Wednesday, February 28, 2018

The Schepp Building - 165 Duane Street




In 1886 Finance and Industry noted "The name of L. Schepp has become a household word throughout the United States."  Leopold Schepp had come a long way in his journey to become a "household word."  He had started his career in 1851 with 18 cents his mother gave him.  He bought a dozen palm-leaf fans for 1.5 cents each, and then sold them on the Third Avenue street cars for 5 cents.  He later said "They sold so fast that the third day I hired three other boys on commission and soon I was making $15 a week."  By 1871 he had established the importing firm of L. Schepp & Co., and two years later focused his attention on coconuts--a food item mostly overlooked in America.

Schepp made the ungainly coconut both marketable and convenient by developing a process of drying and shredding it.  Finance and Industry explained "his excellent process renders the meat of the cocoanut more easily digestible, and is the only party that has made the process of business a success."  Sold in tins, his desiccated coconut made him a fortune and he essentially cornered the coconut market in America.

On March 23, 1880 Schepp purchased the five buildings which made up the northwest corner of Duane and Hudson Streets.  Within the month architect Stephen Decatur Hatch filed plans for "one eight-story and mansard roof brick store."  The projected cost, $150,000, coupled with the $45,000 Schepp had paid for the site, brought the project to nearly $4.75 million in today's dollars.

sketch from Finance and Industry, 1886, (copyright expired)
By its completion in 1882 the 8-story building had grown to 10 floors, capped by a striking corner mansard tower.  Putting a tag on the architectural style is a challenge, indeed.  Above the stone base the red brick structure exhibited a raft of influences.  The second floor openings, with the polished granite columns and voussoirs of alternating red and black brick smacked of Ruskinian Gothic; sawtooth brick courses and terra cotta tiles drew from Queen Anne; there were elements of neo-Grec, and the upper floors were heavily Romanesque Revival.  And then there was the French Second Empire mansard and tower.


Although Schepp leased out some space--candy makers Green & Blackwell signed a nine year lease in 1882 for instance--his massive operation required nearly the entire building.  He employed about 150 workers in the Duane Street factory, and each of his ships carried from 300,000 to 500,000 coconuts at a time from Central America, where he operated 21 "trading stations."

Interestingly, Schepp did not pay for his coconuts; the natives who harvested them had no use for currency.  Finance and Industry explained "there are several thousand Indians, whom he supplies with the necessaries of life through the various trading-posts, they giving him in return cocoanuts, ivory nuts, tortoise shell, cocoa, coffee, etc."  (The additional items created a side-line, of sorts, and Schepp sold the raw tortoise shell for as much as $6 per pound.)

Schepp's tins and advertisements routinely featured playful monkeys, as on this trade care.
Although wealthy and influential, Schepp retained some of the rough-edged aspects from his days of a street youth.  He was known for his "unparliamentary language," as described by The New York Times, and for his temper, which the same newspaper said "would make the North Pole melt."

That temper came into play in 1889 when the Colombian Government began interfering with American trade.  It started on October 2 when the gunboat La Popa seized The Pearl, a schooner owned by New York City merchant James Herron.  "She was taken to Carthagens and held subject to confiscation for smuggling," reported the Pittsburgh Dispatch.

Shortly after The Julian was overtaken and towed to Carthagens, "and there she now lies, with her captain and crew prisoners," and when Foster & Co. sent a second vessel, the Edith B. Coombs, to retrieve its perishable cargo, that ship, too, was captured.

Although the State Department began diplomatic negotiations, Leopold Schepp had no time for that.  On January 1, 1890 the Pittsburgh Dispatch reported "The firm of L. Schell & Co., importers...has declared war against the United States of Colombia.   At least, they have sent an armed vessel to Colon and the coast of Panama, with instructions to make forcible resistance if the gunboat La Popa, which recently seized several trading vessels, should attempt to interfere with her."

The article continued, "L. Scheff & Co. have promptly taken the law into their own hands, without bothering with the slow processes of the State Department at Washington."  Schepp outfitted the firm's schooner George W. Whitford with "two cannon, rifles and revolvers and plenty of ammunition."  The show of force worked.  At least for now.

Just when Schepp most likely felt things were back to normal, the George W. Whitford was seized by Colombia on March 31, 1896.  As Washington negotiated, Leopold Schepp blamed his own Government allowing the thuggery.  On April 15 The Sun reported "Mr. Schepp said last night that only vessels flying the American flag were subjected to insult and annoyance by the Colombian Government.  This was due, he said, to the fact that the war ships of other nations, principally of Germany and England, frequently appeared in Colombian ports, whereas an American man-of-war was almost unknown."  Schepp added "We trust the day is not far distant when we will have a navy large enough to command respect in Central American for vessels that fly the American flag."

The George W. Whitford was finally released on April 20; but Leopold Schepp was still fuming.  He told reporters the following day that he intended to "demand indemnity from the Colombian Government" for his expenses and lost goods.

from the collection of the New-York Historical Society
Schepp's temper and domineering personality played out within the board room of No. 165 Duane Street, as well.   On February 9, 1909 he threw Vice President Payne L. Kretzmer and Secretary Herman Obertubbesing out of a board of directors' meeting, and then fired them.  They retaliated by filing suit to have a receiver take over the firm.

On April 14, 1909 The Sun reported "They apply to Leopold Scheff an assortment of adjectives, among which are 'overbearing, exacting, domineering and insolent.'"  When, they asserted, they had disagreed with him in the meeting, he said that "until they should comply he would use his full power, force, potency and influence to oppress, coerce, overbear and compel them do to so."

Among the items with which they took issue was the Schepp Building itself, still personally owned by Schepp.  "The complaint says that Mr. Schepp stated that the corporation should and would buy the property from him at $600,000 and that he told the plaintiffs that if they opposed the sale they would be forced out of the company."  The men described it as "antiquated and rated in the lowest class by the Building Department, and classified by underwriters as a 'fire trap.'"

Schepp characterized his former employees as "exceedingly ungrateful."

Following World War I the wholesale shoe district was taking over the immediate neighborhood around the Schepp Building.  At the same time the L. Schepp & Co. operation was scaling back.  In 1920 Rich & Hutchins, Inc., wholesale shoe dealers, leased five floors--half of the building--including the ground floor stores.

Leopold Schepp was 83-years old in 1925 when he decided to distribute his massive fortune now, rather than after his death.  On March 16 he handed an office boy a check for $500.  The head stenographer, who had been with the firm 14 years, received $3,000.  Another got $1,000 and the loyal clerk who had served Schepp for 21 years received $5,000, the equivalent of $67,500 today.

Two days later Schepp announced his intention to spend $2.5 million to establish a foundation for New York boys between 13 and 16 years old that would provide them "with means to prepare themselves for useful careers."  The boys would be required to "pledge themselves to abstain from bad habits, to obey the laws of the State and nation, and to be considerate in their treatment of others."  If, after two years, they kept the pledge, they would receive $200 to be used to either start a business or finish their educations.  By October he had funded $4.5 million to his Schepp Foundation for Boys.

The publicity produced unexpected ramifications.  On July 23, 1925 The New York Times ran the headline "Thousands Swamp Schepp With Pleas / Philanthropist Decamps to Escape Army Seeking to Spend His Money."   The article said "When clerks came to open the office at 8:30 they had to make their way through a throng of money-seekers at the door.  Five telephone trunk wires were jammed all the forenoon with calls from persons who wished to convince Mr. Schepp that he could find no better mark for the benefactions than themselves." 

Bags of mail contained thousands of letters from across the country.  A separate office was leased and a "corps of secretaries" was hired, tasked with manning the phones and reading through the "great heaps of communications."   The Times said "Letters and telegrams were arranged under the following classifications...1. Bona fide suggestions 2. Needy poor.  3. Young men requesting money for college education.  4. Job seekers.  5.  'Nuts' and 'cranks.'  6.  Charitable institutions seeking additional endowment, to which Mr. Schepp already has said he did not intend to contribute.

Requests included one from a 40-year old woman who wanted $4,000 to "persuade her beloved to marry her," an undertaker who needed a new hearse, a request for a "fund for middle-aged spinsters 'better to maintain their accustomed position in life, their self-respect and their happiness,'" and dozens from people who said they had been swindled.

Leopold Schepp died following a mild stroke on March 11, 1926.    The following year a renovation and modernization of the Schepp building was done.  It was most likely at this time that the outdated, Victorian mansard tower was removed.  Just months later a structural failure created a dramatic and dangerous situation.

In 1930 the operations of L. Schepp & Co. were noticeably curtailed.  Employees worked only four days a week; a situation that most likely saved lives on June 27.  At 11:00 that morning a 20,000 gallon water tank, weighing about 200 tons, crashed through the roof and continued through the tenth and ninth floors.  A flood deluged the lower floors where about 100 men and women were working.  Amazingly, no one was injured.

"Workers on the lower floors were startled by a dull rumble that suddenly changed to a thunderous roar as the huge tank crashed through the roof of the building and dropped to the ninth floor, twisting girders in its path," reported The Times.  "The workers fled to hallways and stairways, and were thoroughly soaked before they reached the street."   Two men were taking a load of coconut to a freight elevator when the shaft turned into a "miniature Niagara."  The newspaper said "When they ran out to the street, shouting for help, they were covered with shredded cocoanut and dirt and passersby got the impression that they had been tarred and feathered."

Department of Buildings investigators found two other water tanks "tilted at precarious angles."  Only a year after the substantial renovations the building had to undergo extensive work again.


The 1927 update left a blunt tower blunt and considerably diluted the building's personality.  photo by Edmund Vincent Gillon from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York 

In 1937 L. Schepp & Co. ceased operation.  By then the building had a variety of smaller tenants.  One, the Central Machinery and Supplies Company was indicted in June 1936 in a conspiracy to sell counterfeit automobile parts.  In 1940 the newly-formed publishing firm of Burstein & Chappe moved in.  That year it published seven books including one novel, a single-volume encyclopedia, and a "popular home medical book."  By 1945 Allied Carbon & Ribbon Mfr. Corp. was in the building, flexing its wartime patriotism with the slogan "Allied for Victory!"

Central Machinery and Supplies was not the only tenant that would find itself on the wrong side of the law.  On February 18, 1959 The New York Times reported that Seymour Eichengrun and Abe Siegel, vice president and president respectively of the Star Looseleaf Company had pleaded guilty for providing a $700 bribe to Robert Breshlian, business agent of Local 210, International Brotherhood of Teamsters.  Assistant U.S. Attorney Donald H. Shaw said the money was for "advice and union favors."

The last quarter of the 20th century saw the Tribeca renaissance arrive at No. 165 Duane Street.  In 1977 Bragr Times regularly staged poetry readings here.  And in 1981 the upper floors, where coconuts for decades had been dried and shredded, were converted to apartments.

The Schepp Building received star status when chef David Bouley opened his French Provencal-style restaurant, Bouley, at street level in August 1987.  The famous destination restaurant would remain in the space until 1996.  It was replaced in 1999 by the Northern Italian restaurant, Scalini Fedeli New York,

In the meantime, a half-million dollar restoration of the roof was initiated in 1991.   The project, headed by architect Kevin Bone, focused on the slate roof and dormers.  Sadly, restoring the lost mansard tower was not in the budget.

That same year the building played a part in the emerging Gay Rights Movement.  The co-op board refused to allow two unmarried men to co-own an apartment.  The applicants sued, charging the board based their denial on their being "unmarried and homosexual."  The city's Human Rights Commission agreed, saying "probable cause existed to credit the allegations."  As a result, the board expanded its definition of "spouse," to include "domestic partner."


There are just four apartments per floor in the sprawling Schepp Building.  While it still commands attention after more than 135 years; its wonderful corner tower is a significant missing piece.

photographs by the author

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

The Church of the Holy Name of Jesus - 207 West 96th Street


photograph by the author
According to the 1914 book The Catholic Church in the United States of America, "In 1867, the West Side above 75th Street was a region of vacant lots, with here and there a suburban cottage, while the majority of the inhabitants were squatters who supported themselves by tilling small pieces of ground around their huts."  Be that as it may, there were growing numbers of Roman Catholics living in the district around the Bloomingdale Road and what would become the West 90's; and that year Archbishop John McCloskey approved the formation of the parish of the Holy Name of Jesus and sent the Rev. Richard Brennen north as its pastor.

Within a few months land extending along the block from what would become Broadway to Amsterdam Avenue on the north side of 97th Street was purchased for $11,250.  Construction immediately began on a church.   On August 9, 1868 the Archbishop celebrated the first mass in of the wooden structure.  The parish had spent a little over $50,000 in today's dollars on the modest church.

When Rev. James M. Galligan took over as pastor on July 20, 1875, the nation was still reeling under the Financial Panic of 1873--the devastating economic collapse which would be known as the Great Depression until the Stock Market crash of 1929.  The Catholic Church in the United States of America recalled that "a large debt burdened the parish."

Nevertheless, as The New York Times explained years later, "Father Galligan when he took charge at once set to work to build up his parish.  He worked enthusiastically.  He made his flock enthusiastic, and the parish began to grow rapidly."

The Irish-born Rev. Galligan had come from the parish of the Church of the Holy Innocents, whose striking structure on West 37th Street had been completed just five years earlier.  The Times noted that his new church "was a little frame building that was too small for the congregation," and "coming as he did from a large and well equipped parish...to a small and poorly equipped charge, he at times felt discouraged, but never once did he falter."

If Rev. Galligan intended to replace the building with a new one, he first had to somehow pay off the parish's crushing debt.   Collections and bazaars were held to raise funds; but in the fall of 1886 a plague of burglaries threatened the progress.

On January 23, 1887 The New York Times reported that for the fourth time in six months thieves had broken into the church and "with a 'jimmy,' broke open the four poor boxes and the collection box."  But this time the church was one step ahead of them.  The boxes had already been emptied.  "The sacred  vessels had also been removed, so that when the thieves broke open the tabernacles on the three altars they had their trouble for their pains.  They forced open the baptismal font, which they doubtless supposed contained money or valuables, and tore a brass chain from a censor, which they probably supposed was gold."

Finally, on November 23, 1889, 14 years after arriving Rev. Galligan became pastor, the Real Estate Record & Builders' Guide reported on his ambitious project.  "Thos. H. Poole has been selected as the architect for the church, chapel and sisters' home to be built by the Church of the Holy Name of Jesus, on the west side of 10th avenue, 96th and 97th streets...The church is to be Gothic and will have two spires."

The 29-year old English-born architect had only been listed in city directories for a few years.  This would be one of his earliest commissions, and he would go on to design numerous Roman Catholic churches and schools throughout the New York City area.

But at a time when substantial structures in New York City were being completed within 12 months or so, construction of the church building would be a long haul.  On March 20, 1892 the "lower church" was dedicated.  The parish could now worship in a portion of the basement while construction went on around them.

Six years later, on January 29, 1898 The Record & Guide announced "The basement is completed, and has been used for the church purposes for some time.  Work on the superstructure will be commenced in the spring."  Archbishop Michael Corrigan laid the cornerstone on April 17, 1898 and almost exactly two years later, on April 1, 1900, the completed church was dedicated.

Following English Gothic tradition, the blunt corner tower was topped by four spires.  Construction on the school building next door was begun in 1904.   The Catholic Church in the United States of America 1914 (copyright expired)
Poole had created a strapping English Gothic structure faced in rough-cut pink Milford granite.   The bell tower which anchored the southern corner featured thin buttresses and four Gothic finials.  Crowning the traditional cruciform shape was a copper clad fleche. 

Archbishop Corrigan was back on April 1, 1900 to dedicate the new church which could seat 1,400 worshipers.  The New-York Tribune commented on the interior decorations, saying that the Gothic-style altars were "constructed of statuary marble and rare Mexican onyx.  The main altar has three spires, the centre of which, surmounted by a marble cross, rises to a lofty height, and is flanked by two wing spires."  The high altar featured Da Vinci's Last Supper carved in high relief.  The article described the richly carved tabernacle as being "shrouded by a heavily groined hanging canopy which also supports the statuary niche, which in turn is roofed by the main canopy."

At a time when electric power was not always dependable, the "combination chandelier of gas and electricity" provided a built-in contingency.   "The side altars are in keeping with the same style of architecture, with ornate mensa and reredors and statue niche, roofed over by a groined canopy and supporting a tower spire of delicate outline," said the article.

The pamphlet distributed among the parishioners that day reflected the tireless work the pastor had put into the project.  "The Church of the Holy Name is a grand and lasting monument to Father Gallagan's efforts, and in its general construction, in its design, and in its beautiful appointments it reflects rare good taste, fine discrimination, and sound judgment."

He would not enjoy the fruits of his perseverance for long.  A year later almost to the day, on April 3, 1901, Rev. James M. Galligan died.  In reporting on his death The New York Times noted "The principal work of Father Gilligan [sic] and one by which he will be longest remembered, is the new Church of the Holy Name, in the erection and equipping of which he was the dominant spirit."

The church would be, of course, the scene of many notable weddings and funerals.  But the funeral of Fire Commissioner Hugh Bonner on March 17, 1908 was remarkable.  The New-York Tribune reported "The church was so crowded that lines of police had to be formed around the street, where hundreds had gathered to take part in the services"

Hundreds lined Amsterdam Avenue in front of the church as the funeral procession passed.  The New-York Tribune, March 18, 1908 (copyright expired)
The cortege left the Bonner home on West End Avenue at 9:30, led by three battalions of fire fighters, mounted police and the police band.   Twelve fire companies followed, along with a battalion of Brooklyn fire fighters and two others led by three Deputy Fire Chiefs who had served under Bonner.

As the parish's golden jubilee approached, a change in Poole's design was made.  A steeple was added to the bell tower just in time for the celebration on May 30, 1918.  It was somewhat symbolic of the coming together of several events.  With the end of World War I, President Woodrow Wilson had set aside that day as a "day of public humiliation, prayer and fasting" (more popularly called the Day of Prayer).  And not only was the parish 50 years old, it was finally out of debt, which meant that the church building could be consecrated as part of the ceremonies.  The Times reported "The streets near the church were decorated in honor of the jubilee and bore a holiday air."

A sporty convertible waits for the light in front of the church with its now-soaring steeple in 1929.  from the collection of the New York Public Library
1918 was also a significant year for a former parishioner.  Among the members in 1894 was the Thomas Donahue family, who had just relocated to No. 791 Amsterdam Avenue.  Donahue was born in Ireland and his wife, Dorothy Rentz was German.  The couple would ten children, one of whom, Stephen Joseph, was one-year old when they moved into the into the parish.

Stephen would pursue a religious vocation and after studying in Rome for five years, was ordained by Cardinal Pompili, Vicar of Rome, on May 22, 1918.  His rise in the New York Church would be meteoric.  In 1920 he became assistant secretary to Cardinal Patrick Joseph Hayes, and was promoted to secretary a year later.  He traveled extensively with the Cardinal, including several trips to Rome.

He was created a monsignor in 1924.  In September 1932 he returned to the Church of the Holy Name of Jesus as pastor following the death of Monsignor James B. Curry.  Then, on March 2, 1934 Cardinal Hayes announced that Pope Pius XI had personally selected Donahue to be elevated to Bishop.

In a ceremony which The New York Times described as "marked by ancient splendor," Donahue, just barely 40 years old, was created a bishop on May 1.  The newspaper estimated the crowd in St. Patrick's Cathedral to be around 5,000.  The three-hour service was attended by four Archbishops and 48 Bishops along with several hundred priests.

Auxiliary Bishop Donahue remained pastor of the Church of the Holy Name of Jesus.  He officiated at its re-dedication on December 8, 1937, at which time it was noted that the "interior of the church has been completed redecorated."

Among Donah3ue's most passionate concerns was the motion picture industry.  He was a member of the Motion Picture Committee of the National Catholic Welfare Council, a member of the Motion Picture Committee of the American Council of Bishops, and was involved in the Legion of Decency.  The Legion of Decency, organized by the Catholic Church, was "devoted to the cause of morality in motion pictures."

Bishop Donahue resigned in May 1972.  He died in the Catholic-run Mary Manning Walsh Home on York Avenue at the age of 88 in August 1982.

In the meantime the parish of the Holy Name of Jesus had substantially changed.  Urban renewal projects had resulted in the demolition of entire blocks of rowhouses to make way for tenement projects.  As the the parish welcomed new immigrants from places like Haiti, the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico, the liturgies adapted.  Masses are now celebrated in French, English and Spanish.

The Gothic crockets of the four finials are now sheathed.  photo by MoTabChoir01
Through it all the stately edifice is essentially unchanged since the steeple changed Thomas Poole's  English Gothic design in 1918.

photographs by the author

Monday, February 26, 2018

The Lost Tammany Hall - 170 Nassau Street


Valentine's Manual of the Corporation of New York for 1865 (copyright expired)

In the 17th century the land around what would become the intersection of Nassau and Frankfort Streets was part of the farm owned by Jacob Leisler.  His fate was sealed when he was temporarily put in control of city government at a time when tensions between the Dutch and English were high.  During an insurrection he and his son-in-law, Jacob Millbourne, were sentenced to death.  Their executions were gruesome--they were strangled to death on May 16, 1691 and buried in the Nassau-Frankfort Street site.  Later the bodies were reburied "with great celebration in the old Dutch Church yard," according to historian William S. Pelletreau in his 1900 book Early New York Houses.  

By 1810 there was a small house on the lot now -owned by Isaac Jones.  He sold it to the Society of Tammany or Columbian Order on May 4 that year for $10,050.  The society purchased the lot next door from Jacob Tyler on June 19, 1810 for $3,950--a total outlay of about $282,000 in today's dollars.

The Tammany Society was one of several social clubs by that name which arose in Philadelphia and other cities   The New York society elected its first officers in 1789, its members being mostly craftsmen and mechanics along with a few professionals like attorneys and merchants.  They dressed in Native American outfits, were known as braves, and were divided into tribes.  Originally non-partisan, by 1795 it was solely allied with the Democratic Party.  At the time it purchased the Nassau street property the group had been using the meeting room in Martling's Tavern on Chatham Street.

Martling's Tavern was known as Tammany's "first wig-wam." Early New York Houses 1900 (copyright expired)
The cornerstone of the new clubhouse was laid on May 13, 1811.   Half a century later the Society's history recalled "The members of the society wore the bucktail in their hats, as usual marched in Indian file, and appeared in aboriginal costume."   The building was completed within a year.  The Tammany historian noted "the hall was speedily finished and became the headquarters of the democracy about the time of the breaking out of war [of 1812]."

The society had erected a striking 57-foot wide clubhouse that mimicked the Georgian mansions of Broadway.  Feathery leaded fanlights above the ground floor doors, a tall Palladian window at the second floor fronted by a broad balcony, and splayed lintels gave the structure a dignified domestic appearance.  The stoop newels were surmounted by lanterns on high iron bases.

Once a social club, Tammany Hall soon became a center of political power.  It was the scene of impassioned meetings, and brilliant entertainments, such as the "grand banquet" held here in honor of Albert Gallatin, Henry Clay, and John Quincy Adams upon their return from Ghent in 1814.

In 1835 the out-of-style building was given a Greek Revival update and enlarged.  The peaked roof was replaced with a shallow attic, the arched openings were squared off and the upper floors were converted to the Tammany Hotel.  The New York Times noted that now its main feature was "the chief assembly or ball room opening upon the balcony  This would hold ten or twelve hundred people."

The elegant arched openings were lost in the modernization, and a full-width cast iron balcony was added. from the collection of the New York Public Library 
Meetings to nominate candidates, especially for high level offices like President and Vice President were conspicuous affairs.  On the day the group was to nominate Franklin Pierce for President and William R. King for Vice President, for instance, the building was hung with banners and was "brilliantly illuminated early in the evening," according to The New York Times on June 10, 1852.
The newspaper added "These attractions, together with the music of Shelton's Brass Band posted in the balcony and sundry loud calls in the shape of 100 guns, fired in front of the Park...drew together a considerable crowd; and soon after the doors were opened at 20 minutes past 8 o'clock the room in which the meeting was called was well filled."

The agenda of that meeting drifted briefly from the nominations to a subject that would dog Tammany Hall meetings for years--slavery.   The issue of the "immutability of the Fugitive Slave Law" was brought up "with hardly a mark of approval," said The Times.   Nevertheless at least one speaker voiced support of the slave-owners, saying "the man who aids the fugitive slave and helps him escape from his master is a thief and not to be trusted."

One month later Tammany Hall would be decorated in much more somber bunting.  Statesman and Senator Henry Clay died on June 29, 1852.  Buildings and houses along the funeral route were decorated with the trappings of mourning, along with busts and pictures of Clay.  The Times described "Here is Tammany Hall, clad in widow's weeds  Upon the balcony a large alcove has been constructed in which they have placed a bust of Henry Clay draped with crape [sic], the American flag on each side and the railing of the balcony is covered with the black and white, and on the arch of the alcove we read that 'A great man has fallen; our country mourns.'"

Later that year on December 3, an ugly incident took place in the "coal-hole" (the basement meeting room) which supplied Tammany Hall's detractors ammunition for months.  Several members had been drinking at the bar and their dissatisfaction with the vote taking place turned to violence.  The New York Post reported "Tammany Hall was again the theatre of one of those disgraceful scenes which have made the politics of this City a reproach to the cause of republicanism throughout the world."

The entrance at right led to the subterranean "coal-hole."  from the collection of the New York Public Library 
The protesters barged into the meeting room and "upset the tables, threw the chairs about indiscriminately, not appearing to know or care whom they hit or what damage they inflicted."  According to the article, the panicked committee members "rushed through every outlet from the room, even through the window sashes which they did not wait to open."

Several people were severely injured, the most seriously being August Schell, chairman of the Democratic General Committee, who was beaten on the head with a chair,  "The crazy wretch who wielded it was thrown back prostrate upon the floor when, fortunately for him the gas was put out and the fighting soon ceased."  For days newspapers reported that Schell would most likely die; although he did recover.

The six men arrested in what became known as the Tammany Hall Riot were found guilty for rioting.  The punishment was one year's imprisonment and a fine equal to $8,000 today.

While the sometimes boisterous political meetings went on in the lower floors, the Tammany Hotel was the scene of dinners and entertainments.  In March 1853, for instance The Republican Friends of Ireland announced it would celebrate St. Patrick's Day with a public dinner in the hotel.  "Several distinguished Patriots will be present as guests," it promised.

Newspapers were unapologetically partisan at the time.  When the Daily News reported on July 7 1855 that "A secret political society called the Columbian Order, celebrated the Fourth by a dollar dinner at the Tammany Hotel," it reminded readers of earlier disturbances by adding "We believe nothing unusual occurred."

The New York Times was vociferously biased in its reporting of Tammany affairs.  The newspaper did not bother to veil its contempt of the society when it reported on the nomination of James Buchanan as President in 1856.   Tammany traditionally celebrated with the burning of a tar barrel.  On June 7 The Times reported "Tammany and tar are (politically) as inseparable, as a pole-cat and its perfume.  Whenever anybody is nominated, out comes the vile-smelling, burning tar...The most probable explanation is...it is the only substance that could possibly make Democrats in office stick to the principles avowed before obtaining it."

Tammany Hall's anti-slavery platform was assailed by conservative newspapers like The New York Herald.  When Tammany threw its support behind abolitionist Mayor William Frederick Havemeyer in 1859 the newspaper unleashed a full-page attack.  It said that "the wealthy citizens of native birth who formerly belong to Tammany when it was the rendezvous of nationality in this city have also abandoned it...All classes are flying from Tammany; even rats desert a sinking ship."   It noted "The Journal of Commerce, one of the two anti-slavery organs of Havemeyer, congratulates its readers that the religious press is in favor of the candidate of the corrupt old harlot Tammany Hall, who sells her favors to the highest bidder."

In fact, Tammany Hall was experiencing problems with membership, having lost repeated political battles in recent years.  On April 14, 1859 The Times sounded gleeful when it reminded readers that following the French Revolution royal buildings were converted to public offices.  Now, it said "Tammany Hall is to be let or leased.  Nay, Tammany Hall is to be let or leased with all the fixtures!"

An advertisement in the Journal of Commerce read "The house, fixtures and furniture are up for a lease but the Democracy has a permanent foothold on the premises, and will probably stay there as long as the building lasts."

The celebrations of Tammany enemies were premature.  Instead of abandoning the building, the group merely leased out space.  The second floor became home to the Superior Court with  the city paying Tammany $500 per month rent.

The first trial in the space was held on June 7, 1860.  "It is the suit brought to recover for brandy sold, and alleged to have been of bad quality," reported The Times.  The newspaper commented "It was a matter of a good deal of humorous comment among practitioners at both the bars--the legal and the liquor selling--now in session in Tammany Hall that almost the first verdict recovered in that edifice should have been for brandy sold."

Following the attack on Fort Sumter which sparked the Civil War, Tammany Hall reconfirmed its loyalty to the Union and to its long-standing anti-slavery stance   On April 26 it issued resolutions which it later said presented "the whole subject of the war, its objects, duties, and claims, in a shape so patriotic and national, that they are accepted by all our citizens except those who are victims of unreasoning fanaticism, or a meaner treason, as a true utterance of the general voice."

Two years after the conflict ended, on the night of March 20, 1867, the members decided to "sell  Tammany Hall for what they could," get as worded by The Times.  "The old house has a famous history and at one time was the seat of the political power of the country."  The newspaper thought the sale was "a very proper move" given the value of the site for business purposes.

The building was sold within 24 hours for $150,000.  Included in the deal was the right to remove the cornerstone.  The New-York Tribune announced the sale venomously saying, "Tammany Hall has been sold out of sheer inanition and is, it is rumored, to be turned into a tavern or a second-hand clothes-shop."

The Sun was more objective; explaining that the buyers, Charles A. Dana, Frederick A. Conkling & Co. "are to establish a new newspaper in the building which they have just purchased."   The Express added "Tammany Hall was one of the oldest political landmarks of this city.  The leading men of the country delivered addresses from its rostrum on various occasions and it has been remarked that it made and unmade Presidents."

The Sun Building mimicked the proportions of its predecessor.  photograph by Wurts Bros, from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York
On the site rose the New York Sun Building, which survived until 1915.   The site is now part of Pace University and Pace Plaza.

Saturday, February 24, 2018

Engine Company No. 1 - 165 West 29th Street



Under a century of soot and grim, much of the beige brick and limestone facade survives.
By the second half of the 19th century, the block of 29th Street, between Sixth and Seventh Avenues, had already become commercial.  Around 1856 Frederick William Nitschke opened his piano factory at No. 165.  But within the decade the building would be replaced by the fire house of Fire Patrol No. 3.

The New York Fire Patrol operated much like the volunteer fire companies throughout the city.  It fought fires with similar equipment and its members wore uniforms.  But their purpose was slightly different.  In 1803 a group of volunteers formed the Mutual Assistance and Bag Corporation, the purpose of which was to protect and salvage the contents of structures from water damage.  Thirty-six years later the New York Board of Fire Underwriters was established.  The group added fire fighting to its methods of preventing losses and insuring property.  Funded by the insurance companies, the Fire Patrol was established.

Fire Patrol No. 3 was here as early as 1869.  It responded to blazes in the area, like the one that destroyed four buildings on West 27th Street on January 27, 1870.  Filled mostly with wood-working factories, the structures became an inferno.  The situation was made worse when an exterior wall collapsed, spooking the patrol company's horses.  The New York Herald reported that they "became frightened and started off at a rapid gait, knocking down several persons, who received slight bruises."

The loosely-organized network of volunteer fire companies was disbanded in 1865 when the State Senate established the professional New York City Fire Department.  In 1873 the city took over the firehouse of Fire Patrol No. 3 for use by the newly-reorganized Engine Company No. 1.

The company would face challenges in the industrial neighborhood it served.  Factory workers in the early years after the Civil War endured harsh conditions and long hours.  Shop owners were little concerned with fire safety.

A block away from the fire station was the seven-story brick factory of West, Bradley & Cary, makers of corset and suspenders, at Nos. 227 to 233 West 29th Street.   After a small fire broke out on February 19, 1877 the owners were informed of the danger to its employees.  The New York Times later reported "On the 2d of March, 1878, another slight fire occurred, and the precautions already suggested were again brought to the notice of West, Bradley, & Cary."  Another small fire occurred on October 19, 1878.  The Times said "These fires did not do much damage, but it was a common remark in engine-houses in the neighborhood that if a fire broke out while the hands were at work in the suspender factory, it would be difficult to save them."  The newspaper added the building had "for a long time been looked upon as a death-trap."

And fire did break out again.  At 8:15 on the night of March 21, 1879.   Despite the late hour, there were 110 workers in the building, 95 of whom were women.  The fire broke out below street level, in the boiler room, and rushed upward, trapping many on the upper floors.  When Engine Company No. 1 arrived, firefighters chopped open a locked street door, releasing panicked women inside.   Meanwhile, girls and women on the top floors were jumping from windows onto the roofs of adjoining buildings.

By 10:00 the factory was a smoldering ruins.  One fire fighter, William Birmingham, was killed in a tragic accident when a line of hose became detached and fell four stories, crushing him.  Otherwise, although there were injuries, the quick response and heroic efforts of the men resulted in no other fatalities.

Even after the change to a professional fire department, fire fighters sometimes held on to the rowdy personalities for which the volunteers had been famous.  One was Fireman Henry De Tour.  He was fired from his job with Engine Company No. 1 on January 14, 1880 "on charges of intoxication and absence without leave."

In 1879 architect Napoleon Le Brun had been appointed the official architect for the New York City Fire Department.  His job entailed not only designing new station houses, but updating and improving old ones.  In April 1881 his firm, Napoleon Le Brun & Son,  turned its attention to Engine Company No. 1.  The company moved to No. 118 West 33rd Street while renovations were done.

The plans called for an extension to the rear, "new staircases, new floors and rebuilt walls," which included an updated facade.  The renovations cost the city $10,000, or more than a quarter of a million dollars today.

Le Brun's renovations included a vermiculated stone base with handsome Corinthian pilasters on either side of the truck bay. original source unknown
In 1890 the captain of Engine Company No. 1 was Edward F. Croker, nephew of Tammany Hall leader Richard Croker.   He would go on to become one of the FDNY's most memorable chiefs, famous for his eloquent oratory.  He would say, for example, after four men were killed in February 1908, "Firemen are going to get killed.  When they join the department they face that fact.  When a man becomes a fireman his greatest act of bravery has been accomplished.  What he does after that is all in the line or work."

But in June 1890 he was dealing with discipline problems.  He was summoned to the office of Fire Chief Hugh Bronner to explain the multiple charges he had filed against one of his men.  When a reporter from The New York Times tried to get to the bottom of the story, Croker refused to name names.  But he did admit the situation was troubling.   "The trouble he regarded as fairly serious.  It was due to comparatively recent occurrences, but beyond that he would not make any statement," said the newspaper on July 30.

The problematic fire fighter was Fireman 1st Grade James Bohen.  Croker filed several complaints against the seemingly uncontrollable man.   When Croker confronted him for drinking on the job on July 19, Bohen responded "Suppose I was drunk, what is that to you?  You did not see me.  You cannot make a charge against me, as I have every man in the house as a witness."

The next day a fire alarm rang out in the station house.  While the other fire fighters rushed to the apparatus, Bohen remained in his bed upstairs, presumably too drunk or hungover to function.  And just two days later, on July 22, he was "absent from his company without permission from proper authority for 26 minutes, between the hours of 8.34 and 9.00 P.M."

It came to a head on August 2, 1890 when Bohen was tried before the Fire Commissioners for "being so much under the influence of liquor, drug or compound as to be unable to perform his duty in proper manner," was found guilty, and dismissed from the Department.

Bravery, not insubordination, was the hallmark of Engine Company No. 1, however.  When the men responded to a massive factory fire on West 24th Street on December 28, 1894, William Weise emerged a true hero.  Two firemen, including Battalion Chief John J. Bresnan, were killed, 10 were injured, and one owed his life to Weise.

William Hennessy was on an upper floor when he sprained his ankle.  Surrounded by flames and unable to escape, he lost consciousness.  The following day The Evening World reported "Perceiving his plight, William Weise, of Engine Company 1, rushed up a ladder to the third floor and carried the injured fireman down to the street on his back."

Seven months later the men would fight a "fierce blaze," as described by The New York Times, in a most unexpected location.  The newspaper reported on July 16, 1895 that the fire was "in their own quarters at 165 West Twenty-ninth Street."  It started in the cellar around 11:00 that morning and "swept upward through the hose tower, and through the roof.  The firemen were quick to act and worked hard to save their apparatus and horses."  Nevertheless, other fire companies had to come to their assistance to save the fire house.

Heavy fire equipment pulled by galloping steeds were both fast and dangerous.  Newspaper regularly reported on collisions between fire trucks and other vehicles, or of unwary pedestrians being struck.  The men of Engine Company No. 1 narrowly escaped serious injury on August 11, 1903.

The company was responding to a fire at No. 303 Eighth Avenue.  "The tender was following in the wake of the engine and going at a good rate of speed," reported The Times.  "The driver of the tender...made a big turn into Eighth Avenue.  He did not have room to make the swing according to his first calculation, however, and quickly swung his horses to the left when he saw that he would strike the sidewalk."

The six men on the vehicle jumped for their lives an is "careened, and then turned over, sliding along the gutter on its side."   All the men escaped the accident unscathed, and, almost unbelievably, none of the horses was injured.

In 1906 the men of Engine Company No. 1 once again had to temporarily relocate as renovations were done to their station house.  Somewhat ironically, they shared quarters with Fire Patrol No. 3 at No. 104 West 30th Street for a year.

By now Alexander Stevens was the chief architect of the Fire Department.  As Napoleon Le Brun had done in 1881, he made substantial renovations.  The New-York Tribune, on May 15, 1906, reported "The building is to be enlarged, new steel and concrete floors and staircases laid and the interior completely renovated.  A new facade of ornamental brick trimmed with Indiana limestone will be erected.  A bronze tablet over the new entrance will be inscribed with the names of both [Edward F.] Croker and [Hugh] Bonner, the one as department chief and the other as deputy commissioner."

Stevens's $24,000 worth of renovations erased Le Brun's handsome facade; but made the building more functional in light of modern fire fighting equipment and techniques.   The notable ornament of the restrained beige brick front appeared in the tall windows of second floor, framed in limestone and topped with heavy scrolled keystones.  The bronze panel described by the Tribune was flanked by proportionate French-inspired iron guards within the other openings.

Back in their remodeled house, the men of Engine Company No. 1 continued to face death fighting fires nearby.  An especially terrifying incident occured on December 21, 1922 at a fire at No. 450 Sixth Avenue.

Lt. Patrick Wynne and some of his crew were on the sixth floor.  Heavy iron window shutters commonly provided security to factories, but on that night they also caused the hot gases inside to build up.   When one firefighter opened a shutter, a violent back draft resulted.

"The firemen were hurled across the room and down the stairs, many of them rolling and tumbling, with their hair blazing and the flames scorching their bodies and faces, as far as the third floor landing," reported The New York Herald.   Two policemen were on the second floor landing and they grabbed two of the men and carried them to the street, while fire fighters rushed up the stairs.

'They found the firemen lying on the stairs and on the floor of the sixth floor rooms, with the woodwork burning all about them, their clothing and hair on fire, and one, Fireman Peter McCaffrey...with his eyes almost burned out."

On September 10, 1945 the Fire Department announced that Engine Company No. 1 would get a new home.  But this time the 1860s fire house on West 29th Street would not be renovated.  Instead plans were announced for a new building at 142-146 West 31st Street.

The bronze plaque, installed in 1906, survives, as does one of the Beaux Arts window guards.
By now the West 29th Street block sat within Manhattan's Fur District, surrounded by early 20th century loft buildings.  The rest of the century was unkind to the historic structure and today the ground floor of Alexander Stevens's fire house is nearly obliterated.  A layer of dirt has turned the beige brick and white limestone the color of a field mouse; but a certain architecture grace survives.

photographs by the author

Friday, February 23, 2018

The 1892 Louis Kessel House - 21 East 93rd Street



Four years after developer Philip Braender hired William Graul to design a group of speculative row houses on the south side of East 93rd Street, between Fifth and Madison Avenues, he brought the architect back to the same block.

In 1891 construction began on four four-story houses on the north side, at Nos. 15 through 21.  Completed the following year, they were designed basically as two mirror-image pairs.  Each home, nevertheless, was given its own unique elements.

The four houses were designed as matching pairs. Subtle individuality was expressed in the arched openings of No. 19 and the tiny triangular pediment over the angled bay of No. 21 (right).

The eastern-most, No. 21, featured carved Renaissance Revival panels beneath the parlor and bay windows.  A miniature, engaged column supported the angled bay, the elaborately carved base of which morphed into more formal, classical temple-like design.  The stair hall window of the second floor wore a sumptuously-carved bib of vines and flowers.


On June 18, 1892 Braender advertised "17, 19, 21 East 93d st, near 5th av--Beautiful four-story private houses; low prices; cabinet trim throughout; butler's pantry extension; strictly private neighborhood; must be examined to be appreciated."   The reason he did not include No. 15 in the offering was because he had already moved his family into that house.

No. 21 became the home of Louis Kesssel and his family.  The senior partner in the banking firm Louis Kessel & Brother, he and his wife, Josephine had one daughter, Tessie.  The family routinely summered at Long Branch, New Jersey.

While the Kessels' comfortable wealth and the enviable location of their home just steps away from the mansions of Fifth Avenue were not enough to gain them admittance into the highest strata of Manhattan society; their movements were still noticed by society columnists.   Such was the case in January 1897 when Tessie's engagement announcement shared space on the same pages that told of the lavish upcoming ball in the newly-completed Henry Sloan mansion.

Tessie's marriage to George J. August took place in the fashionable Delmonico's restaurant on January 20.  Her parents remained in the 93rd Street house for two more years, selling it in January 1899 for $33,000 (around $930,000 today) to real estate dealer Harris Levy.

Despite his advanced age, Levy had just married his third wife.  Described by The New York Times as "elderly and wealthy," his bride was portrayed as "a young woman."   But Levy's hopes of domestic bliss had not clouded his candid awareness that the intentions of his more youthful mate may not have been entirely romantic.

Before the wedding, in November 1898, he went to the office of his lawyer, Moses H. Grossman and had a pre-nuptial agreement drawn up.   It provided his fianc√©e, Leah, with $1,000 at the time of the wedding, gave her ownership of all the household furnishings, and another $1,000 on his death.  She signed the contract, thereby giving up any other claims to his substantial estate.

The New York Times said "The wedding ceremony took place with gay festivities accompanying."  Things started off well enough.  The Levis had one live-in servant girl and Leah later said "He gave me twelve dollars a week for eatables for the table.  The amount that was paid the servant girl was ten dollars a month."  The two summered in upscale resorts like Saratoga.

But then their domestic bliss soured.  According to Leah, Levy became jealous, calling her a "tramp" when she would go out and not return quickly enough.  And his frequent temper outbursts worsened after she sued on December 13, 1901 to negate the pre-nuptial agreement.  Her complaint said "the prospective bride did not understand what she was doing when she relinquished her rights to her husband's property, also that Mr. Levy knowingly and fraudulently concealed from her the contents of the agreement."

In one especially terrifying incident, he picked up a table knife and threatened "If you don't get out of my house, I will put a knife into you."  According to Leah, "the [servant] girl was afraid and she took me by the body and she pushed me in a near-by room."

Recognizing that the servant's loyalties were with Leah, Levi fired her.  Leah stayed in the house for about two weeks, until finally her husband took away all the keys and ordered her out of the house.  She sued for divorce in October 1903 "alleging cruel and inhuman treatment."  The New York Times added "She also says that her husband was stingy in money matters."

The next residents were far less dramatic.  Ehler Osterhold and his wife, the former Augusta Iden, had one daughter, Marie.   Census records show two servants living in the house with the family.  By 1914 the change from carriages to automobiles was well underway and Ehler purchased a shiny new Cadillac.

The following year Marie graduated from the exclusive Miss Spence's School and Augusta's focus turned to the introduction of her daughter to society.   On March 3, 1916 she gave what The New York Times deemed "a small dance" in the St. Regis Hotel  for Augusta.   The newspaper reported "Mrs. Osterholt and Miss Osterholt received in the Louis XVI reception room, and the dancing was in the marble ballroom.  A seated supper was served at 12:30 o'clock in the Oak Room."  The article estimated the number of guests at between 150 and 200.

Unlike most debutantes, Marie would not marry for another seven years.  Her understated wedding to Edward S. Gregory, who had served in World War I as a captain in the 55th Infantry, took place in the 93rd Street house on June 2, 1923.

Augusta's sisters Emma and Marie had never married.  In August 1932 Emma's funeral was held in the house; and six years later, in February 1938, the funeral of Marie was held here.  The final funeral to be conducted in the drawing room was that of Ehler Osterholt, who died at the age of 84 on January 2, 1944.

Augusta sold the home she had shared with him for decades and in 1945 it was converted to nine apartments--two per floor except for the parlor floor, which was a single apartment.   A 1982 alteration resulted in three apartments.

Other than replacement windows and the accompanying loss of stained glass panels, little has changed to the outward appearance of No. 21 since the Kessel family moved in in 1892.

photographs by the author

Thursday, February 22, 2018

The Church of the Holy Cross - 333 West 42nd Street




In 1850 Pope Pius IX created the Archdiocese of New York City, elevating Irish-born Bishop John J. Hughes to archbishop.   The 53-year old Hughes was as hard-edged as he was holy.  Anti-Catholic sentiment was rampant in the first half of the 19th century.  It was Hughes who had led the Ancient Order of Hibernians and armed parishioners against a mob determined to burn St. Patrick's Cathedral on Mulberry Street in 1844.  In a letter to Mayor James Harper he threatened "Should one Catholic come to harm, or should one Catholic business be molested, we shall turn this city into a second Moscow."

Now, two years later Hughes intended to show New Yorkers that the Catholic Church was here to stay.  Early in February 1852 he appealed for the construction of "eight or ten new Catholic churches," including the new St. Patrick's Cathedral on Fifth Avenue.

The first to be organized was the Church of the Holy Cross.  The Rev. Joseph A. Lutz was given the job of creating the new parish.  He obtained the use of a building on West 42nd Street between Eighth and Ninth Avenues as a temporary chapel while funds for a permanent building were raised.

The site was all but godless.  Sitting in the midst of what would become known as Hell's Kitchen within a few decades, it was surrounded by ramshackle shanties, mostly constructed of wood.  The district's residents were impoverished and for the most part lawless.  Charles H. Farnham, in an article in Schribner's Monthly in 1879 wrote in part, "Large rats stared at us from the beams, sewer vomited filth and the water and the air were unendurably loathesome.  This is known as 'Hell's kitchen.'  It may seem incredible that any freeman should choose such a place for his abode; yet where could a criminal find more congenial gloom?"

Despite its surroundings, sufficient money for a building was raised.  The Evening World commented later, "Although the congregation was a poor one the new building was designed on a substantial plan and the corner-stone laid the same year."    The dedication was held on December 17, 1854.  Within the year Rev. Patrick McCarthy was appointed the new pastor.

At around 2:00 on the afternoon of June 18, 1867 a terrific storm blew across Manhattan.  The following morning The New York Herald reported "During the prevalence of the thunder storm yesterday afternoon the steeple of the Church of the Holy Cross, on Forty-second street...was struck by lightning and very much shattered.  Large particles of the brick and wood work here hurled around, but fortunately no person was injured.  It will be found necessary to take down the remaining portions of the steeple without delay."  Indeed, The New York Times informed pedestrians that the north side of 42nd Street was closed, "as the steeple is still in a very shakey and dangerous condition."

Repairs were initiated, but engineers soon realized that the structure had been severely compromised.  "The reformation was commenced," said The New York Herald, "but it was speedily discovered that an entire reconstruction would be most advantageous, and, in the end, most economical."

Old St. Patrick's Cathedral had been devastated by a fire a year earlier and architect Henry Engelbert was brought in to reconstruct the venerable structure.  Now he was commissioned to design the new Church of the Holy Cross.   The Real Estate Record & Builders' Guide noted on March 28, 1868 that construction costs for the structure were projected at $90,000.

The cornerstone of the new church was laid on on May 31, 1868.  The New York Herald reported "The ceremonies were attended by an immense concourse of persons.  The windows, housetops, trees and other eminences in the neighborhood were crowded."

Construction was completed the following year and the dedication took place on May 7, 1870.   The Times described the architecture as "of the renaissance order, and the building is surmounted by a lofty dome, which gives it a most imposing appearance."   The Evening World disagreed regarding the style, calling it "Byzantine," adding "the material of which it is built is pressed Philadelphia brick with trimmings of Belleville stone and polished bluestone."

In fact, neither was correct, at least by today's terminology.  Engelbert married Romanesque Revival with Gothic Revival.  The dome which The Times deemed "imposing" was nearly lost behind the triangle gable of the central section and the pyramid-topped towers on either end.   The red-brick structure sat above a broad stone staircase that elevated the church from the gritty sidewalk.

Inside were "spacious galleries."  The church could accommodate 1,800 worshipers.  In the year since the plans had been filed the cost had risen to "not far from $100,000," according to The Times, or around $1.8 million in today's dollars.  Considering their own meager conditions, the parishioners of the Church of the Holy Cross must have been awe-stricken when they first entered.



Like many Victorian priests, Rev. Patrick McCarthy shepherded his flock by invoking the fear of God.  In his sermon on the first day of Lent in 1871 he urged his congregation to "consider the number and enormity of our offenses against God, the violence of our passions and the many dangers and temptations to which we are exposed."   And he warned "But, alas! A carnal and effeminate life has now become so common in this country that many Catholics are but too ready to imitate the lives and example of the unprincipled and irreligious men by whom they are surrounded."

After more than two decades as pastor, McCarthy died in August 1877.  His funeral on Thursday the 9th required a large police presence due to the number of mourners.  The New York Herald reported that the "immense crowd" had filled 42nd Street more than an hour before the funeral and the "press around the gates became so great that the church had to be opened at nine o'clock though the funeral ceremonies were not to begin until half-past ten."

"The large building became so densely thronged in a few minutes that the assistance of the police had to be obtained to assist in thinning the numbers of the crowd who blocked up the aisles.  Even after a large number of persons had been removed the heat was almost unbearable."

Even at the time of Rev. McCarthy's funeral the building had not been consecrated.  Catholic tradition demanded that the entire debt ($92,000 at the time) had to be paid off beforehand.   By 1885 it was apparent that the money had almost been raised and, in preparation for the consecration, substantial redecoration was initiated.   On December 27 The New York Times reported "The next Catholic church to be consecrated will be the Church of the Holy Cross" and said "The work of enlarging and improving the edifice has been going on for the last four months."

A rear extension designed by architect Lawrence J. O'Connor enlarged the sanctuary by 25 feet.  The article explained "on either side of the new sanctuary there are large and commodious sacristies.  The sanctuary is to be semicircular in form, it will contain three altars of white Vermont marble, and the pavement will be of encaustic tile."  Stained glass windows executed by Mayer & Co. of Munich, Germany were set into the dome.  Other new windows included the central "Exaltation of the Cross," and four which depicting the Evangelists.

Just a week before the ceremony work was still underway.  On March 13, 1886 The Record & Guide reported "The Church of the Holy Cross...is having a mural decoration prepare which simulates mosaic.  The ground in flowing continuous forms is warm but delicate in color.  The arch marked by a purple band expands on the walls into a boarder, and is interrupted by the colossal figures on the side of St. Peter, and on the other of St. Paul.  This treatment is new and its ultimate effect when in place may be looked for with interest."

Eleven days later The Times ran the headline "FREE FROM DEBT" and announced that Archbishop Corrigan had celebrated the ceremony of the consecration of the Church of the Holy Cross at 7:00 on the night before, March 21.


The members of the congregation of Holy Cross were, for the most part, Irish-born.  The parish had a branch of the Irish National League which met in the basement of the church.  At a meeting here on June 13, 1886, for instance, General Martin T. McMahon and Colonel John O'Beirne spoke "on the fitness of the Irish people for self-government."

It was not surprising, therefore, that another Irish-born priest, Rev Charles McCready, took Rev. McCarthy's place.  Born in Ireland in 1837, he had been assistant pastor at St. Stephen's Church under Rev. Edward McGlynn until his appointment at Holy Cross.  When he arrived the church operated the Holy Cross Academy for girls under the charge of the Sisters of Charity, the St. Vincent's Industrial School, and a girl's parochial school.  He enhanced the church's educational efforts by erecting the Holy Cross School, completed in 1890 which could accommodate 1,000 pupils.

In the meantime, Rev. McCready's close friend, Rev. McGlynn, was involved in serious drama.  Outspoken and liberal-minded, he pronounced opinions some of which ran counter to Catholic dogma--that public schools were "quite adequate," for instance.  Archbishop Corrigan ordered him to correct his behavior; but he pressed on.  Finally, in January 1887 he "was driven from the pastorate of St. Stephen's Church and excommunicated as a result," as described by The Evening World.

McGlynn had been loved by his congregation and they lamented his fate.  So when word got out that he was to celebrate Christmas mass in the Church of the Holy Cross in 1894, elation spread.  A week earlier Rev. McGlynn had reached out to Archbishop Corrigan.  The two men, once bitter antagonists, reconciled and McGlynn was given permission to say mass publicly.  Rev. McCready invited his friend to do so at Holy Cross.

More than 4,000 people arrived for Christmas mass.  The Evening World reported "The Holy Cross Church was not built to accommodate more than half that number, but this morning, at 4.30 o'clock, not only had every pew an occupant, but the aisles were packed, as was the gallery, and every inch of space close up to the altar rails almost was black with humanity."

According to the newspaper many of the worshipers had camped out overnight in the church to guarantee a seat, "and when they saw him come out from the sacristy, they felt like shouting, and would have done so, but for the occasion.  As it was, a murmur that was half sob, half exultant cry, was plainly heard."

On October 5, 1902 Monsignor John M. Farley headed the golden jubilee ceremonies here.  What might have been just another celebratory mass became anything but when, afterward, his secretary, Father Hayes, handed him a sealed packet which had arrived by special delivery from the Apostolic Delegation in Washington.  He broke the seal and read the contents, showing no reaction.  He went to the vestry where he knelt before a small altar and prayed for 20 minutes.

Afterward he joined the guests of the church who were enjoying dinner in the School Hall.  There he revealed that the packet contained a Papal bull notifying him that he had been appointed Archbishop of New York.

When the United State entered World War I, assistant pastor Rev. Aloysius C. Dineen left Holy Cross to volunteer.  On October 3 1917, he was commissioned a chaplain in the United States Army.  But it was another Irish priest whose service in the war would be forever linked to the Church of the Holy Cross.

Father Francis Patrick Duffy had been Army chaplain during the Spanish-American War.  In 1916, while pastor of Our Savior Catholic Church in the Bronx, he was made chaplain of the 165th National Guard Unit of the 42nd Division (formerly the 69th Infantry Regiment).  Now Duffy went to war with "The Fighting 69th."

He became the most highly decorated chaplain in U.S. Army history--earning the Distinguished Service Cross and the Distinguished Service Medal from the U.S. and the Legion d'Honneur and Croix de Guerre from the French Government.

photo from the collection of the U S. Army Chaplain Center and School
Following the war, in 1921, he became pastor of the Church of the Holy Cross.  Under his pastorate Holy Cross became understandably popular with servicemen and veterans.  Duffy celebrated an annual mass for the 69th Regiment, held on the anniversary of the Battle of Chateau-Thierry during which the Regiment lost more than 200 men.  The event was an emotional and imposing one, with the men forming at the 69th Regiment Armory on Lexington Avenue and 26th Street and marching in formation to the church.

On April 2, 1925 a case of "jewelry" that arrived in New York on the steamship Homeric was held by Customs until Rev. Duffy cleared things up.   The "jewelry," he explained, was in fact 5,000 rosaries
"each blessed by the Pope, which he had brought back from Rome for the men with whom he served in France," reported The Evening World.  "Every man in the regiment, regardless of faith or creed, will receive a rosary, although many of the men were Jews or Protestants."  The carton was released duty-free.

Father Duffy's Church, as Holy Cross was popularly known, still sat within a rough neighborhood.  By now tenements and factories surrounded it and to the east the bawdy Times Square district had developed.   Duffy realized that many of his parishioners worked night shifts, in factories and theaters, making it impossible for them to attend the mandatory Sunday mass.  In January 1932 he received special permission from the Vatican to hold mass at 2:15 a.m. on Sunday mornings for night workers.

The dome and lantern are visible in this 1931 photograph.  from the collection of the New York Public Library
Father Francis Duffy died on June 26, 1932 at the age of 61.  He had been ill for three months.  He was replaced as pastor by Police Department Chaplain Rev. Joseph A. McCaffrey.  Like Duffy, he had been a chaplain overseas during the war.

On April 22, 1943 McCaffrey, now a monsignor, officiated at the dedication of the Victory Chapel in the basement of the church.  The Times reported "He dedicated the new chapel for the offering of special prayers for men in the service and for their use while on leave."  With World War II raging, he included in his sermon a "special plea for peace with final victory."

The Victory Chapel original source unknown
On November 15, 1944 Mgr. McCaffrey reported that the crucifix from the Victory Chapel was missing.  It was valued at about $100.  Then a plate representing the 12th station of the cross was gone from the main church.  A replacement crucifix more than two feet tall and worth $400 was put in the Victory Chapel.  That disappeared on November 29 along with a set of bells used for mass.  Police were most puzzled as to how the large crucifix could have been spirited out of the chapel unnoticed.

The crucifix was found later in a Harlem pawn shop where it had been sold for $2.  It was a clue that led detectives to 21-year old Vivian De Munn, who was arrested on February 12, 1945.  "The woman claimed to have been living in subways for several months, after being drive from the home of an aunt, a Harlem resident, with whom she had quarreled," reported The Times.

Despite Mgr. McCaffrey's lobbying that would eventually result in the clean-up of the Times Square pornographic theaters and seedy shops, the 42nd block was still grim in 1992 when Rev. Peter Colapietro became pastor.  Directly across the street now was the Port Authority Bus Terminal where homeless slept and addicts, prostitutes and alcoholics loitered.

Called by some newspapers the "saloon priest," he had been a bartender before entering the priesthood.   The charismatic pastor, like his predecessors, was beloved by his congregation.   His cool street smarts helped him deal with sometimes alarming situations.

The Catholic periodical Our Sunday Visitor reported in 1994 about an incident involving actor Mickey Rourke.  His marriage to actress and model Carr√© Otis was on the rocks and he believed she had been sexually assaulted.  Armed with a pistol, Rourke was on his way to shoot the suspected rapist and kill himself.  He had already composed a suicide note when he walked into Holy Cross.

Rourke told Our Sunday Visitor "I didn't know this man, Father Peter.  I just walked in his church...and met the right priest."  He said that Fr. Colapietro "took away my gun and had me leave the note with St. Jude, the patron saint of impossible causes."

During mass one Sunday morning a man hurled a beer bottle towards Fr. Colapietro.  It smashed on the steps leading to the altar, damaging the marble.  In 2007 a $6 million restoration of the church began.   During the earlier planning period, Fr. Colapietro insisted that the gouge inflicted by the beer bottle remain.

Rev. Peter Colapietro was transferred to an East Side church in 2013.  Today the congregation of the Church of the Holy Cross, once nearly entirely of Irish descent, is heavily Hispanic.  Masses are held in both English and Spanish.   The church operates a food kitchen in the neighborhood which, as it was in 1852, still has more than its share of poor and hungry.

photographs by the author