By the 1830's the neighborhood around Greene Street and Waverly Place, a block west of Washington Square, had filled with elegant mansions. On November 16, 1890 publisher Martin Young heard a noise in his cellar of his home at No. 22 Waverly Place. Upon investigating he caught four boys aged 10 through 15 in the process of stealing brass. Their names reflected the changing demographics of the area--Angelo Teeini, Sebastian Farconelli, Joseph Cella and Giovanni Lafarzia.
That was not all that was changing as the century drew to a close. Loft buildings were rapidly replacing residences and Young's was among the last of the private homes still surviving.
A month earlier, on October 25, 1890, the Real Estate Record & Builders' Guide published a supplement entitled "The New Mercantile District" which began saying "The sudden impulse given to building improvements in the section of the city that lies in the vicinity of Washington square has been generally observed during the past two or three years." One of the most visible architects in the movement was Alfred Zucker. Within a two year period between 1891 and 1893 he would design Nos. 12, 18, 24-26, and 28-30 Waverly Place, and the massive stone structure at the corner of Waverly Place and Greene Street, No. 246 Greene (which would engulf the site of Young's house), all of them within a single block.
He designed No. 246 Greene Street for developer Simon Goldenberg. The plans, filed in February 1891, called for an 8-story "brick, iron and stone warehouse" to cost $140,000 (or just over $4 million today). Completed in 1892, it was an imposing blend of Renaissance Revival and Romanesque Revival styles.
Each section of the tripartite design was delineated by an intermediate cornice. Zucker made ample use of brownstone quoins at the ground floor, then used dark brown brick at the second and third floors to imitate stone blocks. The ruse was continued on the fourth through sixth floor to create the appearance of quoins around the three-story arches. The openings of the two-story upper section were grouped within arched cast iron frames; the piers between them decorated with terra cotta bands and rosettes.
The building became home to Asch & Jaeckel, wholesale furriers, whose large operation filled the entire building. The salesrooms were on the ground floor with factory, design and office spaces above.
|An advertisement boasted that the firm "completely occupied" the building. Fur Trade Review, June 1892 (copyright expired)|
By 1895 the firm had branched out into other forms of women's apparel, as well. On February 17 it advertised for "Drapers, experienced on Waists and Suits." (Waists, or shirtwaists, were a tailor blouse and the most popular item of women's apparel in the 1890's.)
Furriers were frequent targets for sneak thieves and November 30, 1897 Asch & Jaeckel was a victim. That day Detective Sergeants Aloncle and Carey noticed two notorious criminals, Annie Drayton, alias May Murray or "Big May," and Flossie Maitland in Madison Square. When the women hailed a hansom cab, the cops followed. The New York Times reported "The women stopped at the fur store of Asch & Jaeckel...and after remaining inside about fifteen minutes re-entered the cab and drove to the fur store of Adolph Frimal, 1,713 Broadway. Here they also staid but a few minutes and, coming out, ordered the cabman to drive to an up-town hotel."
Before that happened, however, Sergeant Carey commandeered the cab and ordered the driver to go to Police Headquarters. Once there the vehicle was searched. "Two sealskin sacques [i.e., short jackets] were found concealed under the seat, and the matron found a valuable cape concealed on the person of 'Big May.'" The Times said that Annie Drayton was "considered one of the cleverest shoplifters in the country." The two jackets taken from Asch & Jaeckel were valued at $327, about $10,400 in today's money.
Both women were able to raise the staggering $3,000 bail through a bondsman. But when their court date rolled around in March 1898, they had disappeared. The bondsman was given twenty-four hours to produce them, but when he returned to court on March 10 "he admitted that he could not find them," reported the New York Herald. The judge ordered that the bail be forfeited--costing the man more than $95,000 in today's money.
While the drama played out, Joseph J. Asch and Hugo Jaeckel parted ways. Each established his own firm. Jaeckel moved to No. 37 Union Square and Asch erected his own handsome building at Nos. 23-29 Washington Place. The Asch Building would become a part of American labor history on March 25, 1911 when 145 women workers in the Triangle Waist Company, locked into rooms on the top three floors, perished.
The building vacated by Asch & Jaeckel now filled with hat manufacturers and apparel-related tenants, among them hat manufacturer M. S. Mork & Co., which sought "Straw Hat Operators" in November 1899. The ad promised "We guarantee $7.80 to $12 a week, ten months' season; good operators can earn double their guarantee." The higher end of the range would be about $382 per week today. Also in the hat business were Higson & Co., "manufacturers of fur hats," and William Read & Co.
In 1902, following the death of Simon Goldenberg, his estate sold the property. The change of landlords did not affect the tenant list. Taylor & Seeley were selling agents for out-of-town hat makers like Beltaire Bros. & Co. of Danbury, Connecticut and the Gilman Hat Company of Haverhill, Massachusetts.
|The American Hatter, February 1902 (copyright expired)|
The wealth of the partners of Taylor & Seeley was evidenced in April 1903 when E. S. Seeley listed his home on Bedford Avenue for sale. The 25-foot wide, three story brownstone had 16 rooms and three baths, along with an Otis elevator. He described his home as "handsome, luxurious, convenient and up to date."
Sharing the building with Taylor & Seeley were S. Alsberg & Co. and Alsberg & Moritz, both clothing manufacturers; and Lasky & Levi, makers of caps. In 1906 the two related firms of S. Alsberg & Co. and Alsberg & Moritz combined to create Moritz, Alsberg & Co.
The firms would remain in the building until about 1912, joined in 1909 by Pursch & Co., clothing makers; and H. Hauptman & Co., in 1910.
In 1912 the tenant list included Goldfinger & Katz, whose workforce of 35 made cloaks; J. L. Alberts, makers of cotton underwear (it employed 4 men, 45 women, and three children that year); and Tochterman & Schehr, makers of leather purses and bags.
In 1914 the 36-year old widow Annie Feinman had worked for J. L. Alberts for about four and a half years. She earned $1.50 per day (just under $40 today) as a sewer. Possibly distracted from her work for a moment on September 11 that year, she drove the needle of her machine through her left ring finger. When blood poisoning later set in, the top part of finger was amputated.
Annie, her doctor, her supervisor and the doctor's nurse were summoned to answer a barrage of questioning by the State Workmen's Compensation Commission a month later after she filed for benefits. The doctor was asked, for example, if Annie showed evidence of alcoholism, hypochondria, hysteria or malingering. She was eventually awarded $10.26 in March 1915.
The personal lives of well-to-do citizens were fodder for juicy newspaper articles at the time. Harry Long ran a trimmings business in the building in 1915 when his wife, Florence, suspected him of sexual dalliances. She hired private detectives to follow him and their findings became luridly public in January 1916 when Florence took him to court.
|Much of Zucker's original cast iron storefronts survive along street level.|
The scandal no doubt had a detrimental effect on Long's business. Additionally, he was ordered to pay $200 a month for support of the three children, whom he was allowed to see one-half day each week.
Following World War I the apparel business migrated northward, past 34th Street. In the 1930's the Greene Street building was home to Howard Failing, a wholesale paper dealer. Like Harry Long, the scurrilous details of his divorce were widely published in newspapers. But in his case, it was his wife, Flora, who was the inconstant lover.
Around 1934 the Failings moved to the upscale suburban neighborhood of Scarsdale, New York. A neighbor, Ruby T. Brewster, wife of Le Roy Brewster, testified that things had been going well in her marriage until the Failings moved in. Then, in November 1935 "My husband left to go to Florida, presumably to be in a warmer climate on account of his sinus trouble. However, he left with a woman, Mrs. Failing."
Flora divorced Howard Failing in the summer of 1936; and in the spring of 1937 Ruby, "citing a honey-haired ex-neighbor as the case of all the trouble," sued her husband for divorce. On April 29, 1937 the Daily News said that Ruby Brewster, "a Westchester matron with strong feelings about blondes, clamped a legal stranglehold yesterday on the $1,000,000 moneybags of her hubby." The article noted that Ruby was trying to beat her husband to filing for divorce to keep him from cutting her off from his wealth.
Any prospect of more scandal related to marital discord in the Green Street building ended in 1946, when New York University converted it to class rooms. Known today as Kimball Hall, it houses computer labs, lecture and classrooms and a student lounge.
photographs by the author