Friday, September 30, 2011

The 1887 Down Town Association Building -- 60 Pine Street

photo by Alice Lum
 Well-to-do businessmen of the mid-19th century had a problem at lunchtime.

While the banking, insurance and mercantile buildings were generally crowded into the lower Manhattan district, the luxurious homes of the moguls were uptown in fashionable residential areas. Some businessmen traveled back uptown to lunch in their own dining rooms while others vied for tables in the few acceptable restaurants in the area, like Delmonico’s.

Then a handful of wealthy and hungry entrepreneurs came up with an idea. Meeting in Room 41 at the high-end Astor House hotel on Broadway across from St. Paul’s Chapel two days before Christmas in 1859, the 27 men loosely organized a luncheon club – The Down Town Association.

Elite, private men’s clubs had begun making a foothold in New York with seven others including the New York Yacht Club and the Union Club already having been established. This one would be different, however.

Because Lower Manhattan was virtually abandoned after business hours, there would be no need for extensive social facilities such as sleeping rooms. The club had its first general meeting on February 4, 1860 and the membership was increased to 42.  A charter was granted by the State of New York on April 17.

The group moved quickly and by September 10 of that year it had purchased No. 22 Exchange Place for $30,000 and opened its doors to members. While the purpose of the club was officially “To furnish to persons engaged in commercial and professional pursuits in the City of New York facilities for social intercourse and such accommodations as are required during intervals of business while at a distance from their residences; also the advancement of literature and art by establishing and maintaining a library, reading room, and gallery of art,” it was essentially intended as a luncheon club.

The members were highly successful professionals – bankers, brokers and lawyers, for instance. Not long after its opening, Robert Maitland donated an engraving and an oil portrait of Prince John. The gifts would be the start of the club’s considerable art collection.

The association had its clubhouse and its members were being fed. But there were problems. In order to survive financially, the struggling club of 150 members needed 100 more. Additionally, the growing differences between the Southern and Northern states would erupt in the Civil War within only a few months. The conflict would result in even greater financial uncertainty for the club.

Faced with the unhappy reality, the club sold 22 Exchange Place in 1862 and the charter sat inactive for fifteen years.

In May 1877 several of the original 27 members met with others in Delmonico’s Restaurant to breathe life back into the club. Within a year membership had grown to 354 and rooms were being rented at 50-52 Pine Street for $3,500 per year. In 1884, the plot at 60-62 Pine Street was purchased from James D. Fish for $98,000. Two years later on April, 26, 1886, architect Charles C. Haight, a club member, was commissioned to design the new clubhouse.

Romanesque Revival architecture had achieved a toehold in America in the 1830s when the Rundgogenstil style was imported from Germany. By now, prompted by the popularity of influential architect Henry Hobson Richardson, the medieval-looking style was sweeping the country. Haight used it masterfully to convey a sense of dignity and solidity for the association.

Haight's variegated stone lower floors gave a sense of strength and permanence -- photo by Alice Lum
 Great rounded arches at the third floor were fronted by a stone balcony that spanned the width of the building. The upper stories of buff-colored Roman brick sat upon two floors of irregular granite blocks. Rather than over-embellish the restrained façade, Haight sparingly used decorative elements like the terra cotta capitals supporting the brick arches.

The clubhouse opened on May 23, 1887 at a total cost of $306,669.25 including the furnishings, building and land. Membership had grown to 500 by now.

The financial problems the club suffered in 1860 were long forgotten as the association grew and prospered. On January 1, 1901 membership had doubled to 1,000 with an additional 89 non-resident members and 348 candidates awaiting election.

In the meantime other men’s luncheon clubs had swept into the downtown neighborhood; but by now they were moving up--literally. On January 3, 1903 The New York Times noted “Mid-air dining clubs have become a unique feature of New York club life.  In all there are perhaps two dozen occupying the upper or top stories of the ‘skyscraper’ buildings and with the exception of the Business Women’s Club all are for men.”

The article continued, “The advantages of these clubs are the freedom, the quiet and attractive surroundings, and the general air of sociability.”

The Down Town Association, from which, the Times noted, “has sprung the other dining clubs,” had no intention of moving from its venerable home.

On February 17, 1910 the trustees authorized the appointment of a building committee empowered to erect an annex. Land was purchased next door and the respected architectural team of Warren & Wetmore were hired to enlarge the clubhouse. Despite over two decades separating the designs of the two buildings, the architects sympathetically blended them, continuing Haight’s Romanesque Revival plan. While not intended to be a seamless imitation, the addition is a beautifully homogenous continuation.
Sympathetic modernization and renovation did not spoil the 19th century interiors --
Nine months after the structures next door were demolished, construction was completed on March 16, 1911. The interior alterations, furniture and fittings and cost of new construction totaled $175,556.76. Valentine’s Manual of Old New York reported that the new space provided two “large and convenient smoking-rooms, seven general and six private luncheon rooms in which 640 can be comfortable seated at one time.”

Warren & Wetmore's annex (right) flows smoothly into Haight's original clubhouse -- photo by Alice Lum
 Membership continued to be fixed at 1000, but in 1921 the club was serving an average of 750 persons for lunch each day. Far ahead of the uptown clubs, this number included “some ladies who have been welcomed since the reopening of the club in 1887,” according to Valentine’s Manual.

Valentine’s described the Down Town Association as “Standing first among clubs organized in the city of New York to provide relaxation during business hours and a place where luncheon can be served in comfort to busy men.”

The entry lobby -- photo
While the club remains in its 1887 building – the oldest New York City clubhouse still occupied by its members—it has not remained stagnant. In 1985 women were admitted as members. By the 1990s, the amenities that were unnecessary in the original club were added – drinks in 1995, a wine cellar a year later, pool tables in 1997 and dinner service in 2001. By 2004 there was a fitness center and a general modernization and renovation.

The art collection started in 1860 by Robert Maitlin has grown to include an impressive compilation of prints depicting New York City scenes, most of dating to before the Civil War.

The handsome and restrained Romanesque Revival Down Town Association building was designated a New York City landmark on February 11, 1997.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

The 1907 Church of St. Thomas the Apostle - No. 260 West 118th Street

Photo Harlem Preservation Foundation
Harlem, just before the turn of the last century, was an up-and-coming neighborhood. Brownstone row houses, apartment buildings, and substantial middle-class homes lined the streets and avenues as developers drew residents northward.

Here, on March 17, 1889 St. Thomas the Apostle Roman Catholic Church was established by Archbishop Corrigan. The Archbishop appointed Rev. John J. U. Keogan to organize the new congregation.  The priest soon hired the 29-year old architect Thomas Henry Poole to design the parish’s first structure, a small one-story church erected that same year which was, apparently, never intended to be a permanent home.

In 1904 Father John J. Keogan was still pastor and he called upon Poole again to design a much larger, much more impressive church for the growing congregation. Land was purchased on 118th Street near 8th and St. Nicholas Avenues. What came together on Poole's drafting board was astonishing, unique, and magnificent.


Dedicated on May 26, 1907, the church was without parallel. Freely melding styles like English Perpendicular Gothic, Moorish and Venetian Gothic, the architect slathered the façade with ornamentation. A spiky screen ran along the upper face of the building like a tiara, stealing attention from the colossal Gothic stained glass windows. A projecting porch with paired columns and Venetian arches spanned the width of the structure. It would be called by the AIA Guide to New York City a century later “berserk eclecticism” which is “unnameable but wonderful.”

A lacy fan-vaulted spans the organ loft -- photo
Inside Poole continued his exquisite decoration. Gothic fan-vaulted ceilings in the over-sized space (the sanctuary stretched about one-and-a-half times longer than most), intricately carved woodwork, and priceless stained glass windows by Mayer of Munich, dazzled the worshipers. The 1914 edition of “The Catholic Church in the United States of America” boasted that “The organ, attached to which are 39 chimes of bells is very fine. The altars, of pure white marble, are in keeping the lines of the church, and are very restful to the eye.”

The ornately carved High Altar -- photo
The main section could accommodate 1000 congregants, with seating for another 900 in the balconies.

The magnificent structure was the scene of weddings and funerals, many of them socially noteworthy. Hundreds of mourners crowded into the church in 1908 for the funeral of Justice John Henry McCarthy.

In 1920 Maurice G. St. Germain was stationed in Havre, France, working for the Guaranty Trust Company, when he met Loretta Harvey of 281 West 118th Street who was touring Europe. Two years later as he crossed the ocean on the Cunard steamship Mauretania, he sent her a radiogram asking her to marry him. A week later, on August 16, 1922 they were married at St. Thomas the Apostle.

The extension of the subway lines into Harlem, among other factors, changed the face of Harlem and by mid-century the population of the neighborhood was a rich mixture of racial and ethnic backgrounds. Unfortunately, there was also poverty and crime in the changing district. On February 15, 1955 14-year old James Mason entered a recreation center at 115th Street and 5th Avenue with two friends. The boy was shot and killed.

In the wake of the heartbreaking event the Church of St. Thomas the Apostle paid for all burial expenses and Rev. John Stewart offered a requiem mass for the boy.

Harry Belafonte’s family were members here, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was baptized here and the first black Borough President of Manhattan, Hulan E. Jack was buried from St. Thomas.

But time and the Catholic Church have little regard for historic structures.  As the 20th Century wound to a close the congregation of St. Thomas the Apostle had dwindled to about 250 parishioners and the structure itself was in need of repair. In 2000 structural repairs were estimated at around $1 million, the pipe organ no longer functioned (another half million dollars in repairs), and the roof continually leaked.

In 2003, with no advance notice, the church was closed.  By now the Archdiocese estimated restoration at $5 million and announced plans to demolish the building to make way for a senior housing project. Despite numerous pleas, the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission declined to designate the one-of-a-kind structure.

Former parishioners waged a lawsuit against the Archdiocese in 2004 as, in August, it began dismantling the intricate terra cotta spikes of the upper façade. The New York Landmarks Conservancy intervened and helped to temporarily suspend demolition.

The lawsuit was dismissed in 2005.  The son of the artist responsible for the stained glass windows wrote from Germany, pleading to keep the windows intact.  Instead, they were removed and shipped to the newly-constructed Church of Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha in Lagrangeville, upstate New York.

The Church of St. Thomas the Apostle as it appeared in 2008 -- photo
In the meantime, The Preservation League of New York State named St. Thomas one of the seven most important sites to preserve in 2005.  Yet despite the many advocates pleading for the salvation of the remarkable Church of St. Thomas the Apostle, it appears that only a miracle can save the architectural gem.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The 1890 Lincoln Building -- No. 1 Union Square West

photo by Alice Lum
As Union Square transformed from a fashionable residential neighborhood to a bustling commercial district, many of the new structures were being built by firms for their own use – Tiffany & Company, Lord & Taylor Dry Goods and Decker Piano Co. for instance.

But the nine-story Lincoln Building that began rising at the corner of 14th Street and Union Square West in 1889 was purely speculative. Jacob D. Butler recognized the potential of the site which had originally been part of Henry Springler’s farm and was still owned by that family. Butler gambled that a new office building would quickly become a lucrative investment.

Architect Robert Henderson Robertson was given the commission to design the structure.  It would replace four small buildings on what was considered the most desirable corner on the Square. The Philadelphia-born architect had already established his reputation and was now working heavily in the popular Romanesque Revival style.

Robertson’s design was a marriage of the traditional and the up-and-coming. He utilized modern engineering in the interior steel skeleton – an innovation that would result in later soaring skyscrapers—but also incorporated load-bearing masonry walls. He successfully adapted the medieval Romanesque prototype into a modern multi-storied office building.

Heavy arches and piers, thickset columns and stone carvings drawing from Byzantine, Norman and Celtic designs covered the façade. Robertson combined rock-faced Indiana limestone and brick, granite and terra cotta to create his visually interesting building. His most eye-catching ornament was a large carved griffin serving as a flag pole base that wrapped the corner at the seventh floor.

A profusion of lion-headed brackets support an elaborate cornice, while a flag pole base in the form of a  fearsome griffin wraps the corner - photo by Alice Lum
The Lincoln Building – possibly so named because of the statue of Abraham Lincoln directly in front of it on the Square – was completed in 1890. Critical reaction was, on the whole, positive. The often-irascible architecture critic Montgomery Schuyler praised “the picturesque features” of the carvings and detailing; however he complained about the numerous horizontal divisions that “confuse the principal division.” Engineering Magazine disapproved of the use of brick and limestone saying the difference in materials resulted in a “lack of unity essential in all good designs.”

The Abraham Lincoln statue sits squarely in front of the building as horse-drawn drays and trolley cars pass by -- NYPL Collection
Despite architectural criticisms, the building filled quickly. Among the first tenants were the architects Field & Snelling, Van Campen Taylor, and William H. Holden. In 1891 F. M. Pirsson & Company also moved in. The firm was general agents for architectural materials companies supplying, for instance, sliding blinds, screen doors, slate work, and stone.

While the building was home to ordinary, expected tenants – Raymond & Whitcomb travel agents and William Price Jones “stationers’ specialties” company, for instance – it had more than its fair share of peculiar leasers as well.

One was the Order of the Old Colony which established its offices here in 1892. The firm offered insurance “against the evils of matrimony.” For an $8 initiation fee, $1 dues per month and a 50 cent assessment upon marriage, the member was guaranteed a payout of $500 as a marriage dowry.

The founder, Ernest V. Marschall , insisted that no discrimination was made against engaged persons although only non-married persons could join.

Equally unusual was the scheme of tenant Charles M. Coen who, in 1894, began plans for a luxury hotel to be built 11 miles into the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Long Island. Coen hosted an excursion on June 15 that took a party of engineers, newspapermen and potential investors to the site. Here he threw overboard a buoy flying the flag of Atlantis, broke a bottle of champagne and announced “There being no legal obstacles in the way, we take possession of the Cholera Banks in the name of Atlantis and raise her flag over this shoal.”

Coen intended to raise “a number of palatial iron structures, connected with each other by bridges on iron pillars 30 feet in diameter.” He estimated the cost of the foundation for the hotel would cost about $2 million and said that “the first building will be finished by October.”

It wasn’t.

Three years later tenant George J. Mersick got himself into legal problems by advertising his “Artograph” for mail order. The Artograph, Mersick promised, would reproduce and enlarge pictures for the minimal price of $7 ($6 in advance) and $1 on delivery – satisfaction guaranteed.

The Postmaster General, however, received numerous complaints from women who had purchased the product and found it “of no value.” Despite the guarantee they were unable to get a refund.

Post Office Inspector Schopp found that Mersick’s visits to his office “were very irregular.”
photo by Alice Lum
On October 26, 1900 Jacob D. Butler sold the Lincoln Bulding to William Crawford for “$200,000 over a mortgage of $150,000.” Interestingly the original building application listed “Mr. Crawford” as “owner” in 1889.

On May 17, 1912 four partners, Carl Laemmle, W. H. Swanson, P. A. Powers and David Horsley, brought four desks into an office here and started their new business: Universal Film Manufacturing Company. The company, known today as Universal Pictures, grew so quickly that before the summer was ended new, larger offices were taken at 1600 Broadway.

The Lincoln Building, often known as 1 Union Square West, still commands attention at the corner of 14th Street and the park. An important example of the transitional phase in the development of the modern skyscraper, it is also a handsome illustration of the architect’s ability to meld historic styles – in this case medieval Romanesque – with modern requirements.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

St. Patrick's Cathedral -- 5th Avenue at 50th Street

The newly-finished, gleaming white marble Cathedral sat next to a yet-undeveloped plot.  Across Fifth Avenue is the lawn of a mansion -- photo Library of Congress
James Renwick, Jr. was 25-years old when he received the commission to design Grace Church in 1843.  An engineer, he had no training as an architect and had, to date, designed only a fountain in Bowling Green.  Renwick did not disappoint, however.   Completed in 1846, Grace Church was a masterpiece – the first major Gothic Revival structure in the U.S. 

Within the year he had designed the Smithsonian Institution Building, often referred to as the Renwick Castle.   The architect would, for the rest of his life, be a busy man.   But he would hold none of his designs in greater importance than the masterful St. Patrick’s Cathedral.

The first Archbishop of New York, John Hughes, summoned Renwick in 1853 to start plans for a replacement to the Cathedral on Mott Street which had been completed in 1815.  Although the existing St. Patrick’s Cathedral was the largest church in the city, the Archbishop yearned for a more magnificent church.

The land Hughes had selected for the site, on 5th Avenue between 50th and 51st Streets, was well north of the established city, resulting in skeptics calling it “Hughes’ Folly.”    Renwick went to work on the drawings which, according to Archbishop John Murphy Farley’s 1908 history of the Cathedral, “were changed several times until 1858, when they were definitely agreed upon.”

With the plans approved, the Archbishop presented Renwick and his assisting architect William Rodrique (who coincidentally or not married Hugh’s sister Margaret) with contracts.  Each would receive $2,500 a year for eight years and the Archbishop had the right to suspend or discontinue the building at will.  It was a highly unusual arrangement; although financially advantageous for Renwick.

The plans that were “definitely agreed upon” were for a soaring, white marble Gothic Revival structure that would compete with the great medieval structures of Europe.     The cost of construction was fixed with the Hall and Joyce Company, the builders, at $850,000 and a contract was signed on March 5, 1859 with the stipulation that the construction would be finished on or before January 1, 1867.

The cornerstone had been laid on August 15, 1858, half a year before the contracts were finalized.  The immense structure rose steadily filling the 5th Avenue block towards Madison Avenue.  Then in 1861 the Civil War broke out.  As the conflict worsened more and more of the men of New York abandoned their jobs to fight for the Union.  Eventually work on the Cathedral stopped completed.

Archbishop Hughes would not live to see his magnificent Cathedral rise above 5th Avenue.  He died in 1864, succeeded by Bishop John McCloskey who would take up the project as construction commenced again after the war.  Two decades after it was begun, St. Patrick’s Cathedral was dedicated on May 25, 1879. 

Harper's Weekly featured Archbishop Hughs' funeral in the unfinished Cathedral in 1864.
The new Cathedral had a seating capacity of 18,000 and every seat was filled at 10:00 when McCloskey, by now a Cardinal, and an entourage of bishops and priests processed up the aisle.  One hundred and twenty five policemen were positioned around the building to keep order.  A local newspaper described it as “the noblest temple ever raised in any land to the memory of Saint Patrick, and as the glory of Catholic America.”

The Cathedral as depicted in an 1890 print -- Library of Congress

The white marble church stretched 332 feet to the east, sitting on a base course of Maine granite.    Although the Cathedral was officially opened, the soaring spires – rising 330 feet above the avenue -- would not be completed until October 1888. 

In 1900 construction was started on the glorious Lady Chapel.   Designed by Charles T. Mathews, it was completed in 1908 and a year later the first of the chapel’s stained glass windows was installed.  It would be 25 years before the windows were completed. 

The original estimate of construction fell sorely short.  The spires alone cost $200,000 and by the time the Lady Chapel was completed Archbishop Farley estimated the cost at $4 million.

Generally hailed as a masterpiece of design, the Cathedral was not adored by everyone.   Art and architecture critic Helen W. Henderson was known to be brutally frank in her sometimes snobbish opinions.   

 The 75 stained glass windows were created, for the most part, in the studios of Nicholas Lotin at Chartes and of Henry Ely at Nantes.  Henderson complained “The modern French and Roman windows, which to the eye of the later criticism, impair the beauty of the simple interior, were considered something most desirable in their day, and their completion was hastened in order that they might be shown at the Centennial Exhibition, of 1876, where they were a feature much admired.”

She admitted that the St. Patrick window – donated by Renwick – “has at least an antiquarian interest.”  In the lower panel of that window is a depiction of Renwick presenting the plans of the Cathedral to Cardinal McCloskey.   She found the priceless windows of the Lady Chapel the “only windows of aesthetic interest in the church.”

Potted trees line the sidewalk as a well-dressed crowd watches the procession into the Cathedral for its consecration in 1911 -- Library of Congress
The Cathedral was the scene of a major scare when, on St. Patrick’s Day 1918, a crowd of thousands was assembled awaiting the parade.   Everyone remembered the bomb that had been discovered in the church on March 2, 1915 and anarchism was a constant threat.  Suddenly the throng was panicked by an enormous chunk of a stone spire that broke loose.  The largest piece crashed through the roof, breaking through the organ loft inside.  Outside, large stone fragments showered down on the masses.

“The crash and roar of the big missile caused fear that the whole great structure had been dynamited and might topple into the street,” reported The New York Times.  As the dignitaries in the reviewing stand stampeded to get away, Congressman Thomas F. Smith suffered a broken wrist as he was knocked to the ground.

The 1915 bomb would not be the last of the threats to the Cathedral.    In January 1951 a letter was received announcing that a bomb would be set off at a Sunday mass.   And between December 1951 and July 1952 there would be five more bomb threats.   On July 12, a deep-voiced male voice ordered the Rev. Edward Connors “get them out,” referring to worshipers in the Cathedral.  Thirty minutes later he phoned again, warning “your beautiful cathedral will be blown up before midnight.”

St. Patrick’s Cathedral has always been a work in process.   In 1927 Cardinal Hayes initiated an ambitious $2 million renovation project that included an enlarged sanctuary, rebuilt choir gallery, new organs in the gallery and chancel, new nave flooring and pews and a new baptistery.  Two decades later Cardinal Spellman added new upper windows, a new high altar and a replacement altar in the Lady Chapel and extensive exterior stone restoration.

Hayes also commissioned the great bronze doors  which were felt to be more “in keeping with the rest of the building.”  Seventeen of the 19 altars as well as the Stations of the Cross were repaired, cleaned and repolished.  

The great bronze doors weigh over 20,000 pounds each; yet they are so balanced that they can be opened with a single hand.  Sculptures of saints and "blessed people" grace the panels. -- photo by St. Patrick's Cathedral.

Restoration of the entire interior was done in 1972, the exterior was restored in 1979 and in 1984 a six-year structural repair process was begun.  This included replacement of much of the roof, resetting of the exterior steps, refinishing the doors, restoring the bells and rebuilding the organs.

Throughout the years the Cathedral has been the focal point of protestors railing against the Viet Nam War, the discontinuance of the Latin mass and, of course, the annual protests of Gay Rights advocates to march in the St. Patrick’s Day parade.

Despite Helen Henderson’s criticisms of the great cathedral, the New York Landmarks Preservation Commission said of it “St. Patrick’s Cathedral represents the epitome of the Gothic Revival in New York City” and called it “A marvel of architectural design for its day.”

Monday, September 26, 2011

The Isidor and Ida Straus Memorial "Memory" -- Straus Park

On April 19, 1912, just four days after the sinking of the RMS Titanic, Alfred Crawford testified before the United States Senate committee investigating the disaster.  Crawford had been a stateroom steward on the doomed ship.  The man was asked if he knew Mrs. Isidor Straus.  He did.

Isidor Straus and his wife, Ida, had been returning home to New York on the RMS Titanic.  Straus was a co-owner with his brothers of R. H. Macy & Co. department store, as well as the Abraham & Straus department store in Brooklyn.   The 67-year-old was also a director of several banks and vice president of the Chamber of Commerce.  He was highly regarded for his generosity.  The New York Times would call him “a supporter of almost every philanthropic and charitable institution in New York, regardless of creed.”

Chester testified that he was in a lifeboat and took Ida Straus’ hand to help her in.  “She started to get in, but then changed her mind and went back.”

Senator Smith asked “Started to get in?”

“Yes, she had one foot on the gunwale and then drew back,” said Chester.

Ida Straus had looked back to her husband of 41 years standing on the deck and let go of Chester’s hand.  “We have been together a number of years,” she said to her husband.  “Where you will go I will go.”  She then instructed her maid to take her place on the lifeboat.

Later, as the aged couple sat quietly on deck chairs holding hands, the grand RMS Titanic slipped beneath the icy waters of the Atlantic Ocean.

Isidore and Ida Straus

The couple was mourned nationwide, but nowhere so deeply as in New York City.  Four weeks later, a memorial service was held for them in Carnegie Hall where thousands crammed into the auditorium.  “The great hall was filled to capacity, and hundreds who pleaded to get in were turned away because there was no more room inside.  Every seat and every box was occupied, while perhaps 300 men and women stood up in the rear of the auditorium,” reported The New York Times.

During the ceremony, Jacob H. Schiff mentioned Ida’s devotion to her husband.  “There is no doubt that in the awful hour when the Titanic sank that the noble woman broke not the oath that she had given at the altar, ‘Until death do us part.’”

The cable ship Mackay-Bennett recovered Isidor Straus’s body which was buried in Woodlawn Cemetery.  Ida was never found, but the Straus tomb includes an empty spot next to her husband.

The Straus home stood at 2747 Broadway, near 105th Street, within sight of a small, triangular park called Bloomingdale Square.  On July 2, 1912, the Board of Aldermen adopted the resolution directing that the park “is hereby named and shall hereafter be known and designated as ‘Straus Park.’”

A move to erect a memorial to the couple was immediate and subscriptions poured in.  By the fall, $20,000 had been received.   A competition for the memorial's design was held and in November the Magazine of Art reported that “The prize was awarded to Mr. Augustus Lukeman, the collaborating architect being Mr. Evarts Tracy.”

The compact, oddly shaped park made designing an appropriate memorial difficult.  “It was finally concluded that anything mainly monumental would not be desirable both because of the modesty of Mr. and Mrs. Straus and because the site selected is a small triangular park with a background of apartment houses which would not serve as a proper frame for anything very high,” explained the magazine.

Luckman’s design, one of 59 submissions, included a serene lily pond fed by a two-tiered fountain.  Above the fountain was a reclining bronze figure of a contemplative female upon a granite ledge.  Luckman called his memorial, Memory.

Water lilies float serenely in the reflecting pool during the dedication of the Straus Memorial in 1915 -- Library of Congress

Behind the sculpture a granite bench provided a place of rest for those visiting the memorial.  The Straus Memorial, paid for entirely by public donations, was dedicated on April 15, 1915, three years to the day after the sinking of the RMS TitanicThe New York Times called it “one of the most beautiful monuments of its kind in the country.”

Inscribed on the rear of the monument was the biblical passage from II Samuel 1:23:

Lovely and pleasant were they in their lives
And in their death they were not divided

An orchestra played for the many who assembled for the dedication on April 12, 1915 -- Library of Congress

The neighborhood around the Straus Memorial declined in the latter half of the 20th century, and by 2007 the memorial had suffered some abuse.  That year the Parks’ Monuments Conservation Program initiated a restoration, sponsored mostly by The History Channel.

Regretfully, the lily pond—a crucial element in Augustus Lukeman’s design--was filled in as a flower bed in order to facilitate easier maintenance.  

Today the lily pond has been replaced by a not-so-lovely flower bed -- photo

Despite the loss of the reflecting pool, the Isidor and Ida Straus Memorial remains one of New York’s most moving and evocative monuments.

non-credited photographs taken by the author

Saturday, September 24, 2011

The 1901 St. Stanislaus Bishop & Martyr Church -- 104-106 St. Mark's Place

photo by Alice Lum
A decade before the great influx of Italians, Russians, Poles and Eastern European Jews began in 1881, there were already around 2,000 Polish immigrants living in Manhattan.   The community established itself on the Lower East Side where, according to the WPA’s “New York City Guide” over half a century later, they “despite poverty filth and overcrowding retained their native gaiety and hope.”

What they did not have, however, was a Polish language church.  In 1872 a petition was made to Cardinal McCloskey to bring a Polish priest to the area.  The Rev. Wojciech Mielcuszny answered the call and in 1875 a small, wooden church was erected on Henry Street, The Church of St. Stanislaus Bishop and Martyr, where the first Polish mass in New York was celebrated.

By the turn of the century the congregation was using the former Stanton Street Dutch Reformed Church, but it would not stay much longer.   In 1900 alone 9,363 Polish immigrants swarmed into New York, many of whom would seek out St. Stanislaus for worship, marriage, funerals and social interaction.

More important to the decision to move, though, was the change in the neighborhood.  It had become a breeding ground of crime and vice.   The church’s pastor, Rev. John H. Strzelecki, repeatedly petitioned the police to rid the area of houses of prostitution.  “I have gone to the police and have told them all about what is going on,” he complained to a New York Times reporter in October 1900, “It seemed only to make them more apathetic, and these houses have been established right here in the shadow of the church.  There is one right next door.

“Day after day these places open and flaunt their red lights in the face of the decent men and women and young girls in this neighborhood.  It is not possible to do the work that is required of us with these surroundings.”

The Times reporter wrote “Finally, unwilling to have his parishioners insulted and their children placed in danger of the base influences surrounding them, he has abandoned his efforts and will move to a neighborhood where the evil will not be flaunted in his face.”

That year a new church building was begun at 104-106 Saint Mark’s Place where evil was apparently not so shamelessly flaunted.   Designed by Arthur Arctander, best known for his apartment and tenement buildings, the brick Gothic Revival structure was completed a year later.  Arctander did not attempt to over-impress.  He produced a straight-forward design with stone and terra cotta trim, attractive Gothic detailing, and a handsome open bell-tower that supported a tall shingled steeple.

Originally a tall shingled steeple rose above the bell tower -- St. Stanislaus Bishop & Martyr Church
The handsome new building in its well-behaved neighborhood, however, was not totally without drama.   Four months after the dedication of the church on May 19, 1901, the sanctuary was richly decorated with flowers and foliage for the wedding of Sophia Dulapa to a 38-year old cabinetmaker named Kavieskin.

As the organ played the wedding march and the bride and groom-to-be passed under a bower of roses, the doors of the church burst open.  Two policemen shouted “Stop! Stop! Don’t marry them,” while a woman with four children rushed in behind them.

Kavieskin had neglected to inform Sophia that he was married.  The bride screamed as the policemen ushered Kavieskin away, the entire crowd of wedding guests crammed into the Fifth Street Police Station, and the carriage drivers who had been hired by Kavieskin soon stormed in demanding their money.

The intended groom shouted his case to them all.  “You can all condemn me but I left my wife because she was complaining continually.  I love Sophia, and can be happy with her.”  He then added, “and besides, she has $2,000, and I need money very badly.  Her people are wealthy and I cannot get along with little money.  You will do as you will, but I do not care.  Take me away now and lock me up.”

The police complied with his request.

On July 25, 1903 another uproar broke the quiet sanctity of St. Stanislaus when 28-year old Alexander Greschick, a prominent member of the Socialist Labor Party strode up the aisle while  Fr. Strzelecki was celebrating vespers.   Greschick headed a faction of members who were dissatisfied with the way church affairs were managed.

“You, Mr. Priest, tell us now, at once, about that excursion and how you and your crowd managed it.  Tell us immediately,” he shouted.

When Greschick was asked quietly to leave he shot a volley of curses at the priest.  Some men at the back rushed to the Fifth Street Station and returned with three policemen.  The Socialist resisted and all four men ended up in a tangled heap on the sanctuary floor.

“Beat him!  Kick him!  Throw him out a window” some of the congregants cried, according to a New York Times account of the near-riot.  Three more police arrived to find Greschick pounding Detective O’Neill’s head on the floor.

“It took several minutes more to subdue the man, and he was in much worse condition than his adversaries when they got through with him,” reported The Times.  Vespers were canceled that evening.

Here in 1909 was the funeral of Helena Modjeska whom the newspapers called “the last of the great actresses of the ‘golden days’ of the American drama.”    The actress had worshiped at St. Stanislaus for over two decades and the high requiem mass was packed.  Although the mourners were mostly Polish, eminent actors such as Richard Watson Gilder, James O’Neill (father of playwright Eugene O’Neill) and John E. Kellerd attended.  The black draped bier was covered in floral tributes, some of which were sent by the Lamb, the Players Club and the Twelfth Night Club.

photo by Alice Lum
Financial problems arose when pastor Rev. Monsignor John H. Strzclocki died on December 7, 1918 owing the church more than $302,000 according to papers filed in the Surrogate’s Court by the succeeding pastor, Rev. Father Ignatius J. Bialdyga.

The issue was worsened when Strzclocki’s brother, Julian,  immediately after the pastor’s death, entered the rectory and emptied the safe of about $150,000 in cash, bonds and precious religious articles and jewelry.  Rev. Father Crygac of St. Stanislaus also alleged that Julian Strzclocki, who was also the church bookkeeper, “struck false balances.”  Strzclocki was removed from his position.

The neighborhood changed as the Polish population was absorbed into other Manhattan neighborhoods.  By the 1960s marriages, funerals and baptisms had dropped by half.  Yet the staunch little church of St. Stanislaus Bishop and Martyr pushed on.  In 1989 a one-year restoration was initiated through parish donations that included a new copper roof.

In 1999 and again in 2001 Lech Walesa, President of the Republic of Poland, visited here; one of a list of Polish dignitaries to worship in the church throughout the 20th century.

A bust of Pope John Paul II commemorates his visit here as Karol Cardinal Wojtyla of Cracow -- photo by Alice Lum
Today St. Satnislaus Bishop and Martyr Roman Catholic Church is the oldest Polish Roman Catholic parish in Manhattan.  Its dignified façade looks sadly squat with the loss of the tall wooden steeple; but its important to the Polish community in New York is immeasurable.

Friday, September 23, 2011

The 1911 Jonathan Bulkley House -- No. 600 Park Avenue

photo by Alice Lum
In 1911 New York Times writer William A. Boring was excited about the high-end development of Park Avenue. The soot-belching trains into Grand Central Terminal had been converted to electricity and sent underground, creating a European-style boulevard rather than a train yard. “Park Avenue will be a residence street, and all the little markets, stores, etc., will be moved further eastward to cheaper property,” he predicted.

Boring noted that the moneyed New Yorkers were already beginning to build in the neighborhood. “The tide has already set in, and the increasing invasion of business in the Fifth Avenue district below Fifty-ninth Street is naturally driving the old-time residents there to the newer center…Park Avenue will eventually become the finest apartment thoroughfare in the city. In sharp contrast to the old time cheap flats that formerly monopolized the avenue everything of this nature now going up is of the best fireproof construction."

It would not be all apartment buildings though.

The “little markets, stores, etc.,” he spoke of had included Tscheppe & Schur’s pharmacy at the corner of Park Avenue and 64th Street, along with a small apartment building and a row house. By April 23, 1911 when Boring’s prophecy was read by New Yorkers, those buildings were gone.

“As one walks north from the lower Park Avenue apartment house section he enters the confines of the private house community at Sixty-fourth Street, where, on the northwest corner, a fine residence is nearly completed for Jonathan Bulkley.”

That same year other millionaires were building on Park Avenue, including Reginald DeKoven and Percy Rivington Pyne, indeed giving Boring something to be excited about.

Jonathan Bulkley was a busy man -- a principal of the paper manufacturing firm Bulkley, Dunton & Co.; Vice President of the Keith Paper Company; a trustee of the Washington Paper Power Company; and sat on the Board of Directors of the E. W. Bliss Company, the Home Life Insurance Company, the Ryegate Paper Company, the St. Regis Paper Company, the Massachusetts Corporation and the Turner Falls Electric Company.

To design their mansion at 600 Park Avenue, Bulkley and his wife, the former Sarah Tod of Cleveland, chose James Gamble Rogers. The 44-year old architect produced a dignified white limestone structure in what has been called the Modern Renaissance style. Four small balconies at the second floor level, three on Park Avenue and one centered on 64th Street added dimension and interest to the gleaming white façade. The sloping slate roof above the stone balustrade that hid the fourth floor terminated in graceful pierced cresting.

The Bulkleys, who also kept a country home in Ridgefield, Connecticut, moved in with their three children, Jonathan, Sarah and David. Their doors were immediately thrown open to society. In December that year they hosted a dinner and dance for the debutante Alice Bulkley Moss. The home was also the setting for charity teas and lunches – both Jonathan (who was president of the East Side House Settlement) and Sarah were highly involved in philanthropic and social endeavors. Sarah was for several years the Vice President of the New York Y. W. C. A. and the Garden Club of America.

The 64th Street facade -- photo by Alice Lum
On February 22, 1927 Sarah Bulkley left the house at 3:00 to attend a tea. Around her neck hung a pearl necklace valued at $50,000 and her fingers were weighed down with several expensive rings. It was a fortunate choice of accessories for Mrs. Bulkley.

When she returned at 6:30 she found her safe opened and empty. Gone was all of Sarah’s jewelry – diamond bracelets, diamond and emerald rings and a lorgnette chain with 97 diamonds valued at $20,000.

Bulkley and his sons, who were 29 and 27 years old at the time, had been home all afternoon; none of the servants knew the combination to the safe other than Sarah’s personal maid, Ida Kaemfer; and police called it an “inside job.” All circumstantial evidence pointed to Ida.

Mrs. Bulkley, however, insisted that the maid was “above suspicion.” The case was never solved.

A taxicab sits on Park Avenue in front of the Bulkley mansion in 1929 -- photo NYPL Collection

The 83-year old Bulkley died of pneumonia on October 16, 1939. Two and a half years later, on June 21, 1943, Sarah Tod Bulkley died. The Bulkley children were grown and had long ago left No. 600 Park Avenue. The house was shuttered. The beautiful rooms, once the scene of brilliant dinners and dances, sat dark and silent for three years.

In June, 1946 the Royal Swedish Government purchased the house as the permanent residence of its Consul General. Concurrently, it obtained the abutting five-story mansion at 63 East 64th Street and would eventually collect three others.

Bas relief carvings grace the facade.  The decorative ironwork was originally painted black to contract with the stone -- photo by Alice Lum
 In 1999 the new Consul General of Sweden, Olle Wastberg, and his wife took up residency at No. 600 Park Avenue. It was time, they felt, to spruce things up.

The Wastbergs worked with Swedish interior designers to re-do the interiors. The Bulkley house was transformed, according to the Scandinavian press site Nordic Way, “into a showplace for modern Swedish design.” But despite the introduction of Swedish furnishings and art, the architectural detailing, paneling, and mantles were carefully preserved.

In 2004 a façade restoration was undertaken by Gertler Wente Kerbeykian Architects.

photo by Alice Lum
Five years later, as a cost-saving measure, the Swedish Government elected to discontinue its New York Consulate.  The handsome mansion, valued at around $12.2 million, now serves as the residence of the Swedish Ambassador to the United Nations.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

The 1914 Adams Express Buildling -- 61 Broadway

photo by Gryffindor
Alvin Adams started his business delivering packages between Boston and Worchester, Massachusetts in 1839 after his dry goods business was ruined by the Financial Panic of 1837.  Within 20 years he was shipping to points as far away as St. Louis by stagecoach and railroad.

Adams Express bicycle messenger boys pose in 1911 -- photo Library of Congress
 But by the turn of the new century package delivery was a secondary source of revenue as express companies like Adams Express turned to the financial industry.    By February 11, 1929 Time Magazine would note “When the ordinary U. S. citizen thinks of expressing a package or trunk, he may well be excused for thinking of Adams Express or American Express. Yet the arrival of a trunk at either the Adams offices (61 Broadway) or the American offices (65 Broadway) would probably be greeted with surprise rather than with interest. For both Adams and American are now holding companies.”

Both Adams Express and American Express operated out of relatively small buildings near one another on Broadway.  But in 1910 Adams started planning a new, modern New York headquarters building.

On July 11, Industrial World magazine announced that “The Adams Express Company filed plans in New York city last week, for a 10-story office building, with façade of brick and limestone trimmings of handsome design, the construction being fireproof.”  The article named George K. Hooper as the architect.

The article was correct in only one detail:  The Adams Express Company would build a new building.

A year later in October The New York Times reported the story more accurately.  “Plans for the 32-story building being erected by the Adams Express Building Company on the northwest corner of Broadway and Exchange Alley, extending through to Trinity Place, have been completed by the architect, Francis H. Kimball.”  The building would be the seventh tallest building in Manhattan as the mania for taller and bigger skyscrapers washed over the city.

It was a trend that troubled some and, as the Adams Building rose higher, The Times questioned if there would come a day when no sunshine at all would fall on the streets of New York.

A pneumatic caisson foundation was constructed to support the giant structure.  Jones & Laughlin Steel Company provided 3,300 tons of steel and 1,210,000 square feet of terra cotta blocks would be used.

Kimball’s design straddled the fence between the modern sleek skyscraper and the more familiar ornamented structures that hugged the ground.  “Below the fifth story the building will be in the Florentine style,” said The Times, “from the fifth floor upward it will be severely simple, with no embellishments, and no projections except the cornice at the top.”  The architect used “richly colored marble” for the first four floors and white glazed brick for the shaft trimmed in terra cotta.

The building would rise 445 feet above Broadway at an estimated cost of around $2 million – approximately the same as the land upon which it was being built.  Two months before its opening, The Times said “It stands like a great tower overlooking the lower part of the city.”  As the building which would be known as 61 Broadway neared completion leases were signed as prospective tenants vied for space.  
Among the original tenants would be the United Gas & Electric Corporation and the United Gas & Engineering Corporation.  On the 24th Floor were the Cuban Telephone Company and Rojas-Niese & Company, while the Railway Improvement Company took space on the 22nd Floor.

Operators man the switchboard which was salvaged from the old building -- The Telephone Review August 1914
Most importantly, the Chase National Bank leased the entire ground floor and basement, signing a 20-year lease at $65,000 per year.

Irving Underhill shot The Adams Building in 1914, the year of completion.  An Edwardian-looking cornice tops the modern shaft.  -- photo Library of Congress.

Normal work routine in the building was shattered a few months after the building opened when W. B. Irvine who was an assistant shipping clerk at the Vacuum Oil Company on the 7th Floor was attacked in the hallway by another worker, John P. McLaughlin.  McLaughlin felt Irvine worked too slowly.  In the scuffle Irvine stabbed his attacked in the chest with a penknife, mortally wounding him.

Despite U.S. President Woodrow Wilson’s policy of non-intervention in World War I, Germany continued to attack U.S. merchant ships and conducted sabotage.  On July 29, 1916, German agents set fire to a complex of warehouses and ships in the New York Harbor that held munitions, explosives and fuel intended for the Allies.  The resulting blast, known as the Black Tom Explosion, caused damage for several city blocks, sent debris raining down in Manhattan and New Jersey and damaged the Statue of Liberty.

The Adams Building was heavily damaged with nearly 300 windows blown out.

In 1917 all 32 stories were occupied and A. L. Dean, who managed the building at the time, expressed his possible intentions “to build a pent house on the roof with a putting green beside it,” according to Buildings magazine.

The penthouse and putting green never came to fruition.
On September 16, 1931 the Adams Building still towered above its neighbors -- photo NYPL Collection
In February 1920 the offices of the International Agricultural Corporation on the 13th Floor were victims of safe crackers. Police asserted that the robber was “an expert of the ‘Jimmy Valentine’ type.”  The thief made off with nearly $15,000 in bonds and stocks.
The officers' room of J. Henry Schroder Banking Corp. in September 1949 -- Library of Congress
The 670,000-square foot office building was purchased by the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company for $90 million in 1988.   Throughout most of the 20th Century, huge boilers in the basement provided heat for surrounding buildings.  A water table directly under the building cooled the soot from the boilers, creating a warm pool.

The year that Met Life bought the building an engineer spotted goldfish in the pool.  The fish had apparently been there for years breeding, and the engineer included feeding the goldfish through a trapdoor one of his daily duties.

The Metropolitan Life Insurance Company spent $20 million on renovations and updating.  The building was purchased in 1998 by Crown Properties, Inc. for $58 million.

Renovation sympathetically melded the modern technology with vintage architectural details -- photo by Bill Miller
Today Francis Kimball’s transitional skyscraper is home to a diverse range of tenants – from law firms to financial institutions – with a 95% occupancy rate.   With the introduction of updated technology, lighting and amenities the nearly century-old building competes successfully with less interesting modern glass-and-steel monoliths.