Monday, January 1, 2024

The Lost George Long Mansion - 51 Bleecker Street


When this photo was taken on November 30, 1900, subway excavation was taking place along Lafayette Street.  image from the collection of the New-York Historical Society.

Three streets--Anthony, Lispenard, and Bleecker--got their names from Anthony Lispenard Bleecker, a banker.  Bleecker Street originally ran through the Bleecker family farm.  In 1808, Anthony Bleecker and his wife deeded the roadway and surrounding land to the city.

The long block of Bleecker Street between Broadway and Bowery was part of what was known as the Bond Street District.  By the early 1820s, it was developing as one of the most exclusive residential neighborhoods in the city.  In the 1830s, George Long erected an impressive brick-faced mansion at 51 Bleecker Street.  Years later, in 1899, The Sun would recall that Long had simultaneously built "a store at 161 Broadway, which at the time was so far uptown that it was known as 'Long's Folly.'"

The 27-foot-wide, Federal style residence rose three-and-a-half stories above an English basement.  The stone lintels and stoop were most likely marble.  Typical of the high-end homes in the district, its arched entrance sat within a Gibbs surround.  (In the 18th century, Scottish-born architect James Gibbs had resurrected the Roman design of "blocking" the frame of an entrance.  His personal take on the design resulted in its forever carrying his name.)  Two full-height dormers distinguished the peaked roof above a paneled fascia.

George Long was a publisher and bookseller at 97 Fulton Street.  Living with him and his wife Sarah were at least two young adult children, Henry and Susan.

In 1836, Susan married merchant Emanuel Burckle, who was born in Goeppingen, Germany in 1797.  The couple moved into the Bleecker Street house. 

John J. Burckle was born in the "family mansion at 51 Bleecker street," in 1847, as reported by The Sun.  At the time of his birth, his grandfather George Long had been dead two years.

The extended family remained at 51 Bleecker Street until around 1850, when they rented the mansion to William Trotter Porter.  Like George Long, he was a publisher, although his focus was not on books, but on sports reporting.

A bachelor, Porter was born in Newbury, Vermont in 1806.  He moved to New York City in the 1830s to work for a newspaper.  He founded the Spirit of the Times, a journal that reported exclusively on sports and similar recreational activities.  A major focus of the periodical was horse racing, and he was secretary of the New York Jockey Club in 1845.

Porter encouraged burgeoning writers to submit short stories to the Spirit of the Times.  He compiled and edited them into two collections.

William Trotter Porter,. from the collection of the New York Public Library

Shortly after leasing 51 Bleecker Street, Porter sold the newspaper, although he remained on as editor until 1855.  The following year he became editor of Porter's Spirit.

The Bleecker Street mansion was more than enough house for a bachelor.  It was common for even wealthy families to take in boarders in the 19th century, and on January 7, 1852 Porter advertised:  "Board--A room suitable for a gentleman, with full or partial board; the neighborhood respectable, near Broadway, and on a stage route.  Baths in the house."

Broker John Simpkins Jr. answered the ad and would live here through 1857.  A second boarder, real estate operator Alvah Beebe, rented a room in 1856 and '57.

On July 16, 1858, according to The Evening Post, Porter "was chills and fever."  Three days later, the newspaper reported that he "died this morning at nine o'clock.  His health had previously been impaired."  The article noted, "He was a man of much cleverness as a writer in his department, and of a highly social and convivial temper.  His loss will be widely regretted in sporting circles."

Potter's casket was taken from the house at 3:00 the following afternoon and carried to St. Thomas's Church for his funeral.  The Evening Post reported, "At the conclusion of religious ceremonies, the friends of the deceased were permitted to view the face of the corpse."

No. 51 Bleecker Street became a high-end boarding house, run by Emma E. Taylor.  An advertisement on November 5, 1859 read:

Boarding--At 51 Bleecker Street, near Broadway, can be found Rooms, furnished or unfurnished, with first class Board,  for families or single gentlemen, parts of single Rooms.  Dinner at 6 o'clock.  Stages pass the door every five minutes.  Those willing to pay a fair price will find a superior table and home attention.  Reverence given and required.

The mention of "a fair price" revealed that boarding here was not inexpensive.  The exclusivity of boarding houses was judged by the number of residents, and it appears that Emma Taylor took in no more than three boarders at a time (some, of course, with their wives or families). 

Her most celebrated boarder arrived in 1861 in the form of  the British-born theater owner and actress Laura Keene.  She had married John Lutz a year earlier.  Born Mary Frances Moss in 1826, she had made her theatrical debut in London in 1851 and was invited to New York by actor and theater manager James William Wallack the following year.  (He had just taken over the Brougham's Lyceum on Broadway.)

Actress and theatre manager Laura Keene.  photograph by Mathew Brady, from the collection of the Library of Congress.

During her time at Wallack's Theatre she became a star.  By the time she and John Lutz took rooms at 51 Bleecker Street, she ran Laura Keene's Theatre.  Three years earlier, in 1858, she had debuted the new play Our American Cousin there.  Her troupe would revive the production in Washington D.C. on April 14, 1865 before an audience that included President Abraham Lincoln and First Lady Mary Todd Lincoln.  After assassin John Wilkes Booth shot Lincoln in the presidential box, Laura Keene rushed to the scene and cradled the President's head in her lap.

At the time of the tragedy, she and Lutz had been gone from 51 Bleecker Street for two years.  An advertisement in March 1863 hinted at the changing tenor of the Bond Street neighborhood:

To Let or Lease--And possession given in April, the very desirable, commodious dwelling at No. 51 Bleecker-st. with extra large rooms, suitable for a genteel boarding-house or milinery [sic] establishment.

Physician Frederick A. Putnam moved into the house, establishing his practice here.  Living with him were his adult son, Edward F. Putnam, who was in the spice business on Front Street, and Elizabeth Timolat, presumably a boarder, who ran a "sulphur and vapor baths."

Dr. Frederick A. Putnam, painted around 1840-1845.  from the collection of the Worcester Art Museum.

The Putnam family remained through 1869, after which the house once again became a boarding house.  One tenant operated "J. Lerch's Conservatory of Music" from the residence, offering "instruction on piano, singing, composition, violin, orchestral instruments and languages."  The former Putnam medical office was taken over by two physicians, Dr. Franklin and Dr. Perry.  Their practice was decidedly not as respectable as had been Putnam's, however.

In February 1871, Franklin advertised, "Twenty years Prussian hospital experience--Ladies and gentlemen in trouble, private diseases cured inside forty-eight hours."  Patients who were "in trouble" with "private diseases" pointed to venereal diseases.  Dr. Perry's advertisement two months later was similar. 

Dr. Perry, No. 51 Bleecker St., near Broadway, can be consulted by ladies or gentlemen in trouble.  Immediate relief guaranteed in all cases.  Charges moderate, and no fee unless satisfactorily cured.  Office strictly private.  Board, nursing, &c., if required.

This advertisement suggested that something else was going on in the doctors' office.  Patients who needed board and nursing were most often the recipients of abortions.  And that was confirmed on August 31 that year when Dr. Perry was arrested following the death of 30-year-old Emily A. Post.   In October he was convicted of "medical murder."

In the meantime, the boarding house was conducted by a Mrs. McGill.  Her tenants were no more respectable than were the doctors.  Among them was Minnie Davis, a.k.a. Minnie Griffiths, and her husband John J. Davis.  They operated what was known as a "panel house game," almost assuredly with the knowledge of their landlady.  The "panel house" scheme was named after hidden panels or closets in which a confederate of a prostitute would hide.  He would sneak out once the client was distracted, and steal the victim's valuables.  

On December 14, 1871, the Evening Telegram reported, "A Spaniard, named Pasquell Partenza, met a woman in the street, named Minnie Griffiths, or rather a woman who passes under that name, as wife of Sergeant Griffiths, of the Fourteenth precinct.  The Spaniard accompanied her to No. 51 Bleecker street and passed some time in her room, and after leaving it he discovered that he had lost or was robbed of $10."   Partenza returned to the house and confronted Minnie.  They went outside and got into an altercation.  John Davis rushed up, identified himself as a detective, and demanded that Partenza let Minnie go, "as she was his wife," said the Evening Telegram.

Suspicious, Partenza found a police officer who locked up Minnie and John Davis.  When questioned about the incident, Mrs. McGill claimed innocence.  She insisted that she "had no knowledge of the use to which the room was converted."  In court, Minnie pleaded innocent, and John testified that he had never seen her before, but was merely trying to "protect the woman from violence."  Minnie produced a character witness, a saloon owner named James Kenny.  The Evening Telegram reported, "but on cross-examination [he] admitted that Minnie Griffiths was in the habit of meeting Davis at his house."

It did not end well for the Davises.  The article concluded, "The presiding Justice, in sentencing the prisoners, accused them of being confederates, and said there was no doubt in his mind but that they were connected with the house No. 51 Bleecker street.  The girl Griffiths [i.e., Davis] was then sent to the Penitentiary for six months, and Davis was sent to the same place for the space of one year."

Minnie Davis was not the only resident of the boarding house to earn her money as a prostitute.  On January 23, 1872, the New York Herald reported that Jennie Mitchell and Mary Smith, both 20 years old, had been arrested at the Oriental Saloon for prostitution.  

Living here at the time was Mabel Clifton who worked as a saloon entertainer.  (Her "entertaining" almost assuredly included prostitution.)  On August 25, 1872 she was in court to testify against Edward Kingsley, accused of "the larceny of a concert-saloon costume, the property of Mabel Clifton."

By 1873, the medical office was being run by Dr. and Madame West, and Dr. Wright.  Their practice seems to have been similar to that of Drs. Perry and Franklin.  A succinct ad in the New York Herald on October 1 that year read simply, "Consult Dr. and Mme. West.  Advice Free.  Office 51 Bleecker street, near Broadway."  Dr. Wright's real name was John Purssey.  It is unclear whether he worked together with the Wests, but he was involved in selling Portugese pills and powders.  The products had been made infamous by Madame Restell and were meant to prevent pregnancy or induce miscarriage.

On April 29, 1873, the New York Herald reported, "Yesterday Dr. Wright, alias John Purssey, No. 51 Bleecker street, who had been charged with sending through the mails a box containing pills intended to effect an immoral purpose, was held by Commissioner Osborn to await the action of the Grand Jury."

As the Bond Street neighborhood continued to devolve, 51 Bleecker Street was further converted for business use.  By 1882 the J. Deveer & Co. neckwear shop, run by George and John Deveer, operated from the lower floors.

On May 1, 1883, Henry Long leased the house for $1,000 a year to Louis Voelker.  (The rent would equal about $30,000 in 2023.)  He expanded the leasing of space to commercial interests.  

S. Horowitz & Sons, makers of high-end hats, moved in around 1895.  It was operated by Solomon, Samuel and Max Horowitz.  On May 9 that year it advertised, "Trimmer--Wanted, first-class silk hat trimmer who knows how to sew covers."  Another tenant starting in 1896 was Benze Bros., run by George and William Benze, which dealt in novelties here.  The firm would remain through 1899.

No. 51 Bleecker Street narrowly escaped demolition in 1897 when the city moved on a proposal to extend Elm Street north to connect with Lafayette Place.  It condemned and demolished the buildings between Jersey Street and Great Jones Street that stood in the way.  The former house at 49 Bleecker Street was razed, leaving the ghosts of its rooms on the western facade of 51 Bleecker Street.

The new street skimmed the edge of 51 Bleecker.  from the collection of the New York Transit Museum

On February 9, 1899, Brodheim & Sternberg was organized by Jacob Brodheim and Jacob Sternberg to manufacture furs.  The fledgling firm moved into 51 Bleecker Street.  But its residency would not be long.  On December 22, The New York Times reported that Sternberg had sued Brodheim "for a dissolution of the partnership."  In court Sternberg explained that he had put up $800 to form the company, and Brodheim had contributed $150.  The article said, "Mr. Sternberg alleged that on Sunday evening, Nov. 12, Mr. Brodheim without his knowledge or consent carried away all the stock, worth $600, and afterward collected the outstanding accounts and kept the proceeds."

On January 28, 1922, the Record & Guide reported that the "four-story and basement brick building" had been sold to George A. Gunshor.  The article noted that a store would be built on the site.  The three-story Arts & Crafts style structure survives.

image via the NYC Dept of Records & Information Services.

no permission to reuse the content of this blog has been granted to

1 comment:

  1. So it was demolished and this is a different building, and this one was built the early 20s? Love this blog btw, so much!! Happy New Year :)