Monday, October 26, 2020

The 1887 Robert E. Walsh House - 142 West 95th Street


As he often did, developer William J. Merritt acted as his own architect when he planned the row of houses on the south side of West 95th Street between Columbus and Amsterdam Avenues in 1886.  And as he was also known for doing, his 18-foot wide homes, completed in 1887, were designed for upper-middle-class families.

Merritt's somewhat quirky row was designed in the up-to-date Queen Anne style.  Clad in brick with stone trim, the three-story houses did not happily co-exist, but fought one another for attention.  When The Architectural Record critic Montgomery Schuyler reviewed the row, he likened it to the "reign of terror."

Merritt gave No. 42 a cottage-like feel.  A dog-legged stoop faced in rough cut brownstone led to the narrow double doored entrance.  Between it and the parlor window a terra cotta held an elaborate Celtic knot of leaves and bands.   Above a thin course of stone, the second and third floors rose to a faux gable decorated in checkerboard tiles.

An advertisement in the New York Herald on March 13, 1887 described the house as a "lovely Queen Anne" dwelling "decorated, papered, &c."  The advertised price was $15,000, or about $416,000 in today's money.  

Merritt apparently did not find his buyer, but leased the house.  And his price dropped just a bit five years later when the owners offered it at $14,500.  On March 31, 1892 it sold (although under asking price, at $14,250) to Robert E. Walsh and his wife, Annie.

The outline of the original window is evident.  It is hard to imagine that two entrance doors originally filled the doorway.

Upper-middle class families spent, if not the entire summer season, a few weeks each year at resorts.  Robert and Annie were on Fire Island at the fashionable Surf Hotel in 1894.  He was on the committee in charge of the "grand final ball" of the season that year.  On August 26 The New York Times promised "The famous old hostelry, cottages, and grounds, as well as the yachts and launches at anchor, are to be gayly decorated; Greek fire is to blaze here and there; the hotel orchestra is to be increased by several musicians from New-York, and altogether, the season is to be closed in the gayest possible fashion."

The Walshes escaped the city heat and humidity at the Surf Hotel.  from the collection of the Library of Congress

Annie's widowed mother, Amelia Morton, moved into the 95th Street house at some point.  She died there on June 5, 1899.

Robert and Annie Walsh remained in the 95th Street house for more than a decade.   On March 6, 1907 The New York Press reported that Walsh had sold it and "the buyer will occupy the house."  A month later, on April 15, an on-site auction was held of the Walsh household furnishings.  The listing hints at the couple's comfortable home environment.  Among the items to be sold were "fine mahogany and gold Parlor Furniture and Cabinets, Marbles, Bronzes and Bric-a-Brac, Oil Paintings, Etchings and Engravings, Fine Drapers and Curtains throughout the house."

Although he had announced he would occupy No. 142 as a private home, it appears the new owner operated it as a boarding house.  Living here in 1916 was Dennis Manning.  He was among the five passengers riding in Irving Farian's automobile on the New Rochelle Road near the Pelham Bay Bridge in the early hours of September 23 that year.  

Given the timing, it is probably that the men had been drinking.  Farian drove the car into a telegraph pole and then into a tree.  It was a horrific accident, resulting in two men dead.  Manning was somewhat fortunate in that he was thrown from the vehicle, receiving only cuts and bruises.  Farian was held on a charge of homicide.

In the early 1940's the parlor window, stoop and gable tilework were all intact.  via the NYC Dept of Records & Information Services

Colorful residents in the mid-1920's were the Rush family.  They advertised the address as the Riverside Spiritualist Church and touted young Harold Rush as "The Noted Boy Medium."  An advertisement in the Long Island Daily Press on December 14, 1927 announced "Message Services daily" at 2:30 and 8:00 p.m. and private readings every day from 2:00 through 10:00.

By 1931 No. 142 was run as a rooming house, the tenants of which were not always upstanding.  On April 21, 1931 the Standard Union reported that a taxi driver, Harry Kirschner, had picked up Vicco Anderson and Kai Wolffeld on 57th Street.  Both were tenants at No. 142 West 95th Street.

The men's behavior raised his suspicions by the time they reached Jackson Heights and he pulled over, saying he would not take them any further.  "One of the men, according to the taxi driver, pointed a gun at him and made him leave his cab after they had taken $7," said the article.  They hailed another cab and headed to the elevated train station.

Kirschner's shouts for help alerted Police Officer Patrick J. Shea  "who leaped on a private car and caught the two men after a few blocks' chase," said the Union Standard.  As Shea opened the cab door, Wolffeld's gun "was accidentally discharged" and burned his face.  Anderson was charged with having a length of rubber hose in his pocket and Wolffeld for gun possession.

As it turned out both men were sailors who, said the Daily News two weeks later "abandoned the bounding billows for paved streets and attempted to smooth their path via the gun."  Their $7 heist (about $118 today) landed both of them in prison, sentenced to two to four years each.

By mid-century the former Walsh house was neglected.  It sat vacant until being sold to Joseph Fish in June 1951.  But a new owner did not mean better days were ahead.  In the 1960's the house was appropriated by the city and in November 1967 was one of sixteen structures "designated for rehabilitation" and offered for sale.

Two renovations followed, one completed in 1975 and another in 2007.  The beleaguered and missing terra cotta tiles of the top floor were replaced with a panel simulating brownstone with a daisy relief appropriate to the Queen Anne architecture.  The damaged or lost stoop was also replaced.  Today there is a total of three apartments in the building, one in the basement, and two duplexes.

photographs by the author

Today's Post

 Once again a post has been dated backward for some reason.  If you didn't see a new post today, just scroll back to Saturday.

Sorry about the confusion!

Saturday, October 24, 2020

The Lost Wm. Valleau Building - 506 Broome Street


Once a handsome home, 506 Broome Street (left) was sorely abused by the Depression years. from the collection of the New York Public Library  

An advertisement in the New York Morning Courier in 1831 offered a two-story brick house for sale at No. 506 Broome Street.  It and its identical neighbor at No. 504 were, in fact, two-and-a-half stories tall.  The Federal style residences would have been marketed to merchant class families.

In the early 1850's (until 1856) William Filmer and his family lived in No. 506.  He ran an electrotyping business on Fulton Street.  In 1856 it became home to two widows, Mary J. Pennoyer and Elizabeth Robinson and a boarder, Augustus Steinmetz.  Steinmetz made his living as a pianist.  For the next three years residents would come and go nearly yearly.

The house was offered for sale early in 1859.  An advertisement in the Morning Courier and New-York Enquirer on February 25 described the "two story, attic and basement house and lot."  Another widow, Caroline Barlett, moved in and it was almost assuredly at this time that the house received a significant make-over.

The changes followed the recently popular Second Empire style which was sweeping Europe.  The parlor windows were extended to the floor and the peaked roof was remodeled to a slate-shingled mansard with elaborate, lacy iron cresting.

The first years following the end of the Civil War, however, saw a transformation taking shape in the Soho neighborhood.  Private residences like Caroline Barlett's were being demolished or converted for business purposes.  By 1871 William W. Valleau, Jr. had purchased the house and installed his gold foil business in it.  

Valleau had established his business in 1849.  His gold foils were marketed for the most part to the dental industry for use in fillings.  An ad some years later promised "We claim for our foil that it is made of absolutely pure gold, and beaten with the greatest care to produce uniformity and toughness, never losing sight of quality for the sake of cheapness."

He shared the former house with George J. Pack & Co., which was also in the gold foil business.  That Valleau chose a competitor as his tenant is surprising, although the two apparently had a very amicable relationship.  They shared a full page advertisement in the March 1873 issue of the American Journal of Dental Science.  
The American Journal of Dental Science, March 1873 (copyright expired)

Valleau's business had apparently grown enough by 1877 that he now used the entire building.  The previous year he had been honored at the Centennial International Exposition in Philadelphia (the first official World's Fair in the United States).  The Reports And Awards noted that William Valleau, Jr.'s Dental Gold-Foil was "Commended for purity brilliancy of color, and variety and convenience of forms, for the use of the operator."

In fact, his increasing business required him to hire carpenter N. J. Rigney to erect a one-story rear extension to the building in March, 1880.  The plans described No. 506 as a "workshop and dwelling," suggesting that Valleau's family lived in the upper floors.  He and his wife, the former Sarah Agnes Aitkew, had three children, Clinton Monteith, who was nine-years old in 1880; William Smith Valleau, who was 13; and Charlotte Amelia, who was 17-years old.

Valleau touted his World's Fair award in this 1880 advertisement.  The Odontographic Journal (copyright expired)

Valleau's extremely valuable stock prompted him to subscribe to the Holmes Electric Protective Company on February 1, 1883.  It was an early embrace of modern technology, a forerunner of today's burglar alarm.

William Valleau, Jr. died around 1887, but the firm continued under Sarah and the children.  In January 1889 it was reorganized as The Valleau Manufacturing Co.  Sarah, who had remarried and whose surname was now Griffin, took the position of president, with William Smith Valleau as secretary.  A price list that year explains his father's eagerness to upgrade security.  "Soft and Cohesive Foils," for instance, were priced at $30 per ounce, or about $870 per ounce in today's money.

The firm was nevertheless deceived by a clever scam artist in March 1897.  Edward Merrinan first stopped into the store of Van Houten & Sheldon, respected dealers in paints and painters' supplies, and said "I want to get some gold leaf and as I know that your work is of a high grade, I want to buy my stock from the same people you do."  The Evening Telegram explained that as the representative listed his gold leaf suppliers, Merrinan took one of Van Houten & Sheldon's business cards.

On March 14 he walked into the Valleau Manufacturing Co. and placed an order for four packages of gold for Van Houten & Sheldon, offering the business card as identification.  The firm was a long-time customer and the clerk was not suspicious.  "There was only one package in stock and this he was given," reported The Evening Telegram.  It was not until the balance of the order was delivered to Van Houten & Sheldon that the ruse was discovered.

If the Valleau family had, indeed, originally lived on the upper floors of No. 506, they by no means did by now.  Clinton lived in a handsome home at No. 106 West 71st Street and was a member of the exclusive Manhattan Club.  (William had relinquished his interest in the firm by now.)  The rooms on the upper floor were now home to some of the firm's workers.

A union delegate testified before a hearing of the American Federation of Labor on December 15, 1897.  His words exposed the stark differences between the lifestyles of the Valleau family and their workers.

After four years of suffering and fighting starvation wages, we finally succeeded through organization in raising our wages to the living point.  All employers in the United States acceded to our demands with the exception of three firms [including] The Valleau Co...In the case of the Valleau Co. the majority of the men actually live in the workshop, working day and night for the past two years, and yet their wages do not average $10 per week.

(The $10 salary would equal just under $320 per week today.)

In 1902 the Valleau Manufacturing Co. listed its principals as Sarah, Clinton and Charlotte, whose surname was now Jenks.  
The firm was reaching out to a new market at the time.  An advertisement in The International Book-Binder in January 1903 marketed its gold leaf for use in the gold edging for books, as well as providing the labor in applying it.  The advertisement suggests the firm had improved the working conditions, saying in part "We employ none but Union Hands (no boys or girls), and every one a skilled mechanic."

The pressures of business seem to have overwhelmed Clinton in 1905.  He was committed to Dr. McFarland's Sanatorium in Greens Farms, Connecticut for "treatment for a nervous ailment."  Six months later, on May 22, 1906, the New-York Tribune entitled an article "Escapes From Sanatorium" and reported that Clinton was on a trolley car when his conduct attracted attention.  He was arrested by a plain clothes officer.

The article said "He had 25 cents in money and wore expensive clothing.  He seemed anxious to get to New Rochelle and said his trouble would be over if he could only get there."  Clinton's freedom was short-lived.  The article ended "The police turned him over to the sanatorium people."

Sarah Valleau Griffin died on February 22, 1908.  In 1911 only Clinton and his sister Charlotte were listed as owners of the property.  They were leasing the second floor and attic that year to to the Lion Knitting Works, while continuing to operate their firm from the lower section.

A fire broke out in the Lion Knitting Work's stockroom at around 9:00 p.m. on September 23, 1911.  Firefighters were blinded by the dense smoke, so 42 year old Battalion Chief William Devlin led a team to the roof to chop a hole.  The Sun reported "The roof, which tops an old fashioned  building, is peaked at the front but flattens out half way back toward the rear end of the structure.  Firemen were walking on this flat portion."

Firefighters "heard a yell and some of them turned in time to see the chief fall over the edge," said the article.   He first hit the extension that William Valleau had added in 1880, then rolled off, landing on the flagstone-paved rear yard.  Chief Devlin was unconscious when he was taken away.  The Sun said "He suffered serious internal injuries and physicians fear also that his spine was fractured."  He died four days later.  Tragically, Devlin was a widower and left behind five orphaned children.

The blaze was confined only to the Lion Knitting Works, so damage to the Valleau Manufacturing Company's space was limited to water damage.

A printing firm occupies the ground floor in this July 23, 1939 photograph.  One of the Victorian dormers has been replaced.  from the collection of the New York Public Library

Following World War I the Broome Street neighborhood declined.   By the early 1930's the former house that had been headquarters of the Valleau family's gold foil business for decades was a printing shop.

When this photo was taken around 1941 the end of the line for the aged building was on the horizon.  NYC Dept of Records & Information Services.

The venerable, if sorely treated, building survived until 1947 when it was replaced by a gasoline station.  In 1996 the current three-story building was completed on the site of 504 and 506 Broome.

The 1855 Upsdell, Peirson, Lake & Co. Store - 471 Broadway

On February 19, 1823 Miles R. Burke purchased the handsome Federal style brick house at No. 471 Broadway and the stables directly behind at No. 44 Mercer Street from William H. Harrison and Abraham Ogden, Jr.  A wealthy merchant, Burke owned the two-masted brig Resort which brought goods into New York.  

In 1832 he married Jane Antoinette Duffie.  She traced her American roots to John and Catherine Duffie who left Scotland in 1741 (only Catherine arrived, her husband having fallen overboard).  Jane Antoinette's mother, Maria, was the daughter of Cornelius Roosevelt.

Miles R. Burke apparently knew his death was imminent on July 22, 1836 when he signed his last will and testament.  He died shortly afterward, leaving the Broadway property to his wife.  She married Isaac Gibson on August 29, 1842, within a year of his first wife's death, and the couple remained at No. 471.  Gibson was listed as a "merchant and broker" and was a member of the New York Society Library.

In the 1850's the Broadway neighborhood was seeing the incursion of commerce and the wealthy homeowners left their elegant homes to move further north.  In 1854 the Gibsons demolished No. 471 to replace it with a modern store and loft building.  Confusingly, the paperwork listed Jane Antoinette's unmarried sister, Margaret, as the owner of record (although she was not), and Daniel Badger's Architectural Iron Works, which supplied the cast iron storefront, listed the property's owner as "W. [sic] Gibson."  Although it was her property, Jane Antoinette received no mention.

Completed early in 1855, the Italianate style building could easily have been mistaken for an uptown mansion above the storefront.  The windows within its brownstone front sat within architrave frames upon molded sills.  Carved decoration filled the spaces below gently arched lintels.  An interesting carved frieze of a chain-link design ran below the modillioned cornice.

The new building became home to Ubsdell, Peirson, Lake & Co. which had been founded in 1840 on Canal Street as Ubsdell & Peirson.  When George G. Lake entered the firm, it moved into No. 471.  Here fashionable women would shop for a wide variety of clothing and accessories.  A single advertisement on April 3, 1855 listed "a large lot of English and German cotton hosiery for ladies' wear...a lot of China silk hose very cheap...theatrical hosiery, consisting of French hose, tights &c....a large stock of Bajou's kid gloves, embracing all the fashionable Spring colors...a beautiful assortment of rich Cashmere Stella shawls...ten cases more of those yard wide calicoes...and "the last lot of those cheap Irish linens."

The firm had barely opened in its new home when it was the victim of burglars.  In April the Troy Daily Times reported "During Friday night the dry goods' store of Ubsdell, Pierson & Lake, situated at 471 Broadway, New York, was entered by burglars, and Canton Crape Shawls, to the value of near $2000, was carried away by the rogues."  The heist would be worth more than $60,000 in today's money.

The New York Herald, October 30, 1859 (copyright expired)

Another, much smaller, theft six years later would result in embarrassing press for the store.  On May 8, 1861 the wife of wealthy boot and shoe wholesaler Robert B. Currier and her niece "called at the store of Ubsdell, Pierson & Lake, No. 471 do a little shopping," as reported by The New York Times.  "After looking at some goods, they went leisurely out of the store into the adjoining one of Beekman & Co."

Shortly afterward the clerk who had waited on them noticed a piece of silk he had shown them was missing.  He informed Charles Pierson that they had stolen the merchandise and was told to bring them back.  The well-to-do women were affronted at the accusation and demanded Pierson to search them.  "This he declined to do, as not being proper for him, but determined to and did send for two police detectives," said The Times.  

The women were searched and nothing was found.  Pierson asked the officers to release them; but it was too late.  The clerk had "positively" made the charge and the policemen were obligated to take the women in as "they might have had an accomplice" who made off with the goods.

At police headquarters the clerk was directed by his employer to withdraw the charges and after Pierson gave "ample apologies" the messy affair seemed to have been over.  That is, until Robert Currier stormed into the store a few weeks later 
and asked what reparations Pierson and his partner intended to make.  He was given another "ample apology."

That was not enough to repair his wife's damaged feelings and restore her tainted reputation so Currier sued the store for $10,000 for slander and false imprisonment--a staggering $300,000 today.  After a two-day trial and deliberation of five hours, the jury "disagreed" on a verdict.

It may have contributed to the disbanding of Ubsdell, Peirson, Lake & Co.  The original partners withdrew from the firm and George G. Lake now joined with James McCreery to form Lake & McCreery.  The new partnership continued at the location, offering similar merchandise as before.  An advertisement on December 26, 1864, for instance, read:

Great Reduction In Cloaks--
Lake & McCreery, No. 471 Broadway, are now offering their large and desirable assortment of cloaks, consisting of English, Whitney, Frosted, Chinchilla, Castor, Moscow and other Beaver Cloths, at Greatly Reduced Prices.
Ladies desirous of purchasing cloaks for Holiday Presents will do well to call and examine our stock.

In the meantime, Isaac Gibson had died on June 26, 1860 at the age of 58.  Jane Antoinette retained possession of the Broadway building, living on in the couple's home at 251 Lexington Avenue.   She would continue to own the property until her death in 1889.

Emporiums had to not only watch vigilantly for shoplifters, but for theft from within.  A clerk, Francis Wildey, was arrested on September 26, 1867 "to answer a change of stealing silks and other articles," said The Daily Whig.  "He had sold the goods to various persons, some of them customers of the firm, at cost price, and the purchasers supposed he had the consent of his employers."  The value of the stolen goods would be $26,700 in today's dollars.

The store offered a wide variety of dry goods items.  The New York Herald, June 7, 1868 (copyright expired)
The store was the victim of theft yet again in June 1868 when the well-known shoplifter, Eliza Wallace, walked out with 70 yards of silk.  She was arrested, but released on bail.  And she then immediately disappeared.

Six months later, on January 24, 1869 The New York Times entitled an article "Arrest of a Notorious Female Criminal"  and reported that "Eliza Wallace, alias Eliza Gilford, alias Mary Anderson, alias Mary Rogers, alias Big Mary, alias Boston Mary, was arrested."  She had been tracked down in Philadelphia where police had "six or eight complaints against her for operations in that city."

By the time of her arrest McCreery had bought out George Lake and renamed the store James McCreery & Co. and its new, lavish emporium was rising at the northwest corner of Broadway and 11th Street.   On April 18, 1869 a six-day "Removal" sale was advertised in The New York Herald.

No. 471 Broadway next became home to bookseller and publisher B. Westermann & Co.  It dealt in scholarly works, publishing in 1870, for instance, Die Chemisch-Technischen Millheilungen des Jahres, which it marketed as "a very valuable contribution to technical literature," and Bibliotheca Mechanico-Technologica et Economica, "a classified catalogue of all books on technical chemistry, etc."

B. Westermann & Co. remained at least through 1874, followed by William J. Blake's "millinery trims" operation, which signaled the end of the building as a single-tenant store.  

In 1887 the ground floor was occupied by the lace and embroidery store of Lewis, Cable & Lesser.  Jacob Adler, glove merchant, was on the second floor, and Moritz Fischer, who dealt in dress and cloak trimmings, had the top three floors.  Somewhat suspiciously, on Saturday night, March 26, that year two fires broke out almost simultaneously on the block.  The first started in Lewis, Cable & Lesser's store.

Although the building suffered only about $1,000 damage ($28,000 in today's terms), the tenants were less lucky.  Lewis, Cable & Lesser lost "not less than $20,000, and possibly half as much more," according to The New York Times (as much as $832,000 today); Jacob Adler's losses ranged from $8,000 to $12,000; and Moritz Fischer around $1,000.

Lewis, Cable & Lesser did not return.  The ground floor space was taken by S. Oppenheimer & Co.   Adler and Fischer both renewed their leases.  Adler's firm would be renamed Alfred Adler by 1892.  That year, according to Patricia Ellerton Duffie in her 1983 The Duffie Family of Edinburgh and New York, Oppenheimer and Adler were paying rents "up to $9,500 a year."  (That would translate to an significant $22,250 per month today.)

A. Fisher, manufacturer of dress, cloak and fur trimmings, was in the building in 1914 when its proprietor became the victim of fraud and then the butt of a mean practical joke.  It started when angry store owners began storming into Fisher's office demanding payment on bad checks he had signed to buy items like a new overcoat, an umbrella, and two suits.  An unknown cad was outfitting himself with fine new clothing while posing as Fisher.

And then on March 29 The New York Times reported "Mr. Fisher was nearly distracted by this time, but the worst was yet to come.  Girls began to arrive, blonds, brunettes, and others.  They were all ready to take hold of the jobs at high wages for which they had been engaged."  The girls initially refused to believe that Fisher was, indeed, Fisher.  They were expecting the "nice young man they had met at dances."  They further said he had been very generous and had bought each of them "several glasses of beer or something stronger."  The article said "They were disappointed in the real Fisher and were persuaded to leave with difficulty."

In the post World War I years A. Fisher (who had branched out to include "undertakers' trimmings" to his line) was joined in the building by Van Blankensteyn & Hennings, "embroidery and woolen" dealers.

In the 1940's the 1855 decorative elements were still intact.  The surviving house next door would have been very similar to the Burke-Gibson house.  photo via the NYC Department of Records & Information Services.

A renovation completed in 1965 was most likely responsible for the loss of the Victorian architectural elements--the window framings, carvings and lintels.   Thankfully the cornice and decorative frieze were preserved. 

Another change came in 1976 when the top two floors were converted to artist work-living quarters--one on each floor.  Thirteen years later the second and third floors became artists lofts as well.  The accommodations were perhaps less than first class, however, as reflected in the Department of Building's notation "heat supplied by approved type gas heaters."

photographs by the author

Friday, October 23, 2020

No. 303 West 18th Street

photo via

Erected around 1840, the house at No. 225 West 18th Street (renumbered 303 in 1868), was designed in the relatively recent Italianate style.  Its rusticated brownstone basement upheld four stories of red brick.  Paneled and beautifully-carved entrance doors sat within an elliptically arched frame and cornice.  Similar arched lintels most likely originally adorned the windows.  A cast iron balcony almost assuredly connected the floor-to-ceiling parlor windows.  An Italianate style cornice with paired scrolled brackets completed the design.

The beautifully-carved double entrance doors survive.

The Wallace family lived in the house in 1845 when tragedy occurred.  Curious toddlers require constant attention and on January 8 little Matilda managed to avoid detection.  The following day the Marine Journal reported "The coroner was called this morning to hold an inquest at No. 225 West Eighteenth street, upon the body of a girl three years old, named Matilda Wallace, who came to her death in consequent of eating a small quantity of opium, which she obtained from the cupboard without being observed."  

Within the decade the owners were taking in boarders.  An advertisement in the New York Herald offered "Board-- Gentleman and Wife, and Two Single Gentlemen, can obtain pleasant rooms and board on very reasonable terms at No. 225 West Eighteenth street, near Eighth avenue.  References given and required."

Despite the few boarders, the house continued to be primarily a private home through the summer of 1868.  On September 8 that year an auction was held of "the entire Furnishings of the house," according to the announcement.  The listing revealed the high-end appointments that the family and their boarders had enjoyed.  Included were "velvet, Brussels, three-ply and ingrain carpets," along with marble top tables, black walnut bedroom furniture, and "parlor suits."  The announcement used the term "genteel" to describe the items.

The house now became a full-fledged boarding house for middle class residents.  Living here for at least two years in the mid-1870's was Edward S. Moore, an assistant foreman at Hook & Ladder Company No. 10.  In 1882 George P. Freeman boarded in the house.  He was a captain with the 22nd Regiment of the National Guard.   

There were small family groups here, as well.  James Kent and his son William H. were here by 1884 when William was appointed a patrolman with the New York Police Department.  James Kent died in the house on August 12, 1890 at the age of 70.

It was around this time that the brownstone trim of the openings were updated with pressed metal cornices.

Charles E. Lu Gar and his wife celebrated their fifth wedding anniversary in their rooms on May 16, 1888.  The Evening World reported "Prof. F. P. Messina played 'The Evening World' waltz, which was received by a storm of applause."

Young Henry M. Yoemans applied to the College of the City of New York in 1895.  Of the 1,669 applicants 822 were accepted, one of whom was Henry (who was known as Harry).  The Pennsylvania-born boy would remain in the house throughout his studies and for years afterward.

Harry's field of study was somewhat surprising for the period--interior decorating.  He studied under three well-known designers--Miss Swift, Jacques Seligman and Karl Freund.  Upon graduation he launched his own interior design concern.  An advertisement in the February 1906 issue of Country Life in American read:

Harry Martin Yeomans

Color schemes and artistic decorations for the furnishing of houses and apartments.  Fee, one dollar for each room.  Wall papers and stuffs purchased for out-of-town patrons.


Yeomans was still living here in 1912 when he fired off a long Letter to the Editor of The New York Times defending the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  Charles Anderson Dana, Jr. had written an article attacking art museums as "palaces" which made the artworks nearly inaccessible to the common man.  Yeoman insisted that the Metropolitan Museum "is quite accessible to all who are desirous of visiting the collection of works of art, and from most sections of the city the Museum can be reached for a five-cent fare."

At the time of his fiery letter, Yeomans was well known in the decorating community.  He routinely supplied articles to magazines.  He wrote a monthly article for American Homes and Gardens entitled "Within The House."  In January 1912, for instance, the topic was "Within The House--Unity in Interior Decoration" and the following month it was "Within The House--Concerning Draperies."  

Yeoman left No. 303 in 1913 to travel throughout Europe, "for the purpose of studying the old palaces and museums," according to a newspaper.  Upon his return he joined the John Wanamaker store in its Decorating and Furnishing Department.

In the meantime, by 1914 John Winkler had moved into No. 303.   The young waiter found himself in deep trouble on March 30 that year.   On March 6 Mrs. Washington A. Roebling, the wife of the builder of the Brooklyn Bridge, had dinner with friends at the Ritz-Carlton.  When she returned home she realized she had lost her necklace, valued at $1,000--more in the neighborhood of $26,400 today.

The Sun reported "She notified the police, who, with private detectives, searched the pawnshops for the missing necklace.  The search led to Winkler."  He had pawned the jewels for $25.  When he was arrested, Winkler had the pawn ticket for the necklace in his pocket.  The 21-year old was held in $2,000 bail on a charge of grand larceny.

By the end of World War I the tenants were working class.  Joseph Kinney, a construction worker, lived here in 1923.  He was involved in building the Erie Railroad tunnels that connected New Jersey and New York that summer.  The workers were called "sand hogs," and theirs was a dangerous job.  Kinney was injured on August 18 and removed to a hospital where, happily, his condition proved temporary.  The Standard Union reported that he had been "temporarily blinded by sand."

The house is essentially unchanged since this 1941 photograph.  via the NYC Dept of Records & Information Services

Resident Robert Emmett McCracken had been drinking on the afternoon of May 4, 1937.  At about 3:00 the proprietors of a West 14th Street restaurant called police alleging he had "created a disturbance."   Detective Frank Campbell responded and began walking the 35-year old to the Charles Street police station."

The New York Times reported "Suddenly McCracken pulled an army bayonet from a leather scabbard under his coat and made a vicious lunge at Campbell."  The detective fended off the attack with his right hand, suffering a deep cut across the palm.  "With his left hand he landed a solid punch on McCracken's jaw, knocking him to the sidewalk."  Within about a minute police radio cars were on the scene.  They transported McCracken to the police station and Detective Campbell to St. Vincent's Hospital.

The consequences of McCracken's early afternoon drinking spree only worsened.  Once in custody, he was suspected of possible involvement in the recent murder of Municipal Court Justice John Francis O'Neil.  He was questioned for hours before finally being eliminated as a suspect.

Two days later The New York Times followed up on the story, saying that McCracken was being held in $1,000 bail awaiting his hearing on May 7.  "McCracken said he had been drinking and that he had no recollection of his fight with the detective."

At least one of the Italianate marble mantels survives.  photo via

A renovation completed in 1969 resulted in one apartment per floor, a configuration that remains today.  Despite its long history much of the 1840's appearance of the exterior survives, including the remarkable entrance doors.

photographs by the author

Thursday, October 22, 2020

The 1927 Manufacturers Trust Company Building - 407-409 Broadway


The ghosts of the former bronze letters that spelled out the bank's name can still be seen below the cornice.

Erected in 1871, the Ninth National Bank building was a five-story marble clad, Second Empire style confection of columns and ornate dormers, decorative urns and a slate-tiled mansard roof.  It ceased to be used for banking purposes in 1917 and a decade later, on May 8, 1927, the Manufacturers Safe Deposit Company announced it would open a branch on the site.

from the collection of the New York Public Library

Within only five months the monumental marble pile was gone, replaced by a new structure.  Designed by Archibald F. Gilbert, the new two-story bank building had nothing in common with its predecessor other than its purpose.  Gilbert avoided the popular Art Deco style, choosing instead to impart a feeling of stability and assurance to the banking customers with a neo-Classical facade.   Faced in limestone, it featured four Ionic pilasters which upheld an entablature announcing the bank's name in bronze letters.  Bronze paned windows flanked the massive arched entrance framed in veined marble.  A balustraded parapet perched atop the cornice.

Until the last decades of the 20th century most employees were paid in cash.  Once a week a clerk would walk to the bank, withdraw the significant amount, and return to distribute the money into pay envelopes to be passed out to the workers.  The process was an opportunity for thieves, who over and over again surveilled the movements of clerks, learned their routines and then moved in to rob the payrolls.

Two would-be robbers were foiled in their attempt to snatch the payroll from Abraham Lerner on April 4, 1933.  The Great Depression made the prospects of fast cash attractive for Brooklynites Martin Sharkey and James Broyde.  The young men (they were 24 and 25 respectively) had never attempted a payroll heist before, but that afternoon they targeted the shoe dealer.

Lerner's business was not large and his payroll was only $350 (more in the neighborhood of $7,000 today).  Sharkey and Broyde most likely had no idea of the amount, but nevertheless loitered in the bank as Lerner withdrew the money.  Unknown to them, Detectives Duffy and Quinn were also watching the bank from outside.

The detectives watched Lerner walk out of the bank, followed by the two men.  And so they joined in at a distance.  When Lerner entered his building at No. 42 Walker Street Sharkey and Broyde seem to have lost their nerve.  The Times Union said they "did not enter and turned away."  But Detectives Duffy and Quinn stopped them, only to find guns, handcuffs and a length of rope--all the tools they needed to overpower the shoe dealer and take his payroll.  The men, "suffering from jumpy nerves and slightly wobbly hearts," according to the Times Union, were held on charges of conspiracy to hold up a payroll carrier and having concealed weapons.

Another man with "jumpy nerves" was one of the bank clerks two years later.  On June 29, 1935 a taxi driver brought in a check to be cashed.  The clerk was suspicious and tripped an alarm.  The Daily News reported "three radio cars, with howling sirens" responded and traffic at Canal Street and Broadway was blocked for 15 minutes.  The embarrassed bank officials "would not reveal the name of the driver and said it was 'all a mistake,'" said the article.

Like Abraham Lerner had been, Philip Bloomberg, was the payroll master of his employer, the Forrest Paper Co. and his assistant Henry Strom, had been watched by crooks in the summer of 1938.  For added security Bloomberg and Strom did not walk, but used an automobile for their bank trips.  But unlike Lerner's would-be attackers, these were professionals.  

The men left the bank with today's equivalent of more than $26,000 in cash on June 24.  As they pulled the car onto Broadway, two "armed thugs" as described by the Daily News, jumped on the running board and pointed their guns at the men.  The crooks got in the back seat and ordered them to drive.  "With guns in their backs, the victims drove on until they were ordered to stop in front of 65 Wooster St.," reported the article, "where they were told to get out."  Bloomberg and Strom were left on the sidewalk, thankfully unhurt but no doubt shaken.  The abandoned car was later found on Mercer Street.

Charles Heard had worked as a teller in the branch at 407-409 Broadway since its opening.  In 1939 he was making $40 a week (a yearly salary equal to about $38,200 today).  The meager wages supported him, his wife, and their three children--but not his "penchant for betting on horse races," according to his wife.  Heard's gambling addiction led to the family's losing their house in Queens.  In the summer of 1939 they were renting a small house directly across the street from their former home.  In addition, Heard was abusive, according to his wife Mae Elizabeth who said he had beaten her on several occasions.

The bank held a company picnic on Friday June 10 that year.  Heard hid the fact from his wife, possibly to eliminate any possibility that she would accompany him.  He did not come home until late that night and overslept the next morning.  At the breakfast table he announced he did not feel like going in to work that day.  Mae Elizabeth was terrified he would lose his job and an argument broke out.

Heard stood up and raised his fist.  Mae Elizabeth later said "she knew what was coming."  She picked up a 10-inch carving knife as her husband "raised his left arm as if to hit her," reported the Daily News.  Mae Elizabeth plunged the knife into his heart while their two daughters, 17-year old Virginia and 9-year old Mary looked on.  Their son, 19-year old Harold was outside on the street.

Harold was confused as his sisters ran passed him, hysterical, to a doctor's house nearby.  The Daily News said "Before he could grasp the situation, police were leading his 38-year-old mother off for questioning."  Mae Elizabeth told her story matter-of-factly to the police.  The single thrust of the knife had killed Heard almost immediately.

The following Monday the Daily News began an article saying "A Queens housewife, who stabbed to death the spendthrift father of her three children Saturday, tearfully pleaded yesterday for court permission to attend his funeral."  Almost four months later, on October 1, a grand jury indicted Mae Elizabeth in the murder of her husband.

Payroll and bank robberies continued to be a threat as the decades passed.  On January 13, 1964 two gunmen entered the Broadway branch and passed a note to a teller demanding money.  They escaped with $60--a rather unsatisfying heist equaling less than $500 in today's money.

Manufacturers Trust Company became Manufacturers Hanover in 1981.  The Broadway branch was one of 14 throughout Manhattan at the time.  The name changed again in 1993 when it became Chemical Bank.  Today a Chase Bank operates from the handsome little building, which remains little changed since its opening in 1927.

photographs by the author

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

The 1846 Ellis C. Finch House - 60 Horatio Street

By 1850 Ellis C. Finch and his bride, the former Anna Maria Van Natter, had moved into the newly-completed house at No. 60 Horatio Street between Hudson and Greenwich Streets.  The couple did not hold the deed, however.  It was the property of Ann Maria's father, Peter Van Natter, who not only lived next door at No. 62, but had developed the plots.   A cartman, he and Cornelius Ackerman (who lived on the opposite side of the Finches) had purchased the land in 1845 and a neighborhood builder, Abraham Demarest was responsible for constructing the five Greek Revival style homes.

Three stories tall above a brownstone basement level, the homes were clad in red brick and trimmed in brownstone.  The were given simply embellishments, like the handsome sidelights and paneled transoms of the entrances.  

The opposite side of the block was still undeveloped and years later The Sun recalled that when the Van Natters moved into their house "the land opposite his house was used as a cow pasture, and his wife objected to the new home because it was so far from the city."

Like his father-in-law, Ellis C. Finch was a cartman--a deliveryman who drove a horse-drawn dray.  He and Ann would have five children while living here, Sara, born in 1853; Ella in 1858; Carrie who came along in 1862; Harry in 1865 and William born five years later in 1870.  

Nevertheless the couple periodically found space for a roomer, almost always a cartman.  In 1853 Daniel H. Vanderpool roomed with the family; in 1855 and '56 it was Moss Y. Dunn.

Tragedy came to No. 60 Horatio Street on March 16, 1860.  Little Ella Clarinda (whose middle name was the same as her maternal grandmother) was two months shy of her second birthday when she died.  On the day of her funeral the house filled with member of the Odd Fellows Perseverance Lodge No. 17 of which Ellis was a member.

Thomas Jefferson Van Natter was Anna Finch's only sibling.  He lived with their parents next door.  On February 28, 1867 he married Elizabeth Onderdonk (known as Libbie).  It seems that the bride and groom were cousins.  Peter Van Natter's wife was the former Clarinda Onderdonk.  A child, Charles H., was born on March 11, 1868.  

The marriage seems to have sparked a swapping of residences.  The following year Peter and Clarinda were living with the Finches at No. 60; but by 1870 Thomas and his wife joined his parents in the No. 60 and the Finches had moved to No. 62.  It was a perplexing arrangement.

Peter Van Natter was retired by now.  Born in Orange County in 1803, he and Clarinda were already married when he came to New York around 1828 at the age of 25.  They settled in Greenwich Village and never left.    

Thomas Jefferson Van Natter was born on January 4, 1845.  He went by his middle name (or sometimes by T. Jefferson), and was in the coal business at No. 73 Wooster Street.  Ardently religious, for years he sat on the board of the Church Extension and Missionary Society of the Methodist Episcopal Church.

The elderly Peter Van Natter had seen enormous changes to Greenwich since the days when cows grazed across from his house.  One day in April 1891, according to The Sun, he commented to Clarinda, "I have outlived all the old Ninth warders.  I go around the streets and never see a face which was here in the old days."  A few days after making the remark Peter Van Natter died in his sleep on April 14 at the age of 88.

Losing her husband may have been too much of an emotional toll on Clarinda.  Two months later almost to the day, on June 15 she died in the house at the age of 84.  Her funeral was held in the parlor two days later.

The house was inherited jointly by Anna Finch and her brother.  Just two weeks after their mother's death Anna transferred her share of No. 60 to T. Jefferson.

He and Libbie took in a roomer by the end of the year.  An advertisement appeared in The Sun on December 15, 1891 which read:

Horatio St., 60, near Hudson, convenient 14th st. station--Nice large hall room, $1.50; private family.

The reasonable rent would equal about $43.50 per week today.

By the first years of the 20th century the Van Natters had moved to Brooklyn and No. 60 was being operated as a rooming house.

Michael Burke, who lived here in 1911, was affluent enough to afford a motor car.  It got him into trouble with police on June 24 that year, however, when he was fined $2 "for letting his car smoke."

The house was owned and operated by Ruth Fifer Davis by the 1920's.   She received a minor windfall in March 1925 when she inherited her mother's estate of $2,550.  The amount left her by Adaline Fifer would be equal to about $37,200 today.

Among her roomers at the time were the widowed Lorette Dumphy and her son, William.  A year earlier William was hailed as a hero in all the local newspapers.  Early on the morning of June 5, 1924, he had seen flames in a lodging house at No. 332 West 30th Street.  The Brooklyn Daily Eagle reported "Rousing 15 sleeping roomers and warming them, at the risk of his own life, that the lodging house in which they lived...was on fire, William Dumphy, 28 years old, of 60 Horatio st., was so badly cut by the ragged edges of window panes, which he smashed in with his fist, that every sinew of his wrist was severed, shortly before 7 o'clock."

Policeman Walter Rose applied a tourniquet made from the cord of his nightstick.  William received a hero's fanfare and enjoyed adulation despite his badly wounded wrist.

Lorette Dumphy examines her son's wounded wrist.  The Daily News, June 6, 1924

Lorette had a second son, James, who was three years younger than William.  He too appeared in newspapers after a fire, but for far different reasons.  On August 15, 1931 the Daily Star reported "Mrs. Lorette Dunphy [sic], 60 Horatio street, Manhattan, told police that her son started five fires in her home on Tuesday morning.  The fires were extinguished, she said, before they had an opportunity to spread and damage was comparatively slight."

Lorette, however, had no intentions of letting her firebug son go free and turned him in.  Dumphy admitted he started the fires, but said it was an accident and he "had no intention of burning the house."  He explained that he was carrying a lantern which exploded.  The resultant spray of burning kerosene set the five separate fires.  The police were unconvinced.  Detectives asserted that "they found the lantern intact" when they investigated his story.

Ruth Fifer was still renting rooms in No. 60 in 1940.  One of her tenants, Carl Chapman, prompted a headline in the Daily News on March 20 that year:  "You Figure It Out."

At 5:40 on the previous morning, a policeman happened upon the 24-year old.  The article said "He was singing.  There was a radio on his shoulder.  In his pockets were a veal cutlet, a quarter pound of butter, salt and pepper shakers, and an alarm clock set to go off at 6 A.M."  The patrolman found it "pretty puzzling" and since Chapman could not explain any of it, he was charged with disorderly conduct.  It ended happily for the cutlet-carrying young man when the judge let him off with a suspended sentence the following day.

The house is little changed since this photograph around 1941.  via the NYC Dept of Records & Information Services

A less understanding judge was Anna Kross.  Alfred Keating was a longshoreman  who lived in No. 60 on March 19, 1944 when he appeared before Magistrate Kross in Felony Court.  He explained that when he beat another longshoreman, Gastis Manesis, to death on March 10 it was a case of self-defense.  She ordered the 36-year old held without bail for trial.

The Peter Van Natter house next door, at No. 62, has fared less well than Nos. 58 and 60. 

A renovation completed in 1971 resulted in an apartment in the basement below the single family residence.  When it was placed on the market in 1991 the realtor listed three bedrooms, and six fireplaces in the main house and made special note of the "pumpkin-pine floors" in the basement apartment.  It sold for $990,000--about $1.86 million in today's money.

photographs by the author