Saturday, July 20, 2019

Dr. Lloyd's Sanitarium - 6-8 St. Nicholas Place

In 1884 John Fink commissioned architect Richard S. Rosenstock to design a commodious suburban home in the area that would later be dubbed Sugar Hill.  The principal in the pork packing firm of John Fink & Son, his new residence would reflect his significant personal wealth.

Rosenstock designed a three-story, freestanding residence in the trendy Queen Anne Style.  Although his plans called for a "brown stone front dwelling," only the basement and first floor were faced in rough cut stone.  The second floor was clad in brick and the top floor in wood.  True to the Queen Anne style, the house featured a riot of angles, shapes, and colors.  Dormers poked through the fanciful jerkinhead gables, and a corner tower clung to the two upper floors.  A profusion of stained glass and scattered carvings delighted the eye.  The cost of construction would be equal to about $924,000 today.

Carved portrait keystones and stained glass transoms survive at the northern corner.

Located at No. 8 St. Nicholas Place, on the northeast corner of 150th Street, Fink's stylish home and its bucolic hilltop location may have been a deciding factor in James A. Bailey's decision to built his imposing mansion on across the street, at No. 10The Real Estate Record & Builders' Guide, on January 16, 1896, commented "One of handsomest residences on this avenue is that of John W. Fink, son of Commissioner Fink of railroad fame.  It is situated o the northeast corner of One Hundred and Fiftieth street, and is a three-story ornate stone front building, having all the modern improvements."

The original entrance porch with its sideways stoop is evident in this early photo, as is the wonderful turret.  Directly behind is the James A. Bailey house.  from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York 

An avid boater, Fink was active among the wealthy sportsmen of northern Manhattan.  On May 29, 1888, for instance, The Evening World commented, "John W. Fink, of the Friendship Boat Club, is said to be the probable winner of the junior singles of the Harlem River regatta."

The construction date is worked into the elaborate carving on the first floor chimney back.
A delightful detail is Stein's continuing the gable level over the chambered rear corner.

That same year Fink sold the house, along with the vacant property extending east to Edgecomb Avenue, to real estate operator Charles E. Runk and his wife, Aurelia.  Runk was also the treasurer of the Washington Heights Taxpayers' Association, and a partner in the Oneota Fertilizer and Chemical Co.

The Runks' ownership would be short-lived.  On March 9, 1891 they sold No. 8 to Sigmund Bergmann for $31,750, just over $900,000 today.  Bergmann was a partner with Edward H. Johnson and Thomas Alva Edison in the Bergmann Electric & Gas Fixture Co.

Sigmund Bergmann was a partner with inventor Thomas A. Edison.  Electrical Review and Western Electrician, December 21, 1912 (copyright expired)
Bergmann had left his native Germany in 1870 at the age of 21, already trained as an engineer.  The Electrical Review and Western Electrician later explained "He was associated with Edison for several years and being imbued with the idea that he should turn his talents in a direction that would insure to him the greatest possible personal reward he established a business of his own."  That move did not injure his friendship with Edison nor their businesses connections.  His lifelong friend, Francis Jehl, later said "many of Edison's experiments were made in the Bergmann shop, while the phonograph was to a great extent developed with Bergmann's assistance."

In 1893 Charles Runk sold the undeveloped eastern plot and at the same time removed the restrictive covenants John Fink had originally built into the deeds.  It was a move that would have serious impact on No. 8 a few decades later.

Simultaneously Jacob P. Baiter and his wife, Kate, began construction on their upscale residence next door at No. 6.  Their architect, Theodore G. Stein, file plans on May 26 for a 25-foot wide, four story brick dwelling to cost $35,000 (or about $1 million today).  Completed the following year, it could not have been more different than its neighbor.

Stein had turned to the more formal Renaissance Revival style with undeniable Romanesque Revival influences.  He embellished the beige brick with terra cotta decorations and included a rounded bay at the second floor.  The top floor took the form of a steep mansard, its gabled dormer ornamented with an intricate panel of tangled bows, wreaths and swags.

Jacob Baiter was the East Coast manager of the Fleischmann Yeast Company, and so it is most likely not a coincidence that Max Fleischmann would soon live almost directly across the street at No. 400 West 149th Street.  Yeast was an important part in the making of alcohol, and both men were involved, as well, in the Ridgewood Distillery, the Eastern Distilling Co., and the Somerset Distilling Co.

Originally a high sideways stoop led to the doorway.

Jacob and Kate had two sons, Charles William Grevell and Louis J. Baiter.  Kate Baiter died in the house on October 26, 1898.  Her funeral was held here three days later.

Jacob's grief was rather short lived.  The following year he married and transferred title to No. 6 to his new wife, Carrie.  The Evening Post Record of Real Estate Sales listed the transaction as "gift."

In 1909, the same year that Charles Baiter was married, Dr. Henry William Lloyd purchased No. 8.  Charles Runk's removal of the deed restrictions allowed Lloyd to convert the house to The Audubon Sanitarium.  Having a private hospital next door may have been too much for the Baiters, and in October 1911 they sold their home to Dr. Lloyd for $75,000.  The Sun reported that he "will use it for his own occupancy."

And, indeed, he did--for a few months.  In 1912 he joined the two structures with a somewhat ungainly addition.  A new entrance was established within the new portion.

In 1942 the former Baiter house still retained its stoop.  via the Office for Metropolitan History

Things inside the upscale sanitarium did not always go smoothly, sometimes resulting in unwanted publicity.  On March 18, 1912, for instance, The Sun reported on the investigation by Coroner Holzhauser and the police into "the death of Miss Alice Anderson in the sanitarium of Dr. Henry W. Lloyd at 8 St. Nicholas place early yesterday morning."

The article carefully tip-toed around the fact that Alice, who was 30-years-old, had come for an abortion.  According to Dr. Lloyd, she had already received a botched procedure and that he told her "that she probably would not survive the second operation."  So certain was he that his patient would die, before starting the procedure he sent for a priest to hear her confession.  Before she died she "told her three sisters who was responsible for her condition," said The Sun.

Five months later a journalist from The Sun was back, this time at the request of Mrs. Sarah Harris.  The 34-year-old, referred to as "the sufferer" by the newspaper, had been stricken with a "strange malady" three years earlier which paralyzed her from the neck down.  Able to move only her head, she had lain in the same position the entire time.

On August 31, 1912 the newspaper entitled its article "Woman Paralytic Begs State To End Her Life."  In it Sarah pleaded "We have our Societies for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, which put out of their agony injured and sick animals, but human beings for whom medicine can do nothing are kept on in their torture.  Why should this be?"

Mrs. Harris did not get her wish and in 1915, when Dr. Lloyd hired architect George H. Hardway to enlarge the sanitarium, she was still a patient.  The addition housed a "new maternity hospital," as described by The New York Times.

Close inspection reveals a winged, terra cotta rampant lion atop the gable.  The stylized sunflower on the metal facing below is a familiar Queen Anne motif.
Dr. Lloyd's Audubon Sanitarium saw celebrated figures come and go.  In 1917 the wife of preacher Billy Sunday received an emergency appendectomy.  The operation removed a "strangulated tumor" as well.  On May 20 The New York Times noted "Though deeply distressed by his wife's illness, Billy Sunday preached last night to 22,000 persons."

The same operation was performed on Lucien Muratore, principal tenor of the Chicago Opera Company in February 1922.  Newspapers carried updates on his condition for days.

Dr. Henry W. Lloyd sold the properties in January 1925 to the Louis H. Low Syndicate.  There were 100 rooms in the complex at the time.  The new owners, according to The Times on January 24, had already leased it to the newly-formed Lloyd's Sanitarium, Inc. (headed by Dr. Victor Low) "who will continue the operation of same after extensive alterations and improvements."  Architect Henry F. Schlumbohn, Jr. was called upon to update the hospital and dispensary.

By 1935 the name had been changed to The Community Hospital.  The admission fee was 35 cents and a "revisit fee" was a quarter.

The clinic was gone by mid-century, when the mish-mash of buildings was operated as a 53-room hotel.  As the neighborhood declined, so did the the property and by 1983 it was run by the city's welfare program as the Dawn Hotel, "housing formerly homeless families," according to The New York Times on August 25 that year.

The Dawn Hotel sat within what had become a gritty neighborhood.  Late on the night of December 6 a man entered the lobby and got into an argument with the clerk.  At around 1:00 on the morning he returned, armed with a pistol  and, according to police, "shot the clerk in the chest and fled from the hotel."  

As the Sugar Hill neighborhood improved in the 21st century, the Dawn Hotel did not.  A New York Senate report in January 2017 on the State's "unclean, unsafe, dangerous temporary shelter system" awarded the Dawn Hotel the uncomplimentary title of No. 1 in the top ten hotel violators in the state.  The facility was closed by 2018.

The once handsome houses have been sorely abused throughout their various connected uses.  And yet glimpses of their former splendor still manage to seep through.

photographs by the author

Friday, July 19, 2019

The 1902 John Sanford Barnes House - 10 East 79th Street

John Sanford Barnes was born at the United States Military Academy at West Point on May 12, 1836, the son of Lieutenant James Barnes who was an instructor there.  Barnes would later good-naturedly say that he came from "good old stock."  His ancestors had left England to escape religious persecution in the 17th century.

Unlike his Army father, he joined the Navy in June 1851 at just 14 years old and was appointed to the newly-organized Naval Academy at Annapolis by the Secretary of the Navy, William A. Graham.  His seven-year career in the navy included an extraordinary fete.  

He was assigned to the Saratoga, but transferred to the schooner Hoyt in St. Thomas on May 6 1856.  Yellow fever was raging through what Barnes later described as "this dirty town."  Nearly the entire crew of the Hoyt, including the captain and mate, had died of the disease and the United States Consul gave Barnes the duty of sailing it to Philadelphia with its cargo of flour.  With a crew of five sick men--he himself becoming so ill that he could not stand--Barnes managed to sail the vessel to the Capes of Delaware where he was taken to a hospital.  

Although he resigned on October 1, 1858, his rank was restored with the outbreak of the Civil War.  While on a short furlough on September 12, 1863 he married Susan Brainbridge Hayes, daughter of Captain Thomas Hayes of the U.S. Navy and granddaughter on her mother's side of Commodore William Bainbridge.  He retired with the rank of captain in February 1869.

Barnes studied law, and then practice in Albany and New York; became a partner with John S. Kennedy in the banking firm of J. S. Kennedy & Co., and was president of railroads in the West and Southwest.  He was the first president of the Navy History Society and an organizer of the New York Zoological Society.

On September 6, 1901 architect Grovenor Atterbury filed plans for a new home for the Barnes family.  They called for a six-story, "stone front dwelling" on the 30-foot wide plot.  The cost was projected at $50,000--about $914,000 today.  The site was on the famous "Cook Block," where, by deed restrictions, only the most splendid homes could be built.  

Construction got underway in January 1902 and was completed within the year.  

A glass and iron marquee originally sheltered the entrance.  photo by Wurts Bros. from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York

Atterbury had achieved a dignified and restrained combination of Beaus Arts and neo-Italian Renaissance styles.  The high iron fencing that protected the areaway continued up the stoop, too tall and elaborate to be termed railings.

The continuing of the fencing up the stoop is nearly unique.

The openings within the two-story bowed bay were framed in near Gibbs surrounds.  The bay provided an iron-railed balcony at the fourth floor.  The double-height mansard was clad in clay tiles which continued onto the roofs of the topmost dormers.

John and Susan had five children, James, Jonathan Stanford, Edith, Charlotte and Cornelia.  Their summer estate was in Lenox, Massachusetts.  The 79th Street mansion was filled with treasures--artworks, military artifacts and documents, and antiques.  In 1912 a friend, calling Barnes a "true art-lover and collector," said "he delighted in good pictures and rare old china, and his country house at Lenox, Massachusetts, and his city home on Seventy-ninth street, New York, contain many beautiful things, not prized because of their intrinsic value, but because they had been slowly acquired and chosen by himself."  

This astounding room in the Barnes house looks as if it could have been plucked from a 15th century manor house.  photo by Byron Company from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York

The Barnes collection of historic military items was increased following the death of Susan's brother, Richard Somers Hayes.  The Watertown [New York] Daily Times reported on March 18, 1905 "Capt. Hayes has left among other things to his sister, Mrs. John S. Barnes of 10 East Seventy-ninth street, a pair of pistola presented to Commodore [John] Barry by [John] Paul Jones himself, and these pistols, added in the collection of Jones relics already in the possession of the Barnes family, makes a Jones collection which is said to be the finest in existence."

The pistols joined a museum-worthy collection that included the logbook of the Bon Homme Richard, many letters written by John Paul Jones, and his commission, signed by John Hancock.  The Watertown Daily Times wrote "Other relics of interest were swords, pistols, sea paintings, logbooks and documents handed down by the two commodores and succeeding naval members of the family.  In fact, the whole of Mr. Barnses' 'den' was furnished with historic articles."

John Sanford Barnes - John Sanford Barnes, A Memorial, 1912 (copyright expired)
By now Barnes had essentially retired, spending his time writing.  He published The Log Books of the 'Serapis,' 'Alliance,' and 'Ariel,' a compilation of Jones's logbooks; and in 1910 wrote his autobiography, entitled The Egotistigraphy, intended for his family's eyes only.  He was active in outdoor recreation, as well.  Into his 60's he continued to enjoy golf and bicycling.

John and Susan were active philanthropists.  He sat on the board of directors of the New York House of Refuge, and the Home for Juvenile Delinquents on Randall's Island. 

Daughter Cornelia's engagement to Francis Rogers was announced in the spring of 1911.  On April 16 The Sun announced that after visiting in Boston she "returned to town on Friday.  Miss Barnes and her fiancé...have decided on a May wedding."  The ceremony was possibly hurried along because her father, now 75-years old, was gravely sick.

Exactly three weeks later, on May 7, the newspaper advised "John S. Barnes, who has been so ill, is getting better fast and the wedding of his daughter, Miss Cornelia Barnes, and Francis Rogers, will take place in May, as was planned."  Barnes was not improving to the point that he could travel and on the morning of May 17 The New York Press reported "The marriage of Cornelia Barnes and Francis Rogers will take place this afternoon in the home of her parents, Mr. and Mrs. John S. Barnes, No. 10 East Seventy-ninth street.  Owing to the illness of the bride's father, none but relatives will be present at the ceremony.  There will be no reception."

Six months later, on November 22, John Sanford Barnes died in the 79th Street mansion.  The family held his funeral at the Church of the Incarnation rather than in the house.  The New-York Tribune mentioned "Mr. Barnes belonged to many organizations, including the Union League, Metropolitan, Union, University, Knickerbocker, Down Town, Riding, Whist and Westminister Kennel clubs."  

A memorial booklet added "As he was sincere in his love, his likings and his expressions of thought he seemed to bring out sincerity in others in their daily contact with him.  His servants, like his sons and daughters, felt this influence; their devotion was not lip-service--it was from the heart."

Susan, who was 72 at the time, remained in No. 10 with Charlotte, who was still unmarried.  She received the equivalent of $52 million from her husband's estate.  The women continued to summer in Lenox, their names appearing less often in the social columns.   On July 16, 1913 The Sun mentioned "Mrs. John Sanford Barnes and Miss Charless R. Barnes, who are passing the summer in Lenox, will go to Coldbrook, Vt., on July 22 to be the guests of Mr. and Mrs. S. Warren Sturgis."

On the morning of May 16, 1915 Susan Bainbridge Barnes died in the 79th Street house.  As had been the case with her husband, her funeral was held at the Church of the Incarnation.

Among the items listed in her massive estate were a diamond necklace appraised at more than $180,000 in today's dollars, and valuable paintings like Jules Jacques Veyrasat's "Horseshoeing," and Paul Léon Jazet's "Cavalry on the Road."  The estate was divided into equal shares among the five children.

Charlotte continued to live in the house.  It was leased for the winter season of 1916-17 to James Byrne.  The rent was not inexpensive; about $354,000 by today's standards.  It would not be a joyous Christmas here for the Byrne family.  They had earlier adopted a little Pekingese dog, Teddy, which had been rescued from war-torn Europe.  But now he was missing.

On December 26 The Evening Telegram reported that "his little owner, Miss Sheila Bryne," was disconsolate.  Teddy "is lost, and therefore a gloomy Christmas was passed by her.  Teddy 'sneaked' out the front door of the Bryne home, at No. 10 East Seventy-ninth street, when an armful of Christmas presents arrived."

Happiness eventually returned and on Valentine's Day 1917 the Brynes hosted a dance in the house for debutantes Teresa Fabbri, debutante daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Ernesto G. Fabbri; and Flora Whitney, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Harry Payne Whitney.

On August 15, 1917 that year Charlotte was married to attorney Shelton Edward Martin.  The Barnes family, nonetheless, temporarily retained possession of the 79th Street house.  The following winter season it was leased to millionaire I. Townsend Burden and his wife, the former Florence Sheedy.

It would be the last of the winter leases.  In August 1918 the Barnes estate sold it to Sumner Ballard for the odd amount of $183,750--around $3 million today.  In reporting the sale the Real Estate Record & Builders' Guide noted "The Barnes house stands on the famous Cook block, bounded by Fifth and Madison avenues, 78th and 79th streets, where the homes of some of the city's most prominent citizens have had their residences."

Ballard was president of the International Insurance Company.  He had been living in an upscale apartment over Sherry's on Fifth Avenue at 45th Street; but had to find new accommodations when the Guaranty Trust Company laid plans to demolish the building for its new headquarters.  The Sun commented, "Mr. Ballard was one of the many notable New York business men and financiers who were made homeless by the taking over of Sherry's."

The bachelor spread his influence among a variety of insurance firms other than the International Insurance Company.  He was the United States manager of the Metropolitan Insurance Company of Cuba, of the National Insurance Company of Copenhagen, the New India Assurance Company, Ltd., of the Osaka Marine and Fire Insurance Company, and the Skandinavia Insurance Company.  Ballard's wealth and distinguished pedigree were evidenced in his memberships to the Society of Mayflower Descendants, the St. Nicholas Society, the Metropolitan Club, Downtown Association, Sewanhaka Yacht Club, the Turf and Field Club, the Society of Colonial Wars, Sons of the Revolution and the Pilgrims.  

The absence of a Mrs. Ballard did not put a crimp in entertainments at No. 10.  The society wedding of Ballard's niece, Frances H. Ballard, to John H. Vincent, took place in the house on May 1, 1925.  Sumner gave the bride away before an assemblage that included Mrs. Thomas A. Edison, the Duke and Duchess of Richelieu, Mrs. William Kingland Macy, Jr., the Frederick F. Alexandres, among other notable society figures.

Three weeks later The New York Times commented, "One of the few formal dinners of this month will be given by Sumner Ballard tomorrow night at his home, in East Seventy-ninth Street, for the Duke and Duchess de Richelieu."

As a matter of fact, Ballard kept society columnists on their toes with his frequent, lavish entertainments.  On January 8, 1927 he gave a dinner and musicale for 79 guests; another in December that year for the about the same number--always including top tier names like de Rham, Twombly, Kountze, Frelinghuysen, Phelps, Rhinelander, Brokaw and de Koven.

An interesting twist was the dinner and musicale he hosted on December 10, 1929.  The Times noted "The music that followed the dinner was given in the roof garden."  It was, in reality, the top floor, and was used several times.  On February 14, 1931 Sumner gave a dinner for Lady Cowdray and her granddaughters.  "After dinner," reported The New York Times, "a cabaret performance was presented in the music room and roof garden on the top floor of the house, and there was general dancing, for which additional guests came on."

The house was again the scene of a wedding when another niece, Rosamond Egleston Ballard was married to W. J. Symington Phillips on March 29, 1931.  

In the fall of 1941 the 75-year-old was taken to the Harkness Pavilion where he died on October 23.  Survived by only two sisters, his 79th Street home was sold to the New York Archdiocese of the Greek Orthodox Church of North and South America, which moved in in 1942.

The Philippines suffered multiple blows that year.  The islands were occupied by the Japanese, whose soldiers slaughtered the caraboas, or water buffaloes, for food--making it impossible for farmers to grow enough rice to feed the population.  To exacerbate the emergency, deluges ruined much of the crops that year.  

The Archdiocese responded and on April 25, 1943 The New York Sun, in reporting on a city-wide clothing drive for the victims, reported "Tomorrow will be 'Greek Day' in the drive, and Archbishop Athenagoras, head of the Greek Orthodox Church of North and South America, will open his residence at 10 East 79th street, to serve as a clothing collection depot for the day."

The 1970's were a time of protest for any number of political and social issues and No. 79 was not immune.  On July 13, 1970 The New York Times reported that about 100 members of the Pan-Hellenic Fellowship, "dedicated to the preservation and protection of the Greek language," had staged a demonstration across the street from the house.  The protest, according to the group's president, was against "alleged efforts of Archbishop Iakovos to drop Greek from the liturgy and set up an independent American church."

Demonstrators were back in May 1971 as the Greek Independence Day Parade neared.  Archbishop Iakovos had not backed down from his intention to introduce more English into the Greek services.  He held that "English is essential to arrest the drift away from the church by second-generation and third-generation Americans of Greek descent."  

The older Greeks were concerned about a breakdown in traditions.  And the issue became heated.  On May 8 The New York Times reported "Bomb threats were received at one church and there were bitter disagreements in others and even a scuffle.  During one service a churchgoer shouted that the Archbishop should be lynched.  Demonstrations against the change have been held across the street from the archdiocesan headquarters at 10 East 79th Street."

A much friendlier group filled the street on April 14, 1977.  Pope Shenouda III, the head of the Greek Orthodox Church, was the guest of honor at a reception and prayer service hosted by Archbishop Iakovos.   An equally prestigious reception was held by the Archbishop on February 13, 1964 for Queen Frederica and Princess Irena of Greece.

Potted evergreens flank the entrance, exactly as they did in the vintage photograph when the Barnes were in residence.
The mansion, little changed, remains in the possession of the church.

photographs by the author

Thursday, July 18, 2019

The Henry J. Holbrook House - 437 Washington Street

Although only a block away from the riverfront, No. 437 Washington Street exhibited the elegant details of an upper middle class home.  The Federal-style house was 25-feet wide and two-and-a-half stories tall.  One or two dormers would have pierced its peaked roof.  A short stoop let to the entrance below a paneled, arched lintel.  Most likely fluted columns and leaded sidelights would have flanked the doorway and a delicate fanlight filled the transom.  The Flemish-bond brickwork of the facade contrasted with the paneled brownstone lintels.  According to the New-York American For the Country on February 9, 1830, it was home to Henry J. Holbrook.

The doorway would have been very similar to this one, nearby on Hudson Street.  from the collection of the New York Public Library
Holbrook had just suffered a devastating loss a few days earlier.  He ran his "dry goods and cloth store" nearby at No. 427 Washington Street.  On February 5 the New York NY Spectator explained "The building was an old fashioned wooden one, with a fire place in the cellar.  This had been boarded up, and a quantity of soot from the other flues had collected there."   The previous Saturday "a hot fire had been kept in the store, and some burning soot had fallen down and ignited that in the cellar." Holbrook stored a large amount of stock in the cellar which was heavily damaged by "tumbling water, and scorching."

The following year Holbrook left No. 437.  An advertisement in the New York Morning Courier offered "to let the two story dwelling house No. 437 Washington Street."  It was leased by a Mrs. McCoy, who operated it as a boarding house.

If Mrs. McCoy attempted to run a respectable business, her miscreant son posed a problem.  On August 27, 1834 the Mourning Courier and New-York Enquirer reported "A Desperado by the name of William McCoy, well known at the Police Office as one of the greatest rogues about town, was brought up by Smith, the officer, who apprehended him at Corlear's Hook, and charged by Samuel Long with having robbed him of $32 in bank notes, together with several articles of wearing apparel."

Long was one of Mrs. McCoy's boarders.  While he was away from the house on Saturday night August 23, William McCoy entered his room and rifled through his trunk.  The newspaper reported "Circumstances which clearly established the guilt of the prisoner, induced the magistrate to commit him for trial."

Eight months later the McCoy family left.  An auction announcement on April 22, 1835 in the Morning Courier and New-York Enquirer said the family was "breaking up housekeeping."  Everything was for sale, from the "carpets, sideboards, tables, chairs, [and] looking glasses" to the "beds and bedding, china, glass, &c. &c."

The house became home to Edward M. Hoffmire, the city's Superintendent of Repairs.  Hoffmire was also highly-involved in the Fire Department.  It would not be until 1865 that the Fire Department was organized from a collection of volunteer companies to a professional force.  The smooth operation of the loosely-connected companies relied on men like Hoffmire.  He was not only a member of Engine Company 6; but in 1835 was on the Committee on Donations for the Fire Department and on the department's Committee of Finance.  For years Hoffmire was, as well, a trustee of the New-York Fire Department Fund.  Its object was "to relieve the widows and orphans of deceased firemen, and to assist sick or disable members and their families."

It appears that Hoffmire took in at least one boarder.  In 1841 59-year old Samuel Matthus, a watchman (the term for a foot patrolman before the organization of the Police Department) died "after a lingering consumption," according to a newspaper.  His funeral was held in the house two days later.

In July 1842 Hoffmire was promoted to Superintendent of Buildings.  His former employees presented him with what The New York Herald described as "A large silver pitcher of beautiful fashion, chased and embossed in elegant finish."  The newspaper noted "It is a tribute from the hands of those who can appreciate the character of the gentlemanly recipient of their good feelings."

Hoffmire remained at No. 437 through 1847, after which he moved to West 18th Street.  He soon died there, on May 24, 1848, "of consumption" at just 47-years-old.

The change from a quiet residential neighborhood to a commercial one was hinted at in an advertisement in The New York Herald on June 8, 1853:  "To Let--The House 437 Washington Street, suitable for any kind of business.  Inquire on the premises."

It would be years, however, before it was converted for business purposes.  Nevertheless, the boarders who now lived here reflected the declining tenor of the area.

In 1860 the New York Morning Express reported "Patrick Kennedy, an errand boy 15 years of age, living at 437 Washington street, was arrested by officer Walsh of the Harbor Police, charged with stealing a new boat valued at $50."  The cost of the boat would translate to just over $1,500 today.

Nothing had changed to the house by the end of the Civil War.  When it was again put on the market in February 1864 it was described in The New York Times as a "two-story and attic brick building."  And following a small fire in 1867 the New York Fire Department called it a "two-and-one-half story brick boarding house."

On February 17, 1870 The Evening Telegram entitled an article "Capture of a Gang of Rowdies" and reported "A gang of roughs of the respective names of August Aitiag, William Derrick, Henry Black and Ernest Llandewn, all of them having a very rough, 'bad-egg' appearance, were brought before Judge Dowling, charged with assaulting and violently beating a man named James Cahill, and also cutting him with a knife."

Cahill, his brother Edward, and a man named Murphy were at the corner of Washington and Debrosses Street, steps away from No. 437, at around 11:30 the night before.  Suddenly they were surrounded by the gang and Cahill was knocked down, beaten and stabbed.  It was a senseless crime that did not appear to involve robbery.  The article noted that an hour after the attack "all the prisoners were found secreted at 437 Washington street, by officer Stein, of the Fifth precinct."

By the early 1870's the parlor floor had been converted to Henry Iblo's dry goods store.  It was probably at this time that the window next to the entrance was altered into a doorway for the shop.  Like all store owners in the neighborhood, Iblo had to be vigilant for shoplifters.  On November 11, 1874 the Evening Telegram reported that "Benjamin Davis, of No. 19 York street, was committed for stealing $20 worth of clothing from Henry Iblo, of 437 Washington street."

Major change came in 1907 soon after Arthur M. Bullows purchased the property.  On December 25 the New-York Tribune reported that plans had been filed "for making over the two story and attic two family dwelling house No. 437 Washington st. into a three story and basement loft building, with a two story rear extension."  The renovations cost Bullows the equivalent of $276,000 in today's money.

Architect Otto L. Spannhake's addition is evidenced by the change in brickwork.  The Flemish-bond of the original floors was contrasted with less expensive running bond; and the difference in brick color clearly marks the new construction.  As would be expected, there was no effort at matching the early, paneled lintels.  

The alterations were done for Bullows's new tenants, the Empire Ornamental Glass Co., which simultaneously signed a ten-year lease.  In reporting on the deal the Real Estate Record & Builders' Guide noted "The company will occupy the entire building after it has been altered and enlarged."

The Empire Ornamental Glass Co. manufactured glass signs and other commercial items.  Among its clients was the Coca Cola company.  The company would remain in the building at least through 1918.

The Empire Ornamental Glass Co. produced this "coin changer" or plate, from No. 437 Washington Street around 1908.

By the 1920's the building was home to the American Fruit Growers' Association warehouse.  Among its employees was Patrick Powers, a middle-aged messenger who had worked for the firm since boyhood.  He was well-known along Washington Street, The New York Times saying "He had become a character in the neighborhood...and acquired the name 'Methodical Pat.'"

Pat went missing on November 20, 1925.  Detectives of the Missing Persons Bureau were called in, but no trace of the 65-year old could be found.  Then, on November 25 an employee discovered his body at the bottom of the elevator shaft.  The Times reported "The police believe he had fallen down the shaft on Nov. 19."

On November 1, 1936 the trucking and storage firm Beach Transportation Company leased what The New York Sun described as the "three-story warehouse."  

Seven years later John Wagner received his license for "on-premises consumption" of liquor.  It is unclear how long the bar remained in the first floor; but the Tribeca renaissance caught up with the address in 2008 when a conversion began that resulted in two residential units.

While the use of the vintage building as a 20th century warehouse is evident, it miraculously retains much of its Federal architectural detailing.  Little imagination is necessary to imagine Henry Holbrook dejectedly climbing the stoop after his nearby store was damaged by fire nearly two centuries ago.

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

The 1930 Hoover Building - 505 Eighth Avenue

At around 2:00 on the afternoon of April 13, 1904 the Sagamore Hotel suffered a catastrophic structural failure.  The corner section of the decades-old structure on the northwest corner of Eighth Avenue and 35th Street collapsed to the street.  One person was killed and six others injured.

The Sagamore Hotel as it appeared just minutes after the collapse.  photograph from the collection of the New York Public Library
The site was developed with four four-story structures.  Steps away from Pennsylvania Station they sat within what was rapidly becoming Manhattan's Garment District by the late 1920's.  On May 14, 1928 the New York Evening Post reported that the newly-formed 505 Eighth Avenue Corporation, headed by Jacob M. Eisenberg, had leased the combined properties for 21 years with a 21-year renewal option.  "It is made a part of the lease that the tenant shall immediately proceed to erect a building of not less than twenty-three stories," said the article.

The syndicate commissioned architect Chester James Storm to design the office, store and loft building.  Completed in 1930, the 25-story structure was clad in orange brick and terra cotta.  The second through fourth floors were encrusted with an armor of terra cotta decorations in both the au courant Art Deco style and frothier fashions of a generation earlier.

Called the Hoover Building, possibly in honor of the sitting President, it rose 17 stories before the legally-required series of setbacks began.  Storm designed a craggy mountainscape with protruding elements as unusual as the lower floor decorations.

Timing might have seemed unfortunate for the developers, considering that the Great Depression began halfway through construction.  But the modern building drew important tenants immediately upon opening.  Although Chester James Storm had designed several stores on street level, they were taken by a single tenant.  On December 28, 1930 The New York Times reported that the Sachs Quality Furniture Company had leased "six stores, the basements, mezzanines and two upper floors in the new twenty-six-story [sic] Hoover Building."  The massive space engulfed around 40,000 square feet.

Sachs Quality Furniture Company had been in business since 1896.  Among the renovations the firm made was the creation of a large meeting space, the Sachs Auditorium, which was available to outside groups.

photograph by Wurts Brothers from the collection of the New York Public Library

A few apparel firms moved into the Hoover Building, like Bunny Togs, Inc. which took space in 1933.  But it was unrelated tenants as well as the activities within the Sachs Auditorium which were notable.  

Among the somewhat surprising renters was the Art Mart gallery.  On May 23, 1936 The New York Sun reported "A new list of paintings, water colors and prints have been put on exhibition at the Art Mart, 505 Eighth avenue.  The showing is a varied one, and includes the work of a dozen or more young artists, who long since attracted favorable attention."

The Sachs Auditorium was used by a wide variety of groups.  On June 6, 1940 75 women attended the bridge charity event hosted by the Community Councils of New York City according to the Long Island Daily Press.   The following month the National Doll Show was held here under the auspices of the American Hobby Federation.  A newspaper noted "The show itself is a unique one, being the first exhibit devoted entirely to dolls.  Collectors from all over the country have made contributions to the show."

In November that year the annual Arts and Crafts Exhibition was staged.  The Long Island Star-Journal noted that this year it "features abaca fibre work of Philippine head-hunters for the first time in the United States."

The ultra-modern entrance lobby used myriad materials.  photo by Wurts Bros. from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York

Of course the Sachs company used its auditorium for its own purposes, as well.   In 1940 the furniture company organized the Sachs Foundation, the purpose of which caught the attention of Eleanor Roosevelt.  In her syndicated column "My Day," which appeared in the Buffalo Courier-Express on March 4, she said:

I have just been told about the Sachs Foundation, which was started with the idea of encouraging young interior decorators and which is now contemplating including branches of musical training and fashion designs in their annual competition.  The competition for interior decoration is open to students in accepted institutions in Greater New York.

The first-place design for interior decoration that year was reproduced in full scale and installed as an exhibition in the Sachs Auditorium.

The exhibition had apparently been dismantled by August that year when the School for Brides opened in the auditorium.  The Bayside NY Times reported "A special invitation has been issued to the many young women who have just become brides or who are about to walk down the middle aisle to the wedding march.  They have been invited to learn how to cope with the many problems that arise to face the new bride at a 'School for Brides' designed to instruct them in the arts of cooking and homemaking so that they will shine alike in bridegroom's and mother-in-law's eyes."

Wartime altered the American Hobby Federation's annual exhibition and in 1942 it featured included ship and airplane models as well as photographs made by active military men.

Mid-century continued to see non-apparel tenants move into the Hoover Building.  In April 1950 Natale & Sons opened its new decorator's showroom.  All the pieces were designed by Louis Natale, the firm's present, and their innovative designs impressed a reporter from The New York Times.

Night tables have trays, mirror-topped or made of Formica, which slide out to hold ash trays or glasses.  Credenzas have hidden drawers suggested for storing money or jewels...Almost every table and chest of drawers is equipped with a bar.  A massive built-in wall unit houses a desk, books, records, radio, phonograph and television set and an outfitted bar.

One large tenant that took space in 1951 was the New York buying office of the Wiener Buying Corporation.  In announcing the opening the firm noted that 505 Eighth Avenue was "The heart of the style capital of the world."

The 1960's saw tenants like At Home Abroad, which rented vacationers "small apartments in European cities to palatial estates at Mediterranean resorts;" novelty jewelry firm Windsor Enterprises, Inc. which fashioned cuff links, charm bracelets and blazer buttons from coins; and the offices of the chain-store, Westons.

The next decade brought a decidedly different type of tenant--the media.  Khronika Press, a publishing house operated by Soviet émigrés, opened here.  It originally intended to print Russian language poetry and memoirs, but when the human rights movement gained momentum in the Soviet Union, its focus turned to dissemination of covertly-received information in America.   

On December 10, 1977 The New York Times reported "The thing has reached the point now where the address on [Edward Kline's] business headquarters--505 Eighth Avenue in the garment district--is known to all sorts of Soviet citizens who each month sneak out into the mail hundreds of pages of reports and pleas."

In 1979 the eight-year old Institute of New Cinema Artists, Inc. took space for its studios and classrooms.  Its unpaid president was actor and playwright Ossie Davis who described the group to Glenn Collins of The New York Times in November that year as having "trained and placed hundreds of low-income youths, most of them members of minority groups, in worthwhile film-making and television jobs."

Winners in the several categories of Summer '79: The Big Apple Music Talent Contest that year received one-year recording contracts.

The entire 19th floor was occupied by the noncommercial WBAI-FB radio station.  The Times journalist John Corry said of it in August 1981 "There are people who swear by radio station WBAI; there are others who swear at it.  Either way, WBAI is listener sponsored and noncommercial, and as always, it needs money."  Corry brought up that condition in his reporting that the station was sponsoring a fund-raising boat ride around Manhattan.

At the same time Sing Out! magazine was published here.  The folk-song publication was partly founded by singer Pete Seeger and he regularly supplied columns.

N.Y. Amsterdam News, January 19, 1985

Institute of New Cinema Artists, Inc. remained in the building well into the 1980's.  Among the features of WBAI-FM at the time was a monthly radio show called "Citizen Kafka."  One of the show's creators was the unknown comedian, John Goodman, who played Farmer Bob, described by Goodman as "a lecherous hayseed who harvested Cabbage Patch love dolls."  The actor, of course, went on to television fame as Dan Connor in the series "Roseanne."

The striking facade of Chester James Storm's Hoover Building survives intact after nearly 90 years; its terra cotta decorations a nearly unique example of transitional architecture.

photographs by the author