroughfare and the Pitzipios converted the basement level of No. 112 to a shop.  They leased it to George Meylan whose jewelry store lured female shoppers from the retail emporiums on the avenue.  But on Friday evening, March 9, 1888 it attracted a far different group.

Meylan was out and his wife was running the store when four men entered.  The New York Times reported "One of the men engaged Mrs. Meylan in conversation about repairing a clock, while the others remained outside.  When the man came out of the store, the others quickly tied the knob of the store to the railing and then smashed the window."

The crooks had only enough time to grab a single gold watch before being frightened away by passersby who heard Mrs. Meylan's screams.  Someone cut the rope and, with the thieves still in sight, the feisty Mrs. Meylan ran after them.  Undaunted by the breach of feminine decorum, she flew into a saloon on Seventh Avenue and 25th Street where they had disappeared.  By now she was accompanied by a policeman who arrested all four.

Mrs. Meylan was, as it turned out, lucky.  The police identified Willliam (alias "Mule") McGuire, John Redmond, Jame Donohue, and John Thompson as members of the "Rocky Road Gang."

The jewelry store was gone by 1891 when Madame R. Antoinette ran her dressmaking shop here.  Promising good wages, she was looking for a "skirt hand, one able to drape" that year.

In 1893 Madame Antoinette moved her business far north to West 124th Street.  The space was taken by another dressmaker, Madame Marie.  (Dressmakers, no matter how American, quite often gave themselves the fashionable French form of address.)   In May 1897 as the summer season was about to begin, she promised "Every description summer gowns; Paris designs exclusively; moderate prices; short notice."

In the meantime, the Pitzipios leased rooms in the upper floors to a less respectable grade of tenant than Hannah Burrows would have tolerated.  Perhaps the most colorful was Kate Kiernan who lived here by 1902.  Now 56 years old, she was well known to law enforcement on the Bowery.  The New-York Tribune later said of her "She first appeared there when a pretty girl of fifteen, and at once took her place at Suicide Hall, the Fleabag and the other dives."

In the week following Christmas 1902 Father Van Rensselaer of the nearby Church of St. Francis Xavier was at his wits' end.  He complained to the West 30th Street police station of "the practice of dilapidated women entering the church early in the morning and remaining there most of the day."  He told police that some of them begged among the crowds of shoppers on Sixth Avenue, "and made the church their headquarters."

In addition, according to The New-York Tribune, the "pastor asserted they littered the floor with the crumbs of their luncheons, and were uncleanly."  On December 30 Officer Neal Brown went to the church and arrested three women, including Kate Kiernan.

At the station house 70-year old Ann Cox told Sergeant Sweeney that she was homeless.  But when she mentioned that she had been born in County Donegal, Ireland, his eyes widened.  Not only was that the county where he had been born, but it was also the birthplace of Officer Brown.

As Kate listened, the sergeant chastised the arresting officer.  "What do you mean by arresting a girl from your own county, Brown?"  The policeman replied "Really, I didn't know her birthplace, sergeant."

The Tribune reported "Kate Kiernan proudly informed Sergeant Sweeney that she, too, was born in Donegal."

In a somewhat tragic sidenote, Kate Kiernan came to a gruesome end on December 26, 1915.  She was back on the Bowery, at the Tub of Blood Saloon, where, according to the Tribune, she often went.  The newspaper ran the headline "Belle of Old Bowery Killed by Trolley Car" and began the article saying "Faint echoes of the days when the Bowery was gayer than it has been for many years were aroused in the rum-ridden breasts of those who used to frequent McGurk's Suicide Hall, the Fleabag Saloon, and other notorious dives when the mangled body of Kate Kiernan, once gayest of the gay in the life of the district, was extricated from the tracks of a Madison Avenue car at Second Street and the Bowery last night.  The woman did not hear the warning bell."

Before then tailor Harry Feinberg had taken over the store space.  He advertised himself as "ladies' tailor and furrier; moderate prices."  But when he was arrested on August 29, 1906, he was less eager to disclose his profession.

It seems that Feinberg also had a nefarious side when it came to making money.  On that night William Cohen of Brooklyn was walking up Broadway near 29th Street when a gang of men attacked him.  He was knocked to the ground and the thugs began going through his pockets.  As he struggled, his watch was snatched from his pocket and a stickpin pulled from his tie.

His calls for help alerted Patrolman Landis who arrived just in time to see one of the thieves rushing away.  The New-York Tribune reported "He followed with a hundred men at his heels.  The cry 'Stop thief!' was raised and the crowd grew."  Calling the civilians "a large crowd, fresh from the theatres," the newspaper said they finally cornered him in a cafe on 29th Street near Broadway.

It was Harry Feinberg.   Although he admitted his address, he was creative in hiding his business.  "When captured the prisoner said...that he is a pugilist, and is known in pugilistic circles as 'Harvey Fern.'"

George Pitzipio died around 1886.  Following Adrienne's death in 1913, No. 112 was passed to Demetrius G. O. Pitzipio and his wife, Evelyn.   The couple converted the old house to a "tenant factory."  In doing so they installed an iron fire escape on the front of the building.

The Pitzipios' handsome iron fire escapes have a rather French feel.

Demetrius was gone, fighting for the U.S. Navy in 1917.  In his absence Evelyn received a notice from the Department of Buildings ordering that an interior stairway be extended to the roof as a means of escaping fire.   When Demetrius was called to testify in September 1918 as to why the violations were not corrected, the Board of Appeals seems to have been patriotically moved to excuse him.  Citing the facts that he had been serving his country, and that the building was "fireproof" and had fire escapes, the Board dismissed the violations.

When Selmar Pfieffer purchased No. 112 in July 1920, the front building was described as a three-story brick loft and store, and the rear structure as a two-story frame shop.  But it would not remain that way for long.

Pfieffer appears to have returned the building to rented rooms.  That year's census showed 30-year old actor Richard E. Cramer living here with his 32-year old wife, Hilda.  Hilda's occupation was listed as "Keeper--Lodging House."  A lodging house was the lowest form of rented accommodations where beds or cots were available by the night for a few cents.  Cramer's theatrical career finally took off and around 1928 he and Hilda moved to Hollywood where he became a familiar face as a supporting actor in Westerns.

In 1931 No. 112 was returned to factory space with a store on the ground level.  As the Chelsea neighborhood experienced a rebirth, so did that shop.  In 1988 it was home to the Chelsea Ceramics Gallery where children attended weekly classes and "let their imaginations roam free," according to co-owner Joy JanSan.


By 1994 the space was home to the Alley Cat Gallery, which also staged intimate theatrical productions.  Currently the shops on either side of the entrance contain Pippin Vintage Jewelry and Pippin Home.  Although the brick has been painted, the stoop long ago removed, and modern storefronts installed; it is not difficult to imagine the house as it appeared in 1850 when the block was lined with similar comfortable dwellings.

photographs by the author

Friday, December 15, 2017

The Audubon Terrace Complex - Broadway and 155th Street

 
The complex as it appeared around 1926  In the foreground facing Broadway are the Museum of the American Indian to the left, and the American Geographical Society  .  photo by Brown Brothers from the collection of the New York Public Library
Arabella Huntington was one of the most colorful and certainly among the wealthiest women in America in the 19th and early 20th centuries.  The long-time mistress of the married and much older  millionaire Collis P. Huntington (she was 19 when they met, he was 44), she bore a son on March 10, 1870.  He was said to be the son of her "husband," John Worsham (in fact he had a wife, Annette, back home in Richmond, Virginia).  Worsham returned to Richmond in 1871 and New York society whispered that Archer Milton Worsham was Huntington's child.

Following Elizabeth Huntington's death from cancer in 1883 Arabella and Collis were married.   Archer, 12 years old at the time of the marriage, took on the railroad tycoon's surname.   While Huntington was known as being uncouth, uneducated and, according to newspapers, "ruthless" and "scrupulously dishonest," Arabella had been educated in private schools, spoke French, and was refined in her speech and manners.

While many American millionaires collected paintings and statuary because it was expected, not because they understood good art from bad; Arabella studied art history and filled their mansion at No. 2 East 57th Street with masterworks by artists including Anthony Van Dyck, Frans Hals, Theodore Rousseau. and Joshua Reynolds.   And when she toured the museums and galleries of Europe, she took young Archer along.  He developed a love for art and architecture that became his passion.

Although Huntington attempted to interest Archer in the railroad business, the young man was focused on art and culture.  When his step-father died on August 13, 1900, the 28-year old found himself suddenly a multimillionaire, with him all the money and time he needed to devote to the arts.

Archer M. Huntington's portrait, by Jose Maria Lopez Mezquita, in in the collection of The Hispanic Museum & Library

In 1904 he embarked on a momentous project.  Enlisting the talents of his architect cousin, Charles Pratt Huntington, he announced on November 25 that he would be erecting a museum building for the Hispanic Society.  Huntington had organized the group, along with four other trustees, just three months earlier.

In announcing the project, the Record & Guide called it "Archer M. Huntington's Princely Gift," and said "Its object is to collect and preserve books, original manuscript, maps, coins and object of art of ancient Spain, especially those connected with its relation to the discover and early history of both North and South America."

The site was Audubon Park, north of the city on 155th Street, just west of Broadway, and across from Trinity Cemetery.  The limestone clad Italian Renaissance-style structure, said the Record & Guide, "will be five stories in height, three being below ground."  The construction cost, estimated at $200,000, rose to $350,000 before completion--making Huntington's total expenditure including the land and endowment around $32 million in today's dollars.

Charles P. Huntington released this rendering in November 1904.  Real Estate Record & Guide, November 26, 1904 (copyright expired)

The Record & Guide reported "The main floor of the building will contain a large reading-room, balconies and a decorative frieze in Moravian tile representing that portion of Spain's history relating to the Americas...The main hall, which will be in marble, will be lighted by a glass dome."  The article added "The terrace will be of brick and marble with a central motive in Moravian tile.  In the large reading room there are to be three tablets representing different periods of the Spanish conquest."  Huntington's personal collection formed the initial core of the collection.

Archer Huntington had only started.  On August 4, 1906 the Record & Guide announced that Charles P. Huntington had drawn plans for the American Numismatic and Archeological Society Building adjoining the Hispanic Society of America museum.  The announcement said the projected structure would be "of handsome design, 3 stories high, with a tile roof and will cost about $55,000."  Huntington was president of the American Numismatic and Archeological Society, and the museum would house its "large collection of coins, medals and tokens" which the Record & Guide touted was "in many respects the most complete and valuable display in the world."

The New York Times reported "The architecture will be of the classic Greek style, the facade being adorned with a spacious porch, Ionic columns supporting a cornice and balustrade.  The main floor and the second floor will be devoted to the library, the meeting halls and exhibition galleries."

An early postcard shows the free-standing Hispanic Museum and the newly-completed American Geographical Society.

When that museum was completed, the two Huntingtons started work on a third building to be home to The American Geographical Society.  The oldest institution of its kind in America, it had been founded in 1851 and incorporated in 1854.  Charles P. Huntington designed the three-story limestone building in the Italian Renaissance style, blending it harmoniously into the rapidly developing complex.


While the American Geographical Society building rose, Dona Manuela de Laverrerie de Barril, the wife of the Spanish Consul General, proposed to Archer Huntington that a Spanish Roman Catholic Church be included in the complex.  The Church of Our Lady of Esperanza would be the second Spanish language Catholic church in New York City.  Once again Charles P. Huntington put pen to paper, designing an Italian Renaissance church facing 156th Street.

On April 16, 1911 The Sun reported not only on the new church, but on the complex in general.  "The dedication to-day of the Spanish Roman Catholic Church of Our Lady of Hope brings to notice one of the most handsome groups of buildings in Greater New York, if not in the State.  It was formerly a high class private residential neighborhood known as Audubon Park, on the very ground where the battle of Fort Washington was fought.  The buildings, of which there are four, in the opinion of experts, are the best examples of architecture of the Renaissance type in America."

A stone staircase cascaded to the road level.  photo by Wurts Bros. from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York
The newspaper hinted that the complex was not yet complete.  Charles Huntington, it said "will have charge of all future buildings that may be erected on the ground of what was formerly Audubon Park."

And indeed, on June 4, 1916 The New York Times announced "Ground will be broken this week for the artistic building to be known as the Museum of the American Indian on the northwest corner of Broadway and 155th Street.  It will be an important and interesting addition to the block, which, under the careful guidance of Archer M. Huntington, has been developed into a distinctive art and educational centre."

Once again Archer Huntington had donated the costs and Charles Huntington had designed the edifice.  The Times remarked "It will be practically a duplicate of the American Geographical Society building on the adjoining 156th Street corner."

Archer was a trustee of the American Indian Museum, founded by George G. Heye whom The Times called "an ardent student and collector of Indian remains."  So passionate was he that his personal collection of "everything interesting bearing on the history and life of the American aborigines represented in their numerous tribes," had amounted to over 500,000 items.  "It is the largest private collection of its kind in the world," said the newspaper.

Charles P. Huntington's 1916 rendering shows empty land to the rear and includes the earlier American Geographical Society building at right.  The New York Times, June 4, 1916 (copyright expired)

Heye announced "We hope to make the American Indian Museum a great center for the exhibition and study of the early history and archaeology of our country.  It will endeavor to cover its special and individual field in a very thorough manner, being limited solely to America, but embracing both hemispheres, surely a field of study and investigation sufficiently large for the efforts of any single organization."


Archer M. Huntington's vision was almost complete, but it would be finished without Charles Pratt Huntington, who died in 1919.  Archer donated the land and endowments to the Academy of Arts and Letters.  The building was designed by William Mitchell Kendall of McKim, Mead & White.

McKim, Mead & White released its rendering of the courtyard facade in 1921.  The New York Time, July 31, 1921 (copyright expired)

On October 30, 1921 The New York Herald explained "With the laying of the cornerstone of the new home of the Academy of Arts and Letters by Marshal Foch on November 19 will come to fruition the drams of Charles Dudley Warner, Mark Twain, Stedman, McKim, La Farge, Saint Gaudens and MacDowell, who, through the National Institute of Arts and Letters, laid the foundation of the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 1904.


"The structure in the dedication of which Marsha Foch figures as a delegate of the French Academy, will provide a permanent domicile for what Prof. William Milligan Sloane, present o the academy, styles 'the nation's council of literature and art.'"

Architect William Rutherford Mead explained that Kendall had designed the building in the Italian Renaissance style to conform with the existing complex.  There were two entrances, one in the courtyard and the other opening onto 155th Street.  "The facades of Indian limestone and Italian in style are arranged to conform in certain principal lines to the adjoining Numismatic Museum."

The 155th Street facade of the Academy of Arts and Letters
Included in the building was a large library, a meeting room that could seat 50 members, and a large exhibition room conveniently connected to a kitchen for receptions and dinners.  Novelist and playwright Hamlin Garland idealistically told reporters that the "American Academy of Arts and Letters will be proud to be of service either in war or in peace.  It can be counted on to support every movement for elevating our ideals of living, for preserving the beauties of nature and for upholding the permanent standards of art."

On August 11, 1922 the National Sculpture Society announced that Archer Huntington had offered it the use of the undeveloped courtyard lawn opposite the Academy building for "a free out-of-door exhibition of sculpture" to be held the following May.  The exhibition committee had originally intended to use Central Park, but Emil Fuchs explained "The buildings upon the Huntington block will offer a beautiful architectural background to the exhibition and the amount of ground available is so great that it will enable the committee to enlarge its original plan."

He added "The only conditions which Mr. Huntington made for the holding of the exhibition was that it should be the best that American art can produce in sculpture."

The exhibition was monumental, described by The New York Times as "the largest exhibition of sculpture ever held in America" and including more than 800 works.  Landscape artists were commissioned to transform the grounds to best display them.  Among the esteemed artists whose work was displayed was Anna Vaughn Hyatt whose masterful statue of Joan of Arc had been unveiled in Riverside Park in 1915.  The Times described her as among "the twelve greatest living American women" and "one of the foremost women artists in the world."

Huntington and Hyatt worked closely together "for several months," according to a reporter, on the arrangements for the exhibition.  The relationship between Hyatt and Huntington went from artistic to romantic.   Huntington divorced his wife, Helen, and married Anna on March 10, 1923 in her West 12th Street studio, less than two months before the exhibition opened.


The final piece in Huntington's complex, the American Academy building, would fill the lawn where the exhibition was staged.  On November 9, 1938 The Times reported "The American Academy of Art and Letters has received funds to erect a new building facing 156th Street, directly behind the present Academy building.  Completed in 1930, it was designed by Cass Gilbert (a member of the Academy).  It not only followed the Italian Renaissance theme of its predecessors, Gilbert produced a near copy of the McKim, Mead & White building it faced.  Bronze entrance doors executed by sculptor Herbert Adams depicted allegories of Painting, Sculpture, Inspiration and Drama.  Inside were a 730-seat auditorium and an art gallery.

The 1924, while designing an addition to the Church of Our Lady of Esperanza, McKim, Mead & White made over Charles P. Huntington's facade.  The flight of steps was removed and the entrance lowered to 156th Street.  The remodeled front took on a more somber, early Italian Romanesque personality.

The remodeled facade had little to do with the neighboring structures.  photo by Wurts Bros. from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York

In 1927 Anna Hyatt Huntington's heroic bronze statue "El Cid" was unveiled in the complex courtyard, directly in front of the entrance to the Hispanic Museum.  Nine years later, in November, the hall of the American Academy of Arts and Letters was the scene of an exhibition of her works.  More than 170 pieces of sculpture were assembled as a tribute to the artist.  The New York Times remarked "This is announced as the first comprehensive exhibition of work by the only woman sculptor on the membership roll of the Academy."


The neighborhood around the Audubon Terrace complex declined in the second half of the 20th century.   Diminished patronage of the museums was perhaps first evidenced in April 1963 when the American Academy of Arts and Letters auctioned off a collection of 435 items, described by the Library of Congress as "a discriminating assemblage of letters penned by most of the major 19th-century American and British authors."   The letters had been collected and donated by Archer M. Huntington.

A surprising discovery in the storeroom of the Hispanic Society of America in 1986 revealed a 13th-century ivory carving of the Virgin and Child.  Purchased by Archer Huntington decades earlier, it had been dismissed by the trustees because it was French, not Spanish.  When the associate curator of medieval art at the Metropolitan Museum of Art heard of it, he arranged to see it.

"When I first saw it, it was quite dirty," Charles T. Little told a reporters.  "But beneath this veil of dirt was a magnificent piece of the 13th century.  I recognized it as a masterpiece."  Saying that in two decades he had only once seen an ivory or its quality, he estimated that it "would be worth hundred of thousands of dollars."

The Society, however (unlike the Academy of Arts and Letters), refused to part with the relic because it had been part of Huntington's original bequest.  So a long-term trade was worked out between the museums.  The Virgin and Child is now displayed in the Met's Tapestry Hall; and the Hispanic Museum received a silver gilt repouss√© plate from Portugal, dating to about 1500.

By the turn of the century few New Yorkers knew about the magnificent collections available in Audubon Terrace.  Samuel Sachs II, director of the Frick Collection called the Hispanic Society of America "one of the great well-kept secrets of New York," in 2003.  While the Frick received about 257,000 visitors a year, the Hispanic Society saw only 20,000.  Margaret Connors McQuade, the Society's assistant curator, explained it frankly:  "People are afraid to come up here."

A decade earlier the Society's director, Theodore Beardsley, more offensive.  When asked by ArtNews magazine why he did not promote the museum's world class collection more enthusiastically to the local community, he cited the residents' "low level of culture."

The openings of the former Museum of the American Indian facing the courtyard have been bricked up.

The Society held on, although the American Geographical Society left Audubon Terrace in 1971 (its building now used by Boricua College), and the Museum of the American Indian relocated to the old Customs House on the Battery in 1993.  When the American Numismatic Society moved to Lower Manhattan in 2004 its building was absorbed by the American Academy of Arts and Letters.   The Hispanic Society of American remained, despite its toying with the idea of relocating in 2006.

And although Felicia R. Lee, writing in The New York Times on November 11, 2011 painted a dismal picture, calling its the Audubon Terrace court "a scruffy plaza," the American Academy of Arts and Letters and the Hispanic Society hold on, hoping that the current resurgence of the neighborhood will restore Archer M. Huntington's magnificent vision--once deemed one of the best architectural complexes in America.

non-credited photographs by the author
many thanks to reader Phyllis Winchester for suggesting this post

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Home to a Compassionate Doctor and an Activist Lawyer -- 323 West 22nd St.


The Chelsea area was undergoing the first signs of real development in 1835 when Nicholas and Sarah Ludlam purchased a substantial stretch of property on West 22nd Street, between Eighth and Ninth Avenues, from Clement C. Moore.  Moore had a grand vision for the newly-forming residential neighborhood on what had been his family's summer estate.  The deed for the land included the provision that before May 1, 1836 the Ludlams erect at least one substantial residence measuring 37-1/2 feet wide.  In other words, a mansion.

The couple complied by building their own residence at No. 333 West 22nd Street.  It was most likely identical to the house next door, erected almost simultaneously for Joseph Tucker with the same deed requirements.   The remaining plots sat undeveloped for several years.  Finally, in 1843, Moore relented and allowed the Ludlams to divide the property into five 22-1/2 foot wide building lots; while still insisting the homes be upscale.

The first to be built was No. 323, completed in 1843.   Faced in red brick above a brownstone English basement, the residence was three bays wide.  Handsome floor-to-ceiling parlor windows and a brownstone Greek Revival entrance distinguished the first floor.  The Greek motif was carried on in the Greek key designs incorporated in the stoop railings.  A prim, dentiled cornice completed the design.

Clement Moore's grand vision of an exclusive neighborhood never panned out.  By the mid-1850s No. 323 was being operated as a respectable boarding house.  An advertisement on November 13, 1859 offered "A pleasant suit of rooms, front, to let, with board; also a handsome back parlor for one or two gentlemen.  Dinner at six o'clock if desired."

The "suit of rooms" reflected the upright and relatively well-do-to status of the boarders.  Another advertisement that year offered an unfurnished suite of rooms that included a "reception room."

Susan M. Cassidy took out a $3,000 mortgage on No. 323 in 1876.  She continued to accept boarders, like George Endicott's family.  George was enrolled in the Introductory Class of New York City College in 1877 and '78.

Following Susan's death her estate sold the house at auction in June 1895.   James W. Elgar paid $16,500, or about $487,000 by today's terms.  Despite the steep price tag, Elgar's boarders were not as financially well-off as those in the house a few decades earlier.

An exception was Dr. James Arthur Campbell.  He moved in with his wife, Marie, and their only son, James, Jr., around this time.  Campbell had been a well-known physician in the neighborhood for years.  He operated his medical practice from the house as well.  The family owned a summer estate in Morristown, New Jersey.

Campbell was born in County Derry, Ireland, one of nine children.  He studied medicine in London, Paris and Dublin and received his medical degree in 1889 at the Royal University of Ireland.  Shortly after arriving in the United States he opened his medical office in Chelsea.  The erudite physician spoke five languages, including a South African dialect.

More typical of the boarders at the time was Maggie A. Bennett.  She remained in the house into the new century, receiving $300 a year from the city for her deceased husband's police pension (about $8,850 today).   Another widow, Elsie Unger, died in her room on November 3, 1912.  The funeral for the 76-year old widow of Henry Unger was held in house the following Monday.

James Arthur Campbell, Jr., suffered financial embarrassment when he filed for bankruptcy in August 1919.  A few years later his father moved his office to the Hotel Chelsea.  On June 25, 1927 Dr. Campbell died in the New York Hospital at the age of 65.

Campbell's earlier decision to live and work in the 22nd Street boarding house was, perhaps, explained by the The New York Times which wrote "He was greatly beloved in the neighborhood, where it was said of him yesterday that he never aspired to have wealthy clientele, preferring to help the poor."

The year before Dr. Campbell's death a studio was added to the rooftop of No. 323.   While many studio additions of the 1910s and '20s were clumsy encroachments; this was rather elegant and sat back from the roof line, avoiding upsetting the proportions of the 19th century architecture.

The studio concept reflected a change in the tenants in No. 323, who were increasingly more artistic and politically liberal.  By 1920 Julius Wolf was living here.  That year he was the Social-Labor Party's candidate for President.

On August 22, 1927 thousands of New Yorkers protested the executions of anarchists Nichola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti.   In reporting on several of the many arrests, The New York Times reported "The men were represented in court by Miss Carol King, attorney for the Sacco-Vanzetti Emergency Committee."

The activist lawyer lived at No. 323 West 22nd Street.  The Times would later note "She was active in the founding of the United States divisions of the International Labor Defense and the International Juridical Association, and later of the Joint Anti-Fascist Refugee Commission, the American Committee for the Protection of the Foreign Born, and the Civil Rights Congress."

Similar-minded residents in the 22nd Street house were Sylvia and Sol H. Cohn.  They lived here in the 1930s and '40s, listed as members of the Communist Party.  Interestingly, Carol King was never a member of the Communist Party; but she fervently defended the right of free speech and the oppressed, most notably "cases involving what she considered improper interpretation or oppressive application of the immigration and naturalization laws."  She routinely represented labor unions in court.

The Times vividly portrayed her saying "A short, stocky woman of great energy, Mrs. King cared little for fashionable appearance, and was easily identifiable for her heavy, horn-rimmed glasses and her short, unruly dark hair.  She earned professional respect for her brilliant mind and her last-ditch fighting spirit."


The feisty 56-year old still lived at No. 323 when she died in Beth Israel Hospital following an extended illness on January 22, 1952.


In the last quarter of the 20th century the Chelsea neighborhood was rediscovered.  The Eighth and Ninth Avenue district which had recently become seedy and crime-ridden, now saw the influx of young professionals.  In 2009 No. 323 was reconverted to a single family home; one of the best preserved of Nicholas and Sarah Ludlum's handsome row.

photographs by the author

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

The 1860 Bliss, Wheelock & Kelly Bldg - 390 Broadway



Although the architect's name has been lost, the corbel table and cornice of No. 390 are remarkably similar to those of No. 388 to the left, designed by King & Kellum the same year

By the 1830s the residential nature of Broadway just below Canal Street was eroding.  James Stone and his son, Henry, ran their business from No. 390 Broadway, between White and Walker Streets, at least by 1837 and into the 1840s.   James listed himself as "plumber and engineer," but his advertisements better reveal his advanced skills.

Three separate ads in the Morning Herald on April 17, 1839 displayed the variety of items he devised and manufactured.  "Force pumps for deep wells," "Pumps, water closets and baths," and "garden engines & syringes."

The old building became the property of  Dr. Alexander McWhorter Bruen and his wife, Sarah Louisa, before 1859.  Sarah (who went by her middle name) was the daughter of Judge William Jay and granddaughter of Chief Justice John Jay.

That year they demolished it to be replaced by a modern commercial structure.   While the name of the architect has been lost, the original appearance of the building's Italianate design fell in line with the other buildings on the block, all constructed within a few years of one another.

Completed in 1860, four stories of stone sat above a cast iron storefront base. While other Italianate buildings featured tall arches, the architect inserted three sets of arched window frames into square headed openings at the second through fourth floors.  It was an ingenious and attractive way of preserving the arch motif while stepping away from the norm.

An 1864 print reveals the unusual window treatment of No. 390 (center) as compared to its neighbors.  print by Thomas Bonar from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York
The large dry goods establishment of Bliss, Wheelock & Kelly had operated from No. 388 Broadway.   Upon completion of No. 390 the firm merely moved next door.  The move came during trouble times, when tensions between the North and South were worsening.  Bliss, Wheelock & Kelly did a large trade in the South and the anti-slavery stance of its management caught the attention of the Atlanta newspaper, the Southern Confederacy.

On February 16, 1860 the newspaper's editor and owner, James Pinokney Hambleton, listed the firm on its Black List, saying in part "From the best and most reliable information, we present to the Southern people the names of wholesale mercantile firms of New-York, which are...enemies to our institutions.  We do this for the reason that we know no Southern merchant will expend the money that he has obtained from Southern slaveholders in building up and enriching a class of men who are stabbing at the vitals of this section."

Despite the boycott by some Southern clients, Bliss, Wheelock & Kelly continued to thrive.  On April 26, 1861, for instance, the California newspaper the Sacramento Daily Union reported that the firm had purchased at auction "the entire stock of the dry goods house of De Forest, Armstrong & Co.," which had failed.  "It was sold in one lump for $460,000 and paid for on the spot," said the article.  The massive bid, equaling about $12.9 million today, and outdid that of massive department store owner Alexander T. Stewart.

Exactly one week earlier the staff of Bliss, Wheelock & Kelly had been diminished by one when long-time employee George Tyler Burroughs was sworn into the Union Army.  The 28-year old, who had worked in the woolen department, marched off with the 71st Regiment, New York State Militia; but was almost immediately hospitalized with a case of dysentery.

According to the website erbzine.com, when he learned that his company was marching to the front, he "climbed out the window and caught up with his company--he was reprimanded but was allowed to remain."  Burroughs saw action in Manassas, Virginia in June, and at Sudley Springs and the Battle of Bull Run.

Only three months after he enlisted, he Burroughs was mustered out of service on July 31 and resumed his duties at Bliss, Wheelock & Kelly.  It would be a short-lived return.  On November 17 The New York Times reported that he had accepted the appointment of Quartermaster of the 43rd Regiment New-York Volunteers and on the previous afternoon he had been "presented with a beautiful sword, in testimony of the regard and esteem he is held in by his fellow clerks" at Bliss, Wheelock & Kelly.

Following the war No. 390 filled with dry goods and apparel-related firms, like furrier Leopold Haas who was here by 1869, and Isaac T. Myers, "importers of pearl buttons and fancy goods," at around the same time.

Myers lured potential customers by placing a glass showcase filled with examples of his "fancy goods" on the sidewalk in front of his store.  It was a tempting target for a gang of four teens on January 24, 1871.  According to The New York Times the following day, they smashed the glass "with evident intent to steal the fans, albums, pocket-books, and other articles, valued at $100, there exposed for show."

But Myers was quick to react.  "Scarcely had Mr. Myers made his appearance than the gang ran off."  All, that is, except for 19-year old Peter Maxwell who was nabbed by the angry proprietor.  The delinquent, who lived on Mulberry Street in the infamously impoverished and crime-ridden Five Points district, was arrested and held for trial.

While the gang did not make off with any goods that day, Myers was no as lucky on Saturday, August 28, 1875.   That afternoon a messenger was given a package to deliver just to Adriance, Robbins & Co., at No. 341 Broadway, only a little over two blocks to the south.  In it were "pearl buttons and combs valued at $75" (nearly $1,700 in today's dollars), according to the firm.

The following week The New York Times reported "While on his way there he met a stranger who claimed to be in the employ of [Adriance, Robbins & Co.], and the too confiding porter handed him the package.  Of course, nothing has since been seen of the stranger of the goods."

Interestingly, Adriance, Robbins & Co. soon moved to No. 390 Broadway.  Unfortunately it would not be a long-term stay.  In January 1878 the dry goods jobbers went under.  The auction of its entire stock later that month, including Irish linens, woolen goods and laces, was attended by "mostly peddlers and City retail merchants, doing business in a very small way," according to The Times.  The newspaper was shocked at the petty prices the goods brought, totaling $5,000.

Briggs, Entz & Co., described by Illustrated Boston in 1889 as "the famous English cloth manufacturers" (they were, in fact, importers), had been in the building at least since 1876.  It was headed by Benjamin L. Briggs, John F. Briggs and J. William Entz.  The firm's high-end fabrics were "standards with leading jobbers and high-class clothiers," according to the periodical.

The dry goods store of Cornell & Amerman was on the ground floor of the building in 1882 when enterprising thieves devised a clever plan.  The firm stored stock in the basement, the windows of which faced Cortlandt Alley to the rear.  Those windows were protected by heavy iron bars.  But the bars were spaced widely enough to allow bolts of fabric to pass through.

Somehow one crook managed to hide in the basement on September 4.  Under cover of night, his confederates broke two of the window panes and, using a "stout wire" hoisted bundles of cambric fabric out.   But in the middle of the heist a policeman entered the alley on his nightly rounds.  When he reached the rear of No. 390, he found one bolt of fabric on the pavement.  The Times reported "The thieves must have been surprised at their work by the approach of the policeman, and in their flight dropped one of the pieces in the street."  The inside man apparently escaped out the Broadway entrance.

Within months, after having been in business since 1849, Cornell & Amerman would dissolve.  Following George V. Amerman's death in 1883, Albert Cornell retired.

Dr. Alexander Bruen died in 1886 at the age of 78.  It seems that a question of ownership arose and in April 1888  Louisa was pressed to prove her rights to the title to No. 390.  Luckily she possessed a declaration dated April 22, 1867 which asserted that the "premises are the joint property of said Louisa J. and Alexander M. Bruen."

In February 1889 the Fire Department ordered the building temporarily vacated, saying "the premises 390 Broadway [are] not to be used for habitation or business" until fire escapes were installed.  Simon Bernstein, a principal with Caroline Adler and Morris Perlstein in the cloak and suit manufacturers, Bernstein, Adler & Co., was not impressed.

But, however, he discovered that the New York City Fire Department was a force to be reckoned with.  When investigators realized the firm was still operating within the building, Bernstein was arrested in August that year for contempt of court.

Somewhat ironically, seven months later the factory Bernstein, Adler & Co. suffered damage by fire--but it was in the building next door.  The fire broke out in No. 392 Broadway around 7:00 on the evening of March 4, 1890.  Like all the buildings in the neighborhood, it was filled with flammable materials.  As one newspaper put it the following day, "'Fire in the dry goods district' is an alarm that puts the Fire Department on its mettle."

Before long the entire building was engulfed.  According to The New York Times, "Its double walls prevented the fire from extending to the adjoining buildings," but nevertheless Bernstein, Adler & Co. "suffered severely by water."

At the time the game and toy manufacturer Selchow & Righter operated its wholesale store from the building.  Founded in 1867 as E. G. Shelchow & Co., its factory was in Bay Shore, Long Island.  Among the firm's best selling games was Parcheesi, which they had trademarked in 1874. 

Parcheesi was a top money-maker for Selchow & Righter.  (copyright expired)

Along with board games, Selchow & Righter manufactured cast iron toys and banks--items which would make any child-safety-minded mother cringe today.  As Christmas approached in 1898 the Home Furnishing Review pictured a cast iron toy safe, a miniature iron stove and a toy grocer's scales as examples of the firm's offerings.  "Selchow & Righter are American manufacturers, and make goods that cannot be equaled for their prices, either at home or abroad," said the article.  "Some of their games are most interesting and novel, and will appeal immediately to Young America, which is the judge and jury, as well as the court of final resort."

The Home Furnishing Review, December 1898 (copyright expired)

At the time of the article D. W. Shoyer & Co., knit goods commission house; musical instrument dealer M. E. Schoening; and W. Schwensen, cords and tassels, occupied the upper floors.  (William Schwenen, incidentally, had been arrested three years earlier for receiving $20,000 worth of stolen silks from William Steinborn, alias "Billy Balls," and John Lyons.)

Just after midnight on October 22, 1899 fire broke out in the basement.  The Times reported "The extreme depth of the structure and the fact that the fire was in the centre made the work of the firemen difficult and hazardous."  Not long after a third alarm was turned in the first floor collapsed.  Fire Chief Croker called the blaze "a most stubborn one" which took about two hours to control.   When it was finally extinguished, the building was deemed "destroyed" and the damages were estimated at, at least, $125,000, more than $3.75 million today.

While the newspapers may have thought the building was a total loss, Louisa Bruen disagreed.  She hired the respected architectural firm of Jardine, Kent & Jardine to refurbish the burned out shell.  The stone facade had survived the blaze and the architects' renovations did little to alter it.

The new tenants were nearly all involved in clothing manufacturing.  Friedman Bros. & Bisco made shirtwaists; Manheim & Schwartz manufactured shirts, for instance.  But two, Frederick A. Van Dyke and Gross Brothers, were far different.  The Evening World described Van Dyke as "a millionaire real estate dealer."  Gross Brothers were wholesale grocers.

The sons of those two firms brought humiliation to their families in the summer of 1903.  Van Dyke's 21-year old son, also named Frederick, and Henry A, Gross, Jr., were in Central Park on June 4 when wealthy socialite Mrs. Edward Hagaman Hall strolled in with her eight-year old daughter, Ethel, and her nurse, Rebecca Meloney.

Mrs. Hall, whom The Evening World described as "a tall, fine-looking woman," left Ethel and the nurse sitting on a park bench and headed off on a stroll.  She had gone only a short distance before Ethel ran up saying "Oh, Mamma, two men are hugging Rebecca, and she is awfully frightened."

The newspaper reported "Mrs. Hall said that she hurried back to the bench and found the two young men embracing Rebecca with great fervor despite her struggles and protestations."  Telling a court later that she was "justly indignant," Mrs. Hall kept her cool and pretended to engage Van Dyke and Gross in conversation until she could flag down a passing policeman.

Policeman Quin arrested the young men, whose wealthy fathers quickly posted bail.  But they were brought back before Magistrate Crane that same afternoon.  "They were represented by a lawyer," said the article, "who spoke for them and denied the charges.  They were both so nervous that they could not utter a syllable."

The judge listened to the testimonies of the nurse, the little girl and Mrs. Hall.  Shockingly today, while Rebecca Meloney "was positive in her identification," Crane scoffed at their complaint.

"It take no stock in women's identifications, and will have to discharge these young men.  Many an innocent man has been sent to State prison upon rash identification of women, and I don't propose that anything of the kind shall happen in my court."

Mrs. Hall stormed out with her daughter and the nurse claiming there was no justice to be had.  "The way things are conducted every Tom, Dick and Harry that comes along can hug or insult a woman with impunity.  It's a perfect outrage."

Louisa Bruen died on November 5, 1905.  She was interred in the burial ground on the Jay Estate in Rye, New York, where her husband had also been buried.  The Broadway building remained in the family.

Following World War I No. 390 saw a variety of tenants, including the National Dress Suit Case Co. and office furniture dealers Quick & McKenna. 

New-York Tribune, November 19, 1919 (copyright expired)
Quick & McKenna remained in the building well into the 1920s, as did Gross Brothers.  They shared the address with a wide variety of tenants including A. Irizzarry Co. and Jacinto Sala, Inc., both importers of chemicals and drugs; leather merchants Sala Guillo & Co. and Raper & Pleasso; and International Imports and Export Co., "general merchandise."

Adrian L. Quick, president of Quick & McKenna, and his wife Aline, lived comfortably in their White Plains, New York, estate named Gedney Farm.  But domestic tranquility crumbled in the early years of the 1920s.  By 1926 Aline had had enough.  She won a decree of separation and $125 a month alimony after charging Quick with "cruelty and excessive drinking."  Her husband explained away his heavy use of alcohol, saying "all of the marital trouble was caused by his wife's extreme extravagance."

As the 20th century progressed, the Broadway building continued to house textile and garment firms, including Wolf, Ain & Co. which took a floor in 1931, textile dealer Jacob A. Fortunoff, Inc. which moved in in 1939, and Supertex, manufacturers of mattress covers, which leased a floor the following year.

Textile firms still filled the building in July 1962 when fire swept through on the night of the 12th.  It had broken out around 8:00 in the third floor offices of Fursyn, Inc., dealers of synthetic furs and fibers.  The blaze burned out of control for three and a half hours, causing the fifth floor to collapse and destroying the roof.  When the fire was finally extinguished 16 fire fighters had been injured and one was still missing.

Tragically, the body of 38-year old Fireman John C. Farragher was discovered in the ruins the following morning.  Eighty firefighters had joined in the search for the father of three.

It was around this time that the Bruen family's ownership finally ended.  Alexander and Louisa Bruen's daughter, Alexandra Louisa, had married Rear Admiral George E. Ide.  It was their son, architect and aviation pioneer John Jay Ide, who sold the property.

As was the case in 1899, No. 390 was reconstructed and filled again with textile companies.  And through it all the wonderful triple arched windows within the square openings have survived.


Tuesday, December 12, 2017

H. J. Hardenbergh's 280-284 Columbus Avenue



Although it was inventor and actor Isaac Merritt Singer who founded the Singer Sewing Machine Company; it was Edward C. Clark who made it a success.  The sewing machine was not a new idea when Singer began tinkering with the contraption around 1850; several variations had already been patented.  But his improvements in 1851 resulted in the first practical machine.

Clark had been Singer's attorney since 1848 and the two became business partners.  A marketing genius, Clark's innovative ideas--like accepting trade-ins for newer models--made the Singer Company an enormous success and the partners millionaires.

Edward Clark diversified into real estate development.  In the 1870’s he teamed with fledgling architect Henry Janeway Hardenbergh and erected rental cottages for summer visitors to Lake Otsego near Cooperstown, New York.  It would be the beginning of a long and mutually-prosperous relationship, and one which would help set Hardenbergh on the road to becoming a leading architect.

Very quickly Clark turned his attention to the rocky, mostly undeveloped Upper West Side. 
He was outspoken in his intentions to make the West Side as affluent as the East.  He encouraged landowners to work together, mutually investing in property, and issuing restrictive covenants on construction. 
In 1879 Clark began construction on an extensive project--25 rowhouses on West 73rd Street anchored by a matching four-story apartment and store building at the corner, at Nos. 280-284 Columbus Avenue.
Clark's speculation was both aggressive and risky. Years later The New York Times would remind its readers the area "was in the heart of a squatter's shanty district, where goats and pigs were more frequently encountered than carriages in the muddy streets."
Hardenbergh deftly morphed the residential row into his apartment (or "flat") building on the corner.  The brick-faced Renaissance Revival style structure was touched with modern neo-Grec elements, notably the architrave upper window enframements, and Queen Anne details like the terra cotta rosettes within the cornice frieze and the nearly whimsical rooftop pediments.  And, as if that mixture was not enough, he added delicate French balconies here and there.

The entrance to the apartments, at No. 101 West 73rd Street, mimicked the private houses along the row.  The commercial tenants used the Columbus Avenue address.
Two years after the building (middle right) was completed, the Ninth Avenue elevated was extended as far as 81st Street.  The block between 72nd and 73rd, behind Clark and Hardenbergh's Dakota Flats, was being excavated when this shot was taken.  from the collection of the New York Public Library
Interestingly, the ground floor commercial spaces were leased mostly by firms involved in the real estate and development industry.   Among the first were Slawson & Hobbs, real estate agents, here in 1890; builder G. J. Harlow, and prolific developers W. W. & T. M. Hall.  By 1893 builders Egan & Hallecy was here as well and would remain for years.
By 1896 those firms were joined by builder William E. Diller; Frederick H. Birch, real estate; Thomas J. Brady's commercial plumbing business; and Moquin & Offerman, coal dealers.

 
Hardenbergh deftly transitioned from commercial to residential by matching the facade of the apartments with the private house next door, once the first in the long row of residences.

Slawson & Hobbs, run by partners Frederick G. Hobbs and George L. Slawson, was a highly-visible real estate firm on the Upper West Side.  They were highly responsible for filling the rising rowhouses and apartment buildings with tenants.  At the turn of the century, for instance, they were the sole agents for the sprawling Ansonia and Victoria apartment buildings.  In 1902 they published a booklet entitled "West Side Apartments."
That same year, on January 4, the Record & Guide commented on the firm's full-service business, calling their offices "a plant."  "Slawson & Hobbs have made up a very complete plant, embracing sales, mortgages, building plans and other items of interest that facilitates very much their extensive and constantly growing business.  The firm's offices, at No. 284 Columbus av., near 73d st., are thoroughly equipped for the quick and satisfactory dispatch of business."
Hardenbergh's eclectic mix of styles resulted in a stylish Victorian design.
Like many of the other commercial tenants, Thomas Brady's plumbing business remained in the building for years.   In 1903 The Plumbers Trade Journal gave a hint of the activity within his office.  "Still as busy as ever is the condition which Thos. Brady, of 284 Columbus avenue, Manhattan, is to be found.  His trade at this time of the year is first-class and calls for a good deal of his personal attention, besides keeping three or four men very much on the go."

After being in the building for 20 years, Slawson & Hobbs moved to No. 162 West 72nd Street in September 1910.  Five months later the Clark estate hired architect George H. Griebel to design a new storefront.  

By now Thomas Brady's plumbing business had been replaced by that of John Boyd.   Like Brady, he handled large projects, like the conversion of a five-story private residence on East 46th Street to a commercial building in July 1912.  Interestingly, when Frederick A. Clark did renovations to the apartment building directly across Columbus Avenue in 1914, John Boyd not only did the plumbing, but was the architect of record.

In the meantime, the upper floors had been initially leased to well-to-do families, followed by more middle class tenants.  When war broke out in Europe, young J. B. Johnstone sailed off to fight with Company F. 112th Infantry.   

Although peace was declared in November 1918, the soldiers were still deployed for months.  In order to provide them with a touch of home for Christmas, The Sun initiated The Sun Tobacco Fund, which provided soldiers with 17 packs of cigarettes and 23 "sacks of tobacco" each.

Now a lieutenant, Johnstone sent his written thanks to the newspaper and gave a detailed account of his much improved conditions since peace was declared.  His letter, published on January 28, 1919, said in part:

We are in a captured salient which the Americans took from the Heinies, and living in their quarters on a beautifully wooded hill.  I with another 'shavetail' have a stone cottage, with real beds, a stove which the orderly lights before reveille, a desk, chairs, wardrobe and all the comforts of a human being's home.  The mess is wonderful; pancakes with syrup galore, steak, fritters and doughnuts.
It was most likely the advent of the Great Depression that dealt a severe blow to the apartments.  On September 10, 1934 The New York Times reported that the owners, Cappa Realty Company, had leased the three upper floors "to Bertha Stegun for a rooming house.  The floors contain thirty-three rooms."

The accommodations in the "rooming house" were basic at best.  It could more adequately have been termed a flophouse.  In 1943 there were five stores at ground level, with ten SRO rooms on the second floor with one "community kitchen," and eleven SRO rooms on each of the two uppermost floors.   


Overall the building in 1941 looked little different than today.  photograph from the collection of the New York Public Library
Things seem to have improved somewhat by mid-century, however.  By 1950 Alice Margaret Chilton called the building home.  Formerly the wife of Boston architect Howland Jones, she was for many years a social worker for All Saints Protestant Episcopal Church on Henry Street.

The Columbus Avenue neighborhood experienced a renaissance in the last quarter of the 20th century as trendy restaurants and boutiques appeared.  In 1974 a renovation resulted in six apartments per floor above the storefronts.  Where builders and plumbers had once operated, The Cultured Seed opened its florist shop by 1976.

In 1982 a unique clothing shop opened here, Vermont Classics.  Owners Pauls Neustate and Sheila Silverman offered "classic clothing handmade by people who live in villages and on farms throughout New England," as described in New York Magazine on September 20.  "There are hand-knitted sweaters, quilted pillows and bed coverings.  And there are raw-silk dresses made in small workshops, as well as factory-made classic New England clothing."



At the same time Robbyn Yoffee and Jane Bloom ran Tianguis Folk Art here.  No less unique, The New York Times on February 9, 1985 described its self-made summer line as "1950's inspired fashions for women who weren't yet born in the 50's."
The store spaces continued to house popular businesses like Exotiqa, which sold imported home furnishings and "trinkets" until 2000; and the seafood restaurant Ocean Grill.  Today fashion boutiques fill the Columbus Avenue storefronts.

In the meantime, the upper floors of Hardenbergh's stylish flat building have suffered little change.  It survives as a remarkable example of early multi-family housing in the then just-developing neighborhood.

photographs by the author

Monday, December 11, 2017

The Lost New York Club - 20 West 40th Street



The newly-completed clubhouse sat among brownstone residences of a generation earlier.  photograph by Wurts Bros from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York

Organized in 1845, the New York Club was the oldest men's social club in Manhattan.  After having already relocated several times, it moved into the renovated the former Philip Caswell mansion at No. 370 Fifth Avenue in 1888 after a fire destroyed its clubhouse in 1888.

The New York Club occupied the former Caswell mansion for nearly two decades.  -- photographer unknown; from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York -- http://collections.mcny.org/C.aspx?VP3=SearchResult_VPage&VBID=24UP1GHZECLN&SMLS=1&RW=1366&RH=603#/SearchResult_VPage&VBID=24UP1GHZECLN&SMLS=1&RW=1366&RH=603&PN=3

But the exclusive residential neighborhood around the clubhouse quickly changed.  Just two years later William Astor demolished his childhood home a block to the south and replaced it with his Waldorf Hotel.   And in 1894 his aunt, Caroline Schermerhorn Astor, followed suit, razing her brownstone mansion next door and erecting her own hotel, the Astor, joined with the Waldorf by both an apostrophe and the famous Peacock Alley.

Perhaps the last straw for the club's dignified members was the demolition in 1901 of its only neighbor on the block, the white marble palace of Alexander T. Stewart.  Commerce was overtaking the neighborhood.  After lengthy (and heated) discussions, members decided on a new site overlooking the rising New York Public Library and Bryant Park behind.  The block was transforming into a "club block," with the new Engineers' Club and  Republican Club buildings recently constructed.

On April 11, 1905 The New York Times quietly mentioned that "W. Clarence Martin has sold to E. Clifford Potter 18 and 20 West Fortieth Street, two four-story brownstone dwellings."  The site would soon be added to with the purchase of No. 22 as well.   Later that year, in December, the Real Estate Record & Builders' Guide revealed that the New York Club had commissioned Henry J. Hardenbergh to design a nine-story clubhouse.

Describing the proposed structure as being clad in brick and trimmed in terra cotta, the journal placed the cost of construction at $300,000--nearly $8.5 million today. "The first story will contain the club offices and cafe, and the second and third stories the library and card, billiard and committee rooms."  The entire eighth floor was consumed by the "dining hall," and the seventh held private dining rooms.  The fourth, fifth and ninth floors were filled with "sleeping rooms," necessary for wealthy club members whose mansions were shuttered during the summer months yet who needed to return to the city for business.

Hardenbergh's rendering was published in the Architectural Record on June 8. 1906 (copyright expired)

When the New York Club moved into its completed home in March 1907 The New York Times called it "a bachelor's heaven."   Hardenbergh had created a confection of deep red brick, white limestone, and terra cotta.  The first three floors were highly influenced by the Beaux Arts movement.  The centered entrance at sidewalk level was overshadowed by the three two-story arches, fronted by bowed and balustraded balconies directly above.  French gave way to Dutch on the upper floors, where Flemish Renaissance Revival referenced the city's early history.  It all culminated in a two-story, tile covered mansard with stepped gables, a prominent pediment, spiky finials and a massive terra cotta roundel.

The sleeping apartments were also used by "non-resident" members--the small group of wealthy out-of-towners who visited Manhattan regularly.  Among these was the former mayor of Toledo, Ohio, Guy G. Major.  He arrived in New York on January 6, 1912, expecting to spend a few days in the city.  His stay was prolonged when he soon developed pneumonia.  Three weeks later, on January 30, Major died in his room in the Club.


The New York Club was still one of the most prestigious of men's social clubs in 1914.  The high social standings of its 675 members high were rarely soiled by scandal.   That was sometimes simply because nearly unlimited wealth could buy one's way out of public ignominy.  Such was the case with one member that spring.

Benjamin Odio was 71 years old; a respected, retired merchant and a member of the New York Produce Exchange.  He was startled by detectives who broke into a West 47th Street apartment house in the early morning hours of May 9.  Four women were arrested, one charged with keeping and maintaining a disorderly house, or brothel, and the others for "being inmates."   Odio was taken in as well for soliciting the services of the women.

But when he was brought before the judge, it was not the wealthy clubman who was in trouble, it was Detective Lydig of the Central Office Squad who had arrested him.  Magistrate Corrigan found the officer's testimony "was insufficient to support the charge," according to The New York Times the following day.  The newspaper added "The Magistrate became indignant, and calling Lydig to the bar, censured him.  He then discharged the prisoner.  The women were held for trial."

By the time of the Great Depression the New York Club was seeing its neighborhood, once again, succumbing to commerce.  On January 25, 1931 The New York Times commented on the migration of social clubs from the area.  "In years gone by, when Fifth Avenue below Fifty-ninth Street was the fashionable residential thoroughfare of the city, it was perfectly natural that many of the best known clubs should make their headquarters there."

But now, noted the article, of the more than 20 clubs that had been located on the avenue only three remained.  And the New York Club was one of the few to hang on along the blocks just off the avenue.  But that was about to change, as well.

Once one of the most financially stable clubs in the city, in 1933 its members had to decide whether to completely disband, or to sell its clubhouse and share the Lotos Club's clubhouse at No. 110 West 57th Street.  In February the board of directors made the choice to sell.   President Clarence G. Meeks put the best possible spin on the announcement.  "In taking this step, it is to be understood that the New York Club will not be disbanded, but will really be a 'club within a club.'"

With the repeal of Prohibition in sight, the building was purchased by Schenley Distributors.  On the night of December 5, 1933, the official end of Prohibition, the New York Club's members were spending their last few days in the clubhouse.  Despite the repeal, The Times noted that the club "did not serve last night."

With alcohol once again flowing freely, Schenley soon became Schenley Affiliated Corporations, described by The Times as "formed largely of wine and liquor companies."  The various distilleries and plants were situated in New York, Pennsylvania, Kentucky, Illinois and Indiana. 

The general offices filled the entire building.  In January 1934, the same month the firm moved in, it announced further expansion.  The Times reported "It was learned that in addition to manufacturing and marketing the present Schenley products, the company contemplates manufacturing certain food products as a by-product of its present industry."

The rapid and massive growth required more office space and in 1937 Schenley took more than four full floors in the Empire State Building.  By September that year the firm had leased No. 20 as the headquarters of the American Legion.  The Boy Scouts of America also maintained a first aid station in the building.  It was a coexistence that caused hearsay and uproar.

On September 23 B. B. Galasi, District Scout Commissioner of Manhattan Council squelched unsavory rumors.  He admitted the Scouts "have given aid to the Legion officials in many ways" and said "A few of their tasks consisted of escorting visitors around the city, bearing colors for State delegations [and] acting as messengers."

But, according to The New York Times, he "denied reports that the youngsters had been detailed to attend intoxicated Legionnaires."  He was backed up by Major F. J. Swentzel of the American Legion.  "We don't allow those boys to go anywhere where there are liable to be drunks...That detail is taken care of by our service committee composed of Legionnaires."

In 1945 Schenley Affiliated Corporations sold No. 20 to supporters of Freedom House, a not-for-profit group "devoted to strengthening free societies."  NAACP members and supporters had contributed towards the $150,000 purchase price.  The renovations cost another $65,000.

Now called the Wendell Willkie Memorial Building, it was dedicated on October 8, the first anniversary of Willkie's death.  Among the speakers were actress Helen Hayes, former Under Secretary of State Sumner Welles, president of Brooklyn College Dr. Harry D. Gideonse, and NAACP secretary Walter White.

Approximately 2,000 persons filled West 40th Street for the ceremony as the building was promised to be a "living center" for agencies which supported his ideals.

The headquarters of the NAACP originally took two full floors.  Here the association's official journal, The Crisis, was published.  The publication continues to cover issues of civil rights, history, and politics.   The NAACP was one of seven agencies in the building, the others being the Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith, the Citizens Housing Council of New York, the Common Council for American Unity, the Public Education Association, the World Student Service Fund, and Freedom House, itself.

Crowds gather before the flag-draped building during the dedication.  photo New York Times October 9, 1945

The Freedom House was founded in October 1941 and its charter described it as "a symbol and center" for the fight for freedom.  It was a time of international tension and threats to religious and political liberties.  According to historian David P. Forsythe in his 2008 Encyclopedia of Human Rights, "Its Wendell Willkie Memorial Building was the reply to Adolf Hitler's Braunhaus in Munich, Germany, the center for Nazi propaganda."

Beginning in 1943 the Freedom House Award was presented to an individual for "outstanding contribution to freedom" the previous year.  That year it was awarded to Walter Lippmann, and in 1944 to Sumner Welles.  The first awardee in the Wendell Willkie Memorial Building was General Dwight D. Eisenhower, who personally received the award here on April 2, 1946.   A comment in his acceptance speech noted "It is my conviction that the United States entered the war in the belief that it represented the forces of good against evil"

In 1967 the limited space in No. 20 forced the National Office of the NAACP to move uptown to No. 1790 Broadway.  It opened its new space on October 16.

photograph by Edmund Vincent Gillon from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York

By 1983 another agency had moved into the Wendell Willkie Memorial Building.  The American Movement for World Government, Inc. was incorporated in 1954 "to promote he establishment of federal world government as a necessary condition for world peace and security."  Its founder, former commercial airline pilot William H. D. Cox, was influenced by Albert Einstein's believe that "mankind's desire for peace can be realized only by the creation of a world government."

Among the focuses of the Movement in the 1980s was nuclear disarmament.  It published a pamphlet in 1983 entitled "How to Achieve a Nuclear Freeze and Disarmament," free with a $20 membership.  An advertisement in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists in December that year began "If extinction is to be avoided as the fate of the earth and all of us who inhabit it, a multilateral nuclear freeze will be an excellent beginning."

Two years later the Willkie Memorial Building was sold to the Republic National Bank.  The structure had been "mentioned as a prime candidate for landmark status," according to Joseph Berger in The New York Times on February 16, 1985.  It had been identified as early as 1979 by the Landmarks Preservation Commission "as having architectural significance."

Republic National Bank set a demolition team to work under cover of night.  Berger reported "A crew this week began ripping the carved stone and other ornaments from the Willkie Memorial Building on West 40th Street."  Buildings Commissioner Charles M. Smith, Jr. ordered the work suspended and asked the police to monitor it.  But significant amage had already been done.  The stone balustrades and carved stonework had been jack-hammered off and the chances of landmark designation were now successfully aborted.

Before long an empty lot occupied the site of Henry J. Hardenberg's fanciful New York Club.  In January 2014 plans were filed for the 33-story mixed used building designed by David Chipperfield, known as The Bryant.

The Bryant is the light-colored structure just to the left of the Empire State Building in this rendering.  via the Bryant website