Saturday, June 19, 2021

The Ernest Greenfield House - 340 West 22nd Street


As Clement C. Moore initially sold off his family's estate, Chelsea, in the first decades of the 19th century, he wrote restrictive covenants into the deeds to ensure that only high-end residences would be erected.  In January 1835, Abisha Smith purchased the six plots on West 22nd Street between Eighth and Ninth Avenues under the stipulation that one 25-foot wide house would be erected before the end of the year.  A stone cutter and mason, he was almost undoubtedly the brother of stone dealer Bezaleel F. Smith who would erect a row of houses along the same block.

Abisha Smith erected a handsome residence for himself and his wife, Lydia Ann, in 1836 to comply with the deed requirements.  Five years later, 1841,  he began construction on the remaining houses--no doubt not coincidentally the same year that Bezaleel F. Smith began his row.  Among those erected by Abisha was No.  246 (renumbered 340 in 1868) which, like its neighbors, was designed in the Greek Revival style.  Three stories tall, it was faced in red brick and trimmed in brownstone.

The house was home to Adolphus M. Corn and his family at least through 1852.  Corn was a wealthy merchant with offices at No. 177 Water Street and a member of the New York Gold Exchange.

The next resident was banker George Haight, here by the mid-1850's.  Living with the family was Betsey Stout, the widow of William Stout and quite possibly Haight's mother-in-law.  

On Saturday afternoon, January 21, 1860, the family sat down to eat.  In the meantime, a brazen woman entered the house, most likely through the basement door.  The New-York Tribune reported, "Letitia Williams, a young colored woman, entered the house of George Haight, No. 246 West Twenty-second street, while the family were at dinner, and stole from there a silk dress, two pair of pantaloons, a coat and some other articles of clothing, in all valued at $55.50."  The amount would top $800 today.

As stealthy as she was, Letitia foolishly tried to leave by the main entrance.  The New York Times reported that she "was just passing out of the front door with her booty, when Mr. Haight observed her."  He detained the woman until a policeman was summoned to arrest her.

The Haights remained in the house until 1864 when it was sold to butcher Henry Keyser and his wife, Mary.  Keyser's business was located in the Clinton Market.  Following his death in 1869, Mary sold her home.  An auction of the furnishings was held on May 5 and the sale catalog hinted at the upscale interiors.  Among the items was a "rosewood 7 octave Piano," clocks, bronzes and "ornaments," and parlor and bedroom suites in rosewood and walnut.

The entrance was updated with these striking Italianate entrance doors sometime after the Civil War.

Ernest Greenfield and his wife, the former Margaret J. McClennan, purchased No. 340.  Greenfield had been a partner with George and Albert Young in the candy making firm of Greenfield & Young.  The same year he moved his family into the West 22nd Street house, that partnership was dissolved and Greenfield took over the business, renaming it Ernest Greenfield & Co.

The couple had two sons, Nelson and Ernest, Jr., and a daughter Caroline.  Nelson would join his father in the family business, while Ernest, Jr. became a stock broker.  

The business was renamed Ernest Greenfield & Son following Nelson's entering the firm.  Its confectionary store and factory, located on Barclay Street, was touted by The New York Times as the "largest manufactory of the kind in the country."  On the afternoon of December 20, 1877, according to the New York Herald, there were "about one hundred and ten persons" working in the factory, although other sources placed the number at more.  The store was filled with customers buying candy for the Christmas holiday.

At around 5:00 Ernest Greenfield was talking to a customer, Joseph Munyen, who later recalled he "felt a sudden trembling of the floor, and was instantly surprised to find that he could scarcely keep his feet."  Seconds later the building was rocked by a massive explosion.  The New-York Tribune wrote, "While horses, carts and men were passing to and fro a sudden explosion rent the air, stunned the pedestrians and frightened the horses; the startled people looked toward the spot at which it occurred and saw the front of Greenfield's confectionery rock and, splitting, pitch forward into the middle of the street."

A reporter to spoke to Joseph Munyen said, "A group of five or six girls were at the time standing between him and the door putting up candies, and he thinks they were all successful in making their exit.  He had no time to pay any attention to Mr. Greenfield, who, he was glad to find, arrived on the sidewalk at the same moment with himself."  Nelson Greenfield also escaped and soon found his father.  The New-York Tribune reported, "Mr. Greenfield recovered in a few minutes from the effects of the shock and went home with his son in a carriage.  His scalp is pretty badly burned and his hands are slightly blistered, but otherwise he has...received no injuries."

The rescue and recovery went far into the night after the fire--which spread to adjoining buildings--was finally extinguished.  It took weeks before all the bodies could be recovered from the debris.  The New York Times later wrote, "By that time the bodies were so badly decomposed that in some instances it was impossible to tell whether one or two had been brought to light."

The factory and store were rebuilt and Ernest Greenfield & Son continued as one of the country's leading candy makers.  

Following Ernest Greenfield's death in 1898, his sons sold 340 West 22nd Street.  What had been a sumptuous private home was described by the city's Committee on Fire Patrol in 1899 as a "lodging house." Lodging houses, which rented rooms with a cot by the night only, were the lowest level of rooming houses.

That arrangement was short-lived.  On June 19, 1899 Nelson Greenfield foreclosed on the property.  The family retained possession, leasing it again as a private home.  Although Nelson died in 1901, the estate continued to lease No. 340 until 1916 when it was sold.  It may be, however, that the house technically did not leave the family.  Title was put in the name of Jennie E. McClellan, quite possibly a relative of Margaret McClellan Greenfield.

The original Greek Revival entrance enframement can be seen in his photo taken around 1941.  The Italianate doors appear to be the same as those that grace the entrance today.  via the NYC Dept of Records & Information Services.

No. 340 remained a private house until 1970 when it was converted to apartments.  It was possibly at this time that the stoop was removed and the entrance moved to the former basement level.

A remarkable restoration was initiated in 2001 to return the property to a single family home.  The stoop was refabricated and a period-appropriate Greek Revival enframement installed (although not identical to the original).  The years-long project brought the house back nearly to its 1841 appearance.

photographs by the author
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Friday, June 18, 2021

The M. B. McAvoy Drugstore Building - 163 Christopher Street


In 1877 Levi A. Lockwood acquired the three vintage structures at the northeast corner of Washington and Christopher Streets.  Two years later he hired architect John B. Snook to design a store and flat building on the site.  Completed in 1880, the five-story structure was faced in red brick and trimmed in limestone.  Snook chamfered the corner to give additional light and ventilation to the apartments.  The residential entrance was flanked by two commercial spaces.

A fire escape system in the form of iron-railed balconies was both handsome and ingenious.  An enclosed, fireproof stairway essentially bisected the structure into two buildings.  Hallway doors opened onto the balconies, allowing tenants exit the burning side, enter the stairwell, and descend safely to the street.

The smaller store became home to Gottfried I Hartung's "segar" store, while the larger corner space became home to William H. Lauer's saloon, no doubt a welcome sight for sailors and dock men along the nearby riverfront.  

Lauer's business had not operated long before he was convicted for manslaughter on May 24, 1880.   He had hit and killed a pedestrian on the evening of October 24, 1879, then "whipped his horse into a run," as reported in the Public Ledger.   A police officer tried to chase him down, but gave up.  He had seen, however, "that the name painted on the wagon was Lauer."

The building's residents were, expectedly, working class.  Among the initial tenants were the Stock family, which had significant domestic problems.  On January 31, 1880 The Evening Telegram reported, "Frederick Stock, a sallow-complexioned, broad-shouldered young man of twenty-two years...was this morning arraigned before Justice Duffy, in the Jefferson Market Police Court, by a policeman of the Charles street police station, and called upon to answer for an assault committed by him upon his mother, a lady of about fifty-five years of age."  Mrs. Stock appeared in court with a swollen and badly bruised face, "the result, she said, of her son's brutality."

Additionally, when Frederick's father had attempted to intervene, Frederick threatened to kill him with a "huge knife," according to the arresting officer.  The young man's sister was also in court, testifying that he had previously stolen various pieces of jewelry from her.  When Frederick was unable to post the $700 bail (more than $18,000 today), he was sent to the Workhouse on Blackwell's Island.

The socio-economic level of the residents in the mid-1880's was reflected in their various jobs.  Francis Albony, for instance, was a bootblack; William Coffey was a watchman (a security guard by today's terms); Jonathan L. Cole was a house painter while John W. Cole was a carpenter.  

A young French couple named Tillard arrived in New York in 1883 and moved into the building.  Tillard had been a lieutenant in the French Army and now went into the wine business.  On the afternoon of August 31 another tenant heard moaning coming from the Tillard apartment.  The Evening Post reported, "Madame Tillard...was found lying on the bed, and when questioned as to what was the matter, said she felt very badly."  The neighbor assumed she was suffering from a toothache and left. 

The situation was much worse than a toothache.  When her husband returned home at about 6:00 that evening he found her "in a serious way" and, when he looked closer, "discovered that she had been shot in the neck."  A French-speaking physician was called, who sent for an ambulance.  The 25-year-old woman was critically injured.  According to The Evening Post, "The bullet had entered close to the wind-pipe and lodged in the back of the neck.  The bullet was of a large calibre."

Police assumed that Madame Tillard "was cleaning out a bureau drawer, when she found a pistol which her husband had placed there.  She did not know it was loaded, and while carelessly handling it, it went off."

By 1896 Joseph Schenone ran his fruit store in the former cigar shop and lived with his mother upstairs.  On April 16 he placed an advertisement in the New York Herald that read, "LOST -- An old woman (Italian): strayed away from home; aged about 65 years; any information will be rewarded; $10 reward, dead or alive."

Teresa Schenone spoke no English.  She left the apartment on April 10 and walked to her daughter's home at 119 Baxter Street.  She arrived there, spent some time, and headed back at 5:00, but never arrived home.  Now, a week later, Joseph gave a detailed description:

She wore a black calico dress with white lace on it, a white shawl and a black wrap.  She was small and had gray hair.  She was very strong for her age, however, and could easily walk from Baxter street to this place.  She did this repeatedly.

Joseph's statements, however, were a bit concerning.  "It is my opinion that she came out of my sister's and started east instead of west for Hudson street.  She probably got lost, and has been staying with Italians on the east side," he told reporters.  The idea that the woman would not have tried to get home after week made no sense; nor did her making such a drastic mistake after having made the trip "repeatedly."  And the fact that her son waited nearly that long to look for her was even more suspicious.  Whether Teresa was ever found is unclear.

Irish-born Sullivan family lived here in 1905.  Tom Sullivan passed by the brother of Tony Salamone--a member of the Black Hand terrorist group--on Hudson Street that summer, ignoring him.  According to The Sun on July 25, "The latter walked up to Sullivan and asked why he didn't speak.  'I knew you all right,' replied Sullivan, 'but I don't have to speak to the likes of you.'"  Hearing of the affront on his brother, Tony Salamone set out to "fix things."

A few nights later, on July 24, Tony found Tom on the street and said something.  Tom responded and wisely hurried on.  When he reached the door to the Christopher Street building, Tony stopped him from entering, "and asked him to walk along the street a bit further."  When they got to the corner of Washington Street, Tony pulled out a razor.  Sullivan ran to the door of the parish house of St. Veronica's Church, where he had been an altar boy.

The Sun said, "He rang the bell, but his call was not answered, and almost at once the Italian was at him slashing with the razor until Sullivan sank in a pool of blood on the steps of the house."  Although none of the terrified bystanders came to Tom's aid, someone did run to the Sullivan apartment and notified his brother, James.  While James chased Salamone, "a large crowd had gathered and nearly 300 joined in the hunt."

James Sullivan overtook Salamone at the corner of Barrow and Hudson Streets, "and the crowd closed in."  Luckily for Salamone, Detective Carmody was quickly on the scene.   Otherwise, said The Sun, "Tony might never have needed the services of anything but a coroner's jury.  As it was, Carmody had a hard fight to land his prisoner in the station house."  In the meantime, Tom Sullivan was taken to St. Vincent's Hospital where he was given "a small chance to live."

At the time of that episode Minnie Belle McAvoy had just taken over the corner commercial space for her M. B. McAvoy Pharmacy.   William Lauer's saloon had survived through the 1880's, replaced by the McRae & Co. drugstore.  On July 27, 1905 The Pharmaceutical Era reported that Minnie McAvoy "succeeds McRay & Co."  She paid $3,500 for the business--a significant $105,000 in today's money.

Born in Rome, New York in 1876, she had graduated from the New York College of Pharmacy in 1902.  She had initially worked in a drugstore before deciding to strike out on her own.  

Minnie McAvoy's business drew its customers from three main sources--the blue collar neighborhood residents, the crowds of people who streamed past on their way to and from the ferry to New Jersey at the foot of Christopher Street, and the hoards of sailors whose ships docked along the waterfront.  The stout woman's personality--a mixture of no-nonsense business and maternal compassion--quickly made her a beloved figure.

The Brooklyn Daily Eagle later described her saying she "runs a pharmacy, is guide and philosopher to sailors and marine workers...and trusted by everybody.  She'll pass the time of day, hold money and valuables for seafaring folk, talk shop about her medicines, run a little post office for seamen who even entrust her with personal matters."

Stockbroker Walter B. Boyle was passing by the pharmacy on July 18, 1908 after getting off the ferry from Hoboken.  At the corner of Washington Street he came across two men loudly arguing.  "Gentlemen, don't quarrel!" he said.

The San Francisco Call reported, "That mild remark cause two stop their altercation, pick up the speaker and throw him through a big plate glass window into McAvoy's drug store, at 163 Christopher street.  They fled, but Policeman Beggs of the Charles street station arrested the peace maker as he lay amid broken glass and patent medicine bottles."

Boyle was charged with intoxication.  In the Jefferson Market Court an hour later he pleaded that he was a witness, not a culprit.  Magistrate Walsh seems to have believed him, but wondered aloud who was going to pay for Minnie McAvoy's window.  The would-be pacifist discovered that his good intentions would cost him.  He promised to replace the window.

"That's the proper spirit," said the judge, "I'll fine you $2."

The opening of the Hudson River Tubes on Christopher Street in 1908 put an end to the ferry service.  Nevertheless, Minnie McAvoy's business prospered and the story of the plucky woman spread across the nation.  

On February 4, 1924 The Alaska Daily Empire said, "she is a manufacturing chemist, shipping her preparations to all parts of the world.  At the same time she is known as 'Doctor' all over her neighborhood, where people take their minor ills to her."  Among her self-made tonics was an herbal compound the sailors swore cured a hangover.  According to The New Yorker in 1938, "She has sold 50,000 bottles in the last 29 years."

Minnie McAvoy shakes a barrel of her remedy before bottling it.  She told a reporter "The agitation has to be kept up continuously for half an hour before it is ready to be drawn."  The Spatula, February 1924 (copyright expired)

In the early hours of August 22, 1925 two patrolmen, officers Joseph McAllister and Thomas Rooney, were passing the drugstore when they heard the sound of crashing glass.   Three burglars had gotten into the cellar by breaking a padlock and then cut a two-foot hole in the basement ceiling to gain entrance to the store.  Two of them,  James McArdle and Frank Brien, shimmied up, leaving the Joseph Kopp to stand guard.  But in the darkness they bumped into a pile of Minnie's glass chemical containers which crashed to the floor, alerting the police on the sidewalk.  At the same time the burglar alarm went off.

The New York Times reported, "The police were already at the door when the bell started clanging, and at this instant...Brien and McArdle, deciding it was time to leave, ducked through the hole in the floor and dashed out of the cellar exit, leaving Kopp behind."  The officers chased the two down Christopher Street until two pistol shots into the air convinced the crooks to stop.

Back at the drugstore Officer Rooney found Kopp hiding in the dark basement.  "Then were sounds of a scuffle, and the policeman appeared with his man," said the article.  A block away the police found the getaway car, stolen a week earlier.  The men were later identified as the trio that had held up a Chinese restaurant on West 42nd Street earlier that night.

Minnie Belle McAvoy's reputation continued to spread.  On May 3, 1939 the Danville, Kentucky newspaper the Kentucky Advocate reported, "Seafaring men from all over the world drop in at Miss Minnie Belle McAvoy's drug store in Greenwich Village, New York, to have her give them medicine and kind words.  To many of them she is 'Mother McAvoy,' and her acquaintance with truckmen, sailors and clerks from wholesale houses has grown considerably in the thirty-three years since she first opened up her shop."

Minnie McAvoy tends to a neighborhood boy's scalded arm.  The Alaska Daily Empire, February 4, 1924

The New York Times said, "Mother McAvoy learned phrases from half a dozen foreign languages, so that she could converse with sailors who knew only Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, French and a few others.  From her old-fashioned desk in the store she also acted as a notary public and helped many sailors who turned to land-lubbing to become citizens."

Minnie McAvoy was so trusted that, according to The New Yorker in 1938, "Many sailors make straight for Mother McAvoy's when they get paid off and give her most of their money to put away in her safe to prevent wild spending."  The New York Times added, "Occasionally, when a sailor boisterously demanded all of his pay so he could 'see the town,' Mother McAvoy would look at him cautiously, hand him a dollar and tell him to come back for more when he felt better."  

The McAvoy Drug Store window noted that services like "citizen papers filled out here" and "notary public" were available.  from the collection of the New York Public Library

The Kentucky Advocate noted on May 3, 1939, "Sometimes [her customers] borrow money of her and she boasts that she has never lost a cent.  They are goodhearted and honest, she says, and adds that you get what you give in this world."

Then, on November 12, 1940, The New York Times reported, "Miss Minnie Belle McAvoy, known to sailors of the seven seas as 'Mother McAvoy,' and one of the few women proprietors of a drug store in this city, died yesterday at the age of 64.  For more than forty years she had spent her days from sunrise to sunset in a small old-time drug store at 163 Christopher Street...just a block from the teeming Chelsea waterfront."

The article recalled, "To sailors and truckmen of the neighborhood she was more than a druggist who had invented her own special vegetable tonic that was excellent for a hangover.  She was a friendly counsellor and a 'bank' and 'post office' for sailors on their brief stays ashore from far-away lands."  The newspaper quoted her as once stating, "Folks sometimes say this is a rough, tough neighborhood.  'Pshaw,' I tell them, it's the nicest, kindest place in the world."

Minnie Belle McAvoy's funeral was held in St. Veronica's Church just up the block on November 13.  It ended a remarkable chapter in Greenwich Village history.

The McAvoy pharmacy entrances were on either side of a show window, unlike the corner configuration today.  via the NYC Dept of Records & Information Services.

The second half of the 20th century saw tremendous change in the neighborhood.  By 1975 the smaller store was the home of Edward Gilly's custom made stained glass shop, and the former McAvoy pharmacy had become the Silver Dollar Restaurant.  

As had been with case with the drugstore, the restaurant was broken into in the early morning hours of May 13, 1977.  The burglars did not make off with cash and their loot was easily detected.  The Villager reported, "Two suspects were reportedly found walking along West 11th St., with cases of meat after a robbery at a restaurant at 163 Christopher St."  Anthony Bosco was charged with burglary, possession of stolen property, and resisting arrest, while the other culprit escaped.

Mother McAvoy's funeral was held in St. Veronica's Church, to the right.

Both commercial spaces house restaurants today, while the upper portion of John B. Snook's 1880 structure remains remarkably unaltered.  And Mother McAvoy, a significant figure in Greenwich Village history, has largely been forgotten.

photographs by the author
many thanks to reader Joseph McConnell for suggesting this post
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Thursday, June 17, 2021

The Samuel H. Valentine Mansion - 5 East 67th Street


On May 2, 1900 Albert Tilt died at the age of 59 in the brownstone-faced house he had shared with his wife, Adelaide, for years.  Seven years later, in March 1907, his estate sold the 25-foot residence to Samuel Hempstead Valentine.  The Tilt house, built in 1881, was architecturally outdated and, unlike some new homeowners who had their old homes dramatically remodeled, the Valentines demolished it and started over.

They hired the architectural firm of Carrere & Hastings, whose masterful New York Public Library was still rising on Fifth Avenue, to design the replacement home.  The plans, filed in May 1908, estimated the cost of construction at $60,000--or about $1.7 million today.

Completed in 1909, the architects had created a five-story limestone-faced mansion with a striking two-story bowed oriel.  Its understated ground floor allowed the elaborate Renaissance-inspired carvings of the oriel to take center stage.  Behind the stone balustrade atop the stone cornice the fifth floor took the form of a mansard roof.

The second floor held the drawing room and dining room, separated by a gallery, while the library was on the third floor.

An attorney, Samuel H. Valentine had graduated from Amherst College and Columbus University Law School.  He retired from the law firm of Benedict, Taft & Benedict in 1896.  Valentine came from "one of the oldest families" of New York City, according to The New York Times.  The Norwich Bulletin went further, saying that he "came from a family that has been identified with New York up-wards of 300 years."  He owned large amounts of Manhattan real estate and the grounds upon which Woodland Cemetery was built had been his great-grandfather's estate.

His family's long history in America were reflected in Valentine's memberships in the Sons of the Revolution and the Society of Colonial Wars.   His wife was the former Eliza Williams Porter, known to her friends as Lillie.

Lillie entertained often in her new home.  On January 4, 1914, for instance, The Sun noted she would be hosting a "supper and dance" that week; and on March 3, 1915 the New-York Tribune reported, "Mrs. Samuel H. Valentine gave a dinner for twenty-four last night at her home, 5 East Sixty-seventh Street."

While Lillie busied herself with dances and dinners, Samuel was interested in modern transportation.  He was a founder of the Automobile Club of America and of the Aero Club of America.  

The Valentines had acquired their summer home, Valmar, at Narragansett Pier, Rhode Island in 1906, the year before they purchased the old Tilt house.  

Valentine first showed signs of heart problems in 1914.  In September 1916 the family was no doubt preparing to close the Rhode Island house for the season.  According to the Norwich Bulletin, on September 15 he suffered a heart attack "as he was entering his automobile on the beach at the pier."  He was taken to Valmar where he died.

His passion for aeronautics was reflected in a bequest to the Aero Club of America.  Aerial Age reported on December 11, 1916 that he had left "the sum of $10, establish a prize, or prizes, at the discretion of the Aero Club, for the encouragement of 'aircraft which shall not use gasoline as a fuel.'"  The article explained, "Mr. Valentine's bequest is expected to stimulate interest in the discovery of a new fuel, lighter than gasoline, which will make longer flights possible."

Lillie remained in the East 67th Street mansion and, following her period of mourning, shared Valmar with her sister, Henrietta and her husband Arthur H. Lippincott.  As had been always been the case, the society columns followed Lillie's movements.  On October 14, 1921, for instance, the New York Herald announced, "Mrs. Samuel H. Valentine has closed Valmar, her place in Narragansett Pier, and will be at 5 East Sixty-seventh street before going to Hot Springs, Va."

This 1925 portrait of Eliza Porter Valentine was painted by Adolfo Muller-Ury.

In the early 1920's Palm Beach, Florida began attracting wealthy northerners during the winter social season.  Lillie joined the trend by purchasing a third home there, on El Brillo Way.  

On January 4, 1934 she died in the 67th Street mansion.  Eliza Porter Valentine left an estate of about $12.4 million in today's money, according to the Palm Beach Post.  Much of it, "half a million dollars in cash or securities," according to the article, along with the three residences, were left to her sister, Henrietta Lippincott.  Lillie was generous to her loyal servants, leaving to her personal maid, Florence E. Summers, and her secretary, Estelle M. Leary, each $10,000 ($190,000 by todays standards, certainly a boon during the Depression years).  Florence also received a diamond bracelet.

The Lippincotts continued summering at Valmar.   Following Arthur's death in 1937, Henrietta moved to 910 Fifth Avenue, but retained ownership of 5 East 67th Street, leasing it until her death at Valmar on September 26, 1948.  Her estate was valued at just under $2.3 million, equal to nearly 12 times that much today.

Henrietta's estate sold the house in April 1949.  A renovation completed the following year resulted in 18 apartments.  The mansard was altered with a less pleasing vertical facade and a sixth floor, unseen from the street, was added.   Although the stone balustrade atop the cornice was still in place as late as 1981, it has since been removed.  The limestone facade cries out for a gentle cleaning.

photographs by the author
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Wednesday, June 16, 2021

The Cephus Brainerd House - 336 East 19th Street


In 1853 the family of Henry H. Houghton lived in the recently-completed house at 190 East 19th Street.  (It would be renumbered 336 in 1865.)  Houghton manufactured and sold gold pens.  His was a significant business, with a location on Maiden Lane and another on Broadway.

Houghton's handsome Greek Revival style house was 20-feet wide and faced in red brick.  The entrance enframement wore "ears" just below the entablature--a common Greek Revival element.  

The Houghtons did not remain long.  In 1855 Henry Kiddle and his wife, Jane, moved in.   The couple had a baby daughter, Mary Anna, born in December 1853.

Kiddle listed his profession as "teacher" when he purchased the house.  That soon changed and by 1857 he had been promoted to assistant superintendent of the Board of Education.  Like many well-to-do families, the Kiddles took in boarders.  Attorney John E. Sterling lived with the family throughout their residency, and for two years accountant Edward T. Ruggles boarded here.

The Kiddles suffered heartbreak on December 14, 1859 when Mary Anna died just six days before her fifth birthday.  Her small casket sat in the parlor until her funeral there two days later.

The house was placed for sale, and its advertisement hints at the upscale amenities the family enjoyed.  "The house is 20 by 50 feet, and contains Croton water, gas, bath speaking tube, &c., and is in good order."  The "speaking tube" allowed the family to communicate with servants from major rooms throughout the house.

The new owner was attorney Cephus Brainerd.  Born in Haddam, Connecticut in 1831, he had moved to New York at the age of 22.  He and his wife, the former Eveline Hutchiinson, had an infant son, Cephus, Jr., born in 1859.  There would be two more children, Ira Hutchinson, born in 1862, and Evelyn Warner, who arrived in 1871.

Brainerd's practice was highly involved in claims and international law.  Interested in politics, as well, he was the Chairman of the Executive Committee of the Young Men's Republican Union.  Through that position he was highly instrumental in bringing Abraham Lincoln to New York in 1860 to speak at the Cooper Union.  Arguably Lincoln's most memorable address during this period, it helped secure his nomination.

It was the outbreak of Civil War that cemented Brainerd's place in New York history.  On January 7, 1863 Lincoln sent a message to the Senate nominating various persons for office.  On the list was:

Cephus Brainerd, of New York, to be arbitrator on the part of the United States, in the city of New York, under the treaty with her Brittanic Majestic of the 7th of April last for the suppression of the African slave trade.

Brainerd's work on the part of Blacks continued later that year.  On July 11, 1863 the nation’s first attempt at a military draft played out in New York with a lottery.  When the 1,200 chosen names were published, it was obvious that only the city’s poor and immigrant population was included—the wealthy had bought exemptions or used their political power to circumvent military service.  The result was the Draft Riots—a three-day reign of terror and carnage unlike anything seen in the country before.  Innocent people were murdered, and draft offices, newspaper buildings, and the homes and neighborhoods of the city’s Black population were burned. 

Brainerd took up the cases of Black citizens who lost property in the mayhem.  At a time when their financial damages were being overlooked, Brainerd battled for their remuneration.  In doing so he set a major legal precedent, establishing municipal liability as a constitutional principal.

Cephus Brainerd - original source unknown

It was around this time that the Brainerds took in a boarder.  Cephus was the head of the board of directors of the New York YMCA.  He became "intimate and mutually influential friends with young Robert McBurney, who was appointed secretary of the association."  According to Allen Lessoff in his 2012 Fractured Modernity, "At this point in his career, he also moved in with his mentor Cephus Brainerd and his wife at 190 East Nineteenth Street, where he spent the next four years."

The Brainerds moved to Second Avenue in 1868, after which the house was operated as a high-end boarding house.  Its professional occupants throughout the next decade included merchant George Moore; Jacob Wilson (listed in directories as "inspector"); dry goods merchant Faust Strouse; Gustave Simon whose lace goods business was on Lispenard Street; and baker Jacob Stellwagen.

Maintaining the house as well-to-do boarders expected required a staff, of course.  An advertisement in the New York Herald on May 28, 1885 read, "Wanted--Two smart young girls to work in a boarding house.  336 East 19th st."

The house continued to be operated as a boarding house, then a rooming house, until 1921 when it was remodeled as a "studio dwelling," as described by the New York Herald.   It was at this time that an iron fire escape was tacked to the facade.  If the owner intended it to house artists' apartments, Maud Gilbert had other ideas.  She purchased the renovated property in November 1922 and it became home to the Vocational Adjustment Bureau for Girls.

The bureau had been organized in 1919 "to serve as a research and placement agency for the Big Sister organizations, and other welfare bodies concerned with the problem of the maladjusted girl," according to the United States Department of Labor's Personnel Research Agencies in 1930.   Girls between the ages of 14 and 30 were groomed to support themselves in the outside world.  It was no small task, however.

The Department of Labor explained, "About 60 per cent of the cases handled are below normal intelligence; a large percentage are emotionally unstable, some show psychopathic or neurotic tendencies, and some are delinquent."  Girls who had "subnormal mentality" were trained for factory work, for instance.  Those with mental problems were treated in the "therapeutic workroom" where they received psychological and sociological help.

The Bureau remained in the house for years.  It returned to residential use in 1954 when a renovation resulted in a duplex apartment in the basement and parlor floor and two apartments each on the upper floors.  The duplex was divided into two apartments in 1974.

photographs by the author
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Tuesday, June 15, 2021

The 1890 Esther and Maurice Herts House - 153 West 78th Street


The architectural firm of Thom & Wilson was noted for designing rows of speculative residences, mostly on the Upper West Side.  The projects most often included several creative designs which played off one another to create a harmonious string.  And so it is surprising that the eight brownstone-fronted houses Thom & Wilson designed for developer William H. Hall in 1890 were rigidly identical.

Each of the carbon copy homes along the north side of West 78th Street, between Columbus and Amsterdam Avenues, were four stories tall above high English basements.  A blend of Renaissance Revival and neo-Grec styles, the 20-foot wide residences featured windows with architrave frames, molded cornices, and bracketed sills decorated with a row of angular bosses.  Rather than railings, stair-stepped wing walls flanked the stoop which rose to the double-doored entrance.  Here miniature spiral-carved columns sat upon fluted brackets.  They upheld a hefty two-part entablature embellished with Renaissance style carvings.

The eastern-most of the row, 153 West 78th Street, was initially purchased by Charles H. Parsons.  He was the principal in the musical instrument business of Charles H. Parsons & Co. at 292 Broadway and a member of the musical organization the Euterpe Society.  He was, as well, a director of the New York and New England Railroad Company and divided his time between New England and New York.  The Evening World remarked on August 31, 1892 that he was "prominent in New England affairs.

Parsons's residency in the 78th Street house would be relatively short-lived.  He sold it in January 1893 to Esther Moss Herts, the widow of antiques furniture dealer and auctioneer Henry Benjamin Herts, who had died in 1884.

Henry and Esther (who went by Belle) had been married in 1852 and had eight children, Isaac H., Benjamin Henry, Abraham H., Maurice, Jaques, Sophie Rose, Minnie, and Henry B.  (Importantly, in 1876 Isaac and Benjamin had formed Herts Brothers, by now one of the foremost furniture designing and interior decorating firms in America.)

Living with Belle in 153 West 78th Street was her unmarried son, Maurice, who enjoyed the life of a wealthy bachelor.  A few years earlier, in June 1889, he organized an impromptu and "very pleasant entertainment," as described by The Evening World, aboard the White Star steamer Britannic.  The high-end program was for the benefit of the Sick Babies Fund in New York.  

He quite often appeared in society pages with his siblings.  On July 10, 1898, for instance, the New York Herald reported, "Mr. and Mrs. B. H. Herts and family, of No. 16 West Seventieth street, and Mr. Maurice A. Hertz [sic], of No. 153 West Seventy-eighth street, are spending the summer at Long Beach [New Jersey]."  Herts was active in the Upper West Side community and served as vice-president of the West End Club.

Like all the well-to-do families along the block, the Hertses maintained a domestic staff.  On September 18, 1900 an advertisement for a "young girl as first class cook in a small family" appeared in the New York Herald.  Belle was offering a salary of $22--around $175 per week today.

Belle M. Herts died on December 30, 1905.  Just over a year later, in February 1907, Maurice sold 153 West 78th Street to Dr. Howard Gillespie Myers and his wife, the former Antoinette Darwood.

Born in Port Byron, New York in 1862, Myers was an active member of The Prohibition Party.  He and Antoinette had two daughters, Dorothy Kenyon and Constance.  Moving in with the family was Antoinette's father, retired Methodist minister William McKendree Darwood.  

Darwood had had a fascinating career.  He arrived with his parents from the Isle of Ely, England, at the age of 14 in 1849, and received his divinity degree from Baker University in 1887.  The Christian Advocate said of him:

During his ministry he held about one hundred and forty-five weeks of special revival services, during which more than a thousand souls were converted and added to the church.  When in his prime he was greatly in demand at camp meetings.  He preached in probably more churches in New York city than any other minister, having visited almost every Methodist Church on Manhattan Island.

The family was at Little River, Connecticut in 1914 when William McKendree Darwood died "suddenly" on April 27 at the age of 79.  His body was brought back to New York where his funeral was held in the 78th Street house three days later.

A much more joyous ceremony took place in the parlor four years later.  On June 10, 1918 Dorothy's engagement to Lt. Carl Ober Sayward of the Infantry Reserve Corps was announced.   Dorothy had graduated from Barnard College in 1916 and now held a position in the research laboratory of the Department of Health.  The wedding took place in the 78th Street house on September 21 that year.  Constance was her sister's only attendant.  

At the time Constance was a junior at Vassar College at the time.  She graduated in 1919, and on January 27, 1925 her engagement to Dr. Arthur Forrest Anderson was announced in The New York Times.  The article noted, "The wedding will take place in the late Spring."  But this ceremony would not take place at 153 West 78th Street.  Howard Myers sold the property early in March.

Initially the house was operated as a boarding house.   Jessie Adeline Cameron, a stenographer, lived here in 1926 when she was married to Arthur Percy Lait.  The name of another resident, Thomas Harding, appeared in newspapers that year for much graver reasons.

Harding was a delivery driver for the James Butler, Inc. chain of stores.  On the afternoon of October 11, 1926 he and another employee, Michael Mulryan, were returning on the Staten Island Ferry after making a delivery.   As the boat neared the Brooklyn slip, Harding asked Mulryan to crank the truck's motor to start the engine.  The Daily Star reported:

Mulryan braced himself on the swaying deck and turned the crank handle several times.  Finally with a roar the motor spun.  The truck started with a jerk and while scores of horrified passengers watched Mulryan was crushed between its blunt-nose and the guard rail.

The 24-year-old was dead when the ambulance arrived.  The article said, "Harding, heartbroken, was arrested on a charge of homicide.  The police accuse him of throwing off the brakes of the truck before Mulryan had a chance to get out of the way."

In 1938 the house was officially converted to apartments, two per floor.  That configuration lasted until a renovation completed in 2009 added a penthouse level unseen from the street.  The addition made two duplex apartments possible in the fourth floor and penthouse levels.

photographs by the author
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Monday, June 14, 2021

The Lost Lord & Taylor Store - Broadway and Grand Street

from the collection of the Fashion Institute of Technology

Born in Yorkshire, England, Samuel Lord opened a small dry goods store on Catherine Street in 1826.  When his wife's cousin, George Washington Taylor, joined the business in 1834, the store was renamed Lord & Taylor.

As trade continually inched further uptown and Grand Street became the fashionable dry goods thoroughfare, Lord & Taylor erected a new store at Grand and Chrystie Streets in 1853.  The success of the business was such that within six years a second, opulent store was built several blocks to the west, at 461-467 Broadway, on the northwest corner of Grand Street.

Faced in gleaming white Eastchester marble, the five-story structure was designed by Griffith Thomas, remembered by the American Institute of Architects in 1908 as "the most fashionable architect of his generation."  Its Renaissance Revival design (described as "Florentine" at the time) featured arcades of show windows along street level, arched openings capped by flat lintels or triangular pediments on the upper floors, and a dignified balustrade atop the cornice.  Stealing the show was the immense fanlight above the main entrance.  The cost of construction was placed at $180,000 and the price of the land at $200,000--bringing the total cost of the new emporium to $12 million in today's money.

The store opened on August 29, 1859.   That morning The New York Times wrote, "The store of Mssrs. Lord & Taylor, at the corner of Grand-street and one of the finest, if not the very finest, on this grandest of thoroughfares.  It is five stories high, built of white marble, and looks more like an Italian palace than a place for the sale of broadcloth."  Miller's Guide to New-York called it "one of the most conspicuous architectural ornaments of Broadway."

Inside, Corinthian columns stood in rows within the "immense salesrooms."  The staircases were, according to The New York Times, were "of palatial width and of massive oak."  The article added, "The most notable ornament in the building is the huge gas chandelier that lights up the staircase.  It was made by Tiffany at a cost of $500, and is original and unique of its kind."

from the collection of the New York Public Library

The topmost floors held manufacturing space.  Vacant at the time of the store's opening, they became a hive of activity in the spring of 1860.  On April 17 Lord & Taylor announced the opening of a separate department, "to be devoted exclusively to ladies', children's, and infants' wearing apparel."  The notice explained that "leading artists" formerly employed by John N. Genin of Genin's Bazaar had been acquired and "a large and desirable assortment of ladies' and children's ready-made undergarments may be found at all times."

All other garments worn by the upper class were custom made.  In addition to the ready-made underwear, the new department took orders for "mourning apparel, bridal trousseau, traveling outfits, robes de chambre."

A row of back-to-back advertisements in the New-York Daily Tribune that same day gave a glimpse into the variety of goods available in the store.  Women looking for fabrics for their dressmakers could browse over 27 cases of the "latest novelties" just received from Paris.  Another ad touted "fashionable mantillas" in the "latest Paris Forms, in every variety of material and trimming, manufactured in the best manner, expressly for our retail sales."  There were also French and Scotch embroideries, lace goods "of every description," 5,000 pairs of lace curtains as well as "upholstery goods, curtain materials, cornices, window-shades, tassels, bands, loops and fixtures."

But the northward march of commerce never ceased.  Only a decade after moving into its marble palace, Lord & Taylor began construction on an equally lavish emporium at Broadway and 20th Street, which opened with enormous fanfare in 1870.  

The architect of the new store, James H. Giles, recreated the massive fanlight over the entrance.  from the collection of the New York Public Library

In 1876 the clothing maker J. W. Goddard & Son moved into the former Lord & Taylor building.  Founded on January 1, 1847 by Joseph Warren Goddard, the firm had moved several times already, but, according to the Dry Goods Guide, "the house had filled its last domicile to overflowing and pushed on upward to the large stores 461-467 Broadway, the old Lord & Taylor building."  The company's continued success made even this building too small and in 1880 it moved slightly northward to 516 Broadway.

The marble palace where Manhattan's carriage trade had shopped continued to house clothing manufacturers.   L. Levenson & Co. was in the building by the spring of 1879, joined by the London & Liverpool Clothing Co. by 1883.  The Don Clothing Company replaced L. Levenson & Co. in the building around 1890.

L. Levenson & Co. imprinted a sketch of the building on its bills of sale.  from the John H. Yardley Collection of Architectural Letterheads of the Columbia University Libraries. 

By the last years of the 1880's Max Stadler & Co. operated its men's furnishings store from the ground level.  On November 8, 1888 it advertised its "Great Clearing Sale of $500,000 Worth of Men's Fine Overcoats and Suits."  On sale were 15,000 overcoats, 9,800 suits, 5,000 children's suits as well as "men's fine derby hats."

The front of Max Stadler & Co.'s trade card seemingly has nothing to do with its business.  The back, however, provided a long list of apparel and prices.

The three firms joined forces in the fall of 1890.  An announcement in The Evening World on October 31, reported that London & Liverpool, Don Company, and Max Stadler & Co. had consolidated.  A massive sale was held which was advertised as "A Wholesale Slaughter of Clothing."

Interestingly, four months later the combined venture was gone and Mack & Co., merchant tailors had moved into the retail space.  An announcement on February 20, 1891 read:

Mack & Co. Clothiers, beg to inform the public that they will open the large and palatial stores at 461, 463, 465 and 467 Broadway to-morrow (Saturday) Feb. 21. 

Our opening Display will consist of the new fashions in London-made Overcoats for early Springwear, Trousers and medium weight Suits.
Our Juvenile Department will be fully equipped.

Upstairs garment-related factories like the American Silk Label Mfg. Co. continued to operate.  By the first years of the 20th century other types of tenants were moving in, like the National Discount Co.  The firm acted as "financial underwriters for merchants and manufacturers, and for the negotiation of commercial paper."  And in 1909 the Toback Lock Company operated here. 

The following year a demolition permit was filed with the Department of Buildings, but for some reason those plans were not carried forward.  Small businesses continued to come and go--the Globe Shirt Company was here in 1916, clothing manufacturer Aaron Schwetsky in 1920, and The Sand Company in 1922.  Where wealthy women had once shopped for mantillas and lace goods, The Sand Company now marketed its "Steel Cat," guaranteed to "quickly rid your place of mice."

The magnificent marble commercial emporium was demolished in 1960 to make way for a parking lot.  Today a glass and steel business building and residential tower, completed in 2005, occupies the site.

photo by Monacelli Press

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