Monday, January 17, 2022

The Lost Tony Pastor's Opera House - 199-201 Bowery

 

The theater was designed to include an income producing tavern.  from the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art

On October 26, 1857, The New York Times complained, "The wooden building No. 199 Bowery, looks as if it were about to fall--it has had a leaning that way for a long while.  Why do not the authorities look to it?"  The article may have been responsible for the removal of the derelict structure between Delancey and Rivington Streets, and the construction of a one-story theater on the site.

Eight months later, on June 30, 1858, The Family Herald reported:

Mr. Hoym, the director of the Stadt [Theatre], has opened a new and more commodious establishment--'Hoym's Summer Theatre,' at Nos. 199 and 201 Bowery.  The theatre is intended, we believe, to take the place of the Stadt...Mrs. Hoym, a capital comedienne, went some time since to Europe for artists.

Like his Stadt Theatre, Otto Hoym's New Theatre offered plays in German and English.  His Bowery audiences were also entertained with other attractions.   An advertisement on September 19, 1858, for instance, listed that varied acts, including Zavistowski's Ballet and Pantomine Troupe; "the prodigy infant Alice and her sister le petite Emeline;" the "graceful and much admired danseuse," Mdlle, Christine; the play, The Warriors of the Harem; and "the beautiful ballet of Sailors Ashore."

And on December 22, 1858, the auditorium was the scene of "A grand Complimentary Sparring Exhibition," as announced in The New York Times.  The highlight of the night was a bare-knuckle match between John Carmel Heenan, known as "Benicia Boy," and John Woods, who claimed the two had a $2,500 side bet (more than $80,000 today).

John C. Heenan, the "Benicia Boy."  Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper, April 14, 1860 (copyright expired)

Patrons paid from 13 cents for a seat in the gallery to $4 for a private box.

Trouble had came to both Hoym and his tenant shortly after opening.  On May 2, 1858, The Family Herald reported that Otto Hoym had been arrested and charged with staging a dramatic performance "on the Sabbath, contrary to law."  His tenant, saloon proprietor Gustavus Lindemuller was taken in, as well, "on a similar charge."

It was not the last time the two would appear before a judge.  On November 18, 1860, they were on trial for the same offenses.   Their attorney, James T. Brady, offered ignorance of the law as Hoym's defense, saying in part, "The defendant is a German, coming from a land entertaining very liberal views concerning the observance of Sunday.  On the continent of Europe Sunday is not only a day of worship, but of relaxation and amusement."

When the Civil War broke out, Hoym immediately enlisted in the Union Army.  In his absence, Lindemuller ran the venue, advertising it as Lindenmuller's Theatre.  He continued the wide variety of acts, such as Mr. Albert W. Selden, "the American Horse Master and equestrian missionary," in February 1862.  By his method of tachyhippodamia, "a wild horse may be subdued in twenty minutes."

In 1864 Hoym's Theatre became Howe's Great Circus, offering attractions like Mlle. Marietta Ravel, "the celebrated tight-rope artiste and danseuse," and John Denier, "the wonderful gymnast."  It was a short-lived venture and by November that year the theater was home to Campbell's Minstrels.  It advertised a "Varied and Exciting mélange of Ethiopian Oddities."

That same year Sam Sharpley and Tony Pastor formed Tony Pastor's Variety Company.  Pastor later recalled to The Evening World, "on July 31, 1865, we went into Campbell's Opera-House, No. 201 Bowery.  We took the house for two weeks and stayed there ten years."

The partners bought the building and renamed it Tony Pastor's Opera house.  The following summer Pastor bought out Sharpley and took over the management on his own.  Although he was a temperance adherent, Pastor allowed the lager beer saloon to remain, but refused to have patrons bring drinks into the theater.

Tony Pastor's 201 Bowery Songer, 1867 (copyright expired)

While Pastor enjoyed tremendous success in his variety theater, the saloon had troubles.  It was being operated by Peter Tracy in 1867 when he was shot to death in a drunken brawl in a Livingston Street restaurant.  It then became Charley Shay's Quincuplexal Saloon, where "the original Cynocephalus" was displayed in a glass case.  Shay's advertisement on April 3, 1869 called it "The only orang outang that ever appeared in any part of the world as a circus rider."

The "largest and best fitted up Billard Hall and Saloon on the Bowery" was offered for sale in 1870.  And in 1874 the now vacant space was advertised as "splendid for restaurant, beer of billiard saloon."  It now became Roe's Billiard hall.

Tony Pastor remained in the building until 1875.  He moved northward to East 14th Street, taking space in the same building as Tammany Hall.    The Bowery building was briefly home to the Bowery Opera House (on May 7, 1875, it advertised "Buffalo Bill and Kit Carson to appear at Matinee this afternoon), and then the Volks' Garden variety theater. 

In 1883 architect William Graul was hired to remodel the venue.  When it reopened on September 3, the name Volks' Garden was anglicized to the People's Theatre.  On September 16 that year the play The Irish Arab was staged.  Meanwhile, the saloon was again under new management.  In 1893 A Souvenir of New York's Liquor Interests called it "one of the finest saloons in the city, and at night, when its numerous electric lamps are lighted a brilliant fairy-like effect is produced."

The People's Theatre was owned and operated by former congressman Henry Clay Miner.  On February 24, 1900 the Real Estate Record & Guide reported that one of the last transactions he had done before his sudden death three days earlier was the renting of the "theater and cafe" to Adler & Edelstein.

Jacob Adler was a popular Jewish actor and, while he and Edelstein kept the theater's name, it's offerings changed.  On April 26, 1901, for instance, The Jewish Messenger announced, "A benefit performance of the Jewish 'King Lear' by Jacob Adler, the Yiddish actor, and his company, will be given under the auspices of the Federation of East Side Clubs at the People's Theatre, No9. 201 Bowery."

On the frigid night of January 19, 1904 fire broke out.  The New-York Tribune reported, "There were a number of actors and stage hands in the theatre when the fire started.  A Yiddish play is being acted at the theatre in the evenings, and a rehearsal as in progress."  The blaze rapidly spread into the stage loft and through the roof.  By the time firefighters extinguished the fire, it had spread to several other structures.  
"When the fire was out the front of the building could hardly be seen because of the ice," said the article.

Ice covers the sidewalk and facade of the heavily damaged theatre.  New-York Tribune, January 20, 1904.

The Henry C. Miner estate filed plans for reparations and renovations on March 10.  They called for new staircases enclosed within brick fire walls, "fireproof ceilings," and a rearranged auditorium that increased seating to 2,060.  The building was altered again in 1908 by architect Louis Maurer.

The New York Times, December 17, 1915 (copyright expired)


Beginning in 1915 the Yiddish troupe shared the building with Louis Zuro's Italian Zuro Grand Opera Company.  He opened the season on April 26 with a performance of Aida, with soprano Alice Eversman in the title role.

Diva Alice Eversman, Musical America, March 10, 1917 (copyright expired)

Little by little the Italian audiences nudged out the Yiddish patrons.  On October 7, 1916 The New York Clipper reported, "A drama by Arthuro Giovannitti, entitled 'Tenehre Rosse' ('Red Darkness') will be produced Tuesday night, Oct. 10, in the People's Theatre...Mimi Aguglia, the Sicilian actress, who is here studying English preparatory to playing on the English-speaking stage, will help produce the play."

The venerable building was remodeled again in the fall of 1916
by architect R. Thomas Short.  By February 24, 1932, when another fire broke out, the entertainment had noticeably changed.  The New York Sun reported that traffic to the Williamsburg Bridge was tied up for an hour "while firemen battled a smoky fire in the basement of the People's Theater, a burlesque house."  

A barber shop operated from the former saloon space around 1941 and a marquee had been added.  via the NYC Dept of Records & Information Services

The venue had returned to Italian plays staged by the Campobasso Company by 1938.  That year The Italians of New York, a guidebook by the Federal Writers Project, said, "The plays these companies present are very similar in thematic material and in characterization to those produced in Italian theaters in the Bowery a generation ago."

Live theater gave way to motion pictures before long.  But the end of the line for the single-story building was on the horizon.  It was demolished in 1945.  Somewhat appropriately, a single-story building that also serves as the entrance to a 12-story apartment house occupies the site.

image via citi-urban.com

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Saturday, January 15, 2022

The Capt. Edward Slevin House - 121 West 11th Street

 


In 1841 architect William Hurry and builder George Youngs partnered in the aggressive project of erecting a long row of high-end rowhouses in Greenwich Village.  Completed the following year, the Greek Revival row began at 121 West 11th Street, filling nearly half the northern side of the block between Sixth and Seventh Avenues, and continuing up Sixth Avenue with five more homes.

The westernmost house, 121 West 11th Street, stood apart from its nearly identical neighbors with its stately pediment over the doorway.  The added touch may have been the request of the original buyer as the house was under construction.

By the mid-1870's 121 West 11th Street was being operated as a boarding house.  An advertisement on August 29, 1875 offered:  "To Let--Two or three unfurnished front rooms, every convenience on floor, first class neighborhood; vacant on September 1; suitable for lady or gentleman."

Earlier that year, on March 23, the New York Herald had reported that "Mr. Bunker, of No. 121 West Eleventh street, was riding up town on the front platform of a Fourth avenue [street] car" when a lager beer truck crossed the tracks in front of it.  A streetcar coming in the opposite direction struck the wagon.  The pole of the truck broke off and "swung across the front of the Fourth avenue car, and striking Mr. Bunker in the head and breast severely injured him."  Bunker was brought back to the West 11th Street house "in a very weak condition."

The stricken Mr. Bunker was either Alexander Bunker, a real estate agent, or Washington A. Bunker, most likely his son, a clerk.  The other white collar boarders in the house at the time were clerks Charles C. Hough, William R. Payne, and Zachary T. Trimble; physician Antonie Stichweh Selmnitz; and Martin Parker who listed his profession as merchant.

Widow Emma E. Braisted ran the boarding house by 1880.  Her deceased husband, James Braisted, had been the captain of a Staten Island ferryboat for many years.  Emma's son and her mother, Mrs. O'Brien lived here as well. 

The Bunkers were still boarding with Emma in 1881.  Her other boarders that year were Charles Burnham, "treasurer;" teacher Joseph Operti; Charles F. Roemer, a basket merchant; and Joseph Stanton, a clerk.

Emma Braisted's reputation and that of her home were nearly destroyed by two children in 1882.  It all started when she rented rooms to William Banta, Jr., a hatter on Grand Street.  He and his wife, Charlotte Magill, had lived in the fine Brooklyn home of Charlotte's parents with their three children.

But about a year after Charlotte died, infighting among the in-laws and Banta prompted him to take the children to Manhattan.  The decision to leave the only home they had ever known did not sit well with his children, 12-year-old William, 9-year-old Mary, and Edward, who was three.  Six weeks after moving in, the children ran away.

They ended up at the home of their uncle, Robert Magill, who notified Banta.  There had already been a series of confrontations in court between Banta and the Magill family--battles over custodial rights, a slander suit, a fight over who owned certain pieces of furniture, etc.--and now there would be another.  In court on January 15, 1882, the children were interviewed by the judge.  Intent on returning to their grandmother's home, they claimed their father was unfit and turned the focus on Emma Braisted.

The Brooklyn Daily Eagle reported, "They said that they went neither to Sunday school nor church during their stay with their father.  The older boy and his sister, it appeared, slept in the same bed with their father, and [the] youngest child on the couch in the parlor."

It seems that even the reporter questioned the children's fantastic description of the Braisted house.  "The two [eldest] children told a curious story about the methods of their Eleventh street home.  According to their statements the habits of the inmates were very offensive.  Much beer was consumed."  According to them, little Eddy's feet were washed "in the basin in which the bread was made and Mrs. Braisted used the napkins in lieu of handkerchiefs."  Then Banta's sister-in-law (who had been seen in the 11th Street neighborhood just prior to the children's disappearance) took the stand.  Although there were no female residents listed there, she alleged that the boarding house "was occupied by a class of women who worked during the day and brought home friends with them of an evening."

Emma Braisted and her daughter had come to Brooklyn for the proceedings that day.  She brought her own witnesses who testified, in part, "the lady who kept the house was a good and proper person."  In the end, The Brooklyn Daily Eagle said "Mrs. Braisted [was] exonerated."  Nevertheless, the children's grandmother was granted custody.

Emma would deal with more drama the following year.  She took in a Mrs. Staver and her two daughters, both of whom were young adults.  One of them, Susie, was stricken with "a spell of mental derangement" on July 2, according to The National Police Gazette, and rushed to the roof of the house intent on suicide.  The newspaper said, "A thrilling spectacle was witnessed by a large number of persons."  Susie was "about to throw herself over the parapet, when she was discovered by her mother and sister."

The National Police Gazette, July 21, 1883 (copyright expired)

The article continued, "The women had just time to grab the would-be suicide by the arms and hold on to her until their screams attracted the attention of neighbors."  A group of rescuers ran through the house to the roof and were able to pull Susie to safety.

Around 1886 121 West 11th Street once again became a private home after it was purchased by William H. Cronk, who, according to the New-York Tribune, held a "lucrative place with a New-York cloak house."  Living with him and his wife and daughter was his widowed mother-in-law, Harriet Jewett Morgan.

It was apparently the Cronks who gently updated the Greek Revival design by slightly raising the top floor to full height, adding an Italianate cornice, and replacing the ironwork of the stoop and areaway.  The modern French-style replacements were quintessentially Belle Époque in design.



On the night of July 15, 1889 Cronk was walking along 32nd Street near Sixth Avenue when Paul Greville and James Weir jostled him.  The New York Times called Greville "a tout" (a person who offered betting tips, often in a harassing manner).  Very quickly Cronk realized he was missing his gold watch and $58 in cash (more than $1,600 today).

Cronk was quick enough that a policeman was able to apprehend Greville.  In court he testified "that Cronk was not sober, and that the jostling was a friendly encounter," said The New York Times.  The judge did not buy his story and he was committed to jail.

Harriett Morgan was more socially recognized than her daughter and son-in-law.  Her deceased husband, Andrew W. Morgan, had been a lifelong friend of Horace Greeley, according to one source, and "she was related through her marriage to the Longfellow and Hawthorne families."  Born in Salem, Massachusetts, she and her seven sisters had been "famous for their beauty."  In 1892 Harriett began suffering a series of strokes.  They eventually resulted in her death in the house on January 20, 1893.

In March the following year Cronk sold 121 West 11th Street to Police Captain Edward Slevin and his wife, Catherine F. Slevin.  The couple paid $5,000 for the house, or about $155,000 in today's money.  

The Cronks moved to Passaic, New Jersey.  In November 1899 his wife and daughter went to Paterson, New Jersey to attend the funeral of Vice-President Garret Hobart.  In their absence, on November 24, William went to an Erie Railroad train station and shot himself in the head.

Edward Slevin was born on June 15, 1811 "of Irish parentage," according to the Boston Daily Globe.   After solving several important cases, he was made a police captain in June 1887.  He and Catherine had a daughter, Mary Catherine.

On February 20, 1895, the Slevins attended the funeral of Catherine's mother.  Two days later, at around midnight Edward woke Catherine up, saying he was ill.  The Evening World reported, "The Captain complained of excruciating distress in his stomach and abdomen."  Catherine wanted to call a doctor, but Slevin told her to wait until daylight.  Early the next morning Catherine sent a messenger to Police Surgeon Stephen G. Cook.

Slevin was famous enough to earn a place on a tobacco trading card.

"The police surgeon saw that the Captain was a very sick man," said The Evening World.  He briefly left, returning with Police Surgeon Phelps and Dr. Charles S. Bull.  They diagnosed a perforated intestine, most likely caused by an ulcer.  Rev. Father McManus of St. Joseph's Church on Sixth Avenue was summoned to administer the last rites, and Slevin died at around 12:30 that afternoon.  

Catherine "fell in a swoon" when he died.  The Evening World reported, "The shock following so closely upon the death of her mother, who was buried two days before, proved too much for her delicate constitution.  For a time the doctors feared the shock might result fatally.  She is a sufferer from heart trouble, and is still very low."

Normally the funeral of a police captain would have been a large affair, but Catherine requested a private ceremony, although police were invited to attend.  The Evening World reported the following day, "The condition of the widow is still precarious and it is doubtful if she will be able to attend the funeral."

Captain Slevin's coffin sat in the parlor of the West 11th Street house until the morning of February 24.  A police detail stood honor guard.  "During the day the friends of the dead Police Captain called at the house and viewed the body, which lay in a cloth-covered casket bearing his name and the date of his death," reported The Sun.  The casket was then carried to St. Joseph's Church for the funeral service.  The pallbearers were all police captains.

Edward Slevin's reputation and esteem was such that a drive was launched to raise $4,000 to pay off the mortgage on 121 West 11th Street.  On April 13, 1895 The World reported, "A benefit for that purpose will be given Thursday next by a matinee performance of 'Too Much Johnson' at the Standard Theatre."

Despite having her mortgage paid, Catherine took in a boarder.  On April 11, 1897 she advertised, "Large front room, beautifully furnished; all conveniences; private family; gentleman; reference."




Renting that room in 1901 was Andrew L. Dalton, who was appointed clerk to the Surrogate Court in January.  His annual salary was $1,800.  

Two years later Henry G. Moore was Catherine's boarder.  He was most likely referred by Andrew Dalton because he, too, was a clerk in the Surrogate's office.  Moore suffered an unnerving incident on the evening of November 17, 1903.  He and John H. Nagel left the office with their boss, chief clerk J. Fairfax McLaughlin.  Normally they would have caught a subway at the City Hall station, but McLaughlin said he wanted a little fresh air.  The trio headed north to the 14th Street streetcar.  They had just reached Broadway and White Street when McLaughlin's hat blew off.  The 64-year-old ran after it, but, according to the New-York Tribune, "before he had taken a dozen steps he fell heavily to the sidewalk."  Moore and Nagle rushed to his side, but he was already dead, most likely the victim of a heart attack.

Catherine received unwanted news in August 1908.  The Police Department "investigated the financial condition of Catherine F. Slevin," according to The City Record.  It found that she "does not need for her support the pension heretofore granted her."  The monthly pension payments were suspended on August 31 that year.

She was still living at 121 West 11th Street in 1913 when she announced the engagement of Mary Catherine to Dr. Charles A. McCarthy.

It appears the house was once again being operated as a rooming house by the first years of the Great Depression.  In 1929 Carmetta K. Barie, a dietitian with the Childs Company, married John Ballard Allen in the First Presbyterian Church on Fifth Avenue.  Allen worked with the National City Bank.  The Waterville Times reported on February 28, "The couple will reside at 121 West Eleventh Street, New York City."

The occupants continued to be financially comfortable.  On January 4, 1937, for instance, the Poughkeepsie Eagle-News reported that resident Pattie Field O'Brien had purchased "the former Samuel Frost farm of 120 acres in the town of Clinton [New York]."


The 21-foot-wide house has never been converted to apartments.  A recent real estate listing said, "Since 1894, the home has been owned by two families."  While much of the 1842 interior detailing has been lost, outside the house is little changed since the Cronks gave it a gentle updating in the 1880's.

photographs by the author
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Friday, January 14, 2022

The 1910 Riviera - 790 Riverside Drive

 

image via 6tocelbrate.org

Construction of Riverside Drive began in 1872.  Snaking along the landscaped Riverside Park above the Hudson River, it saw the rise of lavish mansions that rivaled those of Fifth Avenue.  By the turn of the century, when the Drive had reached 155th Street, high-end residential hotels and apartment buildings had become fashionable among affluent Upper West Side residents.  In 1908 engineer and historian Reginald Pelham Bolton described the area in the Real Estate Record & Guide as suitable "for the highest class of institutional buildings."

Among the flurry of apartment buildings that went up was The Riviera, designed by Rouse & Goldstone for the Riviera Realty Co.  Engulfing 13 building lots between 156th and 157th Street, the Real Estate Record & Guide predicted on March 12, 1910 that "when completed [it] will be one of the largest and most magnificently constructed and equipped apartment houses in the city."  The writer said the location "on the turn of the new Riverside Drive extension," provided "an unsurpassed view of the Hudson and magnificent scenery to the west and northward."

Completed later that year, the Renaissance Revival style, 13-floor structure held 12 apartment per floor, ranging from five to 10 rooms.  Construction cost $1.7 million--or about $47.8 million in today's money.  Residents would enjoy luxurious surroundings.  The spacious entry hall, or lobby, was finished in Bottocino marble with a heavy, plaster coffered ceiling.

A pierced stone parapet originally crowned the structure.  from the brochure The Rivieria, 1910 (copyright expired)

Rouse & Goldstone deftly managed the downward slope of West 156th as well as the massive footprint of the site.  The deep light courts that provided ventilation and sunlight into the apartments gave The Riviera the first impression of four structures.

A marketing brochure boasted:

The arrangement of the apartments is unsurpassed, the parlor, library and dining room being en suite at the entrance of the apartment and separated by glass folding doors.  Bedrooms are entirely apart from the living rooms, thereby insuring quiet and privacy in the sleeping chambers.

Among the cutting-edge amenities were clothes driers in the kitchens, telephones, mail chutes, and "electrical outlets for small electric stoves or heating irons."  On the roof were the laundry and "steam drying" rooms. 
 
The Riviera filled with a variety of residents.  Among the initial occupants was Edward Rovde Fearn, an advertising agent.  His would be a short residency.  On the night of September 13, 1911 the 21-year-old felt ill and a friend gave him some tablets to help him "straighten up."  He died of bichloride of mercury poisoning in Harlem Hospital two days later.

That year, lithographer Gustave Cerf and his wife, the former Frederika Wise, moved in with their 13-year old son, Bennett.  Frederika was wealthy in her own right, having inherited a fortune from her father, tobacco distributor Nathan Wise.  Bennett became friends with two other teens in the building, Howard Dietz and Merryle Rukeyser.  All three would go on to prominent careers: Cerf would found the publishing firm, Random House.  Dietz became the director of advertising of Goldwyn Pictures and, later, MGM (often credited with creating that studio's mascot, Leo the Lion), and collaborated with composer Arthur Schwartz for decades in songwriting.  And Rukeyser became a well-known financial journalist and author.

What appeared to have been a lamentable accident occurred on December 7, 1913.  Florence McGregor had been an actress, known as Florence Worden, before her marriage to Shubert Theater manager Edger J. McGregor in 1904.  McGregor was a member of exclusive clubs like the Lambs and the Friars' Club. 

That evening the couple argued.  Later McGregor said that Florence, "had been deeply hurt by a conversation at the dining table."  According to him, around 10:00 he realized that Florence had been in the bathroom an inordinately long time.  He knocked on the door and she told him she would be out soon.  After another ten minutes he knocked again, but got no response.

The New York Clipper reported, "The body of Mrs. McGregor was discovered a few moments later by the superintendent of the building in the courtyard.  Death was instantaneous."  Although police appear to have been satisfied that Florence threw herself to her death, modern minds might suspect foul play.  The McGregor apartment was on the second floor.

The comfortable financial status of The Riviera residents was reflected in a law suit filed by Caroline M. Frame in March 1913.  She was the widow of broker Charles P. Frame, who died in 1903 and a granddaughter of Samuel Willets.  Caroline had inherited large amounts from both men.  Now she (and several other women) filed suits against her lawyer, Frederick Prentiss Forster, of Forster & Forster.  She had entrusted him with the administration of her $948,549 estate (more than $25.6 million today) and, according to her, he had absconded with $270,000.


photo by Irving Underhill from the collection of The Museum of the City of New York

Retired merchant J. L. Doherty and his family lived in The Riveria in 1915 with their son and daughter.  That year 24-year old Lionel got into serious trouble.  On April 22, he left Jack's Restaurant on Sixth Avenue and 43rd Street "in an intoxicated condition," according to the New-York Tribune, and got behind the wheel of his automobile.  In his car were two men and three young women.

Lionel made it only three blocks northward before he smashed into a truck at the corner of 45th Street.  One of his passengers, Daisy Hawkins, was taken to the hospital with a broken collar bone.  Lionel was arrested for drunk driving.

J. L. Doherty appeared in court to beg for leniency for his son.  Justice Herrmann was unmoved.  "The situation in New York is dangerous enough for autoists who are sober without having it made worse by drivers who are intoxicated," he said.   Doherty was sentenced to three months incarceration.  Justice Herrmann explained, "We are sending him to prison, not only as a punishment to himself, but principally as a determent to others of his kind."

The New-York Tribune reported, "The prisoner's mother fainted when sentence was passed...Mrs. Doherty was carried unconscious into an adjoining room and there revived."

Ironically, it was Lionel's parents who were involved in a car wreck later that year.  The Dohertys' summer home was near Montclair, New Jersey and on the night of September 26 the couple went for an evening ride.  The following day The New York Times reported, "Oscar Frahn, who has a garage in Park Ridge...heard a crash last evening and ran out to the stone bridge at Glenn and Spring Valley Roads, where he found a wrecked automobile, which had skidded and crashed into the bridge."

In the car with the Dohertys and their chauffeur, Henry Henkle, was "Harry Jackson, a negro living in Allendale, who had been hired there to guide the New Yorkers to Park Ridge after they had lost their way."  Henkle had lost control at the turn in the road.  He was cut on the face by broken glass and Doherty was cut on the back.  "Jackson was hurt so badly he was hurried to the Patterson Hospital," said the article.  Once again Doherty made excuses, telling a reporter, "the accident was due to the condition of the road, which was full of ruts that set the car skidding."

Resident M. E. Berry offered her piano music for social affairs in 1915.  The New-York Tribune, September 19, 1915 (copyright expired)

Former United States Senator Charles A. Towne lived here in 1917.  Now a partner of the law firm Towne & Spellman, The New York Times described him saying, "He has always been noted for his oratorical powers."  On March 3, 1917 his apartment was the scene of his wedding to Alice M. Elkin.  The affair may have raised social eyebrows in New York and Washington, D.C.   While both had previously been married (Alice had divorced Ernest Elkin two years earlier), it was their age difference that was a bit startling.  Towne was 58 years old and his bride was 29.

Another Riviera tenant to have a socially visible wedding was Maria Esther Tallez, the daughter of a Havana sugar plantation owner and niece of the Cuban Minister to the United States, Carlo de Cespedes.  On July 29 1919 she married operatic tenor Eduardo Ferrari-Fontana, who had sung with the Chicago and Metropolitan Opera Companies.  Maria's new husband had a complicated domestic past.

The 40-year-old had married Metropolitan Opera mezzo-soprano Mme. Margarete Matzenauer in June 1912 in Buenos Aires.  According to The Sun, they "lived happily until the outbreak of the war brought conflicting opinions, as she was an Austrian and he an Italian."  He returned to Italy to fight in the war in January 1916, and she filed for divorce.  "The diva alleged misconduct on the part of her husband with two servants," said The Sun.  

The divorce was finalized in January 1919, just six months before Eduardo's and Maria's wedding.  But the terms of the divorce precluded his remarrying in New York, so they had to cross the river to New Jersey for the civil service ceremony.  The New-York Tribune noted, "For the same reason it was impossible to have a church ceremony."

The marble and caen stone clad lobby exudes Edwardian taste.  image via compass.com

In 1919 electrical engineer and inventor William Dubillier and his wife, Marie, lived in The Riviera.  The young couple's only child was born in July that year.  Dubillier was the head of the Dubilier Condenser Company, Inc. on Centre Street.  

On the night of January 25 the couple prepared to go to dinner with a friend, Joseph M. Berlinger.   Berlinger arrived at the apartment around 7:o0 and after speaking for a few minutes, Marie (whom the New York Herald described as "twenty-two years old and handsome) excused herself and went into her bedroom.  The New York Herald reported, "Her husband and the guest waited for her reappearance and when after some time she failed to return, the husband went into the bedroom to hasten her.  She was gone, and a window of the room was open."

The New-York Tribune took up the story, saying, "Cries and shrieks from the street caused William Gubillier [sic] to open a window of his apartment on the eleventh floor of 790 Riverside Drive last night and look out.  He saw several persons, among them a patrolman, clustered around the body of a woman that lay on the sidewalk."

Policeman Loughram reported the case as a suicide.  The New York Herald reported, "No possible motive for suicide, however, could be ascribed to Mrs. Dubilier.  Their neighbors in the apartment...declare that they were apparently most happy."  The article noted, "The husband was prostrated by the tragedy and could not be seen during the evening."

Concert violinist and conductor Alexander Bloch and his pianist/accompanist wife, Blanche, moved into The Riviera in October 1922.  The couple had a daughter, Janet, and a son, Alan.  They were on tour when their furnishings were brought from 57 West 87th Street and so a relative supervised the move.  When they arrived at their new apartment about a week later, a horrible mistake was discovered.  Four valuable violins had been left behind.

One of them had been loaned to Bloch by musician and broker E. E. Levenson.  The New York Times said, it "is said to be the work of an Italian master named Montegarcia" and was valued at $2,500, or around $38,600 today.  Another was a family heirloom "which had been in the family of Mr. Bloch for four generations."  When the vacated apartment was checked, there was nothing there.

The New York Times said, "Mrs. Bloch was sure the instruments had been picked up as abandoned property and not actually stolen."  She explained that the Montegarcia violin could not be sold "because a dealer with enough knowledge to place a true valuation on the instrument would insist on a complete history of it."

Living in The Riviera was not inexpensive.  Rents in 1921 ranged from $1,600 to $3,800 per year--or around $4,575 a month for the most expensive apartments.

A peculiar incident occurred on April 28, 1930.   That day 17-year old Selma Seigenfeld, the daughter of Henry (known as Harry) Seigenfeld and his wife, the former Helen Retner, went to school as usual.  But she did not come home.  Selma had never been late or had gone missing, so her parents were understandably panicked.  The following day there was still no trace of her.

In the meantime, the night before Patrolman Manuel Borgoes found a confused girl walking along the Bronx River Parkway.  She was taken to the Lawrence Hospital where she was unable to identify herself, nor remember anything about where she was or where she came from.  The Yonkers Statesman reported, "Doctors said she was not suffering from any injuries, and that there were no marks of any kind upon her.  She complained of a pain in the head, back of the right ear, when the spot was pressed by physicians."

For nearly 24 hours, physicians and nurses tried to pull information from the girl.  Finally, Police Sergeant Elmer Tewey of the Parkway police was put on the case.  He worked on clues like clothing labels and then found an eyeglass case imprinted with an optometrist's name and phone number.  The office identified the glasses as belonging to Selma Seigenfield.

Selma's brother arrived at the hospital to bring her home.  Two days after disappearing, she was resting in her bed in The Riviera apartment.  But while "in an improved condition," according to her brother, she still said she could remember nothing.  The Daily Argus reported, "physicians said they believed she was suffering from amnesia."

In November 1937 two wings of the building were evacuated and extensive renovations begun.  On July 11, 1938 The New York Sun reported, "Alterations to The Riviera, large Washington heights apartment house...will be completed in time for October 1 occupancy."  Architect D. Everett Wald had been commissioned to reduce the size of the apartments in those sections from 7 or 9 rooms to "2, 3, 4 and 6-room layouts," according to an advertisement.  The Sun reported, "formerly composed of fifty-two apartments...[the section] will now contain seven apartments on a floor, or ninety-one in all, which raises the total of suites in the entire building to 191."

The Riviera continued to be home to white collar residents.  Among them were Justice Michael A. Ford and his wife, the former Margaret Rogers.  A son of Irish immigrants, Ford worked his way through Cornell University, graduating in 1902.  He was appointed to the Magistrate's Court by Mayor James J. Walker in February 1930.  His no-nonsense approach to justice was described by The New York Times on August 10, 1944, which said that he was noted for "his paternal attitude toward both the defendants and their accusers, but:

Judge ford was known also to be tough on wife beaters, drunken drivers and the like, but any citizen who lost his temper in dealing with an overbearing policeman found a friend in him.  He once ruled that it was not disorderly conduct to "tell a policeman to go to hell."

One of his signature rulings was over the value of a stolen violin.  It would mean the different between grand and petit larceny.  Judge Ford picked up the instrument and played Turkey in the Straw from the bench.  When he was finished, he ruled, "This is worth $1,000--grand larceny."

Upheaval came in 1964 when The Riviera's management decided to automate the elevators--which since 1910 had been operated by uniformed staff.   The residents sued, claiming that the reduced staff would make the lobby "wide-open to intruders and virtually without security."  The residents lost their case.

The names of residents of The Riviera rarely appeared in newsprint for being arrested.  But that was the case for 21-year old student Alan Egelman on May 21, 1971.  He had joined a rally of 1,000 supporters of the United Federation of Teachers and the Municipal Employees Union outside of Governor Nelson Rockefeller's Midtown office to protest budget cuts.  As teachers' union president Albert Shanker was speaking, a man with a bull horn drowned him out, shouting for a strike.  Several fist fights broke out in the crowd, resulting in four arrests and many more summonses for disorderly conduct.  One of the unfortunate men arrested was Egelman.

image via compass.com

The Riviera still affords the "unsurpassed views of the Hudson."  And although the crowning parapets have been removed and the marble lobby is bereft of the welcoming Edwardian furniture and rugs the occupants enjoyed in 1910, it still exudes a commanding presence. 

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many thanks to reader Bruce Dennis for suggesting this article

Thursday, January 13, 2022

The 1870 Faith Chapel (St. Clement's Church) - 423 West 46th Street



Founded in 1829, the West Presbyterian Church was located in Greenwich Village.  In 1866 the congregation established a reformed church mission in the crime-ridden, dangerous district known as Hell's Kitchen.  Four years later, in November 1870, Edward Delano Lindsey filed plans for a "three-story brick chapel" on West 46th Street, between Ninth and Tenth Avenues.  (The fledgling architect, a graduate of Harvard, had been in practice only three years.)

His delightful Ruskinian Gothic style structure could have inspired cartoonist Edward Gorey a century later.  The asymmetrical design with its surplus of pointed-arched openings forewent expensive stone trim, yet Lindsey's use of creative brickwork, fishscale slate tiles, and ample stained glass more than made up for it.

The 26-year old Rev. James Hart Hoadley, was appointed Faith Chapel's first permanent pastor in 1873.  Having grown up in the quiet village of Collinsville, New York, the impoverished, gang-ridden Hell's Kitchen neighborhood must certainly have been both challenging and intimidating to him.

Rev. James Hart Hoadley, The Hoadley Genealogy, 1894 (copyright expired)

But, however daunting his work, he prevailed.  On January 21, 1877 the New York Herald wrote:

Faith Chapel, a mission of the West Presbyterian church of this city, under the pastorate of Rev. J. H. Hoadley, has been very successful during the year 1876.  Its membership has been increased by 139, and now numbers 350 souls, and its Sunday school numbers nearly 1,000 scholars, 67 of whom were added during the year.  The religious interest is increasing.

Hoadley's success was such that on November 12, 1883, ten years after he took the pulpit, the Presbytery of New York "decided to organize Faith Chapel, at No. 423 West Forty-sixth-st., into a Presbyterian Church," as reported by the New-York Tribune the next day.  It was now known as Faith Presbyterian Church.  The New York Times reported, "The West Presbyterian Church, to which the chapel belongs, will rent it to the congregation for $10 a year, and if it prospers will make it a gift to the new congregation."

At the time, the membership had grown to 560, severely taxing the viability of the building designed for around half that amount.  On May 10, 1897 the New-York Tribune reported, "The congregation Faith Presbyterian Church, which formerly was situated in Forty-sixth-st., west of Ninth-ave., opened their new house of worship in Forty-eighth-st., east of Ninth-ave., yesterday."

The 46th Street church did not sit vacant for long.  On June 7, 1897 The New York Times reported:

The congregation of the Protestant Episcopal Church of St. Cornelius, which has grown out of the chapel connected with the Church of Zion and St. Timothy, and been recently incorporated as an independent parish, held the opening services yesterday in their new edifice, 423 West Forty-sixth Street.

The article noted that, "There is also a well-fitted basement which may be used for Sunday school and lecturing purposes."  Weekly lectures became a staple at the Church of St. Cornelius, very often addressing issues of interest to the hard-working neighborhood residents.  On February 27, 1898, for instance, Robert L. Harrison spoke on "The Condition of the Workingman One Hundred Years Ago and Today."

The cast iron gas street lamps, seen in this vintage postcard, were installed in 1872.

According to Episcopal canon, the church could not be consecrated until it was free of debt.  Its pastor, Rev. Dr. Isaac C. Sturges, worked tirelessly and raised $45,000 within seven years.  Then, in December 1904, an anonymous donor gave a "Christmas gift in memory of a friend of the church."  The windfall--equal to $420,000 today--freed the congregation from all debt.  St. Cornelius's Episcopal Church was formally consecrated on February 19, 1905.

The relevant weekly lectures continued.  In April 1907 Orlande F. Lewis of the Charity Organization Society spoke on "The Homeless Man," and on November 24, 1908 Dr. Edward G. Coburn described, "What Vaccination Has Accomplished," for instance.  

But one speech especially caught the attention of the press.  The Hell's Kitchen neighborhood was greatly populated by Irish Catholic immigrants.  And so when Irishman John N. Dancey addressed a group in the Sunday School rooms on May 20, 1914, reporters took note.  Dancy was known as an Orangeman--a group of Northern Irish Protestants fervently aligned with the British monarchy.

The Sun considered, "Perhaps young John N. Dancey of the Ulster Unionist Alliance...didn't realize, being new to the city, that he and the close packed audience of Orangemen whom he addressed last night had assembled so close to Tenth Avenue."  The article noted, "because of the heat, the windows of the Sunday school room of the Protestant Episcopal Church of St. Cornelius...were wide open, and Mr. Dancey speaks with powerful emphasis."

His bellowing voice carried out into the streets saying, in part, "in spite of the efforts of the Irish American societies in the United States and all these people paid to tell you differently, there will never be home rule in Ireland."  But despite the apprehensions of some, no trouble came.  The Sun reported, "no one in the district seemed to know that Mr. Dancey was to speak so close to their firesides."

On June 19, 1920 the Real Estate Record & Builders' Guide reported that the Church of St. Cornelius had sold its building to the trustees of St. Clement's Church.  That congregation, founded in 1830 in Greenwich Village, had just merged with the Chapel of St. Chrysostom, a mission chapel of Trinity Church.

On January 9, 1929 the parish hall was the scene of "a pageant of the Epiphany, depicting the coming of the Three Wise men, bearing gifts to the Christ Child," according to The New York Sun.  The article added, "Following the pageant will be acted the play 'Why the Chimes Rang,' by Raymond Macdonald Alden.  The cast will include members of St. Clement's parish and of the Episcopal Actors' Guild."  It was a foreshadowing of things to come.

The Rev. Thomas A. Sparks had been rector of St. Clement's Church since it moved into the West 46th Street building.  In his farewell sermon on September 14, 1930, he stressed, "The Church should not appeal to class, color or race, but should minister to all God's children."  This, too, predicted the course that the congregation and its pastors would follow.

On April 8, 1963, The New York Times began an article saying, "An Off Broadway venture that has the blessing of the Protestant Episcopal Bishop of New York is burgeoning in the West Forties."  Rev. Sidney Lanier, vicar of St. Clement's, had led an unusual Palm Sunday service the previous afternoon.  British actor, Patrick Waddington read the lesson and Don Morland, understory for a lead in Strange Interlude read part of the sermon--one of three letters that took the place of a normal sermon.

The article noted, "Mr. Lanier and his staff are working to create 'The American Place Theater.'  Mr. Lanier calls it 'a place that inspires, fosters and produces written works for a theater that concerns itself with the crucial themes of contemporary life."  Already Lee Strasberg's Actors' Studio was using the basement workshop for rehearsals.  The New York Times said, "Recently a scene from 'Look Back in Anger' was presented before the regular church service began."

Among those involved in the American Place Theater project was playwright Molly Kazan, wife of stage and screen director Elia Kazan.   She was working on a program, An Evening of Camus, when, on December 14, 1963, she died of a cerebral hemorrhage two days before her 57th birthday.  Her funeral was held in St. Clement's Church on December 19, with Elia Kazan delivering her eulogy.  The New York Times noted that among the 400 mourners present were Tennessee Williams, Arthur Miller, Paddy Chayefsky, Abe Burrows, Joshua Logan, Lee Strasberg, Jo Van Fleet, William Inge, Warren Beatty and other luminaries of American theater.

Two months later, on February 12, 1964, The New York Times reported that $100,000 was being raised to renovate "the church's large upstairs hall for both worshipers and theatergoers."  The first production scheduled following construction, said the article, would be the three-part The Old Glory, by Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Robert Lowell.  Starring Frank Langella, Roscoe Lee Browne, and Lester Rawlins, the play won five Obie Awards in 1965, including Best American Play, as well as awards for the three stars.

The line between theater and worship at St. Clement's was often blurry.  On May 30, 1965, for instance, the communion service began with a short, one-act play, A Study in Color The New York Times explained, "Race relations and the inability of white America to understand nonwhite America was the theme."

But, disturbingly, in many respects the socio-economic demographics of Hell's Kitchen had changed little over the decades.  In the summer of 1969 the church was the target of vicious vandalism, including a firebomb tossed through a window on August 22.  The vicar, Rev. Eugene A. Monick, Jr., explained, "We have a sophisticated congregation, an experimental congregation, and we do a lot of innovating.  The old grass-roots families--who are so peculiar to the Hell's Kitchen area--don't like us."

Indeed, some did not.  Vandals had painted the doors and façade of the church with, "All niggers should be killed," "46th Street against niggers," and "White power-Nazi power."  Rev. Monick was visibly frustrated.  "I don't know how we can come to terms with the community," he told a reporter from The New York Times on August 26.

Among the last plays to be staged by the American Place Theater within St. Clement's Church was Sam Shepard's Back Bog Beast Bait, on April 29, 1971.  The New York Times announced, "Also on the program will be a short play, 'The Cowboy Mouth,' by Mr. Shepard and Patti Smith."  Later that year the American Place Theater moved to its own venue.


But drama continued at St. Clements with its weekly "Mass in the Theatre," the Cornerstone Theater Company and, later, the Saint Clements Theatre.   Today the congregation describes itself as one "that has always celebrated the ministry of women, of gay and lesbian people, and those of all walks of life; a longtime center of service to the poor, celebrating social activism and creative liturgy," and "one of the most diverse Episcopal parishes in New York City."

photographs by the author
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