Wednesday, March 30, 2022

The Altered James K. Pell House - 10 West 28th Street


In 1866 Miller's Stranger's Guide to New York described the area around Madison Square, saying "The houses surrounding this park include some of the most elegant of this city."  Among those residences was 10 West 28th Street, erected ten years earlier by L. Appleby.  Faced in red brick and trimmed in brownstone, the Italianate style structure rose four floors above a high basement level.

The 25-foot wide house was purchased by James Kent Pell.  The Pells were an old and prestigious family, whose first American ancestor, Thomas Pell, arrived in America in the 1630's.  In 1654 he signed a treaty with the Native American Siwanoy tribe that granted him 50,000 acres.  Thomas Pell became the first Lord of Pelham Manor, which eventually became Pelham, New York, as well as parts of the Bronx and Westchester County.

James K. Pell was a partner in the auctioneering firm of Pells & Co., with John H. Pell and David Clarkson.  His West 28th Street neighbors were as socially prominent as he.  Living next door at 12 West 28th Street was the Frederick W. Rhinelander family, and on the other side at 8 West 28th Street was Egbert L. Viele, the Chief Engineer of Central Park.

The Pells' beloved pet strayed off in the winter of 1862.  An advertisement on December 16 offered a $5 reward for the return of "a black and tan terrier, very evenly marked, ears trimmed, long tail, had on a brass collar."  The generous reward would be around $130 today.

Earlier that year James K. Pell had erected a white marble slab over the grave of his ancestor and namesake, John Pell, in the family cemetery near the old manor house.  John Pell, who died in 1700, was the nephew of Thomas Pell.

On November 25, 1874, James K. Pell died "of disease of the heart," according to The New York Times.  The 56-year-old's funeral was not held in the residence, as might have been expected, by at fashionable Grace Church.

Interestingly, Frederick William Rhinelander rented the house from the Pell Estate.  He and his wife, the former Frances Davenport Skinner, now moved from 12 to 10 West 28th Street, while his widowed sister Mary Elizabeth Newbold and her children moved into their former home.

Frances Rhinelander continued her social schedule.  At the end of every year The Season--An Annual Record of New York & Brooklyn Society was published.  It was essentially a day-to-day diary of the year's activities.  The 1883 edition noted, for instance, that on February 28 the previous year "The Lenten Glee Club met at the house of Mr. and Mrs. F. W. Rhinelander, No. 10 West Twenty-eighth Street."

The Rhinelander family remained in the house until 1886.   By then fashionable society was migrating uptown as commercial interests invaded the neighborhood.  On March 18 that year an advertisement appeared in The Evening Post offering the former mansion "To let for dwelling or to lease for business purposes."  Before the year's end the basement and parlor floors were converted to stores and the upper floors were being rented as apartments.

The property was leased in April 1887.  Henry C. Pell, as executor of the estate, now made even more extensive alterations--costing the equivalent of $337,000 today.  The architectural firm of Harding & Dinkelberg removed the stoop, installed a two-story commercial front, and altered the upper floors to bachelor apartments.

The ground floor became home to C. Wernicke's European antiques store.  The upscale shop would remain at least through 1893.

The Amusement Bulletin, December 21, 1889 (copyright expired)

The second floor was leased to the Fencing Club whose members were well-to-do society men.  On January 22, 1891 the New York Herald announced: 

The agile members of the Fencing Club, No. 10 West Twenty-eighth street, will wield the dainty foil before an invited audience of friends and admirers of the art on Tuesday evening next.  Several beaux sabruers will also brandish the broad sword and doubtless do good work.  The sharp sounds of the clanking steel will be followed by soft music, and a collation will conclude the evening.

The Fencing Club made way for James W. Bouton's book shop in 1895.  On June 1 that year, The Collection mentioned, "It should be noted, by the way, that since May 1, Mr. Bouton has been established at No. 10 West Twenty-eighth street, in the building adjoining his previous establishment."  (Bouton had been in 8 West 28th Street for several years.)

The Collector, June 1, 1894 (copyright expired).

Bouton had barely settled in before he left on a buying trip.  In its October issue, The Collector reported, "Twenty-eighth street, in the vicinity of Fifth avenue, has resumed its normal aspect with the return from Europe of Mr. J. W. Bouton.  Mr. Bouton spent the summer in England, principally in London, with flights to Eastbourne and other watering places.  Among his acquisitions is a picture in oil by George Ro9mney, which is likely to create a sensation in the ranks of our collectors."

Bouton returned in 1894 with this Romney portrait of Lady Hamilton.  from the collection of the National Portrait Gallery

The rare books available in Bouton's shop were evidenced when a reader asked The New York Times where he could acquire "a complete set of Boydell's Shakespeare."  The editor responded, "Our correspondent will do well to communicate with Mr. J. W. Bouton, 10 West Twenty-eighth Street."

In the meantime, the apartments in the upper floors were home to well-to-do, unmarried men.  David H. Biddle, a Philadelphia millionaire, used one of them as his New York pied-à-terre.  He was in town in the spring of 1893 when he, unexpectedly, became a news items.

On May 21 the New York Herald ran the headline, "He Did Not Even Soil His Cuffs / Fashionable Mr. Biddle, of Philadelphia, Knocks out Four Race Track Roughs."  He and three New York millionaires, De Courcey Forbes, J. J. Follansbee, and Frederic Gebhard, "all horsemen and men well known to the turf," according to the newspaper, were returning from a day at the Gravesend track on the Long Island Ferry when trouble ensued.

"On the boat was a crowd of race track 'hangers on' and 'thimble riggers,'" said the article.  "These men invariably make trouble each spring."  The toughs targeted the well-dressed gentlemen, becoming "bold, persistent and insulting."  Their intention was to provoke a fight and then rob them just as the ferry docked.  But, according to the New York Herald, "Mr. Biddle smiled at this.  He is an athlete and able to take care of himself."  

And, indeed, he was.  As the boat neared the slip one of the toughs attacked.  One by one he "almost annihilated a gang of catchpenny gamblers and fakirs," as worded by the newspaper.   By the time the boat docked, "The gamblers were busily engaged wiping the blood from their faces and preparing a plan for escape.  Mr. Biddle had not even 'lost his wind' or soiled his cuffs."

Another tenant was Dr. J. Herbert Clairborne who operated his office from his apartment.  The New York Times remarked later that he "was a member of two of the oldest families in the country."  On the afternoon of April 4, 1895 a man "pretending to be ill," according to the New York Herald, was seated in the waiting room.  He then "stole an overcoat that had been left there by a man who was in the consulting room."  The description of the thief matched that of a man who had gone to the office of Dr. C. A. Von Damdohr on Irving Place that same day.  In that instance he made off with the doctor's bag of surgical instruments and two silk umbrellas.

In the spring of 1900, J. W. Bouton loaned the Gallery of Walter Satteries an ivory tankard valued at around $9,500 today.  While on exhibition there, it went missing.   A $40 reward was announced and, according to police, one of Satterlee's assistants, William Barber, said "if he were given the $40 he thought he could arrange for the return of the property."  And so, the reward was handed over.  But unknown to Barber, an undercover detective was on his trail.  The New York Herald reported on March 28 that the detective "found him spending the money in the company of Miss [Margaret] Gallagher."  Both were arrested "in connection with the disappearance" of the unique tankard, but it was still no where to be found.

A year later, James Bouton had waited long enough.  He sued art collector George W. Crane for $400, saying that it was Crane who had transported it to Satterlee's studio and was therefore responsible.  But just before the case came to court, Walter Satterlee received an anonymous letter "offering the return of the cup in good order for $100."  Satterlee paid the ransom, Bouton got his tankard back, and the thief was never discovered.

Living here at the time was Charles W. Johnson, described by The Morning Telegraph as "a wealthy banker."  He showed up at the Jefferson Market Court on December 30 complaining that he had been robbed.  The newspaper said:

According to the tale furnished by Mr. Johnson he had arrived at his apartments rather early on Sunday morning and had removed several valuable diamond rings and fifty dollars.  Then he had taken off his clothes and was sitting idly thinking of stocks and bonds, when he was startled by observing his electric bell was ringing.

Although he did not know who his visitor was, he released the electric lock of the front door.  Two minutes later, he said, his doorbell rang.  "He was mildly surprised when two colored women entered, and, wishing him a pleasant New Year...helped themselves to his valuables as they lay upon the table."  He said he did not call for the watchman, thinking of  the appearances of "his undressed condition."  The women left and it would be several hours before the banker decided that while he "did not care particularly for the publicity...he certainly as in favor of the enforcement of the law," said the article.

There may have been much more to the story than Johnson was admitting.  "He took pains to inform Sergt. Murtha that he had not the pleasure of the negro women's acquaintance," said The Morning Telegraph.   Two days later two women were arrested, whom Johnson identified.  The newspaper reported, "When they were searched the matron found four diamond rings and $111 in money on Nellie Benson, and a few pawn tickets upon her companion."  Charles W. Johnson had recovered his missing property more quickly than he would restore his tarnished reputation.

In September 1902 James W. Bouton was diagnosed with Bright's Disease.  He died a month later at the age of 69.  The New England Stationer and Printer noted he "had been identified with the publishing and bookselling business in this city for more than fifty years."  His shop would remain at 10 West 28th Street through 1907.

The New York Times, April 6, 1907 (c0pyright expired)

In 1902 the male-only status of the apartments changed.  An advertisement in The New York Times on October 15 that year read "Bachelor Apartments or Others--4 rooms and bath; splendid central location; $45 month."   The rental would equal about $1,400 today.

Several of the new female residents were in the musical field.  Among the earliest were contralto Katharine Pelton, who advertised "concerts and vocal instruction," and pianist and accompanist Henriette Weber.  Composer and agent Albert Von Tilzer lived here, as well, in 1902.  Among his best known songs is the 1908 Take Me Out To The Ball Game.

In 1908 The Color Photography Co. photo studio was located here.  The former Bouton bookstore space was now E. W. Johnson's store "for books hard to find or any books."

The post-World War I years saw the Apex Wire Mesh Co. and the Argentine Trading Company in the commercial spaces.  In 1922 the Cohen Typewriter Exchange moved in.  The store offered monthly payments, advertising "$5 down, $5 monthly, buys latest Underwood, Royal, Oliver, Remington, $35 up."

By 1939 Palestine House operated from one of the stores.  It offered "Holy Land Gifts."  The other shop was home to Harvey the Hatter who "makes men's hats to order for $3.75, $5 and $7.50, depending on the quality of the felt you select," according to Shopping News on September 3, 1941.

As the Nomad neighborhood slowly transformed, so did the commercial tenants of 10 West 28th Street.  In 1974 Pot Covers opened in the second floor of 10 West 28th Street.  Run by Willian Kind and Adele Lewis, it sold "baskets of every size and description," according to The New York Times writer Virginia Lee Warren.  The shop also sold imported jardinières and pots.

And then, in 2014 Daniel Humm and Will Guidara opened the two-level NoMad Bar.  Vogue magazine said, "With plush, oversize banquettes, dark wood, brass detailing, and a working fireplace, the bar harkens back to a more opulent era, when dirty money and crime ran the city."

Harding & Dinkelberg's 1887 storefront has been repeatedly altered.  But rather amazingly, the upper floors are little changed since the day that James K. Pell moved into the house in 1856.

photograph by the author has no authorization to reuse the content of this blog

1 comment:

  1. Albert Von Tilzer's brother Harry was a music publisher, and had an office at 42 West 28th Street. He's credited with naming the row between Broadway and Sixth Avenue "Tin Pan Alley." What a wonderful time to live there!