Tuesday, January 23, 2018

The Art Nouveau Cornwall - 255 West 90th Street






French-inspired apartment buildings had begun rising on the Upper West Side since 1899 when millionaire William Earl Dodge Stokes began his massive Ansonia on Broadway between 73rd and 74th Street.  If was followed rapid-fire by mighty apartments like the 1901 Chatham Court on Central Park West, and the 1903 Belleclaire at 77th Street and Broadway.

Their architects, for the most part, followed the lead of upscale Paris hotels in designing the frothy brick and stone confections.  The sprawling apartments were intended to provide all the comforts of a private home,  On September 15, 1901 the New-York Tribune noted “Since the introduction in this country of the ‘French flat’ system, the improvements have been of a nature that removes the ‘American apartment house’ to a sphere far beyond anything that France has known.  Year by year the luxury increases, until the apartments now building are veritable palaces.  Indeed, they have comforts and conveniences that few European palaces can boast.”

In 1909 Arlington C. and Harvey M. Hall began construction on another one, at the corner of West 90th Street and Broadway.   The brothers got their affinity for building and real estate development honestly.  Their extended family had been house builders and sash makers, and their cousins William W. and Thomas M. Hall were extremely well known developers of high-end homes under the firm name Hall & Hall.  But while Hall & Hall still constructed speculative, upscale private homes at the turn of the last century, Arlington and Harvey turned their focus to theaters and apartment houses.
 
They hired the well-known architectural team of Neville & Bagge for this project, and the results were far different from any of the existing apartment buildings to date.


At first glance, the Cornwall did not seem especially out of the ordinary.  Architects' and Builders' Magazine, August 1910 (copyright expired)

Completed the following year, the eight-story Cornwall is faced in red brick and trimmed in limestone.  At first glance it seems to be yet another Beaux Arts apartment hotel with occasional stone balconies clinging to the facade and ornate carved stone and terra cotta decorations.  But closer inspection reveals that the architects had turned to Art Nouveau for the ornamentation.

The sinuous, sexy style had swept Europe as early as 1890.  And while it became highly popular with New York City designers for jewelry and household items like silverware and leaded glass lamps; it rarely appeared in architectural form in Manhattan.

But the Cornwall overflowed with lusty Art Nouveau motifs--anthemion forms above the 10th floor openings lost their traditional rigidity and took on swirling Art Nouveau personalities, for instance.  But the pièce de résistance was the sensational terra cotta cornice/pediment.   Two stories tall at its highest points, its corner and central sections on the Broadway elevation erupt in intertwining vines that form open screens of budding flowers.

photos via LandmarkWest!

Neville & Bagge gave the Cornwall a U-shaped plan which provided light and air while eliminating the often-ugly interior light shafts of a square-O plan.  Architects' and Builders' Magazine called it a "street-opening court" and noted it gave "a more pleasing prospect for the apartment dweller...Aside from the mere aesthetic value of having the court interior finished architecturally in keeping with the main facade, there is the real value present of having the interior court artistically treated and presenting a more or less pleasant outlook."

The architects placed the entrance on West 90th Street.   The arrangement afforded some privacy to the moneyed residence as they came and went, but also provided income-producing retail spaces on Broadway.


Apartments in the Cornwall ranged from seven to nine rooms, and included two to three bathrooms.   The accommodations were swanky enough that both Arlington C. Hall and Harvey M. Hall reserved apartments for their families. 

Among the initial tenants was William Irving Twombly and his family.  A Maine native, he had been inventing new modes of transportation for over a decade.  In 1894, for instance, the New-York Tribune reported he "recently built a bicycle to be propelled by the vapor of ether [and] has now finished an ether launch, operated in a similar manner by mechanism in which the vapor of ether take the place of steam."

By now he ran the Twombly Motors Co., manufacturing automobiles.  Twombly's cars, which exhibited his sometimes quirky touches, sold to upper class customers.

This 1910 Twombly model featured removable doors.  (copyright expired)
The Twombly household consisted of  his wife, Ethel (known as Minnie) whom he had married in their hometown of Portland in 1896, their son Glendon Irving and daughter Hallie.   While her husband ran his car company and invented new improvements, Minnie was involved in political and social issues.  She was the Treasurer of the New York Legislative League, a member of the Society for Political Study and of Mrs. Mackay's Equal Suffrage Club, and wrote lectures on the "Prenatal Culture."

In 1912, Twombly patented two new inventions, an internal combustion engine and a flexible metallic casing with an inflatable inner tube.   Glen was 16 years old that year and enjoyed the benefits of his father's business by owning his own motorcycle.

He was riding along West End Avenue on May 2 when, at 92nd Street, "he ran against Miss Josephine Ulf, who was standing in the middle of the block looking at a clock," according to The Sun.   Both Glen and the girl were hurt.

The following morning his father accompanied him to police court where Twombly promised to pay the cost of Josephine's medical bills.  He paid Glen's $5 fine for speeding and they went home.

Then suddenly on June 22, nearly two months after the incident, police arrived at the Cornwall apartments and took the teen away.  He was held overnight on $500 bail and committed to appear in court on October 17.

Glen's surprise arrest came on a complaint from lawyer Abraham S. Gilbert who claimed, according to The Sun, "that Miss Ulf was governess in his family and that she was crossing the street with his two children when she was struck by the motorcycle.  He asserted that the machine was going at the rate of thirty miles and hour and the young woman was nearly killed."

Gilbert presented an eye witness, Edward E. Read.  But it appeared to William Twombly that his son was being set up and Gilbert was after a financial settlement.   Glen testified that he had never seen Read until that morning in court.  Gilbert demanded that Twombly pay medical expenses of $315--more than $7,000 today--which he claimed he paid out of his own pocket.

The charges against Glen were dismissed (the judge found he had not intended to injure the girl).  And then all parties would appear in court again on October 28 after Glen, with his father representing him as legal guardian, sued both Gilbert and Read alleging "malicious prosecution."  The suit charged Gilbert had had him arrested "as a means of compelling payments of money" from his father, and that Read "took part in the prosecution through malice and that both defendants had sufficient proof that he was not guilty."

Even the Corinthian capitals take on an Art Nouveau personality.

Nevertheless, it appears that Twombly was not happy with his son's speeding.  On his 18th birthday he gave Glen a new car, warning him to drive very carefully and that this time he would not bail him out if he got into trouble.  But he did get into trouble.

On Friday night, September 12, 1913 he was speeding up Broadway when he was noticed by a motorcycle cop at 72nd Street.  Patrolman Cohsenhirt estimated his speed at 30 miles per hour.  Seeing the policeman behind him and knowing he would be in serious trouble at home, Glen stepped on the gas.

The New York Times reported two days later "The policeman told Magistrate Marsh of an exciting chase of several blocks on Broadway."  Glen was finally pulled over.  He told the judge "I haven't got the money, and there's no use in asking dad."  Magistrate Marsh explained that he had to find the boy guilty and, if he could not pay the fine he would have to be jailed for a day.  The Times reported "He chose the latter punishment, and went to a cell until 4 o'clock in the afternoon, when the prison day ends under the law."

Eventually, the Twombly marriage would fall apart after William developed a wandering eye.  A Michigan newspaper, the Ludington Daily News ran the headline on July 19, 1933 "Prominent Inventor Again Put In Jail On Charges of Wife" and reminded readers that the couple had separated in 1925.  She accused him of having "his face 'lifted' and his hair dyed so he could 'step out.'"  By now she had had him arrested several times for adultery and desertion.  Calling him a "once nationally-known inventor," the newspaper said Minnie was "really destitute" and that William refused to pay support.

Another early resident of the Cornwall was Melvina Hammerstein, the wife of impresario Oscar Hammerstein.   She was his second wife, and they had not lived together for several years when, in June 1911 she obtained a divorce.   She was suffering from heart disease at the time, and on January 9, 1912 she died in her apartment.

According to the New-York Tribune, "with her when she died were her two daughters."  On January 11 that newspaper reported "The funeral of Mrs. Hammerstein will be held in her apartments this evening."  Oscar Hammerstein would not be attending.   The morning after hearing of Melvina's death, he boarded the Lusitania for Europe.   The Tribune explained "Important business called Mr. Hammerstein to London."




In the meantime, domestic relations were not going so well for another family in the Cornwall.  Charles Mason Hall was a wealthy insurance broker, a member of the Exton-Hall Brokerage firm on Wall Street.  He owned race horses and the 40-foot yacht, the Caress.  He and his wife, the former Ella Louise True, had a son, and three daughters.   But when he moved them into a sixth floor apartment in the new building, he did not join them.   Ella explained later that he had an "infatuation for another woman."

Nevertheless Hall supported his family whose comfortable lifestyle included a live-in maid.  Not long after moving into the Cornwall, the Halls' eldest daughter married.  But tragedy occurred in the fall of 1912.  Their 15-year old son, Alexander Hadden Hall owed his own automobile.   On November 9 he drove his sister to Hazlet, New Jersey to visit family friends, the Stevensons, for the weekend.

The next day Alexander and James H. Stevenson, also 15 years old, headed out to go duck hunting. 
Alexander pulled his car up to the railroad tracks near the Hazlet station.  The guard bars were down and he waited as a freight train passed.  When the bars rose, he drove onto the tracks.  According to The Times, "He had just reached the track when a train going at a rate of fifty miles an hour crashed into the automobile."  The 70-year old flagman responsible for raising and lowering the gate had not noticed the approaching train.

Both teens were hurled from the automobile and killed.   Alexander's funeral was held in the Cornwall apartment.

Now Ella lived on in the apartment with 13-year old Sybil and 9-year old Lucy.  She tried repeatedly to "cure her husband" of his affection for Emma S. Smith, with no success.  She went so far as to sue Emma "to restrain her from further alienating the affections of Mr. Hall," explained a newspaper.  It was a nearly unique move.  There was only one precedent, in Texas, in which the outside party was sued to stop "paying attention" to a spouse.

It was an emotional strain that affected Sybil as well.  On September 22, 1913 The Sun reported that both she and her mother were "convalescing from a recent illness," and The Times said "Both appeared to be greatly wrought up over their experience."

When Charles showed up at the apartment on Sunday night, September 21 regarding business, Ella was determined not to let him go.   Lieutenant Hayes of the West 100th Street Station received a telephone call from Hall asking for a policeman to come to the Cornwall.  He said he was being held prisoner by his wife.

The hallboy took Patrolman Peter Conlin to the Hall apartment.  Ella, sobbing on the other side of the door, said he was not wanted.  Charles, meanwhile, could be heard shouting "Let him in at once."

The maid admitted the officer, who was met with a strange scene.  Hall was seated in a chair, while Ella and the two girls were crying hysterically.

"Get me out of here.  I am being restrained here against my will," cried Hall.

Ella pleaded "No, no, officer.  He is my husband, and we love him.  I will not let him go."

While Conlin tactfully explained to Ella that he could not force her husband to stay, "Mr. Hall walked out of the apartment and went on his way," said The Sun.

Hall told a reporter from that newspaper that he had not visited the apartment in five years.  One can assume that he did not return.

Like the Hall and Twombly boys, the son of Arlington C. Hall had his own automobile.  When the family went to the newly-opened Claremont movie theater on Broadway at 135th Street on November 15, 1914, for some reason they took two cars.  Paul exited the theater first, just in time to see six men driving his father's car away.

According to The New York Times the following day, "Paul Hall jumped into his own machine with his father's chauffeur, Frank Watson, and gave chase."  Hall and Watson sped down Broadway at 45 miles per hour in close pursuit of the thieves.  They stopped at West 102nd Street to pick up Policeman Sewell.  As they sped down the thoroughfare, Sewell pulled out his revolver and "started shooting at the tires of the car ahead."

The car thieves headed to Fifth Avenue and started north again.  Alerted by the commotion, Policeman McDonald began firing his weapon at 110th Street and Fifth Avenue.  He got off six shots, and exploded a tire.  The crooks then turned their own weapons on McDonald, one bullet tearing through his coat.

"At 120th Street the stolen car slowed down and three men jumped out, taking two new tires with them, and at 121st Street it stopped and the other three men were arrested," reported The Times.

The Cornwall continued to be home to socially recognized families, including Dr. Victor Frederickson and his wife.  They remained in the building into the 1920s and Mrs. Frederickson's name routinely appeared in society columns as a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution, and as president of the Wisconsin Women's Society.

While many of the grand turn of the century apartment buildings suffered decline and abuse during the Depression years and after; the Cornwall managed to survive serious humiliation.  Even the floorplans remained intact.  (The Government did pay attention to the voting habits of some of its residents, however, publishing the name of Ephraim Kahn as a Communist Party supporter in 1936, for instance.)

The sometimes startling preservation of the building was evidenced when, in 2013, Johb Ziegler moved out of the ninth floor apartment he had occupied since 1978.  The four-bedroom space was purchased by president and CEO of New York Times Company, Mark Thompson and his wife, writer Jane Blumberg. 

Apartments retain original elements like crown molding, mantels, beamed ceilings and wainscoting.  photos via Brown Harris Stevens

In reporting the sale, Times columnist Mark Maurer noted the apartment had "four sets of French doors, a nonfunctioning gas fireplace and stained glass windows."

The remarkable state of preservation, however, is not guaranteed since the Cornwall is not a designated landmark structure.  A rare example of Art Nouveau Manhattan architecture, it is a gem worthy of that landmark status.

photographs by the author

Monday, January 22, 2018

The Lost Elizabeth Clark House - 347 West 89th Street



The glass-covered wing curving toward 89th Street appears to be conservatory or picture gallery--in fact it was a bowling alley.  The Architectural Record, November 1902 (copyright expired)

In 1896 Elizabeth Clark was among the wealthiest widows in the country.   Born Elizabeth Scriven, she had married Alfred Corning Clark on October 20, 1869 in the parish church of Withecombe Raleigh in Devonshire, England.  He was the only son of Singer Sewing Machine magnate and real estate developer Edward C. Clark.   They had four sons, Edward Severin, Robert Sterling, Frederick Ambrose and Stephen Carlton.

The Clarks had maintained two residences in the city.  Their main home was at No. 7 West 22nd Street.  A sprawling apartment in The Dakota, which his father had built, was used mainly for entertaining.  Edward Clark died in 1882 leaving an estate valued at between $15 and $20 million.  Alfred inherited extensive property on the Upper West Side, including the Dakota.

The family summered at what the New-York Tribune described as "a large country place at Cooperstown, New York."  The estate, called Fernleigh, had been previously owned by James Fenimore Cooper.

On April 8, 1896 Alfred Corning Clark died in the 22nd Street house.  The New-York Tribune explained "Mr. Clark's death was caused by an acute attack of Bright's disease."  The article mentioned "Comparatively few people in the city knew that he was the possessor of many millions, because he was a retiring and modest man who studiously avoided notoriety."

Elizabeth inherited the bulk of her husband's estate, including extensive properties.  Mourning did not interfere with her plunging into real estate development.  Seven months later she transferred ownership of a block of land--from Tenth to Eleventh Avenues between 68th and 69th Streets--to the newly-formed City and Suburban Homes Company in exchange for stock.  The Sun noted the "city homes" would be designed by Mr. [Ernest] Flagg."

It was by no means the last time Elizabeth and Flagg would work together.

A year later, on September 28, 1897, The New York Times reported "Cyrus Clark has sold, for about $215,000, a plot, equivalent to about ten lots, at the northeast corner of Riverside Drive and Eighty-ninth Street."  The site engulfed half of the block, the other half filled with the Cyrus Clark's own mansion.   The article noted "Mr. Clark said yesterday that the buyer is an individual, an not an estate, as has been reported, but refused to make any further disclosures." (Clark, incidentally, was not related to the Alfred Clark family.)

A month later the Real Estate Record & Builders' Guide added that the "buyer is reported to be Frederick Clark."   The report was close.  The buyer of record was "the Clark estate," or, in reality, Elizabeth Clark.

Ernest Flagg filed plans in April 1898.  He produced a four-story Georgian mansion of red brick trimmed in white marble which appeared to have been plucked from the English countryside.  The Evening World called it "one of the most striking residences on that beautiful thoroughfare."  Flagg place the entrance to the side, giving it the address of No. 347 West 89th Street.

"In fact," said The Evening World, "it looks more like a public building than a private house."  The Architectural Record noted "The house is finished front and back, inside and out, with equal care, and the workmanship and appointments are the best that money can buy.  Probably no better built or ventilated house was ever put up."  The journal made it clear that Elizabeth was highly involved in the details.  "It was the desire of the owner that it should be plain, substantial and dignified."

Elizabeth Scriven Clark was a devout Episcopalian and highly involved in philanthropies.   The New-York Tribune mentioned in July 1902 "Mrs. Clark...is well known to the people of the city, not merely because of her great wealth and large real estate holdings, but also because of her many charitable gifts, notable among which is the Alfred Corning Clark Memorial Chapel, work on which was begun last spring."

The floorplan shows an immense dining room and entrance hall on the first floor.  The Architectural Record, November 1902 (copyright expired)

She contributed enormously to Cooperstown, providing parks, buildings and statues.  The Evening World said "She is immensely wealthy and the Episcopal Church of this diocese owes much to her generosity."  Her social and religious activities put her in close contact with the New York bishop, Henry Codman Potter, who was, not coincidentally, at the laying of the cornerstone of the Alfred Corning Clark Memorial Chapel and delivered an address.

Clark stepped away from Georgian when he added a French-style marquee above the marble entrance.  The Architectural Record, November 1902 (copyright expired)

Potter was not only powerful, but wealthy.  He and his wife, the former Eliza Rogers Jacob, lived in a stately home at No, 10 Washington Square North.  His name appeared in the society columns nearly as frequently as the Astors or Vanderbilts.   Eliza died "of heat prostration" on June 29, 1901.  But the bishop would not remain unmarried for long.

A year later, on July 12, 1902, The Evening Post announced that "it was authorized to make public the engagement of the Right Rev. Henry C. Potter, Bishop of New-York, and Mrs. Alfred Corning Clark."  At the time Potter was in Paris and Elizabeth was at Fernleigh.

Neither the 66-year old Potter nor his intended bride were saying much.  A week later The Evening World noted "Friends of the Right Rev. Bishop Potter and Mrs. Alfred Corning Clark have made up their minds in the absence of a formal announcement of the wedding plans that the ceremony will take place at Mrs. Clark's country home, Fernleigh, at Cooperstown, N. Y., and will be performed with extreme quiet.  The wedding is expected to take place before the middle  of September."

The focus of the society columnists on the details of the prominent couple's romance greatly overshadowed another Clark engagement.  Almost simultaneously Frederick Ambrose Clark's engagement to Florence Stokes, daughter of millionaire Henry D. Stokes, president of the Manhattan Life Insurance Co., was announced.   Not surprisingly, Bishop Potter performed the ceremony at Stokes country estate on Orienta Point in Mamaroneck, Long Island, on September 20, 1902.  The New-York Tribune reported that his mother "and the party have come down from Cooperstown to be present," and The Evening World noted it "was a brilliant society affair, the 120 guests all being members of the ultra-fashionable set."

Frederick and his wife received lavish presents from their parents.  The Evening World said "Mr. Stokes gave his daughter a steam yacht and town house in Manhattan."  Elizabeth provided them a new country estate, Iroquois Farm, near Cooperstown.

Exactly two weeks later, on October 4, Elizabeth was married to Henry C, Potter in Christ Church in Cooperstown.

The 52-year old bride.  The Evening World, September 12, 1902 (copyright expired)

The national coverage of the romance and the frequent mentions of Elizabeth's generosity had resulted in an unexpected side effect.  On October 12 The New York Times reported "From July until October, the interval between the announcement of the engagement of Mrs. Alfred Corning Clark and Bishop Potter and their recent wedding...Mrs. Clark was in receipt of more than a thousand letters asking for money.

"The letters were from people in all parts of the country.  Some asked donations for themselves or some sick friend; others wanted to complete a college education; some had gilt-edged schemes of investment full of promise, and others represented various institutions."

And while her secretary plowed through the correspondence, Elizabeth and the bishop had lengthy discussions about their coming living arrangements.  The Evening World had reported on September 12 that "For the last few weeks the Bishop has been visiting Mrs. Clark at her summer home, Fernleigh, on the shores of Otsego Lake, and there, it is said, they have been planning with great care for the disposition of their town and country houses, when the union shall have combined the two valuable estates."

The bishop, friends said, "expressed a preference" for his Washington Square mansion.  It appeared they had made up their minds and The Evening World reported "Friends of Bishop Potter's bride-to-be, Mrs. Alfred Corning Clark, say she purposes abandoning her magnificent mansion at the corner of Riverside drive and Eighty-ninth street, and will give the house to some charity to be designated by the Bishop."

In the end, it was the Washington Square house which was given up.  No. 347 West 89th Street earned the much-used name of "the Bishop Potter Residence."

Carriages entering from Riverside Drive (left) would exit onto 89th Street.  (copyright expired)

The reason Potter was in Paris when the engagement had been announced was because "the condition of his health was not all that could be wished," according to the New-York Tribune at the time.  Now, just three months after the wedding, the newspaper reported that he was unable to preach at Yale University the day before "on account of illness."

from the collection of the New York Public Library

Elizabeth continued her generous works.  Alfred Corning Clark had lavishly patronized young artists, one of his favorites being sculptor George Grey Barnard.  He had commissioned a large bronze figure of Pan, originally intended as a fountain figure for the courtyard of the Dakota apartments.  But when he saw the designs, he decided it was too find a piece to be hidden and decided to donate it to Central Park.  He died before the statue was completed.

In 1907 Elizabeth picked up the project and had it cast.  The city's Art Commission, while conceding that "it was artistic enough to be worthy of acceptance by the city," according to the New-York Tribune on October 6, 1907, could not agree on a site.  Elizabeth seems to have lost patience and, instead, donated the three-ton piece to Columbia University.

The following spring Bishop Potter fell ill again.  After being bedridden for a week, his doctor, J. E, Janvrin, issued a formal statement on May 2, 1908, putting a positive spin on the situation.

A week ago Bishop Potter was taken seriously ill, suffering from three complaints--overwork, indigestion, and a bilious attack.  His condition to-day is much better than it was then, and he is getting along very satisfactorily.  I hope to have him out in a week's time."

But Potter's condition would not improve.  He died at Fernleigh on July 21 at the age of 74.   His funeral was held in Grace Church on October 20.  The New-York Tribune said the ceremony was "of extreme simplicity" and "there was no display at any time during the services."  Nevertheless, "the impressiveness of it all was profound."

Following the funeral, Potter's body was place in the crypt of the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, below the main altar.  The structure at the time was, essentially, a construction site and Potter's was the first body to occupy a vault there.

The Cathedral of St. John the Divine in 1908 was more construction site than church. New-York Tribune, October 21, 1908 (copyright expired)

A mere eight months later, on March 5, 1909, Elizabeth died unexpectedly in the Riverside Drive house from Bright's disease.  Newspapers reported in length about her long tradition of giving.  "She disliked social display," said The Times, "and was never prominent socially, always living quietly and retiringly, and contenting herself with benevolent activities."  The newspaper mentioned her many gifts to Cooperstown, including "the building used by the Young Men's Christian Association, a public library, park, and museum."

Edward was with her at her death, but Frederick and Stephen were in Europe and Robert was in China on "an expedition of exploration an scientific investigation."  The funeral, held in the Church of the Incarnation, was delayed until March 14 to enable Frederick and Stephen to return.   The New-York Tribune noted "Few funerals of private citizens in late years have been so well attended as was that of Mrs. Potter."

Her body was taken to Cooperstown where it was placed beside that of her first husband.

A tinted postcard view clearly shows the Riverside Drive carriage entrance and, in the background, the Cyrus Clark and John H. Matthews mansions (copyright expired)

Elizabeth left an estate of approximately $50 million--a staggering $1.27 billion in today's terms.  Frederick inherited the Riverside Drive house as well as Fernleigh.

Frederick and Florence remained in the Riverside Drive house until 1912 when he sold it to William H. Barnard and his wife, Lily.  The purchase price was not publicized, however the Record & Guide pointed out it "is valued at about $850,000."  In reporting on the sale the publication noted "The Clark residence...is one of the show places of the drive."

The Barnard family enjoyed the lifestyle of the wealthy.  Earlier that year, for instance, The Sun had reported "Mr. and Mrs. Barnard and their family will spend the greater part of the summer cruising on their yacht, Sagamore." 

Barnard was president of the International Salt Company, vice president of the Fidelity Trust Company, president of four other companies and a director in 24 corporations.  The couple's winter estate, Barnard Villa Place in Aiken, South Carolina consisted of 92 acres, a stone residence and several outbuildings.  Their summer home, The Manor, was in Rutland, Vermont.

The couple's daughter, Lilybel, was a bit rebellious and even before her debut into society had made headlines for the wrong reasons.  On March 21, 1909 she told her chauffeur to let her take the wheel and was spotted by Policeman McIntyre speeding along Riverside Drive.  He took chase and Lilybel merely stepped on the gas. At 190th Street she turned the car around, her chauffeur got in the driver's seat, and then took off again.

After what The Sun called "a long chase" both Lilybel and the driver were arrested.  "Miss Barnard was charged with going at twenty-four miles an hour and her chauffeur with going at twenty miles an hour."

Now, the summer after the family moved into the former Clark house, she shocked even her parents.  On the morning of July 22 Lilybel left the Vermont mansion to go for a drive with James Williams Salisbury.  The pair did not return home by noon for lunch.  Then, as reported by The Sun, "A telegram received at the Manor this afternoon from Bellows Falls, Vt., simply announced that Miss Barnard and Mr. Salisbury were married and were on a honeymoon,"

Her parent's surprise and possible anger abated and the newlyweds moved into the Riverside Drive house.    In 1915 the family was approached by George Kleine who was producing a silent film serial starring stage star Billie Burke, called Gloria's Romance.  He wanted to use the exterior of the mansion for "the scenes leading up to the capture of the escaped murderer," as reported later in The Times.  The Barnards rebuffed the $1,000 offer.

Lilybel later admitted that Assistant Director Kane had found her alone in the house and insisted "that thousands of feet of reel would be crippled if Gloria didn't romance through the late bishop's yard."  He sweetened the deal with a promise of $50 or an Easter bonnet for Lilybel directly.

She later admitted that  "in the absence of her family, [she] gave permission for the company to take exterior pictures."  When her husband came home to find a movie crew on the grounds, he was furious. Lilybel was entertaining women at a luncheon and said "My husband was very angry.  He said he had telephoned for the police.  I felt shamefaced because I was the only member of the family not opposed to taking the pictures."

William Barnard directed "that his wife accept for charity a check for $1,000," according to the Los Angeles Herald on January 19, 1917.  The article added "The grounds were utilized for four months." 


While her parents received the check, Lilybel did not forget Kane's promise to her.  On May 1, 1916 she wrote a letter from the Riverside Drive house which read:

Mrs, James Williams Salisbury wishes to make a request of $50,00 for her part in persuading Mr. Barnard to allow Mr. Kane and his people to continue their film work at 347 West Eighty-ninth Street.  Mr. Kane will, no doubt, recall his conversation with Mrs Salisbury and realize that it was due to her efforts that the picture company gained their permit.

Hoping Mr. Kane finds this request within reason,

Very truly yours,
LILYBEL B. SALISBURY

In March1921 Barnard bought up the old Cyrus Clark property, giving him the entire blockfront along Riverside Drive.   The New York Times said this "gave him possession of a splendid site available for apartment improvement."

But then he sold the combined properties on June 6, 1922 for $1.25 million.   The New York Times immediately reported "A statement, indicating that New York City is about to receive from an anonymous donor, the gift of an official residence for the Mayor, similar to the Governor's Mansion at Albany and the White House at Washington, was sent out last night by William A. White & Sons, who announce in this connection the sale of the former home of the late Bishop Potter at Riverside Drive and Eighty-ninth Street."


The statement said the purchased intended to donate the property to the City "for an official residence for the Mayor" and said the "Clark mansion takes rank with the finest homes of Fifth and Park Avenues and Riverside Drive."

If there ever were such a civic-minded philanthropist, his grand scheme never came to fruition.  Instead the Clark mansion was demolished to be replaced by the massive 16-story 173 Riverside Drive apartment building.  Designed by J. E. R. Carpenter, it was completed in 1925 and survives.

photo via streeteasy.com

Saturday, January 20, 2018

The One-Time 1840s Twins at 32 and 34 King Street




As early as the 1820s Richmond Hill, once the country estate of British officer Major Mortier and then Aaron Burr, was being developed John Jacob Astor.   In the early 1840s fine brick-faced homes rose along the block of King Street, between Sixth Avenue and Varick Street.  Among these were Nos. 32 and 34, two upscale, mirror-image residences.

At 25-feet wide and three stories tall above and English basement, they were intended for well-to-do families.  Their connected brownstone stoops were separated by handsome ironwork which terminated in three basket newels which sat on substantial stone drums.

The Italianate style railing glimpsed at lower left came later.

The properties sat on land owned by Trinity Church.  By the mid-1850s No. 32 was home to real estate operator J. B. Archer.  He coupled domestic life with business in March 1855 when he advertised a house for rent at No. 564 Broome Street.  While he offered to show the property between 11:00 and 5:00, the ad noted "for particulars" he could be seen at home after 6:00 p.m.

Archer was apparently already renting rooms in the King Street house at the time.  Samuel Phillips, his wife and his brother lived here that year.

Victorian Fourth of July celebrations were dangerous to anyone who ventured outside because young boys traditionally fired pistols into the air.  It was a situation that continued until outraged reformers demanded an end to the reckless practice in the early 20th century.   On Independence Day 1855 the Phillips family felt safe in the backyard of No. 32.  But they were not.

The following morning The New York Times reported "Mrs. Phillips, wife of Samuel Phillips, residing at No 32 King-street, while setting at the back stoop of her house, was shot through the thigh with a ball from a pistol or a gun discharged from the rear of the house No. 19 Charlton-street."   Her brother-in-law rushed to her aid and was nearly injured as well.  "At the same time the brother of Mr. Phillips had a narrow escape; a ball passed through his pantaloons and lodged in the ground."

Less than a year later the Phillips family had moved on and on March 25, 1856 Archer advertised "A gentleman and wife, and two single gentlemen, can be accommodated with board, and furnished or unfurnished rooms in a private family; children no objection."

In the meantime, William Clark leased the house next door.  He was the son of Revolutionary War hero Captain Peter Clark who, according to the Therapeutic Gazette in 1884, "was with Stark at Bennington, and also at the surrender of [General John] Burgoyne."  Clark could trace his American lineage to Hugh Clark, who who settled in Massachusetts in the 17th century.

Clark owned an "oyster saloon" at No. 484 Third Avenue, at the corner of 35th Street.  Also known as oyster bars, the highly popular restaurant-taverns specialized in serving oysters buffet-style.  Clark's business was highly successful and provided him a satisfying personal fortune.

His affluence was evidenced when he became a victim of a brash crime in the fall of 1859.  While he was walking along West Broadway, a nimble-fingered sneak thief robbed him of his gold watch and chain, valued at $75--more than $2,000 in today's dollars.    The crook was not all that adept, however, and did not get far.  On November 21 The New York Herald announced "An Alleged Pickpocket in Trouble" and reported "William Curtis, a West India negro, was charged before Justice Connolly" and held for trial.

Like their neighbors, the Clarks were renting rooms by 1861.  That year, on August 30, an advertisement offered "To let, in a private house, two neatly furnished front Rooms, suitable for two young gentlemen or a gentleman and wife, and where home comforts can be enjoyed; house has all the modern improvements, and is convenient to cars and stages."   The "cars" referred to were the Sixth Avenue street cars.

Clark was looking for an employee for his business early in 1864, and was willing to interview in his King Street house.  He advertised on March 16 "Wanted --A girl in an oyster saloon; one who understands cooking oysters or waiting on tables.  Apply at 484 3d av., corner of 35th st, or 34 King st."

Eight months later Clark was dead.  He died in the house on November 15 at just 48 year old.  His funeral was held in the parlor three days later at 1:00.

The Clark family continued to rent rooms and among the boarders in 1865 were Andrew L. and Eliza Osborn and their teen aged daughter Mary Elizabeth; and a piano teacher who advertised "an accomplished young lady would like to teach music to a few scholars at their residences."

Less than a year after William Clark's funeral, the house would be the scene of another.  On September 5, after being sick for only a few days, Mary Elizabeth Osborn died just two months short of her 20th birthday.

In March 1866 the Trinity Church offered No. 34 for sale, saying it "contains all modern improvements."  The new owners continued to operate it as a boarding house.  When they advertised for a "girl to do general housework" in December 1868, they added "American or German preferred."

By now the boarders in the once-upscale home included blue collar immigrants.  One was Michael Gorman who lived here in 1869.  A native of Ireland, his profession was listed simply as "laborer."  In May 1869 he suffered a severe fall, most likely at a construction site.   His skull was fractured and he was taken to Bellevue Hospital where he lingered for several days before dying on May 9.  The next day The New York Times reported "Coroner Keenan granted permission for the removal of the remains to the late residence of the deceased, where an inquest will be held to-day."

Both residences continued to be boarding houses in the mid-1870s.  When the lease of No. 32 was offered in February 20, 1876 it was described a "three story high stoop House; contains all the modern improvements."   John Strobel signed the lease to operate the boarding house.

The owners next door moved away the following year.  On February 24, 1877 an advertisement appeared in The New York Herald that read "A rare chance for a newly married couple.  On account of leaving the city I will sell my entire Household Furniture for $300; this needs to be seen to be appreciated."

The buyers would soon be faced with a serious decision.  In 1878 John Strobel transferred his lease of No. 32 to Ferdinand Ehrhard.   The owner of an East Side plumbing business, he lived at No. 232 East 15th Street, and was active in politics.  The same year he took over the lease of No. 32 King Street he was elected to be a delegate to the State Convention of New-York Republicans in Saratoga, New York.

It was almost assuredly Ehrhart who was responsible for updating the house.  It received a stylish facelift, including the addition of a fourth floor in the form of a fashionable mansard roof.  But the shared stoops and entrance elements most certainly resulted in serious discussions with the owners of No. 34.  An obvious compromise resulted with both parties making concessions.

The sills and lintels of No. 32 received a modern, Eastlake-style update.  A new entrance with double doors in the same style replaced the Greek Revival original.   The owners of No. 34 did not agree to remodel those elements and apparently insisted on keeping the vintage stoop ironwork.  A trade-off was the Eastlake remodel of the entablature that stretched across both entrances.


A notable resident of No. 32 at the turn of the century was builder John F. Walsh, Jr.  In 1901 he was appointed Superintendent of Buildings for the boroughs of Manhattan an the Bronx.  The position came with a $5,000 a year salary--almost $138,000 today.  Living with him here was his father, who was no less well known.

The modern remake included tiny sill brackets and Eastlake-style lintels.

John F. Walsh, Sr. had been appointed by then governor Grover Cleveland as New York's Harbor Master.  Now, despite his advanced age, he was Inspector of Hulls in the Steamboat Service.  He died in the King Street house on July 5, 1905 at the age of 84, and still holding that job.  In reporting on his death The New York Times called him "one of the oldest an best-known residents of old Greenwich Village."

At the time of Walsh's death, the King Street neighborhood was becoming home, for the most part, to Italian immigrant families.  Three months before his funeral, another was held in the house next door.   Francis and Maddalena Cavagnaro's nine year old son, Arthur, died after being sick just five days.  His funeral was held in No. 34 King Street on April 6.


Ferdinand Ehrst's daughter, Louisa, was married to John Kreuser.   Following Ehrst's death, his estate transferred the lease of No. 34 in October 1908 to Kreuser.   Like Ehrst, he would be an off-site landlord; he and Louisa lived in Mount Vernon, New York.

Somewhat surprisingly, nine months later the Record & Guide reported that "The Rector, etc. of Trinity Church" had sold the house to John Kreusser for $15,000 (just under $390,000 today).   Among the Kreusser's upgrades was the installation of plumbing in 1916.

John Kreusser died on September 1, 1917 and Louise sold No. 32 on May 11, 1920 to sisters Marie T. and Amelia Sylvester for $22,500.  In reporting on the sale the Record & Guide described the property as a "four-story brick tenement."


Throughout the rest of the century both houses contained rented rooms.  In the 1960s the basement of No. 32 was home to theatrical production manager Jose Vega and his wife, Vicky.   In the 1840s the below-ground space held the kitchen and laundry areas as well as the family dining room.  Now in 1965 the Vegas' $168 per month rent provided them with vintage pine floors, three fireplaces, "refinished old wainscoting in the kitchen," and a built-in bar, as described by Lawrence O'Kane in The New York Times that year.

But $168 a month rents in vintage homes do not last forever in Manhattan.  In 2000 a renovation of No. 32 resulted in one apartment per floor in the basement through second floors; with a duplex on the third and fourth.   In 2013 plans were filed to reconvert No. 34 to a single family home.

When No. 32 was updated in the 1870s, the parlor got a new mantel (above).  The handsome black marble mantel below is original.  photos via zillow. com

Although the Landmarks Preservation Commissions neighborhood designation report laments that the 1870s updating of No. 32 "upsets the relationship" of the two houses; the pair is nonetheless charming and reminds us that changes in architectural taste forever evolve.

photographs by the author

Friday, January 19, 2018

The Edward Rubin House - 22 East 93rd Street




In 1892 developer Walter Reid started construction on a row of upscale homes stretching from No. 14 through 24 East 93rd Street.  He did not have to look far to find his architect.  The residences were designed by his son, Walter Reid, Jr.

Completed the following year, the Romanesque Revival row was deftly designed to include the expected beefy elements of the style--like rough cut stone and fortress-worthy arches--tempered with delicate carvings and decorations.  Although each of the houses was slightly different; Reid left no question that this was a unified row.

His treatment of No. 22 was unusual.  The planar walls of the upper floors created an unusually finished look for the Romanesque style; in stark contrast to the parlor level.  The windows of the second floor were grouped within a carved picture frame-type molding, more expected in commercial buildings.  And the sparse decoration of the third floor gave the impression that something was missing.

In the meantime Edward Rubin had been building an appreciable personal fortune.  He and his wife, the former Celia Cohen, were married in their native Russia.  After arriving in New York City, Rubin went into the fur business, eventually forming the Edward Rubin & Co., makers of "fur garments and novelties."  Around the turn of the century the young couple moved into No. 22 East 93rd Street.

An unusual foliate Romanesque panel at the third floor gives way to neo-Classical elements on the fourth.  The cast metal cornice with its swirling frieze was identical to those on each of the other houses.

Edward was 28 and Celia just 23 when son Harold was born on October 13, 1900.  The family would eventually grow to nine, with three more sons, Edwin, Milton, and Arthur, and daughters Bertha, Miriam, and Rita.

Russia was the source of many of the sought-after pelts for turn-of-the-century fashions, including the "Crown" sable worn by the tsar.   The early training Rubin received in his homeland made his business a success.

In November 1903 Cloaks and Furs gushed "Edward Rubin & Co., the furriers...have on hand one of the most complete lines of scarfs, boas, clusters, neckpieces, pelerines, etc., that the writer has been seen anywhere.  The fur pieces are all in the most fashionable furs, and at the most moderate prices.  Such a handsome outlay is rarely seen in a furrier's showrooms.  Throughout the whole stock there is a richness of tone that bespeaks volumes for Mr. Rubin as a judge of furs."

But two years later Rubin made a bold move by stepping out of his comfort zone and founding the American Silk Mills, Inc. with factories in Paterson, New Jersey.   Before long his fur business would be dissolved as he focused entirely on silk production.   The change turned out to be both wise and significantly profitable.

He added to his fortune by dabbling in Upper West Side real estate.  It resulted in his diversifying again, in 1911, when he formed the Nibur Realty Company, Inc. with his brother, Jacob and another investor.

The family rarely entertained and their names never appeared in mainstream society columns.  Only events like the announcement of Harold's bar mitzvah in October 1913 and the subsequent "at home" for receiving well-wishers made the newspapers.

Instead Edward Rubin focused on religious and charitable causes.  He supported several philanthropic organizations, most notably Beth Israel Hospital which counted him among its major benefactors for decades.

During the Depression years, heart problems caused Rubin to spend less time at the office.  Son Milton took over much of the management of the American Silk Mills, Inc.  Rubin fell into a comfortable habit of receiving his breakfast and newspaper each morning in his bedroom--delivered conveniently by a dumbwaiter from the kitchen.  It was a custom that resulted in a highly bizarre accident on September 28, 1939.

Around 8:00 that morning servants were stunned when the 64-year old plunged headfirst down the dumbwaiter shaft from his second story bedroom, landing in the basement.   He suffered a possible fractured skull and internal injuries.

A full-grown man getting his body into the shaft far enough to fall seems highly difficult, if not nearly impossible.  Yet Milton explained "that his father apparently became dizzy when he leaned into the shaft to get his morning newspaper and breakfast," reported The New York Times.  That, too, seemed unlikely, since the dumbwaiter, still empty, was at the bottom of the shaft at the time.

Nevertheless, the police deemed the fall an accident.  Rubin was taken to Mount Sinai Hospital by private ambulance.   He died there five days later.

The variety of carvings included bold, foliate designs at the parlor level, and delicate ropes framing the second story openings.

The following year Rubin's children sold the family house of more than three decades to the 22 East Ninety-third Street Company.  While the details were kept quiet, the firm's $20,000 mortgage (in the neighborhood of $330,000 today) hinted at the sale price.

The new owner had no intentions of leasing No. 22 as a private home.  Within the year renovations were completed that resulted in two apartments and "two furnished rooms" per floor.

Among the tenants in the 1960s was gold dealer Elizabeth Meiler, whose shop was in the Diamond District, at No. 10 West 47th Street.   She found herself unexpectedly pulled into a murder investigation in the summer of 1963.

Jeweler Antonin Eisler also had a store at the 47th Street address and on Friday July 26 Elizabeth happened to notice him having lunch with a "young brunette" in a restaurant in the building.   Late that night, at around 11:00, Eisler's wife reported him missing.

Three days later his mutilated body was found face down at the base of a steep embankment in Alpine, New Jersey.  He had been shot twice through the heart at close range, prompting detectives to suspect a professional hit.  The New York Times reported "An odd aspect of the mystery was that the entire face of the victim had turned black, but not the rest of the body."

Eisler had left his 47th Street shop with $156,000 in gems, which were missing.  Although she was not considered in anyway connected to the crime, the police were still questioning Elizabeth Meiler and other friends and associated into the night three days later.

The bullet-like newels of the stoop are beautifully decorated with vining leaves.
Although the exterior of the Rubin house survives essentially unchanged; there is nothing left of Walter Reid's 1893 interiors.  Exposed brick and flat drywall replace the Victorian details so familiar to Celia Rubin.  And one assumes that the dumbwaiter that resulted in her husband's death is gone as well.

photographs by the author

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Isaac Duckworth's 1869 Cast iron 49 Walker Street




In 1859, when publishers W. R. C. Clark & Meeker occupied the old building at No. 49 Walker Street, Daniel D. Badger's innovative concept of prefabricated cast iron facades was just taking hold.  Within the decade it would transform the face of New York City's commercial structures--especially in the districts that would be later called Soho and Tribeca where commercial buildings were rapidly taking the place of three-story brick houses.

But for now the publishing firm made do within its vintage structure, releasing The History of the City of New York that year.  Two other publisher, Doolady's and M. Gauntt, and book jobber David Davidson shared the building.

M. Doolady advertised its newly published book in The Bookseller's Medium in 1861 (copyright expired)

Change was about to come on March 15, 1869 when Superintendent James M. MacGregor approved plans for an "iron store, situated No. 49 Walker-street; five stories and basement; owned by R. H. L. Towndsend."

Richard H. L. Townsend, a well-to-do silk merchant who was turning his attention to real estate investments, had commissioned Isaac F. Duckworth to design his new loft building.  Prolific in the downtown area, the architect had enthusiastically embraced the concept of cast iron facades.

Construction was completed before the end of the year.   The five-story building was a commercial take on the newly-popular French Second Empire style.  The four identical floors above the storefront featured flat-arched openings recessed within square enframements, stylized Corinthian pilasters, and prominent cornices between each floor.

Stealing the show was the impressive upper cornice, its arched pediment upheld by hefty brackets.  Molded into the frieze was the construction date.


The area was becoming the dry goods district and Townsend's new building would fill with apparel and textile-related firms.   In 1888 Meyer Gans, cloak manufacturer, was here as was the Morris Brothers suspender factory.

On Thursday night, April 26 that year a fire broke out in the building.  It was quickly extinguished and there was little damage either by fire or water.  But Morris Brothers quickly realized they had suffered a different type of loss.

Unscrupulous firefighters sometimes took advantage of the chaos of blazes to help themselves to goods.  In the worst cases some rogues were convicted for setting the fires in order to gain access to the booty.  On  April 28, 1888 The Evening World reported "No new light has been thrown upon the alleged theft of suspenders in the store of Morris Brothers...during the fire."

There was no question as to who the perpetrators were in the mind of Abram Morris.  The World said "he has no doubt that the robbery was committed by a member of the Fire Department, for there were no outsiders in the building."  According to the article the brothers explained "their money loss is comparatively trifling, but they are indignant that it should become necessary to keep a watch on those who are paid to protect their property."

Morris Brothers remained in the building until October 1897 when the firm moved to No. 575 Broadway.  By then Morris Mikola, waist manufacturer was in the building, employing 13 factory workers--three men, seven women and three girls.

L. H. Rice & Co moved in soon after.  The company was formed on Walker Street in 1865, "as a manufacturer of bosoms only," according to The Clothier and Furnisher years later.   Now it was the well-known maker of the "Palmetto" brand shirt. 

The Clothiers' and Haberdashers' Weekly announced the firm's new spring line in 1899, noting "The assortment contains many novelties and striking effects."  The high quality of the shirts was evidenced in the cost.  Retailers were offered "novelties" (stripes, for instance) at from $4.50 to $18 a dozen; and the "fine line of white shirts" at $4.75 to $9 a dozen.  The wholesale cost of the most expensive styles would be equal to about $537 a dozen today, or $44.75 each.

After the turn of the century the building had a significant turnover in tenants.  By 1905 L. H. Rice & Co.had moved to No. 618 Broadway.  New occupants included Saul Bros. & Co., "general line of dry goods;" Diamond & Co., makers of "overalls and duck clothing:' and children's dress manufacturer L. Feldstein & Co.

One tenant engaged in a far different industry was the Bent Glass Novelty Company, here by 1909.  Run by Oliver C. and Robert O. Brown, the firm had been established in 1894 and was listed as a "manufacturer of illuminating glassware."  In other words, it created the highly-popular leaded glass lamp shades.

This leaded shade, offered on Ebay in 2017, was made by the Bent Glass Novelty Company, most likely in the Walker Street factory.

Many of its skilled workers and artists were Italian.  Three of them were brothers, Giuseppe, Francesco and Vincenzo Gambaro who came from Sicily.  The New-York Tribune described Francesco as "a cripple" and Giuseppe as "a skilled designer."  Vincenzo was their foreman.

Things went well until Giuseppe, who made an admirable salary of $50 a week (more than $1,300 today) was fired early in 1909.  He blamed Vincenzo for his firing, and then, according to The Sun, "was made angry by the praise his father and mother gave Vincent [sic] for supporting them."  The newspaper editorialized by adding "Giuseppe is the ne'er do well of the Gambaro family."

Giuseppe's anger turned into a simmering vendetta.  On February 8 he appeared at the factory and told Vincenzo "come and see what I've got."  He pulled out a revolver and fired.

A terrifying scene unfolded as Vincenzo tried to escape with his life.   He "ran the length of the store and Giuseppe pursued, firing as he ran.  The pursued doubled and twisted among the shop fixtures, but his brother was close behind and kept up the fire until Vincent [sic] dropped dead."


The New-York Tribune reported he had fired five shots into his brother.  In the meantime, Francesco had attempted to stop the murder, "but was thrown aside during the chase about the store," according to The Sun.

Francesco found his own life threatened when he appeared as the principal witness against his brother on May 18.  As he left the courtroom, a voice among the crowd whispered in Italian "You won't live to see this day out."  He was given a police escort home.

Giuseppe was convicted and the artist-turned-murderer was sent to the electric chair in Sing Sing prison on July 26, 1910.


The year of the murder, on November 3, Robert O. Brown was notified that some of his employees had joined a union.  Two days later a strike was declared.  Thinking he could arrange a compromise, Brown called the union's committee into his office.  But its president, named Provenzano, "made absurd demands."

Among them was reducing by work week by five and a half hours with no reduction of pay.  Moreover, Provenzano then insisted that after that demand was met, Brown would employ only union members.

"I was to let him run my business, that is.  Not much!" exclaimed Brown.  "I'd rather go to New Jersey and raise potatoes than let Mr. Provenzano run my business."

 The Sun, calling the Bent Glass Novelty Company "the leading house in the bent glass industry," interviewed Brown who expressed his frustration and anger on November 18 .

"We complained to the police only after our place of business had been surrounded by strikers on picket duty, as it is called, and after those pickets had by force and intimidation deprived us of the services of several employees not members of the union who were eager to remain at work."


Things then got ugly.  Labor unions often resorted to violence to obtain their goals and Brown related that "There have been some street brawls and fistfights as part of the strikers' method, but even worse than that was been the threats, which have so frightened some of our employees that they are afraid to come to work."

One of the Bent Glass Novelty designers assumed he was not involved in the conflict, since he was a leaded glass artist and not a worker as such.  He arrived one morning and told his bosses he had been threatened outside, but that he would continue working.  Brown said "That day he went out to lunch and they 'got him.'"

Like Giuseppe Gambaro, the skilled artist was an Italian immigrant.  Most of the strikers were Italian-born and they made it explicitly clear in their native language that "if he did not quit it would go ill with him."  Brown said "He seemed to understand what was meant."

The Bent Glass and Brass Workers Union had set up a headquarters of sort--a tent made from tarpaulins--at the corner of Walker and Cortlandt Streets where they could watch the comings and goings from No. 49.

The Bent Glass Novelty Company and 11 others (there was a total of 15 companies in the city making art bent glass at the time) formed an association to hold out against the union until their demands were more reasonable.

In February 1916 Richard H. L. Townsend's son, J. Allen Townsend, sold the building to Daniel P. Morse, president of the Parmelee Realty Corporation.  The aging building needed upgrading and the Record & Guide announced that architect James S. Maher would be doing improvements.  Included were "new store front, fireproof stairways, steel ceilings and other modern details."  The building was vacated so the renovations could be done.

By the time work was completed in October all four of the upper floors had been leased to Teijeiro & Co., cigar manufacturers.   The cigar business seems to have lagged by the end of the five-year lease, because in 1921 the firm took only the second floor.  The upper floors were taken over by The Irish World, publishers of the magazine by the same name.

Patrick Ford had come to America from Ireland in 1847 was a highly active in the Irish Freedom movement.  He founded The Irish World in 1870 and headed it until his death in 1913.  His son, Austin J Ford, then took over the reins.

The editorial offices were located on the third floor of No. 49, with the printing operations above.  On July 23, 1928 Ford and an editor, Francis P. Jones, went to lunch at around 4:00 then returned to work.  Later that evening Jones entered his boss's office to find him asleep at his desk.  The New York Times reported "it was when he attempted to awaken him by shaking his arm that he discovered the publisher had died."  The 58-year old executive's death was attributed to a heart attack.

For decades soon after the building was home to the Atlantic Sponge and Chamois Co., Inc.  But the Tribeca renaissance arrived in 1981 when owner Elihu Lipkis completed a three-year renovation that resulted in a store at street level and one apartment on each of the upper floors.  Department of Buildings records noted that each apartment included a "fine arts studio."

The relationship between Lipkis and his tenants was no love affair from the start.  On April 5, 1982 the State Court of Appeals upheld their eviction following a long-lasting rent strike.   Lipkis started eviction proceedings for nonpayment of rent.  The tenants said they withheld rent because he "refused to provide them with heat and other essential building services," as reported by The Times.

The lavish renovated interiors give no hint that once leaded glass lampshades and sponges were manufactured here.  photos via www.elliman.com

Landlord-tenants relations eventually smoothed over.  And while residents enjoyed luxurious interiors spaces; Isaac Duckworth's cast iron facade remained sadly neglected.  Hopefully the sidewalk bridges that appeared in 2017 hint at coming restoration.

Surviving elements of the 1869 storefront can be glimpsed below the sidewalk bridges.

photographs by the author

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

The Marble "Doll House" - 12 West 45th Street




In the decade before the outbreak of World War I the old houses along the block of West 45th Street, between Fifth and Sixth Avenues, were disappearing one by one.  In December 1910 developer James A. Farley bought Mary G. Duffy's four-story house at No. 12.  The Real Estate Record & Builders' Guide commented "Mr. Farley will erect on the site a 2-sty building, which is to be leased to one tenant for a term of years."

The New York Times announced that Farley's projected building would have "a roof and facade entirely of glass."  While that would have been remarkable, what developed instead was no less striking.

Farley commissioned the architectural firm of Pollard & Steinam to design the diminutive structure.  Undaunted by the minute proportions--just 16.5 feet wide and two-and-a-half stories tall--the architects set to work designing a memorable edifice.

Costing $15,000--about $375,000 today--the building made up for size in dignified elegance.  Clad entirely in polished white marble, its storefront featured a large eliptical arch; the only ornamentation being two roundels.  Above a carved wave crest band was a classically-inspired temple front, the pediment of which dictated the shapes of the unadorned openings of the top floor,  The marble cornice was, somewhat surprisingly, starkly unadorned.  The New York Times commented "It is a typical reminder of the small-shop facades on the best thoroughfares of Paris."

The little building took only about three months to build.  Farley most likely had his tenant lined up before construction even began.  On April 15, 1911 the Record & Guide announced he had leased his "2-1/2 sty marble 'doll house'" to "Moulton & Ricketts, art dealers, of Chicago and Milwaukee."

Two months later the Fine Arts Journal reported on the dealers' new home.  "It is a handsomely fitted place and the situation, a few steps from the Fifth Avenue, is in the midst of the group of art stores kept by widely known experts.  The Waldorf-Astoria, where rich people gather, stands but a few steps away.  The Chicago dealers are certainly very much alive."

The Sun, January 7, 1912 (copyright expired)

James A. Farley was most likely annoyed when his tenant purchased the American business of Arthur Tooth & Sons in 1913.  The International Studio called the deal "one of the important business changes of the season in New York" and added "The New York galleries of Moulton & Ricketts have now been transferred to the premises previously occupied by Arthur Tooth & Sons at 537 Fifth Avenue."

No. 12 was leased next to Harris & Harrington, clock manufacturers and importers, who had been doing business far downtown at No. 12 Barclay Street.  The New York Times called the move "significant" and said "This is another illustration of the northward trend of all mercantile business now in the lower section of the city."

The Fifth Avenue neighborhood had been a center of art dealers for years; but would soon see the arrival of piano and organ showrooms.  Among the first to arrive would be the Vermont-based Estey Company, makers of pianos and organs.  The firm signed a lease with Farley in July 1916 and The Times noted it "will remodel the building and use it as showrooms."

As Christmas approached in 1917 the Vermont factory sent a shipment of discontinued styles to the 45th Street showroom.  An advertisement announced "They have just sent us 21 instruments which we are able to offer at reduced prices."  While the sale offered reduced prices, the instruments were still by no means inexpensive.  The lowest price for a grand piano was $550--more than $10,500 today.

Another sale took place seven months later after The Estey Company apparently rethought the advisability of managing its own showroom.   In July the firm turned over the distribution of its stock to the Frederick Loeser & Co. music stores.  The entire stock of pianos in the 45th Street store was liquidated.

Estey still held a long-term lease on the building; but it found a sub-tenant in March 1919.  An announcement in The Record & Guide entitled ""Doll House' for Restaurant" explained that Paul Fischer had leased the building from Estey Piano.  "He will alter it into a high-class restaurant and French pastry shop, to be known as 'La Maisonnette."

In reporting on the lease the journal reminded readers "The building, which was erected by James A. Farley in 1910, is one of the most unique in the midtown section.  It has a white marble facade in Colonial design and is only 16.5 feet wide.  Upon completion the builder named it the Doll House."

In 1927 at the end of Fischer's lease, George W. Gittens, president of the Estey Piano Co., purchased No. 12.  A fourth floor, set back from the cornice line, was added which became the firm's executive offices.   Then, in 1927, the building was once again converted to the Estey showrooms.  Music Trade Review announced that "A complete line of Estey pianos, including the new period models, which are very much in demand, are displayed on the three floors."

Once again, however, the Estey showrooms would be short-lived at the address.  Within a year another piano dealer, Henry J. Eilers, was operating here.  He found himself before a judge in January 1922, charged with "misrepresenting the age of a piano."

The trouble started when Mrs. Ida Littauer of Coney Island responded to an advertisement for second-hand piano.   She sent a friend, a piano teacher, to see the instrument.  According to Mrs. Littauer, the salesman told the woman that the piano was eight years old.  Mrs. Littauer put $200 down on the $750 instrument and accepted delivery.  Then a friend told her the piano was at least 41 years old.

Eilers was enraged that at what he called "repudiation."  He insisted, first, that his salesman would not have given the age as eight years "because he did not even know the serial number."  Then he pointed out "As a matter of fact, we could prove that a good piano is good for satisfactory service for, not merely a lifetime, but, with care and attention, would serve well the purchaser's grandchildren.  On the other hand a piano, even though only eight years of age, might have suffered abuse and injury from improper care and use so as to be entirely worthless."  Therefore, he said, age was not a marker of worth.

The judge agreed and dismissed Eilers's bail, saying there was insufficient evidence against him.

The victory was not enough to keep Eilers in business however.  He declared bankruptcy in 1930.  He was followed in No. 12 by the music publishing firm of G. Ricordi & Co.   The firm was founded by Giovanni Ricordi in Italy in 1808.  It opened its first branch in America in 1897 a block away at No. 14 East 43rd Street.  It was still there when it signed the lease for No. 12 West 45th Street.  The rent, $14,000 per year, would be in the neighborhood of a quarter million today.

In April 1951 the building was vacant.  After 40 years the ground floor was still intact.  photo by Wurts Bros. from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York

When the building became available in 1951, it was taken by the country's oldest theatrical costuming house, Louis Guttenberg's Sons.  The firm filled all three floors with costumes which were available both for rental or sale to theatrical companies.

Established in Greenwich Village in 1869, the company moved about 100,000 costumes into the building.  Over the decades Louis Guttenberg's Sons had provided costumes for  illustrious thespians like Mary Pickford, the Barrymores, and John Drew.  So well-known was the company that in stage lingo a "Guttenberg" was any rented costume.

On August 5, 1953 The New York Times noted "It was in the Guttenberg establishment that Mack Sennett and Mr. Guttenberg devised the costuming for the Keystone cops who became identifying characters in most Sennett comedies."

Samuel Guttenberg had taken over the company with his brother William, in 1885.   Samuel retired in 1943 and William died in 1949.  Samuel's son, Harry, now ran the operation.

Samuel Guttenberg's Sons was still in the building in 1959 when costumer Ed Wittstein began work on a new off-Broadway musical, The Fantasticks.   According to authors Donald C. Farber and Robert Viagas in their 1991 The Amazing Story of The Fantasticks, Wittstein headed off to Louis Guttenbeg's Sons, which he dubbed a "wonderful attic of ancient costumes."


Perhaps not unexpectedly Pollard & Steinam's storefront, where artwork and pianos were once displayed, has been obliterated.  Today a bar and grill operates from the ground floor.  But not so expected is the slathering of gray and maroon paint over the marble facade above--a decision that prompts the often-heard exclamation "What were they thinking?"

photographs by the author