Thursday, January 31, 2019

The Half-Hidden 1844 No. 46 Commerce Street


photo via streeteasy.com
Alexander Turney Stewart opened his first dry goods store in 1823, selling Irish lace and linens.  His success would skyrocket and by 1848 he was known as the "Merchant Prince of America" and ran the largest emporium in the world, with branches in 12 countries, and before long was among the richest men in America.

Stewart's wealth did not come solely from dry goods.  Early on he invested in real estate, much in the Greenwich Village and Tribeca districts.  In 1844 he erected two brick houses on Commerce Street on land he leased from Trinity Church.   His choice of plots--sitting within the elbow of the street's sharp turn--is somewhat surprising, since it necessitated Nos. 46 and 48 Commerce Street to be built at right angles to one another.

The three stories tall, the brick Greek Revival style homes sat on brownstone-faced English basements.  Both three bays wide, they were intended for financially comfortable, although not wealthy, tenants.

Seen at the bend of Commerce Street, to the right, No. 46 was still three stories tall and retained its stoop and entrance when this photo was taken.  from the collection of the New York Public Library

In 1876 Stewart made a significant change to No. 46 when he hired builders James C. Hoe & Co. to add a fourth story at a cost of $300--in the neighborhood of $7,000 today.  The plans were submitted on March 24.  It would be, perhaps, the last noticeable transaction in the millionaire's illustrious career.  A week later, around April 1, Stewart contracted a cold.  He died in his marble mansion on Fifth Avenue on April 10.

Stewart's wife, the former Cornelia Clinch Stewart, inherited his vast real estate holdings.  Following her death in 1886 her nephew Prescott Hall Butler filed suit to have the will dismissed.   A well-heeled attorney and partner in the "white shoe" law firm of Evarts, Choate & Beaman, his battle proved profitable.  He received a large portion of the Stewart real estate, including the newly-remodeled No. 46 Commerce Street.

In the 42 years since the house was erected the Greenwich Village neighborhood had changed demographically.  It was now filling with immigrant families like that of Gottfried Mieling who lived at No. 46 when Hall took title to it.  Mieling, it seems, was involved in the brewing or saloon business.

In the spring of 1900 Hall began selling off much of his real estate holdings.  On March 9 alone he sold Nos. 53 and 55 Morton Street, and Nos. 46 and 48 Commerce Street.   He died in his Park Avenue mansion the following year, in December.

John Blesch, Jr. purchased No. 46 (his brother, Charles D. Blesch bought No. 48).   As had always been the case, the new owners were landlords, not residents.  And both buildings would remain in the Blesch family for years.

John Moriarty and his wife lived here in 1922 when they received devastating news.  Their son, also named John, was a detective in the Safe and Loft Squad (the team tasked with investigating commercial burglaries).  On Saturday night, June 24 Detective Moriarty was among the team of seven who had been staking out Nos. 306 and 308 Fifth Avenue.  When two burglars were seen entering the building they jumped into action.

The crooks fled onto the rooftops, followed closely by Moriarty and his partner, Detective Charles Schauss.  In the chaos Moriarty was struck by a bullet--fired not by the crooks, but tragically by Schauss.  The New York Times reported "One of the bullets struck a galvanized iron skylight...and, deflecting it, struck Moriarty...in the neck.  As Moriarity reeled toward the top of the stairs another detective saw him and helped him down."

Both of the perpetrators, Joseph Morris and John Behrmann, were caught; but Moriarty's condition was grave.  He was removed to Bellevue Hospital, there two days later it was said he had "slightly improved."  Despite that hopeful announcement, Moriarty died a week later on July 2.

John Moriarty went to the morgue to retrieve his son's body, but, according to The New York Times, "was informed that the body could not be removed until Dr. Charles Norris, Chief Medical Examiner, had performed an autopsy, as is the custom in cases of death from gunshot wounds."  Upon hearing that news, the detective's wife, already grief-stricken, could take no more.

An hour later she demanded that her husband's body be released.  "John gave his life for the City of New York and now it denies me his body.  They will cut and disfigure him against my wishes and against what I know his would be.  There is no excuse for cutting under the circumstances.  We know how he died," she pleaded.

Her father-in-law came to her support.  The New-York Tribune, on July 3, reported "John Moriarty, father of the dead detective, who lives at 46 Commerce Street, also visited Police Headquarters seeking assurance that no autopsy would be performed on the body."

The young John Moriarty left not only a widow but four children.  original source of photograph unknown

Detective Moriarty's funeral, held on July 6, was impressive.  His body was escorted from his home to the Church of St. Alphonsus on West Broadway by 100 detectives and 150 uniformed policemen.  The headline in the New-York Tribune the following day read "Detective Is Pallbearer For Comrade He Shot."

John Moriarty and his wife may have shared No. 46 with another family at the time.  But certainly in 1926 there was more than one family living in the building.  A restriction by the Department of Buildings that year read "not more than 2 families cooking, independently, on premises."

Among those renting part of the house were actress Elsie Rizer and her husband, maritime insurance broker, Aage Woldlike.  The couple was secretly married in Grace Church on November 21, 1925; however (unbeknownst to the minister, Rev. Eliot White), they had built an escape clause into the arrangement in case things did not work out.  On December 21, 1926 The New York Times explained "They agreed that for a year they would consider the marriage 'temporary.'  They told only one friend of the compact."

They had had wedding announcements printed, which they stashed away until the year had elapsed and they knew whether the marriage was a success or a failure.  It was a success.  And so in December 1926 the cards were mailed to their surprised friends:

The experiment having proved successful thus far, Miss Elsie Rizer and Mr. Aage Woldlike desire to announce their marriage Saturday, the twenty-first of November, one thousand nine hundred and twenty-five.  Grace Church, New York.

In 1928 Carlton A. Shively purchased what was described as "a five-story remodeled house."  The building had been sold three times within the past few months.  The stoop had been removed by now and the building contained four apartments and a studio.  The artist studio had been installed in the top floor which Alexander Stewart added in 1876.

Shively announced that the purchase was "for an investment."  Nevertheless, he moved into the house before very long, most likely prompted by his separation from his wife, the former Marie Wilson.  The couple was married on March 26, 1927, a year before Shively purchased No. 46, and had a son.  But on August 28, 1930 they were divorced.

Born in Kansas in 1891, Shively was a well-known financial writer, stock-market analyst and author.  Following his duty with the American Expeditionary Force in France during World War I, he came to New York City, joining the financial staff of The Evening Post in 1920.  In 1925 he moved to The Sun, becoming its financial editor in 1930.

Carlton A. Shively (left) as he appeared in 1946.  from the collection of the University of Texas at Arlington Libraries
In 1950 The World-Telegram acquired The Sun and Shively became an analyst writer for the merged newspapers.  He divided his time between the Commerce Street house and his home in Riverside, Connecticut.

Shively lived quietly here until his death on July 8, 1952.  The New York Times reported that he "died here Tuesday night, apparently of a heart attack.  His age was 61."   Three months later his estate sold No. 46 to the Truckee Holding Company.  The Times commented "Mr. Shively, a financial writer, had occupied the building as his residence until his death a few months ago."

No. 46 is nearly hidden in the sharp turn of Commerce Street.  photograph by the author

Tenants in the apartments came and went through the subsequent decades, drawing little or no attention to themselves.  But then in 2004 a gut renovation of the third and fourth floors created an upscale, 1,200-square-foot duplex apartment for the less low-profile Carly Simon.

The famous singer-songwriter, children's author, and musician lived most of the time in Martha's Vineyard, using the two-bedroom, two-bath Commerce Street co-op as a pied-à-terre when in town.  Four years after the renovation, she put the property on the market for $3.8 million, her sister Joanna Simon explaining to the New York Post "She's selling mainly because she lives nearly full-time in Martha's Vineyard these days."

Perhaps unexpectedly, the duplex did not sell.  It was not until November 2013 that Carly Simon sold it for a reduced price of $2.32 million.  Curbed New York commented "at long last, the apartment has found someone to appreciate its wide-plank flooring, two fireplaces, and bathtub in a non-bathroom (always a highlight)."  That "non-bathroom" was, in fact, Ms. Simon's living room.



Carly Simon's decorating taste included an antique French mantel and, unexpectedly, a bathtub in the living room.  photo via blocksy.com
It was one more page in the ever-changing history of the 1844 house squeezed into the hidden corner of Commerce Street, and of Greenwich Village in general.

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

The Edward S. Harkness Mansion - 1 East 75th Street


photograph by the author


On June 1, 1906 Edward Stephen Harkness purchased the 35 by 115 foot vacant lot at the northeast corner of Fifth Avenue and 75th Street from John R. Ford.   Lavish mansions had been filling the immediate neighborhood throughout past ten years, and Harkness would soon add one more.

The empty lot, surrounded by wooden fencing and billboards in this shot around 1895, sat next to the massive Temple Beth El.  photograph from the collection of the New York Public Library.
Harkness was born in Cleveland, Ohio on January 22, 1874 to Stephen Vanderburgh Harkness and the former Anna M. Richardson (his second wife).  Stephen Harkness had first become wealthy providing crude oil to refineries just after the Civil War.  Later he organized the Euclid Avenue National Bank.  But it was his investment with his stepbrother, Henry Flagler, and John D. Rockfeller in Rockefeller, Andrews & Flager that would make Harkness a vast fortune.  That firm later became Standard Oil.

Edward Harkness's purchase of the vacant plot had much to do with his recent marriage.  In 1904, at the late age of 30, he married Mary Emma Stillman (who was about six months younger than he).  The daughter of attorney Thomas Edgar and Charlott Elizabeth Stillman, she, too, had grown up amidst luxurious surroundings.

On June 22, 1907, The New York Times announced that “Plans have been filed for the new five-story residence to be built by Edward S. Harkness at the northeast corner of Fifth Avenue and Seventy-fifth Street…The house will cost $250,000 according to the estimate of Architects Hale and Rogers.”  (The cost would be more in the neighborhood of $6.73 million today).   

The lot bore an impressive Fifth Avenue address.  But Rogers designed the Italian Renaissance palazzo to face 75th Street.  By turning the structure to the side, he precluded the problem of a long, dark and narrow house.  But it caused a different problem for Harkness.


Edward Stephen Harkness - from the collection of the Thmas J. Watson Library Catalogue
Three years earlier Stuart Duncan had erected his own handsome mansion next door--at No. 1 East 75th Street.  His architect, C. P. H. Gilbert, incorporated the address in the keystone above the door.  But now Edward Harkness wanted that address.  It may have been his reserved personality that resisted the ostentatious Fifth Avenue number; or it may have been that he struggled with the logic of what was truly a 75th Street house bearing an avenue address.  Whatever the case, he demanded the address of No. 1 and got it.  Duncan had to have the bronze lettering "No 3" affixed to his keystone.  

It is commonly repeated that Stephen's mother, Anna, paid for the residence as a wedding present.  The timing, three years after the ceremony, brings that into question.  It is feasible that the house was merely a gift.
Temple Beth El can be glimpsed to the left.  from the collection of the New York Public Library
The serene Renaissance palace was faced in Tennessee marble.  Pretending to contain four stories, there were actually seven--two below ground and another hidden behind the stone balustrade above the cornice.   A light moat was protected by a magnificent cast and wrought iron fence, modeled after the Scalegari tombs of Verona.

The Architectural Record was impressed.  Calling it “free from excess and exaggeration,” it added “if there is any façade on upper Fifth Avenue which gives an effect of quiet elegance by worthier architectural means it has not been our good fortune to come across it.”

Socially reserved, the Harknesses disdained ostentation and the waste of money (Edward often said "A dollar misspent is a dollar lost.")  The couple would prefer to give money to deserving causes than to spend it on pretentious entertainments.  There was, for example, no ballroom in the new mansion.  And Rogers ensured their privacy  by raising the street floor openings just above eye level.  

On one of the subterranean floors he design an innovative refrigerated room.  When temperatures outside fell an exterior door could be opened and the electricity to the room turned off, allowing nature to cool the space--another means of preventing "misspend" dollars.

None of this meant that the Harknesses would live like monks.  The sumptuous interiors drew from several styles.  The Louis XVI reception room had a frescoed ceiling, intricately carved walnut woodwork and crystal chandeliers.  


The tiger skin rug was, perhaps, unexpected in the Marie Antoinette ready reception room.  The New York Architect, March 1911 (copyright expired)
It is used as a meeting room today.  photograph by the author

The Italian Renaissance dining room, at the opposite end of the ground floor, featured a stenciled, beamed ceiling with gilt plaster of paris ornaments that imitated metal.  Two windows on the east wall would look out onto the side wall of the Duncan house.  So artisan Kenyon Cox fashioned them of opaque glass which allowed light into the room but masked the unsightly view.  


One of the pair of Kenyon Cox's windows.  The glass, called "antique" he described as "imperfect, bubbly, slightly greenish."  The Architectural Record, December 1909 (copyright expired)

He told the Architectural Record in 1909 "while I have spoken of leaded glass, the windows are actually put together with copper...and by backing the whole with plate glass, it was found possible to make them perfectly rigid without recourse to supporting bars."  They depicted the allegories of "Abundantia Maris" and "Abundantia Terrae"--the abundance of sea and of land.


The polished limestone walls of the dining room were hung with rich red antique fabrics.  The New York Architect, March 1911 (copyright expired)
Used as the Commonwealth Fund's Board Room today, the walls of the dining room are no longer covered.  Cox's magnificent leaded windows flank the fireplace.  photograph by the author
Rogers had originally designed a grand entrance hall, so arriving visitors would be met with a view of the bronze-railed staircase and polished limestone walls that resembled marble.  The Harknesses balked at the perceived pretentiousness and Rogers reworked the plans, resulting in an unusual configuration.  The entrance doors opened into a small vestibule.  Here visitors would turn left into an entrance room.  The staircase was essentially hidden behind the vestibule and only when guests moved from the reception room to the dining room would it become visible.  The ceiling of the staircase hall was a false skylight of trellises and vines, lit from behind.


For a reason unknown, the glass ceiling of the staircase hall was covered over sometime after the 1920's.  photographer unknown, from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York

The second floor contained just three rooms--rarely seen by visitors.  Off the central "gallery" were the library, which double as Harkness's office, and the music room.  


The second story, or piano nobile, held just three large rooms.  The New York Architect, March 1911 (copyright expired)

The Architectural Record called the gallery "perhaps the most beautiful room in the house."  A Carrara marble fountain with a bronze figure of Pan sat below a vaulted ceiling of Greek and Pompeiian motifs and gilded bronze chandeliers.


The New York Architect, March 1911 (copyright expired)

The gallery is no less grand today.  photograph by the author

The library was paneled in richly veined Brazilian rosewood.  Rogers bathed the room in gentle light by installing dozens of electric sockets in the beams of the Italian Renaissance ceiling to accommodate small light bulbs.


A constellation of small electric bulbs dotted the Renaissance style ceiling.  The New York Architect, March 1911 (copyright expired)
Edward Harkness's library serves as the impressive office of the Commonwealth Fund's president today.  photograph by the author

At the other end of the gallery, the Venetian music room was sumptuous, with a carved ceiling that included painted canvas insets.


For an unknown reason, the music room was renovated in 1920.  Much architectural detail was eliminated, including the painted inserts on the elaborate ceiling.  
The third floor contained Mary's and Stephen's private rooms.  Mary's pretty boudoir was decorated in the French style.  Their bedroom faced 75th Street (although in a few years Stephen had remodeling done to create his own bedroom on the eastern end of the floor).

Mary's boudoir was decidedly feminine in style.  The New York Architect, March 1911 (copyright expired)

There were five guest bedrooms on the fourth floor, along with a room for a valet.  The main staircase ended at this level and access to the top floor was by a service staircase.  Here were rooms for eight female servants (the original census lists them as all Swedish) and the laundry.

Although Harkness briefly served as a director for the Southern Pacific Railroad, he soon turned his attention to full-time philanthropy.  And he was well-equipped to do so.  He already had a massive fortune when, on May 9, 1916, The New York Times reported that he had inherited "all of the stock in the Standard Oil Company" held by his brother, Charles W. Harkness, who died on May 1 that year.  This, said the newspaper, made him "the third largest holder of Standard Oil stock in the world."  The bequest was worth about $60 million at the time.  Within two years Forbes magazine deemed him the sixth-wealthiest person in the United States.


The marble fountain in the gallery survives. photograph by the author 
Harkness, who felt it was "imperative for the wealthy to give back to society through generous benefactions," was no doubt significantly influenced by his mother.  Anna Harkness was highly involved in numerous charities.   With an initial gift of $10 million she founded the Commonwealth Fund in 1918.  Its broad intention was to "enhance the common good."  Naming her son president, she stressed the importance of providing health care to low-income families, minority groups, children and the elderly.

Edward would devote much of his time, money and energy to the Commonwealth Fund.  But his and Mary's philanthropy seemed to know no bounds.  And their interest in Egyptian archaeology proved a boon to both explorers and museums.

On January 30, 1916 The Times reported that the 4,500-year-old "tomb of Perneb is now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in this city, a magnificent addition to its Egyptian department.  It was presented to the museum by Edward S. Harkness."   

And the following year the newspaper reported "A small blue hippopotamus, of Egyptian faiece, is the special treasure in the collection of recent accession of the Metropolitan Museum of Art...The little animal is a gift of Edward S. Harkness, one of the trustees of the museum, and dates back to 1950 B.C."  The relic, which earned the name William, has become an icon of the museum's Egyptian collection.


collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Edward and Mary helped finance Howard Carter's second excavation season of the tomb of Tutankhamen in the winter of 1923-24.  Among the privileged few who saw the dazzling pharaoh's tomb were the Harknesses.  Archaeologist Arthur Cutenden Mace kept a detailed journal which noted on December 12, "Harknesses arrived."  They visited the tomb the following day.  His entry on December 14 included "Mrs. Harkness, Mrs. Lythgoe & Miss Stilman [sic] over in Valley [of the Kings]."


A detail of the sumptuous bronze staircase railing. photograph by the author

The Harkness name appeared in newspapers for their generous donations and funding--almost never for social activities.  While they did host luncheons and dinners, the low-profile couple did not notify the press, as most socialites did.  And when society columnists did get wind of an event, the coverage was minimal.  A one-line report in The New-York Tribune on July 3, 1922, for instance, was frustratingly bare-bones for society watchers.  "Mr. and Mrs. Edward S. Karness entertained at a luncheon at their summer home this afternoon."

That residence was their 186-acre estate "Weekend" on Long Island, designed by John Gamble Rogers.  They also maintained a 230-acred estate, "Eolia," in Waterford, Connecticut overlooking the Long Island Sound; houses in North Carolina and California and a "camp" in the Adirondack Mountains.

Throughout the decades the Harkness philanthropy continued unbridled.  In 1928 Harkness paid $10 million for eight residential buildings for Harvard College, completed in 1931.  In 1930 he donated $11 million to Yale for nine residential colleges, with James Gamble Rogers as architect.  


Edward died on January 30, 1940 at the age of 66.  His body was placed in the Harkness Mausoleum in Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx.  Designed, as expected, by James Gamble Rogers, it was completed in 1924.  Reflective of the Harknesses' disdain for self-promotion or ostentation, their names appear nowhere on the structure.

Edward's will directed that his estate would go to charitable and educational institutions upon the death of his wife.  Mary Harkness died on June 7, 1950 in the white marble palazzo that had been her home for 43 years.


Mary Stillman Harkness from the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art
The Harkness fortune of $60 million was distributed to charities. The collection of art masterpieces were bequeathed to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, including works such as a portrait by Sir Thomas Lawrence, Constable’s Salisbury Cathedral, and Hans Holbein the Younger’s Portrait of a Member of the Wedigh Family.



photograph by the author


The 75th Street mansion was donated to The Commonwealth Fund, which occupies it today. As few changes as possible have been made to the interiors to accommodate administrative offices.  Much of that preservation is credited by current director curator Paul Engel to former president John E. Craig, Jr. who was coincidentally born in a Harkness hospital.

non-credited photographs taken by the author
many thanks to Paul Engle for his time, help and expertise

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

A Mutilated Marvel - The Jones Speedometer Bldg 2160 Broadway


Nearly nothing is left to remind us of Oscar Lowinson's Art Nouveau design.

Joseph W. Jones took a summer job in the 1890's with a phonograph inventor, Emile Berliner.  Quick to learn, he developed his own ideas for improving the device.  He received a patent for his process of creating disc records, which he sold for $25,000 to Columbia Graphophone.  It was the beginning of a long string of inventions from the young man.

Like the popular gramophone, the automobile provided a fertile field for innovation.  In rapid-fire fashion Jones invented taximeters, speedometers, and spring motors.  He established a factory in Rochester, New York, and in 1906 laid plans for a new Manhattan showroom, offices and garage (for installing the instruments in buyers' cars).

(original source unknown)
At the time the long stretch of Broadway above Times Square was known as Automobile Row.  The offices of automobile makers and sellers, as well as tire companies and other related firms lined the thoroughfare for blocks.  Now Jones would join the trend.

On September 15, 1906 The Real Estate Record & Builders' Guide reported that Oscar Lowinson "has been commissioned to design plans for the Jones Speedometer Co...to be erected on a plot at the northeast corner of Broadway and 76th st."  No one could have anticipated the remarkable structure that emerged from Lowinson's drafting table.

Six years earlier the Exposition Universelle had opened in Paris.  It thrust the Art Nouveau style onto the world stage, in the form of textiles, home decorative articles and jewelry, and in architecture.   The style was so identified with the World's Fair that when Lowinson released his renderings for the Jones Speedometer project, The Record & Guide said "The building is designed in the Exposition type."  But Lowinson did not rely solely on the sinuous French model; he melded other regional takes within the Jones Speedometer Building design.

"The Art Noveau [sic] style being particularly fitted for this type of work, Mr. Lowinson availed himself of the experiences of the expositions held in France, Germany and Italy during the past five years to design a structure that would be both an exposition and an advertising building."

Lowinson's office released this rendering.   Record & Guide February 9, 1907 (copyright expired)
On February 9, 1907 The Record & Guide said that the  building "promises to be the finest sample of architectural ensemble devoted to the automobile business in Manhattan.  Mr. Oscar Lowinson, the architect, has spared no pains in making this the finest building of its kind."  

Four stories tall, it used a steel-frame construction to enable vast planes of glass.  Lowinson then decorated the facade with striking Art Nouveau elements of copper, bronze and iron.  Above the ground floor showroom was what the Record & Guide termed "an elaborate cornice extending some distance from the building, supported on ornamental brackets with ornamental grill work over the entrances."  The electric lamps on the piers were giant imitations of the Jones Speedometers, the lettering of the instruments etched into the glass faces.

The upper cornice was spectacular, taking the form of a gently-arched hood on the Broadway elevation.  A large frieze below was decorated with gilded discs.  Corner piers upheld two other lamps over Broadway, "set in allegorical casings representing 'flight.'"

The interiors, too, were in the Art Nouveau style.  The Record & Guide wrote "The second floor has been laid out in the Art Noveau [sic] and contains the various offices, including the private office of Mr. Jones, the inventor, which has been built in oak wainscot treated characteristically."  The basement was used for shipping, and contained the stockrooms, lathes and machinery for testing and fitting the instruments.  The ground floor was an automobile showroom; and the top floor was divided into laboratories and offices.

The Jones Speedometer Building was completed in August 1907 at a cost of $500,000--in the neighborhood of $13.5 million today.  On September 5 the press and other guests were invited to tour the building which Automobile Topics called "a model of completeness and commodiousness."

The Real Estate Record & Guide went further.  "Mr. Lowinson prides himself on having constructed the most characteristic building in the automobile district to-day."  It was, in fact, among the most distinctive structures in any part of the city.

Real Estate Record & Guide, April 18, 1908 (copyright expired)

Automobile Topics noted "Few men of thirty can point to such achievements as stand to the credit of Joseph W. Jones who has become famous in connection with the speed recording instrument bearing his name.  Five years ago he came from Syracuse without a dollar in his pockets, and his energy and inventive genius have in that short time made his name and his product known over the civilized world.

The Automobile focused more on the reporters' lack of manners.  "New York's long and constantly increasing line of automobiling establishments that are daily going up further north along Broadway received a notable addition with the recent formal opening of the Jones Speedometer building...in which ceremony the newspaper scribes duly assisted by punishing the buffet luncheon."


The street-level lamps were oversize copies of the Jones Speedometers seen in this ad. The Motor World March 6, 1912 (copyright expired)

Jones Speedometer initially leased the showroom space to United Manufacturers.  The wholesaler handled not only Jones products (like its speedometer and Jones Electric Horn), but auto accessories of a few other makers.  In May 1910 it moved to No. 239 West 54th Street when it and the tenant there, the Touring Club of America swapped spaces.  The club took not only the first, but the third floors in the Jones Speedometer Building.  Another tenant, The Automobile Blue Book Publishing Company was in the building by 1913.  It was a sign of Joseph Jones's gradual withdrawal from the automotive business.

We are accustomed today to celebrities branding their names onto apparel, sneakers and cosmetics.  In 1915 stage actress Lillian Russell was ahead of the game.  She incorporated Lillian Russell's Own Toilet Preparations, Inc. and moved into the Jones Speedometer Building.

Always on the cutting edge of inventions, Joseph W. Jones was focusing more and more on radio.  In October 1924 he opened a new factory in the Bronx to manufacture his radios and eventually gave up the Broadway headquarters.

The building became home to Friedner & Ebstein, Inc., which listed itself as selling "furniture, interior decorations, works of art."  The firm updated the ground floor, stripping off Lowinson's Art Nouveau cornice and inventive lighting fixtures and replacing the facade with a sleek black-and-chrome Art Deco surface.


Friedner & Ebstein, Inc. remodeled the ground floor.  When this photograph was taken around 1940 the lamp  and decorations of one of the rooftop piers had been lost.  NYC Department of Records
As mid-century approached Gala Record Co. was in the building.  No. 2160 Broadway received four alterations--in 1950, 1953, 1957 and 1968--after which almost no trace of Oscar Lowinson's singular Art Nouveau design--a rarity in Manhattan--survived.

In the last quarter of the 20th century the ground floor was home to Kinsley's restaurant (the service of which New York Times food critic Mimi Sheraton deemed "well-meaning").  It was the beginning of a long tradition of eateries in the space.

The 1980's saw four restaurants come and go; followed by Bertha's Mexican restaurant in 1993, Xando Coffee and Bar in 1997, and Cosi in 2005.  

In the meantime, the Jeff Martin Studio provided aerobics classes on the second floor to "housewives and Broadway dancers; [and] at night, three-piece-suit lawyers and Wall Street number-crunchers," according to director Dianne Feeney in an interview with Times journalist Joanne Kaufman on October 5, 1990.  It closed in 1994, prompting The Times's Beth Landman to recall that it "dominated the 1980's fitness scene in New York with driving aerobic dance."

It was replaced by Crafts on Broadway where children learned sand-art, how to decorate a t-shirt or paint plastic figurines.



Today the building is occupied by a bank; its stark, denuded facade an architectural tragedy.

Sunday, January 27, 2019

A Lost Relic - 47 Prince St


Despite advertisements slathered across its face, the building's former refinement was still evident in the 1920's.  Note the tenant in in the second floor window chatting with a woman on the street.  from the collection of the New-York Historical Society
By the time Mr. Benson moved his family to No. 47 Prince Street, on the northwest corner of Mulberry Street, the house had several tenants.  Built in the late 1820's or early '30's, the Federal-style building may have always had a shop in the ground floor.  While technically two-and-a-half stories tall, the exceptional height of the attic within the gambrel roof made that level nearly a full floor.  Tall dormers on the Prince Street elevation and an arched opening flanked by quarter-round openings on the Mulberry filled the attic floor with daylight.

Mr. Benson had been struggling with a difficult problem in the fall of 1843--three of his children had intestinal worms.  He found the cure, according to an advertisement in The New York Herald on December 19, at Apothecaries' Hall, No. 60 Prince Street just one block away.  The ad claimed "No Room For Doubt--Mr. Benson, 47 Prince street, cured three children with one 18 [cent] box of Kent's Worm Lozenges, after many other medicines had been tried without effect."

The house had originally been built for a merchant class family--possibly the owner of the ground floor shop.  It was 25-feet wide on Prince Street and an ample 80 feet deep on Mulberry.

But by now the neighborhood had noticeably changed.  The tenants were working class, as evidenced by an ad placed by two of them in November 1845. "Wanted--Situations by two Young Women--one as good plain cook, washer and ironer; the other as chambermaid, or nurse and seamstress...Apply at 47 Prince st, first floor, back room."

Over the next decades tenants--many of them women--would continue to struggle to find employment.  In December 1840 one sought a job as "Chambermaid and Seamstress, by a Protestant young Woman, or Chambermaid and to do the fine Washing and Ironing."  Another in March 1852 wrote "A Very Respectable Young Woman Wishes a situation to do chamberwork, and assist in the washing and ironing; she is a good plain sewer, and wishes to make herself useful; will take turns in the kitchen, if required."  And another, in the fall of 1862 marketed herself as "a first rate laundress" and sought "a situation in a hotel or boarding house."

Many of those out-of-work women were struggling Irish immigrants, typical of the changing face of the Prince Street neighborhood.  They eked out their hardscrabble existence in an increasingly rough environment.  That was evidenced on July 16, 1874 when The New York Times reported "Ann McGrath, aged forty-one, of No. 47 Prince street, quarreled yesterday evening with Peter Hughes...when Hughes struck her on the head with a glass causing three severe scalp wounds."  Ann was taken to Bellevue Hospital and her assailant was jailed.

Wealthy New Yorkers escaped the suffocating summer heat at their country homes, or at resorts like Newport.  Impoverished immigrants, on the other hand, suffered the heat at their work and in their rooms.  Each day during the hottest weather newspapers published lists of those who were "prostrated" or had succumbed.  On July 13, 1882 The New York Times added to its list: "William McNeil, a Scotchman, 35 years old, died suddenly at his residence, No. 47 Prince-street, from sun-stroke."

The former store space had been home to Michael Barry's saloon for several years.  Four months before McNeil's passing, Barry had relinquished the lease of the bar to one of McNeil's countrymen, George D. Noremac.

George's real surname was Cameron and he was a celebrity in the rabidly popular walking races; known in Scotland as "King of the Peds."  Early on, in order to stand out among other contestants, he changed his name by simply spelling it backwards.

On March 25, 1882 the New York Clipper noted that Noremac, "the noted young Scotch long-distance pedestrian" had taken the saloon "formerly kept by Michael Barry."  The newspaper felt his name would be beneficial to his new endeavor, saying "his exploits on the pedestrian path should operated to his advantage in business."

Once settled into the new business, Noremac brought his wife, the former Elizabeth Edwards, and their son and daughter from Scotland (they retained the name Cameron).  The family lived above the saloon, renting rooms to immigrant laborer John Ryan, a house painter, and to Noremac's trainer (who doubled as a bartender) George Beattie.

Noremac sponsored his own walking race later that year.  An announcement in the New York Clipper on December 9 read:


George D. Noremac,
47 Prince Street,
will give $125 in prizes for a GRAND 12-HOUR HANDICAP-RACE, limit 8 miles, go-as-you-please, at Wood's Athletic Grounds, Williamsburg, L.I., on Christmas day.  Entrance $3, to close Dec. 18, at the above address.

George poses in his walking gear.  original source unknown

Noremac took in a house guest in 1883, William Cummings another well-known walking racer.  The New York Clipper reported "This famous Scotch pedestrian...is due at this port to-day, June 6, on board the steamer Wyoming."  He had come to New York to participate in several races.  The newspaper noted "On landing in New York Cummings will take up his quarters with George D. Noremac of six-days, go-as-you-please notoriety, at his saloon, 47 Prince street, and there will have his abode a fortnight to get himself thoroughly in condition to fulfill his engagements."

("Six-day, go-as-you-please" races lasted 144 hours and participants could enter and exit the track at will, picking up where they left off after stopping to eat, sleep or rest.  Judges counted their laps and calculated the miles covered at the end of six days.)

Ten days later the same newspaper updated its readers on Cummings's training for his upcoming match against pedestrian William Steele of Pennsylvania.  Calling Cummings the "celebrated Scotch flyer," the "champion of England," and at "the pinnacle of fame," the article noted that he "has been accompanied in his practice-runs by his backer, Noremac, whose public-house at 47 Prince street he makes his headquarters."

On August 18, 1883 Noremac opened a second saloon, at No. 466 Eighth Avenue.  The family moved into the second floor of that location.  It would become a scene of horror.

George Beattie and Elizabeth did not get along well.  He was often drunk and and used abusive language to the other saloon workers.  And she told her husband Beattie was "a nuisance."

Less than a week after moving in, on Thursday August 23, Beattie entered the apartment knowing Noremac was in the saloon awaiting his breakfast.  The children heard a pistol shot, then another.  Elizabeth Cameron lay on the kitchen floor dead, next to the body of her murderer.

Exactly a year later, in August 1884, Noremac gave up the Prince Street saloon.  It was leased to the Williamsburgh Brewing Co.  Breweries commonly operated saloons in the 19th century; an arrangement which made it possible for them to sell only their own ale and beer.

Murto Moriarty and his wife lived in a single room in the house in 1890.  Early in the morning of July 28 he was awakened by noises in the darkness.  The Evening World reported "He jumped out of bed and collared Edward Reardon, seventeen years old...his brother-in-law, and Daniel Flannery, twenty-one years old."  They had stolen $2 from Moriarty's clothes before being caught.  Moriarty did not let family ties (nor his wife) influence his actions.  He had the teen and his accomplice hauled off to the Tombs Police Court.

James Curtin seems to have been working in the saloon in August 1894 when he sought a new position.  His ad read "Steady, sober waiter wants a job in a downtown lunch-room or restaurant."  Most likely the reason for his career move was his advance notice that the saloon was closing down.

Within months the ground floor space was home to Samuel Cohen's cigar shop.  He employed five men, two teen-aged boys, and two females (one in her teens) to make his cigars.  Cohen would remain until 1901 when Francesco Marchioni leased the space, converting it to a restaurant.  Marchioni's operation lasted seven years.  In 1904 he was paying $500 annual rent on the space, or nearly $1,200 per month today.

In March 1908 Gaetano Mangano took over the lease of the store, paying exactly twice the rent.  It was most likely he who converted the restaurant to a corner store where neighbors could purchase staples like cigarettes and flour.


Murad Cigarettes paid for visible signage above the Prince Street shop windows by the 1920's.  Life magazine, January 1905 (copyright expired)

In 1924 the end of the line for the old structure was on the horizon.  The corner store was boarded up and photographs show the upper floors apparently vacant.

The gritty personality of the Soho neighborhood is evidenced in this 1924 photo.  The corner store is boarded up.  from the collection of the New-York Historical Society.
Ten years later Berenice Abbott photographed the still-vacant building.  from the collection of the New York Public Library
The venerable building lasted just over a century.  Its replacement building was demolished around 2008 and the subsequent structure by Kevin Byrne Architects, P.C., was completed in 2017.