Thursday, October 31, 2019
Berger & Baylies' 1887 138-140 West 10th Street
Adam Happel was both a real estate agent and a developer. Many of the tenement buildings he erected in the 1880's were on the Lower East Side. But in the spring of 1887 he turned his attention to Greenwich Village. On April 30 his wife, Mary, purchased the property at No. 140 West 10th Street from Sarah a. Hedden. There was a two-story brick house on the property along with a brick stable in the rear yard. The price was $13,950, or about $380,000 today. A few weeks afterward the architectural firm of Berger & Baylies filed plans for a "five-story brick tenement" on the site.
Three months later, on August 25 Adam Happel purchased the two-story brick-front house next door at No. 138 West 10th Street, along with the two-story wooden stable in the rear from Alfred McIntire. He paid the equivalent of $372,000 in today's money. Berger & Baylies filed plans for another five-story tenement on September 2. The construction cost for each was projected at $20,000--a total outlay including the property of more than $1.8 million in today's dollars.
Although they were separate buildings with, technically, separate owners, Berger & Baylies designed them to appear nearly as a unified structure. In fact, there is not even a seam in the brickwork between them. A marriage of neo-Grec and Queen Anne styles, they were faced in red brick and trimmed in brownstone and terra cotta. The design consolidated the two structures by continued stone bandcourses and shallow cornices and by slightly projecting the end bays of each.
Wonderful decorative masonry supports adorned those bays between the third and fourth floors. Terra cotta spandrel panels appear at this level and portrait keystones sit above the fourth floor openings. At the fifth floor the central windows of each building sat below brick and stone arches. Berger & Baylies stepped away from the unified design at the first floor and with the cornices. No 140 was entered through double doors within a muscular stone portico above a stoop; while the single doored entrance of No. 138 saw discreetly between two wooden storefronts. And each of the boldly-bracketed cornices engulfed its own raised section of terra cotta panels; clearly indicating that the buildings were separate entities.
Adam and Mary Happel were apparently well pleased with the results. They were listed as residents in No. 140 at least through 1889. On November 30, 1891 both buildings were sold to Charles Lindner for $80,000, a satisfying $1 million profit in by today's standards.
Both buildings filled with a blend of working and middle class residents. Arthur Matthewson lived in No. 138 in 1888. He made his living as a coachman until November when he was accepted into the New York Police Department.
Also living in the building at the time was Evelina Taylor and her husband. Because he was a night watchman, Evelina was alone at nights. She woke to a terrifying scene on the night of March 3, 1889. The New York Herald reported that she awoke to find George Broderick, who happened to be the nephew of the former California Senator Broderick, in her room. The article said he "terrified Mrs. Evelina Taylor...almost out of her wits by appearing suddenly at her bedside about one o'clock in the morning." Her screams brought other tenants running and Broderick was "hustled off to the police station."
Once there he concocted the story that Evelina owed him money and he had simply showed up for payment. That story soon fell apart and he fessed up. "It was neither burglary nor worse villainy that had caused his intrusion upon Mrs. Taylor's privacy. He had simply been 'painting the town,'" said the article. Finding the street door unlocked, he entered. Having pleaded drunkedness, he was fined $10--a significant $285 today.
Martin Lynch also enjoyed a drink. As a matter of fact, The Sun flatly called him "a heavy drinker." It did not help that he worked as a bartender in his brother Michael's saloon at No. 125 MacDougal Street. Lynch, his wife, and their four children lived in No. 138 in September 1892 when he valiantly tried to stop drinking. It resulted in a severe case of alcoholic withdrawal, or delirium tremens, better known today as the DT's.
The Sun reported that he was confined to his room for two weeks and that his wife closely watched him almost constantly. But early on the morning of November 11 she fell asleep in the chair by his bed. She was jolted away by the screams of one of her children and realized the bed was empty. The Brooklyn Standard Union reported "While his wife was sleeping after many weary hours watching him, Martin Lynch, while suffering from delirium tremens, jumped or fell out of the second story window of his home, 138 West Tenth street, New York, early this morning and was found dead in the airshaft sometime later."
Next door lived a highly-respected physician, Dr. A. M. Fernandez de Ybarra, who worked at the Northern Dispensary. A prolific author, he wrote an article on "A Case of Poisoning with Phenacetine" for the Medical Record while living here, published on January 23, 1892. Two years later, he wrote the first comprehensive medical history of Christopher Columbus, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. Medical experts today credit him for describing symptoms which point to the fact that that Columbus was most likely suffering from syphilis by 1502.
No. 140 was one of 18 buildings victimized by two teen-aged thieves on the night of December 17, 1891. Nineteen-year old Paul Rogers and his 17-year old brother, Lloyd, who lived nearby at No. 251 West 12th Street, had plagued the neighborhood by stealing brass door knobs, letter box plates and "mouthpieces of speaking-tubes." Their crime spree was brought to and end by the feisty janitress of No. 274 West 12th Street, Nellie Clark, on December 22.
While Lloyd worked to remove the hardware, Paul stood watch, giving a loud whistle as warning when anyone approached. Nellie Clark was aroused by the whistle that night and saw the boys flee. She was close behind.
At the station house she identified two of the eight brass door knobs found in Lloyd's pockets as coming from her building. The doorknobs from No. 140, it seems, were never recovered.
Twenty-five year old Robert Marilie worked as a delivery wagon driver for the Hamilton Noyes Company, trunk manufacturers, on Sixth Avenue at 23rd Street. He was living at No. 140 in September 1899 when his courage was put to the test--and failed.
The New-York Tribune reported on September 28 that "a team of horses, drawing a big delivery wagon, covered and highly finished, ran away down Sixth-ave. yesterday from Twenty-third-st." The wagon ran into several pedestrians and a peddler's cart, injuring all involved. Policeman Stevenson "saw the runaway coming. The horses were apparently making for the plate glass front of a millinery store on the west side of the street. He dashed in front of them and seized the bridle of the nearest horse. He could not keep his feet, but he hung on to the bridle, and was dragged along the pavement till within a few feet of sixteenth-st., where the horses turned into the curb and slowed up."
Stevenson was badly hurt and removed to New-York Hospital. The wounded civilians were treated on the scene. But The Tribune reported that Marilie had "jumped from his seat at the start, and last night was not found."
In 1903 Irish immigrant John McNamara, "a likely looking lad," according to the Waterbury Evening Democrat, lived at No. 140 and worked in the kitchens of St. Francis Xavier College. The young man had fallen in love with a "decidedly pretty girl, Nellie O'Grady," as described by the newspaper. Their infatuation led to a public display of affection on an East River pier that shocked Detective Kirke on July 15. He hauled both of them into the Jefferson Market Court.
The article explained "Kirke said he had done some courting himself but he never selected a stringpiece [the large timber at the head of a pier] on a recreation pier when in the throes. He almost fell into the river at the hugging and kissing between Jack and Nellie. It made him wilt a collar a minute when Jack would kiss Nellie, then Nellie would kiss Jack, then both would kiss and hug each other something awful, while the stringpiece swayed and the pier crowd sat around in enert [sic] helplessness."
When both assured the judge that they intended to get married as soon a Jack's got a raise in pay, he dismissed their case, saying "Discharged. Now, if you want to spoon hereafter stay on St. Francis Xavier grounds. Jack, I'll try to get your wages raised."
Anthony Risetti was 26 years old in 1912 and the owner of his own taxicab. He worked during the daytime and on January 14, 1913 hired a second driver, John Stankark, for a night shift. Ten days later Risetti's cab was found wrecked after being used in a daring armed robbery at Rohe Brothers' market on West 38th Street. Stankark's story was astounding.
According to him, he was sitting in the cab on Seventh Avenue when a man asked if he could accommodate his steamer trunk. Stankark agreed and the man directed him around the corner onto 26th Street. They stopped at a building between Seventh and Eighth Avenues and the man asked Stankark to help him bring the trunk out. Just as Stankark entered the front door he was hit by behind and stunned. When he gathered his senses he saw the cab moving away with several men inside.
Police arrived at No. 138 the following morning when the cab was found abandoned, out of gas, and damaged in front of Columbia University. The World reported "Rissetti led the police to Stankard, a big, stupid appearing youth, who told his story."
Interestingly, another resident of No. 138 also lost his taxicab ten years later. On March 30, 1923 Edward Eddington (described as "a laborer") asked Bernard Van Domalen to take him to Coney Island. They had gone only a few blocks when, according to The Brooklyn Standard Union, "Eddington told the driver he would like to eat and invited Van Dormalen into a restaurant to dine with him."
As some point Eddington casually stood up and asked Van Domalen to wait there while he stepped outside to talk to a friend. When his passenger did not return, Van Domalen walked out to see what was taking so long. Both Eddington and the cab were gone.
It did not end well for Eddington, who was soon tracked down by cops in Brooklyn. The Standard Union reported on March 31 that he was "taken to Kings County Hospital early to-day suffering from lacerations and a possible fracture of the skull as a result of a battle with three policemen who were arresting him on a charge of stealing a taxicab. He put up a fight when cornered in a dark hallway in South Brooklyn after a long chase."
Another tenant of No. 138 was hailed as a hero later that year. James P. Williams was visiting a friend at No. 41 West 8th Street when the building next door caught fire. On November 16, 1923 The Evening Telegram reported "With flames licking the curtains of the windows back of her and smoke almost obscuring her from the horrified view of hundreds of persons who gathered in West Eighth street today, a woman clutching a huge cat, clung perilously to the coping above the doorway of the studio-apartment building at no. 43."
Mrs. Emma Von Zibler had been napping when her Maltese cat woke her by jumping on the bed and clawing at her face. The room was already filling with smoke and the stairway was in flames. Hearing her screams, Williams lowered himself from the second floor window, dropping to the coping above the doorway of No. 41. "He teetered dangerously and then, recovering his balance, reached across, circling the wait of the screaming woman, he slowly inch by inch swung her to his ledge and from there she was taken through a window." Emma never let lose of her cat the entire time.
The second half of the 20th century saw great changes in the Greenwich Village neighborhood. In 1961 William Friedel and his twin brother, Bruce, opened their metal sculpture shop, Sculpsmith, in one of the storefronts of No. 138. The 25-year-olds are considered by many to have originated the modern sunburst designs which became emblematic of the 1960's. Collectors of their works included Sammy Davis, Jr., Malcolm Forbes, Jim Henson, Dom Delouise and former President Richard Nixon.
Less pricey wares (some of the Fridel sculptures sold for as high as $60,000) are offered today by Jack's Coffee, which opened in No. 138 around 2008.
Berger & Baylies handsome 1887 structures have survived nearly intact, including the wooden storefronts. They are a striking presence on an architecturally fascinating block.
photographs by the author
many thanks to reader James Ward for suggesting this post