Charles C. Hastings was the principal in C. C. Hastings & Co., a clothing manufacturer. The millionaire and his wife were described as "popular society favorites" by the Evening Telegram. In 1869, as the neighborhood which a century later would become known as Soho rapidly developed following the end of the Civil War, Hastings made his mark by erecting a substantial cast iron structure on the northeast corner of Grand and Crosby Streets.
Completed in 1870, it was been designed by the architectural firm of William Field & Son in the emerging French Second Empire style. The tall ground floor level featured Corinthian columns and rusticated piers. In an innovative and eye-catching touch the architects replaced squared corners with the free-standing Corinthian columns at the second through fourth floors. But the pièce de résistance was the mansard level with its frothy dormers, oeil de boeuf windows, and corner cupola.
|Valentine's Manual of the Corporation of the City of New York 1870 (copyright expired)|
Ivison, Blakeman, Taylor & Co. had been organized in 1840 and was by now "the largest school-book publishing house in the world," according to J. Arthurs Murphy & Co.'s List of Printers, Publishers, and Paper Dealers in 1872. The Grand Street building rumbled under the operation of the firm's eleven Adams steam-powered printing presses. In May 1873 the company advertised its latest releases, including Swinton's Word Book, The Church Hymn Book (with and without tunes), How Plants Behave, How They Move, Climb, Employ Insects To Work For Them, &c, and The Educational Reporter.
Around 1873 Ivison, Blakeman, Taylor & Co. diversified by importing and wholesaling the Spencerian steel pens. An advertisement in The New York Herald that year promised "They are of superior English make, and are famous for their elasticity, durability and evenness of point."
|The Tribune Almanac for 1876 (copyright expired)|
The newspaper said that four months later, just as "the members of the firm were at their wits' ends," a letter arrived from their Chicago office asking how F. D. Alling, a storekeeper in Rochester, New York, could be selling the Spencerian pens at less than it cost to make them. A representative traveled to Rochester where Alling explained he had purchased "a large quantity of the pens from a peddler named M. Shark." And Alling was not his only customer. The New York Herald explained that postmarks on letters received by Alling indicated "that the writer was constantly on the road disposing of his wares."
Back on Grand Street, employees knew that the firm's janitor of ten years, 28-year old James J. Smith, had a brother-in-law named M. Shark. Undercover detectives followed Smith and "in a little while they became satisfied that he was the culprit." Each night before going home he would hide a quantity of the expensive pens in his coat. At his home in the Bronx they found 1,672 gross of the pens. Ivison, Blakeman, Taylor & Co. estimated that he had absconded with $4,000 in merchandise--more than $100,000 in today's money.
In the meantime boot and shoe maker Benedict Hall & Co. had taken space in the building by 1874. It was an uneasy period, just a year after the onslaught of the Financial Panic of 1873 sparked one of the greatest economic depressions in the country's history. But five years later, on September 29, 1879, a representative, Matthew Bunker, told The New York Times he saw the economy turning around. "On the whole, Mr. Bunker felt greatly encouraged at the outlook, and thought that the era of business prosperity had at last dawned upon the country."
Occupying the storefront at the time was Hinck & Co., dry goods merchants. Eight months before Matthew Bunker had voiced his opinion on the economy, the building suffered considerable damage. On January 14, 1879 the large structure directly across Crosby Street caught fire. It had formerly been the home of Brooks Brothers and stretched along Grand Street from Broadway to Crosby.
As firefighters battled the out-of-control inferno, the Grand Street facade collapsed. The New York Times reported "The opposite building is of iron, five stories in height, and forms the north-easterly corner of Grand and Crosby streets." Firefighter John Reilly saw the wall weakening and warned a comrade "Come away, Jack!" but he was too late. His body was found 10 minutes later "on the stoop of the store of Hinck Brothers, dead."
As the dust settled, the damage to Nos. 134-140 Grand Street became obvious. The Times reported "as far up as the third-story window sills, the building of Hinck Brothers was seriously damaged and disfigured. As the five-story wall of the burning building on the opposite side of Crosby-street toppled over it struck this building at its third story, and tore the front almost off, breaking away the cast-iron window-sills and columns as though they were made of pasteboard, and hurling tons of brick and other debris into each floor." The newspaper added "This building is owned by C. C. Hastings.
The repaired structure became home to Bendheim Bros. & Co., dealers in "cigars, cigarettes and smoking and chewing tobacco" by 1885, and in the last decade of the 19th century the St. John-Kiram Shoe Co.; L. Stern & Co., makers of women's apparel; and Charles Zinn & Co., importers and manufacturers of baskets and willow ware had space here.
Benheim Bros. & Co. would remain in the building at least through 1914. In 1898 it bid on a Government contract for supplying tobacco to the New York Navy, offering bulk tobacco at 32 cents per pound.
|An trade postcard notified customers of the 1893 spring line of baskets. copyright expired|
By the outbreak of World War I the property was owned by John Jacob Astor. Tenants like Charles Zinn & Co. and Bendheim Bros. & Co. moved on by 1918 when Astor leased the entire building to the Cincinnati-based Globe-Wernicke Co. In its August issue that year, The Furniture Index reported that the firm would use the property "for warehouse purposes." Astor "reconstructed" the building for the firm, according to the New-York Tribune later.
Among the foremost office furniture makers in the country, Globe-Wernicke had recently purchased the building at Nos. 451-453 Broadway as its New York office and showroom. Just two years after moving in, on July 21, 1920, the New-York Tribune reported that Astor had sold the nearly 100,000 square-foot structure to Globe-Wernicke.
|A sign clinging to the corner identifies this as Globe-Wernicke's "Warehouse No. 2." The photograph reveals that the damage of 1879 had been seamlessly repaired. from the collection of the New York Public Library|
|The somewhat battered cupola survives with the date 1870 in its western panel.|
|As late as the 1950's the mansard was still intact. photograph by C. T. Brady, Jr. from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York|
officially converted to residential space above the first floor. By then the magnificent mansard roof had been sorely altered. But surprisingly, the great bulk of the facade had survived wonderfully intact.
Where books and boots had once been manufactured, artists like Dina Recananti and Dorothea Rockburne, film maker Catherine Gund, musician Kristian Roebling and photographers Arthur Elgort, David Lawrence and Greg Kadel would make their homes.
photographs by the author