Wednesday, March 28, 2018

King & Keller's 1859 388 Broadway



By 1851 the brick house at No. 388 Broadway was both the home of George Maul, and the location of his guitar-making business, Schmidt & Maul.   But he would have to relocate before long,  In 1858 David A. Wood began construction on a modern  replacement building.

The wealthy investor held, among his other positions, a directorship in the Broadway Bank.  He commissioned the Brooklyn-based firm of King & Kellum to design the new building.   Together and individually, Gamaliel King and John Kellum were highly responsible for changing the face of lower Broadway over the years.

While King & Kellum would create several structures using the increasingly popular cast iron facades; for No. 388 Broadway that material was reserved for the storefront.  The four stories above were clad in white marble.  Paneled piers, decorated between the third and fourth floors with carved medallions, ran the full height.  The openings were grouped into two sets of double-story "sperm-candle" arches (taking their name from their similarity to the thin candles made from the fat of sperm whales).   The spandrel panels of each arch were carved as blind balustrades; and leafy fronds formed the column capitals.  Above a rhythmic corbel table was a bracketed stone cornice.

The building was completed in early in 1859 and soon filled with several businesses.  Ten angry executives of the various firms joined scores of others in signing a petition to the State Legislature that year entitled "Remonstrance of the Business Men of New-York."  The men were upset over proposed legislation that would regulate the railroads and their fees.  It said in part it "is grounded on false principles of legislation, tyrannical in its provisions, and subversive of the best interests of this State."

Among those signing the petition were brothers William L. and James S. Wilde.  Their firm, James Wilde, Jr. & Co., produced and sold men's furnishings--coats, trousers, shirts and such--on the second floor.  Two other signers, William H. and Frederic S. Kirtland, ran Kirtland Brothers on an upper floor.  The ground floor and basement were home to the Bliss, Wheelock & Kelly, a dry goods store.

The firms had barely moved in before trouble was narrowly averted.  At around 7:00 on the evening of February 15 James Wilde, Jr. & Co. was still open; but Bliss, Wheelock & Kelly had closed shop.  Three men standing shoulder to shoulder in front of the door raised the suspicions of a private watchman, Peter Noony.  As he approached they ran off, abandoning their accomplice whom they had been shielding from view as he worked on the locks.  The would-be burglar ran down White Street, but Noony was faster than he.  He was arrested and turned over to the police.

Oddly enough, just a year after Bliss, Wheelock & Kelly moved into their new space, they left, moving next door to the just-completed No. 390.

James Wilde, Jr. & Co. was a pioneer of sorts in that it had opened a branch operation in Chicago at a time when most Easterners and, perhaps, New Yorkers in particular, considered that city a cow town.  The firm's business was enormously increased when, with the outbreak of the Civil War, it was awarded contracts to supply uniforms to the Union Army.

Seven months after the firing on Fort Sumter the firm placed help wanted advertisements which reflected the immense amount of garments being made here.  One read "50 cutters wanted--On Pantaloons" and another read "1,000 tailors wanted--On Army frock coats and pantaloons.  We pay the highest prices and will have work the whole year."

Another firm in the building which realized high profits at the time was the dry goods house of Harris, Hartley & Co. which did $1 million in sales in 1864.   It was not the war, however, that was solely responsible for the huge sales.  Two years after the war had ended, in the first quarter of 1867, it realized $287,000 in sales; an even higher annual percentage than during wartime.

By then the firm had been renamed Wentz, Hartley & Co.  Although its business seemed exceptional, the firm dissolved on December 31 1870.  Members of the firm, including Phillip S. Taggart who had been with it since 1867, reorganized it as J. M. Wertz & Co. and remained in the building.

James Wilde, Jr. & Co. moved to No. 314-316 Broadway around that time.  The Great Chicago Fire a year later wiped out its Chicago store and factory; but it rebuilt.  The firm continued on until the death of James D. Wilde (son of James Wilde, Jr.) in 1899.

No. 388 continued to house dry goods and apparel firms, like Meyer Jonasson who, in addition to "a number of suit finishers and pressers," needed 150 sewing machine operators making "ladies' linen suits" in May 1874.  His ad promised that "experiences hands can make $12 to $15 per week." (As high as $300 today.)

Jonasson had just come to New York from San Francisco where he had opened a cloak and suit business in 1861. His stay in No, 388 would not be long.  His business grew rapidly, requiring him to repeatedly find larger space before the end of the century.  In 1897 he was doing $3 million annually (nearly $85 million today) and decided to "move uptown," as he described it.  "But our new location was unfortunate," he later admitted.

Janosson's business failed and in 1911 the 82-year old shot himself in the head in his Central Park West apartment.

Seth B. Robinson, "importer and wholesale dealer in buttons," was here in the 1880s.  The marble-fronted building was sold at auction in 1881; and resold in February 1886 to Sarah A. Starr, who paid the equivalent of $3,3 million today for the property.

Sarah's tenants continued to be apparel-related firms.  In 1888 Bohm Brothers & Greenfield, cloak manufacturers were in the building, as was Charles Falkenberg & Brother, shirt manufacturers.  When Charles Falkenberg tried to help out another businessman that year, he found himself behind bars.

Israel Levy's Excelsior Cloak Company did business nearby at No. 370 Broadway.   When it became obvious that his company would fail that year, Falkenberg and three other businessmen signed notes saying they had loaned Levy significant amounts of money--Falkenberg's "loan" was $4,016.  In fact, there was no money exchanged at all.  The loans were fictitious.

So when the bankruptcy was settled, the men were awarded the money due them.  They promptly handed it over to Levy.  The scheme was uncovered and all four men involved arrested in October, 1890.

Also doing business here by 1890 was the wholesale apparel firm of Indig, Berg & Co.  The company, composed of Benjamin Indig, Hart E. Berg and Max M. Schwarcz, employed 30 men by 1895 and manufactured an array of women's clothing.  On advertisement on April 14, 1891 hinted at the many items made here, including "cloth box coats, tight-fitting and hip seam, single and double-breasted jackets, reefers and blazers; short and long capes with and without sleeves; V shape and Round-back wraps, with and without tabs--all of the above in every desirable style with and without silk linings; also an elegant variety of exclusive styles in lace wraps."

Charles Falkenberg & Brother remained in the building making its "fire shirts, flannel shirts and linen shirts," until 1905 when it moved to No. 840 Broadway; and Indig Berg & Co. was here at least through 1897.

That year John E. Parsons purchased the building from Sarah Starr.  A well-known attorney and a founder of the Bar Association, he had already invested in several properties in the district.   He quickly made a significant change by remodeling the ground floor retail space to a restaurant.

Naething Brothers had operated a restaurant in the Financial District since 1870.  Now brothers Herman E., Arthur R., and Charles Frederick Naething opened another at No. 388 Broadway when they signed a 15-year lease in September 1898.

Parsons seems to have courted a different type of tenant as well.  By the turn of the century attorneys' offices were replacing factories.  In 1901 lawyer James Morgan was listed here, joined soon by attorney William Gratz.  In 1903 the Building Trades Employers' Association had its offices in the building.

The Sun, March 7, 1909 (copyright expired)

In 1908, when Charles F. Naething went to court, New Yorkers were treated to what The Evening World called "a romantic story."  Charles was asking the courts to declare John Philip Naething dead.

Newspapers retold the story of the brothers, saying "The boys lived with their mother at No 191 William street, when in 1872 John Philip went away."  The boy was still in his young teens at the time and Charles described him as "always of a roving disposition."

The Evening World went on "An occasional letter came from the wanderer to his mother during the next year, and each letter dated from a different town.  Then they ceased."

In 1861 John Philip, "a mere lad," had enlisted in the Union regiment known as "The Lost Children," but he was discharged when his father found out and complained that he was too young to fight.  Undaunted, the boy joined the navy and his ship sailed before the family could find out.  He served in that capacity throughout the war.

He briefly returned home, but soon "was restless."  Charles testified "He went away without a penny, and being reckless, fearless and daring, it is believe he undertook some hazardous occupation, and so lost his life.  All efforts to find him were futile."

The issue now was that when the Naethings' father died, "the nomad became heir to $2,634.52."  Since no one knew where he was, that amount had been sitting in the City Chamberlain's office for years.  The courts agreed to declare John Philip dead, and his inheritance was shared equally by the three surviving brothers and their two sisters.

Before long, the family would appear in print for more tragic reasons.  Worried about the business, in 1912 Arthur R. Naething killed himself in his White Plains home.   It was a shock because, as the New-York Tribune said, "For many years Naething Brothers' restaurant prospered."

But the brutal reality became evident a year later when Charles died.  The brothers had invested heavily in mining ventures which did not pan out.  They borrowed money from acquaintances to keep the restaurants going.  An accounting of Charles's finances showed that "he had impoverished himself for his friends and his estate was insolvent."  In June 1915 the Naethings Brothers' business was declared bankrupt.

Once again John Parsons made renovations.  The following month architect Robert A. Fash began $6,000 in upgrades that included moving the location of interior stairs, installing new fireproof doors and relocating partitions.

The former restaurant space became home to the Walker Safe Company showrooms.  The same day that company signed its lease, Bliss Laboratories, Inc. took space on an upper floor. 

In March 1918, following John Parson's death, his estate sold the building to the Lawyers Realty Mortgage Company for $157,000, just over $2.5 million today.  The firm quickly turned the property over, reselling it on December 7 to the Noyes Company.

The new ownership caused a potential conflict of interest when, four months later, it leased the store and basement to the Schulte Cigar Stores Co.  The Walker Safe Company's leased was due to expire the following year and Noyes Company jumped the gun, more or less, in making the deal with Schulte Cigars.

Walker Safe Company, however, had only been in its location for three years and fully intended to renew its lease.  In April 1919 a compromise was reached whereby Walker sublet the space from Schulte Cigar Stores for ten years.  Walker Safe Company stayed on at least through 1927 and it does not appear that the cigar store ever did open in the space.

The building, in the meantime, had a variety of tenants in the upper floors.  By 1917 G. J. Malloy, "woolens and dress goods," was here and in 1922 the Enegletaria Medicine Company, Inc. moved in.  Run by Jose de Jesus, the firm was a "manufacturer of patent medicines."  (Patent medicines, before the crackdown of the Food and Drug Administration and Federal Trade Commission, were over the counter products like liniments and tonics, highly touted by their makers as miraculous cures, but often with no medicinal properties at all.)

By the time the Textile Jobbers Company purchased the building in 1939 as its headquarters, the Merlin-Keilhoz Paper Company occupied a floor, as did Silvertex Mercantile Co., dealers in textiles.  In 1940 another fabric company, Scheffres Textile Company leased a floor.

The decline in the lower Broadway neighborhood was obvious in the assessment of No. 388 at the time of the purchase.  The New York Times reported it "is assessed for $69,000, of which $57,000 is on the land."  Fully 87 percent of the value of the property was the site, not the structure.

In the 1960s Guild Electronics, Inc. and Dalamal & Sons, exporters and importers of Indian goods, were in the building.  But change was on the near horizon.

By 1979 the Theater for Bodies and Voices had opened.  Run by choreographer and modern dance instructor Beverly Brown along with Roger Tolle, the venue not only offered classes, but staged productions.  Brown's Danensemble performed here as well as throughout the country.

On January 15, 1979, for instance, Alan M. Kriegsman of the Washington Post reported "The Beverly Brown Dancensemble: Theater [sic] for Bodies and Voices made its Washington debut at the Marvin Theater last night in a program that was fascinating in concept, elegant in its plastic contours, often beguiling, and withal somewhat wispy in emotional impact.  As the group's name suggests, the dancers utter sounds as they move--chanted vocalizations and non-verbal syllables."


The Theatre for Bodies and Voices would remain until 1991 when a conversion of the upper floors to residential space began.   The cast iron storefront, manufactured by Dandiel D. Badger's Architectural Iron Works 160 years ago has suffered understandable (albeit insignificant overall) damage and alteration.  But, above, King & Kellum's handsome white marble facade survives virtually intact.

photographs by the author

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