Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The 1891 H. H. Upham & Co. Building -- No. 508 LaGuardia Place

The H. H. Upham Building four years after completion -- King's Photographic Views of New York City

In 1858 Henry H. Upham went into the sign-making business with John Garrett. The successful firm rose in importance, especially after 1870 when Upham became sole proprietor, changing the company’s name to H. H. Upham & Co. A year later he took on John Tully as a partner, followed five years later by Louis I. Haber.

Upham produced a wide variety of signs – painted signs on commercial buildings; metal three-dimensional signs and novelty signs. With their patent of the “wire sign and banner” on October 11, 1875, the firm struck commercial gold at a time when Victorians embraced fanciful designs.By 1880 the company was employing up to 49 painters and craftsmen. Ordinary laborers were paid $1.25 a day with skilled workers earning twice that much. It became necessary, in 1890, to consider leaving their long-held offices at 250 Canal Street for a more substantial building to house its offices, showrooms and factory.

Architects Brunner & Tyron were given the commission to design the new building. Located at 54 South Fifth Avenue (which would become 508 LaGuardia Place when the street was renamed four years later), the structure was completed in 1891.

Decorative bronze cartouches announced the date of the company's founding and the year the building was completed.

While the architectural firm was heavily involved in designing buildings for Jewish institutions – they were responsible for a dispensary for Mt. Sinai Hospital, the Downtown Hebrew Institute and three important Manhattan synagogues – here they produced an exceedingly handsome 5-story commercial structure for Upham & Co. A dignified Romanesque Revival building of ironspot Roman brick, it was trimmed with terra cotta and rock-faced brick. Large bronze cartouches below the cornice of the fifth floor were created by Upham & Co.; they not only served as an example of the firm’s masterful work, but announced the company’s founding date and that of the building’s completion.

By now the firm was among the preeminent sign makers in the country. The 1891 “History and Commerce of New York” said “From its inception the house has maintained a trade supremacy which fully demonstrates the energy and executive ability brought to bear in its conduct…The firm possess the most perfected facilities and have unsurpassed advantages for promptly meeting all the demands made upon their resources.

“Painting in all its branches is given careful attention, particular care being devoted to sign work of every description, and first-class service is assured in every instance.”

Orders arrived from throughout the United States as the firm widely advertised itself as “Makers of All Kinds of Signs – Engraved Brass Signs a Specialty,” and marketed its “painting, graining, kalsomining, etc.”

After Upham’s death, Louis Haber ran the company as President, Treasurer and Director; and brought his sons Ferdinand and Harold into the business. Harold Haber served on the board as Secretary.

H. H. Upham & Co. continued to create signs from No. 508 LaGuardia Place until the end of the 1950s. The building was used for various commercial and warehouse uses until it was renovated to residential space several decades later.

Luxurious residential space now exists where Upham's painters and sign makers once worked -- photo Citi Habitats
The Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation deems No. 508 LaGuardia Place as perhaps the finest example of industrial architecture of the late 19th Century in the South Village. Today the façade is relatively unchanged while inside are sleek and glamorous apartments. The four-bedroom penthouse with 30-foot ceilings was listed in December 2009 for $26,500 per month.

photo Citi Habitats

non-credited photographs taken by the author.  Upham postcard above from author's collection

Monday, May 30, 2011

The 1886 Potter Building -- Park Row and Beekman Street

photo by paperboy1005--notfortourists.com

At around 10:00 on the night of January 31, 1882, the editor of the New York Observer, Samuel Irenaeus Prime, and his son Wendell, the associate-editor, were at work in the Potter Building (also known as the World Building) at 37 Park Row.  Somewhere in the building that was mainly occupied by printing firms and newspaper companies, a fire broke out.  Fueled by flammable liquids like ink and printing press grease, the conflagration quickly spread.  Prime and his son escaped down the stairs while Presbyterian minister Charles Augustus Stoddard, who also worked at the newspaper, rushed to secure records and close the safe.

Trapped, Stoddard inched his way along the Observer sign on the outside wall to an adjoining building.  Two other men dropped from a signboard at the fourth story and were caught by firefighters.  But before the fire was extinguished, twelve people were dead and the building gutted at a cost of $400,000.

The flames had engulfed the structure so quickly that the Fireman’s Herald wrote that it, “made itself notorious the country over for burning up in the shortest time on record.”  Its wealthy owner, Orlando Bronson Potter, was called before a grand jury.

Potter immediately set out to rebuild.  He commissioned architect Norris Garshom Starkweather (whose offices had been in the burnt-out building) to design its replacement.  Within two weeks of the fire, Potter announced he would build the largest office building in New York and that it would be “absolutely fireproof inside as well as outside.”

Estimated to cost $700,000, it would be constructed of “the best bricks, pressed bricks, terra cotta, and iron,” according to The New York Times.  “The roof and floor beams will be of rolled iron, and all floors, except the basement, will be laid on iron girders.”

Ground was broken in April 1883 for the eleven-story building.  For the first time in New York, the hidden structural steel was fireproofed by ornate terra cotta.  The Fireman’s Herald praised the effort, saying, “the new structure will be famous as the result of much thought and many experiments in order to put up an ideal fireproof building, and it will endure for ages.”

Construction was not without its problems, however.

In 1884, with construction well underway, the provider of the pig iron, Hugh W. Adams & Co., went bankrupt.  “The failure is the result of the individual embarrassment of Mr. Adams in undertaking to carry out the iron work for the new potter Building,” reported The New York Times.  That same year, the bricklayers’ union struck, and a year later the painters and carpenters working on the building went on strike, further slowing progress.

By the middle of 1885, the cost of construction had risen to $1.2 million–an astronomical amount at the time.  Finally, in June 1886, the building was complete.

Street car tracks run down the middle of the streets and horse-drawn drays line Park Row near the newly-completed Potter Building -- photo NYPL Collection

Starkweather had stressed the verticality of his design, resulting in a structure that soars skyward.  He married Queen Anne, Colonial Revival, Renaissance Revival and Greek Revival styles, resulting in what the AIA Guide to New York City would a century later dub an “elaborately ornate confection in cast and pressed terra cotta.”

The Potter Building in 1895 - King's Photographic Views of New York

In 1899, the History of Architecture and the Building Trades of Greater New York disagreed somewhat, saying that “as a design [it] is unusual and perhaps excessive in detail, but has great interest in the disposition of its masses.”

The Press occupied the first floor in 1895 -- King's Photographic Views of New Yor

Sitting at the corner of Park Row and Beekman Street, the Potter Building anchored Newspaper Row.  Its location, convenient to City Hall, made it a favorite site for the offices of the city newspapers.  The New York Observer immediately moved back in, along with other newspapers including the Republican Party’s favorite The Press.  There were 200 offices in the building.  Tenants not associated with journalism included the Otis Elevator headquarters, the printing paper manufacturer Adams & Bishop Co., The American Art Papers, and the New York Architectural Terra Cotta Company.

"Newspaper Row" in 1936 with the Potter Building at far right -- photo NYPL Collection

Orlando Potter, who was not only active in real estate but a well-known politician, occupied offices in the new building until his sudden death in 1894.  Potter’s real estate holdings alone were estimated at about $6 million, yet he left no will nor instructions on how to distribute his wealth.

In April of 1929, A. M. Bing & Co. purchased the building.  It was taken over in foreclosure by the Seamen’s Bank for Savings in 1941 for $500,000.  A year after the Federal Public Housing Authority leased one-and-a-half floors in 1944, a syndicate headed by Borrok, Steingart Borrok bought the building for $775,000.

In the socially-turbulent 1960s, the Potter Building was home to the Congress of Racial Equality.

A century after the Potter Building became a major part of Newspaper Row, a two-year conversion to residential use was begun in 1979.

photo streeteasy.com

Today Orlando Potter’s ground-breaking fireproof structure is a striking fixture in the City Hall neighborhood.  Born of a disastrous conflagration that resulted in the rewriting of fire laws for new construction, it is the first product of those regulations.

In designating it a landmark, the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission praised “some of the handsomest brickwork in New York City” and gratefully noted, “its original design is nearly intact.”

Saturday, May 28, 2011

From Firehouse to Luxury Prison -- No. 153 Franklin Street

photo ny.curbed.com
Around the time that the Civil War came to an end, the area around Franklin Street was decidedly working class. In 1865, at No. 153 Franklin Street, a handsome but utilitarian firehouse was constructed for the newly formed Ladder Company 8.

Situated between Hudson and Varick Streets, the three-story brick fire station served an area of modest homes and commercial structures. Its straight-forward vernacular design featured limited embellishment: handsome brownstone lentils and window sills with small brackets and a modest cornice. Attractive double-truck bays graced the street level.

The interior of a typical contemporary New York fire house -- NYPL Collection
As the neighborhood industrialized, so did the building. Ladder Company 8 moved to 7 N. Moore Street and in 1893 John Regan set up his tin smith business here.

Throughout the 20th Century the building remained the home of small industrial businesses while all around grander structures rose, overshadowing it. Next door was the striking loft building of Lipton Tea Company.

Then, in 2008 as the Tribeca renaissance had firmly taken root, the grimy little building was purchased for $6.8 million by Michael Marvisi. Architect Leopoldo Rosati was hired to do a $4 million, one-and-a-half year renovation that transformed the once-humble building into a lavish townhouse.

Unlike those at Riker's Island, many of the fixtures were imported -- photo ny.curbed.com
Where horse-drawn fire trucks once stood were now a private theatre, a basement gym, a spa, and sleek open spaces. Much of the metal and stone work was crafted in Italy.

A skylight illuminates the sleek, modern living area -- photo ny.curbed.com
Almost as soon as it was completed, the owner put it on the market for $15 million then, after reconsidering, dropped the price to $14 million. Not that it mattered much.

While the building remained on the market, it was also offered for rental at $50,000 per month. Despite the glamorous interiors and some celebrity interest, there were no takers.

Not until French presidential candidate Dominique Strauss-Kahn decided he did not like the accommodations on Riker’s Island where he was sent after being arrested for attempted rape of a midtown Manhattan hotel maid.

Strauss-Kahn and his wife, journalist Anne Sinclair, moved into the building at No. 153 Franklin on May 25, 2011 so he could serve his house arrest in decidedly more comfortable surroundings than were offered in prison.

The handsome little firehouse has come far from its humble origins.

Friday, May 27, 2011

The 1927 Loew's Canal Street Theatre -- 31 Canal Street

photo by LuciaM  http://www.panoramio.com/photo/34131029
During the first quarter of the 20th Century, the poor immigrant population on the Lower East Side could escape the squalid conditions that surrounded them in two places: the majestic churches and the sumptuous movie palaces.

Marcus Loew was born into this neighborhood in 1870. The son of Jewish immigrants he worked his way up from a newsboy to owning his own newspaper and selling furs. When he met fellow furrier Adolph Zukor, the direction of his life would take a turn.

The pair established the Automatic Vaudeville Company around the turn of the century and opened penny arcades with hand-cranked “motion picture” vignettes. As projection moving pictures developed, Loew began purchasing established theatres and renovating them into motion picture houses. Before long he was erecting his own buildings; one of which, the Loew’s Avenue B theatre was on the site of the tenement in which he grew up.

As the motion picture industry matured, feature-length films developed and movie theatres became elaborate temples to films. In January 1926 Loew’s company contracted architect Thomas Lamb to design a theatre at 31 Canal Street. Lamb had already established himself as a designer of theatres and for this one he produced an ornate terra-cotta clad façade, completed in 1927.

The intricate and beautiful terra-cotta upper facade of Thomas Lamb's Loews Canal St. -- photo by Alice Lum

Approximately four stories tall, the exterior was embellished with griffins, urns, festoons and garlands – a marriage of Regency elegance with Baroque abundance. The movie-goer would pass through the relatively narrow 22-foot wide Canal Street entrance and lobby into a 2,314-seat auditorium – the second largest motion picture theatre in the city. The interior space was decorated with lush terra cotta ornamentation and grand chandeliers.

While the Canal Street Theatre was a fixture in the neighborhood, it never showed the premier films that were relegated to the Times Square theatres. Here “B” comedies, westerns and serials played to masses of local residents before the advent of television. It was here, though, on April 17, 1940 that Eddie Cantor’s Four Little Mothers was premiered.

photo NYPL Collection

The last movie was screened in the late 1950s and Loew’s Canal Street Theatre locked the doors for good. After it was sold in 1960, the lobby was used as a retail store and the seats were removed from the sumptuous auditorium so it could be used as a warehouse.

The once-grand Loew’s Canal Street theatre, now a retail outlet for electronics, sat unnoticed until 2010 when owner Thomas Sung supported a feasibility study to convert the theatre into a multipurpose performance arts center.

That year the Committee to Revitalize and Enrich the Arts and Tomorrow’s Economy (CREATE) was granted $150,000 from the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation to conduct the feasibility study, The same year both the façade and interior were granted landmark designation by the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission.

Today while residents wait to see what will become of the once-proud theatre, dust continues to settle on the chandeliers hanging over crates of electronics. The ornate terra cotta detailing that once dazzled immigrant movie-goers remains in an astounding state of preservation.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

The 1892 Powell Building - 105 Hudson Street

photo by Alice Lum
Henry Lillie Pierce had a sweet life.  In 1849 while studying at Milton Academy in Massachusetts, he was hired as a clerk in the Baker Chocolate Company.  Owner Walter Baker was the stepbrother of the youth’s mother and gave him the enviable salary of three dollars a week.

Before long Pierce was the manager of the Walter Baker Counting House in Boston and, after Baker's death in 1854, he leased the chocolate business from the estate.  The determined candy maker soon purchased the Preston Chocolate Mill and then acquired the chocolate-making business of Josiah Webb.  In 1867 Baker’s Chocolate and Coca won an award in the Paris Exhibition for its quality and six years later won the highest awards at the Vienna Exhibition.  Pierce was building new mills and increasing his production as awards rolled in and business boomed.
By 1892 it was time to replace the temporary, leased New York offices with a permanent structure.  Pierce commissioned the fledgling architectural firm of Carrere & Hastings to design a New York City headquarters.    Real estate was purchased at 105 Hudson Street where warehouses and factories had sprung up due to the convenient location near the Hudson River and rail transportation.
The architects produced a lavish structure for the otherwise industrial neighborhood.  The light-colored brick building, sitting on two stories of rusticated stone, was  embellished with deep, Renaissance Revival terra cotta ornamentation.  The lower floors of the seven-story building were used by the chocolate firm while the upper floors were leased to other food companies.

Exuberant terra-cotta detailing and curved brick forming columns made Pierce's building stand out from its utilitarian neighbors -- photo Alice Lum
Among the employees in Frederick B. Thompson's upper-story offices in 1901 was a seventeen-year old stenographer.  When Thompson’s married brother visited one afternoon, he made advances on the girl.  The following day the elderly Mrs. F. E. Malloy, the girl’s irate mother, appeared at the office and called the offending man into the hallway where she produced a horsewhip and began lashing him, crying “I’ll teach you to talk disparagingly of my daughter!”
The offices on the floor emptied with the commotion and Thompson was hustled to the street where he fled to a train to Chicago.  Mrs. Malloy’s daughter helped her downstairs and the turmoil came to an end.

photo by Alice Lum
Seven years after Pierce’s death, candy manufacturer Alexander Powell purchased the building from the Pierce Estate in 1903.  Within two years he contracted architect Henri Fouchaux to add four stories and another 25 feet to the north.  Although the additions altered the Carrere & Hastings proportions, Fouchaux so closely followed the original designs that the AIA Guide to New York City dares the passerby to “find the joints” in the façade.
Powell not only seamlessly added four stories, but affixed huge bronze letters that proclaimed POWELL BUILDING -- photo Alice Lum
While the building mainly continued to house food concerns (Miles & Holman, millers, were here in 1902; Lusk’s California canned fruit with their “Bear Brand” was listed in 1919; and Jacob A. Kirsch & Co. who produced military rations leased space here), tenants also included offices such as the Southern Pacific Company’s operating and accounting departments and the Maryland Color Printing Company.
Throughout the 20th Century the building remarkably retained its integrity with little alteration.   Developer Joseph Cazana bought it in the mid-1970s, converting it to mixed-used residential and business co-ops with 16 apartments and 24 offices.  Where the Baker Chocolate Company and Cocoa company had once proudly exhibited its wares, the non-profit, publicly-financed “Artists Space” gallery now promoted sometimes-controversial exhibitions.

In 2000 architects Bone Levine conducted an extensive exterior restoration.  Today the bronze letters announcing POWELL BUILDING are still intact on the Hudson Street side and many of the apartments retain charming original details such as interior office doors with stenciled bubble glass and transoms.  The commercial space is now home to Robert De Niro’s well-known Nobu restaurant.   .  Henry Lillie Pierce’s grand vision for his New York headquarters remains one of the area’s most impressive structures.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The 1881 5th Precinct Station House -- No. 19 Elizabeth Street

photo by Alice Lum
The New York City Police Department got its money’s worth in Sergeant Nathaniel Bush. From 1862 until 1895, when the sergeant was not capturing hooligans or arresting women of disrepute he was designing station houses.

As the official architect for the NYPD Bush was responsible for precinct houses across the city. On June 23, 1879, the groundwork was laid for yet one more.

On that date the Commissioners of the Sinking Fund appropriated land “on the west side of Elizabeth street, one hundred feet south of Canal street, being fifty feet front and rear by ninety-four feet deep, as a site for the erection of a new station-house for the police force of the Sixth Precinct.”

The Sixth Precinct was in dire need of a new station house. As the population of mostly poor immigrants crowded into the area, crime rose heavily. Gambling among the Chinese was rampant, especially a game known as fan-tan (in March of that year, Captain Brogan led 45 patrolmen and two detectives into Ah Wong’s grocery at 13 Mott where they raided a fan-tan operation in the back room); but gambling was the least of the problems.

A Times reporter surveyed the precinct on foot in 1880 and described the tenements “with filth hanging out of windows like icicles” and “filled with Germans, Jews and Italians” who worked menial jobs. A reporter from the New York Sun wrote “The lower end of Mott Street is an unsavory locality, disagreeably close to the associations of vice, crime, and poverty by reason of which the Chinese are unjustly but naturally compelled by mere proximity to bear a worse reputation than they deserve.”

Despite the urgency for a new station house, the gears of bureaucracy ground slowly. Nine months elapsed before the Sinking Fund took measurements to enable the project to go forward. Another year passed before, on April 8, 1881, the $39,951 construction contract aws awarded to builder Joseph Ross.

Finally on April 17, 1882 the new 6th Precinct station house was opened, under the command of Captain Jeremiah Petty. Bush designed a noble Italianate building five bays wide, its windows capped by Renaissaice-inspired pediments. A series of four pilasters rose the length of the four stories, sectioning the façade and providing verticality. On either side of the entrance stairs two cast iron gas lamps identified the police station.

An 1893 visit by a State Senate committee resulted in a mixed report. There were sixteen cells for women (4-1/2 by 7 feet with “low ceilings” and each with a water closet) with two matrons on duty. But the committee found them “without one particle of ventilation, not even from a window, light being admitted to the corridor through a sky-light which we were informed by those in attendance is never opened.”

The cells, along with the 12 cells for men, the corridors and rooms were “heated by ordinary stoves—still more vitiating the alleged atmosphere.”

Augustine Costello, in his 1885 “Our Police Protectors,” disagreed. “It is the finest in the city except the First Precinct Station House, and is a handsome roomy structure, admirably adopted to Police purposes,” he said.

The 6th Precinct House as it appeared in 1885 -- print from "Our Police Protectors" (copyright expired)
Costello went on to describe the progress the police had already made. “The ‘Bloody Sixth’ no longer exists…It was mainly a slum of the city, and some parts of the present district need purging. In old times its polyglot and parti-colored population huddled together in kennels, not fit for street curs, in the neighborhood of the Five Points.”

The 6th Precinct was plagued by the violent Chinese secret society known as the Gee Kon Tong, familiarly referred to simply as “The Tong.” In 1900 The New York Times called it the pool room syndicate of Chinatown, saying that “Under its rule fan-tan tables flourish along Mott and Pell Streets, and depots for lottery tickets, flanked by opium dens, do a thriving business.”

The station house in 1900, the year The Times exposed the Tong to its readers -- photo NYPL Collection
A reporter visited the second floor of 21 Pell Street where “Back of the fan-tan room was a place for smoking opium. Those who lost their money in the game sought consolation here, and every passing hour increased the number of prostrate figures that lay around the room.”

The reporter’s guide scoffed at the inaction of the 6th Precinct. “There are dozens of dens running in full blast now. The police know it as well as I do, and they can stop it whenever they wish. Most of the patrolmen and ward detectives of the precinct know exactly where the places are. They go in when they like. But the men who manage the games know they are safe, and that their $15 per week will be well used by the chief of the Gee Kon Tong.”

A violent gang war broke out among factions of the Tong that lasted for years. As late as 1909 the precinct captain was frustrated in his efforts to arrange a truce as the murder of Chinese gang members continued.

In 1911 the station house, by now renumbered as the 5th Precinct, was modernized with the installation of a police patrol telephone booth at the entrance to the Brooklyn Bridge with direct lines to Police Headquarters and the precinct desk.

Throughout the 20th century Chinatown gradually grew, pushing the German and Italian neighborhoods out and engulfing the 5th Precinct. In the 1960s the Police Department initiated efforts to replace the aging structure which were vigorously challenged by the community. In 1968 the residents won their first round in their fight to preserve the building.

Despite the loss of the cast iron gas lamps, renovations to the "decrepit" station house brought it back to its 19th Century appearance -- photo by Alice Lum
Again, in 1972, the Deputy Commissioner noted that one of the department's “top priorities” was a new 5th Precinct station house to replace the existing one, which he described as being in “decrepit condition.” And once again the community won out – saving the century-old structure.

Nathaniel Bush placed the date of construction prominently above the entrance -- photo by Alice Lum
Rather than being demolished, the 5th Precinct station house was modernized and renovated. While much of the interior detailing is gone, beautifully-carved oaken staircases and newel posts remain and touches of Nathaniel Bush’s original design survive.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

The 1915 Joan of Arc Memorial -- Riverside Drive and 93rd Street

photo dnainfo.com
In the first decade of the 20th century, Anna Vaughn Hyatt was struggling as an artist and sharing an apartment with figurative sculpture Abastenia St. Leger Eberle. The two would often work jointly on a single sculptural group – Hyatt, who was adept at animal sculptures, taking on those figures while St. Leger Eberle worked on the human forms.

In 1909 Hyatt began work on her most ambitious work yet – a life-size plaster statue of Joan of Arc astride a muscular steed. Inspired by a flurry of interest in the life of the saint as the 500th anniversary of Joan's birth drew near, the artist endeavored to depict “the spiritual rather than the warlike point of view.” She placed the figure standing in the stirrups, sword raised toward Heaven, praying for guidance.
Hyatt's plaster sculpture -- photo NYPL Collection

Anna Hyatt submitted the statue to celebrated Salon in Paris in 1910. The jury was so impressed with the quality of the work that it was quite certain that Hyatt had either had help or it was not her work at all – no woman could have executed such a skillful piece. She was, however, awarded an honorable mention.

Coincidentally, a committee of New Yorkers had been formed in 1909 to raise funds and erect a statue to Saint Joan and members traveled to Paris in search of a sculptor. Hyatt’s depiction, quite different than any others, attracted their attention.

Back home in New York they initiated a competition that resulted in world-wide submissions. Committee President Dr. George Frederick Kunz remarked “Our Committee has decided upon several things; one is that the statue must be artistic, and there will be no question as to whether the sculptor is American, Russian or Hottentot, nor does the committee care whether a man or a woman designs the statue. Upon one thing, however, we shall be insistent, that is, that the statue must be worthy of one of the greatest personalities that has ever lived, of one of the greatest of nations, France, to which it must also be a tribute, and to the coming greatest city in the world, New York.”

When some questioned the relevance of a statue to Saint Joan in New York, an art critic for Art and Archaeology magazine fired back “…wherever true valor is admired, wherever noble unselfish effort is respected, whenever loyalty and true courage and zeal and patriotism are esteemed, -- there ought to be a memorial to the Maid of Orleans.”

Committee member J. Sanford Saltus (who would eventually give $25,000 towards the statue and donate copies to Blois, France, the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, and the French cities of Domremy and Orleans), aggressively supported Hyatt’s design.

She won.

Huntington, a prominent art collector who been employed by Tiffany & Co., worked with Hyatt, refining and enlarging her prototype. The artist used her niece, Clara Hunter Hyatt, astride a barrel, as the model for Saint Joan and borrowed a horse from the nearby fire house.

To ensure authenticity, the Curator of Armor at the Metropolitan Museum of Art was consulted regarding the appropriate armor. Dr. George Frederick Kunz, President of the committee, subsequently remarked that “it is the belief of the committee who have the honor to erect the statue that it will be the first one ever created in which the armor worn by Joan of Arc is true to the period and therefore authentic, thus adding greatly to the interest and value of the figure.”

As remarkable as the 13-1/2 foot statue itself was the pedestal upon which it was placed. Designed by John Vredenburgh Van Pelt, the Gothic-styled base would be 6 feet high and 30 feet long. Constructed of Mohegan granite from quarries near Peeksill, New York, the panels within the Gothic arches were from the Chateau de Bouvreuil in Rouen where Joan of Arc was imprisoned. One cylindrical stone from the Cathedral of Rheims, acquired after a World War I bombardment in 1915, was inserted as part of the base after the statue’s dedication. (The Cathedral was the site of the coronation of Charles VII through the efforts of Joan of Arc.)

A small copper box was placed inside the base containing a letters from President Woodrow Wilson to George Kunz; a letter from the governor of New York, Charles Whitman; one from the vicar of Rheims Cathedral and from the Cardinal of New York; several French and American coins, bronze medals and plaques; and a “fairy stone” that symbolized the tears of Saint Joan.
The statue in 1929, before being surrounded by trees -- postcard from author's collection

The statue, erected at Riverside Drive and 93rd Street, was dedicated with great ceremony on December 6, 1915. With its unveiling by Mrs. Thomas Edison, the reputation of Anna Hyatt as a prominent artist was assured. The 1917 issue of Art and Archaeology magazine, published by The Archaeological Institute of America, gushed with accolades.

“Indeed too much can not be spoken in praise of it. In the opinion of many competent critics it is by far the finest equestrian statue in New York, unsurpassed by the Siegel of Bitter, the Grant of Partridge, the Slocum of MacMonnies, the Sherman of Saint Gaudens, by Shrady’s ‘Valley Forge’ horse in the Williamsburg Bridge Plaza, or even the Washington by Ward in Union Square.”

The magazine went on to say “France is thronged with statues of the Maid of Orleans, but none of them surpasses this splendid masterpiece of sculpture.”

Anna Hyatt was awarded the Rosette of Public Instruction by the French Ambassador and, in 1922, appointed Chevalier of the Legion of Honor. Throughout the 20th century the statue was the destination of every French dignitary that visited New York and the site of repeated memorials and celebrations.

In 1939 the monument received its first restoration. The sword was repaired, the bronze recoated and the stone staircase to restored. Another restoration occurred in the spring of 1987 when the Grand Marnier Foundation used a $34,500 grant to clean and repair the statue.

Although often overlooked, Anna Vaughn Hyatt’s heroic statue of Joan of Arc is one of the outstanding public sculptures in Manhattan.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Poetry and Art -- No. 441 West 21st Street

Clement Moore’s family estate, Chelsea, was the largest private property on Manhattan’s west side above Houston Street. Although he vehemently fought against the City’s Commissioner’s Plan of 1811 that would segment his farmland into streets and avenues, he eventually conceded defeat and began parceling off plots in the 1820s.

Clark donated 66 plots for the site of the General Theological Seminary, construction for which began in 1827. As the bucolic campus of the seminary with its Gothic brownstone buildings slowly developed, fine homes cropped up on the streets surrounding it.

By the end of the Civil War West 21st Street, directly across from the north side of the Seminary, was lined with fashionable brick and brownstone residences. One such home was No. 441 where, in 1865, G. W. Loines was living.

The impressive four-story brownstone home sat above a deep English basement. A wide brownstone stoop with heavy, ornate cast iron handrails rose to the parlor floor where, inside, whale oil chandeliers and marble mantles glistened with Victorian elegance.

By the 1890s the wealthy widow of Charles A. Du Vivier was living here with her family. Along with daughter Alice and sons Charles and Ernest (a chemist), was the family’s nurse, Catherine Bretty, who had been with the family since coming to America in 1851.

The house was the scene of glittering social events during the Du Vivier’s ownership. In 1901 Mrs. Du Vivier gave a musical reception with artists Betty Booker and Bruno Huhn performing.  And the parlor was the scene of Alice’s wedding reception in 1906.

That same year tragedy struck when Catherine Bretty, now nearly 70 years old, lost her balance while climbing the staircase. The nurse, who had served the family for 55 years, fell backwards down the stairs, dying instantly.

Not long afterwards, the respected sculptor Adolph Alexander Weinman purchased No. 441 and refurbished the upper floors into apartments. In the meantime, poet Wallace Stevens was living in the bachelor hotel, the Benedick, on Washington Square. As his wedding day to his fiancé, Elsie, approached, Stevens searched for a suitable apartment for the two of them.

A sensitive restoration of the facade replaced the lost fanlight over the door and the brownstone window sills and lentils.
The first week of August, 1909, Stevens visited No. 441 West 21st Street to see the empty apartment Weinman had advertised. On August 9 he wrote to Elsie:

“Well, I think I have found the befitting home…There are two very large rooms with abundant light (they occupy almost an entire floor.) The front room looks out over the General Theological Seminary—a group of beautiful buildings occupying an entire block. It is all freshly painted and papered—has hardwood floors—open fire-places—electricity etc. There is also a corking kitchenette—clean as a whistle—white paint etc. And a corking bath-room with a porcelain tub, a large window etc. Then I saw at least three large closets for clothes. There can be no question about it—fine-looking house with perfectly-kept hall, and all that sort of thing. “

Stevens and his new bride moved into the top floor. There was no elevator, of course, so the pair used the dumbwaiter to haul up their mail, packages and ice.

Poet Wallace Stevens and his wife Elsie lived on the top floor of No. 411 from 1909 to 1916.
A frequent guest, Frances Butler, said that the apartment “was rather sparsely furnished, and that the evening she was there Wallace sat in a corner reading, while she talked with Elsie,” as documented in J. Donald Blount’s book “The Contemplated Spouse.”

The house was partly the inspiration for Stevens’ 1915 poem “Sunday Morning” in which he writes of “late coffee and oranges in a sunny chair, and the green freedom of a cockatoo upon a rug.”

In 1916 the U.S. Treasury Department sponsored a competition for the new design of the half-dollar and dime coins. Adolph Weinman convinced Elsie Stevens to pose for his bas-relief sculpture that won the competition. Mrs. Stevens’ face was memorialized as the “Winged Liberty Dime,” which is often misrepresented as the “Winged Mercury Dime.”

Elsie Stevens posed for Weinman's design for the Winged Liberty dime in 1916

Elsie intensely disliked living in the city, often spending long periods away from the little apartment at No. 441. Finally in 1916 the couple moved to Hartford, leaving New York for good.

During the 20th century the handsome Victorian façade was stripped of most of its architectural details – the sills and lentils, the framing around the entrance and the original windows. The magnificent iron stoop railings, luckily, remained. In the 1980s the house was converted to three apartments; two duplexes and one floor-through.

No. 441 grandly rises above its lower, older neighbors
The much altered house where poetry and sculpture were created sold in 2006 for $6 million. Architects Beyhan Karahan & Associates renovated it into a single-family home again, restoring the existing exterior and interior details while creating a sleek, contemporary residence quite different from the interiors that Mrs. Du Vivier knew.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

The 1921 Arthur Sachs House -- No. 42 East 69th Street

Charles Pierrepont Henry Gilbert designed an austere Gothic mansion for the Sachs -- photo by Gryffindor
East 69th Street just off 5th Avenue in 1919 was well-established as a high-toned residential neighborhood. The New York Times proclaimed that “This block is considered one of the most attractive on the entire east side, containing the homes of many prominent citizens.”

Indeed, residents like Henry Sloane, George Blumenthal, Augustus G. Payne and Percy Pyne were living on this block when financier Arthur Sachs purchased two large homes at Nos. 42 and 44 in February of that year.

The two 25-foot wide mansions had been owned by Mrs. N. H. Herzberg and Mrs. S. H. Abrahamson. Sachs spent a total of $200,000 for the two homes in order to build “two interesting additions to the fine east side residence colony,” as explained by The Times.

The newspaper went on to say “The purchaser will raze the present dwellings and erect a modern English basement residence. The remaining 22 feet he will reserve for another fine residence.”

In planning his “modern English basement residence,” Sachs sought the services of mansion architect C. P. H. Gilbert. Throughout the 1880s and 90s Gilbert had designed some of the most lavish homes in New York, including the French Renaissance Isaac D. Fletcher mansion, the Felix M. Warburg house in a similar style, the elegant Morton F. Plant house (later to become the New York headquarters of Cartier) and the extravagant De Lamar House at the corner of Madison Avenue and 37th Street.

Gilbert was entering the final years of his active career – by the end of the 1920s he would stop designing homes altogether. For the Sachs house he would take an abrupt change of course from his trademark ornate structures.

For Sachs, who was a member of the banking firm Goldman, Sachs, Co., the architect produced a severe Gothic structure with little ornamentation other than the pointed-arch windows and their surrounds, a carved stone balcony at the fourth floor with heavy open quatrefoils and two pointed dormers thrusting through the roofline. Years later the AIA Guide to New York City would pronounce it “stolid medieval,” The Guide added that the “flat limestone façade, ornamented only at the openings, gives it bearing.”

In 1921, after two years of construction the house was completed. Sachs and his wife, the former Alice Goldschmidt, lived and entertained here for only nine years. In 1930, not long after the couple hosted a stylish reception following a concert by Andrew Segovia, Alice Sachs died. Within a year Arthur sold the home he had built with his wife.

Edward H. Foley, Jr., the Under Secretary of the Treasury under President Truman, purchased the house. The couple split their time between No. 42 E. 69th Street and their home in Washington D.C. until July 13, 1954 when the mansion was sold to the Jewish National Fund of America.

The non-profit Fund was organized in 1901 as part of the World Zionist movement to purchase land for a Jewish State in the Ottoman-controlled Palestine. As the state of Israel was born, the organization turned its focus to creating parks, planting trees and serving the residents of Israel.

After a one-year renovation, the Fund opened its new headquarters on November 6, 1955.

Quietly performing its operations from the house for over half a century, the Fund flies no flags nor banners; it announces its presence only by a small plaque. The austere Arthur Sachs house is remarkably unchanged nearly a century after construction.

Friday, May 20, 2011

The Edwin Cornell Jameson House - 16 East 69th Street

photo by Alex Citrin, The New York Observer

In the 1880's, as the area east of Central Park was drawing more and more New Yorkers north, the blocks leading off Fifth Avenue were being developed with elegant residences.  In 1882 developer and architect Charles Buek & Co. completed a row of three neo-Grec style houses at 16 through 20 East 69th Street.  

The 33-foot wide residence became home to C. Adolph Low, the cousin of Columbia University President Seth Low and it was here in August of 1897 that the socially important wedding reception of his daughter, Edith Westervelt Low was held.

Low sold the house a week before Christmas in 1899 to William E. Shepard, who had married Cettie Gwynn in 1888 (she was the sister of Alice Gwynn Vanderbilt, wife of Cornelius Vanderbilt II).  
The Shepards rubbed shoulders with New York’s most socially elite.

No. 16 East 69th Street was the scene of lavish dinners and receptions for years. Yet, after the death of William Edgar Shepard, Cettie’s circumstances became strained.  Alice Vanderbilt quietly stepped in, purchasing the house and in December 1914 transferring the title to what The New York Times referred to as “the costly residence” to her sister.

Cettie lived on at in the house until April 30, 1928 when she sold it to insurance executive Edwin Cornell Jameson for $250,000 (more than $3.75 million in 2022 dollars).  Plans to update the aging house were almost immediate.  Plans for alterations filed by architect A. Wallace McCrea in 1929 would result in a substantial facelift.  

McCrea removed the stoop and pulled the facade forward to the property line.  Faced in red brick with limestone trim, the prim neo-Georgian design was a stark departure from Buek's original Victorian front.  A fifth story, tucked behind a brick-and-stone balustrade, accommodated servants’ rooms. 

By 1940 the house was home to Walter J. Salmon and his family.  He was  would remain for nearly three decades.  That year the Salmons' son, 20-year old Burton D., a student at Yale University, struck and killed a 35-year old man at Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street.  He was arrested on charges of assault and dangerous driving.

Salmon raised race horses and on December 12, 1948 Mrs. Salmon hosted a committee meeting at 16 East 69th Street to discuss plans for a Mid-Winter Ball in the Plaza Hotel which would include a horse auction to benefit the Ellin Prince Speyer Hospital for Animals.

Walter J. Salmon died in the house in 1953 and three years later his widow sold the home to the English Speaking Union, which initiated a two-year renovation into a “clubhouse” which opened in January 1958.

The English Speaking Society shortly after renovating the house -- photo NYPL Collection

The organization holds classes in English as a second language and pairs native English speakers with persons newly arrived in New York.  After four decades in the building, the Union put the house on the market in the spring of 1999.  Explaining the decision, Executive Director Alice Boyne said, “it’s the largest asset that we hold.”  The Union felt the funds could be better used in funding scholarships and language programs. “We’re not about mortar and brick,” Boyne said.

In 2000 the Wall Street Journal reported that  investment banker Roger Barnett sold his web-based company, Beauty.com, to Amazon.com for $42 million.  That same year he and his author-heiress wife, Sloan Lindemann Barnett, purchased 16 East 69th Street for approximately $11 million.

The Barnetts hired Fred L. Sommer & Associates to reconvert the building to a single-family home, after which interior designer Peter Marino (who has designed for names like Andy Warhol, Calvin Klein and Giorgio Armani) decorated the interiors.  According to real estate brokers, the renovations cost the Barnetts approximately the same amount they paid for the building.

Inside the entrance door, guests found themselves in a marble foyer. There were separate passenger and staff elevators. The second floor featured a living room, capable of entertaining 100 guests, that spanned the width of the house, and a dining room with 14-foot ceilings.

photo by Curbed New York

Seven years later the Barnetts were ready to move on. They quietly put the house on the market for $62 million.  Although there were no takers at that price, the house sold in 2010 for $48 million to their friend, Johnson & Johnson heiress Libet Johnson.

Like so many other grand mansions near the park which have recently been reconverted to private homes, No. 16 East 69th Street is a remarkable property with a stunning price tag.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Henry Cogswell's 1891 Temperance Fountain -- Tompkins Square Park

Henry Cogswell's fountain barely survived public opinion -- photo Beyond My Ken
Henry D. Cogswell had a rough start. Born in Connecticut in 1820, he worked in cotton mills in Connecticut and Rhode Island, spent time in the poorhouse, and wandered from place to place looking for temporary work. Finally, having educated himself, he achieved the position of principal of the Orwell High School in Orwell, New York and became a dentist.

Along with thousands of other young men with the glint of gold dust in their eyes, Cogswell traveled to San Francisco with the outbreak of the California Gold Rush of 1849.  But rather than pan for gold he set up a lucrative dental practice and tinkered with real estate. The combination of the two earned him a fortune of about $2 million within a period of about seven years.

Cogswell retired and set out to put his money towards public good. After founding the Cogswell Polytechnic Institute, he focused on the popular temperance movement.

Beginning around the time of the Civil War, alcohol was blamed for a raft of social ills including domestic violence, poverty and immorality. Around the nation groups like the American Temperance Society and the Women’s Christian Temperance Union cropped up to stamp out the evils of demon liquor. Among their favorite weapons was the temperance fountain.

It was believed that by supplying an abundant supply of healthful, clean water to the working classes, the temptations of alcohol could be thwarted; and Henry Cogswell took a liking to the idea. In 1878 he donated the first of fifty temperance fountains across America. New York would be on the list before long.

On October 15, 1884 Cogswell submitted his plans for an “ice-water fountain” to the Park Commissioners. The New York Times reported that “It will be 24 feet in length, in the form of a pavilion of polished granite and marble, and will be surmounted with an ideal figure of a man extending a cup of water. The water will flow from the mouths of two bronze dolphins.”

Cogswell estimated the cost of his fountain to be around $12,000 and with it came the conditions that the city provide a constant supply of ice to cool the water in the warm months, and that four lamp posts would be installed at the corners.

Because Tompkins Square bordered on New York’s “Little Germany,” Garrett Peck in his 2011 book “Prohibition in Washington D.C.: How Dry We Weren’t” was caused to mull, “You wonder how successful such heavy-handed moralizing was to a community that made beer into America’s favorite alcoholic beverage.”

The former dentist combined his efforts with The Moderation Society; however six years went by in futile attempts to obtain the permit to construct the fountain. Then in June of 1891 the Moderation Society announced the permit had been issued and the site was chosen: the south side of Tompkins Square.

In the meantime, changes had been made to the design. Now, completely fashioned in granite and manufactured in sections in Cambridge, Massachusetts, it would measure 20 feet square. The granite canopy would be supported by four 10-foot columns and the surmounting figure would no longer be a man, but Hebe, the Greek water carrier. No longer bronze, the statue would be zinc and the completed fountain would cost the Society $20,000.

The Hebe figure was based on an 1816 marble statue by Danish artist Albert Bertel Thorvaldsen.

Hebe, the Greek water carrier, stands above M. S., the initials of the Moderation Society -- photo by Beyond My Ken
On August 27, 1891 The New York Times quietly mentioned that “The new Granato Gift Fountain presented by the Moderation Society to Tompkins Square has been erected and the water will be turned on this evening.”

Below the statue a bold monogram M.S., for the Moderation Society, was carved and around the sides were the objectives the Society promoted: FAITH, HOPE, CHARITY and TEMPERANCE.

Unfortunately for Cogswell, his fountains and sculptures were not always well-received. The same year that the Tompkins Square fountain was installed, the San Francisco Examiner referred to “some of the horrors that Cogswell has already inflicted on the city” and called the several fountains he had donated “advertisements perpetrated in pig-iron.”

Two years later Boston refused a fountain, calling it “an offense to lovers of art.” Cogswell traveled there to haul it away only to be further insulted by San Francisco. The Times reported on January 14, 1894 that “His fountain at the junction of California and Market Streets was crowned by a full-length statue of the fountain-giver philanthropist until the close of the last year. On the first of the new year certain citizens found no better way of relieving the exuberance of their spirits, or of attesting their dislike of the statue as a work lacking art, than to hitch a rope about the neck of the good doctor’s image and pull it to the ground.”

Although the newspaper decried the vandalism, only three months later in an article titled “Weeding Out Bad Sculpture,” it summarily declared “The Cogswell fountains are first to go.”
Working class and poor residents take advantage of Tompkins Square Park prior to World War I -- photo Library of Congress
The Temperance Fountain in Tompkins Square survived the flush of bad-art public temperament; however sentiment did not turn a kinder face for decades. In 1909 the Art Commission of the City of New York in its Catalogue of the World of Art Belonging to the City of New York said of the fountain “In the center of the pavilion is the stump of a granite column, out of which the water flows.”

By the 1980s Tompkins Square was essentially derelict and its monuments and street furniture were badly abused. Vandals had sawn the hands off Cogwell’s statue of Hebe and the granite was slathered in graffiti.

A 1992 restoration replaced the damaged zinc statue with a more durable bronze replica and the stone was cleaned and restored.

Today the Tompkins Square Temperance Fountain is one of a handful remaining of Henry Cogwell’s original fifty. Rather than being “bad sculpture” or “lacking art,” it stands today as a superb example of Victorian morality presented in stone.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

The Resiliant 1887 Webster Hall -- 121 East 11th Street

At a time when most Victorian architects in New York City were vying for prestigious commissions for which they would be long-remembered, Charles Rentz, Jr. toiled away in his office in the German Savings Bank Building designing tenement buildings and middle-class apartment houses in the Lower East Side, along with some factories and stables.

Until 1880 the aspiring architect was listed in the city directory as a beer dealer; however by 1886 his architectural business had grown to the point that he had to move to his roomier office in the bank building. That same year construction began on his most memorial project: Webster Hall.

In July of that year former cigar-manufacturer Charles Goldstein had leased the land at No. 119-123 East 11th Street from Rutherford Stuyvesant for the hefty sum of $2000 a year. Goldman was in the meeting and dance hall business by now, already owning the popular Clinton Garden. He moved quickly to develop his new project. Only a month later the Real Estate Record & Builders Guide mentioned that Rentz was designing “a large ball and concert hall, to be called Webster Hall.”

The Guide went on to describe “a brick front trimmed with brown and Nova Scotia stone and terra cotta. The building will contain a main hall about 40 feet high, also a gallery, private boxes and reception rooms.”

Two months later construction began.

Next door was Saint Ann’s Roman Catholic school and when, in December, the pastor of the church discovered that Goldstein had applied for a liquor license he filed opposition; although to no avail. As the building rose, The New York Times estimated its final cost at $75,000, saying that it was “intended for balls, receptions, Hebrew weddings, and sociables, and not a ballroom.”

An early sketch of Webster Hall shows the original, complex mansard roof -- NYPL Collection
While many substantial buildings of the time were stressing “fire-proof” construction, Rentz went with spruce timbers for the interior framing. Goldstein had an apartment for his family included on the first floor.

A far cry from his tenement structures, Rentz’s Webster Hall was a splashy Queen Ann-style entertainment hall of pressed Philadelphia brick, ornate terra cotta panels and brownstone trim. Huge, decorative cast iron masonry supports embellished the façade between the second and third floors and the whole was topped by two stately mansard caps with elaborate dormers on either side of a steep central mansard tower. In February 1867, just six months after the first spade of earth was removed, Webster Hall was ready for its grand opening.
Musical instruments, cherubs and masks in terra cotta ornament the facade.
The Hall was a success and within four years Goldstein recognized the need to expand. In November 1891 he leased from Stuyvesant the plot next door where the home of Alfred and Eliza Goetz stood at No. 125. Two months later he filed for construction of a $10,000 annex that would include his family’s apartment in the basement, a saloon, restaurant and coat check rooms on the first floor, and a ballroom on the second with a gallery and sitting rooms on the third.

Construction of the annex began in May and was completed in November. The architect did not attempt to match the original structure, designing a Renaissance Revival building with large arched windows; however the two flowed nicely together.

Some of the exuberant terra cotta ornamentation is in heavy, deep relief.
From its earliest days Webster Hall was used not merely for entertainments and concerts, but was the frequent site of meetings and protests. On November 4, 1892 it was the meeting place of union workers who came together to endorse the nomination of Grover Cleveland and Adlai E. Stevenson. In a somewhat less-than-unbiased report, The New York Times said, “It was the earnest protest of honest men who work with their hands day after day for their bread against an iniquitous tax that robs the workingman for the benefit of the wealthy manufacturer and monopolist.”

Webster Hall in 1913.  An elaborate entrance canopy stretches to the curb.  -- photo International News Service
In 1887 the Progressive Labor Party was born here and in October of 1898 a bizarre meeting was held by Richard Crocker of Tammany Hall who courted the votes of deaf mutes. “Some Republican deaf mutes attended and tried to convert their acquaintances, but one red-haired man indignantly replied in sign language that he was a Democrat to the backbone, and would vote for Van Wyck. The Republican tempter thereupon desisted. Other similar occurrences were noted,” reported The Times.

Upon Goldstein’s death in 1898 his widow, Annie, lost the Hall to foreclosure in March 1899; however she rapidly regained the leasehold. The non-fire-proof building experienced the first of a series of fires in 1902; although no serious damage was sustained in that fire nor the one that occurred a decade later in 1912.

A year later a fund-raising event for the socialist magazine The Masses initiated an annual masquerade ball that became famous country-wide.  And it was here in 1914 that the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America was formed, three years after the tragic Triangle Waist Company fire near Washington Square.

In 1923 the Wand Holding Company purchased the building for $65,000, doing a $220,000 remodeling of the space in 1928.

Then in 1930 fire took its toll on Webster Hall. A “mysterious explosion” resulted in a conflagration that destroyed the two top floors, including the wonderful mansard roof. Damages were estimated at $200,000; almost exactly what the owners had spent on renovations two years earlier.

Repairs were made, without the mansard, and in 1932 Webster Manor, Inc. leased the building at $22,000 a year “for catering, meeting rooms, dance hall and kindred purposes.” Webster Hall became a destination for young couples who danced to big band orchestras throughout the Great Depression years.

Author E. B. White wrote of a 2:00 am visit one morning during that period. “Webster Hall was surrounded by a ring of taxis a mile long. At the door, little groups of gate-crashers slunk about, drunk but hopeful. Inside, the familiar Webster Hall smell came drifting to meet us: sudden illness and old merriment.”

Here the young parents of Martin Scorsese would go dancing, and it was here that Pete Hamill’s parents met.

Once again, in 1938, the Hall was swept by fire. Firemen fought the blaze for three hours before it was extinguished. By then a watchman and a porter were dead and the interior was gutted.

Eleven years later a smoldering cigarette ignited a pile of trash, resulting in a 5-alarm fire that, once again, destroyed the interior and roof.

Refusing to be defeated, Webster Hall again rose from the ashes. RCA Victor Records established a recording studio here from 1953 to 1968. Perry Como, Lena Horne, Stan Getz, Harry Belafonte, Louis Armstrong among others recorded here and Broadway casts assembled here to do cast recordings; among them Mary Martin in Peter Pan, Liza Minelli in Flora, the Red Menace and Julie Andrews in The Boy Friend.

Concerts and meetings continued to be held here throughout the 20th Century, including a 1969 cab driver-owners protest against gypsy cabs. In 1980 the rock club The Ritz established itself in the building and crowds thronged to the hall to hear artists like Madonna, Eric Clapton, Kiss, Sting, Prince, and Tina Turner until it closed in 1989.

Despite a series of fires, exterior architectural details still remain -- photo by Beyond My Ken
Today the irrepressible Webster Hall continues its legacy as a destination for the bohemian, the political and the cutting edge of music and entertainment. While a succession of fires and remodeling have taken their toll on the architecture, the hall used by socialists and reformers, birth control activist Margaret Sanger and the Knights of Labor, Robert F. Kennedy and musicians from Beverly Sills to B. B. King, remains a significant part of Manhattan’s social, architectural and entertainment history.

In his 2004 book, Downtown: my Manhattan, Pete Hamill wrote “On some nights now, I pass Webster Hall, at 125 East Eleventh Street, loud with hip-hop and DJs and crowds of the young. I hope that at least a few frantic young New Yorkers will find one another in the way my parents did. Someday, if they have long lives, they might even ache for the simplicities of Webster Hall.”

non-credited photographs taken by the author