Tuesday, October 24, 2017

The Lucius H. Biglow House - 340 West End Avenue



The enclosed stoop ensured protection in times of bad weather.  from the collection of the New York Public Library.
In 1889 wealthy builder and developer Dore Lyon began construction on five upscale rowhouses on West End Avenue, Nos. 340 through 348.  Designed by prolific architect Edward L. Angell, the showpiece of the group was the corner house, No. 340.

Four stories high above a deep basement, the Romanesque Revival style residence was faced in brownstone and brick.  Swirling foliate carvings, chunky colonnettes, and muscular crockets atop the rooftop finials added to the medieval style.  The two-story bowed front on the avenue provided visual movement.   No brooding mansion with shadowy interiors, its abundance of windows on three sides flooded the rooms with natural light.  To the rear of the house was the service entrance, protected by a high wall and entered through an especially handsome wrought iron gate.

Dore Lyon and his wife, the former Anna E. Parker, moved into No. 340, upon its completion in 1890.  Anna was a colorful figure in New York society.  She not only styled herself as a pundit on etiquette; but involved herself in so many clubs, associations and committees that she was dubbed by the press "The Queen of Clubs."

In 1892 the Lyons commissioned architect Charles Israels to add an eye-catching bowed oriel on the second floor directly above the entrance.  Its carved decorations masterfully blended with the originals.  It may have been at this time that the glass and iron enclosed marquee was installed over the stoop, which hugged the 76th Street wall.

The bowed oriel was a pleasant after thought.  The window directly below was originally the entrance.

The couple had one child, Grace.  In 1893 they erected what one newspaper deemed "a magnificent mansion" as their summer estate in Saratoga, New York.  The following year, in February, they sold No. 340 to Lucius Horatio Biglow.

The apparently busy Biglow was a partner in the highly successful music publishing firm of Biglow & Main; the president of L. H. Biglow & Co., printers and stationery suppliers; president of the Metropolitan Realty Company; and, according to The New York Times later, "Director in a dozen other concerns."  The capacious West End Avenue house made sense for his family.  He and his wife, the former Anna Graham, had seven children, William, Elsie, Ray, Herbert, Elizabeth, May, and Lucius, Jr.

The Biglow family summered in Ridgefield, Connecticut, described by The New York Times in 1893 as "a favorite Summer resort for numbers of New York City people."  Biglow had purchased an 18th century fieldstone house, once the home of Revolutionary War leader Colonel Philip Burr Bradley, and had it Victorianized to a modern "cottage."  Melding his surname with Anna's maiden name, he named the estate with its park-like grounds Graeloe.

The Graeloe estate was impressive enough to warrant picture postcards like this one.

Julius Biglow became involved in the issues of the Upper West Side and on April 7, 1899 was accepted as a member of The West End Association.  Among the issues addressed that evening were the "driving regulations on Broadway (Boulevard), now being constantly violated by truck drivers," and illegal dumping of sand and dirt near by the 79th Street dock.


The issue of driving regulations being violated became personal six years later.  Ray, who was 17 years old and already attending Yale University, was home that spring.  He was arrested with two others motorists, charged "with racing their cars," according to The New York Times on April 6, 1905.

The teen was sketchy in the details he gave police, using only his middle name Graham and saying he attended Harvard.  He had shocking confederates in his joy ride.  Twenty-nine year old George Mitchell was the chauffeur to wealthy real estate operator Joseph M. Ohmeis.  He had taken Ohmeis's automobile and riding along were prize fighters James J. Jeffries and "Joe" Kennedy.   Even more surprising was the driver of the third vehicle--James A. Roche, the Chief Inspector for the Bureau of Highways.   Raymond's father apparently put up his $500 bail (more than $14,000 today) and one can imagine the discussion that took place on their way back to No. 340 West End Avenue.

Two weeks earlier the Biglow family had suffered a tremendous shock.  The term "butler" today brings to mind refined, white-gloved men with English accents who announced visitors by delivering calling cards on silver trays.   And, indeed, the duties of butlers in the Fifth Avenue palaces of families like the Astors and Vanderbilts were restricted to such activities.  But in the mansions of the families like the Biglows, the responsibilities were much wider.

James Fahey was the Biglows' butler in 1905.  On March 20 he was cleaning windows on the fourth floor.  Somehow he lost his balance and fell to the rear areaway.   The New-York Tribune reported "Fahey's skull was crushed at the base of the brain."  He died in Roosevelt Hospital that afternoon.

The rear service area is protected by an ornate iron gate.  It was the scene of Fahey's tragic fall in 1905.

Also attending Yale at the time was Lucius, Jr.  A big man on campus, he was captain of the football team and a member of the rowing team.   Following his graduation he became Yale's head football coach.

On February 4, 1909, the year after his own graduation,  Ray was married to Harriet Chamberlain Moseley in New Haven, Connecticut.  There were two hundred guests at the "old fashioned breakfast."  When it was time for the cake-cutting, the room was surprised when the bride's uncle, Rear Admiral Frank A. Cook, handed her his sword to cut the cake.

The Sun reported "This sword was presented to Rear Admiral Cook by his father when as a boy he first entered the navy.  It was carried by him all through the War of the Rebellion and the Spanish war."  Admiral Cook was captain of the Brooklyn during the Spanish-American War and was wearing that sword at his side when Admiral Pascual Cervera y Topete surrendered to him.

The Biglow family was at Graeloe on September 27 that year when Lucius fell ill.  He died there on September 30 at the age of 72.   His will left $25,000 to Anna (about $680,000 today), $15,000 to his sister, and the rest of the estate was divided among the children.   Anna's fortune was increased five months later when she sold the house to Ralph L. Spotts for $85,000.

Later that year he had a two story addition constructed on the rear roof. 

A 1925 photograph shows the rear roof-top addition commissioned by Spotts in 1910.  from the collection of the New York Public Library

Spotts was vice-president of H. B. Kirk & Co., liquor distributors, and a partner in the Cantono Electric Tractor Co.  But his fame came from his expert marksmanship.  On November 21, 1910, the same year he bought No. 340 West End Avenue, The New York Times reported on the shooting matches of the Larchmont Yacht Club.

"Ralph L. Spotts carried off the honors of the day, for he not only won the fist prize of the season as high gun with a score of 119, but he also won the ten and five bird scratch events, and the leg for the Sauer gun.  He also won the 200 target match."

A member of the New York Athletic Club, he was on the 1912 American Olympic trapshooting team.   For years his name appeared in sporting magazines like Field & Stream as he continued to add silver cups and trophies to his collection.

In 1916 Spotts branched out, forming the R. L. S. Realty Company.  On April 15 The New York Times reported he had purchased in a single deal five apartment houses valued at about $1 million.

He was still listed at No. 340 West End Avenue in 1920; but his residency here and the status of the house as a private dwelling would soon come to an end.

Like most of the first floor windows, the dining room window once had a profusion of stained glass.  The masterful ironwork below is both whimsical and lovely.

At the time Thomas F. Clark ran his private school, The Clark School for Concentration, in four buildings at the corner of West End Avenue and 72nd Street.  An advertisement in The Century in April 1920 read: "For Boys and Girls.  Boarding and day pupils; prepares for any college.  An intensive system of individual instruction.  Separate boys' and girl' buildings in fine residential section of New York."   It produced graduates like stage and film actress Ann Dvorak, and actress and off-Broadway producer Lucille Lortel.

On November 20, 1922 the school sold its properties for a hospital project and moved into the five-story mansion at No. 78 Riverside Drive on the corner of 80th Street.  By 1925 the school added the former Spotts residence as a women's dorm.  An advertisement in the Columbia Spectator that year noted "The Dormitory of the Clark School on 340 West End Avenue, can accommodate 22 women for the summer session."

The dormitory appears to have remained at No. 340 until 1940 when the property was sold to be converted to apartments, just three per floor.  The stoop with its unique enclosure was stripped off and the main entrance moved to sidewalk level.  It was most likely at this time that the colorful but out-of-date stained glass transoms were removed.


Despite the alterations, the former mansion retains its imperious presence.  Somewhat surprisingly, the stone wall around the basement light moat survives with its wonderful 1890 ironwork.  With little effort the one can imagine a time when wealthy families lived here, catered to by a staff of servants.

photographs by the author

Monday, October 23, 2017

The Lost White Conduit House - Broadway and Leonard Street


When Abraham Hosier created this charming water color in 1782, the Tribeca neighborhood was mostly rural.  For some reason only the rear of the house was depicted.  from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York

Before the Revolution, the neighborhood that what would become know as Tribeca two centuries later was mostly pastureland dotted with farms and summer estates.  Among them were mansions of Alderman Bayard and Captain Randall and a large wooden Georgian-style house.  The latter was described by historian Hugh Macatamney in his 1918 Cradle Days of New York as standing "on the top of the Kalckhook hill before Broadway was cut through, with an extensive view from its high stoop of the surrounding country."

It was located near what would eventually become the corner of Broadway and Leonard Street.  Sometime before the war erupted, it was converted to a road house named after the well-known public house near London, the White Conduit House.

Macatamney quoted a June 24, 1779 account of one event here.   Following a service for the Freemasons in St. Paul's Chapel, "from thence they proceeded, accompanied by the clergy and band of music to the White Conduit House, where there was an elegant dinner prepared, and the day was celebrated with great harmony and brotherly love."

In 1797 Broadway was cut through the bucolic environment and the rolling hills leveled.  Half a century later, William Alexander Duer grumbled in his 1848 book New-York As it Was, During the Latter Part of the Last Century, "the levelling system was adopted which has since reduced the superficial aspect of the city to an equality corresponding with the political condition of its inhabitants."  He noted that the "scythe of equality" destroyed the "variety and undulation of surface," and leveled the topography.  


In 1857 Valentine's Manual commented that the grading of the hill following the extension of Broadway resulted in the necessity of the high "stoop."  (copyright expired)

The leveling of the area directly around the White-Conduit House exposed its foundations, giving it an odd propped-up appearance.  William Harrison Bayles, in his Old Taverns of New York in 1915 wrote "The cutting through of the street left the house high above the level, and it was reached by a flight of steps."

By now William Byram had enhanced the roadhouse to a "public garden and pleasure resort."   Pleasure gardens were popular destinations where food, drinks and entertainments were offered in outdoor settings--affording patrons an open-air venue during the stifling summer heat of the city to the south.

Hugh Macatamney remarked "It was the scene of many quiet gatherings of the middle class citizens, it appears, until near the beginning of the year 1800."   That was when the operation was taken over by Joseph Corre, the former owner of the City Tavern downtown.  Valentine's Manual of the Corporation of the City of New York in 1860 mentioned that Corre "commenced his vocation in New York by selling mead and cakes on the Battery, where he was allowed to give additional attraction to his stand by illuminating with colored lamps."

Corre changed the name to the Mt. Vernon Garden and added a theater.  Now, according to William Harrison Bayle, "Flying horses and other like amusements were the attractions of the place.  Corre opened here a Summer Theater, in which members of the Park Theater company played during the time their own theater was closed."  And nearly a century later The Circus magazine recalled "in May and June of 1800, concerts were given in which Mr. and Mrs. Hodgkinson and others took part, appearing the subsequent two months in such light pieces and pantomimes as were suitable for a summer theatre."

Another well-known pleasure garden proprietor, John H. Contoit, took control in 1809.  He too changed the name, now calling it the New York Garden.   But by now the city was inching into the the once-remote neighborhood.  Valentine's Manual noted in 1860 "The most marked improvement of Broadway in this vicinity, was the erection, about 1807, of a row of first class residences between Anthony [now Thomas] and Leonard Streets."

The relentless march of development eventually signaled the end of the pleasure garden.  In April 1847 an auction was held of the contents of the New York Garden.  The announcement gives a hint of the scope of the entertaining and the substantial patronage of the resort:

The furniture and contents of the New York Garden, consisting of Summer Houses, tables, benches, large lamps and posts, about 40 in number, trees and bushes, trays, 60 doz, small tumblers of the best manufacture, &c. &c.  The Summer Houses, both open and enclosed, were made of the best material, and in the most substantial manner, and would probably accommodate about 1000 persons.

The venerable White Conduit House was demolished to be replaced with Tuttle's Emporium, now numbered 355 Broadway.  In 2017 the property is a vacant lot as Toll Brothers City Living prepares to erect a 19-floor residential condominium engulfing the plots at 351 through 355 Broadway.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Sewing Thread and Fireproof Safes -- the 1865 400 Broadway



After the outbreak of civil war in April 1861, there was little business-as-usual in New York City.  On the whole, construction projects ground to a halt as blue collar workers left to fight in the South.  A notable exception was the elegant commercial building Augustus (sometimes written as August) Hemenway began in 1862 at the northeast corner of Broadway and Walker Street.

The war was, nevertheless, most likely responsible for the slow progress of construction.  The handsome stone-clad structure took three years to fully complete.   Four stories tall, it was an early example of the French Second Empire style in New York City.  The cast iron storefront mimicked the stone arches and piers above.   Cornices separated each floor and stacks of prominent quoins ran up the corners and also separated the Walker Street elevation into three sections.

The cornice was upheld by paired, stone brackets.  Decidedly understated, given the handsome facade below it, the cornice may have originally been intended to support a stylish mansard roof, appropriate to the architectural style.  If so, however, that element never came to pass.

Hemenway leased portions of the building even while construction continued.  Late in 1862 the National Freedmen's Relief Association had a space here.  On December 14 The New York Times reported "The beautiful set of colors presented by Plymouth Church, Brooklyn, on Thanksgiving day, Nov. 27, to Rev. Mansfield French, on behalf of the First South Carolina Volunteers, will be for a few days on exhibition at the rooms of the National Freedmen's Relief Association, No. 400 Broadway."

Already Northerners realized that the freeing of slaves presented a new list of problems: education, jobs, clothing and other necessities of life.  The object of the group as set down in its constitution sounded simple: "to furnish supplies and funds for the relief and instruction of the freemen."  It was far more than that.

The end of the war only increased the work of the National Freedmen's Relief Association.   Black children were, of course, not admitted to Southern schools so independent schoolhouses had to be built.  And in the devastated South where even whites struggled to find work, former slaves had no jobs.   A notice in The New York Herald on October 19, 1865 pleaded "Unless relieved much suffering must ensue, the means at the disposal of the bureau being entirely inadequate...Industry has been interrupted, and over large districts entirely suspended and thousands of people are utterly destitute."  The article asked for all types of wearing apparel, and said that 35,000 blankets were needed in South Carolina alone.

No. 400 Broadway was erected on part of the site of the old Florence Hotel.  Joseph Dent had operated the saloon in the hotel.  As the ground floor of the new building was finished, he re-established his Dent's Ale Vaults here.

Dent's Ale Vaults lasted only a few months in the building, which was still under construction.  from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York

On January 4, 1863 he placed an advertisement in The New York Herald.  "Wanted--A good oyster man.  Apply at Dent's Ale Vaults, late Florence Hotel 400 Broadway, at 10 o'clock on Monday."  But the venture was short-lived.  Four months later, on April 2, he advertised "A lot of beautiful saloon fixtures for sale.  To those about fitting up a saloon this is a chance seldom met with.  Inquire at the Florence Saloon, 400 Broadway."

Joseph Dent did not give up the saloon business.  He moved his operation to Brooklyn, at the corner of Lafayette and Fulton Avenues.

Among Augustus Hemenway's earliest tenants was Charles Richlos.  After leaving work on the evening of June 11, 1865, the wealthy businessman allowed his carnal passions to get the better of his common sense.   He ran into two women on the street who lured him into a saloon.  Their intentions were not romantic.

The New York Times reported on July 4, "It appears that [Francisca] Alreary and one Margaret Early induced Mr. Richlos to enter a Grand-street den...and drugged him there with pothouse wine."  When Richlos regained his senses, he found that his "gold watch, chain, seal, breastpin and hat" were missing.   Francisca Alreary was found and arrested.  At the time of the article Margaret Early was still at large.

By the mid-1870s No. 400 Broadway had filled with firms related to the garment and textile industries.   The second floor was occupied by James Thornton & Co., importers of shirt buttons.  The high-end nature of the company's product was evidenced when burglars "effected an entrance by means of false keys" early on Friday morning, January 29, 1875.   The New York Times reported "The thieves secured 140 boxes of pearl buttons, valued at $1,600, with which they escaped, without leaving any clue to their identity."  The buttons would be worth more than $36,000 today.

The ground floor was home to the George A. Clark & Brother cotton thread store.  The firm's massive thread factory was in Newark, New Jersey.  George A. Clark and his brother, William, came from a long line of thread makers in Paisley, Scotland.  They came to America in 1855, setting up their new operation.  George died on February 13, 1873 at the age of 49.   William now headed the firm, whose Clark's "O.N.T." thread was nationally-recognized.

Clark's brand O.N.T. was short for Our New Thread.
Victorian businesses were constantly on guard against clever swindlers and con artists; yet they were frequently outwitted.   Such was the case on May 2, 1879 when a well-dressed young man entered the George A. Clark & Brother store and asked permission to write a letter.  He was offered a desk and after 15 minutes he thanked the clerk and left.

Later that afternoon the same man appeared at H. B. Claflin & Co.'s massive wholesale house at No. 157 Broadway.   He presented an order, written on Clark & Brother stationery, for several hundred dollars worth of goods "to be delivered to the bearer."

When he was told that Claflin's policy forbade the delivery of goods to anyone unknown to the firm and that they would be sent to George A. Clark & Brother, he simply agreed and left.  Then he moved on to E. S. Jaffray & Co. where he repeated the ploy.  And once again he was told the same thing.

The following day boxes of goods began appearing at the door of George A. Clark & Brother's store, "much to the astonishment of that firm," according to The Times.   The newspaper noted "Capt. Kealy has several of his detectives looking for the enterprising young man."

William Henning managed the store by the late 1880s.  Like his employer, he lived in New Jersey and was described by newspapers as "a prominent and wealthy citizen of Hoboken."  The year 1888 is remembered for the massive blizzard that crippled the city; but it was also the year of a dangerous heat wave.

On June 23 that year The Evening World ran a front page headline "A SCORCHER" with a sub-headline "Prostrations and Deaths on the Street--The Ambulances Busy All Day--Street Car Horses Suffer-Terrible Effects of the Weather in the Tenement House Districts--The Death Rate Mounting Higher Especially Among the Little Ones."  The article began "Sweltering Gothamites...got out of their beds this morning in a parboiled condition to find the mercury in the thermometer hovering around in dangerous proximity to 80 degrees."  Temperatures that day were predicted to hit 100 degrees in the shade, with overpowering humidity.

Four days after that article the 47-year old William Henning would become another victim of the heat wave.  He had suffered sunstroke on June 16.  Then The Times reported that on June 27 Henning's wife heard a pistol shot and "found her husband lying on the floor of the sitting room with a revolver in one of his hands and a bullet hole in his temple."  The newspaper explained "It is supposed that he had become mentally afflicted from the effects of the sunstoke."

One of George A. Clark & Brother's retail customers was in the same building.  George F. Damon operated his thread and notions store in No. 400 at the time and he stocked his store with, of course, O.N.T. thread.  Damon lived in Port Chester, New York where he invested in real estate as well.  He had built what a newspaper called "five pretty cottages" in Port Chester, one of which became home to him and his wife.  Around 1880 he donated a bandstand in the village square to the community.

But by the end of 1889 Damon was in financial trouble.  He owed George A. Clark & Brother $30,914--more than $830,000 in today's dollars.   He declared bankruptcy on January 6, 1890, assigning all his assets to Clark.  The firm was compassionate, assuring him a position within its firm at a salary of $5,000 per year (about $135,000 today).

Apparently Damon's debts, many of which were due to bad land and stock investments, outweighed even the handsome salary he was promised.   Around 10:00 on the morning of January 20 he walked into Robert Faber's gun store at No. 493 Eighth Avenue and asked to see revolvers.  Damon looked them over for some time, finally choosing a pistol and paying $5 for it.  He asked Faber to load it, then put it in his pocket.

Oddly, rather than leaving he walked to the back of the store, sat down, and began reading various letters and papers from his pockets.  Eight hours later, when it was time for Faber to close his store, he instructed Damon he would have to leave.  According to Faber, Damon responded "I'll go," then put the muzzle of the pistol in his mouth and fired it, killing himself instantly.  Police told reporters "It is supposed that unfortunate business ventures had driven him to suicide."

In the meantime, William Clark was prominent both in Manhattan and in Newark where he lived.  In 1892, for instance, he was the chairman of the committee in charge of the cornerstone laying ceremonies for Grant's Tomb.  By the late 1890s, however, he spent little time in America.  As the head of all the Clark concerns, he went to Scotland when a large thread conglomerate was being formed.  He remained on his estate there outside of Glasgow, spending only about two months each fall in the States.  He died in Scotland on his yacht, the Cherokee, on July 7, 1902 at the age of 61.

At the time of Clark's death, his company's thread store had left No. 400 Broadway.  The entire building was taken over in 1900 by the recently-reorganized Herring-Hall-Marvin Safe company.   The firm resulted from a merger of the Marvin Safe Company, Herring Sage and Lock Company, and the Hall Safe and Lock Company.  For decades its large commercial safes would be displayed in the ground floor store space.

A 1908 advertisement promised fire-proof safes.  (copyright expired)

In July 1907 a two-sentence blurb appeared in The New York Times that read like a 21st century tweet:  "Over 500,000 Herring-Hall-Marvin Safes are now in use.  Must be a reason."

After owning the property for 56 years the Hemenway estate sold No. 400 in November 1918 to the Midcity Realty Company.   That company already owned Nos. 402 through 406 Broadway, giving it control of 107 feet along Broadway and 100 feet down Walker Street.  But if other real estate operators surmised that the old buildings would be demolished for a modern structure, the simultaneous renewal of Herring-Hall-Marvin Safe Company's lease "for a long term" put those thoughts to rest.

Following the safe company's eventual departure, No. 400 once again became home to notions and dry goods firms, like S. Woolman, Inc. "cotton goods," which leased space in 1935.  In 1939 the row of buildings owned by Midcity Realty Company was purchased by Charles F. Noyes.  The combined properties were assessed at $280,000 (nearly $4.85 million today), and Noyes may have surprised Depression era real estate operators when he paid "all cash."

Recognizing the investment potential during the depressed economic conditions, he simultaneously, purchased 14 other properties.  "There is more money in real estate than anything else," he explained.   Regarding the Broadway row, he announced his intentions to "erect new buildings at 402-4-6 Broadway for individual occupancy" and said "The corner, a fine building, will be remodeled."

When Charles F. Noyes purchased No. 400 the the three abutting buildings to the north the storefront was still intact.  from the collection of the New York Public Library.

In the mid-1940s the store was home to Cohen Furniture House.  Textile firms continued to lease space in the building through the rest of the 20th Century.  In 2008 an ambulatory diagnostic and treatment health facility moved into the building.


Other than the truly unfortunate storefront on Broadway, the Civil War period structure retains its striking presence.

photographs by the author

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