Tuesday, December 18, 2018

The Huerman A. Flurscheim House - 131 West 77th Street




In 1887 partners William C. G. Wilson and James Tichborne began construction on a row of five 20-foot wide residences on West 77th Street, between Columbus and Amsterdam Avenues.  Their architect, William K. Benedict, has been largely forgotten today; but he would go on to design hotels and high-end homes, many of them out of town.

Benedict used a visually-pleasing combination of brownstone and red brick.  The Romanesque Revival style basement and parlor levels were clad in chunky, undressed blocks.  The brick upper levels were Queen Anne, with a splash of English Renaissance.  No. 131 was the centerpiece of the balanced A-B-C-B-A designed row.

The second and third floor openings were framed in brownstone quoins.  The three windows of the second floor upheld two on the third--separated by handsomely-carved panels.  To compensate for the missing center window, Benedict installed another carved stone panel.  The arched openings were joined by crisp, projecting stone eyebrows.  Benedict's English-inspired treatment of  fourth floor culminated in an unusual pressed metal parapet.

The row was completed late in 1888 and on February 26, 1889 Wilson & Tischborne sold No. 131 to Robert and Olga J. C. Soltan.   Robert was a "prosperous importing merchant," as described by The New York Times, with offices at No. 15 Cedar Street.  The Soltans were well-known among in the German social circles, and Robert was a member of the Liederkranz, the German singing society founded in 1847.

Like all well-to-do New Yorkers, the Soltans spent the warm months at fashionable resorts, like Newport or Long Beach, New Jersey.  They were among the 800 or so guests at the Long Beach Hotel's ball on the evening of August 5, 1891.  (The following day The New York Times remarked "There were some very handsome costumes noticeable.")

Many wealthy businessmen visited their families in their summer homes only on the weekends or for occasional extended stays.  Olga and the children were summering in the Long Beach Hotel in 1892 while Robert remained in New York.  His brother, Ernest, was in town from Hamburg, Germany.

Robert had to go to Chicago on business, and offered to take Ernest with him, showing him Niagara Falls on the way.  He send a letter to Olga explaining the plans.  But after he was able to conduct the business through telegraph, the trip was canceled.  Now he and his brother. Ernest, decided to take a small "naptha launch" from the Columbia Yacht Club on 86th Street and the Hudson River, to Long Beach, "intending to give his wife and children a surprise," according to a newspaper.

The Bob, the naptha-powered motor launch, would have been similar to this one.  Katalog fran Escher Wyss, ca. 1900 (copyright expired)
They men started off in the launch the Bob on Tuesday morning, July 17.  But they never arrived.  The following day the Bob was discovered bottom-up on a shoal near Long Beach.  The New York Times reported "articles of clothing and a valise known to belong to Robert Soltan were found in the locker."  There were no signs of the brothers.

On June 22 The Times noted "His wife is in a critical condition from grief and shock."   The bodies were never recovered, and the newspaper reported that "it is the general opinion among old bay men that the high winds carried them out to sea."

Olga and the children remained at No. 131 for a few years.  She sold it in February 1895 to Mrs. Margaret Kennedy for $35,000, or just over $1 million today.  The Kennedys would be victims of crime before the year was out.

William K. Benedict produced a handsome, balanced row of upscale homes.
Twentieth Century magazine lamented on the increased number of "murders, highway robberies and burglaries" which it deemed "a pretty good indication as to whither we are drifting."  Among nearly a dozen crimes--murders, attempted murders, suicides and robberies--on single day, November 22, it listed was the burglary of No. 131 West 77th Street.

In March 1902 Margaret Kennedy sold the house to Hermann A. Flurscheim for $32,250, making a tidy profit on the deal.

Flurscheim had arrived in New York City with his parents from Germany at the age of 15 in 1866.  He married San Francisco native Isabella (known as Bella) Goldsmith in 1876.  The couple would have five children--Estelle, Helen, Agnes, Harry and Bernard.

In 1884 he became associated with Stern Brothers department store, where his retail acumen was first displayed.  As the firm's foreign representative he was one of the founders of the American Chamber of Commerce in Paris.

The delicate carving of the keystone, including a wafting ribbon, defies the nature of the otherwise rugged Romanesque Revival parlor level.
Flurscheim's purchased of the West 77th Street house was necessitated by a career move.  He had brought his family back to New York from Paris the year earlier, resigned from Stern Brothers, and founded the competing Franklin Simon & Co. with his partner Franklin Simon.   The Times would later credit him with being "among the first to establish buying headquarters for American firms in European cities: and as "one of the first New York merchants to foresee the future of Fifth Avenue as a retail business street."

The 77th Street house was filled with masterful artworks.  While living in Paris Flurscheim had not only collected art, but had served on the jury of awards at the salon of the Paris Exhibition of 1900.  The Dry Goods Economist said that he had "formed a valuable collection of paintings which are now in his New York home."

In the spring of 1910 focus turned to things social as Estelle's wedding was planned.  She was married to Otto Loeb in the fashionable St. Regis Hotel on the evening of April 11.  The Times reported that "following the ceremony there was a dinner in the marble ballroom, which was decorated with Bride's roses and lilacs."  The newlyweds set off for a six-month trip to Europe.

Not every mother interrupts her newly-married daughter's honeymoon; but before long Bella arrived in France.  Then tragedy struck.  On July 7, 1910 the New-York Tribune reported "Cable dispatches received in this city on Tuesday announced the death on Monday in Paris, France, at the Hotel Carlton, of Mrs. Isabella Flurscheim, wife of H. A. Flurscheim, of No. 131 West 77th street."

Herman and his unmarried children remained at No. 131, attended to by their domestic staff.  Helen would be the first to leave.  On October 20, 1912 The Sun reported "H. A. Flurscheim...has announced the engagement of his daughter, Miss Helen Flurscheim to Ansel Straus of Boston."

The following year the New-York Tribune reported "The wedding of Miss Agnes Flurscheim, daughter of H. A. Flurscheim, of No. 131 West 77th street, to Harry G. Cowen will take place on Tuesday, October 21 at the St. Regis Hotel."

The 63-year old Hermann A. Flurscheim died on August 18, 1914 "of a complication of diseases at his home," as reported in the Dry Goods Economist.  The New York Times described him as a "pioneer dry goods merchant and art collector."  The Evening World added "He was deeply interested in art and had a fine collection."

Flurscheim, who had owned a 50 percent interest in Franklin Simon & Co., left an estate valued at "more than $1,000,000."    It was, for the most part, divided among the children and Hermann's one grandchild.  But a codicil in the will may have raised a few eyebrows among society.  Mme. Bertrand De Lyteull of Paris, France, received $50,000 outright and $1,000 monthly income for life.  The bulk sum would be equal to more than $1.25 million today, and the monthly payments about $25,300.  Reporters who asked Flurscheim's lawyers about the bequest were told simply that Mme. De Lyteuil "was a friend."

The will directed that No. 131 West 77th Street "be turned over to the use of the unmarried daughters Helen I. and Agnes V., and shall be at their disposal while they remain single."  The rub was, as noted by the New-York Tribune on September 25, "They have married since the making of the will."

The house, therefore, was temporarily leased by the estate to Charles W. Hart and his wife, Sarah.  By 1917 they owned it outright, and around 1919 the Harts leased it to Florence M. Overton.  She used the house for her boarding school, although she preferred not to use that term.

Florence had been the dean of the Brenau School of Expression and Dramatic Art in Georgia for 19 years.  Now she struck out on her own.  In November 1919 The Anchora of Delta Gamma reported that Florence had a "very unique plan of caring for young women who desire the advantages of New York and yet who are mature enough not to need the restrictions of a boarding school.  Courses in contemporary English, Conversational French, Art History, Grand Opera, etc., are offered."

The bulletin described No. 131 West 77th Street as "a spacious stone and brick structure with magnificent parlors, airy bedrooms, and the atmosphere of your own cultured home.  Social advantages, sight seeing, theaters, etc., are attractions."

The early 1920's saw the once elegant residence being operated as a rooming house.  In 1921 23-year old John McGuigan was renting a room here, while working as a bellhop at the Hotel Chatham.  Also working there was a "telephone girl," Marie C. Walsh.  The beautiful Marie became the object of John's affections.

According to The Evening World a year later, "Between hops Johnny basked in the sunshine of the telephone operator's smiles and finally they were 'keeping company,' she accepting his invitations for little outings on their evenings off."  But then Marie's fickle affections cooled and she asked for a transfer to the Hotel Majestic "to get rid of his attentions."

In an effort to be nearer to the girl he still loved, John managed to get a job at a nearby hotel, the Lucerne.  He repeatedly annoyed Marie at her job, and threatened to commit suicide if she did not come back to him.  That prompted Marie to go to the police.  At the West 68th Street Police Station he was ordered to keep away from the girl.  "He said, in sorrow, that he would if he could," wrote The Evening World.

"But he couldn't."

He continued to haunt the Majestic Hotel, which caused his being fired from the Lucerne.  Then, on the night of May 16, 1922 Marie had to work late, not leaving her switchboard at the Hotel Majestic until 11:00.  She was frightened upon walking out of the building when she saw her stalker sitting across the street.  She tried to make it home without having to face him, but he caught up with her at the top of the stoop of her rooming house.

McGuigan professed his love, again threatened suicide, and physically restrained her.  In court on May 23 she testified "He grabbed me around the neck and hugged and choked me.  With my disengaged hand I pressed the bell while I struggled with him.  Robert Peterson came to the door and told Johnny to let go, but he said he wouldn't that I was his."

Peterson responded by sending McGuigan tumbling down the stone steps.  The following day Marie filed for his arrest.  Amazingly, by today's viewpoint, McGuigan received no punishment for his stalking and abuse.  In reporting the case The Evening World took a rather cavalier attitude.  "Then came the warning form the bench and the parole and Miss Walsh left the courtroom wondering what will happen next."

A colorful roomer at No. 131 in the early 1930's was actor Edward La Roche.  The stage and motion picture actor had at one point spent seven years in the French Foreign Legion during which time he won two decorations for bravery.

La Roche's roles were always incidental characters.  In the 1923-1924 stage production of The Lady he played The Loafer, and in the 1932 Foreign Affairs he was the Waiter.  His last Broadway part was Second Beard in the 1932-1933 production of Twentieth Century (another cast member of which was William Frawley).

But the aging actor was struggling.  In November 1935 he worked for three days in a Warner Brothers short film, earning $70 (about $1,250 today).  But the spotty work was not enough to keep him afloat financially.  When he was found dead in his room a few weeks later, on December 26, The New York Times noted that he "had recently been on relief."


Although the house was not yet officially converted to apartments, sprinklers were added in 1937.  It would not be until 1970 that a renovation would result in four units.  An extension into the rear yard allowed for an eight-room, 3,200 square foot owners' duplex in the former basement and parlor levels.

photographs by the author

Monday, December 17, 2018

The Lost 1938 Horn & Hardart - 104 West 57th Street


The former Horn & Hardart had become the New York Delicatessen when Edmund Vincent Gillon took this shot.  from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York
Joseph Horn and Frank Hardart opened their first restaurant in Philadelphia on December 22, 1888.  When "waiterless restaurants" began appearing overseas around the turn of the century, Frank Hardart traveled to Europe to see them in action.  Customers chose food items through glass-doored compartments, inserted a coin and removed the food.  The process required fewer personnel and, therefore, afforded reduced prices.  Diners enjoyed quick service and inexpensive meals.

Horn & Hardart brought the concept to the United States.  The result was a sensation and in 1912 they branched into New York City.  Shop girls, office workers and laborers found that they could stretch their meager pay within clean, attractive surroundings where five cents would buy tasty, freshly-made food.

The coin machines accepted only nickels and female "nickel throwers" were on hand to make change.   And because the coins dirtied the cashiers' hands, they wore black uniforms.

Despite the low food prices, Horn & Hardart did not scrimp on the interiors.  Marble, white tile and gleaming chrome were kept spotless and the cafeterias were often termed "classy."  Joseph Horn's approach to the restaurant business was simple.  "There is no trick to selling a poor item cheaply.  The trick is to sell a good item cheaply."

The Great Depression did not negatively impact the firm's bottom line, but in fact boosted it.  New Yorkers with fewer dollars to spend found that automats saved them money.  On October 5, 1937 The New York Times reported that the Horn & Hardart Company had assembled a site "for an additional unit in the chain of Automat restaurants" at Nos. 102 through 106 West 57th Street.  At the time of the article the firm already operated 44 restaurants in the city and employed 3,000.

The Horn & Hardart Company commissioned the 54-year-old architect Ralph Bowden Bencker to design the new restaurant.  Based in Philadelphia, he had early on embraced the Art Deco and Art Moderne styles synonymous with the automats' architectural identities.

The completed structure cost $75,000--just over $1.25 million today.  Bencker had produced a sleek Art Moderne structure faced in pink granite.  Its squat, somewhat bulbous form was half motion picture theater, half army tank.  Three rounded pavilions fronted the structure, flanked by geometric piers of stacked blocks.  Above was a circular turret which sprouted a flagpole.

Opening day was August 16, 1938 and a newspaper made special note that the two-story building "is air-conditioned."  The location was perfect.  The automat sat one block west of glitzy Fifth Avenue, across the street from Steinway Hall, just down the block from Carnegie Hall, and a quick walk from the Broadway theater district.   It became the haunt not only of shop girls and businessmen, but of well-to-do theater goers and celebrities.

An advertising postcard depicted the sleek interior with its patterned terrazzo floor and tidy tables.
Decades later actress Claire Bloom recalled her first visit to the restaurant during the 1940's.  As recorded by Sean Dennis Cashman in his American Ascendant, she wrote in 1996:

The walls of the vast eating area were lined with metal containers bearing glass windows, in which rested every imaginable food available; delicious and delectable pies, both sweet and savory, Salisbury steak with gravy, macaroni and cheese, Boston "pork and beans" baked in their own earthenware crock, frothy lemon meringue pies, and glistening iced angel food or coconut layer cakes.  Single portions could be freed from their glass prisons by inserting nickels into the slots; the windows would fly open, leaving the hungry customer--in this instance me--to simply remove her chosen plate of food, ready to plunge in.

Claire Bloom was not the only celebrity who rubbed shoulders with the more pedestrian New Yorkers and tourists throughout the decades.  It was not the nickel slices of pie that drew musicians, singers and stage performers, but the ambiance.

That ambiance was enhanced in the 1973 when Horn & Hardart offered live entertainment in the space.  On May 4 The Times reported "Horn & Hardart, whose main involvement in show business had once consisted of putting food on revolving platforms behind little glass windows, has had its eye on the big time for quite a while now.  It has presented concerts, hoedowns, soloists, piano players and other musical events designed to soothe the customer in search of a table."

Now, said the article, every Friday and Saturday night would feature jazz and folk concerts.  Jazz musician David Amram kicked off the concert series and returned often.  The composer of the "Horn & Hardart Succotash Blues," he remembered those weekend concerts in his 2008 autobiography Upbeat: Nine Lives of a Musical Cat:

Musicians strolling by from every genre came into the automat to join us, including symphonic musicians from visiting orchestras who were performing at Carnegie Hall, a block away...Crowds often gathered outside the automat to watch us playing and eventually came into the cafeteria out of curiosity to join the Horn and Hardart regular customers.

On February 23, 1974 the automat gave the concert of the rock band Yolanda an extra dose of fun.  An advertisement in New York Magazine urged "Bring you own pillow! and whatever February 23rd to the Maximus Pajama Party."  The restaurant promised "pillow fights and lots of etc."

But already the era of the automat was passing away.  In 1977 Horn & Hardart gave up its distinctive 57th Street building, which was converted to The New York Delicatessen.  The iconic glass-doored compartments were ripped out as part of the renovations.

The new restaurant was the scene of a tragedy on October 5, 1986.  Elizabeth Danile was a waitress here and Toff F. Hunter was a chef.  The couple lived together on Morningside Drive.  Elizabeth, who was 33-years old, and her 35-year-old boyfriend got into an argument at work sometime after midnight.  Hunter picked up a chef's knife and plunged it into Elizabeth's chest.

When the police arrived Hunter tried to kill himself with the same knife, but they succeeded in preventing him from inflicting major injury on himself.  Elizabeth died an hour later at Roosevelt Hospital.

photo by Mary Ann Sullivan
The New York Delicatessen, like its predecessor, was a familiar eating spot for natives and tourists alike.  It offered staple, New York City deli food.  Marian Burros gave a frank opinion of its soups in an article entitled "De Gustibus; In Search of Good Chicken Soup" in The Times on February 7, 1987.

New York Magazine, June 30, 1986 

The verdict was somewhat split.  As for the chicken soup, "Not much flavor, but made with noodles and carrots.  Motzoh ball: superb and soft, with delicious toasted matzoh flavor."

But after a decade that restaurant, too, left.  By 1996 it was home to the Motown Cafe.  And before long it became Shelly's New York restaurant.  The writing was on the wall for the two-story building in a landscape of soaring buildings and high rents.  Early in 2006 the owners bought back Shelly's lease, ordering them out by April.

Preservation groups, including the New York Landmarks Conservancy, the Municipal Art Society and the Art Deco Society of New York, petitioned the Landmarks Preservation Commission to hold a public hearing on the endangered structure.  It had already rejected the idea of designating it in 2002 citing alterations to the facade.

A spokesperson for the New York Landmark's Conservancy deemed the building "a rare example of streamlined modernism," saying it "is notable not only for its curved, Art Modern facade, but also as a symbol of a quintessential New York dining experience."

The Landmarks Preservation Commission disagreed and refused to hold a hearing.   In June 2006 the charismatic building was sold for $63 million.  It was replaced by a glass-fronted Hilton Hotel.

photo via priceline.com

Saturday, December 15, 2018

The Erastus C. Benedict House - 10 West 10th Street




In 1844 John Thompson began construction of a 26-foot wide home at No. 10 West 10th Street.  Completed the following year, it was designed in the currently popular Greek Revival style.  A rusticated brownstone basement level upheld three floors of red brick.  Stone lintels and sills complimented the hefty Greek Revival entrance.

It is unclear if Thompson ever lived in the stylish new residence; but by the 1850's it was home to the William Roberton family.  It was the scene of a heart-breaking funeral of the Robertons' two-and-a-half year old daughter, Margaret on February 16, 1858.

At the time Erastus Cornelius Benedict was a well-known and highly-respected citizen.  Born in Branford, Connecticut on March 19, 1800, his ancestors had landed in Massachusetts Bay in 1638.  An attorney, he had been elected a member of the Common Council of the city in 1840; was elected a regent of the Free Academy in 1855, and to the lower house of the State Legislature in 1848 (he would be re-elected in 1864).  He would serve as the president of the Board of Education, was a member of the Executive Committee of the New-York Historical Society, had helped incorporate the Apollo Association "for the promotion of the fine arts," and was a director of the Institution for the Deaf and Dumb.

Benedict's important political and social status was in clear evidence on February 20, 1861 when the newly-elected President Abraham Lincoln was in town.  While he was tied up meeting with political figures, Mary Todd Lincoln held a reception in the Astor House.  Among her guests was Erastus Benedict.

It was around this time that Benedict and his wife, Caroline, moved into No. 10 West 10th Street.  Like those of their neighbors, the Benedicts' interiors would have been furnished luxuriously--rosewood tables with marble tops, French-manufactured carpets and rich fabrics.

Benedict's nephew, Abner, enlisted in the State Militia at the onset of Civil War.   He distinguished himself for leadership and valor.  After being seriously wounded--shot through the lungs at Fredericksburg on December 13, 1862--he refused to leave military service.  Even when his health began to fail, he steadfastly continued as General Grant's headquarters guard.  He died of complications from the wound on May 15, 1867, five years after being shot.

His body was brought to the West 10th Street house and the following day The New York Times reported "The funeral will take pace under military escort from the residence of his uncle...on Saturday, the 18th, at 10 A.M."

The Benedicts, described by The New York Herald as among "the most prominent people of the city," entertained J. P. Meehan, the editor of The Irish American, on the night of February 29, 1870.  Meehan's outspoken views on Irish independence placed him at odds not only with the British government, but with loyal English expatriates here.  His was a dangerous stance.

Around 11:00 that night Meehan left.  As he descended the stoop he noticed several men on the dimly-lit block.  As he walked briskly toward Broadway, he passed them, one of who he recognized as Dr. James Kiernan.  Seconds later he fell to the pavement with a bullet wound in the back of the neck.  Meehan survived what The New York Herald described as a "dastardly attempt at murder."  The newspaper credited heavenly powers with his recovery.  "The attempt proved nearly fatal--Mr. Meehan's preservation from the deadly bullet and more deadly intent being singularly providential."

Another highly disturbing event occurred the following year.  As Police Officer Dunn walked by the house around 8:00 on November 26, 1871, he noticed an infant under the stoop.  It is possible the mother left the newborn at the service entrance in hopes that the wealthy homeowners would take it in.  But by the time Dunn discovered it, the baby had died.

Benedict continued his work in education, politics, the arts and charity.  In 1875, for instance, he helped found the Association for Improving the Condition of the Poor.  In the meantime, he found the time to write.  He was the author of American Admiralty, A Run Through Europe (a book of his travels), and the Hymn of Hildebert, a translation of medieval hymns.

Erastus C. Benedict died in 1880.  His funeral was held in the South Reformed Church at Fifth Avenue and 21st Street on October 25.  The New-York Tribune noted "The dead man was attired in his Chancelor's robes, his university cap lying upon his breast.  The coffin was covered with black velvet, was lined with white sating, and had silver mountings."

Six years, later on May 14, 1886, Caroline Benedict died at the age of 76 in the 10th Street house.  Her funeral was held there two days later.

The following month the Benedict estate sold the property to Helen L. and Henry A. Oakley.  The couple paid $26,000, or about $700,000 today.  Like Benedict, Oakley was a familiar name within Manhattan's social and political circles.  In addition to his legal practice, he was a vice-president of the Board of Managers of St. Luke's Hospital, a vice-president of the Church Club of New-York, and treasurer of the Citizen's Committee on High-Licence (an organization which pushed for restrictions on "liquor traffic and the diminution of crime and taxation that will surely follow").

Living with the childless couple was Julia Hawks Oakley, the daughter of Henry's deceased brother, Richard A. Oakley.  Some of Manhattan's wealthiest citizens were present when she was married to Edwin Stevens Allen on June 2, 1890 in Calvary Episcopal Church on Park Avenue at 21st Street.   Julia's maternal grandfather, the Rev. Dr. Francis Lesoer Hawks, had been rector of the church three decades earlier; and a stained glass memorial window to him was decorated with flowers for the ceremony.

Oakley's reputation was stainless and the charitable organizations he served had no reason to worry about his handling their funds.  And somehow he almost always managed to obtain positions that enabled him to receive the donations directly.  On August 10, 1893, for instance, an announcement appeared in The Sun saying "a society has been formed in this city to agitate for the abrogation of the Russian extradition treaty."  The notice added "The membership fee is $1, which will be received by Mr. Henry A. Oakley."

Helen and Henry lived well, spending summers at fashionable resorts and moving among polite society.  On July 2, 1893 The New York Times advised "Mr. and Mrs. Henry A. Oakley of 10 West Tenth Street have taken a cottage at Harrington Park, N.J."

But Henry's wealth and sterling reputation were about to come crashing down.  For some time he had served as treasurer of American Church Missionary Society.  In the spring of 1895 a review of the books revealed that a massive amount of money was missing.  The New-York Tribune described the organization's resultant condition saying the society's finances "have been crippled by the shortage."

The Society announced it "did not intend to bring any legal proceedings" against him.  However on March 7 the New-York Tribune reported "The muddling of the accounts of the American Church Missionary Society...has led to the retirement of its treasurer, Henry A. Oakley."

As partial reparation title to the 10th Street house was transferred to the American Church Missionary Society, which initially leased it to James P. Paulding and his wife.  Paulding was a partner in the brokerage firm of Paulding & Slosson, was president of the F. O. Norton Cement Company, and a director in the Colwell Lead Company.   In 1897 the Society sold the house to the couple, who paid exactly $33,069.74--the equivalent of $1 million today.

Paulding was also a supporter of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals--and so he was familiar with bravery medal it awarded once a year.  That knowledge came into play on November 17, 1902.  He was passing by Madison Square Garden where the annual Horse Show was taking place.  The show attracted the cream of Manhattan society and their costly carriages lined the streets in front of the venue.

Something frightened a work horse pulling a delivery wagon and it took off among the "fashionable equipages in front of Madison Square Garden," as reported by The Evening World.  Policeman Casey darted out into the street, grabbing the frightened horse by the bridle.  "He was dragged and kicked by the horse and cut by the lines while holding on for over a block.  But he steered the horse in and out among the fine private carriages"

When Casey finally brought the horse to a halt, he looked for his new blue helmet which he had worn for the first time.  When he found it, it was crushed.  Paulding overheard him say "Well, that's a shame.  I just paid $2.40 for that and now I'll have to get another."  (It was, actually, a pricey loss for the civil servant, about $70.50 today.)

Paulding assured the officer not to worry about the helmet, "for he should have as many more as he wished."  He then went directly to the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals to nominate Casey for the annual medal.

Paulding died in the couple's summer residence in Barclay Heights, Saugerties, New York, on August 2, 1916.  Two years later, in May, his widow sold the 10th Street house to Archibald C. Kains and his wife.  The couple would not remain long, selling it to Margaret E. Rutledge, a fledgling real estate operator, in 1921.  The house was priced at $60,000, more than $820,000 today.

Margaret converted the former mansion to an upscale rooming house.   Over the next two decades it would be home to tenants like Mrs. Harold Whitley.  She was involved in a terrifying incident on March 5, 1932 when she and Margery Clement were passengers in a bi-plane piloted by A. C. Eustis.  The trio was heading from New York to Norfolk, Virginia.  Eustis lost his way, could not find the airport, and realized that he was running out of fuel.  He made a forced landing on the beach at Ocean View, Virginia where the uneven surface flipped the plane.  No one was seriously injured, but locals immediately sent out the alarm that "the Lindbergh party had crashed in the bay."

A tax photograph shows the lost stoop and a layer of white paint.  photo via the NYC Dept of Records
Other tenants in the 1930's were Assistant District Attorney James L. Murray and actress Eleanor King and her lawyer husband Lowell M. Birrell.

In 1956 a significant conversion resulted in two and three apartments per floor.  It was most likely at this time that the lintels were shaved flat and the stoop removed.  Tenants entered through the new entrance at the former English basement level.

Half a century later, an astounding renovation was begun by Eric and Andrea Soros Colombel.  The couple purchased the house in 2006 for $11.5 million and started "top-to-bottom updates and renovations," as worded by The New York Times.  (Andrea Colombel is the daughter of billionaire financier George Soros.)


When the renovations were complete, the stoop and the lintels had been restored to their 1844 appearance.  Inside was a different story.  The enlarged building (now 8,500 square feet) had 21 rooms, including seven bedrooms and eight and a half baths.  The basement level, once the workplace of the Benedicts' cook, laundress and maids, contains a stone-walled fitness center complete with a ballet barre, a sauna and steam shower.

The new interiors would stun the Benedict, Oakley and Paulding families. photos via dailymail.co
The Colombels sold the mansion in the fall of 2015 to Michael A. Karp, founder of the University City Housing Copany, for $20 million.

photographs by the author

Friday, December 14, 2018

Waring's Building - 117 Varick Street


The four cast iron piers are the only surviving remnants of the original storefronts.
The brick-faced house at No. 117 Varick Street sat among other respectable residences in the 1830's.  Located just north of the fashionable St. John's Park, it was home to Dr. James Vere.   But significant change to the neighborhood came in 1867 when Trinity Church sold the land around St. John's Park to the Hudson River Railroad Company.  The firm immediately laid plans to replace the private park with a freight terminal.

Well-heeled homeowners fled from the noise and dirt of the rail yards.  In 1869 William E. Waring purchased the 30-foot wide house at No. 117 and in December filed plans to replace it with a "5 story tenement."  The term tenement at the time covered all multi-family buildings other than hotels.

Ware was a well-known architect of commercial and tenement buildings.  This time he acted as the developer as well.  Completed the following year, his five-story brick building was designed in the highly-popular Italianate style.  The centered entrance was flanked by two shops.  The segmentally-arched openings of the identical upper floors sat on bracketed sills and wore graceful molded cornices.  The elaborate cast metal cornice could have as easily sat upon a commercial building.  Its arched pediment announced "WARING'S BUILDING 1870."

Rust is seriously attacking the northern end of the handsome cornice.
There were two apartments per floor, each separated by a central stair hall, which became home to working class tenants.  The ground floor spaces held William Adler's dry goods store and William Elling's tailor shop.

Adler opened his store on the morning of Friday morning February 24, 1871 to a shocking scene.  The New York Times reported "The premises had been feloniously entered during Thursday night, and the entire stock of the occupant carried off."   The perpetrator did not get far.

That afternoon Isaac Payor, whom the newspaper deemed "a man of suspicious character," was arrested six blocks away on Clarkson Street.  He still had $300 worth of goods stolen from Adler's store with him at the time--a haul worth a little more than $6,200 today.

At least two of the tenants used their apartments to make extra income.  The occupant of apartment 6 seems to have been running a small apparel shop.  An advertisement in The New York Herald on July 22, 1872 sought "Two First Class Operators on Wheeler & Wilson or Elliptic Sewing Machines."  And to years later, on May 15, 1874, an advertisement appeared in The Sun.  The occupant of apartment 9 looked to rent her spare bedrooms.  "A respectable woman will furnish board to a few young ladies."

A gas street light sits in front of the building in this undated photo.  Note the exterior shutters on the windows.  William Elling, the tailor, lived next door to the right.  original source unknown
In 1877 William V. Elling still ran his tailor shop on the ground floor.  It was a convenient location, since he lived next door at No. 119.  William Adler's former store was now John C. Downey's bakery.  It, too, was convenient--Downey lived upstairs.   But Downey seems to have run afoul of his landlord that year.  On May 30 William Waring placed an advertisement in The New York Herald "To Let--Old established bakery 117 Varick st., near Broome."  The men apparently worked out their problems because Downey was still operating the bakery the following year.

Meantime, the baker's neighbors in the building represented a variety of blue collar professions.  In 1878 the tenant list included John Bennett and James Collins, both bartenders; policeman Martin Cooper; Christopher Kevin, a horseshoer; printer John T. Hushman; and Henry Farley, a "driver."

William E. Waring died in October 1882.   He left his widow, Fredericka, a massive estate valued at nearly $12.5 million by today's standards.  Included was No. 117 Varick Street.  But Fredericka wanted one more thing, her husband's married cousin William H. Harrison.  Shortly after the funeral he moved in to her mansion at No. 273 Lexington Avenue.

Scurrilous details of the scandalous romance were spread in the newspapers after Sarah B. Harrison appeared in Fredericka's parlor in 1884 demanding her husband back.  When the wronged wife was ejected from the house without her husband, she filed for divorce.

On February 19, 1892, following Fredericka Ware's death, her estate sold No. 117 to Katharine G. Secor for $42,000--about $1.17 million today.  Amazingly William Elling's tailor shop was still here, as was the bakery which was now owned by George Zoeller.  For years, at least through 1898, the tailor shop was used as a polling location on election day.

The modest means of the tenants was clearly exemplified by Nora Nethercott.  The widow of a policeman, she lived here with her 20-year old son in 1900.   She received $100 per year from her husband's pension, and another $100 as guardian of her son.  It made for a meager existence, equaling about $6,000 today.  Things got worse the following year when her son became 21 and was no longer eligible for his $100.

Katharine G. Secor had lived less than two years after purchasing No. 117.  Her estate sold it at a loss in April 1895 to Emma C. Bodhe.  Emma, too, would not survive many years after the purchase.   In the summer of 1907 the Bodhe estate hired architect William S. Boyd to upgrade the aging building.  The renovations, costing nearly $11,000 in today's money, included replacement windows and some new interior walls.

The renovations, while no doubt improving the living conditions of the tenants, did not change their economic status.  James G. Cotter, for instance, who was living here in 1916 was making $600 a year as a junior clerk with the State Civil Service Commission.   His salary would translate to about $1,150 per month today.

The 1867 upheaval in the neighborhood caused by the construction of the freight terminal was more than equaled in 1920 when the massive Hudson River Vehicular Tunnel (later renamed the Holland Tunnel) project was begun.   The entire St. John's Park Terminal was demolished and replaced by a nearly-seven block configuration of ramps and accesses, the northern point of which was Freeman Plaza.  The plaza, which nearly edged up to the southern wall of No. 117, brought with it traffic congestion and honking car horns.

But William E. Waring's venerable tenement building continued to be home to blue collar families.  In 1977 the two stores were bricked up in a rather brutish remodeling and converted to three apartments.  There are still two apartments per floor above.

Other than the slapdash renovation of the ground floor and a coat of paint, little has changed to the nearly 150-year old tenement building.

photographs by the author

Thursday, December 13, 2018

The Electus D. Litchfield House - 171 East 73rd Street



In 1864, 25 years after Robert Lenox's death, his son James Lenox began partitioning off his 30-acre farm into building lots.  He sold them at an average of $5,575 each--just under $90,000 today.

Before long a row of brick-faced Italianate-style homes was completed on East 73rd Street, between Lexington and Third Avenues.  At 20-feet wide they were intended for financially-comfortable, albeit not wealthy, families.  Three stories tall above an English basement, the houses could claim no outstanding architectural elements--other than their striking cast iron verandas at the parlor level.  A noticeable scar on the facade of No. 175 (one of the last two survivors of the row) suggests that the entire group had the charming detail.

Two houses away, No. 171 became home to Edwin L. Hodgson, who was listed under the catch-all description "merchant."  The relocation to the still mostly undeveloped district must have seemed to the family as if they were moving to the country.  They previously lived on Oliver Street in the crowded, noisy Lower East Side.

The Hodgsons remained in the house until the summer of 1885.  Edwin sold it that year to Jonathan and Caroline Southward.   The couple had a son, also named Jonathan, and like the Hodgson family would stay at No. 171 for decades, finally selling it in June 1911 to millionaire George J. Gould.

As the mansions of Manhattan's wealthiest citizens had crept up Fifth Avenue along Central Park, private carriage houses cropped up along blocks far enough away to not be a smelly nuisance; but close enough for convenience.  At the turn of the century the East 73rd Street block which included No. 171 had essentially become a "stable block."  Prim residences were demolished for the lavish carriage houses of millionaires like Henry Harper Benedict, Charles Hudson, and J. B. Layng.

In reporting the sale, the Real Estate Record & Guide noted "Mr. Gould's garage occupies the adjoining property at Nos. 167 and 169."  The purchase may have originally been intended to provide extra housing for Gould's garage staff.

Most of the block was lined with handsome carriages houses in 1911.  The Gould stable-turned-garage (right) nestled up against No. 171 East 73rd Street.  photo by Alice Lum
Gould was travelling in France when he suffered a fatal heart attack in May 1923.  The brick house on East 73rd Street was purchased by well-known and influential architect Electus Darwin Litchfield.

Born in New York City in 1872, Litchfield had worked in several architectural firms, like Carrère & Hastings and Lord & Hewlett.  He and his wife, Elizabeth, had two children, Elizabeth and Burnham.

Unlike many architects who moved into vintage houses, Litchfield did not alter the Victorian facade.  It was a surprising decision, given that in 1920 he had initiated a dramatic re-make of a group of vintage homes in the neighborhood.  On February 20 The Sun reported that he had "purchased twelve old fashioned houses" on 68th Street between Second and Third Avenues, "and will alter them into the modern American basement type."  The newspaper deemed that the project would result in "a new society neighborhood."

The changes which Litchfield did make to No. 171 were a protective brick and iron wall at the property line in 1924, and the division of the interior to what today would be termed two duplexes.  The Litchfield family lived in the lower two floors and leased the upper to upscale tenants.

A 1940 tax photo shows Litchfield's intimidating wall. photo NYC Department of Records 
The Litchfields spent their summers in Stockbridge, Massachusetts; although Electus, like many busy heads of families, seems to have been there mostly on weekends or for short visits.   Yearly announcements in society columns included mentions like that in the New-York Tribune on September 24, 1922.  "Arrivals at Heaton Hall in Stockbridge include Mrs. Electus Darwin Litchfield, Miss Elizabeth and Master Burnham Litchfield."

Litchfield made his mark not only as a designer of public buildings--the National Armory in Washington, the Denver Post Office and Courthouse and the Public Library in St. Paul, Minnesota among them--but of monuments, such as the Lewis and Clark memorial in Astoria, Oregon.  He designed entire communities, as well.  He was responsible for Yorkship Village, and World War I industrial town of 2,000 homes for shipbuilders near Camden, New Jersey; and was the architect of the Red Hook housing project which replaced slums.

As president of the Municipal Art Society in the 1930's he vehemently fought against Park Commissioner John Sheehy's proposal to convert 32 acres of Central Park into athletic fields.  Some of his ideas were surprising.  When John L. Nagle, Chief of Design of the Bureau of National Parks, suggested cleaning up the grounds of Liberty Island in December 1933 by removing "barracks and storehouses" that surrounded the base of the Statue of Liberty, Litchfield bristled.  He cautioned Nagle "these ancient buildings, with their easily distinguishable doors and windows, are extremely valuable," since they provided a comparison of scale to the monument.

Electus Darwin Litchfield.  from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York
And in 1935 he may have surprised parents when, as reported by The New York Times on January 28, he sent a letter to every public school in the city "asking the help of the pupils in keeping the streets and parks clean and in preventing defacement of the city's monuments."  (He was not suggesting that the children do free-lance sanitation work; but that they be aware of littering and vandalism.)

In the meantime, the Litchfields' upstairs tenants were well-to-do.  Stock broker Webster Tilton was here in 1939, followed by socialite Enid Locke Gillett and her daughter, also named Enid.  Mrs. Gillette was the widow of Lowry Gillett.  When Enid, her only child, married Peter Irving, Jr. in St James' Episcopal Church on May 3, 1941, the event made headlines on the society pages.

Electus Darwin Litchfield died on November 27, 1952 at the age of 80.   His obituary in The New York Times summed up his illustrious career, saying he "was a member of many private and city organizations, championed civic-improvement causes including slum-clearance and housing projects.  He was a devotee of municipal beautification."

Elizabeth Litchfield sold the house to Samuel Nirenstein in December 1953.  When he sold it six months later it was described as a "four-story apartment house;" but in fact it still had just the two duplexes that Litchfield had configured.

In November 1958 the lower portion became home to the Chilean Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Daniel Schweitzer.   Four months later the 64-year-old bachelor suffered a terrifying incident.

At around 6:20 on the night of February 13, 1960 three men, ranging from about 20- to 30-years-old, managed to breach the protective wall out front.  Schweitzer was in his parlor floor study when he heard the breaking of glass at the front door.  He was suddenly confronted by the burglars who demanded money while holding their hands in their pockets to suggest they had guns.

Schweitzer turned over all his cash--$181.  In an odd gesture of compassion, when he asked them if he could have $5 back, they agreed.  It would be their only kindly act. 

One of the men, who spoke to one another in what Schweitzer thought was Hungarian, asked him "Are you a Jew?"  When the diplomat said he was, the man ordered "Let's hear you say 'Heil Hitler' and give the salute."  The thugs forced him to repeat the humiliating act several times before fleeing.

Schweitzer went upstairs where Dorothy Wilson and two sons, 12- and 13-years-old, lived.  He told her what had happened and she urged him to call the police.  But Schweitzer was so terrorized that he refused to call for help until 7:00, as the intruders had ordered.

At the time Stephen McKenzie DuBrul, Jr. had been married to the former Antonia Paepcke for three years.  Born in 1929, DeBrul had already made a name for himself.  At only 26-years-old he had been named a partner of Lehman Brothers.

The DuBruls were living at No. 171 East 73rd Street--now once again a single family home--when son Nicholas was born in March 1966.   Their second child, Jennifer, would be born six years later.

Stephen's astounding career continued to evolve.  From 1961 to 1965 he served as a part-time consultant to the President's Council on Economic Advisers.  In 1970 he was elected to the board of the Continental Can Co.; and two years later, after having been with Lehman Brothers 16 years, he joined the prestigious brokerage house of Lazard Frère.   Then, while at the White House "on a business matter" in October 1975 Douglas P. Bennett, the White House recruiter, asked him if he would be interested in becoming head of the Export-Import Bank.

In reporting on the appointment two months later, The New York Times mentioned No. 171, getting the construction date slightly wrong. "They own an 1850 red brick house on 73d Street in Manhattan."

The DuBruls stayed on in that red brick house at least through the 1980's.  By the time the house was again placed on the market in 2011 the interiors familiar to the Southwards and Litchfields were gone, replaced by open, modern spaces.  But the brick wall outside still remained, prompting Curbed New York's headline on May 1 that year to comment "Gated UES House Kept the Poor Away Before Madonna Made it Cool."


photo via Curbed New York
Unseen from the street, a sizable extension to the rear had transformed what had been built for an upper-middle class family 150 years earlier to a 6,500-square foot residence with six bedrooms, five and a half baths, and a 33-foot living room under a skylight.  The asking price in 2011 was $6.375 million.

Electus D. Litchfield's protective wall has been removed, bringing the house back to its charming 1860 appearance.  




photographs by the author

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

The 1882 George Washington Statue - Federal Hall



photograph by OptimumPx

In 1699 construction began on the third of New York's City Halls.  Sitting on Wall Street at the head of Broad Street, it was completed the following year and would be the site of some critical moments in the forming of America.  Here the concept of our venerated freedom of the press took root when, in 1735, John Peter Zengel was tried and acquitted of libel against the Crown.  And in 1765 the Stamp Act Congress met here, starting the movement against taxation without representation.  From its balcony the Declaration of Independence was read to New Yorkers for the first time.   It became the first Capitol Building after the Revolution, saw the first meeting of the United States Congress, and it was here that President George Washington was inaugurated.


Federal Hall as it appeared in 1789. from George Washington Day by Day, 1895 (copyright expired)  
The Government abandoned the building when it moved to Philadelphia. in 1790.  It was eventually demolished in 1812; to be replaced  in 1842 with a magnificent Greek Revival Custom House designed by two of the country's foremost architects--Alexander Jackson Davis and Ithiel Town.

In 1856 a small group of wealthy New Yorkers presented the city with a statue of George Washington--the first statue erected in the city since the Revolution.  The straightforward gift, placed in Union Square, caused no civic uproar other than from those who objected to its "idolatry."  Such would not be the case in 1880 when another statue of Washington was proposed.

The new monument would be placed on the steps of the old Custom House--now the Federal Sub-Treasury Building.  The spot was chosen as being as close as possible to the exact position where the first President took the oath of office.  But this was Federal property and although the $35,000 necessary to erect the statue (around $866,000 today) was provided by the New York Chamber of Commerce, approval from Congress was necessary.  Not all members were warm to the idea.

The objection of Representative James Blount, from Missouri, on December 9, 1880 would have prevented the unanimous consent necessary.  He was assailed in session that afternoon by New York Representative Samuel S. Cox, who said "Why an objection should come from my abstract friend I cannot understand...This bill, without appropriating any money from the Treasury, proposes simply to authorize the erection, in a very historic place, of a monument to George Washington, which shall be under the control of the Government, which shall be no disgrace to the country, as some monuments are."

Blount withdrew his objection.

The Chamber of Commerce chose the highly respected John Quincy Adams Ward to design the sculpture.  On October 9, 1883 The New York Times reported that the "erection of the marble pedestal for J. Q. A. Ward's statue of George Washington, in front of the Sub-Treasury Building, is advancing very rapidly."  The architect of that pedestal, Richard Morris Hunt, was as esteemed as the sculptor.

The precise height above street level, like the location itself, had been carefully calculated.  It statue would be at the same level above Wall Street that Washington had stood in 1789.  The newspaper announced that the marble block was inscribed:


On This Site
In the building then known as Federal Hall,
George Washington
Took the Oath as the First President
of the United States of America
April 30, 1789

The unveiling was held on November 25, 1883--the anniversary of Evacuation Day when the last of the British troops left New York.  It was covered by newspapers as far away as North Dakota, whose Bismarck Tribune reported "The unveiling of the statue of George Washington on the steps of the sub-treasury was attended by a brilliant company, including the president of the United States, members of his cabinet, the mayors of New York and Brooklyn, Bishop Potter, Rev. Dr. Storrs, Collector Robertson and Wm. M. Evarts.  George W. Lane, the president of the Chamber of Commerce, opened the ceremonies."

In his 1887 The Youth's History of the United States, Edward Sylvester Ellis recalled "President Arthur stood on the pedestal under an umbrella, held by a friend...By a sharp jerk the governor [future President Grover Cleveland] snapped the slender cord that held the American flags wrapped about the statue, and as the bronze figure burst to view the vast assemblage broke into cheers in which they were quickly joined by the forts whose cannons began thundering the moment the signal was given from the top of the building."

Ward's heroic-sized statue stood 12 feet 6 inches high and weighed 5,900 pounds.  It depicted Washington in the act of taking the oath of office.  Ellis noted "Washington is represented as dressed in the uniform which he bought for the occasion.  A military cloak covers the left shoulder, and falls from the right shoulder."  Ward's depiction of the cloak partially falling away symbolized Washington's leaving military for civil life.  It was at the time the largest statue of Washington in existence.

The marble pedestal itself was 7-1/2 feet high and 16 feet long, bringing the overall height of the monument to 22 feet.  Inside the pedestal was a box containing "specimens of all the coins of the United States, copies of newspapers, records of the Chamber of Commerce, and other matters," according to Ellis.

When the old Federal Hall was razed, the stone slab on which Washington had stood for the 1789 inauguration was removed, inscribed, and embedded in a wall in Bellevue Hospital.  It was brought back and placed in the stone platform directly in front of the Washington statue, protected by a metal railing.

Visitors look down on the brownstone slab, reputedly the one on which Washington stood in 1789.  Frank Leslie's Sunday Magazine, June 1884 (copyright expired) 

That proved to be a bad idea, however.  On December 10, 1895 The Topeka State Journal reported "The brown stone slab known as the George Washington stone, fixed in the base of the pedestal of the statue of George Washington in front of the sub-treasury is to be removed to save it from destruction."  The following May The Spirit of '76 explained "The stone has yielded to the action of the weather to such an extent that it has been removed to the interior of the Sub Treasury in order to preserve it, and it will be placed in a sealed glass case."

The Washington statue quickly became beloved by New Yorkers and  a destination for tourists.   On a particularly frigid day during the winter of 1890 37-year old Robert Dunlap remove his overcoat and wrapped it around Washington's legs to prevent the President's catching a chill (Dunlap was later committed to the Flatbush Insane Asylum).   The monument was a favorite subject for stereopticon slides, travel guide illustrations and amateur photographers.  One such "camerist" brought Wall Street to a halt on July 23, 1892.

The New York Times described that the amateur photographer who "invaded Wall Street yesterday" as "a trim young woman in a blue suit and a black straw had, and she wanted to get a picture of the statue of George Washington."  The process of doing so was much more of an ordeal in 1890 than snapping a photo on one's phone today.  "So she set up her camera in front of the office where J. Pierpont Morgan reorganizes railroads...and proceeded to cover her head with a cloth and shove slides into the camera after the orthodox fashion."

The feminine photographer caught the attention of the brokers, businessmen and errand boys who populated the busy district.  "Fat men stood in the blazing sunlight and didn't notice how hot the combination of sun above and asphalt pavement below was making them; messenger boys formed an inner circle about the camera, but at what passes as a respectful distance with their kind; truck drivers halted their teams, and curious faces appeared at the window commanding a view of the camera."

None of this distracted the diligent photographer and not until she had exposed a few slides did she fold up the camera, the tripod and gather up her equipment.  "And then the crowd disappeared as quickly as it had assembled," concluded the article.

Two New Yorkers became dismayed at the aged look their beloved statue had acquired in the decade following its unveiling.  And so on Christmas Eve morning they took matters into their own hands to correct the problem.  Their good intentions were sadly misguided, however.

The Pennsylvania newspaper, the Freeland Tribune, reported "Such people as walked down Wall street at 9 o'clock this morning saw an act of vandalism.  Two colored men, with long handled brushes, were scrubbing the statue of George Washington in front of the Sub-Treasury building, and removing all the beauty which time and weather add to all bronzes."

Stock broker Henry T. Chapman, "who owns many masterpieces of art," told a reporter from the New York Mail and Express "The glory of pieces in bronze is the potine [patina] which the wear and tear of the atmosphere puts on them.  It takes years to accomplish this.  I have watched with great interest the growth of potine on the Washington statue, and was astonished this morning to see the men scrubbing the statue and removing potine.  You would never see such a thing in Europe."

The well-intended vandalism was stopped at the neckline, leaving Washington's head a musky green and his body a brilliant bronze.

By 1904 the patina was once again evenly matched.  from the collection of the Library of Congress
The patriotic iconography created by Washington's pose and location was not lost on politicians, social advocates and publicity men.  It was repeatedly the scene of war drives, political stomping, and the subject of political and social cartoons.

The monument was a favorite vehicle for political cartoonists.  from the collection of the Library of Congress
Motion picture star Mary Pickford stood at Washington's feet on April 11, 1918, megaphone in hand as she implored a crowd to buy War Bonds.  The New-York Tribune reported "More than 20,000 persons were swayed by the film star's smiles and patriotism as she stood in the shadow of George Washington's statue."  She told the masses that subscribing to the Liberty Loan they would "drive nails in the Kaiser's coffin."

So popular was the statue that in an article on George Washington on October 31, 1935 the North Carolina newspaper, the Roanoke Rapids Herald wrote that the "two monuments most often visited in a spirit of veneration not only by Americans but by visitors from all nations" were the Washington Monument in D. C. and the Wall Street statue.

This striking stereopticon image was created in 1897.  from the collection of the Library of Congress
As was the case in World War I, the second World War drew speakers to the steps of Federal Hall and George Washington.  On May 1, 1942 The New York Times reported that "at the base of George Washington's statue, several speakers yesterday compared the nation's present difficulties with the problems confronted on April 30, 1789, when the country inaugurated its first President and proceeded to overcome obstacles much greater than those growing out of today's war."

As a symbol of America, the statue drew the unfriendly attention of protesters during the Vietnam War.  In September 1963 "electric bulbs, loaded with paint and tar" were hurled at the statue, as reported by The New York Times.  The vandalism was successfully removed within a week.

Four years later the statue was sought out for a more positive, if self-serving purpose.  On October 23, 1967 The Times reported that on "one windy afternoon early this month, five men gathered before George Washington's statue in front of the old Treasury Building at Wall and Broad Streets...They waited patiently while a magazine photographer took pictures, then melted anonymously into the rush-hour crowd."

One female pedestrian "remarked tartly that the statue of the first President seemed an inappropriate backdrop for a cigarette commercial."  It was not a cigarette commercial being photographed, however.  It was Presidential candidate Richard M. Nixon, whose campaign staff saw the monument as a perfect way to project Nixon's patriotism and American ideals.

After 130 years the statue was conserved as part of the overall restoration of Federal Hall which started in 2004.  The project involved "stripping away years of grime and heavy-handed interventions with state-of-the-art laser technology and allowed the sculptor's work to shine by coating it with a lighter brown protective patina," as described in Federal Hall's website.



John Quincy Adams Ward's masterful bronze depiction of George Washington remains the centerpiece of the Stock Exchange neighborhood, as popular with New Yorkers and tourists as it was in 1883.

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

C. P. H. Gilbert's 23 and 24 Riverside Drive




In 1893 the trustees of the New York Orphan Asylum sold off its sprawling grounds overlooking the Hudson River.  Stretching from Riverside Drive to West End Avenue and from 73rd to 75th Streets, it had been bucolic in 1836 when the orphanage was erected.  Now it was among the city's most valuable property.

The orphanage grounds were divided into building plots; many of which were purchased by individuals rather than developers.  In an unusual cooperative move, eight such buyers hired mansion architect C. P. H. Gilbert to design harmonious side-by-side homes on West 74th Street.  Almost simultaneously Asa Hull and George McKesson followed suit.  They purchased the lots at Nos. 23 and 24 Riverside Drive, respectively, in 1895 and hired Gilbert to design nearly matching homes.

Gilbert turned to ornate Francois I Revival style for the project, completed in 1897.  As he had done on some of the 74th Street homes, he place the upper floors upon a somewhat boxy and unadorned limestone base.  Dog-legged stoops with solid wingwalls led to entrances.

The upper three floors were faced in beige Roman brick and trimmed in terra cotta.  Two story rounded bays provided balconies at the fourth floors. Above the trios of elaborately decorated fourth-floor openings pairs of fearsome griffins stood guard below an intricate metal cornice.  The subtle difference between the two homes was the absence of the center bay windows at No. 24.

Gothic tracery executed in white terra cotta is echoed within the metal arches of the cornice.
Asa Hull was the principal of Asa Hull & Co. at No. 132 Nassau Street, printers of hymnals and religious songbooks.  As was often the case within moneyed families, he put the title to No. 23 in the name of his wife, the former Sarah J. Warren.   (Although, mysteriously, the earliest building documents list "Lisa Hull" as owner.)  The couple's summer home was at Shelter Island.

Hull not only printed the hymns, but wrote them.  He had stepped away from his niche of Sunday School songbooks and hymnals briefly in 1877 when he published Hull's Temperance Glee Book.  The cover described it as containing "a choice variety of Temperance Songs, Duets and Choruses suitable for the sociable entertainments of the several Temperance Organizations."

Hull produced scores of song books for Sunday Schools like this one. (copyright expired)
Sarah shared her husband's uncompromising moral views and held the office of vice-president of the National Christian League for the Promotion of Social Purity.

When a tax was proposed on "country checks," (or out-of-state checks) in 1899, Asa Hull protested by means of a letter to the editor of the New-York Tribune.  It shed much light into the operations of his business, saying in part:

My business is mostly mail business, and nine-tenths of the remittances come from the country in checks, many below $1 each, and the result will be that I shall be obliged to decline all small checks...The nature of my business is such that I could not stand any further taxation.

The houses, seen mid-block here in 1903, were surrounded by mansions when the Hulls and McKessons lived here.  from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York
In the meantime, George C. McKesson was a partner in the wholesale pharmaceutical firm McKesson & Robbins, founded in part by his father, John.   The McKessons summered at Monmouth Beach in New Jersey.  (George's son by a former marriage, George, Jr., had taken his adopted father's surname.  George McKesson Brown would eventually build one of Long Island's most magnificent estates, Coindre Hall.)

Almost assuredly, the lifestyles of the McKessons and the Hulls were starkly different.  The McKesson name appeared regularly in the social activities of New Jersey resort district.  Such was the case on July 3, 1915 when the McKessons were among the more than 200 guests at Hilden, the summer estate of the William Barbour.  There they rubbed shoulders with millionaires with names like Schiff, Borden, Fahnestock and Straus.

Sarah J. Hull died on June 29, 1909 and her funeral was held at No. 23 three days later.  Asa lived on in the house for another eight years.  He died on April 4, 1917 at the age of 92.  His funeral, too, was held in the house. 

While No. 23 was soon sold to Sarah T. Adams, the McKessons remained next door through the 1920's.  But by 1930 both residences were being operated as rooming houses.

The tenants during the Depression years were not all upstanding citizens.  "Major" Irving F. Coleman was living at No. 24 on December 3, 1930 when he was arrested there "on the charge of writing worthless checks passed in Washington," according to The New York Times.  The article added that he "faced the additional charge of impersonating a Federal officer."


Colman's roommate, John Otis Handy, was an accessory to the crimes.  The Times reported that he "had cashed one of the worthless checks."  As for Coleman, he had invented his rank.  "It was learned that Coleman was no major and that he had found persons willing to cash his checks, it is charged, because of a portly and dignified bearing, which fitted the borrowed title."

The former Hull house had its own criminal tenant.  On April 2, 1943 Robert J. Cassidy and three cohorts stole a truck containing $85,00 in liquor in Long Island City.  It was a major haul, worth $120,000 today--or it would have been had they not gotten caught.  Cassidy pleaded guilty in the Queens County Court on May 17.

On January 13, 1945 The Times reported that Stanley Estates, Inc. had purchased the "rooming house at 23 Riverside Drive."  It was quickly converted to apartments, two per floor.  The same firm acquired No. 24 and converted it to apartments two years later.

The conversion to apartments did not initially improve the respectability of the buildings' tenants.   Thomas Hirsch, who lived in No 23 in 1958, went by the street name "Schoolboy."  He was arrested in a drugstore on Broadway and 50th Street on May 9, 1953 charged with bookmaking.  The police called him a "known Broadway figure" in illegal gambling.

Martin J. Yamin lived next door in 1955.  A former Baltimore judge, the 32-year old was accused of taking part in the hold-up and murder of Joseph Aronowitz on February 15 that year.  Aronowitz, who lived on West 83rd Street, was scheduled to testify for the state in a Baltimore hold-up case.  But, according to police, he was "taken for a ride" before that could happen.  His body was found in an abandoned automobile in Brooklyn.

On April 7 that year The New York Times reported that Stanley Estates, Inc. had sold the "two four-story converted buildings containing nineteen apartments" to Mary Ley and Helen Jambor.



Happily, unflattering press ended around the same time.  By the end of the century there were small commercial tenants as well.  Birch Music Press was in No. 24 in the early 1970's; and Riverside Books, a publishing firm, was in No. 23 by the early l990's.

photographs by the author