Thursday, January 21, 2021

John C. Burne's 1890 260 West 17th Street

On August 1, 1889 William C. Burne purchased the two two-story wooden houses at Nos. 258 and 260 West 17th Street from Newman Cowen, paying $18,000 for both properties.  He had big plans for the site.  His architect, John C. Burne (possibly a relative) filed plans for a five story "brick flat" to cost $37,500.  The total expense of the project including property would equal $1.58 million today.

Burne produced an exuberant blend of materials and styles.  Clad in yellow brick, it was lavishly ornamented with brownstone and terra cotta.  The architect's recipe of Queen Anne, Renaissance Revival and Romanesque Revival styles resulted in a striking architectural concoction.

Creative brickwork appeared in the faux fluting of the upper piers and remarkable stepped corbels below the cornice (now sadly lost).  But terra cotta stole the show in foliate bands and panels, chain motifs, Corinthian capitals and the sumptuous spandrel of the top floor arch.   Here a central portrait of Mercury was flanked by roses, cornucopia and swirling vines.

Impressive now, the upper section must have been more so when the cornice was in place.

Although its tenants were respectably middle-class, the building quickly appeared in news articles for less than favorable reasons.  It started with one of the original residents, 34-year old William H. Buttner, a lawyer.

Buttner moved into No. 260 in August 1890, just after its completion.  He opened his law office at No. 322 Broadway with partner William D. Hughes in January 14, 1888.  The firm specialized in divorce cases.  The Press noted "They advertised extensively that they were able to secure 'divorces without publicity,' and were soon overrun with clients."  The partnership fell apart before the year was out.

Buttner was at Koster & Bial's music hall on Christmas Eve 1890 "in a full dress suit" when officers arrested him.  He spent Christmas in jail, thus attired, and appeared in the Jefferson Market Police Court on December 26.  Also there was his former partner, William D. Hughes, who testified against him in damning detail.  The scandalous story was covered across the country.

The Fort Worth Daily Gazette reported on December 27 that "William H. Buttner, manufacturer of bogus divorces, has been entangled by the statements of his former partner."  Hughes told the court about taking money from clients who never received a divorce.  The Press added "The pair did not devote all their time to divorce cases, but also presented civil suits and by deceit and forgery robbed their poor clients."

Buttner was so enraged by his former partner's testimony that he snarled at him "I ought to go to the state prison for something else besides being associated with you--I'd rather go there for homicide."  Both he and Hughes were sentenced to terms of five to seven years in state prison.

While Mr. and Mrs. Bucklow were in Europe during the summer of 1891, Mrs. Bucklow's brother occupied their flat.  On his birthday, a group of friends surprised him with a party.

Living directly below was Mrs. Myra Stevens.  There had already been problems between her and her upstairs neighbors.  She long suspected Mrs. Bucklow of purposely tossing dirty dish water out her window onto her drying clothes.  The birthday party was apparently the last straw.  When the Bucklows returned home, Mrs. Stevens took them to court.

On September 4 the New York Herald reported that Myra, "a tall, expensively dressed blonde, in Jefferson Market police Court, yesterday afternoon, complained that Mrs. Bucklow, who lives in the same apartment house at No. 260 West Seventeenth street, was constantly throwing dirty water on her rugs and clothing."  Myra Stevens was dressed to impress the judge.  She "wore a quantity of valuable diamonds.  A magnificent crescent glistened at her neck and she wore a pair of brilliant eardrops."

She testified that when she had complained about the ruined laundry, "Mrs. Bucklow told her the dirty water was only a sample of what she might expect."  And she threw in the party, embellishing a bit.  The New York Herald reported that she accused Mrs. Bucklow's brother of "entertaining ladies and gentlemen and made sleep to the other tenants impossible by the noise.  They made a practice of hoisting beer up on the fire escape by means of a rope."

Mrs. Bucklow denied the charges, although she admitted that perhaps dirt from her flower pots might have fallen onto her neighbor's laundry.  "She said the complainant made trouble continually for the tenants, that the house did not seem to be good enough for her."  The exasperated judge "advised the ladies to settle their grievances out of court," concluded the article.

Elizabeth M. Styles was living in the building at about the same time.  A devote Roman Catholic, she worshiped at the Church of the Blessed Sacrament, far north on Broadway at 71st Street.  But as 1894 drew to an end, Elizabeth began showing signs of mental instability.  She began going to the church in the morning, and spending the day there without eating or drinking anything.  Friends and parishioners tried to discourage her but, according to The Evening Telegram, "She listened to no remonstrances and declared that it was necessary for her religious well being that she spend most of her time in the sanctuary."

Elizabeth's obsession worsened and on the night of February 5, 1895 when it came time to close the church, the 50-year old woman refused to leave.  After being "turned out," as worded by the newspaper, "instead of going to her home, she went to the West Sixty-eighth street [police] station and declared that she must remain there."  Captain Gallagher sent for her nephew, Gilbert Jackson, who explained that his aunt "was well connected, but had long acted strangely and her friends could do nothing with her."  Elizabeth was held in the station overnight and then taken to the Yorkville Police Court "to be examined as to her sanity."

Terra cotta details include leafy bands and exotic panel decorations.

In the summer of 1906 two Boston lovebirds, George Forsythe, a bellboy, and May McCormack, a telephone operator, ran away and took an apartment in the 17th Street building.  They were both 22-years old, so were not legally answerable to their parents.  The problem was that they took "cash and clothes belonging to the girl's mother," as reported by The Sun on August 6.  "All told, the mother said, she was a loser to the amount of $350."  That would amount to about $10,300 today.

Boston police sent a telegram to New York with a description of the culprits.  Detectives tracked them down to West 17th Street.  The Sun reported "The youngsters said they came down here to get work, and that after they got settled they intended to get married."

Teen-aged Joseph Collins continued the string of unflattering press in 1924.  At around 9:30 on the night of May 15 Patrolman Daily noticed 15-year old Arthur Klebbe walking along West 14th Street.  There was nothing suspicious about the boy, but two hours later he passed the cop again, this time "carrying a huge bundle," according to The Sun.  Daily stopped him and asked what he was carrying.  Inside the bundle were five fur coats.

At the station house Collins confessed everything.  The coats were part of the total heist of ten stolen from the Arnold Cloak Company on Sixth Avenue.  Collins quickly identified his two accomplices, 17-year old Joseph Collins and 18-year old Edward Murphy.  When police checked arrested Collins at No. 260 West 17th Street, they found the other five coats under his bed.

A renovation completed in 1936 resulted in two apartments per floor.  Among the new residents were William and Jean Shockley, who paid $60 per month rent for the two-bedroom apartment (about $1,100 today).  The couple had married in August 1933 and had a baby daughter, Alison, born in March the following year.

William Bradford Shockley, Jr.'s biographer, Joel N. Shurkin, in his 2008 Broken Genius, described the apartment:

The house was attractive and well kept; the kitchen and bath tiled and as modern as any apartment they visited; and high ceilings and tall windows let in a warm stream of diffuse light.  Visitors entered into a central hall.  The living room was on the left and the bedrooms were in the back of the apartment, behind a dining area.

William Bradford Shockley, Jr. photo by Chuck Painter, Stanford News Service

Shockley was a physicist and inventor.  He would go on to research radar at Bell Labs in Manhattan during World War II and worked on Columbia University's Anti-Submarine Warfare Operations Group.  In 1956 he an two other scientists were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics and work in developing the transistor resulted in the formation of California's Silicon Valley.

Perhaps the most shocking news story to come out of the building happened in March 1954 when Federal agents arrested 47-year old Mrs. Joan Kaufmann, an unemployed cosmetician.  Joan's neighbors most likely could not have suspected she was part of a major narcotics ring.  She had been under continuous surveillance by investigators for months before her arrested in her apartment on March 5.  Her accomplice, Saul Gelb, was arrested at an apartment on East 56th Street which "he had rented for the purpose of processing narcotics."  Agents also seized more than $2 million in drugs.

There are still just two apartments per floor in the building.  Sadly the cornice was lost during the 20th century; but overall John C. Burne's eye-catching design is little changed.

photographs by the author

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

The 1868 Marble-Faced 114 Franklin Street

photo via

On April 18, 1868 a notice appeared in The New York Herald that read simply "For Sale--The Valuable Lot, 114 Franklin street."  An old house had stood on the lot for decades and had been operated as a rooming house in the 1850's.  Next door, at No. 112, a new loft and store building had just been completed for Max Weil.  It was designed by architect Samuel A. Warner. 

The empty lot was purchased by Elliot C. Cowdin.  He was simultaneously erecting two buildings at Nos. 96-98 and 100-102 Grand Street designed by Benjamin W. Warner, who shared an office with his architect brother Samuel.  He now gave Warner the commission to design No. 114 Franklin Street.  The resultant building would be identical to No. 112; and although the design clearly came from the drawing board of Samuel A. Warner, Benjamin gets the credit as architect of record.  

Completed in 1868, like its twin No. 114 it rose five-stories and was faced in marble above the cast iron storefront.  A handsome blend of Italianate and French Second Empire styles, it featured segmentally-arched openings flanked by Doric pilasters.  A pronounced still course separated each floor.

Cowdin was a man of broad interests.  The New York Times would later say he "made his name equally familiar in business, politics and commercial and agricultural literature."  He was the principal in Elliot C. Cowdin & Co., importers and dealers of "French fancy goods."  But his business did not move into the new Franklin Street building which he had erected as an investment only.

Among Cowdin's early tenants was Louis Weddigen & Co., dry goods importers and commission merchants.  Customs records reveal that the goods the firm brought into the country included "Italian cloths and worsted dress goods" along with velvet, satin and silk.

Although technically listed as being designed by different architects, No. 114 (left) and No. 112 are identical.

Another dry goods merchant, Mackintosh, Green & Co., was unintentionally involved in a scam which cost citizens thousands in tax dollars.  In 1873 the Department of Charities and Correction forewent the bidding process and granted a contract for dry goods to "a person named Sternback."  Suspicious, the New York Herald launched an investigation.  It discovered that Sternback did not appear in the City Directory, he had no known place of business, and there was no evidence that he was a dry goods merchant.  What was known was that he purchased goods at a discount and sold them to the city at an inflated price.

Among its evidence, the newspaper pointed out that he "purchased of Mackintosh, Green & Co., of No. 114 Franklin street, 9,000 yards of woollen stuff at 35 cents per yard, with 5 per cent off, and sold it to the city at 45 cents per hard, with 5 per cent off, making nearly $1,000 out of the taxpayers by the one transaction."

The building continued to house garment-related merchants, like Oberndorff & Co., here in the 1880's; and Freeman D. Marckwald, an importer of whalebone, "horn strips, polished dress bones and toothbrushes," the following decade.  Whalebone was an important component in the manufacture of corsets.

As had been the case with Mackintosh, Green & Co., in February 1897 Freeman & Marckwald was also involved in a scam and it appears the firm was an innocent pawn.  Ferdinand May was arrested for fraud, having negotiated the sale of $222,310 in bills of exchange to the firm of Weil, Auerbacher & Co.  The bills were drawn on Freeman & Marckwald.

According to The Sun on February 21, May told Weil, Auerbacher & Co. "that his firm had sent Marckwald large consignments of whalebone and that Marckwald had about half a million dollars' worth of the whalebone in storage."  None of that was true.  But May had cashed in the bills before the scam was discovered.

Marckwald was called in to testify.  He "said that there never was any [whalebone] in storage with him," reported the Evening Telegram on March 3.  May was sent off to prison and there was no indication of Marckwald's involvement at all.

And yet, soon afterward Freeman D. Marckwald mysteriously packed his things and sailed for Europe.  A year later Deputy Sheriff Carrahar took control of the business.  The Sun reported on October 2, 1898 "The attachment was obtained on the ground that Mr. Marckwald had been absent from his place of business here for more than a year and was supposed to be in Europe."

In 1886 the firm of Switzer & Schussel was formed to import and manufacturer handles for umbrellas and parasols next door at No. 112.  Then late in 1911 business had grown to the point that Switzer & Schussel continued the manufacturing, while a newly-formed office, Schussel & Manly, handled the import and sales.  Interestingly considering the period, Edward Max Schussel's partner was a female, Gertrude A. Manly.  Their new offices opened in No. 114 Franklin St. 

In its January 1912 issue Luggage and Leather Goods commented that Schussel & Manly would be showing its "large domestic line, consisting of novelties in fancy woods, horn and Ivorine, a very large and attractive line of import handles, unique in styles and prices, during the month of February.  Also a full line of imported umbrella frames, handles, mounts, etc."

But like so many German-based businesses throughout the United States, World War I dealt a crushing blow.  In February 1918 Trunks, Leather Goods and Umbrellas reported "Schussel & Manly, manufacturers and importers of umbrella handles and canes, are retiring from business."  It was not so simple as that.

The anti-German sentiment which swept the country resulted in the Trading With The Enemy Act of 1917.  It gave the Government broad rights to confiscate the properties of German-born businessmen whether or not they were American citizens.

The Alien Custodian Report listed the "enemy interest" in Schussel & Manly Manufacturing Co. at 100 percent.  Edward Max Schussel and Gertrude Manly had not truly retired.  Instead, as reported in the Report of the Alien Property Custodian, "The business was liquidated under enemy trade license."  All assets of Schussel & Manly were confiscated by the Alien Property Custodian.  Max Schussel moved his family back to Germany, as did Gertrude Manly.

While dry goods related firms remained in No. 114 for decades years following the war, a variation in the tenant list began appearing in 1921.  That year Ace Specialties Corp. was listed here.  It dealt in goods like paper goods, like cups, doilies, napkins, as well as "sanitary spoons," tin kitchen utensils, and toilet paper.

The last quarter of the century saw the rediscovery of Tribeca arrive on Franklin Street.  By 1977 the Bromm Gallery was in the building, and in 1999 Grace Bar and Restaurant opened.  It was described by The New York Times food critic Florence Fabricant as "a sleek, Art Deco-inspired place, with tapas-style food at the bar."

As was happening with so many 19th century loft buildings throughout the district, a renovation completed in 2008 resulted in one apartment per floor above the store.  Two years later, in March 2010, Albert Trummer told Florence Fabricant of his plans for the ground floor.  He said his Theater Bar "will be inspired by Vienna and the nightlife of the 1930s and '40s."  The theatrically-themed venue opened in April 2011.

Both No. 114 and its twin sister survive remarkably intact after more than 140 years.

photographs by the author

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

The Rutgers Club - 314 West 91st Street


In June 1892 mansion architect C. P. H. Gilbert filed plans for a four-story brick and stone residence for attorney Charles DeHart Brower.  Completed within the year, the 39-foot wide house cost Brower the equivalent of $580,000 in today's money.  A period photograph of an abutting structure gives tantalizing clues to its appearance--a red Roman brick facing and grouped stone-framed windows with colorful stained glass transoms.

Born on December 13, 1856 Charles had married Mary Holly Bailey on October 12, 1880.  The couple had three children, 8-year old Charles Ferguson, 7-year old Fannie, and Bailey, who was born in the new house on May 2, 1893.

Brower had been a member of Ye Olde Settlers' Association of Ye West Side since 1884, a social club for area residents.  He was also highly involved in the West End Association, a more activist group, staunchly defensive of the developing suburb which lobbied for improvements like sewers and mass transportation, and against "nuisances" like the city's proposal to use land below Riverside Drive for incinerating garbage.  He was, as well, a director and treasurer of the Ocean Trading Co., and a trustee of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

The Brower country home was in Quogue, Long Island.  There Charles berthed his yacht, the Frontenac.  The craft was annually entered in the Westhampton Country Club regatta.   And by the time the younger Charles reached his 18th birthday, he too had a boat.  Father and son did very well in the regatta of 1902.   On August 10 the Brooklyn Daily Eagle reported "In class Q. sloop Frontenac, Charles Dehart Brower, was an easy winner, beating Winnabust over nine minutes, with Wampnissie third.  In class U. sloops, Lass, Charles Dehart Brower, jr., finished first and Atmaq, second."

In 1901 the West End Association began fighting with the Forty-second Street, Manhattanville & St. Nicholas Avenue Railway Company "against the maintenance of four tracks in Amsterdam Avenue, on the ground that the unused tracks are a nuisance as well as a menace to the public," as reported by The New York Times.  When nothing happened after five years, Charles DeHart Brower took the matter in to his own hands, suing the firm and seeking the forfeiture of its charter.

The younger Charles had graduated from Princeton in 1904 with a degree in electrical engineering.  The family was spending the holidays in Quogue in 1907 while Marian Childs was visiting the William E. Barnes family nearby.  The Sun mentioned that both Charles and Marian "are well known in New York society."  

It appears that the two were well-known to themselves as well, for on New Year's Eve Charles proposed that they elope.  The Sun explained it saying he "asked Miss Child's why they couldn't get married then and dispense with the marriage license and a lot of bother and fuss."  Within hours the two were married.  The article said "They and a few relatives got into Mr. Brower's automobile and the trip to Riverhead was made in a hurry."

Fanny's marriage to Harvey C. McClintock on November 11, 1911 was a more traditional affair.  It took place in the Quogue residence with the expected announcement, invitations, and guests.  The newlyweds moved into the West 91st Street house.

In the meantime, Mary Brower was involved in Upper West Side causes.  She was an officer in the Bloomingdale Day Nursery and a member of the Ladies' Association of the Sheltering Arms.  The Sheltering Arms was an institution founded to care for children six to twelve years old "for whom no other institution provides."  The children were not orphans, but placed there by parents or guardians who could not afford to care for them.

Around 1917 Charles Brower fell ill.  His condition worsened over a period of months and he died in the house on May 2, 1918 at the age of 62.

Two years later the Browers offered the residence for sale at $65,000--just under $830,000 in today's money.  The Real Estate Record & Builders' Guide reported that it sold for a startlingly higher amount, $85,000 and that "after extensive alterations will be occupied by the purchaser."

That purchaser was motion picture producer William Fox, founder in 1915 of the Fox Film Corporation.  He was also a director in the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America.  Born in Hungary as Vilmos Fuchs, his parents brought him to the United States when he was nine-months old.   His name is best remembered today in 20th Century Fox, Fox Broadcasting and similar firms.

Possibly because the motion picture industry was rapidly moving west to California, Fox's residency in the house was short lived.  In 1923 it was purchased by the Rutgers Club which hired architect Samuel Sass to do interior renovations.  Five years later the architectural firm of Gronenberg & Leuchtag completely remodeled the building, giving it a new neo-Romanesque facade.  Stone medieval-inspired corbels over the entrance and below the cornice, and inset heraldic shields provided contrast to the brown-red brick.  The center shield below the gable holds the club's monogram, RC.

From the beginning the Rutgers Club was used by Jewish groups, most notably Ivriah, a women's group which ran a Jewish education center in the building.  On February 15, 1923 the New York Post reported "One of the most unique collections of dolls in the world--representing dolls of twenty-five countries stretching from the inner-most sections of the Orient to the nations of Eastern and Central Europe--will be displayed by...the West Side Division of Ivriah at the Rutgers Club, 314 West Ninety-first Street."

And on April 22, 1934 the Jewish Telegraphic Agency reported on Ivriah's upcoming weekly meeting.  Leo Schwartz was to discuss "Jewish Problems and their solution" and Selma Start would speak on "Creative Listening to Music."

International Jewish issues continued to be addressed in lectures and meetings here.  On November 4, 1937 The New York Sun reported "A symposium on the proposed establishment of a Jewish State in Palestine has been arranged by the West Side Zionist District for next Monday evening at the Rutgers Club."

Little has changed to the exterior of the building since this photograph was shot around 1941.  via the NYC Dept of Records & Information Services

On August 2, 1943 The New York Sun announced that the Herzliah Hebrew Academy had purchased the building.  The article noted "the purchaser plans to extensively alter the building and occupy it for education purposes with a curriculum similar to that of a junior college."  The renovations, completed in 1944, resulted in an auditorium on the first floor, class rooms in the second and third, and offices on the top floor.

The Herzliah Hebrew Academy remained for more than two decades.  By the early 1970's the building had become the Walden School, a private school for grades 8 through 12, and in 1974 was home to the Center for Change, "a revolutionary health care and educational service organization," according to WorkForce magazine.

In 2005 The Ideal School of Manhattan was founded and moved into No. 314 West 91st Street.  The independent elementary school remains in the space.  And despite its many incarnations, the exterior is little changed since the Rutgers Club gave it a facelift in 1928.

photographs by the author

Monday, January 18, 2021

The Lost William B. Astor Sr. House - 32 Lafayette Place


from Magazine of American History, edited by Mrs. Martha J. Lamb, 1886 (copyright expired)

Born in 1792, William Backhouse Astor's life began much differently than it would end.  His father, John Jacob Astor I, had originally come to America to join his brother, Henry, in his butcher shop.  After working there a short time he left to make money in the fur trade, buying raw hides from Native Americans.  He opened his own fur shop in New York in the late 1780's.

William was educated in public schools while simultaneously working in his father's store.  By the time he was 16 his father's financial status was such that William was sent to Germany for further education.  Upon his return in 1815 he entered his father's firm, although at least one source scoffed that he was in truth merely "an industrious and faithful head clerk."

John Jacob Astor was "on terms of intimacy," as worded by The Sun later, with General John Armstrong.  Armstrong had been, as well, a delegate to the Continental Congress, a U.S. Senator and President James Madison's Secretary of War.  

Three years after William's return to New York, in 1818, he married Armstrong's daughter, Margaret Alida Rebecca Armstrong.  She was decidedly above his social class.  Margaret's mother was the former Alida Livingston.  The Livingston family was prominent in society as was the family of Alida's mother, Margaret Beekman.

According to The Sun later, "at the time of William B. Astor's courtship the young man was poor.  His father was actively attending to his business; but his uncle, Henry Astor, who had long been a celebrated butcher in the Bowery, assisted him."

William and Margaret would have seven children, Emily, John Jacob III, Mary Alida, Laura Eugenia, William Backhouse, Jr., Henry III, and Sarah Todd.

When Henry Astor died childless in 1833 he left his $500,000 estate to William--about $15.7 million in today's money.  It afforded him the means to erect a fine home in the fashionable Lafayette Place neighborhood.  His father had begun buying up property in the district in 1804 and by now the marble-fronted LaGrange Terrace, an elegant grouping of nine mansions, had been completed directly across the street from William's plot.

Four bays wide, the Greek Revival style house at No. 32 Lafayette Place sat above an English basement.  The entrance sat within a columned portico and French windows at the parlor level opened onto cast iron balconies.  The family enjoyed a walled garden to the side.

The neighborhood filled with Astors.  John Jacob Astor I's house was located less than a block away on Art Street (later Astor Place), and William's brother John Jacob Astor, Jr., moved into LaGrange Terrace.  (John Jr. was mentally challenged and sickly.  Deemed by The Troy Daily Times as the "idiot son," he was never involved in the family businesses.)  William's sister Dorothea's mansion, Langdon House, would be completed at the corner of Lafayette Place and Art Street within the decade.  

Former New York Mayor Philip Hone spoke of his many visits to the William Astor house in his journal.  Historian Martha J. Lamb quoted a passage in 1886:

His dinner parties were very recherché, and on special occasions a display of gold and silver plate glittered beneath the gas-lights; but not a sign of vulgar pretention marred the refinement of the entertainment.

One of those brilliant affairs preceded the marriage of the Astors' eldest son, John Jacob III, to Augusta Gibbs.  Again it was Philip Hone who memorialized the evening of December 15, 1846:

Last evening my daughter and son went to a party at Mr. Astor's, and I was tempted to mix in the splendid crowd of charming women, pretty girls, and well-dressed beaux.  The spacious mansion in Lafayette place was open from cellar to garret, blazing with a thousand lights.  The crowd was excessive, and the display of rich jewelry enough to pay one day's expense of the Mexican War.

The mansion was the scene of a much more solemn event two years later.  On April 5, 1848 the Troy Daily Whig reported "the funeral of the late John Jacob Astor took place on Saturday afternoon, from the residence of his son, No. 32 Lafayette Place.  The procession passed from thence to St. Thomas Church."

The procession was led by the heads of six important churches--St. Thomas's, St. John's, St. Bartholomew's, St. Mark's, the Church of the Ascension, and Grace Church.  "Then came the corpse, borne on the shoulders of six men."  Among the honorary pall bearers were Washington Irving, David B. Ogden, Thomas J. Oakley, Philip Hone and James Gallatin.

At the time of his death John Jacob Astor was the wealthiest man in America, leaving an estate estimated at approximately $20 million--around $668 million today.  The bulk of his fortune went to William.

The Astors' eldest daughter, Emily, had married politician and author Samuel Ward in 1838.  Later that year their daughter Margaret Astor Ward was born.  Emily died in childbirth in 1841, as did the baby.  Little Margaret, affectionately known as Maddie, became "a favorite of Mr. William B. Astor's family," according to The Sun, later.

William Backhouse Astor, Sr. from the collection of the National Trust, Cliveden

On January 23, 1862 the New York Daily Herald reported that Maddie's wedding to John Winthrop Chandler had taken place in the Astors' Lafayette Place mansion.  The bride was 23 years old and the groom 35.  Maddie's close relationship with her grandparents was evidenced when the newlyweds moved into the mansion.  Their son, Archie, was born in the house before the year's end.

The refined neighborhood had been rocked by the Astor Place Riots in May 1849 (when Dorothea's house across the street was left looking "as if it had withstood a siege," according to Philip Hone).   Upheaval came again in July 1863 when the three-day long Draft Riots broke out.  Astor's house was apparently targeted in one incident and on July 22 The New York Times reported "A laborer named John Murphy was arrested by the Tenth Precinct Police yesterday, charged on the complaint of Wm. B. Astor, of No. 32 Lafayette-place...with riotous conduct."

Margaret Armstrong Astor in 1865.  from the collection of the National Trust, Cliveden

Margaret Astor died on February 15, 1872 at the age of 73.  In reporting her death The Sun described said, "A woman of culture and refinement, her society was sought by the more select circles of fashionable people in this city, but she seldom left her mansion expect on errands of charity."

Her funeral was held in Grace Church, rather than the Lafayette Place mansion as might have been expected.  The New York Times listed among the many mourners names like Schuyler, Van Buren, Van Rensselaer, Cruger, Gallatin, the Alexander Tunney Stewarts, Governor Edwin D. Morgan, "and many other leading citizens."

At the time of Margaret's death the once-exclusive neighborhood was becoming increasingly commercial.  Maddie Ward (whom The Sun reported "will inherit her mother's fortune, which, it is said, will amount to $10,000,000") had moved uptown two years earlier.  Nevertheless, William refused to leave his beloved mansion.

He fell ill on November 20, 1875 and died four days later in the Lafayette Place mansion at the age of 83.  The New York Times reported, "Mr. Astor was in his usual good health, except for a slight cold, until Saturday last week."

His will left the Lafayette Place mansion to his daughter Alida.  The New York Times placed the value of the property at $250,000--more than $6 million today.  She inherited, as well, "the contents of the Lafayette place house" as well as other real estate and outright cash.

Alida was quick to convert the family mansion for commerce purposes.  Within the year it was operated as Sieghortner's Restaurant, which became a popular venue for testimonial dinners and social gatherings.  The property was sold in April 1890 and soon replaced by an eight-story commercial building which survives.

photo via

Saturday, January 16, 2021

The James Iddings House - 52 Bond Street

Even while horribly disfigured, the ca 1836 house manages to hint at its former elegance.

Around 1807 Bond Street was laid out, but it would not be until around 1812 that the first house appeared.  Before mid-century it would boast 60 high-end houses which rivaled and surpassed the grandest homes on Broadway, St. John's Park and Lafayette Place.  Sturges S. Dunham, writing in Valentine’s Manual of Old New-York in 1907, noted “Bond Street was one of the best known streets in the city and none stood higher in favor as a place of residence.”

In 1834 builder Ephraim H. Wentworth purchased the plot at No. 52 Bond Street.  He sold the property to Jonathan J. Coddington four years later.  Coddington was highly involved in politics and in 1844 would be the Democratic nominee for mayor.  It is unclear which of the men erected the 25-foot wide house on the site, but appears that neither of them lived in it.

The brick-faced house was an early example of the Greek Revival style on the street lined mostly with Federal style residences.  The railings of the stone stoop were highly unusual--their serpentine design engulfing two palmettes, a popular motif of a generation earlier.  The stone surround of the entrance was expected in the architectural style, its pilasters upholding a heavy stone entablature.  A squat attic floor replaced the peaked roof and dormers seen in the neighboring Federal houses.

Somewhat battered today, the stoop railings may be unique.  Under its coat of paint the paneled stoop may be marble, as was the case with other mansions on the block.

According to Valentine's Manual of the City of New York in 1917, "The first occupant of No. 52 Bond street seems to have been James Iddings, assistant cashier of the United States Bank, then at 34 Wall street, opposite the old Merchant's Exchange."  Iddings was appointed to that position on August 30, 1838, the same year Coddington purchased No. 52 Bond Street.  It came with an annual salary of $4,000--about $115,000 today.

In 1841 Iddings moved to Brooklyn.  An advertisement appeared in The Evening Post on April 5 that year offering the "three-story house, No. 52 Bond street" for rent.  It became home to teacher Esther Ann Devereux for a year (she moved across the street to No. 55 in 1843) and the house next became home to Dr. John Davis.

Dr. Davis's home, like all the others along the block, would have been furnished in high style, with oil paintings, marble and bronze statuary, and custom-made furnishings.  He almost assuredly ran his practice from the house as well. 

By the first years of the 1850's the wealthy residents of Bond Street were moving further north as commerce threatened their refined neighborhood.  Dr. Davis apparently gave notice to Coddington of his intentions to move in 1851.  An advertisement in the New-York Daily Tribune that February offered the house for sale.

Davis moved to No. 37 Bleecker Street in 1852.  No. 52 became a high-end boarding house, with residents like William Gardiner, a cabinetmaker at No. 69 Gold Street who lived here in 1853 and '54.  An advertisement in the New York Herald in May 1855 read:

Board at 52 Bond Street--Two suits of rooms on first and second floors, furnished or unfurnished, for gentlemen or gentlemen and their wives; also, two rooms on third floor, furnished or unfurnished, for single gentlemen, with all the modern improvements.  Private breakfast extra if desired.  References will be required.

That the ad mentioned single gentlemen, but not single ladies, was significant.  Respectable boardinghouses did not accept unmarried women for fear of housing a disreputable woman and the taint she might bring to the establishment.  An apparent exception was Eleanor Williamson, a widow, who lived here in 1855 and '56.  Another boarder at the time was David Ritter who ran a drug store on the Bowery; and James H. Holden moved in and operated his dental office (presumably in the basement level) in 1857.

Unmarried women who found themselves pregnant not only faced ruin, but in many cases they could barely afford to feed themselves let alone an infant.  The problem resulted in newborns being abandoned on doorsteps.  On December 28, 1855 a new mother sneaked down the stairs to the basement of No. 55 and left her baby outside the door.

The following day the Evening Post entitled an article "Another Discarded Infant" and reported "Last night, though the weather was intensely cold, some inhuman mother or father left a little boy, about two weeks old, in the area of house No. 52 Bond street.  The parentless child was kindly cared for until he could be sent to the Governors of the Alms-House."

It appears that Dr. Payton Spence and his wife, Amanda, were operating the boardinghouse by 1862.  Dr. James Holden was still here and would operate his dentist office through 1865.  Edward W. Bartholomew, a maker of "medicines" on John Street, was renting a room by 1864.

The change in the neighborhood was reflected in the Spences' questionable side business.  An advertisement in The Herald of Progress on May 24, 1862 read:

Dr. and Mrs. Spence may be consulted at No. 52 Bond Street, New York  Mrs. Spence, in her capacity as a Medium, will prescribe and manipulate for physical, mental, and moral diseases, acute or chronic.

A few patients can also be accommodated with rooms and board.  L
etters of inquiry may be addressed to either Dr. Payton Spence or Mrs. Amanda M. Spence, No. 52 Bond Street, New York city.

No. 52 briefly became a private house again when banker Henry Bischoff purchased it in 1865.  He shared office space at No. 58 Bowery with his son, Henry Jr., who was an attorney.  Although the Bond Street neighborhood was in decline--most of the once-elegant homes now being used as dental offices, boarding houses or small businesses--the Bischoffs were well-to-do and well respected.  

But when Bischoff sold the house in 1868 to Frederick Bornhagen and his wife Dorothea, it again became a boarding house.  Born in Prussia, Bornhagen was a tailor, as was his son, Francis.  He leased the basement level as a commercial space to L. Levy, a boot and shoe maker.  The Bornhagens' boarders were respectable working-class citizens like Peter Bohl, a barber, and Patrick Keirns, a private detective in 1873.

Then in 1875 Bornhagen leased the basement level to brewer Jacob Ruppert for $1,000 (about $24,000 today).  It was common for breweries to operate their own saloons in the 19th century, a practice that gave them the opportunity to sell only their own goods.  Possibly as a part of the deal, Frederick Bornhagen changed his profession from tailor to "beer."  He would run the saloon until about 1887.

By then the Bond Street block had become somewhat seedy.  In 1880 the Bornhagens' 11 boarders included an actor and several actresses (who worked most likely in the Bowery theaters nearby), a horse dealer, a barkeeper, two cigar dealers, a painter, and three children.

Although they retained possession of the property, the Bornhagens are no longer listed at the address after the mid-1880's.  In 1887 the saloon was being operated by Max Lasker who ran an illegal "card room" in the back.  Working on a tip, an undercover detective Eugene D. Collins joined in a poker game on November 19 that year.  The New York Times reported that he lost $11 (more than $300 in today's money).  On November 23 the newspaper reported "Yesterday a raid was made upon the place and Lasker, who claimed that it was a private club, was held for trial.  Three men who were arrested with him because they were in the card room were discharged."

Illegal gambling paled to the charges brought eight years later.  In 1894 both the saloon and the rooming house above were being operated by John H. Meyer.  On May 28, 1895 Frank Moss, the attorney for the Parkhurst Society, charged that "from January 1 to May 17 last a large number of disorderly houses flourished in [police Captain Joseph B.] Eakins's precinct, openly and flagrantly, without his interference."

A "disorderly house" was a polite term for a brothel.  The Sun reported "A list is given of six saloons declared to be the resorts of prostitutes and of twenty-one alleged houses of ill fame."  Among them was No. 52 Bond Street, which was labeled a "house of assignation."

It was most likely that scurrilous press that prompted the Bornhagens to convert the entire house to commercial space.  In 1897 furs and fur cap manufacturer M. Cohen and furrier Alex A. Bernstein were among the first to lease space.

Fur merchants continued to fill the building.  The three tenants in 1901 were S. Kanrich, makers of fur hats and caps; and furriers S. Bierman and A. Gottfried. 

Bond Street was fast becoming part of the millinery district at the time.  In 1904 Wm. B. Goldbaum factory produced hat and bonnet frames in No. 52, Kanrich Bros. produced ladies' hats, and the Jacobson-Brilliant Trimmed Hat Co. opened here in 1907.

The Millinery Trade Review, January 1904 (copyright expired)

After having owned the property for nearly four decades, the Bornhagens sold it to Michael J. Adrian in 1905.  It continued to house millinery firms for most of the first half of the 20th century.  But as the garment district moved north past 34th Street, the Bond Street block became decidedly more industrial.  No. 52 was home to electricians, ironwork firms, and at least one leather goods company through 1950.

In 1941 the Greek Revival entrance surround survived and a show window has been carved into the parlor floor.  via the NYC Dept of Records & Information Services.

A holdover from that period in 1987 was automobile parts dealer American Brake Products, run by brothers Harry and Archie Freibaum.  But businesses like theirs were already becoming scarcer as the Noho renaissance changed the face of Bond Street.  

By the 1960's space on the upper floors was being used, unofficially, as residential.  In 1966 designers Thelma Toma Holly (known as Toma) and her husband Jan Gero, founded the fashion company 52BOND, in the basement space.  Their factory was located directly across the street at No. 42.  The couple ran their business, 52 Bond Street, Ltd., from the space until 1970.

A renovation completed in 2008 resulted in one residential space per floor.  Sadly, sometime after 1974 the Greek Revival entrance surround was removed.  Despite the industrial metal doors, and the parlor floor alterations, the overall domestic appearance of the Iddings house survives.

photographs by the author

Friday, January 15, 2021

McKim, Mead & White's 1904 Tompkins Square Library - 331-333 East 10th Street

In 1902 the Director of the New York Public Library related the story Andrew Carnegie had told him years before.  Carnegie had reminisced about the problems he experience as a boy trying to obtain books to read.  Billings said that the little boy and future millionaire made a vow “no, perhaps not a vow; it seems unnatural to accuse a Scotchman of a vow—but a promise—that if he ever obtained the means he would establish a public library.”

By the turn of the century Andrew Carnegie not only had the means to establish a library, but scores of them.  The philanthropic multimillionaire who had been born in the attic of a tiny house in Dunfermline, Scotland began giving tens of millions of dollars away; distributing his wealth so other impoverished boys would have an easier time.

There was no shortage of indigent children in the neighborhood surrounding Tompkins Square.  A refined residential district in the 1850's, it was now mostly peopled by immigrants.  On November 27, 1904 the New-York Tribune reported "The new building erected from the Carnegie fund for the Tompkins Square branch of the New-York Public Library, at Nos. 331 and 333 East Tenth-st., will be opened with formal exercises on Thursday, December 1."

Designed by McKim, Mead & White, the dignified neo-Classical was clad in limestone and rose three stories.  The arched openings of the first floor were echoed at the second, where the tympana were filled with intricate carvings.  A frieze of swags and shields ran below the stone cornice which supported a parapet that announced New York Public Library.

On the main floor were the circulation room, reference room for adults, and a small office.  The second floor held the children's circulating and reading rooms, and on the third were the general periodical and newspaper reading room and an apartment for the janitor's family.  When the Tompkins Square Branch was officially opened there were 16,000 books upon its shelves.

Years before air conditioning canvas awnings helped keep the interiors cool in the hot summer months.  from the collection of New York Public Library

The library was instantly popular among the locals.  Before the doors opened in the mornings lines would form down the block.  Finding a chair in the reading rooms was often no easy task, and children and adults alike competed for popular books to read at home.

On October 21, 1911, for instance, The Sun noted, "In the Tompkins Square branch of the public library...there are twenty-five copies each of 'Oliver Twist' and 'David Copperfield' on the shelves.  No, not on the shelves.  For even with these twenty-five copies apiece it is almost impossible to keep one on hand."

Children line up to enter the library (the reversed negative places the doorway on the wrong side).  from the collection of the New York Public Library

And upstairs and downstairs lines inside kept order.  from the collection of the New York Public Library

The library served the community in other aspects, as well.  Agencies reached out to tenement families in efforts to improve their lives through instructional lectures or displays.  Such was the case on December 6, 1915 when The New York Press reported "An educational food exhibit designed to show the nutritive values of staple food products will be opened to-night in the Tompkins Square Branch of the Public Library...under the auspices of the New York Association for Improving the Condition of the Poor."

All chairs are filled in this view of the reading room.  from the collection of the New York Public Library

Journalist Paul M. Paine wrote an article entitled "Through Library Windows--The Foreign Born" in The Sun on January 4, 1920.  In it he spoke of the popularity of the Tompkins Square Library among the younger users. 

In particular I would like you to see the children's room on the second floor.  You would have to step carefully to keep from treading upon some of these bright eyed lovers of good books, for they are as the sands for multitude.  The eagerness with which the visitor is welcomed by the readers as well as by those who have charge of them is almost pathetic, so plainly does it prove that the wonderful work which is being done in these foreign branches, as we call them, is passed by unnoticed by New Yorkers and visitors alike.

Among that "wonderful work" were the efforts of the Americanization Committee.  The group sought to indoctrinate the many immigrant groups in the neighborhood in the American culture and language.  In the post-World War I years the Americanization Committee began free English lessons in the library for the various ethnicities in the neighborhood.

This advertising card offered "Learn English!" to Polish residents in October 1920.  from the collection of the New York Public Library

Free community activities here in the early 1950's included "story hours" on Saturdays.  Two sessions, one for children from 6 to 8 years old and another for those 9 to 12, were held.

Adults on folding chairs listen to a Board of Education lecture "From Venice to Naples."  from the collection of the New York Public Library

Two decades later the Tompkins Square neighborhood was still a melting pot.  When the library celebrated its 75th anniversary on December 14, 1979, it staged readings "by representatives of the ethnic groups that have lived in the neighborhood," as reported by The New York Times.  Among them were authors Pietro di Donato and Yuri Kaprolov, poet and artist Fay Chiang, and Hispanic playwright and poet Tato Laviera.

When the branch was closed for renovations (including removal of lead paint) in 1994 its importance among the neighborhood families became clear.  Resident Lin Wefel told Bruce Lambert of The New York Times, "Among the playground moms, it's one of our big topics...There were even rumors that they may close it completely."  She lamented, "They had all these great things--story hours, movies and classes.  We'll especially miss it in the winter when the kids stay indoors and get cabin fever."

The renovations were worth the wait, however.  Lambert noted they included "the installation of air-conditioning and an elevator, modifications to give access to the disabled, new studios on the third floor for local artists and new furniture, decoration and equipment."

The Tompkins Square Library continues to be an integral part of the neighborhood.  Its stately façade, designed by one of America's most renowned architectural firms, is noteworthy.

photographs by the author