Thursday, January 20, 2022

The Washington Irving Smith House - 361 West 19th Street


In 1845, Washington Irving Smith's pottery factory was located at 261 West 18th Street.  The firm manufactured industrial items, like clay drain pipes.  Smith and his family lived in a handsome, two-and-a-half story house at 241 West 19th Street (renumbered 361 in 1868), between Eighth and Ninth Avenues.  One of a row of identical homes, it featured understated brownstone lintels, a double-doored entrance above the high stone stoop, and a short attic level typical of the Greek Revival style.

Smith died around 1866.  His widow, Margaret, and son Washington, Jr. remained here until 1871 when the house was purchased by John M. and Mary A. Moffitt.  The couple paid the equivalent of $350,000 in today's money.

A sculptor, Moffitt was born in London in 1837 and came to New York after serving his apprenticeship there.  Appleton's Cyclopedia of American Biography noted, "One of the first orders he received after his arrival was for the execution of the figures that adorn the eastern entrance to Greenwood cemetery, and represent the four ages of man."

Two of Moffitt's bas relief panels are visible in this stereopticon slide of Richard Upjohn's magnificent Greenwood Cemetery gates.

Three years before moving into the West 19th Street house, Moffitts had executed the sculptures of Pike's Opera House on 23rd Street and Eighth Avenue.  On June 26, 1869 the Real Estate Record & Builders' Guide noted, "We also highly approve of all the sculpture work on Pike's Opera House...representing Mozart and Shakespeare, as well as Tragedy and Music, standing on the attached Corinthian columns in the centre of the main front on Eighth  avenue."

Calling Moffitt "an English sculptor of great celebrity in this city," the article added that he "also produced the 'Artic Monument' at Greenwood, the 'Soldiers' Monument,' in Connecticut, and the massive altar for the new church in New Haven, &c."  He was also responsible for the colossal Eagle and Her Young on the façade of the New York Life Insurance Company building at Leonard Street and Broadway.

An inventory of the household goods hints at the Moffitts' luxurious interiors.  Included were "costly oil paintings, by foreign artists," rosewood parlor furniture, a pianoforte, and Brussels carpets.  Notable was the "Herring's Iron Safe," which would have held cash, documents and, possibly, Mary's jewelry.

The Moffitts sold 361 West 19th Street to Thomas J. and Julia C. Coleman in 1877.  The couple paid $13,000, or about $330,000 today.  They took in a boarder in 1883, offering rooms on the top floor with "hot and cold water" for $17 per month (a pricey $455 today).  The advertisement sternly insisted, "no children."

In March 1884, following Thomas Coleman's death, Julia sold the house to Edward R. Merrill, president of the E. R. Merrill Spring Co.  He hired architect James Stroud to significantly update the dwelling.  The attic level was raised to a full third floor and a prominent cast metal cornice crowned with serrated decorations was installed.  Sheet metal sills and cornices were placed over the brownstone originals.

James Stroud's renovations included modern, paneled entrance doors.

The Merrill family remained in their remodeled house for two decades, selling it to Mary O'Neil in 1905, who operated it as a boarding house.

Among her newest tenants early in January 1907 was John Bailer, a bookmaker.  A month earlier he had married Hattie Moser and the couple had moved into Hattie's apartment on West 109th Street near Central Park West.  When he came home on New Year's Day, just three weeks into their marriage, Hattie was gone.  The Duluth Evening Herald reported, "He learned, he says, that she went away with young [James R.] Roosevelt in an automobile."

The married millionaire James R. Roosevelt, Jr., it turned out, had been paying the rent on Hattie's apartment and had also furnished it.  When Hattie did not return, Bailer put the furniture into storage and moved into the West 19th Street boarding house.  He then threatened to sue Roosevelt for the equivalent of $1.4 million in today's money, for the alienation of his wife's affections.

The scandalous story spread across the nation.  On January 12, 1907 the Roanoke Times said, "Unless the bride returns within a few days, which seems unlikely, the suit, Bailer says, will be filed."  Among those reading the shocking articles was Roosevelt's wife, Sadie.  The World commented that the millionaire's wife "knew much of young Roosevelt's escapades, but never suspected what was coming."

A flurry of suits followed the press coverage.  James Roosevelt swore out a writ "for the furniture, claiming it was his," according to The World.  Bailer pressed ahead with his alienation of affections suit, and on February 27 The Duluth Evening Herald reported, "The escapade[s] of James R. Roosevelt, Jr., are once more coming into the limelight, this time because his wife has begun proceedings against him for a separation."

Mary O'Neill sold 361 West 19th Street later that year.  It became the home of Dr. Henry J. Fischer, who had graduated from Cornell University in 1900.  Later it was occupied by Thomas A. Rosbotham, an executive of the American Distilling Company.  He died in the house on March 23, 1919.

The changing Chelsea demographics was evidenced in 1951 when the 602-4 East 138th St. Corp. purchased the house, from a doctor.  Court documents later said, "The parlor floor had been used as the physician's office, and the other three floors by his family as their residence."  Without notifying the Department of Buildings or filing plans, the new owner "promptly converted the building into an eight-family rooming house," according to The New York Times.  "It was rented to Puerto Rican families, generally consisting of seven or more persons, each occupying what was originally one room, under the most appalling slum conditions, at rents of over $110 per month."  (Astonishingly, that figure would translate to over $1,000 per month today.)

In July 1952, after tenants lodged complaints, an investigation was launched.  The State Rent Commission found that the owner had illegally "created squalid slums, not livable housing."  The house was subsequently officially converted to apartments, one per floor.  The alterations were completed in 1956.

A second renovation, completed in 1967, resulted in a duplex apartment in the basement and parlor levels.  Although holes for air conditioning units have been punched into the brick facade, the outward appearance of the house is little changed since its substantial make-over in 1884.

photographs by the author
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Wednesday, January 19, 2022

The 1867 Dreyfus, Kohn & Co. Building - 35 Mercer Street


Born in 1810, Amos R. Eno started out in the dry goods business on Pearl Street.  The New York Times said decades later, "While making a fortune in the dry goods business, Mr. Eno began to invest judiciously in New York real estate.  He picked out desirable corners, and occasionally he would buy an entire block of land."  

In the 1850's, the neighborhood of Mercer and Green Streets--once lined with respectable private homes--had  gained the reputation of Manhattan's most notorious red light district.  But that began to change at the end of the Civil War.  As commerce inched northward, modern commercial buildings replaced the Federal style houses of the 1820's.

Amos R. Eno was among those transforming the district.  In 1867 he erected two large loft and store buildings at the southwest corner of Mercer and Grand Streets.  The same architect was doubtlessly responsible for both 31-33 Mercer Street and the corner building, 35 Mercer; their facades being nearly identical.

The identical elements of the two facades create the illusion of a single building.

Like its fraternal twin, 35 Mercer Street was five stories tall and faced in sandstone above a cast iron base.  Its prim Italianate design featured quoins that separated it and 31-33 Mercer, and created two-bay-wide vertical sections on either end of the Grand Street elevation.  

The ground floor store became home to the auction rooms of Richard Walters.  His sales liquidated a wide variety of merchandise.  On Friday, July 31, 1868, for instance, he sold "a large and general assortment of Parlor, Reception Room, Dining and Chamber Furniture, Bar Furniture, and Glassware."  Included were items like a "superior seven octave rosewood Piano," French plate glass mirrors, oil paintings, and carpets.

The upper floors were leased to the wholesale drygoods firm Treadwell, Taylor & Co.  They were nearly the victims of slick conmen on February 14, 1870, saved only by the sharp instincts of two policemen.  Charles Wilson and Edward Hale strode into the store carrying a "new and large valise securely strapped," as described by The Evening Post.  They identified themselves as "Western merchants, desirous of purchasing silks and dress goods."

The clerk brought various samples of materials, repeatedly turning his back on the well-dressed buyers as he did.  When he was not looking, one of the men pushed a button on the valise, which popped a spring catch and opened the side of the case.  Pricey fabrics were then stashed inside.  When pushed closed, the valise appeared to be securely strapped.  The Evening Post said, "The theft was  accomplished so adroitly that it did not attract the attention of the persons in the store."  But what the crooks did not know was that two policemen were waiting for them on Mercer Street.

The New-York Daily Tribune explained, "Detectives Casey and Quinn of the Broadway squad yesterday saw Charles Wilson and Edward Hale, well-known shoplifters, in Mercer-st.  One of them carried a large leather valise, and the officers, believing that the thieves were on a professional tour, they followed."

The pair had chosen 24 pieces of various goods, told the clerk they would return later to pay for the items and advise where to have them sent.  They then walked out of the building to encounter Casey and Quinn.  At the station house the valise "was found to be of novel construction," said the New-York Daily Tribune, which detailed the secret latch.  Inside were two pieces of brown silk, valued at $150 (more than $3,000 today).  The Evening Post added, "The police think this the most dangerous appliance yet introduced to aid shoplifters, and storekeepers are warned against persons who carry large securely-strapped valises."

Treadwell, Taylor & Co. was replaced in 1871 by Dreyfus, Kohn & Co., importers of apparel and millinery trims.  The location, quickly becoming the center of Manhattan's garment district, was well-suited for the firm.

The Evening Post, January 25, 1871 (copyright expired)

Dreyfus, Kohn & Co. was established in 1858 by Isaac E. Dreyfus, Aaron Kohn and G. Rosenblatt.  The year 1885 was a tragic one for the company, with both Dreyfus and Rosenblatt dying.  Kohn brought Rosenblatt's son, Moses G. Rosenblatt, into the firm.

The Financial Panic of 1893 hit Dreyfus, Kohn & Co. hard.  The company's troubles were increased when Aaron Kohn became ill in March 1896 "and was obliged to give up his work and take a trip to Jamaica," according to The New York Press.  Upon his return, the decision was made to close the company, described by the newspaper as "one of the oldest and most prominent in the trade."

The stress of closing the firm his father had helped found may have contributed to the death of Moses G. Rosenblatt.  The 48-year-old died on August 14, two weeks after business was suspended.  The New York Times said, "Mr. Rosenblatt worried greatly over the business embarrassments of the firm, and he was, in addition, prostrated by the heat on Saturday."

Amos R. Eno died on February 21, 1898.  At the time of his death his real estate holdings were valued at around $20 million--nearly $645 million in today's dollars.  A massive auction was held in February 1899 during which Leon Tanenbaum paid the equivalent today of $3.72 million for 35 Mercer Street.

from New York--The Metropolis, 1902 (copyright expired)

The building became home to William Openhym & Sons, another wholesale drygoods firm, founded in 1853.  The firm was reorganized in 1892 following the death of William Openhym and was now conducted by brothers, William, Adolphe, Joseph and Emile.

Adolphe was the senior member of the firm and a member of the Chamber of Commerce.  The New York Press described him as being "prominent in business and club life...He was a member of the Reform Club, City Club, National Arts Club and the Nineteenth Century Club."  He and his wife and two children lived in a handsome mansion at 352 Riverside Drive between 107th and 108th Streets.  

Each morning Adolphe rode in Riverside Park before heading downtown.   On Monday morning, March 30, 1903, according to The New York Press, "He returned in good spirits and passed a joke with his groom as he threw him the reins of his saddle horse.  After staying in the house a few minutes, Mr. Openhym walked briskly toward the north."  He was not seen again.

Openhym never made it to work that day.  An hour after he left the house, Frank McConville, the keeper of the High Bridge, saw a man stop in the middle of the bridge and take his hat off.  McConville shouted for him to move on, but instead the  man climbed to the railing and threw himself over.  McConville ran to the spot where the man's hat and umbrella lay.  They were identified by Emile Openhym as belonging to his brother.

Adolph Openhym, from New York--The Metropolis, 1902 (copyright expired)

Suicide was scandalous and shameful (and illegal) and neither the family nor the firm would admit to the possibility.  A member of the company said, "If he absolutely was seen to jump from the High Bridge into the Harlem River, I can only believe he had gone to the bridge for an extra breath of fresh air, and suddenly attacked by vertigo, toppled over into the river."  (Why he would have gone north after leaving home, rather than south, was not addressed.)

Openhym's body was not discovered until April 26.  His funeral was held in the Riverside Drive house three days later.  The 49-year-old millionaire received his final humiliation on May 2, when The New York Press entitled an article, "Declares Openhym Was Insane," and reported that Coroner Scholer ruled he had taken his life "while suffering from temporary mental aberration."

William Openhym & Sons continued on at 35 Mercer Street until 1912 when it moved north to the newly-completed Emmet Building at the southeast corner of Madison Avenue and 29th Street.  The Soho building continued to house apparel-related firms for decades, like the Manhattan Silk Company and the Rossie Velvet Company.

Unlike today, traffic at the intersection of Mercer and Grand Streets was essentially non-existent in 1941.  image via the NYC Dept of Records & Information Services

Major change to the Soho district came in the third quarter of the 20th century, as artists discovered the gritty area.  Storefronts became galleries or trendy cafes and shops, and vast lofts, formerly home to garment manufacturers, were converted to studios.  Among the pioneers in the movement was 35 Mercer Street.  A renovation completed in 1978 resulted in "joint living-working quarters for artists" above the store level--two on the second floor and one each on the upper floors.  Among the initial residents was architect Walter David  Brown.  The Department of Buildings stressed, "At least one occupant of each apartment shall be an Artist certified by the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs."

A subsequent renovation resulted in two artist lofts each on all the floors.

photographs by the author
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Tuesday, January 18, 2022

The 1910 Brentmore -- 88 Central Park West

photo by Wurts Bros. from The World's New York Apartment House Album, 1910 (copyright expired)

In 1910 The World's New York Apartment House Album lauded the newly-completed Brentmore as "one of the most magnificent dwellings in the city."  Construction at the southwest corner of Central Park West and 69th Street had begun the previous year by the Akron Building Co.  The architectural firm of Schwartz & Gross had deftly melded the neo-Renaissance and waning Beaux Arts styles to create the 12-story, brick, stone and terra cotta structure.

A light court gave The Brentmore the appearance of two identical buildings.  The tripartite design sat upon a three-story, rusticated limestone base.  The architects clearly defined the mid- and top sections with stone-and-iron balconies that girded the fourth and tenth floors.  The apartments and residential hotels of Central Park West catered to the upper class, and The Brentmore was no exception.  Apartments ranged from seven to nine rooms, with three apartments per floor.

The World's New York Apartment House Album wrote, "The apartments of the Brentmore are arranged duplex, all of the sleeping rooms being on the floor above the parlors, drawing rooms, library and dining rooms."  The passenger elevators opened directly into the apartments.   "A feature of the apartments in the Brentmore are the baths," said the article, "in each one of which are windows quite as large as in any other room of the apartment."

The interior appointments spoke to the well-heeled families who would live here.  The walls of parlors and drawing rooms were lined with silk, custom designed chandeliers hung in each room, and the marble lobby was decorated with antique furniture.

This floorplan shows one duplex apartment (lower right, with staircase) and two simplex apartments.  The World's New York Apartment House Album, 1910, (copyright expired)

The Brentmore filled with well-to-do families, like the Jacob H. Schoonmaker family.  A member of Butler Brothers, he and his wife, the former Emma Wilson, would have two daughters, Muriel and Beatrice.  On July 6, 1913 the New-York Tribune announced that the couple "sailed for Europe on Tuesday on board the Rotterdam for an automobile tour through Holland, France, Germany and Switzerland.  They will return to New York in the fall."

Other early residents were the wealthy Edwin E. Bernheimer, his wife, Etta, and their daughter, Isabel.  A native of Mobile, Alabama, Bernheimer had moved his family to New York City in 1908.  He was a partner in the stock brokerage firm Jerome J. Danzig & Co.  The family's summer home was in Deal, New Jersey.

Edwin and Etta Bernheimer went on a drive to Long Island with a friend, D. F. Long, on October 19, 1913.  Their tonneau--an automobile open to the air--was driven by their chauffeur, Carl Steadman.

The Bernheimers' automobile would have been similar to this tonneau (which cost the equivalent of $41,000 today in 1909).

The outing ended disastrously on the way home.  Steadman was headed to the Queensboro Bridge when he swerved onto a set of trolley tracks to avoid a farm wagon that drove directly into his path.  The New-York Tribune reported, "He did not see an eastbound trolley...coming toward him."

Both the trolley and the automobile were badly wrecked.  Steadman was "catapulted from his seat on to the front platform of the trolley car."  The Bernheimers and their guest were slammed against the front seat, and were "bruised, cut and shocked."  Their injuries were not serious enough to warrant treatment and they rented another automobile and motored home on their own.  Their chauffeur was taken to the Flushing Hospital.

Rents in the Brentmore in 1915 were $3,750 per year for a nine-room simplex and $4,000 for a nine-room duplex.  Both apartments had three bathrooms.  The rent for the duplex would be just under $9,000 per month today.

The Bernheimers appeared in the newspapers twice in March 1915.  The first incident occurred when Edwin attempted to cross Broadway on his way to the office on March 14.  At Broadway and Wall Street, he stepped quickly in front of a southbound streetcar.  He did not notice that a northbound car was just yards away.  He was trapped on the strip between the tracks and "the northbound car caught him and wedged him in the narrow space."  Bernheimer appears to have been more emotionally affected by his close call than physically injured.  "An ambulance from Volunteer Hospital carried him to his office, where it was found he was not dangerously hurt," said the article.

Two weeks later a more shocking story appeared in the newspapers.  Among the doormen of the Brentmore was Jimmy Murray, described by the Irish-American newspaper The Advocate as "a handsome and popular young Irish boy hailing from Lanesboro, County Roscommon."  On March 27 the newspaper began an article saying, "The sensation of the week in Irish circles was the marriage of Miss Isabel Bernheimer, the society girl, and heiress, of the Brentmore Apartments, No. 88 Central Park West, to Jimmy Murray."

The article pointed out the stark contrast in the backgrounds of the Irish immigrant and his wife, saying Isabel "is the granddaughter of the late Jacob Rothschild, proprietor of the Hotel Majestic.  Her great-uncle, Joseph Rothschild, is secretary and treasurer of the Rothschild Realty Company."

The path to the altar for the love-struck couple had been rocky.  Etta Bernheimer had hired a lawyer to derail the romance, but was told that there was nothing he could do.  According to Isabel, "Then she consulted me, and arrived at the verdict that I was crazy."  Joseph Rothschild had offered Murray a "$100 to $1" bet that the couple would not last four months together (the boy did not take the bet).  And it was no doubt the Bernheimers' influence that got Murray fired.

The two were married in a civil ceremony with another Brentmore employee, Rosa Clarke, and a friend of the groom as witnesses.  They moved in with Jimmy's aunt in Brooklyn.  When a reporter arrived there on March 26, Isabel told him, "My family disapproves of my choice of a husband to such an extent that they are going to cut me off.  I don't care."  She added, "As for Jimmy, he is going to get a job.  He's going to get a job right away.  He can get one, don't worry about that."

At the time of the upheaval in the Bernheimer household, Max C. Anderson was living in the Brentmore.  He had been in show business for around four decades.  The New York Times reported on March 9, 1915 that he was "interested in or controlled between 150 and 200 theatres, principally in the middle West."  The newspaper place his fortune at the time  at around $10 million--more than 26 times that much today.

When war broke out in Europe, the family of Mayer Swaab, Jr. responded.  Mayer, according to The Pennsylvania Gazette, "Has been doing important war work in this country," and sons Jacques Michael and Frank L. both enlisted.  

Jacques entered the army in June 1917.  (Frank, who was just 18, would have to wait a year before enlisting in the New York State Guard in 1918).  The Evening World reported that Jacques received "his training in the aviation camps at Columbus, O., and Dayton, O. before sailing for France."  Once there, he finished his flight training in France and Italy.

He saw action on September 10, 1918.  On his first flight over enemy lines "he engaged and shot down a Fokker machine," said The Evening World.  "Continuing his return flight he was attacked by a group of German plans, but shot one down in flames and forced another down out of control."  The article noted, "the air battle in which he downed the three Germans may have been his first."

Lieutenant Jacques Michael Swaab.  The Pennsylvania Gazette, April 11, 1919 (copyright expired)

It was not his last.  On April 11, 1919 The Pennsylvania Gazette said, "Of living American Aces, he stands third, while of unassisted victories he stands second in the list of living American Aces."  His experience in war led to his serving as technical advisor to the 1938 film The Dawn Patrol, starring Errol Flynn and David Niven.

The Bernheimers' bad luck with the Brentmore staff continued in June 1920.   The couple was at their summer home when three of the four elevator operators--Peter Martin, William Brenner and Edward Blenstein--orchestrated a complex burglary of two apartments, the Bernheimers' and that of retired merchant Henry Schwabacker.  By sending the other elevator operator to the basement on an errand, they managed to sneak their accomplices, brothers Mont and Benjamin Ayarviaz, into the building unnoticed.

Hours later Brenner reported a break in.  When detectives arrived at the Brentmore, they found Martin and Blenstein  with "scratched faces bearing evidences of a struggle," according to The New York Times on June 8.  Both apartments had been ransacked and the 400-pound safe from the Bernheimers' bedroom had been pried from the wall and taken away.

Detectives suspected this was an inside job, especially considering the fact that the burglars had taken their time.  The New York Times reported, "The detectives found the apartments littered with broken furniture, empty liquor glasses, scores of cigarette and cigar stubs, an empty jam pot and sardine cans."  Under intense interrogation, Blenstein confessed, explained the elaborate heist, and his confederates were arrested.

The Bernheimers' safe was located in a back room of the Dempsey Social Club on West 49th Street, still unopened.  Inside were jewelry and Liberty Bonds that were returned to the couple.  In Mont Ayarviaz's furnished room, police found six suitcases "filled with furs, clothing and jewelry, which they estimated as worth $50,000," said The New York Times.  That amount would be closer to $645,000 today.

The Brentmore continued to house wealthy families, despite the difficulties of the Great Depression and World War II.  Frank Cohen and his family, for instance, lived here in 1945 when his two-masted schooner Voyager II was lost during a storm off Cape Fear, North Carolina.  The Cohens were not aboard, but the four man crew and retired Army officer Gifford Nitz, Jr. and his three children were.  Happily, it was found on December 28 with all persons on board.

Stage and screen star Celeste Holm was, perhaps, the first  entertainment celebrity to move into The Brentmore.  She took an apartment in 1953.  

The building was converted to a co-operative apartment in 1959.  

On May 2, 1970 attorney Jerome H. Adler and his wife, Barbara, left New York on a Dutch Antillean Airlines plane for San Martin.  Adler was a trustee of the Music Performance Trust Funds of the Recording Industry.   There were 63 passengers on board the airplane, which ran into trouble over the Caribbean.  The pilots ditched the craft into the ocean.  Barbara was among the 40 passengers rescued, but tragically, Jerome Adler perished.

Record producer and Columbia/CBS executive Clive Davis and his wife, the former Janet Adelberg, moved into a five-bedroom apartment around 1970.  They paid, according to his 2012 autobiography The Soundtrack of My Life, $55,000.  In it, he described, "It was spacious, and offered a number of terrific features.  The elevator opened directly into the apartment, which had a large vestibule and dining room, and a huge living room overlooking the park, which became the site of many wonderful parties."  Davis estimated spending "an additional $10,000 to fix the place up."

Like so many Central Park West buildings, the Brentmore continued to attract celebrities.  In his 2005 book, Passion and Property in Manhattan, Steven Gaines writes, "When 'broker to the stars' Linda Stein was working with the pop star Sting on a $4.8 million apartment at 88 Central Park West, she gave him orders to shop for a conservative suit at Brooks Brothers for his board meeting and made him promise to 'think Central Casting businessman and father,' which he dutifully did."

The dining room of the Sting residence (above) and the staircase.  photos by Halstead Property

The 7,000-square-foot, 18-room duplex Sting would buy had been home to newlyweds Billy Joel and Christie Brinkley, until their pending divorce put it on the market.  Sting (whose given name is Gordon Sumner) listed the five-bedroom, four-bath apartment in 2009 for $26 million.

On June 7, 2012 fire in a lint-clogged drier sparked a fire in the fourth-floor apartment of Academy Award-winning actor Robert DeNiro and his wife, Grace Hightower, who had purchased the unit six years earlier.  FDNY Battalion Chief Mike Meyers said the damages were confined to "three or four rooms" in the apartment, as well as "a few" apartments on the floor above.

After half a century in her apartment, Celeste Holm died in there in 2012 at the age of 95.  Her apartment was put on the market for $13.95 million.  In reporting on the listing, The New York Times said, "Like its longtime owner, the right-room duplex possesses charisma--as well as enduring bone structure."

image via

Unlike early 20th century apartment buildings in other parts of the city, those on Central Park West never declined.  No exception, the Brentmore continues to attract the rich (and in some cases, the famous) more than a century after its doors opened.

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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.

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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.

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