Friday, July 8, 2011

The Parfitt Brothers' No. 166 Fifth Avenue

photo by Alice Lum
When the wealthy Mrs. Margaret Hardenbergh Budd lived at 164 Fifth avenue, it was a residential street of wide brownstone mansions constructed, for the most part, prior to the Civil War. The widow of William A. Butt, she was one of three daughters of the celebrated Rev. Dr. James Bruyn Hardenburg .
The Hardenburgs were an old Knickerbocker family, reflected in the list of organizations to which Margaret belonged: the Historical Society, the Colonial Dames, the Holland Dames, the Huguenot Society, the Nineteenth Century Club, and the Patria Club. The New York Times would later describe her as “among the distinguished society notabilities.”

By 1890 Mrs. Budd’s children had grown and married and Fifth Avenue below 23rd Street was becoming less fashionable. She left her 1851 mansion and moved with her servants to the upscale Soncy Flats at 53 West 58th Street; retaining possession of and leasing both Nos. 164 and 166 Fifth Avenue.

This section of Fifth Avenue had already attracted several high-end art dealers and L. Crist Delmonico moved into No. 166. An esteemed dealer, Delmonico advertised “modern paintings and excellent works by leading artists.”

L. Crist Delmonico was renowned world-wide and in 1893 he lent A Sewing Bee in Holland, painted by German artist Fritz von Uhde to the Chicago World’s Columbia Exhibition, and three years later lent Fantin-Latour’s The Toilet (which had recently hung in the Salon de Champs-Elysses) to the 1896 Carnegie International Exhibition.

By the turn of the century little trace of the elite residential street remained. In 1899 Margaret Budd commissioned architectural firm Parfitt Brothers to design a commercial building in the place of the staid old home at No. 166.

Completed in 1900, the architects produced a visual confection; what the AIA Guide to New York City would deem “terra-cotta eclectic.” In fact it was a seven-story store and loft building in an adapted Northern Renaissance Revival style. Ornamented pilasters with Corinthian capitals separated the three bays of wide windows. The floors were separated by deep courses of buff colored brick. At the fifth story were arched windows and embellished spandrels under a prominent bracketed cornice.

Where once brownstone mansions stood, commercial buildings had taken over Fifth Avenue by the 1920s.  No. 166 is the third building from the corner of West 21st Street -- photo NYPL Collection
But above the cornice Parfitt Brothers pulled out all the stops. A two-story stone gable sprung from the mansard roof sprouting urns and scrolls, a circular window and a deep shell that rested like a tiara on top.

photo by Alice Lum

Two rather restrained dormers with triangular pediments peek from the mansard behind.

L. Crist Delmonico was the first tenant, moving back to the old address his clients remembered. The art gallery remained here for at least a decade before Delmonico’s death. On February 5, 1915 his personal art collection was auctioned off by the American Art Gallery.

By the 1920s No. 166 (far right) housed apparel firms.  The building in the center of the photograph is the site of Margaret Budd's mansion -- photo NYPL Collection

Throughout the 20th Century No. 166 Fifth Avenue would be home to various garment industry tenants – corset manufacturers, cloak and suit merchants – and at one time a first floor restaurant. While the upper floors remained essentially intact other than replacement windows, the ground floor fa├žade was obliterated in the second half of the century. The arched loft entrance at the left side with its columns supporting a small balcony and the decorative detailing of the retail space were stripped off in favor of a flat veneer of colored stone slabs and plate glass.

photo by Alice Lum
Above the sidewalk level, however, No. 166 overflows with what could be called architectural entertainment – exactly what the Parfitt Brothers intended.

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