Friday, October 18, 2019
Buchman & Fox's 1906 Cast Iron Beauty - 1026-1028 Sixth Avenue
On March 9, 1906 the New-York Tribune reported that owners Charles Land and Leopold Heilburn had taken the first steps "for making over the two five story and basement dwelling houses Nos. 662 and 664 Sixth avenue into an office building with stores on the ground floor." Architects Buchman & Fox had prepared the plans, which included "a facade of ornamental galvanized iron and glass and a central marquise entrance." They included "an elevator and a new plumbing plant." The cost of transforming the old houses into a commercial structure was projected at $50,000--about $1.44 million today.
The remodeled building, sitting mid-block between 38th and 39th Streets, was completed within a year. Buchman & Fox had designed a sumptuous cast iron facade in the quickly waning Beaux Arts style. Other than the tantalizing promise of an iron and glass marquise, there seems to be no existing evidence of the appearance of the store level. The overall tripartite design survives above, however.
The midsection, three stories tall, is divided into three vertical sections each two bays wide. They are framed in delicate foliate sheaths and each floor separated by elaborate spandrel panels. The fifth floor features three three-bay arcades, the openings separated by paneled pilasters. The ornate terminal cornice is supported by two deliciously opulent brackets on either end.
Among the original occupants was Charles Lang, himself. C. B. Kleine was another. The firm rented and sold everything necessary for motion picture theater operators. An advertisement in The Moving Picture World on May 4, 1907 urged customers to send for Catalog F to order "Kinetoscopes, Cameragraphs and Stereopticons [and] Films of all makes. Everything in supplies."
One of the fourth floor occupants, Henry Schultz, was carrying on a less savory business. The firm appeared to be an "exchange" office; but in truth, according to The Sun on June 11, 1907, it "has long been known as 'Dutch' Henry Schultz's poolroom." The term poolroom referred to an illegal gambling operation.
According to police Schultz's office was was affiliated with "the big 'Bob' Davis poolroom syndicate." It was a sophisticated operation, containing a switchboard with ten telephones for reporting race results and taking bets.
On June 11, 1907 the New-York Tribune reported that Police Lieutenant and his men had made a raid on the office the day before. "They climbed the stairs to the top floor and broke in the door of the alleged exchange." They surprised six operators sitting at a switchboard. "The police ripped the telephone instruments from the switchboard," said the Tribune.
According to The Sun this was an integral piece of organization. It reported that "the official notion is that it was the receiving centre for all the Bob Davis syndicate's news from racetracks outside of New York and the distributing point for all the poolrooms and a great number of handbooks in Manhattan north of Twenty-third street." A bankbook found in the office showed that it was taking in about $20,000 per month--a staggering $550,000 in today's terms.
By 1908 one of the retail spaces was home to the Wallace Eating-house, run by Ellsworth Childs. He ran a string of 15 restaurants at the time, each one painted green. Before long he and his brothers would consolidate their businesses into the famous chain of Childs Restaurants.
By 1909 George Kleine was representing three motion picture companies, Gaumont, Urban and Eclipse Films. He prompted would-be theater operators to enter the field with an ad in The Sun on March 7, 1909. "Today it is the subject that interests, not only the novelty of the invention. Complete plays are enacted upon the curtain with specially written music that sometimes ranks with the classics."
For "absolute new films and new subjects," theater operators paid $25 per reel. For "fair quality films in good condition, not new," they paid $20. Kleine offered an ongoing service whereby subscribers received "three changes weekly."
Twenty-two year old Alfred Kelly miraculously escaped death here on Friday 21, 1913. He somehow became trapped in the elevator shaft, with the car descending. Seconds before the young man's body was crushed, another employee named Hoffman shut off the power to the elevator. The Newtown Register reported "It was feared, at first, that the young man’s injuries would be mortal...Kelly was crushed internally, and besides several ribs were fractured, as was his right arm. He also suffered cuts about the head and body." Miraculously, a week later he was "getting along comfortably" in Bellevue Hospital.
Two months later Philip Levy signed a 10-year lease on Ellsworth Childs's former restaurant space. The Record & Guide reported "after extensive alterations he will open this place as a first-class bakery and lunch room." Levy was the head of the A. B. Bakery & Lunch Room Co., Inc.
In the meantime George Kleine was enjoying great success, and produced his own films under the name Ambrosio. On November 23, 1913 The New York Times noted "George Klein originally intended to cover the United States with twenty-two companies of the Ambrosio photo drama, 'The Last Days of Pompeii,' but the success of the venture has compelled him to organize two and three special extra companies in several sections."
A month later he initiated an international "moving picture scenarios contest." Kleine hoped to get fresh screenplays by offering writers $1,000 for "the best scenario written by an American." His continued success led to his moving uptown by 1916.
Other tenants in the building by then were the Regent Phonograph Co., headed by Henry Waterson; and the less glamorous Star Window Shade Co.
The gradual transformation of the area into the Garment District was evidenced with the arrival of the Snappy Dress Company. In 1920 B. Goldsmith & Co., dress manufacturers, was also here. It was around this time that the building was first referred to as the Sperry Building. On April 13 the New-York Tribune reported that the entire building had been leased to Aaron Kosofsky for 21 years.
Kossofky had headed the Hudson Bay Fur Company for decades. He was quick to change the appellation of the address, listing the location in his advertisements as the "Hudson Bay Building."
The colorful Kossofsky came up with a marketing gimmick that he hoped would draw major attention to his business. It did--but not in a good way. On January 12 1922 Printers' Ink reported "An example of the extent to which men will sometimes stoop to get publicity was witnessed in New York City last week when a furrier named Aaron Kossofky, president of the Hudson Bay Fur Company...turned a fox loose on Fifth Avenue at one of the busiest corners in the world."
The journal lamented "This is a typical, old-time press-agent idea. Anything that got a business into the newspapers, even though in an ignominious way, was regarded as desirable publicity." No one else shared Kossofsky's enthusiasm.
The New York Times had reported on January 8 "Two days in jail and a fine of $100 was the punishment imposed yesterday by Magistrate Corrigan upon Aaron Kossofsky...who pleaded guilty to a charge of cruelty to an animal. The judge did not hold back in his opinion of the stunt.
"Never has the public indignation at an act of cruelty to a dumb animal been aroused as in this case," he said. The treatment of the fox was much worse than simply letting him loose on a crowded urban street. The judge pointed out that "the winding of a twine muzzle through the animal's mouth, partly cutting off its breath and causing pain, was enough to convict the defendant." But even worse, one of the fox's forelegs had been broken under the wheel of a limousine.
Kossofsky appeared in press again a few months later. He applied to the United States Patent Office to trademark the term "Hudson seal," which, he said, he had been using since 1906. The problem for the Government was that his "Hudson seal" referred to "muskrat dyed to imitate seal," according to the documents. The New York Times, on June 9, cited officials who suggested "the trade-mark could not be properly registered in any case, inasmuch as it misdescribes its object, since 'Hudson seal' is no seal at all."
Despite his several problems, Kossofsky and the Hudson Bay Fur Company remained in the building for years. In 1925 Sixth Avenue was renumbered, giving the building its new address of 1026-1028.
Throughout the remainder of the 20th century the area around the building declined. Yet despite the obliteration of the store level, added fire escapes and jutting window air conditions, Buchman & Fox's lavish cast iron facade survives essentially intact.
photographs by the author