Thursday, May 5, 2011

The Nearly-Lost Cast Iron Beauty at 287 Broadway

No. 287 Broadway prior to the excavation that would threaten it -- photo
Just after the Civil War the French Second Empire style of architecture, all the rage in Paris, caught on in New York City. The style that Walt Disney would later make synonymous with Victorian architecture insisted on a mansard roof and endowed the buildings with instant fashion and elegance. The lavish Gilsey Hotel, Lord & Taylor’s grand emporium at 19th and Broadway and the A. T. Stewart Department Store all arose from the Second Empire bandwagon.

Architect John B. Snook followed the trend when he designed the prestigious office building at No. 287 Broadway in 1871 for the estate of Stephen Storm, who had been an important wholesale grocer and tobacco seller. Intended as a bank on the lower level with offices above, it would have one of the first Otis elevators in the city.

Snook’s cast iron façade spilled over with sophistication and class. The steep, slate-shingled mansard was punctuated by robust dormers with arched pediments, and the roofline was edged in filigree cast iron cresting. Completed in 1872, the narrow building extended down Reade Street 96 feet.

photo by David W. Dunlap, The New York Times
The impressive new building attracted prominent tenants like the Union and Pacific Railroad Company and attorney to the wealthy, Otto Horwitz. The bank offices were one floor above the sidewalk, accessed by a flight of steps, probably cast iron, at the far left of the Broadway façade. On the first floor, in 1885, was the pharmacy of Ernest Washburne.

After closing the drugstore one January night that year, Washburne stopped at Niblo’s Garden, popular theatre, with some friends. After the performance, he strolled about alone. It was apparently a bad idea.

The druggist ran into Mary Moran, described by The New York Times as “a vulgar, frowsy-looking creature,” who asked him to buy her a drink at a near-by saloon. Later, when Washburne paid for the drinks, Mary got a good look at his cash.

The pair left the saloon together and, upon reaching the corner of West 3rd Street and Wooster, the woman threw her arms around Washburne, rendering him helpless as a male accomplice relieved him of $50, his watch and gold chain, and a diamond stud. Unfortunately for Mary, who had some years previously stolen $57,000 in cash in her grandest heist, Washburne’s description was clear. She was arrested soon after.

Mary Moran was sentenced to ten years in the penitentiary. Ernest Washburne became more wary of his drinking companions.

Upstairs at No. 287 the insurance firm, Traders and Travelers’ Accident Company, had their offices in 1887. As World War I neared, the banking floor was home to the Henry Bischoff Banking House, while Henry Bischoff & Co., a shipping and forwarding company which “does forwarding for both importers and exporters, sells steamship tickets, and in a small way acts as a private bank,” occupied offices on the fourth floor.

In 1912 horse-drawn trucks and gas lamps mark the neighborhood around No. 287 Broadway.  Henry Bischoff's Bank is on the second floor and Hillard Mfg and A. L. Little Company have offices here.  Photo NYPL Collection
Henry Bischoff had come to the U.S. in 1846 from Germany and established his banking and shipping companies. After Bischoff died on March 28, 1913, things went downhill. In January 1914 lawsuits were filed against the firm for overcharging for forwarding and shipping and a several claims which the company could not meet. The company failed and was put into receivership.

A month later the bank was declared bankrupt.

Almost a century later the first floor space once occupied by Ernest Washburne was now a pizza parlor and the exterior staircase to the former banking floor was gone. But the elegant cast iron structure still retained its integrity. Trouble came when all the buildings around it were razed for a planned 20-story condominium project by the John Buck Company of Chicago.

The excavations for the foundation of the new building went deeper and deeper and, unnoticed at first, the landmarked building on the corner began tilting. Cracks appeared. And then, when the structure was leaning a full 8 inches to the south, the tilt was obvious to anyone passing by.

In 2007 the building was noticably leaning to the south -- Photo Curbed NY
In November 2007 the building was ordered evacuated and heavy shoring was installed to keep it from collapsing.

Four years later the monster glass-and-steel “reade57” building was completed, wrapping around and dwarfing it’s vintage neighbor. Today No. 287 Broadway is secure again, its appearance above the street level remarkably intact and unchanged since 1871.

As the 20-story condominium building went up around it in 2010, No. 267 became dwarfed.  Photo Curbed New York


  1. Yes, but what about the tenants? The owner Century Realty rigged this "construction accident" at 287 Broadway. This is Matt Abramcyk parked as the tenant at the Pizza Cafe under Yenen llc. The tenant is Century Realty only meant to evacuate these buildings by hook or by crook just like 109 W Broadway in the old Delphi building with Super Linda and at 71 N Moore with Smith and Mills. This is all the same tenant Century Realty. But in each case Century was found negligent to repair the damage in all 3 buildings at 71 N Moore over the damage from the Greenwich Hotel, the structural defects at 109 W Broadway with David Bouley fro Brushstrokes and again at 287 Broadway with John Buck at 57 Reade. This was the "demo clause" in play in all these buildings. Abramcyk doesn't own these businesses. He's a front for the Gindi's. He is just an agent and employ at 77 Warren and at Tiny's at 135 W Broadway. Do these hockey players even know they are partners with? It is astounding they would intentionally damage this many landmarks to get at all these leases after 9/11. They are just using these poor hockey player's money to fix up their own buildings just like they did with Bouley, Almada, Buck and Deniro This was a scheme.

  2. Previously the site of the Irving House hotel.