Friday, June 3, 2011

Bogardus' 1861 No. 85 Leonard Street

Cast iron made the elaborate sprandrel decorations, ornate brackets and classical heads along the cornice affordable -- photo by Alice Lum

During the 18th century, today's Tribeca was known as the Lispenard Meadows–owned by the wealthy Anthony Lispenard.   As the city spread northward, Effinham Embree cut streets through the property.  Three of them were named for Anthony Lispenard's sons:  Thomas, Anthony and Leonard.
In 1800, the streets were ceded to the city and in 1806 the 27-1/2-foot-wide Leonard Street was widened to 50 feet.  Before long handsome residences began lining the street.  In the years preceding the Civil War, they were being replaced by tall loft and retail buildings as the area developed into a dry goods and apparel district.

photo by Alice Lum

In the meantime, James Bogardus had established his New York cast iron foundry at Duane and Centre Streets in 1848.  The main force in the development of cast iron as an architectural medium, Bogardus's quickly-built, relatively inexpensive and fire-proof construction met with huge success.  The finished sections were assembled on site and the façades were attached to the new structures.  The innovative technique made large window openings and complicated ornamentation possible, and often mimicked the limestone or marble structures nearby.

Bogardus' cast iron structure (center) remarkably duplicated the stone buildings on either side -- photo by Alice Lum

In 1860 construction began on 85 Leonard Street.  The dry goods firm of Kitchen, Montross and Wilcox commissioned Bogardus to design a loft building with retail space on the ground floor.  The firm, owned by Ziba H. Kitchen, William Montross and Aaron P. Wilcox, had leased the land from the estate of Thomas Swords with the condition that they erect “a good and substantial store house.”

Completed in 1861, the five-story Italianate structure astonishingly impersonated the stone buildings on either side.  Two two-story tall sperm candle arcades (so named because the thin columns are similar to the candles manufactured from the oil of sperm whales) rise from a cornice above the ground floor and are repeated on the fourth and fifth floors.  The cast iron allowed for more intricate ornamentation in the spandrels above the fifth floor windows than are seen in the stone neighbors on either side.

The sperm candle arcades were named because of the resemblance of the tall, slender columns to candles made from the oil of sperm whales -- photo by Alice Lum

Kitchen, Montross & Wilcox ran its retail store here until around 1868, after which the ground floor continued to be the home of dry goods merchants.

In 1883, commission merchants Whitney & Matthews did business here.  An inventory check that year revealed that around $2,400 worth of expensive silk was missing, and Detective Sergeants Crowley and William Adams were determined to find the culprit.

On June 18, they arrested a clerk, James L. Sheerer, who was found pawning a roll of silk in a Sixth Avenue pawn shop.  In his pockets they found pawn tickets for 86 silk handkerchiefs and 50 pieces of silk.  Another four pieces of silk and 96 silk handkerchiefs were discovered in his apartment on 20th Street near Sixth Avenue

Whitney & Matthews found a new clerk.

Stevens Voisin was doing business on an upper floor in 1886 when he fled the country to escape debts.  Although the exporter had about $25,000 due to him from outstanding accounts, he was unable to pay his creditors that were pressing him.  Voisin apparently preferred Mexico to the Debtor’s Prison on Blackwell’s Island.

The ground floor, in the meantime, remained a dry goods store with Matthews, Blum & Vaughan occupying the space in 1887.  Six years later the Tappan Estate sold the building for about $102,000 to A. D. Juillard.  (Juillard was one of the main supporters of the Metroplitan Opera House.)   At the time, the ground floor was renting for $5000 per year and a potential tenant offered $4,000 a year for the upper floors “in case an elevator is put in.”

In 1897, while Fitzpatrick & Somers, agents for the Bridgeport Corset Company rented space here, Abraham Schwab, attempted to lobby for his favorite candidate Judge Van Wyck by stringing a banner reading “Republican Administration Means Official Extravagance” from the building.  The former bridge commissioner’s banner stretched across the street to No. 88.  Schwab quickly discovered that Leonard Street was Democratic stomping ground.  His banner was cut down and two others promoting the Democratic Seth Low went up.

That same year the mail order firm of H. Smail did business from an upper floor selling “imported leg bands for pigeons and poultry.  Numbered and lettered, all sizes.”

The dry goods firm of Ryan & McGraham was here at the turn of the century, followed by Thomas Michae and Cle, importers of dress goods in 1913.

A.D. Juillard’s daughter Helen put her late father’s real estate up for auction on February 10, 1920, including 85 Leonard Street.   It was purchased by the Durham Hosiery Mills Company which installed its headquarters here.  Two years later Lewis, Gerstman & Co., manufacturers of pajamas, occupied an upper floor.

By the second half of the 20th century the SoHo neighborhood was the haunt of struggling artists who used the loft spaces for studios, while art galleries began replacing retail stores.  No. 85 Leonard was purchased around 1974 by Joseph Salamon of RFR Promotional Fabrics, the same year it was designated a New York City Landmark.  Salamon continued to rent the fourth floor as artists’ studios.

The original first floor storefront is amazingly intact.  The wood-framed shop windows and the transoms survive.   A treasure to Bogardus fans, the foundry mark is still clearly visible today:  “James Bogardus, Originator and Patentee of Iron Buildings, Pat. May 7, 1856.”

1 comment:

  1. Thes few iron buildings that remain intact are just glorious. Skyscrapers of glass and steel have no true "eye" candy but these few gems are a true joy to behold!! My family came in 1837 an settled in "The Village". These are indeed one of the most gorgeous parts of the New York City architectural skyline.Thanks for the memories that take my family back..