Until around 1855 a wooden house and store sat on the northeast corner of Reade Street and West Broadway. The upper portion was home to three Black families and a grocery store occupied the ground level. Ralph C. Van Houten demolished that house and the small house-and-store behind it to erect a five-story commercial building. Almost unquestionably, his builder acted as his architect. While the brick-faced building clearly drew from the emerging Italianate style, with its molded brownstone lintels and bracketed cornice, at least one architectural historian calls the style "Utilitarian."
The four floors above the commercial space were accessed through a doorway on West Broadway. In 1856 they were home to three drug manufacturers--William L. Rogers, Robert Robbins, and Robert J. Houghton--and a liquor and wine importer, David M. Hollister. By 1859 the ground floor housed the Crawford & Davis saloon, operated in part by Alexander J. Davis.
The saloon may very well have obtained at least part of its stock from David M. Hollister upstairs. That firm also imported cigars--a sensible go-with for Victorian gentlemen who purchased wine or liquor.
On the night of March 7, 1860 two burglars forced the West Broadway door and then broke into the "wholesale liquor and cigar store of David M. Hollister," as reported by The New-York Dispatch. They were not interested in the liquor, but only in the cigars. They made off with four boxes of cigars valued at $150 (about $5,000 in 2022). The New York Times reported on March 10, "Early yesterday morning, two negroes, named Wm. H. Forest [sic] alias Becket, and Thomas Williams were arrested...on a charge of having perpetrated the burglary." The New-York Dispatch wrote, "After the robbery Forrest took two boxes of the cigars to dispose of, while his confederate was to do the same by the remainder, after which they were to divide the spoils."
Both men had police records, Forrest having been released from Sing Sing State Prison only a few months earlier, and Williams having been arrested the previous week for burglarizing a grocery store. The pair had a confederate in the crime. They confessed to having sold the cigars to John Collins, who ran a cigar store at 71 West Broadway. The stolen goods were found there, and he, too, was arrested.
At the time of the burglary, there was just one apparel manufacturer in the building, Charles Wagner, a skirt maker. Later that year, on December 7, drygoods merchant and skirt manufacturer S. T. Kellogg moved in. It was operated by Sylvester T. Kellogg and his partner James K. Spratt. The scope of their operation was reflected in a help-wanted advertisement four months later. "Fifty experienced skirt hands wanted--at 149 Duane street."
By 1863, the saloon was being operated by Charles Boerger, who lived across the street at 146 Duane Street. The upper floors were now filled entirely with apparel and drygoods merchants, including S. T. Kellogg; Julius and Samuel Wilzinski, dealers in cloth; George H. Rand's shirt manufactory; and two commission merchants, Thomas B. Boyd and another named Leahy.
In October 1864, Thomas B. Boyd developed a scheme to eliminate his competitor. A fire that broke out in the Leahy offices on Sunday afternoon, October 23, was immediately deemed suspicious. Fire investigators concluded that it had started after a hole was bored through Leahy's wall, an accelerant poured in, and then ignited. Two days after the minor fire, The New York Times reported, "A brace and bit, with which the hole was bored through the wooden partition leading from the hallway into the store of Leahy, commission merchant, were found in the room of Thomas B. Boyd, who occupied a room on the same floor." Boyd was arrested and held in default of bail equaling more than $44,000 in today's money.
In 1866 Charles Baltzell Rouss opened a drygoods and notions business in 149 Duane Street. He had a major challenge ahead of him. Born in Winchester, Virginia, at the age of 18 he had first opened a store there. It prospered until the outbreak of the Civil War. Rouss joined the Confederate Army. Now, with the war over, King's Photographic Views of New York said he arrived in New York "without money or influence, and with $11,000 of ante bellum debts hanging over him."
Rouss conducted his drygoods business from 149 Reade Street until 1875, when it failed. Undaunted, according to The American Carpet and Upholstery Journal later, "he began again in a small store on Broadway." Rouss changed his middle name to Broadway. By the 1890's Charles Broadway Rouss's annual sales were between $8 million and $10 million, according to The American Carpet and Upholstery Journal.
The saloon changed hands again in 1871. An advertisement in April offered, "For Sale--Five years' lease of a prominent corner Restaurant, with Bar, and good basement." The upper floors were still occupied by apparel and drygoods merchants. A different type of tenant appeared around 1873 in McKune & Sutton, dealers in the woven mats used under dining room tables, and on the floors of carriages. They were joined in the building around 1876 by another matting dealer, Vandeventer & Horne.
Another non-apparel related firm was that of Alexander F. Reid, who dealt in twine, thread and cord. He moved into the ground floor space before 1885. New York 1894 said, "Here an immense stock is carried of twines, cordage, hemp, flax, jute and tow, gilling thread, hammocks, etc. etc." Born in India, Reid founded the business around 1867 and "the history of his house during the intervening period has been an unbroken record of success," said the article.
The last decade of the century saw the neighborhood morphing into the shoe district. Around 1890 J. Greenberg lease the top three floors for his shoe making establishment. Greenberg had arrived in New York City at the age of 19 in 1871. Now, according to the History and Commerce of New York in 1891, his 40 employees produced 700 pairs of boots each week. The firm manufactured "Gents' fine shoes," said the article, as well as "youths' or boys' shoes." Greenberg's employees worked 54 hours per week, plus nine hours on Saturdays.
The dignified Alexander F. Reid found himself in jail on Saturday evening, February 20, 1897. He left the office and got to the train station around 5:30 just before his train to Brooklyn was to depart. The New York Herald said, "His mind was full of pleasant thoughts. He had ordered a dozen quail sent over from the market in the morning, and in anticipation he saw them on his dining room table." He pushed his way through the crowd, not wanting to miss the train.
Another reputable businessman, George Glassner, was also in a hurry. He inadvertently stepped on Reid's foot, apologized, and proceeded on. On that foot, however, was an extremely painful corn, and Reid was infuriated. He caught up with Glassner, caught him by the back of the collar, and landed a "stinging blow" upon his nose. The New York Herald reported, "in self-defense, Mr. Glassner retaliated with an upper cut on Mr. Reid's jaw. The train pulled out, leaving the two reputable citizens pummeling each other on the platform."
A policeman tried in vain to separate the two. "Mr. Glassner stopped to explain that he had apologized, but the pain of Mr. Reid's pet corn was still intense, and even as he spoke, Mr. Glassner received another blow in the eye, and the two men were at it again, hammer and tongs."
Both were arrested, spent their Saturday nights in jail, and faced Magistrate Crane in the morning. Glassner told him, "I did all I could. I apologized to this gentleman, after he had struck me, and was willing to let it go at that." Reid explained, "He stepped on my corn, and I could have killed him." The New York Herald summed up its recount, saying that Glassner was let go, and Reid was fined $3. "He paid the fine and went home to eat his quail cold."
As the turn of the century approached, the tenant list became more varied. By 1898 the Emergency Horse Shoe and Supply Co. was here. The firm's single product was intended to solve a serious problem--what to do between the time a horse threw a shoe and its owner could get to a blacksmith. Designed to be slipped over the horse's hoof, the temporary shoes were intended to be carried in one's carriage or wagon, and used immediately.
Other tenants at the time included Professor Loberger, maker of "Prof. Loberger's Germ Destroying Tablets." An advertisement in 1898 said "Simply pull open [the] lid and hang the box on the wall. It will destroy bacteria, prevent disease, purifies atmosphere." Jonathan H. Lyon & Co. occupied space at the turn of the century, dealing in "rags for shoddy." (Shoddy was cheap fabric made from shredded rags.) And by 1905 Montanez & Rodriguez, cigar makers, was here.
After being in the building for two decades, Alexander F. Reid moved to 137 Duane Street in the spring of 1907. The Brockton Ideal Shoe Co. soon moved in.
In 1919 the owners emptied the building of tenants, apparently to make renovations. An advertisement on April 28, 1920 offered, "Shoe Center: 149 Duane Street, corner West Broadway, store and four lofts to let, will divide to suit tenant."
Among the new occupants was the Huntington Shoe & Leather Co., based in Huntington, Indiana. In 1931 it was joined by the Duane Shoe Company on the ground floor, and M. Grubman wholesale shoes. Another new tenant that year was unrelated to shoes. F. Couzza's wholesale pistachio business would remain here until 1938, when he moved to 111 Reade Street.
In 1941 the block was lined with shoe businesses. 149 Duane Street is at the left. image via the NYC Dept of Records & Information Services.
The building continued to house shoe companies and other small businesses until a conversion, completed in 2001, resulted in six apartments above the ground floor. Considering the original tenant of the commercial space, the current tenant is appropriately named Balloon Saloon.
photographs by the author
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