Monday, March 18, 2019

The 1897 Richard S. Barnes Mansion - 316 West 75th Street

Despite being one of ten children, Richard Storrs Barnes enjoyed a privileged upbringing.  Born in 1854 in Brooklyn, his father, Alfred Smith Barnes, was the principal in the leading textbook publishing house in the nation, A. S. Barnes & Co.  Richard was educated at the Gunnery School in Washington, Connecticut; the Williston Seminary in East Hampton, Massachusetts; and finally at the Polytechnic Institute of Brooklyn.

He initially entered his father's business, moving to Chicago to manage that branch of the firm.  In 1880 he married Hattie Day Barbour of Harford.  Around the time of his father's death in 1888 he returned to New York; Richard's brother, Alfred C. Barnes took over the family business.

While Richard remained a director in the company (which grew into the conglomerate American Book Company); he branched out into myriad professional interests.  He became treasurer of Braunworth & Co., printers, and secretary and treasurer of the Barnes Real Estate Association.  He invested heavily in mining and was treasurer of the Automatic Fire Alarm Company.

Richard and Hattie had three children, Goodrich (who tragically died at the age of 12), Hattie Louise and Roderic Barbour Barnes.  Their Washington, Connecticut country home, Westlawn, was a sprawling Queen Anne-style riot of gables and porches and chimneys.

Westlawn's many angles assured that the slightest breezes were captured.  photo via the Gunn Historical Museum
In 1895 ground was broken for the Barnes's new city home at No 316 West 75th Street, just steps from Riverside Drive.  Richard had hired one of Manhattan's premier mansion architects, C. P. H. Gilbert, to design a 38-foot wide residence--nearly double the width of a standard home.  Construction took two years and resulted in an impressive five-story residence faced in cream-colored Roman brick and trimmed in limestone.

Gilbert splashed his Renaissance Revival design with Beaux Arts touches--like torches, swags and lions' heads above the fourth floor openings, and the eye-catching oculus over the service entrance.  While other architects strove to downplay doorways where deliverymen and servants came and went, Gilbert fronted this one with grand iron gates and carved Renaissance style gateposts and lavished its round window with cornucopia.

Sadly abused as a repository for trash today, the service entrance was given grand treatment by C. P. H. Gilbert.  Note the individualized carvings of the gate posts.
The second floor featured tall French windows with balconettes.  The center opening of the rounded bay wore an elaborate stone hood, the tympanum of which overflowed with foliate carvings and a crest.  (Close inspection reveals a dog standing proudly above that crest.)  The bay provided a stone-balustraded balcony to the fourth floor.  A stone cornice supported by foliate brackets completed the design.

The Barnes family proudly displayed an American flag from the balcony of their new home.  Architectural Record 1899
The Barnes family's upscale lifestyle was reflected in Richard's entering steeds in the fashionable New York Horse Show, in his memberships in the New England Society of New York, the Metropolitan Club and the Down Town Association. 

The names of Manhattan's wealthy routinely appeared in print as they boarded steamships headed to Europe.  But that was not the case when Richard and Hattie climbed aboard the Hamburg-American vessel Moltke on January 10, 1903.  They were embarking on a pleasure cruise--a forerunner of today's popular ocean cruises.  The New-York Tribune reported the ship would visit the principal islands in the West Indies and Nassau.  The ports of call would be familiar to vacationers taking a cruise today--St. Thomas, San Juan, Kingston, Jamaica and Nassau among others.

Richard Storrs Barnes - photo via the Gunn Historical Museum

On September 17, 1904 Richard and Hattie announced the engagement of Hattie Louise to Alfred Severin Bourne.  The New-York Tribune noted as well, "Mr. and Mrs. Barnes, whose country home is Westlawn, Washington, Conn., spent the early part of the summer in Europe."  While Bourne's family was immensely wealthy (the newspaper called their Oakdale home "one of the finest country places in Long Island"), there were indications that the young man was a bit of a playboy. 

The 21-year old groom-to-be had inherited $1 million from his godfather, Corman Clark, that year and another half million on the interest that had accumulated on the fund prior to his coming of age.  The New-York Tribune put a positive spin on his dropping out of school by saying "He entered Yale about a year ago, but preferred a business career."

Hattie Louise had debuted into society the previous winter.  In the summer of 1904 Alfred's parents celebrated his "coming of age" at Oakdale with events that rivaled the most lavish of debutante entertainments.  The Sun commented "There were luncheons, dinners and dances ashore and afloat."

The wedding took place in the West End Collegiate Church on West End Avenue just two blocks north of the Barnes residence the following spring.  The social importance of the event was evidenced by the guest list.  The New-York Tribune reported on April 17, 1905, "Some of those invited to the wedding were President and Mrs. Roosevelt, Admiral and Mrs. George Dewey, Rear Admiral and Mrs. W. S. Schley, Bishop and Mrs. Potter, General and Mrs. Stewart L. Woodford, Mr. and Mrs. W. Bayard Cutting, Mr. and Mrs. W. H. Bliss and Mrs. W. S. P. Prentice."  The reception took place in the 75th Street mansion.

Roderic married Rose Marie Naething six years later, in September 1911, in the fashionable Church of the Heavenly Rest on Fifth Avenue.  Roderic would go on to a promising career as an architect.

Rose Barnes on her wedding day. New-York Tribune September 17, 1911 (copyright expired) 

On Christmas Day, 1913, Richard Storrs Barnes died in the 75th Street house at the age of 59.  The Bookseller estimated his estate to be "at least $500,000."  That amount would approach $13 million today.

Hattie remained in the residence and following her period of mourning resumed her social activities.  Her name appeared in society columns as she visited fashionable watering holes like the Greenbrier Hotel in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia.

Perhaps the most unusual gathering which she hosted in the residence occurred in the spring of 1917.  The highly-popular evangelist Billy Sunday was in town and on May 17 he enthralled a crowd of 18,000 with his unorthodox retelling of the story of how Jesus reformed the tax collector Zaccheus.  According to The Sun's report, he said in part:

There were a lot of the old guys discussin' Jesus--and they were mostly leaving the dis off--and Zaccheus, who was a rich gazabo of a Jew, wanted to get a good look at Him, so he shinnied up a tree.  Well, when Jesus passed right under the three old Zac slid down and Jesus said to him: 'This day I'll abide at thy house.'  He didn't even wait for Zaccheus to invite Him.  He just said He'd come on over for dinner with him."

The reverend paused to consider the wife of Zaccheus.  "Gee, I'll bet she was a fine kind of woman not to mind havin' all that bunch drop in on her just at dinner time and nothing to eat but some canned goods."

But before that gargantuan event, the preacher had been at the Barnes house.  "In the morning Billy delivered a short talk before 300 women and a few men in the home of Mrs. Richard S. Barnes, 316 West Seventy-fifth street.  Following the evangelist Mrs. Sunday said a few words."

Hattie became involved with the Women's American Oriental Club of New York City.  It was founded in April 1915 "to promote friendliness and mutual understanding between women of the Orient and women of America."  By 1920 she was its president.

Although heavily abused, the carved newels still stand guard.
In the meantime, Hattie Louise's husband's playboy ways had caught up with him and landed the family name in scandalous newspaper reports.  The New-York Tribune's article on December 29, 1918 started out complimentary enough.  "Mr. Bourne is a member of the New York Yacht Club, St. Anthony Club and the National Golf Links.  His father, Frederick G. Bourne, formerly commodore of the New York Yacht Club, is one of the best known yachtsmen in the United States."

But then the article got to the juicier parts.  Bourne had been carrying on a relationship with Grace B. Clark, who freely visited the best shops of Manhattan, charging her purchases to Bourne.  The illicit affair became public when Grace's bill with the dressing making house of Hickson, Inc., became inordinate--approaching half a million in today's dollars.

Pressed for payment, Bourne made a deal to pay $500 a month.  But then he stopped payments with a balance of $11,199 still due.  Hickson, Inc. sued, Bourne did not attempt to defend himself, and the newspapers eagerly printed the shocking story.

Hattie Barnes was 64-years old when she sold No. 316 to the H. M. C. Realty Company, Inc. in 1924.  The handsome mansion she and her husband had built more than a quarter of a century earlier was converted to "non-housekeeping apartments," meaning they had no kitchens.

The building had few notable tenants.  In the 1940's bandleader Jimmy Victor lived here.  His advertisement in Billboard magazine in October 1948 announced "Now arranging 1949 indoor and outdoor dates, Jimmy Victor's Show Band."

In the 1950's an apartment here was used as the headquarters for the New York Regional Advisory Board of the Society of St. Dismas.  The group described its goal as "to aid imprisoned and released prisoners."  To that end it furnished reading material to penal institutions and aided released prisoners to find employment and homes.

Gay activist Brenda Howard lived in the building in 1972 when she was arrested on June 7.  Firefighter Michael Maye was accused of beating a member of the Gay Activist Alliance on April 15 that year.   Before his court hearing, she and two other activists created that The New York Times called "a disturbance" in the courtroom.  Apparently Brenda was less combative than her companions.  While her charges were later dismissed, the other two were held to stand trial on charges of "assault, resisting arrest, harassment and obstructing government administration."

The former elegance of the Barnes mansion manages to triumph over window air conditioners, a commercial-style doorway, and decades of dirt. 

photographs by the author

The Lost Thompson's Restaurant - 33 Park Row

With the restaurant's name emblazoned four times (one in terra cotta and one in electric bulbs) patrons seeking out the "beanery" could not miss it.  from the collection of the New York Public Library

On October 28, 1912 the Syracuse Journal ran the headline "'Sinkers' Meehan, Noted New York Lunchman, Dead."  The article began saying "Over the door of one of the most famous restaurants in this city there was posted to-day a sign which read: 'Closed in consequence of the death of John T. Meehan."  That the news would be of interest so far upstate was not surprising.  He ran the venerable Dolan's Coffee and Lunch Room" at 33 Park Row, founded by his uncle Patrick Dolan.

Dolan's was famous as a "beef and" restaurant.  Its menu offered downtown businessmen items like corned beef, boiled ham, pork and beans, pickled tongue and oyster pie.  The Syracuse Journal noted that the cafe had drawn "everybody worth while, from P. T. Barnum and Horace Greeley clear down to the very youngest of the judges of the highest courts sitting to-day."

On January 21, 1913 the New-York Tribune reported that Francis Husted had purchased No. 33 Park Row, "the ground floor of which is occupied by Dolan's famous 'beef and' restaurant, run by 'Johnny' Meehan, who died recently."  Husted paid the equivalent of $4.85 million today for the valuable downtown property.

Three months later The Real Estate Record & Builders' Guide announced that Chicago restaurateur John R. Thompson had signed a 21-year least on the property with two 21-year renewal options.  The article noted "Mr. Thompson, who conducts four restaurant and lunch places in this city, three on Broadway and one in Grand Central Station, will erect a three-story building there for his exclusive use."

The indefatigable Thompson had started in the restaurant business in 1891 at the age of 26.  By the time he leased the Park Row property his chain of self-service lunchrooms totaled 68.   His operations were aimed at providing office workers with nutritious food in clean surroundings at low prices.  And fast.

There were no waiters in Thompson's Restaurants.  Customers purchased foods like cold corned beef, cold boiled ham, smoked boiled tongue or hot frankfurters (a menu strikingly similar to Dolan's) at a counter.  They then took their trays to "one arm" chairs lined up along the wall.  There were no tables; instead customers ate at what was similar to turn-of-the-century school desks.

An interior view of a similar "one arm" restaurant shows the desk-like chairs, counter and self-service coffee urn.  original source unknown

In May 1913 Chicago-based architect H. R. Wilson filed plans for the new structure.  The American Architect placed the projected construction cost at $100,000--just over $2.5 million today.   The completed structure was clad in white terra cotta.   Steel framing allowed for vast expanses of glass.  The first and second floor openings were framed by a single continuous foliate sheaf, echoed at the third floor.  The cornice took the form of a deeply-overhanging sloped terra cotta roof.
Interestingly, this shot appears to have been taken only seconds before or after the photo at the beginning of this article. photo by Wurts Bros. from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York 
While office workers came and went, gulping down pie and coffee, Thompson continued his colorful lifestyle and sometimes controversial business dealings.  

On March 8, 1914 The Sun reported that "John R. Thompson, millionaire restaurant owner" had wired the president of the National League "an offer to buy the Chicago Cubs" the day before.  Thompson told reporters that he and his associates "mean business and are ready to pay any reasonable price."

Thompson's self interest clashed with patriotic efforts in 1918.  On January 26 that year President Woodrow Wilson, in an effort to conserve food for the war effort, called for one meatless day, two wheatless days and two porkless days each week.   Thompson refused to comply.

Americans, for the most part, embraced the restrictions to aid the war effort.
While the New York restaurants (Thompson added a fifth Broadway location in 1915) seem to have been unaffected; such was not the case in Birmingham, Alabama.   On May 24, according to The Sun, "The Thompson restaurant, operated by John R. Thompson, Incorporated, of Chicago, was practically wrecked this afternoon by a crowd of angry citizens because, it is said, the company refused yesterday to join other city restaurants in voluntarily eliminating wheat products."

The manager was chased down the street by the crowd until he found refuge in a police station.  Angry protesters carried placards that read "For Germans Only," "The Kaiser's Restaurant" and "German Cafe."

From 1917 through 1918, sugar was heavily rationed and the shortage extended for several years afterward.   Thompson took matters into his own hands.  On May 27, 1920 it was reported "John R. Thompson, millionaire owner of a string of 'one-armed' restaurants, will sail from New York Saturday for Czecho-Slovakia, where he will buy 10,000,000 crowns' worth of sugar to prevent further shortages for his restaurants."

But none of that sugar would arrive at No. 33 Park Row.  The following year Thompson's Restaurant was gone and small real estate offices had taken over the building.  The situation remained as such for years, joined by 1927 by the Yale Land Company.   In June 1941 the agents of the American Export Lines opened offices here.

Around 1949 the building was home to by City Hall Hardware Shop.  Shelves of paint cans, displays of shovels and drills, and drawers of nuts, nails and bolts filled the space where patrons had grabbed a corned beef sandwich and cup of coffee.

City Hall Hardware Shop's display spilled onto the sidewalk at mid-century.  photo via NYC Department of Records & Information Services
In 1971 newlyweds Joe and Rachel Friedman leased the basement of No. 33 where, originally, they opened an audio hardware store selling mostly Panasonic and Sony components.  Before long they branched out into vinyl records, and soon their J & R Music World record store took over the operation.   

Upstairs was a restaurant, the Chew and Chat.  Unlike Thompson's, it struggled with cleanliness.  Closed down for health violations early in 1976, it reopened in February that year.

By 1982 J & R Music World had engulfed the entire building.  The basement held classical records and the first floor was entirely opera.  The top floor was dedicated to jazz where, according to Billboard magazine on May 22, 1982, 15,000 different jazz titles were housed.

The Park Row block front was a visual cacophony of garish signage in the late 1970's.  original source unknown

J & R Music World had four locations in 1996, leasing the entire Park Row block front from No. 1 to No. 34 Park Row.  No. 33 Park Row was now "the classical outlet," according to Billboard on June 15 that year.   Amazingly, H. R. Wilson's 1913 terra cotta facade was still greatly intact.

Shocking its landlord, the Steinberg family, J & R announced in 2013 that it wanted to end its lease.  The J & R store at No. 1 Park Row was the first to close, in April 2014.

On May 10, 2018 Tim McKeough, writing in The New York Times, announced that London-based architect Richard Rogers had designed a 25-story, 31-unit condo building on the corner site which included No. 33 Park Row.   The architectural medley of little buildings on the site , including the terra-cotta clad Thompson restaurant, are now gone.

A rendering of the building, incomplete at this writing, was released by Nöe & Associates in 2018.  via New York Times May 10, 2018

Saturday, March 16, 2019

The Double 1906 Stable at 157-159 West 18th Street

Looking like a late 19th century factory building today; the structure was actually a high-rise livery stables.

West 18th Street, between Sixth and Seventh Avenues, was mostly lined with two-story stables by the late 1860's.  Bradley's livery stable at No. 157 was the scene of devastation and horror in October 1877.

Two of James F. Bradley's drivers, Thomas Stapleton and Owen Healey, both single, lived on the second floor.   On the night of October 16 they awoke to discover the building was on fire.  They scrambled to save the horses; but the intense heat prevented them from getting to those in the rear stable.  Thinking they still had time, both men rushed back to the loft, Healey to retrieve his military uniform and Stapleton to grab some personal items.  The burning building collapsed. 

The following day Bradley told police that the men were missing but, according to The New York Times, "they refused to give it any credence, and denounced it as a 'ghost story.'"  But when the men did not appear "their usual haunts" within a day, a search was made in the ruins.  On October 19 the newspaper gruesomely reported "Yesterday the mangled and burned bodies of the missing men were dug out."

Bradley rebuilt the two-story structure, putting the title in the name of his wife, Alice.  They retained ownership of the replacement stable until 1896 when it was sold to Albert Baer.  In 1906 William F. Donelley purchased the property and seems to have become a silent partner with Linda Stachelberg, who owned the similar stable next door at No. 159.

The neighborhood had significantly changed by now; Sixth Avenue was lined with massive retail emporiums and Seventh Avenue was seeing the rise of commercial buildings.  On May 6, 1906 the Real Estate Record & Builders' Guide reported that architect George M. McCabe had filed plans for Linda Stachelberg to replace Nos. 157 and 159 with a four-story stable building.

But before long Linda Stachelberg increased her vision.  Revised plans called for two additional stories.  The brick and stone stable would cost just under $1.7 million today.

McCabe designed the 40-foot wide structure in mirror image.  His melding of Renaissance Revival and Romanesque Revival created a handsome front to a decidedly utilitarian building.  Rough-cut stone arches spanned the twin carriage bays and undressed stone bands created interest to the ground floor.  The five stories of red brick above were trimmed in undressed stone and decorated with panels of protruding brick.  Brick quoins ran up the sides.

If male businessmen at the turn of the century dismissed the ability of women to handle themselves professionally, they had never met Linda Stachelberg.   She included a deadline in the contractors' contracts--November 15, 1906.  When she was informed by Caspar Buellesbach, who was to install the iron columns, that he would not make the deadline, she declared the contract forfeited and refused to pay.  It all ended in a court battle the following year.

The completed building was leased to the James M. O'Dea.  He operated it not only as a "first class boarding and livery stable," but as home base for this delivery service.

The National Provisioner, January 13, 1912 (copyright expired)

Another female operator at the time was Linda S. Rau.  She owned several properties in the city, including another stable down the block at No. 128 West 18th Street.  In 1912 she purchased Nos. 157-159 from Stachelberg and Donnelley.

Horse-drawn drays and private carriages passed through the wide bay--then with double wooden doors--in 1906. 
By the following year O'Dea's customers were not only housing their horses and carriages here, but their automobiles.  Albert Pavis worked for O'Dea in 1913.  The upstanding 19-year-old prevented a robbery on the night of June 17 that year.

A chauffeur picked up his employer's limousine that evening, but when he pulled onto 18th Street, he was surrounded by a gang of hoodlums.  Pavis called for help.  According to The New York Times the gang "had halted the car in the street and was about to rob its occupants when several policemen from the West Seventeenth Street station came in response to Pavis's calls.  The robbery was frustrated but the gang escaped."

That thugs, unfortunately for Pavis, realized who was responsible for the failed heist.  Three nights later as Pavis was about to enter the building, "he was held up near its door by a gang of several toughs, one of whom held a revolver to his face, while another blackjacked him," according to The Times.  The beating resulted in a broken nose and wrist.

In March 1914 Linda Rau leased Nos. 157-159 to John P. Quirk "to be used as a garage," according to the Record & Guide.  By the time she sold the property to yet another female operator, Anna R. King, in November 1921, it was home to the Chelsea Garage, run by Isidore Miller and Abraham Solter.

The building continued to operate as a garage for decades.  Owned by the Mablin Holding Corporation in the early Depression years, it was home to the Fismar Garage until the spring of 1932.  

By the early 1970's Midtown Electrical Supply Company took over the building.  It was the scene of a frightening incident on November 8, 1973 when a freight elevator cable snapped with six workers inside.  Luckily the elevator fell only one story--from the second to the ground floor.  Although all six men were injured, their injuries were described as "not serious."

In 1991 a seventh floor was added.  While it cannot be described as an architectural masterpiece, care was taken to match the brick.  Decades after moving in, Midtown Electrical Supply Company remains in the building.  Although somewhat abused, the 1906 stable is a reminder of a century of changes to the neighborhood and of three women who held their own within an industry run by men.

photographs by the author

Friday, March 15, 2019

The 1876 Grosvenor Buildings - 385-387 Broadway

The ground floor is hidden behind a construction barrier in 2019.

By the mid-1850's the section of Broadway around White Street was no longer residential; the remaining brick houses now altered for business.  On March 31, 1857 an advertisement in the New-York Daily Tribune offered "To Let - 385 Broadway - Warerooms near White-st.; fine rooms on first floor, fashionable side; with easy entrance, suitable for Tailors, Fancy Goods, Milliners, &c."

The titles to that building and the one next door at No. 387 were held by Matilda Ann Grosvenor by the early 1870's.  At least one additional structure sat on a rear lot.  Matilda had been married to Jasper Grosvenor, a well-known banker and partner in the steam locomotive manufacturing firm Rogers, Ketchum & Grosvenor.  He died in 1857.

At 6:30 on the evening of November 28, 1874 fire broke out at No. 385.  The ground floor of the three-story structure was home to dress trimmings merchant S. Rothkopf; the second held the workrooms of the Celluloid Novelty Company, makers of "jet jewelry;" and the third floor and attic were leased by G. Weil & Livingston, pocketbook makers.  Before the fire was extinguished it had spread to all three floors and caused considerable damage.  The New York Times placed the loss at $2,000 (almost $45,000 today).  

The damage most likely prompted Matilda to demolish both buildings and lay plans for a modern loft and store replacement.  She and her daughter, Charlotte Matilda Grosvenor, commissioned architect Charles Wright to design two mirror-image structures on the site.  Construction was begun in 1875 and completed the following year.  Although separate buildings which retained their individual addresses, Wright successfully designed them to appear as one.

A commercial take on the recently-popular French Second Empire style, the cast iron facade included simple engaged columns between each opening.  The the rounded corners of the rectangular windows gave the impression that they were slightly arched.  Wright distinguished the buildings with an aggressive bracketed cornice with a pediment that announced "Grosvenor Buildings / 1875."

The buildings filled mostly with tenants associated with the drygoods and apparel industries.  Among the earliest was Benno Klopfer, corset manufacturer.  Two commercial sewing machine firms moved into No. 385 in the 1890's.  The Singer Mfg. Co. marketed machines specifically for apparel manufacturers--its corset stitching machines, button sewing machines, and glove stitching machines were only a few of the models available in 1890.  At the same time the National Machine Co. was in the building,   It too, marketed manufacturer-specific machines, like its boot and shoe sewing machine.

Seeger & Guernsey's Cyclopaedia of the Manufacturers ad Products of the United States, 1890 (copyright expired)

Diehl & Co., whose showrooms were also in No. 385 in 1890 was seemingly unrelated to the apparel industry.  Their listings vaguely offered "motors, electric."  The firm's appearance signaled what would be an overall change in the tenant list.  

Within the year the Central Labor Federations of New-York, Brooklyn, and Hudson County, N.J. was leasing space for its headquarters.  The group sought to coordinate individual unions and achieve cooperation among them.  Following a meeting here on July 12, 1891, The New York Times reported "A special committee reported that it had had a conference with the members of the Pool Brewers' Association and hoped that the old quarrel between the association and the Journeyman Brewers' Union would be amicably settled."

By 1894 the ticket agency of the Union Pacific Railroad opened.  It would be the first of several such offices.  By 1897 H. B. McClellan, agent for the Wabash Railroad operated in the building.  One of his advertisements that year was entitled "Are You Going West?" and continued, "If so the Wabash R. R. offers special inducements to travelers in the way of low rates, equipment, speed, train services, etc."  Indeed, all classes of tickets entitled the holders to meals in the dining cars and "Reclining Chair Cars."

Those ticket offices would be joined by The Seaboard Air Line Railway offices in 1901, and passenger agents E. V. Stratton and A. W. Ecclestone by the following year.  McClellan was still in the building that year; and Ecclestone would remain at least through 1909.

Matilda Grosvenor died on January 20, 1885.  The Grosvenor Buildings were among the real estate passed on to Charlotte, who had married Frederick L. Goodridge.  He died in 1897 and Charlotte on March 3, 1902.  Her vast estate, including Manhattan real estate holdings such as the Grosvenor Buildings, was divided among her five children.

In the pre-World War I years the buildings were home to umbrella maker B. O. Wright & Co.; Harvey & Watts Company, manufacturers of canes and handles; and The Remington Typewriter Company, makers of typewriters, billing machines and "adding typewriters."

Luggage & Leather Goods, January 1913, (copyright expired) 

The newly-formed Iona Sales Co. moved into the building in 1913.  The firm purchased left-over stock and sold it to foreign markets.  An advertisement in The Clothier & Furnisher in April 1917 announced "We pay highest cash prices for unsalable merchandise.  Shoes, clothing and furnishings."

The American Telephone and Telegraph Company opened its employment offices at No. 387 around 1925.  The firm hired only females as operators; its advertisement in The Daily Star on October 2 the following year read:




In June 1927 the company had sweetened the job description.  It sought "girls aged 16 to 27" and promised that "long distance telephone work, establishing telephone connections with other cities thousands of miles away is interesting and fascinating."  And now there were "an opportunity for a vacation" and "meals on premises at low cost; comfortable rest rooms for use during relief periods."

American Telephone and Telegraph's employment offices would remain in the building until about 1930.

Across the nation the Great Depression years saw an increase in thefts, both large and small, and other criminal activities.  On January 16, 1934 The New York Times reported that three teenagers, Margaret Daroczy and Helen Gallic, both 18, and 19-year-old Fred Ware, had been arrested for attempting to pass $20 counterfeit bills.  The girls "had attempted to pass a bill to the stationer at 385 Broadway."  They were unsuccessful and were caught when Ware later tried to pass one at a liquor store uptown.

In the building at the time was the Union Pencil Company, Inc., which would remain at least through 1946; and the offices of the cigar manufacturing firm of Teijeiro & Garcia.  The Grosvenor buildings continued to reflect the varied industries of the neighborhood throughout the bulk of the 20th century.  In 1941 Irving A. Mendelsohn, textiles, took a floor in No. 385, for instance; and as late as 1992 a textile firm was in the first floor.

But in 1986 the new Project III Ensemble Theater leased space here.  Its first production was Gunter Grass's play Flood which opened on June 1.  The New York Times drama critic Walter Goodman was impressed.  By 1999 the building was home to Soundance Theatre, a performance arts venue.

In 2018 the entire building was vacated and the ground floor hidden behind a construction shed.  The outcome of the ongoing renovation work is unclear at this time.

photographs by the author
many thanks to reader Ted Leather for requesting this post

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Charles Oakley's 1833 No. 264 Bleecker Street

Although he was educated as an attorney, when he married Margaret Roome in 1810 Charles Oakley was listed as "merchant" in city directories.  But the Greenwich Village resident would become best-known for neither profession, but for his prolific real estate development.

Well before the population explosion in Greenwich Village, caused by the 1823 yellow fever epidemic to the south in New York City and a cholera epidemic two years later, he was making his mark.  On October 5, 1819 he purchased 20 lots bounded by Herring Street, Jones Street and Cornelia Street, for instance. 

On March 9, 1829 agenda of the Common Council was "a Petition of Charles Oakley and others to have the name of Herring street altered to that of Bleecker street."  By now Oakley was responsible for the construction of scores of houses and shops in the district with no end in sight.

Around 1833 he completed a row of five brick-faced houses on the west side of Bleecker Street, between Morton and Leroy Streets.  Each was three-and-a-half stories tall with a shop on the ground floor.  Faced in Flemish bond red brick and trimmed in brownstone, each sprouted a single dormer perched above the roofline.  A plain wooden fascia board originally ran below the cornices.

Among them was No. 250 (a renumbering of Bleecker Street in 1859 would change the address to 264).   The store was leased to James Sinclair, a carpet weaver, who lived at No. 102 Barrow Street.  The upper floors were apparently divided to accommodate two tenants.  Living there at the time were the families of two carpenters, James Germond and Samuel Helmes.

As years passed the occupants in the house would continue to be working class.  In 1841 James Moore, a "newsman," and James J. Tompkins, a cart driver lived here. 

Shop owners came and went from the ground floor.  In 1848 Robert Chapman, who lived upstairs, ran his "fancy goods" store here; but the following year it was home to William Partridge's tea shop (he, too, lived above the store).  By 1852 George Creamer had opened his crockery shop in the space.  Sharing the upper section with him was William H. Hegerman whose barber shop was on Carmine Street.

In the late 1850's the Antioch Baptist Church was organized, led by the Rev. John Quincy Adams.  By 1858 it leased the basement level of the Bleecker Street building where the congregation not only worshiped, but ran a bookstore and published a newspaper, the Christian

By now Matilda McLaughlin's fancy goods and embroidery shop was on the ground floor, replaced by furniture maker Peter Schops's store by 1864.  He and the church were victims of an arsonist on the afternoon of November 30 that year.

The New York Herald reported that the fire occurred at around 4:00 in the basement under "the house furnishing goods store."  The newspaper said it "got under the flooring of the room used by the Antioch Baptist church" and spread upward.  Schops's loss of stock was about $300 and "damage to the church furniture will be slight," said the article.  "The fire, from appearances, was the work of design."

Schops had more problems in the summer of 1866.  He received his regular shipments of coal for his stove from Alexander & Co.  But when he ordered "one ton W. A. stove coal" on July 20 none arrived.  Five days later he ordered two tons.  That request, too, was unanswered.  As it turned out, none of the numerous customers of Alexander & Co. was receiving his coal.  The court case dragged on, unbelievably, until 1878.

All the while the subterranean church continued on.  The Christian, which sold for 10 cents per issue or $1 for a year's subscription, included the text of sermons.  That was apparent in February 1868 when an advertisement appeared in The New York Times announcing "Rev. S. J. Knapp has a sermon on the 'Beauty of Holiness' in the February number of the Christian."

Two years later, in 1870, the church ordained its new minister, Rev. John Love, Jr.  The Times remarked on August 5, "It is stated that Mr. Love is unusually popular with the congregation worshiping at the Antioch Baptist Church."

Rev. Love took the pulpit as the Franco-Prussian War was breaking out.  He spoke of the conflict in his sermon entitled "Martial Orders" on July 24 in dramatic Victorian prose.  The minister said in part, "The cloud of war, at first no larger than a man's hand, has spread until its pall is thrown over hundreds and thousands, and to-day many a blanched cheek and tearful eye betoken sad forebodings for the future."

A gruesome murder took place on the night of April 26, 1871.  Avery Putnam, a mild-mannered merchant, attempted to defend the ladies whom he was escorting to the theater from a drunk.  William Foster had boarded the streetcar they were on and acted "in a most offensive manner," according to the New-York Tribune.  It ended with Foster striking Putnam on the head with an iron took called a car-hook, killing him.

Again turning to current events for his sermon, Rev. Love vented his outrage from the pulpit on May 7.  And he did not hold back.  He called the deed "a tragedy which for atrocity and wanton cruelty has seldom if ever been equaled; a crime for which there can be no palliation or excuse."   He described Foster as "reeling out of a pot-house, swollen with evil passion, and grossly insulting one of the ladies."

Rev. Love's message was simple.  He quoted the Old Testament passage "The murderer shall surely be put to death."   The Sun reported "Mr. Love next spoke of the necessity of making examples of the perpetrators of great crimes and the good which would result from such a course, and at considerable length defended capital punishment."

Around 1874 Peter Schops started a side-line, repairing broken police station furniture.  In February 1874 he billed the city $21.97 for "repairing chairs."  The bill would be equal to about $488 today.

Somewhat surprisingly, an upstairs tenant at the time owned a piano--a pricey item given the blue-collar status of the occupants.  Her advertisement in The New York Herald on September 20, 1874 read: "A lady, painstaking and conscientious, will give piano lessons at her own or pupil's residence; terms moderate.  Call on or address Music Teacher, 264 Bleecker street."

James B. Miller not only opened his store here around 1879, he purchased the building.  On July 16 that year the Common Council agreed to permit him "to paint his name on side curtain of awning at No. 264 Bleecker street; such permission to continue only during the pleasure of the Common Council."

Miller and his wife, the former Fannie H. Cooper, owned two other properties in the neighborhood.  But a marital rift caused problems.  Following their divorce, Fannie's shares were sold to William H. Miller, presumably a relative of James.

By 1915 the ground floor was home to the Bleecker Cloak & Suit Co., Inc.  The clothing store would remain here at least through 1921.  Then in 1926 owner Benard Lafkowitz, who lived upstairs, made renovations.  The storefront got a make-over, the second floor was converted to an office and apartment, and the third floor and attic became a duplex apartment. 

The original dormer was intact in the 1940's.  The awning announced "Baby Store," quite possibly Klapper's Baby Store which had operated next door at No. 262 earlier in the century.  photo via the New York City Department of Records.
By the last quarter of the 20th century this section of Bleecker Street had changed.  Traditional Italian bakeries, coffee shops and butchers coexisted with trendier boutiques.  In the 1990's Aphrodisia, a spice store that had operated from down the street at No. 282 Bleecker, moved in.  It offered about 2,000 culinary herbs and spices sold from two-gallon apothecary jars.

Melissa Clark, writing in The New York Times on September 8, 1999 gave readers a hint for cutting costs when a recipe called for "the inordinately expensive saffron."  She wrote "One little-known substitute is dried marigold petals...Substitute marigold for saffron in equal measure.  The petals, called calendula, are 55 cents an ounce at Aphrodisia, 264 Bleecker Street."

Aphrodisia was replaced in January 2011 by Bar'rique, described by Florence Fabricant in The Times as an "elaborate wine bar."    It did not last.  A year later in July Fabricant was reporting on the opening of Murray's Cheese Bar.  She noted "Tia Keenan has plenty to work with in putting together a menu of cheeses and charcuterie here, considering that her pantry is the well-stocked caves at Murray's Cheese down the block."

Murray's Cheese Bar still occupies the ground floor and, as it was in 1926, the upper portion contains an office and apartment on the second floor and a duplex above.  A renovation completed in 2013 may have been responsible for the enlargement of the dormer.  Despite its significant alterations, No. 264 and its flanking neighbors are a surviving slice of a much different Bleecker Street in a much different time.

photographs by the author

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

The James J. Imbrie House - 9 East 74th Street

photograph by the author

In the first years following the end of the Civil War development resumed with a fury in New York City.  Clusters of brownstone-fronted rowhouses began sprouting up along the streets of the Upper East Side near Central Park.  Among the speculative developers taking part was Robert H. Coburn who erected a row of five Italianate style residences at Nos. 9 through 17 East 74th Street around 1869.  The 20-foot wide homes were intended for well-to-do families.

The mortgagor of No. 9 found himself in court in the spring of 1896 over a seemingly bizarre dispute with the owner to the rear.  Five years earlier the previous owner had "agreed in perpetuity with the owner of the adjoining premises on 75th Street not to build on certain portions of their lots in order to preserve the light and ventilation of the rear of their houses," as described in The Real Estate Record.  Such covenants were common among moneyed homeowners.

The problem came when No. 9 was lost in foreclosure.  When the mortgagor resold it, he made a profit of $4,019.69--more than $120,000 today.  Now the owner of the 75th Street property sued him for half that amount, claiming the joint easement was responsible for the handsome profit.  The courts did not agree.

By the turn of the century many of the architecturally outdated brownstones of the neighborhood by now were being razed or remodeled.  In two transactions Emily and Edgar Hesslein purchased No. 11 and No. 9 in 1917 .  The titles were put in Emily's name, as was common; and the New-York Tribune said the intention was "to build one large house for her own occupancy."

Edgar Joseph Hesslein was the president of the importing firm Neuss, Hesslein & Company.  The family lived at No. 21 East 46th Street in the neighborhood off Fifth Avenue which, a generation earlier, was among the most exclusive in Manhattan.  Now it was quickly being invaded by commerce.

But before the Hessleins went very far with their plans for the double-wide mansion on East 74th Street, they changed their minds.  Instead in 1919 they brought in the architectural firm of Blum & Blum to radically remodel the two houses.  It appears that George Blum, half of the team with his brother Edward, handled this project.

The massive alterations removed the stoops and brownstone facades to create limestone-faced Italian Renaissance townhouses.  They were harmonious, but decidedly individual in their designs.

The centered entrance to No. 9 sat within a rusticated base.  Directly above was a full-width stone balcony with lacy iron railings which fronted two sets of French doors within arched openings.  The most prominent and romantic feature was the deep fifth floor loggia and red tiled Mediterranean roof; a slice of a peristyle plucked from Rome or Pompeii.

The brownstone next door still survived when this photograph was taken.  Architectural Record, 1920 (copyright expired)
The house was completed in the summer of 1920 and Emily put it on the market around $235,000--about three and a quarter million dollars today.  On October 2, 1920 The Real Estate Record & Builders' Guide reported that Emily Hesslein had sold "the new 5-sty English basement dwelling," saying "the buyer, whose name was not disclosed, will occupy the house."

It was not uncommon for buyers to be secretive; but, of course, it would not be long before their names were discovered.  In a somewhat unusual arrangement James J. Imbrie and his wife, the former Marie McCrea Pritchett, shared equally in the ownership of the property.

(The following May Emily sold No. 11 to the John Wanamaker Jr. and his wife, of Philadelphia.)

Imbrie was the principal of the financial firm Imbrie & Co.  The couple had five children, James, Jr., Dorothy Jane, Janet Morris, Marie Dawn, and Robert McCrea.  Their upscale lifestyle was reflected in their summer estate in Englewood, New Jersey, inspired by Washington's Mount Vernon.

The Imbries' "suburban home."  American Home and Gardens, December 1905 (copyright expired)
As imposing as the Englewood home was, the family upgraded in April 1919 when they purchased John Hersen Rhoades's ten-acre "country place" in Rumson, New Jersey.  The New-York Tribune reported "There is a large modern residence on the premises containing six master bedrooms, six maids' bedrooms, five bathrooms, large reception hall, living room, den, dining room, butler's pantry, kitchen and laundry."  

The massive amounts the Imbries were spending on real estate would prove to be ill-timed.  On March 7, 1921 James transferred his half of the title to No. 9 to Marie.  What might have seemed at first glance to be a loving gesture was, most likely, a desperate attempt to save the property.  Just three days earlier The New York Herald reported that Imbrie & Co. had been placed in receivership and explained "Undigested securities and a shortage of cash and liquid assets formed the basis of the court action."  Despite the transfer, within the month a mechanics lien of $5,865.80 was placed on the house with both James and Marie listed as owners.

Marie managed to retain ownership, but the family soon moved out.  On September 10, 1922 The New York Herald reported "Mrs. James Imbrie [leased] her five story American basement, 9 East Seventy-fourth street, furnished, for the winter to Mrs. W. Murray Crane of Boston."  In reporting the move, the newspaper noted "This is in the so called Rockefeller block."

On July 16, 1924 the New York Evening Post reported that the William H. Vanderbilts were giving their first large dance of the season at Oakland Farm in Newport.  The article added "Mr. and Mrs. Vanderbilt, by the way, are planning to desert Boston, where they lived last winter, and will return to New York at the end of the Newport season.  They have taken a lease on the James Imbrie house; 9 East Seventy-fourth street."  The New York Telegram and Evening Mail added that their lease was for "a long term."

The Imbries, in the meantime, were by no means destitute and earlier that year things were looking up.  On April 8, 1924 The Sun reported that "Imbrie & Co., Ltd. opened their offices to-day at 115 Broadway, after three years' absence from the financial field.  James Imbrie will head the firm as before and will have as associates many financiers well known in banking circles."

The family was now living at No. 40 West 59th Street and had managed, as well, to hold on to their New Jersey summer home.  It was there that the entire family nearly lost their lives in 1927.  Despite being the middle of winter, the Imbries went down for the weekend on February 18.  Their house sat close to the ocean, an enviable spot in the summer months; but not this weekend.

A massive winter gale hit the following day and lasted through Sunday.  Newspapers deemed it the worst since the “Portland Gale” storm of 1898.   On Monday, February 21 The Daily Argus put the death toll so far at 21 and described the Imbries' ordeal.

"The family was trapped in their home.  The edifice was flooded and the water came up about four feet deep.  Imbrie phoned for help and friends responded in a rowboat."

On December 14, 1937 The New York Sun reported that No. 9 had been lost in foreclosure.  There was nearly $97,500 due on the mortgage; more than $1.6 million in today's money.  A renovation was completed in 1937 which resulted in one apartment on the ground floor, two each on the upper floors, and a new penthouse, unseen from the street, above.

Once home to Vanderbilts, when Sybul B. Brown purchased the property in July 1943, The New York Sun described it as a "six story apartment house."  The tenants, nevertheless, were still upscale and well-to-do.

One of them, Evangeline Clark, however, fell behind on a loan from the Household Finance Corporation in 1953.  She opened her door on November 13 to find what today might be called "goons" facing her.   Robert E. Taylor, 28-years-old, and William Murray, 21-years-old, entered the apartment asking for the balance.  When she did not comply, one of them asked "how she could afford an apartment like hers and still owe money to the company," according to the Yonkers newspaper The Herald Statesman.

When Evangeline Clark ordered the men out of her apartment things turned ugly.  She told police "that Murray slapped her face and Taylor grabbed her by the throat."  Clark had them arrested for assault.  Followers of the case may have been surprised when on March 2, 1954 both men were cleared of the charges and discharged.  There was no explanation in the newspapers of what swayed the judge.

Another renovation was completed in 1970 joining the first and second floors as a duplex apartment.  Despite its sometimes rocky history inside; its sedate exterior remains nearly unchanged (other than that unsightly air conditioner gouged into the stone facade).