Friday, October 20, 2017

The Home of a Murderer's Moll - Nos. 167-169 Ninth Avenue

Combined as a single building today, Nos. 167 and 169 on the corner were built with No. 165 (also painted yellow at left) in 1845.
Highly important in the development of Chelsea, Don Alonzo Cushman completed three matching houses at the southwest corner of Ninth Avenue and 20th Street in 1845.  Each two bays wide and four stories high, they were designed in popular Greek Revival style.  No. 169 at the corner had a shop in the first floor, with the residential entrance located at No. 400 West 20th Street.

The initial store--a puzzling combination of candy shop and oyster bar--did not last long.  On April 15, 1847 an auction was held on site.  The announcement offered

At 169 Ninth Avenue, Chelsea, the store fixtures and moveables of a confectionery and oyster saloon of the first class, consisting of white marble top and black walnut table counters with marble tops, chairs, glasses, glass jars, show cases, soda fountain, counter scales, and all the requisite articles necessary for carrying on the business.

Also included was the oilcloth floor covering "in one piece" for $110 (a little over $3,000 today).  The announcement noted "The above have been recently purchased and are almost equal to new."

Within five years a shop had been carved into the street level of No. 167 next door.  By 1852 it was the office of James N. Wells and William Roome, real estate agents.  A close friend of Clement Clarke Moore, Wells had been active in developing Chelsea since about 1832.  Now Roome & Wells was the district's most important real estate operator.

Roome & Wells remained in the building at least through 1867, offering not only houses and stores (on March 18, 1854 it advertised for sale "a four story brown stone front house, situated in Twenty-second street, finished in the best manner, with all the modern improvements"), but undeveloped plots.  In March 1864, for instance, they advertised "To Let--A plot of ground, on corner of Eleventh avenue and Thirtieth street, 50 by about 370 feet, with a dock on one side, suitable for the lumber business."

(Well's name survived as the real estate firm of James N. Wells until 1989, when it became Stribling Wells & Gay.)

In the meantime, the upper floors of both houses were being operated as boarding houses by 1865.  That year Christina Troutt, a teacher at Primary School No. 27 on 37th Street near Tenth Avenue, lived in No. 169, as did Rubert Curran.  He was a sexton of the nearby St. Peter's Church and ran his undertaking business from store space.

No. 167 had similar boarders, like Kate E. Chatman, who taught in the Primary Department of Public School No. 38 on Clarke Street near Broome; Frederick Beck, a boot dealer; roofer James Kennedy; and Ebenezer W. McCord, a mason.  In 1870 the shop space formerly occupied by Roome & Wells was now the grocery of James C. Hull.

Living among the blue collar workers and school teachers in No. 167 in 1873 was 21-year old Maggie Jourdan, who listed her occupation as housekeeper.   But she was much more interesting than that. 

Maggie was described by The New York Herald as "a small woman...of very fragile make, with a thin, pinched face, delicate features, rather sallow complexion, large dark eyes and black hair, which she wears in a simple coil."  She was engaged to William J. Sharkey, described by Police Chief George Washington Walling later as "a pickpocket, a gambler, a notorious bank burglar, a politician of no mean influence."  And, most importantly, "the murderer of Robert S. Dunn."

William J. Sharkey - from Recollections of a New York Chief of Police, by George Washington Walling (copyright expired)

Deeply infatuated, Maggie looked past his flaws and focused on his looks and flashy wardrobe.  According to The New York Herald, she said "Billy was the most beautiful man in New York when he slung that fur overcoat."   During the four months he was incarcerated in The Tombs awaiting sentencing she visited him every day.  But her visit on November 19, 1873 would end in headlines nationwide. 

Maggie carried a bag when she arrived at The Tombs just before visiting hours at 10:00 that morning.  She received her visitor's ticket, and went in.  A few minutes later Sarah Allen, known to the newspapers as Mrs. "Wes" Allen, arrived supposedly to visit her brother-in-law. 

In his 1887 book Recollections of a New York Chief of Police George Washington Walling admitted "If the keeper who was at the door when Maggie Jourdan entered and was given her ticket of exit had searched this bright young woman more thoroughly, he might have discovered that she carried on her person, not one set of raiment, but two."

She also carried a copy of the cell door lock.  It was later discovered that she had taken a wax impression of the lock and, assisted by Sharkey's cohorts, managed to make the duplicate.

Sharkey rapidly shaved off his mustache and put on the female attire.  Using Sarah Allen's pass, he walked out of the cell.  Keeper Phillips recognized Maggie as she passed.  Walling wrote "This second woman was dressed in a dark woollen dress, black cloak, and an Alpine hat.  She wore a thick green veil, which she kept close to her face.  She was large and rather masculine in appearance."

Murderer William J. Sharkey walks out of prison in women's clothing.  from The New York Tombs: Its Secrets and its Mysteries (1874), copyright expired

An hour later Sarah attempted to leave.  When asked for her ticket she fumbled about then exclaimed, "Why, I must have lost it."  She was detained and a search of the cells was initiated.   Sharkey's cell door was found open and his clothing lay strewn about the floor.  Sarah was arrested.  She insisted that Maggie Jourdan must have picked her pocket to get the ticket.

Maggie was arrested and held at $10,000 bail--more than $205,000 today.   Police commissioners were confident that the "had the strongest evidence in the world against Maggie Jourdan," according to The New York Herald on November 21.

While Maggie awaited trial, Sharkey apparently hid out in New York for about three or four weeks.  Eventually he escaped under the alias of Campbell aboard a small schooner, finally ending up in Havana.

Maggie Jourdan at her trial in January 1874.  from The New York Tombs: Its Secrets and its Mysteries (1874), copyright expired

On January 1, 1874 Maggie Jourdan's trial began.  Its conclusion sent waves of shock across the nation.   Her lawyer, known as Big Bill Howe, was a member of the highly successful criminal law firm of Hummel and Howe.  Despite overwhelming evidence against her, he managed to instill doubt.  The trial ended in a hung jury and Maggie was set free.

Justice was served not by the courts, but by her lover.  Maggie Jourdan traveled to Havana in 1876 to be with Sharkey.  According to George Washington Walling, "The girl's devotion, however, was but poorly rewarded.  With base ingratitude he soon began to ill-use her.  To his harsh treatment she at first submitted, but when it continued day after day her infatuation ceased, and indignant at Sharkey's insults she left the man for whom she had perilled [sic] so much, and returned to New York."

In the meantime, although the boarders in both houses continued to be working class, the accommodations were comfortable.  An advertisement on July 18, 1873 offered "Two elegant suits of four rooms each, well lighted and every convenience" in the corner building.  The following year "An elegant corner floor, of four rooms, No. 400 West Twentieth street, fronting grounds of Episcopal College, in complete order, with gas fixtures, stationary tubs, water closets, &c." was available.

Alfred T. and Susie W. Bricher lived in the house that year.  Their 2-year old son Herbert Adams Bricher, died on March 28.  The toddler's funeral was held in their rooms two days later.

There were four residents in No. 167 in 1877:  Patrick J. Meagher; William H. Newman, whose furniture store was at No. 302 Eighth Avenue; iceman Calvin Oakes; and Joseph Ahague.

from White, Stokes & Allen's Guide and Select Directory, 1885 (copyright expired)

In the 1880s the corner store was home to H. Carsten's "fancy grocery" store.  It was taken over by the mid-1890s by Henry F. Schnitker.  Because he also sold wine he was required to have a liquor license.  It was about this time that Nos. 167 and 169 were joined internally and the top floors raised to full height.

Part of the 1890s conversion to an apartment house was this impressive entry on West 20th Street and the interesting iron railings.

Among the residents at the turn of the century were Albert N. Whitesell and his wife.   On October 4, 1900 Mrs. Whitesell fell for a scam still popular among thieves today.   She allowed man claiming to be an inspector for a gas company into the apartment.  The New York Times reported "He passed through the rooms examining the burners, and then, pronouncing everything in good condition, went out."  Mrs. Whitesell almost immediately noticed her jewel case was open and a diamond pin, valued at $150, was missing.

She called the elevator boy who found the man on the third floor.  "The man tried to run, but the boy grabbed him, and they fought all the way down the stairs, while Mrs. Whitesell fled to the street, shouting for help," said The Times.  A policeman arrested Arthur Somerville and as he took him away, Mrs. Whitesell caught up with them.

She promised not to appear against the crook in court if he would just return her pin.  The thief handed it over, but Officer Dierkes grabbed it first.  He told her he "could not allow such a bargain."  Mrs. Whitesell went home, Somerville was held on $1,000, and Mrs. Whitesell was issued a summons to appear in court.

Her bad luck continued seven months later when she took a Sunday trip to the New Jersey Palisades.  She was a passenger on scenic trolley that, as described by The Sun, started at "the Fort Lee ferry, climbs the Palisades, makes long loops around the ridges of the cliff and then runs along the top of the Palisades." 

The two-car trolley was designed to seat 84 "pleasure seekers."  There were 97 aboard the trolley Mrs. Whitesell rode in.   At the bottom of a steep hill there was a sharp curve, and the over-burdened trolley overturned.   Many passengers jumped for their lives, others were thrown to the ground and "the passengers jammed on top of them."  Among the sixteen injured who were taken to the Englewood Hospital was Mrs. Whitesell, who suffered back and head bruising.

F. H. Schnitker's grocery store was still in the corner shop in 1903, while next door was the butcher shop of John H. Roeder.  Schnitker's would be replaced by the Empire Hotel Supply Co. by 1914, a wholesale butcher shop.

from the New York Hotel Record, October 1914 (copyright expired)

The Empire Hotel Supply would remain in the corner shop into the 1920s.  For the most part the upstairs residents were respectable and law-abiding--like the family of John Rush who celebrated the wedding of their daughter Sara, to Herbert R. Conner in September 1920.   But not everything was so joyful in the apartments.  The following month tragedy occurred.

The New York Herald reported on October 16, "Leaving two notes, one to her mother in Switzerland expressing regret for her act and the other saying she was tired of life, Annie Fisher, 24 years old, shot herself in the head and was instantly killed in a room" here.

One resident who brought unwanted publicity to the address was theatrical producer Ned Jakobs.  Born Nachem Jakobs in The Netherlands, he came to the U.S. about 1916.   His amazing list of talents included his ability to speak 10 languages, play the violin, and sing.

He married actress Marietta O'Brien in 1928, apparently the same year the 35-year old moved into No. 400 West 20th Street.  It was also the year he produced two Broadway plays, The Money Lender, and Houseboat on the Styx.  But trouble was looming in the wings.

Unaware he was married, in July 1928 Beatrice Barry gave him $5,000 to purchase a house in Queens, New York.   According to one newspaper the widow explained "He had promised he would marry her about Oct. 15, and told her he would need the $5,000 to bind the contract for the house."

The $5,000 was only the beginning.  Within a period of five months she gave him a total of $41,000 before he admitted that he had no intention of marrying her.    Mrs. Barry had Jakobs arrested on a charge of grand larceny.  When Assistant District Attorney George Carney found out he was not a U.S. citizen, he managed to have his bail increased from $5,000 to $15,000.

On January 23, 1929, as she waited for her day in court, Mrs. Barry told reporters she "had received at least three telephone calls from women who told her Jakobs had obtained money from them."

Simultaneously another woman, Dorothy E. Huyett Jakobs, filed suit, claiming to be his common law wife.  That case dragged on until October 1935 when a court ruled that she was, indeed, his legal wife.  One might assume it caused tension within the domestic relations of Ned and Marietta

The last quarter of the 20th century saw a significant decline in the Chelsea neighborhood.  Crime was on the rise and side streets were at times dangerous after nightfall.  On August 4, 1978 33-year old Najia Nieves was working alone in her father's grocery store at No. 167 Ninth Avenue.  Two robbers entered the store with guns drawn.  The feisty woman struggled with one of the crooks, and suffered a bullet wound in the arm.  They got away with $500.

But a turnaround in the neighborhood was on the horizon.  On May 6, 1998 Florence Fabricant, writing in the Food Section of The New York Times, said "Chelsea continues to rise as a venue for restaurants and food shops, with the spotlight focused increasingly along the former food deserts of Ninth and Tenth Avenues."  She pointed out the newly-opened La Begamote, "a very French pastry shop and cafe" at No. 169 Ninth Avenue.

The cafe remained in the corner shop until 2012 when Bocca di Bacco opened.  Time Out magazine described the Italian restaurant as "clubbily furnished" and offering "homey dishes like spaghetti and meatballs."

Patrons sitting down to a plate of pasta, or residents signing a lease for an apartment upstairs, could have no clue that the building was once home to one of America's most notorious criminal molls.

photographs by the author

Thursday, October 19, 2017

The John Russell Pope House - 4 East 81st Street

Brothers William B. and Ambrose M. Parsons hired architects Thom & Wilson to design a row of 11 brownstone residences on East 81st Street between Fifth and Madison Avenues in 1883.  The high-stooped, neo-Grec homes were completed the following year.

The homes within the ambitious row were intended for financially-comfortable families.   The 20-foot wide, brownstone clad houses were four stories high above an English basement.  Their neo-Grec architecture featured windows with architrave surrounds sitting on diminutive brackets, and handsome sheet metal cornices with four paired brackets.

Rather amazingly, every one of the 11 houses sold within a one week period in April 1884.  Isaac Rosenstein paid $40,850 for No. 4--just over $1 million today.   Rosenstein was the principal in the clothing "ready-made clothing" manufacturer Isaac Rosenstein & Co. at No. 23 White Street.  The firm made boys' and men's shirts for working class customers, such as "cotton shirts, flannel shirts," and "jean shirts."

Like other well-to-do Jewish families, the Rosensteins were limited mainly to Jewish social circles.  They were among the patrons of the lavish ball of the Young Ladies and Gentlemen's League of the Montefiore Home in Carnegie Hall in January 1895.  The New York Times said "The ball promises to be the most brilliant event in Jewish society this season."  Providing the music that evening was Victor Herbert.

The Rosensteins remained in the 81st Street house for 15 years, moving to No. 16 East 96th Street in 1901.  They sold the house in April to the wealthy widow, Mary Herschfield, who lived here quietly until 1905.  That year she sold it to Cornelius Fellowes and his wife, the former Caroline Suydam Whitney.  The couple had two children, 26-year old Cornelius, Jr. and Carolyn Whitney Fellowes, who was 23. 

Fellowes was born in 1840 in Louisville, Kentucky, and was educated at Columbia University.  He amassed his fortune in the stock and cotton brokerage firm of Fellowes, Davis & Co.  He had retired in 1890 and was now best known for his affiliation with the fashionable National Horse Show.  He was also secretary of the Coney Island Jockey Club and rubbed shoulders with other prominent horse owners like August Belmont, William C. Whitney, Pierre Lorillard and Alfred Vanderbilt, just a few of the millionaires The New York Times deemed Fellowes's "intimate friends."

When the Fellowes purchased No. 4 it was decidedly out of fashion, architecturally speaking.  The architectural firm of Foster, Gade & Graham was called in to remedy that problem.  In April 1906 plans were filed.  The Real Estate Record & Builders' Guide reported on the alterations.  "The rear and front will be enlarged with a 3 and 4-story extension, light shafts, stairs and other interior changes."

At the time the frothy French Beaux Arts style was falling out of favor among wealthy New Yorkers.  Millionaires like Andrew Carnegie and Paul Tuckerman were living in neo-Georgian mansions that hearkened back to Colonial days.  Foster, Gade & Graham's redo of the Fellowes house, completed within the year, would follow the trend.

The stoop was removed and the facade pulled forward to the property line.  The entrance was now located above a shallow stoop, slightly higher than the sidewalk level.   The red brick was laid in Flemish bond, to mimic age, and splayed limestone lintels carried on the early 19th century motif.  Three copper-clad dormers perched on the stone cornice.

The renovations were completed just in time for Carolyn's important society wedding.  On June 9, 1908 she was married in Grace Church.  The reception was held later in the East 81st Street residence.  Society pages were, perhaps, less interested in the bride than the groom.   Richard Lewis Morris was the son of Dr. Stuyvesant Fish Morris.  The separate components of his name alone constituted a significant representation old New York society.

Cornelius Fellowes was suffering from arterio-sclerosis at the time of the wedding.  That winter his health forced him to step down as president of the National Horse Show and as officer in The Jockey Club.  In February 1909 he took a severe turn for the worse, and fell into unconsciousness on April 27.  He died three days later without regaining consciousness.

Caroline did not remain in the house she had planned and shared with her husband.  Beginning in October 1910 she leased it to a succession of well-heeled tenants.  In June 1912 Franklin Delano Williams signed a lease "for a term of years."

Williams was a cotton goods merchant with a highly-interesting background.  He was born in Hong Kong in 1855.  His father, Franklin D. Williams, Sr., was a founder of the China export trading firm Wetmore, Williams & Co.  The family moved to Boston in 1861 where Franklin was educated.  He married Ruth Morse and the couple had one child, Mary Nelson Williams.  She was married in Boston in 1882 to lawyer Henry Ware Putnam.

Williams became a member of the cotton manufacturing firm Wellington, Sears & Co.  The family spent their summers in their Newport estate known as Wyn Wyc Cottage.  When they moved into the 81st Street house they had been living in New York only about three years.

After a lengthy illness, Williams died on February 4, 1914.  Ruth received a trust fund of $100,000, which amounted to nearly $2.5 million in today's dollars.

Caroline Fellowes continued to lease the house.  In 1915 it was rented by J. F. A. Clark, a member of the brokerage firm Clark, Childs & Co.   Like the Williams family, the Clarks summered in Newport.

Caroline Suydam Whitney Fellowes died in her stylish apartment at No. 1049 Park Avenue at the age of 70 on September 22, 1922.   She had sold No. 4 the year before to esteemed architect John Russell Pope.

Even if Pope had not been an acclaimed architect, his and his wife's names would have been well known, socially.  Both Southerners by birth, they were considered by The New York Herald to be "a prominent part in the summer life of Newport."  John's father, also named John, was a successful portrait artist whose subjects included Henry Ward Beecher, actor Edwin Booth, and Secretary of War Edward McMasters.  Sarah Pope was the daughter of millionaire Pembroke Jones and Sarah Wharton Green. 
Somewhat interestingly, Pope had also purchased the 50-foot wide lot on the corner of Fifth Avenue and 96th Street around the same time where, according to the New-York Tribune, he "intended to erect a home on the site for his own occupancy."
The Popes' change in plans may have had to do with the devastating tragedy which occurred shortly after they took possession of No. 4.   Around the first of March, 1922 little 7-year old Sarah Pope complained of stomach pains.  Within the week, on March 6, she had died of peritonitis.

Rather surprisingly, only five weeks later the house was the scene of the wedding of Sarah Pope's mother.  Pembroke Jones had died in January 1919.  On April 11 Sarah Green Jones married an old family friend, Henry Walters, described by The New York Herald the following day as "railroad executive, yachtsman and noted art connoisseur."

Two years later another family wedding would take place here.  John's sister, Minga, married Robert Halsey Patchin on April 4, 1924.  Both the bride and groom were widowed and the ceremony in the 81st Street house was subdued.  The Times noted that "relatives and a few intimate friends will be present."

On October 6, 1925 Pope received a notable commission when it was reported he had "won the competition for a design for the Roosevelt Memorial to be erected in Washington."  It was the first of several important D.C. structures he would design, including the Jefferson Memorial, the National Archives, and the West Building of the National Gallery of Art.

The Popes' two daughters, Jane and Mary, were in their teens now and were being readied for society.  On April 24, 1930 the New York Evening Post mentioned that the family "are sailing for Europe tomorrow on the Majestic.  They will return the middle of the summer to go to Newport."  The family may have made their trip somewhat short because Mary's 19th birthday was in August and her debut would soon follow.  

John Russell Pope - from the collection of the Library of  Congress

Sarah Walters gave her granddaughter a lavish birthday present in Newport--a new coupe automobile.  One week later, at around 6:00 on the evening of August 18, Mary was driving her new car with Adelaide F. Whitehouse along for the ride.  At the corner of Eustis Avenue and Old Beach Road, she collided with the car driven by James W. Sullivan, Jr.  According to Sullivan's report, after Mary's car struck his, it "swerved and turned over two or three times."  Adelaide was thrown from the car, but Mary was trapped inside.

She suffered a skull fracture and was taken to the Newport Hospital where she died.

Five years later, in August 1935, Jean Landon Pope's debut was celebrated with a ball in August 1935 at the Popes' Newport estate, The Waves.  (John had designed the lavish Newport in 1927.)

On August 27, 1937, John Russell Pope died at the age of 63.  His reputation as an architect was deemed by The Times as "international."  King George VI of Britain referred to his Tate Gallery in London as "the world's finest sculpture gallery."

Sarah inherited the entire estate, valued at $812,974 (around $13.6 million today).  Pope had explained in his will that Jean Landon Pope, his only surviving daughter, "is otherwise provided for" and said "I am confident that my wife will act for her best interests."

A reception was held in the 81st Street house following Jean's wedding to Navy war hero Anthony B. Akers in St. Thomas Episcopal Church on November 28, 1942.  Now alone, Sarah lived on here until 1949 when she sold it to Benjamin Gladwin.  He announced his intentions "for converting [it] into eleven modern apartments."

The renovations were completed in 1950, with two apartments each in the basement through fourth floors, and a single apartment on the fifth.

Outwardly little has changed to the house since Cornelius Fellowes made his dramatic changes in 1906.

photographs by the author

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

The 1828 Seba Bogart House - 44 Carmine Street

As Greenwich Village experienced a population and building boom in the 1820s unexpected investors got into the speculative development trend.  One of these seems to have been Seba Bogart, a farmer from New Jersey.  He purchased the building plot at No. 44 Carmine Street in 1827 for $950 and sold the property the following year to John Wellslager for a significant profit, $3,300.  The sale price--about $86,200 today--strongly suggests that he had built the three and a half story brick house. there.

The modest home, three bays wide, was little different from dozens of other Federal-style houses appearing in the neighborhood at the time.  A single dormer pierced the peaked roof and the entrance was positioned above a low stone stoop,  Simple brownstone lintels and sills trimmed the windows.  As was often the case, there was a smaller house in the rear yard.

Wellslager did not live in the house for long.  He sold it in 1830 to auctioneer Mordecai Myers.  Myers seems to have always leased the house, never living here.  By 1840 the house was occupied by Frederick Basham, listed in Groce and Wallace's Dictionary of American Artists as "modeller, plaster worker, architect, draftsman." 

The Great Fire of New York in 1835 had destroyed the 1827 Merchants' Exchange building on Wall Street.  Its handsome Greek Revival replacement, designed by Isaiah Rogers, was nearing completion in 1840 when Basham made a detailed architectural plaster model of the building.  He entered the model, along with examples of plaster ornaments into the American Institute's annual exhibition that year.  Basham won the gold medal for "the best specimen of modelling" for his Merchants' Exchange model, and second place for his ornaments.  (Coincidentally, his landlord, Mordecai Myers, moved his offices into the newly completed Merchants' Exchange building.)

Whether No. 44 originally had a shop on the ground floor is unclear; but if not, it soon would have one.  In 1843 the space was an apothecary or notions store and among the items sold was Winn's Irish Vegetable Relief Candy.  An advertisement on September 20 that year called it "The most wonderful remedy in the world" and promised it would cure "bowel complaints, cholera morbus, rheumatism, pain in the head, side and breast, scurvey, dyspepsia, spitting of blood, asthma, whopping cough, influenza, coughs, colds and consumption."

The rear house was occupied in 1845 by someone who identified himself in a real estate advertisement only as M. W.  His ad offered "a rare opportunity" for someone wishing to go into the hotel business.  Oddly enough, the hotel offered for sale, Military Hall, was located in Philadelphia.  Whether M. W. owned the business or was simply acting as the owner's agent is unclear.

Frederick Basham left New York in 1852.  In 1859 August 1858 the owner of the store, along with a newsstand steps away at the corner, was looking to sell.  His ad read "For Sale--the news, stationery and segar store No. 44 Carmine street; also, the news depot corner of Bleecker and Carmine streets; doing a good business."

Mulford Butts was living upstairs at the time.   A few months later he fell ill and the 35-year old never recovered.  He died in the house on April 8 and his funeral was held here two days later.   Before long Myers leased the house to the Dillon family.

Edward C. Dillon was one of six children in the house.  He was diagnosed with amaurosis, an optic nerve disease.  The future for people with disabilities like blindness was bleak in the 19th century.  In 1861 Mrs. Dillon was left to handle her large family alone when her husband left to serve in the Civil War as a hospital steward.   Edward was sent to the New York Institute for the Blind that year in hopes his condition could be treated or, at least, he could be taught a trade.

But Edward's stay in the facility would be little less than a nightmare.  Hearing rumors of bad treatment and horrid conditions, the State Senate initiated an investigation in 1864.  Among the boys interviewed under oath was Edward.

He explained that, initially, he had not complained to his parents because "I did not want to give my father or mother any anxiety about the matter, and so I pushed it through."  He pointed out the number of children at home and his father's military service as reason not to add to his parents' worries.  But eventually he did confided to his mother on a visit. 

On the stand he testified that his sight had only grown worse since being at the Institute and, while "I am trying to learn the mat trade," he was not allowed to attend those shop classes.  He described having to leave the dining room without eating because of the foul smell of the tainted fish or corned beef.   Several times a week the children were fed only rice and molasses.  And leaking dormitory rooms meant they had to sleep in wet or damp beds.

The Dillon family was the last to lease the entire house.  In 1867 Myers sold the property to Anthony Schmitt, who immediately leased furnished rooms.  He rented the attic floor, at least briefly, to a small garment business.  On May 15, 1870 an advertisement appeared in The New York Herald seeking "First Class Operators on Wheeler & Wilson machine, for tucking and hemming; two apprentices, good sewers."

The house changed hands again in 1873 when Charles Greiner purchased it.  He moved his family into the house, as well, and it appears he operated his business from the store.   His original tenants were, for the most part, respectable.  Emma Frances and John Collins lived in the building when he bought it.  Emma died here on June 6, 1874.   Within two years policeman Leopold F. Zirkell rented a room.  He worked in the 15th Precinct and earned a salary of $1,200 per year--about $27,700 by today's calculations.

By the 1880s Carmine Street neighborhood sat on the edge of a much sketchier area.   Minetta Street, about a block to the east, was lined with what reformer Jacob Riis would call "vile rookeries" and Bleecker Street was notorious for its brothels and dives.

Charles Maguire, who lived in No. 44 in 1880, exemplified the change.  On March 22 that year The New York Times reported that early on the previous morning he "while acting as door-keeper for the low dance-house No. 102 Prince-street, kept by 'Box' Hefferman, was shot in the side by one of a gang of men to whom he refused admission, and was dangerously wounded."

The problem started when Maguire recognized one of the men as James Campbell, described by the newspaper as "a disreputable fellow."  When he refused to let the men in, Campbell struck him.  "Maguire then called on 'Deafy' Price, a pickpocket, to lock the outer door, whereupon Campbell drew a pistol and fire three shots."  Campbell and his crew escaped, and Maguire was in serious condition.  The surgeon at St. Vincent's Hospital reported that one bullet had penetrated the liver, and could not be removed.

Charles Greiner applied to the city in 1888 and was granted a permit to "keep a truck on the street" outside of No. 44.  He lived on in the house until his death on August 16, 1902.  His family would retain ownership for another two decades. 

The three similar houses were constructed simultaneously.

In the meantime, Samuel Windt ran his drugstore from the shop space by 1906.  Upstairs blue-collar residents included John W. Dwyer.  He earned 25 cents per hour as a watchman for the city's Department of Docks in 1903.

By the time little Lillian Griener joined the Evening World's Art Club for Boys and Girls in 1908, the neighborhood was filling with Italian immigrants.  In 1909 D. Maddolois sold olive oil from the former drugstore.

The Spinoza family leased rooms in 1911 when unrequited love proved a serious problem.  Jennie Spinoza worked in a garment factory.  Among her co-workers was another Italian immigrant, Joseph Nuzzio, who was smitten with her.  The fact that Nuzzio was a dwarf posed a problem.  The Evening World explained "But nature cheated Nuzzio out of nearly two feet of the height" and that Jennie "could not see in the diminutive fellow a fitting frame for the romantic word-picture of love that he daily painted."

Undaunted, Nuzzio showed up at No. 44 Carmine Street and asked Jennie's widowed mother for her hand in marriage.  "He got no encouragement," said the newspaper.  Nuzzio's temperament changed from romance to violence. 

Jennie, her mother and her sister and her brother-in-law appeared in the Tombs Court on August 1.  They told Magistrate Breen that Nuzzio "promised to blow up the house, threatened death by pistol and by knife and told the family that the Black Hand to which he belonged, would get them if they separated him from his sweetheart."

Joseph Nuzzio appeared thunderstruck.  "I did not tell them those things," he declared.  "I love Jennie too much to harm her.  I cannot live without her."

The judge was unmoved.  "You'll have to give a bond of $500 that you can live without her, and keep entirely away from the family."  The Evening World reported that Nuzzio paid the $500 bond not to disturb the family's peace, "while he cherished his love in solitary seclusion."

By 1915 Charles Casazza moved his family into the building.  He was a founder, along with Anthony Cuneo and Emanuele Ronzoni, of the Atlantic Macaroni Company; and was an officer and director in the Nectar Co., Inc.  In 1925 he and his wife, Annie, would purchase the property from the Griener family.

Five years before that transaction tragedy visited No. 44.  On December 8, 1920 The New York Times reported on a wave of violent crimes that had swept the Italian neighborhood.  Several of the 52 murders committed that year took place in the district.  Among those incidents was the death on September 6 of Frederick Ennis, who lived at No. 44 Carmine.

That afternoon a large group of men--estimated by neighbors at between 50 and 100--gathered in the schoolyard of the old Downing Street School to shoot craps.  An "altercation of the game," according to the New York Herald resulted in a shot being fired.  When neighbors heard the shot and rushed to the schoolyard, they found Ennis "lying on the flagging with a bullet through his abdomen."

The injured man was taken to a drugstore at the corner of Carmine and Bedford Streets, but he died before he could be taken to a hospital.  The newspaper reported "Ennis never regained consciousness and was unable to tell the detectives who killed him."  Apparently none of the other dice players was talking either.

In the early Depression years Emile Raffo worked as the chauffeur for the famous stage actress Bertha Galland.   While she remained visible in theater circles, Bertha no longer appeared on stage by now.  She spent much of her time traveling with her mother.

On November 20, 1932 Raffo was driving the women, along with another passenger, in White Plains, New York, when a car suddenly pulled out from a side street.  While witnesses claimed that the other driver ran a stop sign, they also said that Raffo was driving at "excessive speed."  There was a horrendous crash that resulted in several people waiting at a bus stop were injured, and both Bertha Galland and her mother being killed.  Raffo was seriously injured.

When Bertha's will was probated in April the following year, Raffo was the beneficiary of a fully-furnished house at Lake Mahopac and "certain jewelry."  The value of the real estate would equal nearly $75,000 today.

Anna Casazza died on June 28, 1938 and Charles died at the age of 79 on December 19, 1951.  The house saw a quick turnover of owners.  The Casazza family sold it to Joseph J. Gardella in 1953, who sold it the same year to Thomas McBride and Dan Brown.  They resold it to Benjamin and Patricia Cunningham two years later.

The Cunninghams converted No. 44 to one apartment on the second floor and a duplex above.  Behind the ground floor store was another small apartment.  It was most likely at this time that a second dormer, at the tip of the peaked roof, was added.

That configuration remains today.  While the brick has been painted red and the windows, understandably, have been replaced, the house retains much of its 1828 appearance.

photograph by the author

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

The New York Cab Company Stable - 318-330 Amsterdam Avenue

Despite the Real Estate Record & Guide's describing him as "the dealer in fancy goods," William T. Walton had turned much of his focus away from his Eighth Avenue dry good store to Upper West Side real estate development by the mid 1880s.  A resident of the district himself, his name regularly appeared in realty documents as he purchased plots, and built apartments and commercial buildings.

And as the city's population swelled, increased transportation was needed for those residents not wealthy enough to own their own vehicles and horses.   The concept of New York Cab Company was announced on October 6, 1876, prompting The New York Herald to run the headline CHEAP CABS and explain "The rate of transportation will be fifty cents an hour for all passengers."  (The fare would translate to about $11.50 per hour today.)

Although the firm had not yet been formally organized, it proposed to revamp the disorganized taxi system currently in place.  Independent drivers who owned a carriage operated on their own, setting their own fares (normally higher than those in Europe).  The New York Cab Company would hire existing cabs and drivers, cover their stabling and repairs, and pay them $1.50 per trip.

In 1884 the firm finally began operation.  Appleton's Dictionary of Greater New York said "The New York Cab Company have recently placed on the streets cabs at rates much cheaper than have hitherto ruled.  The cabs are black and yellow, and are popularly known as the 'black and tan.'"

In the eight years since its organizers had first come up with the idea, the fares had risen.  Appleton's said that there were two kinds of cabs--two-seated and four-seated--and "The tariff of charges is twenty-five cents a mile, or fraction thereof, or $1.00 by the hour."

The guidebook warned tourists about being fooled by other cabs who parroted the bright yellow stripe.  "Strangers should be cautioned against cabs painted yellow and black in imitation, the drivers of which usually charge higher rates."

That same year, in July, William T. Walton purchased the large plot of land at the northwest corner of 10th Avenue (renamed Amsterdam Avenue in 1890) and 75th Street.   By the time his architect, Charles Abbott French, filed plans four years later, in March 1888, the New York Cab Company had several stables throughout the city.

A comment in the Record & Guide on November 2, 1889 may explain the long delay in constructing Walton's building.  "W. T. Walton intends completing the storage warehouse, commenced some eighteen months ago, on the west side of 10th avenue, between 75th and 76th streets."

It appears that the storage warehouse idea stalled, and construction was kickstarted following negotiations with the New York Cab Company.  Their newest stable was completed in July 1890 at a reported cost of $45,000--more than $1.2 million today.   The only commercial stables in the neighborhood at the time, French's five-story structure was as handsome as it was utilitarian.   His elegant take on Romanesque Revival included expected beefy elements, like the undressed stone courses above each row of openings, and the chunky boulders that formed the base of the massive arched carriage bays.  But he softened the design by adding tasteful fanlights to the arched openings of the top floor and dripping incised lines that implied fluting down the three story pilasters .

The New York Cab Company was fully installed in the building in 1891.   Almost immediately the firm experienced labor problems.   Drivers complained that they were allowed only one meal break during their long shifts (Thomas Ketchell later testified to the State Arbitration Board that his shift ended at 1:00 in the morning and his next started at 6:00).  One hackman, Timothy O'Connor, testified that any driver who arrived to work more than three minutes late would be laid off for a three days.

Late in 1896 the drivers struck.   The New York Cab Company continued operations, using non-union labor.  On January 11, 1897 Police Commissioner Theodore Roosevelt received a letter from J. E. Bausch, secretary of the Cab Driver's Association, requesting that police be removed from outside the stables.  Roosevelt's reply evidenced the violent nature of labor conflicts at the time.  It said in part:

As a matter of fact the strikers or their sympathizers have committed a number of brutal assaults upon the peaceable employees of the New York Cab Company, in addition to attempting to destroy the property of the company...If the strikers are law abiding and peaceable they can have no possible objection to the presence of the police.

The strike sparked a surprising counter-move by the management.  On January 10 the New-York Tribune reported "The New-York Cab Company has been making preparations for some time to introduce horseless carriages to take the place of the cabs now in use, and the strike of its drivers has spurred it on to hasten the work of the inventors."

That announcement may have been more bluff than reality, for it would be several more years before motorized taxicabs would become viable.  The New York Cab Company continued providing its services with telegraph lines (and later telephones) in the office provided connection to theaters, docks and other facilities where passengers could call for cabs.  The firm negotiated an exclusive contract with the Cunard Line, for instance.

Among the New York Cab Company's valued customers at the turn of the century was Dr. Albert M. Johnston and his wife, Marie Layton Johnston.  The couple was married in 1901 and Johnston's dental practice was at No. 463 Fifth Avenue where he made about $291,000 per year by today's standards.  Marie added to the household by working as the head bookkeeper and cashier of the United States Playing Card Company.

The New York Times reported on October 5, 1903 "Both husband and wife were well known for their manner of dress and the lavishness of their tips."  They lived near the New York Cab Company's stable, in the Dorilton Apartments at 71st Street and Broadway.  Marie's taxi bills ran about $200 per month--more than $5,600 today--by the time of The Times article.

The reason the newspaper was reporting on the Johnstons' lifestyle was because Marie's employer had discovered how they managed to support it.  The 29-year old was arrested for having embezzled between $30,000 and $40,000.  The New York Cab Company found itself not only short two customers, but a significant amount of money.

Among the original founders of the New York Cab Company was William K. Vanderbilt, Jr.  In May 1907 he joined in another new enterprise, the Motor Carriage Company.  Power Wagon reported the firm "proposes to operate 300 gasoline cabs...within the period of a year."

In a separate article the magazine noted that Vanderbilt "is known to be enthusiastic on the subject of motor cab use, and is already heavily interested in the New York Cab Company, which operates horse-drawn vehicles."  The writer suspected "that the time is not far distant when a merger of these two interests will take place."

Indeed, on January 7, 1911 Automobile Topics noted "The Cab and Taxi Company is a consolidation of the New York Cab Company, the New York Livery and Auto Service Company, the Taxi Service Company, the Com-Automobile Company, the Club Taxi Company, Union Taxicab Auto Service Company and the Moulton Stable Company."  Among the 35 "stations" listed for the new conglomerate was the former Amsterdam Avenue stable.

By the time of the article, William T. Walton had altered the ground floor to accommodate shops.  On February 11, 1911 the Record & Guide announced that he had leased a store and basement "to the Colonial Restaurant for a term of years.  This completes the renting of the stores recently altered in the building."

Another business in the building by 1913 was the Metropolitan Motorcycle Repair Co.  An advertisement that year read "Have your motorcycle overhauled now; expert work, moderate charges; ten years' experience in motor cycle repair work."

I. H. Simpson operated his plumbing business from a ground floor shop by 1915 when he purchased a new Ward Special electric truck.  One of 18 merchants in New York City to use the innovative vehicle, he no doubt garaged it within the building.  The Edison Monthly noted in January 1916 "Arrangements have been made with stables throughout the city whereby these electric cars may be stored for ten dollars a month, this fee including the washing of the car."

I. H. Simpson's 1915 Ward Special truck, like those pictured above, was garaged in the building.  The Edison Monthly, January 1916 (copyright expired)

Simpson was still operating from the shop at No. 326 Amsterdam Avenue when he partnered with John Fath.  Fath had run his own company on West 83rd Street for years; but The Plumbers Trade Journal explained the men joined forces "to conduct a plumbing and heating business on a larger scale."

Two years before women won the right to vote nationally, New York State allowed women to register.  One of the shops in the former stables building became a registration office in the spring of 1918.  In reporting on the procedures on May 26, the New-York Tribune pointed out "In the garage at Amsterdam Avenue and Seventy-fifth Street a woman election clerk, Miss Beatrice Cassell, won the admiration of the man who was working for the other party with her, Arno R. Domeyer."

Domeyer told the reporter "For nine years I've been inspector of elections and I've never seen the equal for speed of Miss Cassell."  Beatrice was optimistic about the future for women, adding "When I've been inspector for nine years I'll be a Congresswoman."

At least one potential voter was having a hard time grasping her gender's newly-acquired independence.  The Tribune reported "One of the women who will know better next time is Mrs. Laura Rosebault, of 1 West Sixty-seventh Street, who tucked the card carefully into her pocketbook and started toward the door."

When a clerk pointed her toward the canvas enclosure for filling out the form, she explained "Oh, I'm going to take it home and let my husband show me how."

The article continued "After the clerk had brought her to understand that this was not the usual thing she emerged triumphant, having placed the cross in the proper place without her husband's aid."

In July the following year the McGraw Tire & Rubber Company leased the entire second floor.  A surprising tenant already in the building was the Enterprise Music Supply Company.  Charles Shongood described it later saying "The business occupies 10,000 square feet of floor space and contains the best equipped jobbing plant of its kind in New York City."

After that company declared bankruptcy in 1920, a public auction was held in the building on January 13 1921.  The announcement said "The stock to be sold comprises all of the latest and most popular instrumental and vocal numbers of sheet-music, as well as a complete line of the earlier standard musical compositions; also an extensive stock of phonograph records and music rolls."

The following year the Walton family had extensive renovations done, costing more than $200,000.  Included in the updates were reinforced floors and new elevators.  Now, in addition to the sidewalk level stores, an automobile repair shop was on the first floor and basement, with "public garage and auto repair shop" on the upper floors, according to Department of Buildings documents.

The Sherman Square Garage moved into the renovated space, while the auto repair shop was leased to the Graves Sales Corporation.  On the morning of June 8, 1923 Phyllis Simpson, secretary to Robert Graves, Jr., was sitting at her desk in the Graves Sales first floor office.  Upstairs 15 employees of the Sherman Square Garage were tending to business.  There were about 100 cars parked throughout the building.

Suddenly a gasoline tank exploded in the basement repair shop directly under Phyllis Simpson's desk.  The force of the explosion threw her from her chair and the entire building was rocked.  Twelve of the Sherman Square Garage employees rushed out of the building.  The other three ran to the roof and down a fire escape to safety.

The fire in the basement spread to flammable, toxic supplies.  The New York Times reported "Smoke poured from the place and fumes from burning tires, electric batteries and other automobile paraphernalia swept over the district."  Fourteen fire fighters staggered out of the basement, nearly overcome by the fumes, and were treated at a nearby store.

Fire Chief John Kenlon arrived after the third alarm was sent out.  "It may not have been a spectacular fire," he told reporters after a two-hour battle, "but it was ten times harder on the men than spectacular blazes usually are."

None of the vehicles on the upper floors were injured; but the building suffered about $50,000 in damages--a significant $703,000 today.

As the Upper West Side neighborhood changed, the old structure rather remarkably did not.  The Walton family sold it in 1946 and throughout the rest of the 20th century and into the 21st it continued to house a garage with various businesses--a player piano store, a laundry, and a succession of restaurants, for instance--on the ground floor.

Like gaping maws, the massive arched bays survive on the 75th Street side.  Once scores of horse-drawn hansoms and landaus came and went through these openings daily.

In the late 1980s the preservation group Landmark West! began efforts to protect the building.  Its location outside the boundaries of the Upper West Side/Central Park West Historic District put it in jeopardy of demolition or significant alteration.  Two decades later, in October 2006, the group's unrelenting push finally resulted in the Landmarks Preservation Commission designating the former New-York Cab Company Stable an individual New York City landmark.

photographs by the author

Monday, October 16, 2017

The Lost Robt. L. Stuart Mansion - 154 Fifth Avenue

The rear and side of the mansion as seen from the 20th Street side.  The carriage entrance is flanked by massive lanterns.  The sunlit conservatory, or tea room, faces the side street.  from the collection of the New York Public Library

When Kinloch Stuart and his wife, Agnes, fled Scotland to New York in 1805 because of crushing debt they could never have imagined that their sons would be among their new homeland's wealthiest citizens several decades later.   Upon landing in Manhattan Kinloch took his total savings of about $100 to open a candy store on Barclay Street.  The couple lived above the business and it was there in July 1806 that Robert Leighton Stuart was born.

When Kinloch died in 1826 he left a substantial estate of $100,000 (about $2.5 million today), half going to his widow and the other divided between his two sons, Robert and Alexander.

The brothers took over the family business, adding sugar refining to the manufacture of candy.   In 1835 the refinery business had grown so large that the candy operation was abandoned.  As their fortunes increased, the Stuarts completed side-by-side mansions at Nos. 167 and 169 Chambers Street.  But in 1862, "the business part of the city having invaded Chambers-street," as explained by The New York Times, Robert and his wife Mary erected a lavish stone-faced mansion on the northeast corner of Fifth Avenue and 20th Street.

The Italianate residence and grounds engulfed fully half of the block front; the norther half being occupied by the Gothic Revival-style South Reformed Church.   The manicured grounds included a greenhouse--necessary to propagate the exotic plants de rigueur in mid-Victorian interiors--and were anchored by a palatial carriage house at the western edge of the property.

Between the South Reformed Church and the mansion were manicured gardens.  The handsome Stuart stables are in the background.  from the collection of the New York Public Library

The Stuart mansion was a staggering 92 feet wide and 100 feet deep.  Its rooms reflected the Stuarts' refined culture.  The library contained about 25,000 volumes and included rare illuminated manuscripts.   One newspaper deemed it "one of the most valuable in the City."  The Times noted that "Mr. Stuart's gallery of paintings was collected with great pains and lavish outlay and was one of the finest in the City."

The couple may have been influenced in the choice of the site by to its proximity to the Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church, a block away at the northwest corner of 19th Street.   Both Robert and Mary were ardent Presbyterians and deeply religious.

The couple focused more on charitable and civic causes than lavish entertainments.  At the time they moved into their new home Mary held the post of First Directress of the New-York Half Orphan Asylum.  In 1864 Robert was among the founders of the Home for Disable Soldiers; and he was a trustee of the First Ward Lord Industrial School and president of the Presbyterian Hospital.

The Stuarts' second floor sitting room was quintessentially mid-Victorian in decor.  from the collection of the New York Public Library

In 1870, when John Taylor Johnston assembled millionaire art collectors to form the Metropolitan Museum of Art in his marble mansion nearby at No. 8 Fifth Avenue, Robert L. Stuart was expectedly among them.   He was also a founder of the Museum of National History, and when President Ulysses S. Grant laid the cornerstone for that new building on June 2, 1874, Stuart was at his side.

Later that night the President, Secretary of State Hamilton Fish, Orville E. Babcock (the Secretary to the President, or what in today's terms would be the Chief of Staff), and Secretary of the Navy, George M. Robeson, dined in the Stuarts' Fifth Avenue mansion.

Stuart would brush shoulders with the new U.S. President, Rutherford B. Hayes in 1879.  Hayes traveled to New York to open the fair within the new Seventh Regiment Armory on Park Avenue.  A feature of the fair was the 135 loaned artworks that hung in three large galleries on the third floor.  Collectors like John Jacob Astor, William B. Astor and Cornelius Vanderbilt removed paintings from their picture galleries to loan to the exhibit.  Stuart loaned First Impressions, by German genre artist Johann Peter Hasenclever, and Grandmother's Story, by French painter Hugues Merle.
Grandmother's Story was loaned by the Stuarts to the Seventh Regiment Armory Fair.  image via
 On the evening of April 21, 1880 a fund raising event for the Hahnemann Hospital took place in Madison Square Garden.   Well-dressed citizens danced and chatted in elegant surroundings.  And then tragedy occurred.   The Madison Avenue wall “including the tower at the north-western corner, fell into the street, carrying away the Art Gallery, the dancing-room, and part of the restaurant.”  Four patrons were killed and 22 hospitalized.

Robert L. Stuart responded by writing a check for $10,000 to the Hahnemann Hospital--just under a quarter of a million dollars today.  It was just one of the munificent gifts the Stuarts routinely bestowed.  He was described by The New York Times as "one of the most generous donors of Princeton College," and he and Alexander jointly built Stuart Hall on its campus.

The Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church moved to Fifth Avenue and 55th Street in 1875.  It was emblematic of the northward migrations of its neighbors and congregants leaving the Fifth Avenue neighborhood below 23rd Street.  On March 19, 1881 The Real Estate Record & Guide announced that "Mr. Robert L. Stuart will build a sumptuous dwelling at Sixty-eight street and Fifth Avenue."

Robert Leighton Stuart as he appeared just prior to his death in 1882.  Contemporary Biography of New York Vol. II 1882 (copyright expired)

Sadly, the mogul would never see his new home completed.  In late November 1882 he became ill and was confined to his bed for three weeks.  He died in his bedroom on December 12 from what The New York Times reported was septicaemia, a blood infection.  The newspaper noted "Mr. Stuart leaves a widow and an estate valued at between $5,000,000 and $6,000,000."

Stuart's funeral took place in Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church three days later.  The church was crowed with millionaires, educators and politicians.  Former Governor Edwin D. Morgan, Assistant U.S. Treasurer Thomas C. Acton, John Sloane, J. Pierpont Morgan, John T. Agnew, and Darius Ogden Mills were a few of the notable mourners.

Mary moved into the completed mansion at 871 Fifth Avenue and leased No. 154 to the well-known decorating and furniture firm Herter Brothers.  The company signed a 10-year lease at $20,000 per year--an astounding $40,333 per month in today's dollars.

New-York Tribune, March 3, 1886 (copyright expired)

On July 2, 1889 the Philadelphia News wrote a one-paragraph article that had nothing to do with a news story.   It merely enlightened its readers on the noble works of Mary Stuart.  The writer said that she cared little for high society, "and probably never saw the inside of a theatre; but the poor and afflicted know her bounties, if not herself."

The newspaper revealed "She keeps a person whose sole occupation it is to visit the different police courts and give bail for any deserving person whose detention would be a hardship until proved guilty, and often pays their fines when the offense is light."  Calling her a "sweet, simple, retiring woman of the noblest type, quiet and self-sacrificing," it noted that the widow had inherited "some $10,000,000."  "She does more genuine good than the world dreams of; but then she does not do it for the world to know or herald."

Two years later, on December 30, 1891 Mary died at the age of 75.  Her will left $1 million to the Boards of Home and Foreign Missions of the Presbyterian Church "to be used as a permanent fund."  The Boards purchased Mary and Robert Stuart's old home at No. 154 Fifth Avenue in December 1893 and used her endowment to replace it with The Presbyterian Building to house its mission offices.  That building, designed by James B. Baker, survives.

An early postcard view depicts the gleaming new building.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

The Frederick Zittel House - 222 East 62nd Street

When Adam Tredwell (sometimes spelled Treadwell) died in 1852 his estate was valued at more than $400,000--about $12.8 million today.  Among his real estate holdings were about 24 acres of former farmland on the still undeveloped Upper East Side.  His heirs wasted no time in dividing the land into building plots and by 1854 were selling off the lots.

Construction and development ground to a near halt in New York City during the Civil War; but almost immediately afterward developers bought up tracts within the "Treadwell Farm."   In order to protect the value of their projected properties, 20 real estate operators came together and agreed on protective covenants.   They included standards for construction quality, height and width requirements, and the prohibition of undesirable businesses like saloons or factories.

Among the developers were brothers John and George Ruddell.  Between 1868 and 1870 they constructed 19 rowhouses on the south side of 62nd Street, between Second and Third Avenue.  Rather surprisingly, they used two architects--F. S. Barns designing nine of them, and James W. Pirrson responsible for two groups of five.

One of the Pirrson groups included Nos. 222 through 230.   The stone-faced Italianate houses were three stories high above an English basement.  The handsome arched entrances were capped with pediments supported by foliate brackets.  The architrave moldings of the windows were distinguished with prominent lintels, and cast modillioned cornices completed their dignified appearance.  At a cost to construct of $16,000 each--nearly $280,000 today--they were intended for upper middle class owners.

No. 222 was purchased by real estate broker Frederick Zittel.  With his partner, Walter B. Waldron, he did business from No. 1026 Third Avenue.   Zittel was married to the former Hattie J. Bodge.  Her widowed mother, Mary, moved in with the couple.

But the family had barely settled in before misfortune occurred.  Mary Bodge died on October 23, 1869 at the age of 77.  Her funeral was held in the house two days later.

On October 19, 1872 Zittel and Waldron dissolved their partnership.  A notice in The New York Herald assured clients "The real estate business heretofore existing under the name of Waldron & Zittel will be continued by Frederick Zittel, at the old stand."

The East 62nd Street house was the victim of a mysterious sneak thief in November 1874.   Zittel placed a notice in The New York Herald that offered "$20 reward and no questions asked--For return of Overcoat and Memorandum Book taken from 222 East Sixty-second street.  By returning the above to the house or to 1,026 Third avenue the above reward will be paid."

As was customary, the title to No. 222 was in Hattie's name.  After more than a decade in the house the Zittels sold it to Andrew B. Yetter on June 29, 1880 for $14,000.   Yetter and his wife, the former Elizabeth Wack, had two children, 12-year old Charles and his 17-year old sister, Nellie.

Andrew Yetter's businesses were diverse.  He was the president of the Atlas Storage Co., of the Globe Storage & Carpet Cleaning Co., and ran one of the several companies that did the city's street sprinkling.

Exactly why 14-year old Charles was out past midnight on May 21, 1882 is unclear.  But he was headed home on the Second Avenue streetcar with two friends that night.  Around 12:30 his friends said good night and disembarked at 59th Street.  Charles fell asleep, waking up suddenly just as the car passed 63rd Street.

When he realized he had just missed his stop, the teen jumped up and sprang from the moving streetcar.  The New York Times reported "He struck head foremost against one of the pillars of the elevated railroad and was thrown to the ground under the car, the wheels of which passed over his legs, severing them from his body."  The boy died in the Presbyterian Hospital later that morning.

The extent of Yetter's businesses was reflected in his constructing a six-story factory on East 61st Street in 1884, and a six-story storage warehouse in 1888.

After Nellie married James L. Hiller the newlyweds moved into the house with her parents.  And Andrew Yetter got a new business partner.  Hiller became an officer in the Globe Storage & Carpet Cleaning Co.

A century before the realty television show Storage Wars Globe Storage & Carpet Cleaning held auctions for abandoned goods.  One, for instance, held on August 28, 1922 included suites of furniture, pianos, Victrolas, phonographs, sewing machines, china, glassware and a profusion of other items.

Andrew Yetter died on February 18, 1925 at the age of 87.  Elizabeth died 10 months later, on December 20, at 81.  Both funerals were held in the 62nd Street house.

In what The New York Times deemed "its first change of ownership in sixty years," the Hillers sold the house in 1944.  The new owner was Major General Anson Conger Goodyear.  Despite his many accomplishments--he was a manufacturer, author, entrepreneur and philanthropist--he was best known as a founder and the first president of the Museum of Modern Art, and for his impressive collection of 20th century American and European art.

Its comparatively stuffy Victorian style made the house a surprising choice for Goodyear.  It stood in stark contrast to his sleek, modern summer estate in Old Westbury, Long Island--emblematic of his taste in art and architecture.  In 1938 Goodyear had commissioned Edward Durell Stone to design the International Style residence.   The completed structure, designed in part to exhibit Goodyear's art, was later described by The New Yorker architecture critic, Paul Goldberger, as "one of the most important houses built in the United States between the two world wars."

The Goodyear house in Old Westbury.  The Journal of the American Institute of Architects.

It was in the Old Westbury home that Goodyear was married to Zaidee C. Bliss in November 1950.  Goodyear was divorced from his first wife, Mary Martha Forman, and Zaidee's husband Cornelius N. Bliss, had died in 1949.  In reporting on the marriage, The New York Times announced "They are making their home here and at 222 East Sixty-second Street."

But the elderly couple (the groom was 73 years old) would spend little time in the city house.  Within the year No. 222 was home to Austrian-born artist Rudolf Anton Bernatschke and his wife, Wynne.   Best known for his portraits of politicians, celebrities and statesmen, including General Douglas MacArthur, and Senators Robert Taft and Joseph McCarty.  His diverse sitters ranged from Gypsy Rose Lee to Cardinal Spellman and Gary Cooper.

Bernatschke died on August 22, 2010.  No. 222 East 62nd Street was almost immediately offered for sale.  By now it was the last of Pirrson's 1868 row that had not been substantially altered; other than new iron railings and and a coat of gray-white paint.

Real estate offering photos in 2010 showed many of the 19th century interior details intact.  The artist's works still adorn the walls.  photos via Curbed New York

It was purchased by the Republic of France as the home of Francois Delattre, the French Ambassador to the United Nations.   In reporting on the $13.9 million sale, The Observer mentioned the house "has five bedrooms and seven and a half bathrooms plus staff quarters" and "an elevator from the basement to the penthouse."

The handful of owners of No. 222 resulted in its escaping modernization; giving us a clear image of what the block looked like in the first years after the Civil War.

photographs by the author

Friday, October 13, 2017

The J. Clawson Mills House - 32 West 9th Street

As the blocks between Fifth and Sixth Avenues just above Washington Square developed in the 1840s, the Jackson Marine Insurance Company embarked on a speculative investment project.  In 1845 the firm erected three matching, upscale homes at Nos. 32 through 36 West 9th Street in the fashionable Greek Revival style.

Three stories tall above high English basements, the brick-faced homes were trimmed in brownstone.   The year that the homes were completed First Lieutenant Robert Anderson was fighting the Mexican-American War.  Already a seasoned veteran, the 40-year old had served in the Black Hawk War of 1832 and the 1835 Second Seminole War under General Winfield Scott.

In 1855, because of wounds he received in battle (and his connections to Scott) Anderson was assigned to light duty inspecting iron beams manufactured in Trenton, New Jersey for Government use.  On October 5, 1857 he was promoted to major of the 1st Regiment of Artillery.  It was about this time that he moved into No. 32 West 9th Street, near his former commanding officer.  General Scott was by now living at No. 24 West 12th Street),

Anderson's relatively quiet life would be short-lived.  Following South Carolina's secession in December 1860, he was appointed commanding officer of the US Army forces in Charleston.  Although he was born to a wealthy slave-owning family in Kentucky and was vocally pro-slavery, he never wavered in his loyalty to the Union.

Major Anderson moved his garrison into Fort Sumter.  It was the first target of the new Confederate President, Jefferson Davis, who ordered the fort to be captured.  Ironically, the Confederate attack on April 12, 1861 was commanded by Brigadier General P. G. T. Beauregard, who had been a student of Anderson at West Point.

Robert Anderson was already showing his age when Mathew Brady took this studio photograph.  from the collection of the National Archives and Records Administration

The events at Fort Sumter made Robert Anderson a national hero and a symbol of Union resistance.   The week after the battle he arrived in New York to great fanfare.  A New York City policeman had already traveled to South Carolina to escort Mrs. Anderson back home.  Anderson was center-stage in the massive pro-Union rally in Union Square on April 21.  He carried the flag that had flown over Fort Sumter.

The following month, on May 15, he was promoted to brigadier general.   Beleaguered after decades of battle he retired from military service on October 27, 1863.  His discharge explained "for Disability resulting from Long and Faithful Service, and Wounds and Disease contracted in the Line of Duty."

In April 1865 Anderson was at home at No. 32 West 9th Street when a telegram arrived from the Secretary of War Edward Stanton asking him to raise the old garrison flag over Fort Sumter in a ceremony scheduled for the fourth anniversary of Anderson's departure.   The impressive ceremony took place on the afternoon of April 14.   The celebration was tarnished when President Abraham Lincoln was assassinated only a few hours later.

The New York Herald mentioned the aging officer later that year, on November 12.  "Robert Anderson, now retired, may be seen occasionally in Fulton market with his basket on his arm, still strong and hale, though gray and a little bent, or on Broadway with a step that has not lost it martial tread."

But Anderson's health was failing.  He and his wife soon moved to Nice, France, in hopes of restoring his health.  He died there on October 26, 1871.

The Anderson's 9th Street house became home to Madame Grenier's dressmaking establishment.  High-end shops like hers were often quietly nestled within upscale neighborhoods with little or no outward signage to intrude on the residential surroundings.  An advertisement in The New York Herald on October 27, 1872 read "Mme. Grenier does Dressmaking in all its branches in the latest Paris style.  Charges are far less than other first class, reliable dressmakers.  No sign."

In the midst of the winter season of 1873, The New York Herald commented that the women of high society were busy shopping for "evening dresses, dinner dresses, ball dresses, fancy dresses, walking dresses and riding dresses."  The writer said "We have never seen the rooms of the modistes more crowded than they were yesterday or a greater variety of beautiful fabrics on hand."  The article specifically pointed out Mme. Genier's as an example.

Madame Grenier seems to have leased upstairs rooms.  In June 1873 an advertisement appeared in The New York Herald that read "A French Teacher wishes to find an engagement to teach during the Summer; perfect reference;" and on Christmas Day that year another ad read "A lady who is a first class musician, desires a resident engagement; teaches Piano, Singing, English, French, German, Italian, Drawing and a thorough education."

Madame Grenier stayed on at No 32 for years.  In the spring of 1874 she advertised "elegant Walking, Evening and Reception Dresses, trimmed in the latest Parisian style."  And the following year, in October, she was looking for "A French lady as saleswoman--one who understands thoroughly about dresses and laces; no objection to leave the city."

Her insistence that the potential employee be able to travel suggests that Madame Grenier followed her patronage to fashionable resorts like Newport or Bar Harbor in the summer months.  Without that flexibility, society dressmakers would have no clients while the wealthiest citizens escaped the city's oppressive heat.

The dressmaking shop was gone by 1885 when No. 32 was once again a private residence, home to F. G. King.   Within the decade William Greenough moved in.  Born in Boston in 1843, Greenough was a graduate of Harvard College, and ran a dry goods business in Boston until 1879 when he came to New York City.

He was by now a partner in Patterson & Greenough, a trustee of the Teachers' College, the New-York Free Circulating Library, and of the Charity Organization Society.  His involvement in those educational facilities caught the eye of the mayor and in November 1896 he was nominated as a school commissioner.

Greenough and his wife, Alice Mary, had five children, Alice, Marianne, William, Edith and Carroll.  Alice Mary died at the age of 48 in 1897.   Three of the children were at least 20 years old at the time; but Edith was 16 and her brother, Carroll, was 14.  While a staff of servants would help in the rearing of the teens, Greenough would have the uncomfortable duty of hosting the debutante entertainments of his daughter.

Introducing a young woman to society was the eagerly-anticipated responsibility of mothers.  Teas, receptions or dances required a thorough knowledge of protocols normally the bailiwick of the female sex.   Nevertheless, Greenough bravely forged into uncharted territory.  On December 8, 1900 the New York Tribune reported that he would give a tea that afternoon for Edith.

William Greenough died on July 8, 1902 at the age of 59. 

By 1912 J. Clawson Mills was doing a thriving interior decoration business based in Brooklyn.  In 1912 The J. Clawson Mills Co. advertised "Whether you have in mind the idealization of a single corner in one room, of the creation of an entire establishment, you should write today."

In 1917 he purchased No. 32 West 9th Street and laid plans for a thorough transformation of the out-of-date Victorian.  In April his architect, Hugo E. Magruson, filed plans for $9,000 in renovations, including "studio, sun & sleeping porch, doors, windows, partitions, stucco front."

The completed make-over left little hint of the home's Greek Revival origin.  Magruson placed square headed neo-Gothic moldings above Tudor-style openings.  A handsome window at the second floor extended nearly the entire width of the structure.  The Gothic door of the main entrance contrasted with the more severe door to the service entrance with its heavy strap hinges.

Mills filled his home with priceless artwork, including paintings attributed to Rembrandt, Rubens and Franz Halls.   He shared the house with two close friends, Albert M. Shannon and Percy F. Emory.

On April 15 1940 the 80-year old decorator died in the 9th Street house.  His will gave a large amount of his fortune to the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Architectural League.  That money was "to be used in providing scholarships to be known as the J. Clawson Mills Scholarships in music, architecture, painting, sculpture or other branches of the fine arts," according to The New York Times on May 9, 1940.  The J. Clawson Mills Fellowship continues to be awarded by the Metropolitan Museum today.

Albert M. Shannon received a life income from $2,500 (about $428,000 today) "and specific art objects;" and Percy F. Emory received $4,000.  Surprisingly, the valuable art collection did not go to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, as some might have suspected, but to an executor, John McLaren Strong.

The house was included in Mills's estate and was sold to an investor later that year "for altering into apartments," according to an announcement.   A renovation, completed in February 1942, joined No. 32 internally with No. 30 next door and resulted in four apartments on the lower floors, with three on the top floor.

Among the first tenants was Joseph P. Lash who was 32 years old in 1942.  As an advisor to the Young Division of the Office of Civilian Defense he had become what The New York Times deemed a "protege of Mrs. Franklin D. Roosevelt."  But his other affiliations raised eyebrows just months after the attack on Pearl Harbor.

On January 24, 1942 The Times reported "Mr. Lash has appeared several times before the Dies Committee on Un-American Activities.  His last appearance was on Thursday night."   His claim of 1-H status (being over 28 years old) made him illegible for the military service.  It did not, however, gain him much sympathy in the eyes of the patriotic public.

He was instructed to appear before Local Board 19 for possible reclassification.  On April 2, 1942 The Times reported that Lash was "ordered to report for induction into the Army as a private on April 13."
Now part of a duplex apartment, the second floor with its eye-catching window retains its beamed ceiling, 1917 fireplace and built-in bookcases.  photo via

Other than the remarkable 1917 facade of No, 32, the combined houses drew little attention to themselves for the rest of the century.  They received updates in 1962 and 1976; neither of which fussed with Magruson's fairy-tale design.  As it did when J. Clawson Mills moved in, No 32 still causes passersby to pause and enjoy.

photographs by the author