Monday, February 20, 2017

The Lost Jacob Ruppert Mansion - No. 1116 Fifth Avenue


A newspaper published the above photograph around 1900 (copyright expired)

When Andrew Carnegie purchased land between 90th and 91st Streets in 1899 as the site of his new mansion, other millionaires called him "foolish."  At least 20 blocks north of the mansion district, the plot seemed impossibly remote.

But Carnegie was not the first wealthy pioneer in the weedy district.  In 1880 Jacob Ruppert had put architect William Schickel to work designing a lavish mansion two blocks to the north, at the northeast corner of 93rd Street.   Construction began in 1881 and was not completed until 1883.

A four-story Victorian concoction of brick and stone, it melded several of the most popular architectural styles--Ruskinian  Gothic, Renaissance Revival, Romanesque Revival, and even a splash of French Second Empire in the full-story mansard.  Despite dormers, quoins, arched first floor windows, and quaint bays, it was the corner tower that stole attention.  Decorated with carved panels and friezes, girded by a cast iron balcony at the third floor, and topped by a conical cap pierced by delightful pointy-topped dormers, it dominated the design.

The completed Ruppert mansion, seen from the rear above, sat amid a rather desolate landscape.  The little white building to the right is the Eagle Hotel, a roadhouse.  photograph by Peter Baab, from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York
Jacob Ruppert had humble beginnings.  Born on March 4, 1842, he was one of seven children of German immigrant Franz Ruppert, who had arrived in America in 1836.  The senior Ruppert started business as a grocer, then opened a malt-house on 13th Street and Avenue C--making him the first malt brewer in New York City.  His tavern was so successful that in 1851 he established the Turtle Bay Brewery on 45th Street, between Second and Third Avenues.

Jacob was nine years old at the time.  The following year he left school to enter his father's beer business.  The New-York Tribune later noted he "served for years, working up from the bottom and learning every feature of the trade."  By the time Franz Ruppert retired in 1870 Jacob was well prepared to take over the operation of the brewery.

Franz Ruppert died in October 1883, the same year that Jacob and his wife, the former Anna Gillig, moved into the Fifth Avenue mansion.  The couple two daughters and three sons.  Living in the house with them were 13 servants including a butler, cook, laundress, Japanese valet and maid.  Behind the house were apple and peach trees.

The Ruppert mansion reflected its owner's millions.  The interiors not designed by Schickel himself were done by Herter Brothers, the decorating firm that had redone the White House for President Grant.  As the Ruppert house neared completion, Herter Brothers was simultaneously at work on William. H. Vanderbilt's massive "petite chateau" 40 blocks to the south, the mansion of Darius Ogden Mills, and Jay Gould's sumptuous summer estate, Lyndhurst.
A musicians' gallery looks out onto the dining room.  The Herter Brothers frieze depicts a procession of children and animals, including leopards.  from Artistic Houses, Vol. II 1883 (copyright expired)

Costing $90,000--or about $2.2 million in 2017--the mansion included all the luxuries of the period.  The dining room, wainscoted in antique oak, included a small musicians' gallery behind a carved railing.  The walls were covered in embossed leather, its dark red design of grapes and vines touched in gold.
The chandelier is gilded bronze.  As in the dining room, the frieze (this one painted on canvas and applied to the walls) depicted children, these engaged in games.  from Artistic Houses, Vol. II 1883 (copyright expired)

The drawing room was lighter, a modified take on Louis XVI with ivory-painted woodwork touched in gold leaf.  An intricately-stenciled ceiling hung over hand-enameled Herter Brothers furniture.

Critics were not impressed.  The Real Estate Record & Builders' Guide derided “It is evident that there are a great many things in the house . . . and that the house cost a great deal of money.  But it is impossible to discern any more artistic purpose on the part of the designer than to exhibit these two facts.”

More in keeping with Ruppert's German roots was his kneipstube, or beer drinking room.  The New-York Tribune singled it out, saying "There is a room in the Fifth-ave. home of Jacob Ruppert, the brewer, that is as delightful as it is unique.  A peep inside the 'kneipstube,' as the quaint room is called, is, in imagination, a trip to the Fatherland."

A faithful copy of a rathskeller, it included bulls-eye glass windows, an iron chandelier, and antique oak paneling.  German tavern furniture was placed around a large oaken center table.  Bronze medallions of German characters graced the paneling, and inscriptions in German reflected the purpose of the room.  One, for example, translated loosely to:

Malt and hops
Make good drops.

At one end of the vaulted room, a wall painting surmounted what appeared to be a huge beer barrel, or hogshead, planted deeply within the wall.  In actuality, it was a cleverly-disguised cabinet, the spigot of which was one used in Franz Ruppert's 1851 brewery.

Steins and drinking cups line the plate rail, and a painting of a Taverne Madchen, or tavern waitress, adorns the wall.  New-York Tribune, December 6, 1903 (copyright expired)

Ruppert decorated his kneipstube with German steins and a tile stove.  The Tribune remarked "This is an old German stove, imported for Mr. Ruppert several years ago.  It is made of tile, and presents an appearance odd enough in this country, where most stoves are of iron.  This is one of the most highly valued articles in the room."

The Jacob Ruppert Brewery, now located on Third Avenue and 91st Street, was one of the largest in the nation, producing around 350,000 million barrels of beer annually.  By the end of the century it provided employment to 400 men, and required 200 horses and 135 delivery wagons.

Along with his professional pursuits (he became president of the Delavergne Refrigerating machine Co., and a director in the Astoria Silk Works, for instance), Ruppert turned his attention to horse racing--a visible and expensive pastime of Manhattan millionaires.  In the fall of 1886 he bought the Hudson River Driving Park.  The New York Times noted in January 1887 that he "is arranging to have four trotting meetings there this Summer.  D. B. Herrington, well known as a turfman and trainer of trotters, is to have charge of the park, and has plans laid out to make it a most attractive spot as well as a fast track."  Ruppert's summer estate, Hudson Brook Farm, near Rhinebeck, New York, would soon be known for his impressive stable of pedigree steeds.

In the meantime, Jacob Ruppert, Jr. was enjoying the privileges not available to his father as a young man.  Born in 1867, he was educated at Columbia Grammar School.  He joined his father not only in the brewery, but in the Astoria Silk Works and the Delavergne Refrigerating Machine Co.   His advantaged upbringing as the eldest son of a millionaire was reflected in his staggering number of memberships to exclusive clubs: the Manhattan, New York Athletic, Larchmont Yacht, Atlantic Yacht, New York Yacht, Jockey, Lotos, Sagamore, and Algonquin among them.

He shared his father's interest in horses, and went a step further by breeding and showing Saint Bernard dogs.  He was, therefore, a member of the English Kennel and the American Kennel Clubs.

While her husband and sons involved themselves in business and sports, Anna focused on her growing daughters.  On February 4, 1893 The New York Times reported "A very large reception was given yesterday by Mrs. Jacob Ruppert and the Misses Ruppert of 1,116 Fifth Avenue."

Two years later, on May 3, the mansion was the setting of the wedding of daughter Anna to Herman Adolph Schalk.  The Tammany Times reported "The magnificent home of Mr. Jacob Ruppert, the millionaire brewer, No. 1116 Fifth avenue, was the scene of one of the most beautiful weddings of the season this week."

Ruppert had given society florist Hanft Brothers carte blanche in decorating the house, which, according to Tammany Times, was "transformed into a floral bower."  The newspaper called the mansion a "fairy scene of flowers," and reported "A marriage bell of white roses was suspended from the centre of this flowery canopy, and two immense baskets of white roses divided the bridal cortege from the guests.  The four immense mirrors were draped with smilax studded with white roses, orchids and lilies of the valley."

An orchestra played the music, which included the wedding march from "Lohengrin."  Among the guests were Archbishop Michael Corrigan (the ceremony, interestingly, was performed by the rector of St. Joseph's Church, Rev. Father Lemmel), Senator David B. Hill, former Governor Roswell P. Flower and his wife, millionaires John D. Crimmins and Thomas E. Crimmins, and the Duchess of Castelluccia,.  A wedding dinner followed the ceremony, after which was a reception from 8 to 11 p.m.

Two months later, almost to the day, Cornelia Ann Ruppert was married.  Hers, however, would not include thousands of dollars in flowers, an orchestra, nor wealthy guests with lavish gifts.  On July 2 she appeared at the Paterson, New Jersey City Hall with orchestra leader Nathan Franko.  The 33-year old groom routinely appeared in the mansions of Manhattan's millionaires to provide musical accompaniment to balls, elaborate dinners or weddings--not to court their daughters.

While Anna had been dressed in ivory satin trimmed with Venetian lace and dripping with diamonds, Cornelia wore "a light gray traveling skirt and a changeable silk blouse waist," according to The New York Times the following day.  The newspaper mentioned "The general understanding here is that the match was a runaway."

The bride and groom took a carriage to the United States Hotel where a dinner was waiting for them.  Cornelia told reporters that immediately afterward "she was going direct to her father's house."

If anyone wondered how smoothly that meeting went, it was obvious the following year when Cornelia died of typhoid fever.  Franko was barred from the Fifth Avenue mansion following the funeral and a bitter, public court battle played out over control of the body and place of burial.

By now Jacob, Jr. was the general manager of the brewery.  On January 30, 1897 the New-York Tribune noted that beyond competing in regattas in his steam yacht, the Albatross, "he finds further vent for his enthusiastic ardor in athletic and outdoor sports.  Before many years that ardor in outdoor sports would manifest itself in baseball.

In 1898 Jacob, Jr. was elected to Congress.  But he was back in the Fifth Avenue mansion the following March when he fell seriously ill.  The New York Times reported on March 14 that he "caught a severe cold about ten days ago while leaving the Metropolitan Opera."  His condition worsened, said the newspaper, to pneumonia.

His doctor, E. G. Janeway (who was "one of the physicians attending Rudyard Kipling") changed his diagnosis before long.  Two days later The Times said that Ruppert "is lying ill with typhoid fever" but "was said last night to be somewhat improved."

By 1911, when this photograph was taken, development was beginning to catch up to the Ruppert mansion.  from the collection of the New York Public Library

Jacob Ruppert, Jr. did recover.  But his younger brother, Frank, contracted typhoid fever three years later.  The 30-year old had been accepted into Columbia University's School of Applied Sciences years earlier; but opted instead to go into the brewery.  After suffering with the disease for several weeks, he died in the mansion on October 20, 1902.  His funeral was held there two days later.

In reporting on his death The Evening World noted "He was unmarried" and "was looked upon as a good fellow."

Despite its love of horses, the family embraced the new automobile trend.  In 1914 Anna owned a Peerless, and Jacob, Jr. was driving a sportier Simplex, known for speed.

Anna Ruppert was driven around in a 1914 Peerless, similar to this model.  It retailed for up to $5,000--or about $110,000 today.  Country Life in America, December 1914 (copyright expired)
That same year, in December, The Evening World broke the story that Jacob Rupert, Jr. had purchased the National League baseball team, the New York Highlanders.  The newspaper said that rumors held that "Mr. Ruppert has long wanted to get into baseball."  He paid an astonishing half million dollars for the team.

But the Ruppert family was also dealing with a serious threat--the Temperance Movement.  The possibility of Prohibition was genuine, and its effects not only to America's brewers and distillers, but to the population at large, would be monumental.  On February 22, 1914 The Sun published a lengthy interview with Jacob Ruppert, Jr. in which he insisted that Prohibition would not promote temperance.  He went on to expound that legislating what one could drink was an invasion of personal rights.

Jacob Ruppert would not live to see Prohibition enacted.  On May 25, 1915 he died in the mansion with his entire family around him.  His more than $6 million estate was divided among the family; with Jacob, Jr. receiving the mansion while Anna had life-long rights to live there.

Jacob, Jr. was now the head of the Jacob Ruppert Brewery, which was putting out 2 million barrels of beer a year.  He was also the owner of the New York American Ball Club.

The Jacob Ruppert Brewery vats, several stories tall, were deemed the largest in the world in 1918. The Sun, October 6, 1918 (copyright expired)

Within two years Ruppert would own another ball club--the New York Yankees.   In an ironic twist the Fenway Realty Trust took out a $300,000 mortgage on Fenway Park, home of the Boston Red Sox, in May 1920.  The mortgagee was Jacob Ruppert, Inc.  The attorney for the Boston team tried valiantly to distance the club from the Yankee's owner.  "There is no connection between the club and either Jacob Ruppert or the Jacob Ruppert corporation," he said.  The Boston Red Sox, Thomas J. Barry insisted, were "merely a tenant" or the ballpark.

Yankee Stadium has long been nicknamed The House That Ruth Built.  And while Babe Ruth may have been responsible for making the Yankees champions, it was, of course, Jacob Ruppert, Jr. who built the new stadium.  On April 1, 1922 he announced that after 18 months of negotiations, he had finally succeeded in having two Bronx streets closed to accommodate the site of the structure.

Now he embarked on finding contractors to erect Yankee Stadium.  The New-York Tribune reported on April 1 "Figuring as conservatively as possible, the stadium even without the upper tier, will be able to accommodate 60,000 fans in case of necessity during the early weeks of October."

On March 16, 1924 Anne Gillig Ruppert died in the Fifth Avenue mansion.  She was 82 years old.  In the four decades she had lived here, she had seen drastic change in the neighborhood.  Farms had given way to mansions, which were now being replaced by apartment buildings.  Jacob, Jr. and his family still lived in the house; a situation that would not last much longer.

In 1925, months before demolition, nothing had changed to the old house.  from the collection of the New York Public Library

Within the year Ruppert sold the mansion to Anthony Campagna, who assembled the Fifth Avenue and Ninety-third Street Corporation to erect a high-end cooperative apartment building on the site.  But before it was totally demolished, Ruppert saved entire rooms of the family home.  Anna's bedroom was dismantled and installed intact in Ruppert's new Garrison, New York country estate.  Even her furniture and decorative objects were brought in, creating a sort of time-capsule shrine.

The Garrison house also received the dining room fireplace and musicians' gallery; and, like his mother's bedroom, his father's favorite room, the kneipstube was reinstalled in the new mansion.

The cover of a 1926 brochure pictured the new building.  (copyright expired)

Jacob Ruppert's massive mansion, which once defined the Fifth Avenue frontier, was replaced by 1115 Fifth Avenue, designed by J. E. R. Carpenter.  It survives.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

A Century of Shoes - No. 116 Duane Street



Duane Street was still lined with brick-faced homes in 1841; but change was rapidly overtaking the change.  As well-to-do residents moved farther north; merchants and shopkeepers moved into their former homes.  On July 22, 1841 an advertisement appeared in the New-York Tribune.  "Ladies who are particular in the article of Shoes, we would recommend to call at No. 116 Duane-street, where they will find some choice specimens, made of the best materials and of superior workmanship, combining elegance with durability."

It was perhaps the first hint of the shoe district that would engulf the Duane Street neighborhood before the end of the century.

In 1862 the house where the shoemaker had been was replaced by a five-story commercial building faced in white marble.  The cast iron storefront was manufactured by D. D. Badger & Co., run by Daniel D. Badger who was highly responsible for the popularity of cast iron facades in New York City.

Sorely abused, Badger's cast iron storefront is nevertheless surprisingly intact.

 The initial tenants were all in the wholesale dry goods business.  They included Joseph I. Barnum, "clothing;" Motts, Hyde & Vanduzer, "woolens;" and Runk & White, "clothing,"  

Fifteen years later, in 1876, there were still only three three tenants, Meyer and Frank Neubrik's clothing firm, M. Neubrik & Brother; Isidor Silverman, who dealt in "window shades and paper hangings;" and importer Henry C. Ely.   One of those firms was hiring in December 1878.  An ad in The New York Herald sought a "Boy--Must have business experience; bright, honest, industrious; salary first year $100."  The wages would equal about $50 a week today.

Sisters Adele and Annie Mary Hutton were among the first New York socialites to marry European nobility.  Annie became Countess Harold de Moltke Huitfelt, and Adele the Marquise de Portes.  Although the sisters lived in Paris, they retained possession of their various Manhattan properties, including Nos. 114 and 116 Duane Street, owned by Adele.

On Christmas Eve 1892 Adele died in Paris.  Her husband Comte Henri de Portes, rather quickly liquidated her property.  On May 27, 1893 The Real Estate Record & Builders' Guide noted that he had sold both Duane Street buildings to Hoffman Brothers, for $250,000.  The significant price tag, around $6.8 million in 2017, reflected the commercial activity and property values in what was now New York's shoe district.

The marble building filled with footwear companies.  In 1895 the Boston Guarantee Shoe Company was here; and within two years shoemakers I. E. Schoonmaker & Co. (Hiram Schoonmaker would stay on past the turn of the century); and David Simon would move in.

On March 9, 1899 The New York Times reported that the "marble and iron front building" had been purchased by Leo Babalgin.  Along with Schoonmaker, his tenant list included the boot and shoe firms Carlisle Shoe Co.; Friedland, Epstein & Co.; and Hathaway, Soule & Harrington.


By 1903 No. 116 had a new owner, Emanuel Stein.  He hired architect Benjamin E. Stern to do the first of a string of renovations.  The $12,000 in updating initiated in March that year included "new steel beams, girders, elevator shaft, [and] partitions."

Stern would be back 11 years later.  Daniel P. Morse, president of Morse & Rogers, owned No. 116 in 1914, as well as the adjoining building at Nos. 118-120.  He commissioned Stern to update both buildings.  When The New York Times reported on October 9 that the Concord Shoe Company had leased the store and basement of No. 116 for three years, it noted "Extensive improvements are being made to the building, including new front, elevator changes, etc."

Stern's redo of the facade replaced the elegant white marble with beige brick.  The no-nonsense commercial design featured broad expanses of glass.  The sparse decoration, influenced by the Arts & Crafts Movement, were limited to a projecting bay at the second floor, topped by a triangular pediment; rusticated piers along the sides, a cast metal cartouche and paneled spandrels.  Interestingly, D. D. Badger's cast iron storefront was left intact.  The cast cornice between the fourth and fifth floors, too, seems to be a surviving element from the original building.

When Concord Shoe Company signed the lease, The Record & Guide mentioned that the deal, "together with those involving six other buildings...indicate the continuance of the shoe and rubber trade in that vicinity."

The following year more renovations, while somewhat minor, were done.  Architect Charles Sheres drew plans for a new water tank and "steel supports."  With those alterations completed, Concord Shoe Company shared the building with new tenants: T. H. Hindle Co., "typewriter supplies;" Hudson Novelty Company, and Deacon Rubber Co.  Another typewriter supply company, S. T. Smith, moved in the following year.

After renting the store and basement for five years, Concord Shoe Company signed a lease for the entire building in January 1919.  The Record & Guide said "It is one of the best buildings in the shoe district, with elevators, heat and all improvements."  Apparently the Concord Shoe Company only partly agreed.  Only days later the firm announced that it "contemplates alterations" to the building.

The George H. Snow Co., shoe manufacturers, was already in the building; and before the year was out Concord Shoe Company would lease space to the Oriental Slipper Mfg. Co., and the top floor to the U. S. Electric Mfg. Corp.

In 1920 the "recently modernized" building was valued at $125,000; nearly $1.5 million in today's dollars.  Although the shoe district was still firmly implanted on Duane Street, luring tenants like the Saks-Meth Shoe Co. in 1921; other concerns moved in as well.   In 1937 the S. Weinstein Supply Company, hardware dealers, moved in.  And Thomas H. Hindle's typewriter supply store was still here in 1940.

S. Weinstein Supply Company found itself the victim of a long-term felon in 1942.  William Conklin did not fit the normal description of a veteran crook.  The New York Times described him as "an elderly, well-dressed man" 66-years old.  Despite his grandfatherly image, he had a record of 28 arrests and 21 convictions going back to 1898; and had served terms in Sing Sing and the Atlanta Federal Penitentiary.

Conklin's several aliases included Frank Murphy, Julius Goldberg and Edward Howard. In January 1942 he began "systematically looting mail boxes" in the Tribeca district.  Conklin knew that office building mail boxes would contain dozens of envelopes containing checks.

After a six-week stake-out, detectives finally nabbed Conklin on February 13 "while fingering mail boxes in a loft building at Broadway and Howard Street," reported The Times.  When police searched his apartment the found "equipment used by forgers, including ink eradicators and shading pencils."  Among the thefts he confessed to was "a check for $557.48 made out to the S. Weinstein Supply Company."

One tenant found itself on the opposite of the law five years later.  Shoe buyer George F. Arronson and his sons, Myron and Jules, posted $5,000 cash bail on January 23, 1947, charged by the Federal Government with "conspiring to bribe an official of the War Assets Administration." The New York Times explained "The defendants are alleged to have offered a WAA official $20,000 to help them fraudulently purchase nearly $1,000,000 in surplus steel, textiles and shoes."

No. 116 continued to be home to shoe companies as late as 1958 when the Asher Shoe Company moved in.  Then, as Tribeca changed to a trendy residential neighborhood, the upper floors were converted to apartments in 1996.

Amazingly, a faded sign "SHOE & RUBBER" is still legible on the cast iron entablature.

In 2016 the ground floor, where Concord Shoe Company sold footwear for years, became home to the Trinity Boxing Club.  Although the Corinthian capitals of the pilasters and columns have fallen off; Daniel Badger's cast iron store front with its multi-paned transoms survives somewhat humiliated by roll-down security gates and graffiti.  The incongruous 1914 upper floors are little changed; but leave us wondering how the marble front must have appeared.

photographs by the author

Friday, February 17, 2017

Fasces on the Upper East Side - 405 East 72nd Street


The several fasces that decorate the facade had nothing to do with contemporary politics.

In August 1928 Fannie Sailor sold her 25-foot wide, four story brick building at No. 405 East 72nd Street to Stanhope Estates, Inc.  It was the last piece in the puzzle the real estate developer was putting together.  Stanhope Estates, Inc. had already acquired Nos. 407 through 411 and now controlled a 100-foot wide building plot.

Something got in the way of its project, though; quite possibly the onslaught of the Great Depression.  But finally, a different developer, the newly-organized 405 East Seventy-second Street Corporation, filed plans on October 5, 1934 for "a new tenement house," as described by The New York Times.

The syndicate had commissioned Boak & Paris, Inc. to design its structure.  Both Russel M. Boak and Hyman F. Paris had worked in the drafting rooms of architect Emery Roth.  They struck out as partners in 1927 and by now were giving the Art Deco style--most often in the form of apartment buildings--their own architectural personality.

Completed in 1935, the six-story structure had eight apartments per floor.  The Depression may have been responsible for the seeming cost-cutting on avoidable materials and decoration.  The all-brick facade was sparsely trimmed in stone and the upper openings were blunt and industrial.



And yet the architects were able to create a striking Art Deco design using minimal, well-placed elements.  The stone-framed entrance spilled in waterfall tiers on either side.  The second floor was defined by a brick frieze outlined in stone.  Waterfalls reappeared here in the bases of two five-story piers that culminated in bold, if a bit stumpy, fasces.


Although the Roman symbol of strength in unity had already been adopted by Benito Mussolini; the fasces here had nothing to do with the Fascist movement.  The symbol had gained popularity in America in the 1920s, appearing on several Federal buildings.  As a matter of fact, while Boak & Paris were designing No, 405 East 72nd Street, Cass Gilbert was busy working on new flagpoles for the Supreme Court Building, including the fasces among their symbols.

A dozen other smaller fasces dotted the spandrels of the fourth through sixth floors.  They, along with stone rondels, paneled blocks which speckled the parapet, and a decorative bandcourse above the sixth floor provided relief to the otherwise somber brick.  The architects turned the problem of requisite fire escapes into an architectural advantage.  The sculptural Art Deco railings gave the appearance of balconies, melded with the overall design and added dimension.

Despite the ongoing Depression the building soon filled.  Its tenant list was composed mostly of professionals, like attorneys and physicians.  Among the first residents was lawyer Fridolin A. Buholzer, a member of the firm John W. Davis.  Moving in next door to him was Frank Miller.  Theirs would be a contentious relationship.

Above the stylish Art Deco entrance way is a nearly sculptural fire escape landing.

When Buholzer came home each day he relaxed by playing his accordion.  The music that relieved his stress only heightened that of his next door neighbor.  On October 6, 1935 Miller banged on his door and threatened to call the police and have him arrested for disorderly conduct.  The lawyer insisted he had a legal right to play until 11:00 and demanded, according to a newspaper, "if Mr. Miller had a complaint he could make it to the landlord."

The feud had now begun.  Twice Miller called the police in an attempt to have his neighbor arrested.  He was successful in January and Buholzer was forced to appear in court on the charge of disorderly conduct.  The charges were dismissed.  And so now Buholzer struck back.

A few weeks later, on March 9, 1936, he filed suit in the Supreme Court for $25,000.  He alleged "damage to his reputation."

Publicity relations man George D. Lottman and family were also early tenants.  He and his wife, Betty, had two sons, Herbert and Evan.   Lottman started out as a writer and editor with diverse publications like the United States Tobacco Journal, The New York American (for which he was "zoo editor"), and Billboard.

Then, in 1928, he started his own publicity business.  By now he represented celebrities like Dorothy Lamour, Rudy Vallee, George Jessel, Helen Morgan, and Kate Smith.  Another of his clients, Texas Guinan, was perhaps as well known for her notorious speak-easy, the 300 Club, as for her film career. Lottman became ill in 1941, and died in his apartment on September 25, 1942.

Among the physicians living in the building at the time was Dr. Kenneth J. Loder and his wife.  The war in Europe brought with it hardships at home, including rationing of gasoline, nylon, and household staples like butter.   The private consumption of gasoline was further restricted in January 1943 when the Government banned the use of automobiles for anything but business purposes.

Dr. Loder thought, perhaps, no one would notice if he and his wife used their car on a Saturday night.  He was wrong.

The Office of Price Administration sent policemen on motorcycles onto the streets of Manhattan "to check on passenger cars and learn their business."   On January 9 they were focusing on places of entertainment, including the Metropolitan Opera House, Madison Square Garden, Carnegie Hall, and night clubs like the Stork Club and Eddie's.

Just before midnight, Dr. Loder was pulled over.  The New York Times reported he "admitted that, after working all day, he was going to see a motion picture, accompanied by his wife."  The couple was publicly embarrassed by their breaking the law and apparent lack of sense of patriotic duty (the newspaper noted only one other car that night had violated the ban).  Nevertheless, they were sent home without a fine and having learned a lesson.

Throughout the rest of the century No. 405 continued to be home to professional and financially-comfortable residents.  Attorney Julius G. Paider, Jr. and his wife the former Clara Stolba, lived here for years.  He was appointed law secretary to State Supreme Court Justice Ferdinand Pecora in 1945.  He subsequently served Justice Benedict Dineer and George M. Carney.  On April 5, 1971 he collapsed in the New York County Courthouse of an apparent heart attack.  The 68-year old was pronounced dead in Beekman-Downtown Hospital shortly afterward.


Little has changed to the Boak & Paris building.  It is one of only a few of their surviving Art Deco style buildings in Manhattan, and a striking example of how sometimes minimal ornamentation trumps excess--and that a fasces does not always mean there is a Fascist behind the scenes.

photographs by the author

Thursday, February 16, 2017

From "Vile Women" & Gambling to Pioneering Black Modern Dance - 17 W. 24th Street


Despite repeated alterations to the ground floor and parlor levels; the upper stories retain their 1852 residential appearance.

As the mansions of Manhattan's wealthy pushed north past 23rd Street, builder James Wellock erected two upscale homes on West 24th Street, between Broadway and Sixth Avenue.  He advertised Nos. 17 and 41 "For sale or to let" on April 14, 1852.

No. 17 was the more upscale of the two, Wellock describing it as "a very superior four story brown stone front house, 28 feet wide and 65 feet deep, finished complete with all the modern improvements, and ready for immediate occupation."  The builder overstated the width by two feet; yet at 26 feet it was on par with the mansions of Fifth Avenue.

The Italianate-style house sat above an English basement.  There was, almost assuredly, a cast iron balcony at the parlor level, and a handsome entrance with foliate brackets upholding the pediment.  An Italianate cast metal cornice featured paired brackets.

Who the first resident of the house was is unclear; however it may have been Wellock, himself.  He was involved in the speculative real estate business, and on April 19, 1855 he advertised "Four new and beautiful three-story, high basement, Philadelphia brick houses" on East 40th Street.  For potential homeowners who could not make it to his office at No. 27 Wall Street during business hours, he offered to see them "mornings and evenings" at the 24th Street residence.

The family of William P. Jones was here in the early 1860s.  In 1861 Jones was elected to the Chamber of Commerce.   The house was filled with expensive rosewood furniture, imported carpets and even a billiard table constructed by Phelan & Collander.  The firm, located on Broadway, was recognized as the premier manufacturers of billiard tables.

On November 30, 1864 12-year old Harry W. Jones died.  His funeral was held in the house that week.  The Jones family was quick to leave.  It would appear that they relocated to another city or abroad; for the auction held in the house on June 20, 1865 included everything, from "crockery, kitchen ware, [and] oil clothes," to "rich Brocatel Curtains, with elaborate Cornices, Rosewood Etagere, Clock and Mantel Ornaments," mahogany and black walnut bedroom suites, and even the "handsome Gas Chandeliers."

The Jones house would never again be a private home.  By now the exclusive Fifth Avenue Hotel and the upscale Hoffman House at the end of the block, on Broadway, were drawing royalty, politicians and millionaires.  The new owner of No. 17 took advantage of the location and in 1866 offered "Elegantly furnished rooms without board, to gentlemen only."

It was not until 1871 that the proprietor started offering meals.  On March 5 that year an advertisement touted "A magnificent suit of elegantly furnished Rooms, with or without Board; a single front Room for a gentleman."

Within a few years the neighborhood that had been home to wealthy professionals was undergoing drastic change.  The district which would be known as The Tenderloin--perhaps the most crime-ridden in the world--would seep onto the 24th Street block before the end of the century.  The first signs of change for No. 17 were benign, and came when the proprietor suggested that the parlor floor could be let "for party of gentlemen or doctor's office."

Drs. Keck, Hoyt and Stoddard took the space on in December 1874 announced "There is an association of regular physicians at 17 West Twenty-fourth street, who treat Catarrh and Deafness exclusively.  They cure every case."  Another ad in the same newspaper promised "Dr. Keck's new and wonderful method with Chronic Catarrh and Deafness cures.  No other method does.  Physicians and all suffering invited to test it free."

W. H. Catlin owned the house on August 20, 1881 when The American Architect and Building News announced that architect George A. Freeman, Jr. had filed plans to add an extension to the rear and make interior alterations.  

By the time August C. Hassey purchased the house on November 1, 1886 it was described by the Record & Guide as a "four-story stone front club house."   Hassey paid $36,000 for the property, in the neighborhood of $936,000 today.  It is unclear what organization was using it as its clubhouse; but when William Higbee bought it the following year (providing Hassey a $500 profit), he returned it to a boarding house.

In 1891 Fanny Ford Walsh arrived in New York from Cincinnati.  Recently widowed, she brought with her $10,000, part of which she used to lease No. 17 from Higbee.  Also with her were three children and a governess.

Among her first boarders was Victor Cadieux, a Canadian about 20 years old who "attended to the stereoscopes in the Eden Musee."  Later the famous journalist Nellie Bly--perhaps the first investigative reporter--noted "No one knows whether it was the widow Walsh who made the first advances, or the boy Cadieux, but be that as it may, they say that in less then eight months after her husband's death, and with courageous, if not admirable disregard of the almost double difference in age, the two were wed, and Victor gave up the Eden Musee, with its motionless inmates, for the boarding-house and its spry mistress."

Apparently the pair opened a saloon in the former club rooms; for when Cadieux was later called to the stand to testify in the divorce proceedings of Wellington E. Newcomb and his wife, Caroline (who accused him of frequenting a "disorderly house") he gave his profession as "a bartender at 17 West Twenty-fourth street," according to The Evening World on April 10, 1894.

West 23rd Street had become the theater district by now and half a block away, on Sixth Avenue, was Koster & Bial's music hall where Jennie Joyce appeared as the Fairy Queen in "The Doll's Fairy" in June 1890.  Now she was living in the Cadieux boarding house.

Jennie Joyce was a music hall favorite.  photo from the collection of the Library of Congress

On December 26, 1891 the New York Clipper reported "A birthday supper was given to Jennie Joyce [on] Dec. 15, at her residence No. 17 West Twenty-fourth Street.  Among those present were Mr. Bial of Koster & Bial; Paulus and Mile. Valarez.  Miss Joyce received many valuable and handsome presents, among them a 'loving cup,' which was filled with champagne and passed among the guests."

The actress would have done well to secure the handsome and valuable presents; for she was living among a sordid class.  Nellie Bly exposed the Cadieuxes, not for the illegal saloon, but for fraudulently selling furniture as a sideline, for as the reporter pointed out "The boarding-house proved a failure."

The World, for whom Bly worked, explained the scam after she had written a scathing article.  "Their method is to advertise in the papers that a lot of magnificent furniture and paintings must be sold immediately and at a great reduction.  The alleged magnificent furniture and tapestries consists of the cheapest kind of plush and cotton and imitations."

The article, published on April 14, 1894, added "After 'The World's' exposure, Mr. and Mrs. Cadieux moved their business to 127 West Forty-seventh street."

But even after the Cadeiuxes left, the boarding house continued to be shady.  One boarder, Henry W. Dietz, was arrested on August 25, 1894.  The 33-year old claimed to be a salesman for a Kentucky distillery.  He received $100 payment for four barrels of whisky from saloon keeper James Kelly; but never provided the goods.

In the meantime Daniel J. Mahoney ran the basement saloon.  When he attempted to legitimize the place by applying for an excise, or liquor, license, reformer Mrs. Mary Sallade got wind of it.  She appeared at the Excise License Board with two policemen.

The Evening World reported on September 18, 1894 "She swore that the place was the resort of vile women and men and was of a very disreputable character."  The article ended "The Board rejected Mahoney's application, and Mrs. Sallade went away triumphant."

In the place of Mahoney's saloon the Regular Republican Organization of the Twenty-fifth Assembly District moved in.  On June 7, 1896 The Sun reported that the new club had held "an informal opening of its newly furnished club room" the night before.  Political social clubs were ubiquitous and, as a matter of fact, directly next door was the James G. Blaine Club, a political rival.

When delegates to the Republican County Committee of 1897 were elected on the night of December 15, 1896, a hullabaloo broke out here.  The Sun reported "The hall was filled with a howling mob of partisans of both sides.  Police Capt. Chapman and seventy-five patrolmen were there, and were needed there."  Although delegates were finally chosen, it was not before fighting broke out.

By the turn of the century the club was gone and the house became an illegal gambling den.  Police were tipped off by Joseph Hymonson in June 1902 after he lost $30 (a week's salary) at the roulette wheel, after initially winning.  "Then he thought he had been robbed, and that the best way to get even was to inform the police," reported the New-York Tribune on June 22.

Hymonson accompanied police to the place.  Undercover detectives went in with him, while patrolmen surrounded the house.  The detectives played roulette and lost; but then someone became suspicious and announced the place was closing.  Detective Flynn gave a signal to the men outside and they rushed in.

The New York Times reported "Two roulette wheels, a faro layout, and a quantity of poker chips and cards were seized.  The suspected owner had escaped; but four waiters were arrested; one charged with keeping a roulette wheel, one with running a faro bank, one with being a lookout and the last for being "a suspicious character."

Joseph Hymonson beamed with pride because he had caused the raid.  When a reporter asked what he would have done if he had won rather than lost, he replied "Why I would have gone home and let them alone."

William Higbee's estate sold the house in March 1903.  The Record & Guide pointed out "It sold in 1887 for $36,500, and now sells for $48,000."  It was sold one more time before Paul Shotland purchased it in 1906.  He hired architect C. Dunne to make "extensive alterations" costing $4,200.  Among the changes was the replacement of the stone stoop with one of iron, and re-configuring the floor plans to accommodate bachelor apartments in the upper floors.

Delia Muligan signed a five-year lease on the upper floors in April 1907; and Peter Maucher leased the ground floor for a "restaurant."  But problems quickly developed.  Shotland took Mulligan to court to dispossess her when their racial viewpoints collided.

On April 17, 1908 they appeared before a judge.  The New York Times explained that Shotland's suit was his "answer to the action of Miss Mulligan, who had thrown open the house, which is just a few doors west of Broadway and Madison Square, to negro tenants."

Mulligan countered that Shotland had agreed to install a hot water heater, then refused to do so.

In 1912 Shotland did renovations again after leasing the ground floor to Jonathan J. Kelly.  The plans filed by architect J. C. Crocker included bar fixtures, new stairs and beams.  While the upper floors were converted to business spaces, the first floor remained what was politely termed a "cafe" for years.

In February 1912 Shotland once more did renovations.  These, by Otto Reissmann, included "new steps, doors, columns, beams" to what was called a "dwelling and lodging."  Shotland, again, did not get along with his newest tenant.  On May 31 that year he filed for eviction of the Institute for the Instruction of the Deaf & Dumb.

Paul Shotland sold the building in September 1919 to William Weinberger, who almost immediately did yet more renovations.  The extensive changes made by Gloss & Kleinberger--removing the stoop and moving the entrance to ground level, replacing the plumbing fixtures, installing new exits and walls, installing a dumbwaiter and an interior balcony--cost $10,000--nearly $120,000 today.  The result was a social hall where wedding receptions, dances, anniversary dinners and testimonials would take place through the 1930s.


In August 1939 the school of the New Dance Group (or NDC, formed in 1932) moved into the building.  A stage was constructed and promising young artists learned not only modern dance, but Hawaiian, Caribbean, Indian and African dance.  When the first scholarships were handed out, African American dancer Pearl Primus received one.

The group continued to break new ground.  On December 29, 1940, for instance, The Times announced "The New Dance Group is presenting a program showing 'The Contribution of the Negro to Music, Theatre and Dance" at its headquarters, 17 West Twenty-fourth Street, tonight."

The New Dance Group remained in its studio until 1944, when it moved elsewhere.  But Pearl Primus remained.  Her father helped her establish her own studio in the building.  Always espousing her dreams of "a future free from racism," she focused on bringing the black experience into art.

On March 11, 1951 The Times reported "Pearl Primus and her group will give two lecture-recitals in her studio, 17 West Twenty-fourth Street, March 20 and 21.  They will be devoted to the discussion and the dance interpretation of folk poems of African tribes and the works of Negro poets of the western world."

Two years earlier the building also became home to the newly-organized Weekend School of Theatre, sponsored by People's Drama, Inc. (splinter group of the Socialist SFA organization).

Before 160 choreographer Drid Williams had opened his DW Studio in the building, where, along with other innovative dance, she originated Jazz Ballet.   Regular events here were routinely touted as "New Concepts in Contemporary Jazz, showcasing new works and new talent."

By 1976 the No Smoking Playhouse was here.  And as the 20th century drew to a close the Great Modern Pictures, a gallery of photography, was in the building.

A vised-in boutique hotel is slated to replace the 1852 building.  Commercial Observer

In 2014 developer Hag Gyun Lee of Eben Ascel Corp., announced that the often-renovated house where performing arts history had been born was to be replaced with a 18-story hotel designed by architect Gene Kaufman with interiors by Philip Johnson Alan Ritchie Architects.

photographs by the author

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

The Harlem Club - Lenox Avenue and 123rd Street




On June 22, 1889, as the Harlem Club's new headquarters was nearing completion at the southwest corner of Lenox Avenue and 123rd Street, the Record & Guide opined "In composition and in detail we scarcely know of a more creditable recent building."  It could also have been described as imposing.

Real Estate Record & Builders' Guide, June 22, 1889 (copyright expired)

Well-to-do Victorian gentlemen were expected to hold at least one membership in a high-end social club.  As Harlem evolved into a vibrant suburb, its new residents found themselves inconveniently far from the club district, which was around 75 blocks to the south.  In 1879 "some of the most prominent gentlemen who reside in the upper part of the City," as described by The New York Times, formed the Irving Club of New-York, and in 1881 acquired an existing residence on Fifth Avenue near West 127th Street for its clubhouse.  The New-York Tribune later explained "There were clubs and meeting places in the Harlem district at that time, but they lacked the qualities of the good clubs in the lower part of the city." 

Five years later the name was changed to the Harlem Club.  Its membership, which had risen to 100 by now, was composed, according to a newspaper "principally of bankers, brokers, lawyers, and merchants."  The Harlem Club listed as its purpose "to cultivate friendly and social intercourse among its members, and to further and advance by means of concentrated action, matters of public welfare in the upper section of the City."

By 1888 the membership had more than tripled to 340 and, according to the New-York Tribune, the clubhouse "was too small and not attractive, and offered few club features for the younger element."  A committee was formed on January 14 that year to consider a more commodious and impressive clubhouse.

On September 8, 1888 The American Architect and Building News published an understated, one-line announcement that architects Lamb & Rich had completed plans for a four-story "brick club-house" with a projected cost of $50,000.

A terra cotta sunburst decorates the blind arch and delightful stone leaves parade along the upper frieze.  The Record & Guide described the black tiles as "japanned." 

Now, nine months later, the Record & Guide assessed the completed structure.   Hugh Lamb and Charles Alonzo Rich had created a hulking Romanesque Revival structure of brick and stone, with touches of Queen Anne thrown in.  The critic could find little to criticize, saying for instance "Over each wing is a dormer in metal, of rather fantastic but effective design, relieved against the steep roof of dark japanned tiles..." and noting that "The gabled roof would have been uncouthly large if it had occupied the whole width of the central division.  The awkwardness is happily got over by the clever and effective introduction of a broad chimney on each side."

The actual costs, including the expensive furnishings, draperies, carpetings and such, had risen to $150,000--nearly $3.9 million in 2017.  On June 14, 1889 The New York Times reported "The house is equipped in the latest style.  In the basement are bowling alleys and kitchens; on the first floor parlors and a library; on the second floor billiard rooms and a cafe; and on the third and fourth floors three private dining rooms and ten chambers."  The "chambers" were sleeping rooms.  Not only did out of town members need a place to stay, but so would those briefly in town on business from their summer residences.   The room, said the newspaper "are furnished in a manner that leaves nothing to be desired."

A long balcony, now lost, graced the second floor and stocky iron lampposts flanked the entrance.  photo via harlembespoke.blogspot.com
The New-York Tribune was more detailed, describing the first floor as having "a handsome reception room, a large drawing room, and back of these a cosey reading room with great easy chairs and comfortable lounges and handsome wall decorations.  In the hall stands a great stuffed bear, which was killed by the Grand Duke Alexis of Russia when he hunted big game with Buffalo Bill."


An antique tall case clock graced the entrance hall (above).  Masculine oak furniture in the library complimented the mantelpiece.   New-York Tribune, February 2, 1902 (copyright expired)

The Harlem Club opened its new clubhouse on June 13, with a reception for men-only.    It would be another six months before women would get a peek inside.  On December 13, 1889 The Times reported that the evening before "the wives and daughters and sisters of its members had their first chance to inspect the beauties of the new domain of their male relatives."

Although women's visits were restricted, a delicately-furnished Ladies Parlor accommodated them.  New-York Tribune, February 2, 1902 (copyright expired)

Plants and flowers softened the decidedly masculine atmosphere for the event.  "The building was prettily decorated with palms, roses, and flowering plants, and a band played in a floral bower in the reading room."  Oddly enough, despite the spacious dining rooms, the guests ate in the basement.  "Dancing went on for the younger folks in the drawing rooms, and supper was served by Steward Marsich on small tables arrange in the bowling alleys."

The Billiard Room was outfitted with five tables. New-York Tribune, February 2, 1902 (copyright expired)

Like its downtown counterparts, the exclusivity of the Harlem Club was not limited to wealth and family, but to religion.  On July 10, 1889 The Times wrote "The Harlem Club, which recently moved into its handsome and costly new house...is disturbed by the raising of the Hebrew question."

The issue went back to the June 13 opening, at which Senator Jacob A. Cantor was a guest of George McGown.  Banker Robert Bonynge proposed him as a member that night.  Later another member approached the senator and said "Jake, I have known you for a long time, and I am a friend of yours, but I must tell you that in this club we draw the line at Hebrews."

Understandably insulted, Cantor went to Bonynge and offered to withdraw his name.  But, explained The Times, "that gentleman and the other friends of the Senator had their blood up and said the Senator's name should stand and be passed on if it took all Summer."

It would take more than all summer; in fact the senator was never admitted.  A reporter who spoke to Cantor during the drawn-out process noted "he was satisfied to know that if it did reject him, it would do so on account of his race and not on personal grounds."

The ugly and bigoted affair would stain the Harlem Club for the rest of its existence.

An early postcard depicted a nearly deserted Lenox Avenue. (copyright expired)

But in the meantime the clubhouse was the scene of "smokers, euchres, and concerts," among other events.  An annual exhibition of works by American artists was held here; and musical entertainments were common.  In January 1903, for instance, 200 hundred members and guests heard soloists perform operatic arias, after which supper was served in the dining rooms, and dancing went on until 1:30 in the morning.

During the 1904 Presidential campaign two members got into a heated political debate.  James O'Reilly insisted that Judge Alton B. Parker, the Democratic candidate, would beat Theodore Roosevelt in the election.  Herman J. Elkhoff was equally confident in his choice.  Their argument resulted in a bet, the conditions of which were "that the loser swim across the East River some time during the month following election day."

Parker lost the election and O'Reilly lost the bet.  True to his word, on Sunday morning November 10 he plunged into the river and swam to Randall's Island and back.  O'Reilly was physically prepared for the challenging feat.  The Evening World said "he takes a plunge in the river every morning during the winter."   The apparently out-of-shape Elkhoff, on the other hand, was lucky his candidate had won.  Other members confided that he "was taking a desperate chance" with his bet.

Modern Harlem historians are wont to blame the decline of the Harlem Club on its anti-Semitic policies.  In fact, while the stigma of the Cantor affair hung on, it was more likely finances that brought the club down.  Suit was filed against the club on June 19, 1906 "to foreclose a mortgage of $60,000 on the club's property."  That was the original July 12, 1889 mortgage; a second mortgage of $52,779 brought the liabilities to more than $3 million in today's dollars.

In October a Supreme Court judge ordered the building to be sold at auction on January 31, 1907.  Two days before the sale, The New York Times wrote "After nearly thirty years of active life, during which it came to be known as the first club of Harlem, the Harlem Club is about to be dissolved.  Upon the two iron lamps which stand on either side of the front steps of the handsome building...are glaring yellow posters announcing in large type that by order of the Supreme Court the clubhouse and its furnishings will be sold out at auction."

The clubhouse was purchased by developer William A. Martin.  He resold it within the month to the Eastman Business College of Poughkeepsie.  Established in 1859 by Harvey Gridley Eastman, the school readied young men for clerical business work.  Included in the curriculum were "Civil service, shorthand, typewriting, telegraph, penmanship and correspondence."

The new Manhattan branch was called the Eastman New York Business Institute, and an advertisement boasted that it was housed in "one of the most attractive structures in the most aristocratic neighborhood of Upper New York."

The school remained in the building until 1935, when it fell victim to the Great Depression and changing demographics.  Reportedly it refused to admit black students--a major problem in a neighborhood that was now significantly black.

The building was taken over as the Unity Mission Church; the headquarters for the charismatic if questionable "Father" Major Jealous Divine.  The leader of what at least one newspaper called "a Negro cult," Divine had made a name for himself by conducting revival meetings, curing the sick, and declaring himself a deity.  Telling his followers that he had been born a fully-formed adult, he amassed a following of tens of thousands.

The progress of the 4-foot, 6-inch leader was closely followed by law enforcement.  By 1933 he had "kingdoms" in Manhattan, Newark, Baltimore, Washington DC, Bridgeport and other cities.  A 38-page typewritten report ordered by Common Pleas Judge Richard Hartshorne that year credited Divine with "some socially helpful results."   But it also noted, according to a New York Times report, he "has equipped himself with an airplane, automobiles, several secretaries and a large staff of employes in his headquarters and 'kingdoms' in New York City" and that "his followers, including many whites, did in fact worship him as God."

Adherents to Father Divine turned over all their possessions to the Kingdom, earning them the status of angel.  The angels then took on a heavenly name--such as Lovely, or Kind.  The process caused endless problems, from followers trying to file tax reports under their unregistered new names; to husbands suing Father Divine for alienation of affection.

One case was that of chauffeur and oboe player Carl Davenport, who sued for $100,000.  He testified that he and his wife Alice, had been happily married until February 1933 when she was "subjected to public and private exhortation by Father Divine and his servants and employees."  Alice walked out on Carl and their eight children.

Her actions were mirrored by Madeline Green two years later.  She left her husband, Samuel N. Green, Jr., a postal clerk, and their seven children (aged 3 through 14).   Samuel filed a petition alleging that when she had abandoned them, she said the children should be sent to an orphan asylum.  She explained to the Children's Court judge "I have no more children.  The life I lead is one of sacrifice.  All belongs to God now."

When Judge Levy asked "How can you give up seven children and say you lead a Christ-like life?" she responded flatly "Because I see the light.  I am out of darkness."

A "children's dinner" in Unity Mission Church.  photo via libertynet.org

Father Divine's magnetism did not affect everyone.  Washington DC pastor Rev. Dr. Walter H. Brooks, a son of slaves, was asked about Divine's movement in April 1935.  "People like to be humbugged," was his curt reply.

Despite his constant legal battles (he was accused of having a harem, engaging in outrageous sexual activities, and illegally housing minors), Father Divine continued to lead throngs--his meetings drew tens of thousands of followers.  His main companion and assistant was No. 1 Angel, Faithful Mary; and his celebrity was such that in 1936 John Hoshor wrote God in a Rolls Royce.  The Rise of Father Divine, Madman-Menace or Messiah.

Following an incident in which three men were stabbed by one of his angels, Father Divine was wanted for questioning.  He fled Harlem, but was found hiding behind the furnace in the cellar of Milford, Connecticut house.  Divine had tried to "invisibilize" himself, but seems to have failed.

Initially he denied being Father Divine.  But at the West 123rd Street station house, he notified authorities that "the Father had resumed his earthly body," and he was once again Father Divine.

The Unity Mission Church left West 123rd Street in 1946.  The building was sold to Jacob Goodman & Co., which announced they were "considering plans for altering the property into apartments."  Instead, the firm resold the structure "to a buyer who intends to spend $50,000 on alterations," as reported by The Times on February 1, 1947.

Especially charming were the metal dormers, with openings on three sides. 

A second church took over the building; followed by the newly-formed Bethelite Community Baptist Church in 1957.  Founded by Rev. Millard Alexander Stanley, he supposedly invented the name "Bethelite" after a drug addict said to him "If y'all gonna be a church, you better 'Be-The-Lite."

If Father Divine had drawn controversy, he would pale in the shadow of Stanley's successor, Pastor James David Manning who took over in 1981.  He changed the name to the ATLAH [All The Land Anointed Holy] Worldwide Missionary Church.  He used the church's outdoor signboard to spread his outrageous and, some would say un-Christian, viewpoints.

Hateful messages like "We will take Harlem back from the pinch nose sellout Negroes and the demonic homos" and "Jesus would stone homos.  Stoning is the law" in 2014 drew protestors to Lenox Avenue.

Manning sided with Donald Trump, posting that Barack Obama was a Muslim and not a valid president.  In August 2014 he asserted that Russian President Vladimir Putin would release KGB intelligence "that would prove that President Obama is homosexual."

The splinter group is still in the former Harlem Club, although financial pressures make its future questionable (Manning refuses to pay taxes, insisting the church should be exempt like other religious institutions, although his is not a recognized sect.)


In the meantime, despite the loss of the Lenox Avenue balcony and altered windows; Lamb & Rich's striking clubhouse survives as an imposing reminder of a far different period in Harlem history.

photographs by the author

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Lamb & Rich's Nos 302-306 West 77th Street



Just before dissolving their partnership, Hugh Lamb and Charles Alonzo Rich embarked on an ambitious project in 1890.  The rapid development of the Upper West Side resulting in real estate operators, in some cases, buying full blockfronts and filling the plots with harmoniously-designed speculative dwellings.

Lamb & Rich not only designed the 14 houses which would fill the western side of West End Avenue, between 76th and 77th Street and wrap the corners; they acted as their own developers.  Calling them "fine houses," the Real Estate Record & Builders' Guide said "together [they] comprise one of the handsomest blocks on the West Side."

The entrance hall in one of the houses.  Record & Guide September 10, 1892 (copyright expired)


The group was completed in 1891; a jumble of historical styles and irregular roof lines.  The architects' use of varied materials--limestone, terra cotta, copper, brownstone, and brick--as well as spiky Francois I dormers, aggressive copper-clad hoods, balconies and bays create a lively streetscape along West End Avenue.  But the three houses facing West 77th Street, Nos. 302 through 306, were more sober.

Slightly different heraldic keystones grace the paneled entrances.  The difficulty of replacing the hefty oaken doors no doubt is responsible for their survival after a century and a quarter.
Four stories of orange brick sat upon brownstone basements.  Less flashy than their avenue neighbors, they were a reserved take on Renaissance Revival.  Bricks laid with their corners facing out created serrated bands that flowed from house to house along the top floor.  Nos. 304 and 306 (just 18 feet wide) were near mirror images, with bowed fronts above the parlor floor.  The much wider No. 302 (at 28 feet) flexed its individuality with a sideways stoop and a magnificent terra cotta frame that imitated a Venetian balcony at the second floor.

As the group was nearing completion, on October 3, 1891, the Record & Guide reported No. 306 had sold for $32,000 (about $860,000 today).  "This makes three houses that Lamb & Rich ave sold out of an uncompleted block of fourteen."

The West End Avenue frontage, seen here looking north from 76th Street, was a fantastic array of styles, materials, and shapes.  photo by Irving Underhill from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York http://collections.mcny.org/C.aspx?VP3=SearchResult&VBID=24UAYWZ9XDO4&SMLS=1&RW=1536&RH=731&PN=5

Perhaps because they were parting ways, Lamb and Rich sold the entire unsold row "at wholesale" to George F. Vietor.   In September 1892 six had been sold at widely varying prices--from $31,000 to $80,000.  Vietor would struggle to sell a few of the others.

In the meantime, the buyer of record for No. 306 was Emma B. Putnam, wife of the well-known publisher, Irving Putnam of G. P. Putnam's Sons.  

Unlike the muscular, arched doorways of its neighbors, more in the Romanesque Revival style; No. 306 featured a rectangular entrance with an intricately carved brownstone entablature.

The firm was founded in 1838 when Irving's father, George Palmer Putnam went into partnership with John Wiley.  In 1872 the company became G. P. Putnam's Sons when Irving and his brother George inherited the business.  By now Putnam's Magazine was highly popular; the company operated its own printing business, the Knickerbocker Press, and boasted authors like James Fenimore Cooper, Washington Irving and Edgar Allan Poe.

Irving and Emma were staunch supporters of the arts.  He was a member of the Chicago Art Institute and she was a founder in 1897, along with high-level socialites like Mrs. Nicholas Fish, Mrs. John C. Wilmerding, Mrs. William C. Whitney and Mrs. Henry Villard, of the Women's String Orchestra Society.

Running a successful publishing firm was not without its headaches.  On April 22, 1899 a reporter from the New-York Tribune knocked on the door of No. 306 West 77th Street to ask Putnam about Rudyard Kipling's law suit against the firm, filed earlier that day.

"What do you think the trouble could possibly concern?" Putnam was asked.

The publisher expressed his frustration, saying "We would have been glad, and were anxious, to effect any reasonable compromise, and we were willing to give up a good deal to avoid just such a trouble as this, but Mr. Kipling has refused to give us any specific information...Mr. Kipling simply says: 'You've wrong me; now, stop and pay damages.'"

More trouble came the following year surrounding the company's publication of Sapho by Alphonse Daudet.  When a stage play of the same name was deemed immoral, District Attorney Gardiner sent "seemingly well educated man," according to the New-York Tribune on April 1, 1900, "to go to the publishing house of G. P. Putnam's Sons...and do his utmost to purchase some improper book."

The newspaper reported "This man succeeded in purchasing at the Putnams' store a translation of 'Sapho' which was so modestly worded that it proved to be a bitter disappointment."  Nevertheless, rumors spread that the Putnams were peddling smut.

Irving and Emma remained in No. 306 through 1904; before selling it in December that year to John C. Clark.

Note the nearly full-relief putti worked into the design of the faux balcony.

Another of the early sales of Lamb & Rich's row was No. 302 West 77th Street, sold to Andrew J. and Annie M. Todd on April 28, 1892.  The couple would not stay appreciably long, and put the house on the market in March 1896.  With the city and country still in the grip of the Financial Panic of 1893, it was the worst possibly time to sell real estate.  An advertisement in the New-York Tribune described the house as "Perfect condition, will be sold at great sacrifice, far below value."

Indeed, the Hicks family paid only $20,000 for the upscale home.  Samuel H. Hicks was an officer and director in the Beech Creek Coal and Coke Co.  His New York roots extended to before the Revolution.  He and his wife, the former Elizabeth Ryerson Holden, moved in with their unmarried son, S. Chudleigh Hicks.

After the family sold the house to Samuel S. Childs in 1901, there was a rapid-fire turnover of owners.  Childs resold it to Carrie I. Rowell and her husband H. C. Howell who operated the residence as a boarding house (advertising in November 1901 "Back parlor, other large rooms, in private house; modern improvements, desirable, fashionable location).  He sold it in November 1903 to to Harry C. Allen, who sold it in 1905 to Sally H. Walker.  The dizzying change in landlords resulted in one tenant ending up in court, unsure of who had received his rent.

No. 302 returned to a private home when actress Eleanor Robson purchased it from Sally Walker in October 1907.  In reporting the sale, the New-York Tribune noted "The prices of houses in the street range from $30,000 to $50,000."

Moving in with Eleanor was her mother, actress Madge Carr Cook.  Earlier that year the New-York Tribune wrote "Mrs. Madge Carr Cook has offered another exhibition of American talent in character acting as Mrs. Wiggs at Terry's Theatre, and delighted a first night audience.   The British-born actress was well-known; but the title role in Mrs. Wiggs of the Cabbage Patch was her most memorable.
Eleanor Robson Belmont in 1916 -- from the collection of the Library of Congress

Eleanor had started her New York career only about two years earlier as Mary Ann in Merely Mary Ann.  When the production was staged in London it "won for the actress esteem in literary and artistic circles, and she claimed among her friends the late Marion Crawford, George Bernard Shaw, Israel Zangwill, Lewis Parker Barrie and Pinero," according to the New-York Tribune on February 13, 1910.

The actress's career and life would change a few days after that article, which began "Formal announcement of the engagement of Miss Eleanor Robson and August Belmont [Jr.] was made last night to a wide circle of intimate friends."  The millionaire and the actress had been seen socially for two years and the engagement "did not greatly surprise" their friends.

The Tribune noted that the wedding, to take place the following month, "will be a quiet one, at Miss Robson's home, No. 302 West 77th Street."  Following their two month honeymoon on the Belmont yacht, Eleanor gave up the stage, concentrating on philanthropies and managing the many estates--a six-story Manhattan mansion, an 1,100-acre estate in North Babylon, Long Island, a villa in Newport, and houses in South Carolina and Kentucky.

Belmont died in December 1924; and Eleanor live another 55 years, dying just before her 100th birthday in 1979.  Despite being married to one of America's wealthiest men, she retained ownership of the 77th Street house until August 1921 when she sold it to Henry B. Herts and his wife, Cynthia.

All the while the house next door at No. 304 had seen a long list of owners, starting with Gustavus Clark Hopkins, the senior member of cotton merchants Hopkins, Dwight & Co.  Born in Alabama in 1844, he was President of the New York Cotton Exchange when he moved in; stepping down in 1898.  He became ill in June 1900; dying in the house on December 12.  His funeral was held in the parlor three days later.

Hopkins's widow sold the house to Thomas L. Watt, and like its neighbors it underwent a quick succession of owners.  In 1902 he wold it to Moritz L. Ernest; who sold it that same year to Mary Lowe; who sold it a month later.  It became home to Ransom Noble, who co-founded the Niagara-French Battery Co. in 1918.

Before long all three homes would become rooming or apartment houses.  No. 302 was converted to one apartment on each of the first through third floors, with three furnished rooms on the top floor, in 1945.  In 1940 No. 304 had been altered to "furnished rooms;" and by 1925 No. 306 had been broken up into rented apartments.   Unmarried, 50-year old Anna Neiman was living there that year.  For years she had been a cashier in the Navarre Hotel on Seventh Avenue and 38th Street.

On the night of February 23 she stepped off the curb to Broadway and 76th Street and found herself in the path of an oncoming taxicab.  She panicked and froze.  The cab struck her, causing a fatal skull fracture.

Today both Nos. 302 and 304 have a duplex apartment in the basement and parlor levels, with a triplex above.  In 1966 No. 306 was converted to two apartments per floor.  Although Nos. 304 and 306 have lost the the curved glass in their upper windows; the three houses appear little changed outwardly since their completion 125 years ago.

photographs by the author